Sexual abuse and uncertainty: from "I don't know, probably not" to "most probably something has happened"...

Living with uncertainty about possible sexual abuse is a crappy. It is difficult to manage the pain of an unknown past, especially when emotions from your past start to haunt you.

Five years ago the issue of a possible sexual abuse was so pervasive that it caused me to break down completely. It led me to seek professional help, but also to open up to my friends. I knew that I couldn't keep trying to solve my problems by myself, that I needed help, and that I needed to connect on a much deeper level with my friends.

Working with my therapist over the years, I was able to identify emotional abandonment during my childhood and adolescence as the main source of my trauma - a complex trauma. On the website of the Complex PTSD Foundation (CPTSD Foundation) they explain complex trauma as follows: “Complex PTSD comes in response to chronic traumatization over the course of months or, more often, years. This can include emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuses, domestic violence, ... and more. While there are exceptional circumstances where adults develop C-PTSD, it is most often seen in those whose trauma occurred in childhood”.

I don't have any memories, and in a way it was clear that I will never know if there was sexual abuse in my childhood or not. We worked on emotional abandonment, and I managed to come to terms with the uncertainty about possible sexual abuse, staying with "I don't know, probably not". Sometimes, when other issues dragged me down, this turned (briefly) into "I don't know, probably yes", but mostly I stayed with "Probably not". Until recently.

Connecting with the trauma of my last affective sexual relationship - which ended 13 years ago - made me connect again with this part of my childhood trauma. Three weeks ago I wrote about this trauma:

Until recently my interpretation has been that at one point in the relationship I was beginning to connect with my complex trauma, and from then on everything became difficult. Although complex trauma plays an important role in this story, I am now realising the trauma of this relationship itself.

The first memory (or, rather, fragment of memory) that came to me is that once (once?) when my partner was penetrating me, all I could think about was "when is it going to be over?" I know, many of us have been through this, but it was something I had completely forgotten about. Why did this memory come to me these days?

A few days later, I was beginning to remember that certain sexual practices that I had always enjoyed started to disgust me at one point. I don't know from when on. But I kept doing them, disguising my disgust. Until - until I couldn't take it anymore. Until my pain was so great, that I began to refuse to have sex, but was unable to explain it.

And a week ago I wrote about one of my latest emotional flashbacks:

“I thought about the trauma of my last relationship, I thought about sex, and again it was not clear to me whether I was thinking about sex with my then partner or another sex as a child. I have no memory, and only some vague thoughts came to me.”

The trauma of my last relationship then connected me to the issue of sexual abuse in my childhood. It reminded me that I was starting to break down with exactly this question five years ago: had I been sexually abused as a child? It reminded me that I was always fascinated by novels with a child sexual abuse theme - I'm thinking of Scott Heim's Mysterious Skin, which I read in 1996 (!), Sulayman X's Bilal's Bread, or Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life. It also reminded me that the first book I bought when I collapsed in August 2016 was Richard B. Gartner's Beyond Betrayal. Taking charge of your life after boyhood sexual abuse.

From this point on, my narrative of possible childhood sexual abuse - the "I don't know, probably not" stopped working. I entered into a loop with no way out, a search for certainty that led to suffering. A week ago I took Richard B. Gartner's book off my shelf and tried to reread it. I managed only to read the introduction, crying with every word. Then I kept the book on my table, and always carried the book in my backpack when I went to a bar or café for breakfast and to write in my journal - but I was never able to open the book again. And two days ago, when I was sitting by the Guadalquivir river in Seville, I had the impulse to throw the book into the river. I didn't do it, partly for fear of throwing myself behind the book to retrieve it...

Many days I was pure fear. Or, rather, I was oscillating between fear and dissociation, as my body and mind were not able to cope with so many painful emotions, so much fear. It was very strange at times to realise that I felt absolutely nothing. Many times there was a knot in my stomach, but I didn't feel anything. And then I reconnected with the fear and I started to cry, a cry full of fear.

In my last therapy session we worked mainly on this topic, on how to deal with the uncertainty about possible/probable sexual abuse in my childhood. Uncertainty is a pain, but if it is impossible to get certainty, there is no other way than to live with uncertainty. Beyond my earlier narrative - "I don't know, probably not" - I knew that it was a fear from my past, that I survived whatever it was, and that I was now safe, well supported by my friends, and had other capacities that I didn't have as a child. Good, but not good enough. The search for certainty easily took over, a search with almost zero chance of success that only led to suffering.

My narrative up to this point had stopped working. The search for certainty didn't work for me either, on the contrary. But, even though certainty is impossible, I need a narrative about what happened to me. In the end the narrative that works for me for now is "most probably something happened in my childhood, something at least on the verge of sexual abuse, I don't know what, I don't know how serious, but something happened". It is not certainty, it is still a narrative of uncertainty. But it is a narrative that fits better now with what I feel, with the emotions that are coming up for me from my past - with the fear and pain of my past.

I left the last therapy session calmer. For the first time since days I slept well at night, and woke up quite calm the next day. I cried again several times, both the evening after therapy and the next day (and most probably I will cry more), but I am noticing a change: it is less a cry full of fear, but more a cry of pain, a healing and liberating cry.

Perhaps this is what Jordi Gil refers to at the end of his text on emotional flashbacks on the Gestalt Salut website: "The emotional flashback is an opportunity to heal the previous trauma, which seeks to heal itself through repetition in the present.

The important thing is to accept that these flashbacks will occur, not to traumatise them further, and to learn to accompany oneself in them from self-compassion, adulthood and non-criticism".

If so, with my new narrative about possible sexual abuse in my childhood I am more able to accept those flashbacks, I am more able to see the opportunity to heal the earlier trauma. It is pain, it is still painful. But it is pain and it does not lead to suffering.