Tonight’s dusk is pale, and a helicopter blinks a golden arc in the sky. Beyond the window of my bedroom, there are ten days until Christmas, and this year the Festive season is hitting me particularly hard.
So far in our small home we are barren of decorations; we haven’t found our tree yet, nor written cards, and presents are still being bought. I have been scratching around charity shops, picking through shelves and racks to find something special for my partner. I have very little money.
This unexpected hardship has proved too much for me, tipping me over an invisible line, and into the past. I have newly surfaced after taking to bed for the day, as I did yesterday. I decided to seek cover, to tug the duvet around my ears, to switch my brain into sleep mode until the memories eventually cease, for another year.
Twelve years and three days ago I confronted my parents about their child abuse. A slow detonating bomb went off with this disclosure and wreaked ruin on my life for a almost a decade. I now have PTSD, but can, with the exception of Christmases and birthdays, tuck my violent childhood and teenage years out of sight, out of mind. Almost. I hold the memories at bay by sheer bloody mindedness, a determination which has dragged me through the bloodiest of times.
Christmas in an abusive family is at best unbearable and at worst catastrophic. Abusers abuse more when there are pressures and stresses, whether this is domestic abuse or child abuse. At Christmas it was never safe to be happy, to lose myself in playing with presents unless the rest of my wider family were with us. How I loved these visits! I was dazzled by their attention, and soaked up their laughter. I glowed, radiant, and basked in how special I believed I was for a handful of days a year.
Fast forward over a decade and there are no invitations to family Christmas dinner, no more phone calls after the Queen’s speech. The festivities in my wider kin continue without me. Sometimes I wonder if I am missed, or thought of for anything other than a brief, conscience-pricked moment. My family now is my partner.
At Christmas, for those of us that have lost, we feel the heartbeat of those losses. They pulse under our skin, they surge in our veins. When we stop the busy-busy, the undead of abusive Christmases past nip at our heels. They sink in their teeth and bite. Memories appear fully formed, here to bully and ravage.
Many families have been broken, and as adults our worst Christmas is always remembered, and held a little bit closer to us than it is the rest of the year. For child abuse survivors, Christmas was often a relentless struggle to, literally, survive. We do survive, if we are the lucky ones. In my bloody mindedness, I always believed that some day, one day, there would be a happy ending, that it would have been worth it: the pain and the terror and the desperate hurt that comes from not being loved and at times being hated. I don’t believe in happy endings anymore, but I know I am safe.
In my half-lit room, as I surface from my foetus-like, blanketed retreat, a small, still functioning part of my brain whispers that I am here, now, that I am no longer a child trapped in danger. That I escaped. That I survived.
Soon I will be wrapping pre-loved presents, our tree will glint and gleam with unpacked tinsel and baubles. We will unearth our old, tattered but cherished paper chains and tack them to the walls. There will be cake which my partner will make and is already soaking the fruit until it is rich and plump and heady with brandy. There will be time to see nearby friends and Christmas cards to open from those farther away.
The sky is ink blue now. Taillights flash as they pass our road. I remind myself that somewhere out there will be a desperate, unhappy child, or an adult feeling frightened at home, or perhaps on the streets, and I hope for them. I remember to be thankful.