A Safe Christmas

A Safe Christmas

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.

Dark Glitter: Hush

Dark Glitter: Hush

Hush

 

Be quiet. Be still.

Hush.

Don’t be loud, don’t not-give-a-fuck, don’t be sexual. Don’t criticise, voice concern, or surpass men.

Or be sexual, and be slut-shamed.

Say no, and be ruined, speak out and be ruined.

Succeed, and be belittled.

Be questioned, be mansplained – be womansplained – be ridiculed.

We must be stifled and hold our tongues. We must comply. Why? Because we are not men.

We must whisper our achievements and glories. We must keep our secrets and hurts bound to us. We must cry out their crimes of assault and abuse when they happen, and then be slandered in court, or close our mouths for decades only to breathe the truth and be damned. For making a fuss.

It’s a trick, an illusion. It’s a lie we are urged to believe. It’s a game we are shown we cannot win.

In one hour on Twitter today: living female authors and publishers are dismissed by men; dead female authors are hated by a male celebrity in a national broadsheet; a fictional short story character is slut-shamed by a national broadcaster; another Hollywood star said no and her career was stymied; a woman who reported her rape by an MP is blamed and degraded and denied in court; and a lone female MP challenges our female prime minister to investigate allegations of a male MP’s harassment and pornography that have not quite yet managed to slip away, to sink beneath the oily, scum-laden surface. A fundraising campaign is launched to rescue women’s refuges from government cuts so that we can flee and save our own lives and not die, not be murdered, at the hands of men as two women every week are.

It is a dark hour, this political, institutional, and public silencing. It is the exhausting, grinding, tedious new normal, thirty-nine fucking years after we first dare utter ‘the glass ceiling.’ Our only retort is to again bring change, to, once again, scream louder.

Our stories are forming. Our lips have parted, and we are shouting.

We cannot, will not, hear the lie.