Monday, October 28, 2013

Fall Colours and Autumnal Melancholy

Hat: Goorin Brothers; Shirt: Nick & Mo; Blazer, brooch, and coloured ring: vintage; Diamond ring: Effy; Earrings: I can't remember; Pants: Reitmans; Boots: Ecco
It is unmistakably autumn now. Since I was a child, the return of autumn colours in clothes has excited me. They're certainly my colours. In August, I would pour over the Sears catalogue and savour the rich burgundies, the forest greens, the oranges, the browns and practically hold my breath till I got to wear them again. 

It still feels like falling into a soft, downy bed: just right.

I've always loved autumn in general. One of my very earliest memories is of listening to the roar of the autumn wind in the maple trees. This was when I still lived in New England. We don't have maple trees here unless they've been deliberately planted. I admit that fall is not as spectacular here as it is back east. We don't have whole mountainsides turn red like you folks in New York do. It's the only time I get a little homesick for the home of my very early childhood.

Still, even here, I love the smells, the colours, the leaves, the light. I even love that weird, melancholy feeling one always gets in the fall. You know what I mean: that feeling of the tenuousness of beauty and of life itself, the feeling that one must grasp at all this loveliness before it passes into lifeless winter. 

Poets have spent lifetimes trying to capture that feeling in words and I just spent quite a while writing that last sentence. We writers will always fail because it's a feeling beyond words. You know it when you smell the fallen leaves and breathe the golden air. But you just can't put it into words

Of course, fall is far less melancholy where I live. We don't really have winter here. Really, we just have a short summer, a very long autumn, and a very long spring. I can look forward to the crocus shoots poking up in January here.

I can also look forward to a LOT of rain, but I don't really mind that so much, not if it means more clement weather and foliage thriving right through the winter season.

But, you know, I can't quite believe it is fall yet. The older I get, the faster the seasons come and go. 


Time feels different now, doesn't it? It's not endless. Things can pass me by so quickly, I miss them.

That's part of why I like writing my blog. It forces me to slow down and look at the small details, including the changing seasons.

For instance, I only seem to notice this weird tree's fall flowers (or are they fruit?) when I'm wearing something that matches them.


What the heck is this tree? I have no idea. Do tell me if you know. It's furry! What tree is furry?

And, like all life on this rainy west coast, it itself fosters further life. I assume this is some sort of lichen? Yes? No?

And it seems to me that the texture of the lichen is echoed in the Brutalist style brooch I chose to go with my highly textured, richly coloured, wool tweed blazer. I like to slow down to notice things like that.

Some might say this blazer is a little over the top, and even more so with the hat and flaming orange shirt. I say, "Whatever!" It's my body and I'll adorn it if I want to. And I want to adorn it with tweed. I love tweed.

As usual, wearing fun and interesting clothing helps me cope with my chronic pain and PTSD. This is a blurry photo of me hauling myself up a set of stairs: not an easy task for me.

In this photo, I look as I generally feel these days: wan, tired, depleted, in pain...

... but, for some reason I really can't even understand myself, tenacious and stubborn too.

You may have noticed that this image -- my stylishly clad feed astride the "keep out" lightning bolts -- has become a sort of visual trademark for me. For the sexually abused, the power to say "keep out," even if only years after the fact of the abuse, is a powerful and wonderful feeling.

Like autumn, it's a melancholy, bittersweet feeling, but it's somehow good, useful, helpful.

And so, in my funky brown cords, caramel coloured boots (with matching satchel purse, natch), and over the top tweed, I found some beauty in yet another day, despite the coming winter.

I'm linking this up to Hat Attack at the Style Crone, and Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet, because I want the whole world to see this tweed. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Beau and Bear: Part Two

Beau and Bear have been getting up to quite a lot since last time you saw them.

Beau swears that all the shenanigans are Bear's idea, but I'm not buying it.

The two of them growing very close, thick as thieves, in fact. 

I'm pretty sure Beau's soft spot for Bear leads him to come up with great ideas that he just says were Bear's idea.

I can never be sure with those two. 

But I'm happy they found each other. It's a beautiful friendship.

Now, I'll admit that I don't always approve of the things I find Bear doing. I sometimes wonder if Beau is a bad influence on him.

Let's take a closer look at Bear's reading choice here, shall we?

"He's getting interested in fashion," Beau tells me. Fashion, eh? Sure, that's it: fashion.

Bear's adventures are sometimes downright nerve-wracking for me. Beau swore that Bear wanted to know what it's like to be a cat and that's why I found him in the cat carrier on top of the dryer, but it left me a little uneasy. 

After all, Bear was too high up for me to rescue him if he got nervous. That's what comes of having a tall friend like Beau.

Sometimes Beau even gives Bear quite grown-up responsibilities that I'm just not sure he's ready for. Like here, he's protecting Milo the cat from Mimi the psychotic neighbourhood kitty who likes to come and terrorize us all by banging feet first into this door at about 10:00 every night.

But Bear seemed to like this job and he took it very seriously. It seemed to make him feel important and special -- needed, if you will.

I suppose Beau knows what he's doing. Bear seems awfully fond of him, and none the worse for all his adventures.

And it is true that some of Bear's adventures are of educational value... if you call watching kitten videos on YouTube educational.

And he does often seem to do things that I'm fond of doing, liking yacking forever on the phone, and reading Agatha Christie.

But, like Beau, he's a little ... sillier and more adventurous than I am.

So of course he had to come with us when we stayed in a mountain resort hotel. We didn't actually bring him up on the gondola with us, but we probably should have. He probably would have had a better time than I did. And he might have cuddled me while I strove not to have a panic attack in that swinging swaying fear machine dangling in the middle of the sky.

For such a small Bear, he seems to be very brave and calm.


Bear's not mad about not having a gondola ride. He's just happy that Beau is his fast friend. They've been talking about taking a trip downtown together. 

I'll keep you posted.

(Bear really wanted to get in on the action over at Not Dead Yet's Visible Mondays. I explained to him that Visible Mondays is not meant for bears, but he insisted and explained that he's a stylin' bear. Who am I to object?)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Strength in Silliness: trespassers will be electrocuted

Shirt: thrift; Jeans: Reitmans; Boots: Jessica
I don't actually think that this photo of me is wildly flattering, but I like the sentiment is conveys: a brutalized woman finding ways to claim her strength.

As those of you who regularly read Sublime Mercies now know, my disability and chronic pain are the result of horrendous sexual abuse in my childhood. For someone like me, there is empowering symbolism photographing myself standing, spread legged, over a sign that says, "KEEP OUT!"

Entering is a privilege and honour bestowed only by me.

Anyone violating that edict will be electrocuted.

Wouldn't it be nice if I'd had such powers as a child?

There was a time when I could feel tough by exercising a great deal. There was a time when I could have assumed this tough pose and you would have seen real muscle -- beautiful, strong, cut definition in my whole body. 

But the disability ended those days for me. It's pretty hard to feel strong when I can't even walk any distance without pain. It's hard to feel buff when I can see cellulite in my arms.

So I'm working to find new ways to feel both strong and beautiful.

There is beauty in my new curves and in the softness of my body as it is now. Occasionally, I can see it. Luckily for me, Beau can always see it, and he tells me about it all the time, especially when I'm wearing anything a little tight.

Bless his being man enough to like a woman of substance. I am that, and not just in body either. My personality is not what one would call that of a wilting violet. Strength need not only be in the body; it can be in the spirit, heart, and mind too.

Doesn't Beau look good in this blue plaid shirt? We found it for him at Value Village the other day. It's very soft and cuddly too.

Oh, and do notice those mountains in the background. I love them so very much.

Beau is a very handsome man but it's damned hard to get him to pose. When it comes to taking himself seriously enough to pose, he's as bad as his nine year old son.

Why look handsome when you can look silly instead? Duh!

Beau's helped me learn how fun it is to be silly and childlike. I didn't have the luxury of ever really being a child. Learning how to be playful with Beau is more healing than I would have imagined.

A gal with a past like mine needs a little playfulness in her life...

... as she works hard to find new ways to feel tough in the face of her own brutal reality.

(I'm linking this up to Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet. See you there.)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Victory and Defeat: A Wheelchair on a Mountain Top

Beau's everything: thrift, except his Ecco shoes and his Geek Eyewear glasses; On me: Shirt, sweater, and jeans: Reitmans; Glasses: Polo Ralph Lauren; Shoes: Ecco; Wheelchair: rental
I've been putting off writing this post because they're about three days in the mountains that marked a sad turning point for me. 

They mark the first time I used a wheelchair, and the moment I realized that I need a mobility scooter. 

I love this photo of me. I look so victorious over my disability. There I am, on a mountain top, when five years ago, I could not walk a block. 

I can walk more now. But it's still not much. My own legs did not get me up here. A wheelchair and a gondola did.

My trip up to the mountains is not really a story of victory, not one of unmitigated victory anyway.

My favourite thing in the whole wide world, in the whole universe, is the mountains of British Columbia. I moved out here when I was six and immediately fell in love. It was like my soul had found its home.

I spent five years of my childhood living right up in those mountains, in the thin air, with the bears and the coyotes and the cougars. Those were also the years that I endured the worst abuse. 

I think the beauty of the mountains was one of the things that helped me survive. In my childish way of understanding things, the mountains were my companions: old, slow, all-enduring, all-seeing, and endlessly compassionate. I felt that I was not alone. 

If you'd asked me, I think I would have said that the mountains had souls, and that I knew them and they knew me.

In my adult quest to pursue my intellectual and cultural interests, I've often moved back east -- to Toronto (twice), to Montreal, to New York City -- but, whenever I'm away, I ache for the mountains like Heidi did when she was forced to live in the city. I've felt like a part of me has been ripped out of my chest.

I've always come back to my city in the bay at the foot of the mountains. 

I'm not leaving again.

In the first year of my disability, I was almost completely bedridden and in a level of pain most people can't imagine. I could not walk to the corner, let alone go for a hike, or even a walk to a spot with a mountain view. 

I would lie in bed, with a hospital table swung over me, looking at photos of mountains on my computer. I promised myself that, some day, I'd be well again and get up into the mountains. I promised myself that some day I would hike again. 

Five years later, I did manage to keep my promise to myself, but only in a way. Beau and I went up to a resort village in August and used the gondola and a wheelchair to help me get up to see the mountain tops. 

I can look up and see the mountains from where I live in the city but I wanted to see them from the top again, and I did get that chance.

So there I was, on top of the mountains, but things were not as I had hoped they would be.

I made myself that promise to hike again in the days when it was still believed that I would make a full recovery. I chose to stay alive because I had hope -- false hope, as it turns out -- that I'd someday be "normal" again. 

The doctors didn't have all the information yet.

Now I know that it's very unlikely that I'll ever be, as my physiotherapist puts it, "100%" again. I'll almost certainly never be able to keep my promise to myself; I'll never be able to hike again.

You see, I was sex trafficked as a child. To put it bluntly, I was a slave. 

When I was about ten, after years of other forms of sexual abuse, I was "pimped" by a family member. And she kept on selling me for about six years, until I was old enough to be able to say no, and too old to be appealing to pedophiles anymore anyway. 

I was so badly, brutally, and repeatedly raped before my body was grown, that my back was injured. I received no medical treatment. From then on, my growing back did not develop properly. 

I managed to function normally for many years, with only relatively minor, intermittent troubles with my back. I was even able to be extremely active and fit, which is probably what kept me able-bodied for so long. What I didn't know was that eventual disability and chronic pain were inevitable. 

I didn't even recognize this cause and effect relationship for the first several years that I was disabled. My doctors and physiotherapist were puzzled as to why I was not healing and progressing at the rate they expected. I hadn't thought to sit down with them and tell them what had happened to me as a child. I hadn't realized that there might be a connection between the two great tragedies of my life: the sexual abuse and my chronic pain.

Last spring, Beau and another friend suggested I talk to my medical professionals about my childhood and see if there was a connection between the abuse and my trouble recovering physically. When I did, suddenly, for everyone involved, lights went on and everything all began to click into place. Suddenly, every thing made sense. So that's why I wasn't getting better.

My prognosis changed. Optimism faded. I would improve some more, yes, but I wasn't ever going to be normal again. I was never going to be out of pain.

I've been trying to grapple with this reality ever since. How, I ask myself, does anyone ever make peace with an injustice so colossal, so horrific, that it goes beyond words -- even for a wordsmith like me?

Of course, I also have PTSD. That too was inevitable. I think any trafficked child will have PTSD for the rest of his or her life. 

Having been habituated to terror, my brain switches me into fight or flight mode faster than it does with other people and this leads to panic attacks.

I nearly had a panic attack while going up in a teeny tiny, swaying gondola. I began shaking all over. I was struggling to breathe properly. My legs felt like jello. 

I was glad I had a wheelchair because fear alone would have kept me from walking. Usually, when I have a panic attack, I end up flat on the ground, but that wasn't an option in that gondola. Besides, I would have been ashamed to be seen like that once I had disembarked.

I do still have my pride.

By the time I'd reached my destination, I'd had two ativan, the recourse of those prone to panic attacks.

To put it mildly, I wasn't exactly thrilled with my situation: pain, wheelchair, fear, ativan... all because a bunch of pedophiles repeatedly used me as their plaything years ago. 

You can see how I'd be a bit brought down.

Besides, a wheelchair isn't very slimming. Look at this photo compared to the one above it. Wheelchairs and scooters make a gal look squashy. I don't want to look squashy. Standing is slimming. Think about it.

But standing can be hard. Notice how I'm leaning here while standing: you can see that I'm in pain. Some day, I think I'll do a post showing you all my pain poses, all my ways of trying to look like I'm not in pain when I'm actually suffering terribly.

Plus, I think I'll do a post on all the every day things that are very painful for me to do now. 

Like washing the dishes. Or cutting my toenails.

Or sitting at my computer writing this post.

So, yeah, my feelings about being up on these mountains were very mixed. I was happy to be in all that  beauty, but I felt defeated. I compared my struggles to the way I used to be able to skim a mountain in an afternoon and still have energy to go out in the evening -- never knowing that my body held a kind of ticking time bomb planted there years ago by heartless pedophiles.

I was far too painfully aware of all that I have lost, and exactly why I had lost it.

Against Beau's advisement, I insisted that we go for a little walk. It really was very short, maybe ten or fifteen minutes. But it was uphill and it was rocky.

I tried hard to see this as a victory. Certainly, I could not have done this five years ago. I tried to call it a hike.

But I used my cane and it hurt like hell and I really didn't feel victorious.

As always, Beau was a brick. He only accidentally bashed my wheelchair into a wall once. And once he did start pushing it forward when he felt I was taking too long petting a dog. All that power was going to his head.

I think it was right about at that moment that I realized that I need to get a mobility scooter. I love Beau, but it's time I got some independence.


I tried not to be, but I was jealous of Beau's beautiful, fully able body.

While I was carefully bracing the end of my cane against a rock so as not to fall, he was gallivanting around like an eager child discovering the world. He is strong and well.

Me, I could barely sit down on this rock at the end of our "hike." 

The juxtaposition between his body and mine was hard to take.

You can see it all over my face. I am not happy with my lot in life. Who would be?

Would you?

I felt as helpless as this baby behind me and I'm too young for that.

Part of why I've been putting off writing this blog entry is because I really can't give it a happy ending. I think my posts are becoming known for their happy, positive little twists at the end: life is kind of hell but, hey, look at how wonderful it can be too.

Sorry, I can't do that with this one. I really can't find the positive in all this, not right now.

But, you know, I'm really tired of people telling me to think positively about my situation. I'll be honest, when some able-bodied person, when some person who had a happy childhood, tells me to just "think positive," what I really want to do is kick him really hard in the small of the back, so he feels the way I do all the time, and then say, "Hey. Just think positively."

It's an absurd thing to say. It's cruel and dismissive. Instead, let's admit that my situation sucks. It's tragic and it's unfair and it just plain sucks. I'd be delusional if I felt otherwise. I'd rather not be asked to be delusional.

And, in fact, I actually do manage to think pretty positively, all things considered. Aside from my wonderful boyfriend, who is the best thing in my life, I manage to see beauty in places most people don't. How many lovely birds played over your head today without your noticing? I notice.

I drink in beauty -- in both its micro and its macro manifestations. I always have. I think my blog reflects that. In fact, if I could say that my blog is about one thing, it's about that: "finding small beauties in a big bad world." Those are what I call Sublime Mercies and that's why I gave this blog that name.

My natural inclination toward recognizing beauty helped me survive. The beauty of the mountains is, to me, the supreme, the most divine of all beauties, but I notice all the littler beauties too. They helped to save my life and my soul. They still help to this day.

But, for God's sake, don't tell me that I'm thinking too negatively because I do recognize that these "small beauties" exist in "a big bad world." Don't tell me to disavow the truth that I learned in my heart and in my battered body when I was a child: evil exists, hell is here. I am not one to deny truth, however painful it might be for me, and however uncomfortable it might make others. 

Knowing what I know of the world, I actually think I'm to be commended for managing to be as positive as I am. 

Could you do it, if you were in my shoes?

Dress: Style & Co.; Shoes: Ecco; Earrings: Jessica
So, yes, I was dismayed by how helpful the wheelchair was. Yes, it broke my heart a little bit more.

I was astonished by how much pain I was in from such a tiny "hike."

This is another pain pose: pressing my back against a wall. I first remember doing it after a series of merciless, brutal, gang rapes. 

I was in grade six? Or was it grade five? There were so many, it's hard to be sure.

It's true that the trip certainly wasn't all bad. I did get to see those mountains.

And Beau and I went out to a delicious dinner and talked about what marriage means to us. We talked about the role that faith in the divine (aka "God") would play, both in our wedding and in our life together as a couple. 

We talked about Judaism and Christianity and tried to figure out where on earth the two of us -- with our bizarre and mixed religious backgrounds -- might find a liberal religious congregation that felt like a good fit.

I am loved. I finally got out of the city and into the mountains, after five years trapped in the city. These are good things.

But I was in terrible terrible pain, and it would never entirely go away.

And I'd come to the realization that I need a mobility scooter.

My heart was not dancing with joy.

The next day, we headed home, the drive itself worsening my pain.

It took my body at least a week and several visits to my physiotherapist to recover from my adventure. 

And, by "recover," I do not mean coming to a place where I was no longer in pain. That's never an option for me anymore. I mean that it took me a week to get back to my "normal" levels of pain and mobility.

On one of my visits to the physiotherapist that week, I talked to him about getting a scooter. He didn't blink or try to talk me out of it. I almost wished he had. Yes, he said, a scooter would help me. He said he knew I would use it to gain more freedom and maybe even manage to be a bit more active. He talked about it like it was a good thing.

But I went home and cried for an entire day. I'm disabled. I'm in pain. Almost certainly forever. And it's because of the ruthlessness of those who use children for their own pleasure.

Yeah, I've got a lot more tears to shed. 

Wouldn't you?