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?


  1. As ever, your photo essays are moving and honest. Thank you for writing about this. I never knew the extent of your history. I'm amazed at your honesty, and also not at all. Of course you would talk about this. It needed saying. Thank you.

    1. You know, Patti, I really felt that I was open to friends, including you, about how bad it was, yet they're all saying, "I had no idea." I guess I over-estimated people's imaginations for the extremities of evil; I thought they could fill in the blanks but I guess they couldn't. In fact, I still haven't told the very worst stuff, which was even worse than what I explain here.

  2. What unmitigated horror with a continuing terrible aftermath. I hope this blog, telling people the past and the good and bad that is now, helps. Who wouldn't rage and be furious? Squashy in a wheelchair- heck yeah I'd be pissed. And still you find beauty and goodness around you and encourage others -amazing. I am humbled.

  3. I am so happy you saw the beautiful mountains. Even if only for a blink of time, it sounds like it may have offered you something positive. That is all we have; those moments. You are a strong woman, you should be proud.

  4. I have never felt the brutality of that side of life and I ache for you going through it. I can identify with struggles of having to use "aids" of wheelchair, scooter, etc. You are a beautiful and extremely strong person on the inside and thats what counts! I pray God will continually guide you and heal the extreme pain in your heart.

  5. Hello Charlotte. I found your blog through Alicia's blog. Thank you for writing this thoughtful, honest post. I can't imagine being in your situation, but I do relate to this thought: "...I'm really tired of people telling me to think positively about my situation." You should be tired of it. I am tired of it too. Evil does exist.

  6. I learned of your Blog through a dear friend, Spashionista. We've known each other since 1975 and we helped each other "Survive" our childhoods. But we helped each other and made it through. We always knew there were worse out there, never even imagining your childhood. You are an incredible ROLL MODEL
    to those of us out here that have "survived".
    I can not even begin to think of a life as you have had, and yet you still find beauty in this world that is filled with such evil. The name of your Blog says a lot about you, "Sublime Mercies". I am looking forward to reading more of your blogs.
    GOD made us women so strong, and he's given you a double Blessing for you are able to see the good and be positive even though you have been through so much. You really inspire me!!! GOD Bless you in ALL you do!!!!

  7. I came to you via Spashionista. She is amazing. You are too. Your blog today is amazing. I'm sure you have heard it before but I hadn't thought about what happens to people who are rescued as you were. And to those in physical as well as psychological pain. By the way, I commend you for this blog. I wish there were some way to lessen your pain. Your strength has inspired me to work harder on mine.

  8. I found you via the amazing Alicia. The first thing I noticed was a cute couple in the mountains. I grew up in Montana and now I live far away. But I miss the mountains so much my heart aches. Then I noticed the cane and PTSD and I felt maybe I could relate a little bit. But read your story and I am completely humbled by your profound honesty and courage. I know that you said you weren't very positive. But you sound pretty darn positive to me! I've been navigating my way through traditional and alternative medicine for the past three years to help me deal with my chronic pain. If you ever want to run anything past me I'm here to help. Sending you a nice gentle hug. Connie*

  9. Replies
    1. There is great weight in those three little words coming from you, Bernie. Thanks. To be continued...

  10. I don't know what to say. But I am here, for what that's worth.

    1. This is the Paula I think it is, right? Thanks. Your being disabled like me and willing to communicate with me about that does help.

  11. What a beautiful essay, expressing your determination to be aware of your past, present and future. Thank you, C.

  12. I think you are amazing but I am so angry at the torturing of little you... Angry tll I have tears running down my face. Where are these creatures now? Are the doing this to other little ones? Have they been held

  13. Replies
    1. I think two of them went to jail briefly for "molesting" their own children. Other than that, no, they're not being held accountable. I've been to the police more than once and gone through the painful process of giving statements and NOTHING has been done. After giving one statement, I was called by my primary abuser who yelled at me for going to the police. That's it, the entirety of the result of my bravery in trying to achieve justice. I'm not inclined to try again. I've come to the conclusion that the police, including the RCMP, don't care at all about the welfare of women and children.

    2. I can only agree wholeheartedly with you on this one - nothing is done!! Your story (only part as you state yourself) has touched deeply. Touched my own mental pain of being raped, once, by my fiancé at the time (a policeman in the intelligence force - what chance did I stand of reporting him). My father witnessed what was happening, must have thought that's what I wanted and did NOTHING!! But I didn't go through what you have and all I can say is, I'm so sorry (not pity) you had to endure such a childhood. Your physical pain I share with you (for a different reason). I suffer from osteo-arthritis (3 spots, just not bad enough to operate) in my back, knees, slowly but surely my hips and shoulders too + double depression (chronic and periods of Major depression + severe migraines (under control of an anti-epileptic) + use beta blockers to keep heart rhythm steady and I am all to familiar with Ativan because of Social Anxiety Disorder etc. I've mostly withdrawn from society because of people not understanding the depression (pull up your socks, shake yourself right, I don't understand this illness...). I'm not making a comparison between us please. Only sharing where we both sit on somewhat of the same page. Oh yes, in the earlier years of the deep depression I twice tried to end my own life but as you can see, I'm still around. The depression put a stop to the intimate side of my marriage which is a blessing in disguise - I hate sex. Men just use you for their own satisfaction. My faith has kept me going, one foot in front of the other. I'll be thinking of you!!! Irma Logan, South Africa

    3. Oh honey, don't give up on love! Not all men just use you for sex. Of course, I know about chronic pain, I know about depression, I know about anxiety... But there is hope. If you feel like reading my post that deals directly with sexuality after sexual abuse, try reading this one:

      I don't hold back on how horrible sexual abuse was for me and how badly it affected my sexuality and my ability to love, but it is also full of hope.

  14. That's quite a horrible story. I am so sorry.

  15. OMG Charlotte, simply incredible. Torture is what my abuse got most of his sentencing on. This is one horrible sexual abuse crime. But like you said, also..full of hope too. We have to be beacons for others who are still in their "Living Hell", to let them know that there is hope, it's not their fault and that there is help out there. I'm truly sorry for what you went through. And I see it has made you stronger. We are truly survivors.
    I'm so glad we connected.
    God Bless

  16. Charlotte, you are talented, beautiful, and your voice needs to be heard. What a miracle it is that you and Beau met, isn't it? You need lots and lots of love. Lots and lots! I send you many hugs, my dear!

    The dress is gorgeous on you, by the way - wear it a lot! xxx