Friday, April 4, 2014

When "Home" Was Hell: Love After Slavery

By now you know that Sublime Mercies isn't "just" a style blog. I write about all kinds of things, from fashion history to... very heavy and horrible things, like the fact that I was a victim of sex trafficking as a child, and the fact that the sexual abuse was so severe, it damaged my back and I am now disabled.

If you've been reading my blog, I'm sure you've wondered how I manage to have an adult romantic relationship. It's a natural question to ask, and I often ask it myself.

The simple answer is: It's not easy. I am riddled with childhood fears and distrust that no amount of intellectual understanding can erase. Of course those old emotions hinder my ability to freely and comfortably feel and express the love Beau and I share.

Now that we've moved in together, all those old fears are even stronger. 

I didn't want to write this post. I wanted to just write a love story, a story about a blissful honeymoon ...

 ... a lovely story about a seamless melding of homes and libraries...

... about two cats slowly and cautiously getting to know each other and becoming friends ...

... about order slowly emerging from chaos ...

... about trying to find nice outfits in all those boxes ...

Shirt and jeans: Reitman's; Boots: Ecco; Cape, earrings, bracelets, and brooch: vintage; Diamond ring: Birks
... and doing a pretty good job of it, if I do say so myself.

That's the story I wish I could write, and, in fact, it would be a true story.

But it's only half true because it's only half of the story.

With an abuse history as brutal as mine, there is always a shadow side to every story. There is always pain -- both physical and emotional.

No matter how loving and playful my relationship with Beau is, no matter how supportive and gentle he is, and no matter what a wonderful, tender lover he is (and he is all of these things and more) ...

... I'm no super hero. People tell me I'm brave and strong and maybe that's true but I am scarred by my past, or, if you prefer a gentler term, I am deeply affected by my past.

There are still times when I feel like all I'm good for is the sexual slavery I experienced in my home as a child, so there are times when parts of me think that's all that Beau wants from me. It has nothing to do with Beau. It has everything to do with how badly I was used and abused in my home.


For me, home was hell. To me, words like "home," "marriage," and "family" hold absolutely no positive meaning. Instead they conjure up in me feelings of terror, entrapment, sexual obligation, and degradation.

Yet, I needed shelter, and food, and clothing, and all the things a child cannot provide for herself. These things did not come free for me, as they should for a child. I had to pay for my life with my body. If I showed revulsion or rebellion against all the rapes I endured, the beatings, the drugs, the daily incest ... if I tried to resist, I could be left without the basics of life. I could be left without a home, without food, without clothes -- without life itself.

Yes, I'm an adult now. Yes, I can explain to myself that I'm safe now, that "home" need not be hell anymore, that Beau and I can define "home," "marriage," and "family" in any way we want to. Beau can explain it all to me too, and he does, often, telling me that I am free now, and can always say no. The adult part of me understands that -- sort-of -- but there are parts of me still stuck in the emotional trauma of my childhood. Those parts can't understand.

The child parts of me believe that moving in with Beau is the ultimate form of prostitution. They think that I will have two options: have sex I don't want or like; or be homeless and destitute.

Homeless, destitute, and crippled, crippled by the very abuse that makes me feel this way in the first place.

I've always felt shut out of normal life, shut out of the things that others take for granted: happy childhoods, parental support, family, this thing called home.

Even in circles that purport to care for the downtrodden, I feel erased, invisible. Even in those circles, I don't feel like their imaginations are expansive enough to include downtrodden folks like me. Such horrors do not exist for them. Sometimes, even when I tell people what happened to me, they forget and claim I never told them. Some of them have even told me, right to my face, "Those things don't happen." Something in them would rather erase me than admit such atrocities into their world views.

In some ways, it's precisely because of this that I've never wanted to be "normal." I'd rather be an outsider than be the type who is willfully blind to the realities of life. I'd rather be a bohemian weirdo any day, touting my horn about various social causes, than a box store shopping, insular, acquisitive type.

This was brought home to me when Beau and I went all the way out to the suburbs to buy a shelving unit at Ikea. Yikes! Yuck! No matter what my upbringing had been, the box store shopping, suburban, mainstream life would not be for me.

But other differences were brought home to me to out there too. Box stores are HUGE, and they involve a LOT of walking, so much walking that I was in an agony of physical pain before we were finished. Normal people don't have to suffer like that. Neither would I, were it not for the selfish perversions of a bunch of heartless pedophiles.

I don't like being reminded of that fact. Would you like it?

The struggle for me is in finding a way to let all the horrors I have known co-exist with the joys of life. The struggle is not to let the bad erase the good. The struggle is not to let the wonder of moving in with Beau be outweighed by the terrors of home and family.

Do you remember the September 11th attacks on the twin towers in New York? The next day was a beautiful, sunny day here, and people sat at the sidewalk cafes chatting and even smiling, as if life was normal and okay when, clearly, it was not. How could the sun possibly shine on such a day? How could people possibly laugh when things were so bad for so many others? Did you feel that way on September 12th?

That's what it's like for me sometimes.

Sometimes, I can not reconcile the good with the bad. I remember being nineteen, in emotional agony and confusion, walking beneath my city's famous, early cherry blossoms. I could not understand how flowers could bloom in the same world where children are regularly raped, misused, and discarded.

It seemed like a contradiction in the very fabric of the universe.

Eventually I learned to call it a paradox and get on with my life.

But when my doctors made the connection between my disability and the child abuse, when I realized that my chronic pain was directly caused by the sexual abuse, it all started to feel like a contradiction all over again. Only, this time, the contradiction was in my very body. I felt and sometimes feel like my abusers still live in my body, beating me from within. How, then, can I make love with that same body? How can I love it all? It doesn't make any sense.

The beauty of the mountains, the west coast mountains anyway, could co-exist with all that is horrible in the world. For me, the wildness of their beauty, the dangerousness of their precipices and wildernesses, had room for pain as well as joy. They were huge enough, and scary enough to encapsulate both.

I remember being about fourteen, staring up at this very mountain as I took the bus home from school, and imagining myself at its freezing top, screaming out my pain into the violent wind. There was no-one to tell, no-one to help or comfort me in any way. Just the wild ancient mountains. They were my friends.

I was so very very alone.

I'm not alone anymore.

Now I'm loved. Now I have someone to comfort me. Now I can express my pain.

And sometimes it seeps out in the wrong ways. Long silent voices in me confuse the past with the present. They feel and even say things that are not appropriate for the free and adult life I now have.

I was pouring out my worries to Beau, telling him I'm concerned about money, telling him that I'd had cheap rent in my old place. "You have cheap rent in our new place too," he reminded me.

"Only because I'm sleeping with you," I replied, not even getting how inappropriate that was, how untrue it was. I am not Beau's kept woman. I am not his slave. I am his partner.

It comes as a revelation to me that some people feel an increased sense of security when they live with a partner. I still can't really understand that on anything but the most cerebral of levels. For me, the only security is in utter, fierce independence. Parts of me still think that marriage is prostitution. No, worse: it's slavery.

As I watch our two homes slowly meld into one, even as I am filled with happiness and awe at this love I've found, I am also filled with an almost blind terror.

I feel stuck in my child self, thinking that any kindness Beau shows me is a trick, just like it was with all my abusers. Soon enough, I'll be abused again. I must remain wary, alert. I must not be duped by false kindness ever again.

So instead of resting in the large comfort of his love and our home together, I find myself grasping at the small comforts as I always have: a cat's company ...

I'm really very excited about this Marcel Boucher brooch. More on that in another post.
... the sparkle of a vintage brooch ...

... the bright contrast of colours in our new kitchen ... 

I highly recommend several of the books you can see here, especially The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Hours, and Monkey Beach. I most decidedly do not recommend The Well of Loneliness.
... all my lovely beautiful books.

It's like that Simon and Garfunkel song, I Am a Rock: I have always had my books to protect me.

But when Simon and Garfunkel sang, "If I'd never loved, I never would have cried... safe within my room, I touch no-one and no-one touches me," I don't think they meant what those words mean to me. When most people speak of being afraid of being hurt in love, they're thinking of a lover who dumped them. Me, I'm talking about a very close relative who sold me, and others who said they loved me as part of their ploy to enslave me.

The pain I fear is quite a bit more concrete and quite a bit more terrifying.

Most of the time, I put on a brave face but it's not easy. There are times when my face hurts, not just from smiling, but from not crying.

For crying out loud, I was literally crippled by what happened to me.

The next time we went to a box store, Home Depot this time, I used their courtesy scooter. It was the first time I'd used one. I don't even drive a car so there was quite the learning curve.

I laughed at the time.

I hammed it up. Beau had to remind me to look at where I was going, not at the camera. We both laughed a lot.

But it's not actually funny. Not at all.

Sometimes I want to retreat back to my solitude because it's the only way I know how to feel safe. My bruised and battered body, and my bruised and battered soul would feel some relief in that.

But I'm not just what happened to me. I have free will. I have my intellect. I have my rather snobbish sense of humour.

Like, really, take a look at this sign on the scooter. What on earth does it mean to get "ON" or "OFF" a cart and lean "ON" or "OVER" the side of said cart? Apparently, the friendly folks at Home Depot don't know that quotation marks are not meant "FOR EMPHASIS." That's what italics are for, sillies!

I'm still me. I would have been a snob about grammar no matter what my childhood. I'm still me. 

I also still have a knack for metaphors.

Here are Beau's fat orange cat and my geriatric black one getting along famously after knowing each other for only two weeks. They are lying on and amongst the accoutrements of my disability: a special knee pillow, heating pads, the day bed itself, railings to help me maneuver myself, and a knob so I can massage my own back. My need for that bed enrages me; but the cats' love of the bed truly does delight me. The bad does not erase the good. Nor does the good erase the bad. They co-exist.

Let's call it a paradox rather than a contradiction. Let's try anyway.

Cherry blossoms bloom even as children are being raped. It's always been that way and it always will be that way.

I can see some humour and have some fun even in the lasting results of my abusers' cruelty. What else can I do? Give up? I don't know how.

And here we all are: Beau, me, orange cat, black cat, all entwined and cozy together on the bed I need because I'm crippled because I was abused. It's all true at once.

Maybe I'll learn to feel safe in this love thing after all. In fact, I am learning it, whether all of me knows it or not. 

(I'm linking this up to Visible Mondays on Not Dead Yet.)


  1. I am so glad that you are no longer alone. You are loved. Day by day, I hope the flowers smell sweeter.

    1. What a nice sentiment. Thanks. And, yes, I do always stop to smell the flowers.

  2. Beautiful, heartbreaking, eloquent - all at once.

  3. Your posts are always so powerful, I find myself crying and heartbroken and happy for you...all together.

    1. Thanks. "Crying and heartbroken and happy..." is pretty much the mix I'm talking about in this particular post. I don't think the good will ever win over the bad but I also don't think the bad will ever extinguish the good.

  4. Like Corina wrote, Day by day. You have tremendous courage and a lovely partner. Thanks for sharing a piece of your heart with Visible Monday.

  5. I too am Crying and heartbroken and happy for you. Your strength is astounding. May the good in you life grow ever.

  6. The thing I thought when I found this blog was : A beautiful clever woman who share her joy moments, her beautiful soul and fashion things. For your pictures are really nice, you always catch a sweet light and notice nature's beauty.

    I understood something was sad in your story when I saw a picture with three words like "me as a neglicted child". I felt bad for you. But I think that's a great decision to write the good AND the worst.
    I know how it is when you tell someone you're raped and that this person you're trusting says : it didn't happen, it can't happen, it's all in your head. Or once someone I told the story, crying, said : it was a LESSON for you, so stop crying now...

    People may react so stupid. But meeting this kind of person made me think : I will never tell again the dark memories. I will bury them deeply into myself.

    That's why I appreciate your blog even when it's really hard to read : because you're not lying to us, pretending everything's perfect. I'm sure it helps you sometimes to feel better, writing a blog is like talking to a friend who doesn't judge.

    I hope all will go the better for you.

    1. I don't know who you are but it's clear to me that you really get what I'm trying to do with this blog. I created it as a way to help me focus on the positive things in my life, which I call "sublime mercies," those little things that help me cope with the emotional and physical pain of my situation. So, it's first a positive blog, but I think that ignoring the negative is not healthy either. As I say in this post: neither erases the truth of the other.

      For a long time, I was pretty quiet about what happened to me but I finally decided that I was spending a lot of my time censoring my words to help others feel more comfortable. The result was that I was the one who was often uncomfortable. I no longer want to protect others from a truth that so badly needs to be heard. The reasons why it needs to be heard are multitude, but one of them is my desperate hope that the non-abused will start caring enough to try to help the abused and stop abuse altogether.

      But, perhaps more importantly, I want to reach people like you, who endure in silence, so you know you're not alone.

      And, I have had some negative reactions to my blog, including a family member who yelled at me for "lying." So be it. Now I know not to think of that family member as someone who loves me. Better to know, I guess.

    2. You're right, it's like there are two camps, abused and non-abused. I am actually thinking that everyone is abused, because I think like you now about marriage: sexual slavery.

      I used to fall in love with men until I get fifteen. Then I met so much monsters, now I think it's a man nature to be heartless.

      Reading that you have humor about grammar mistakes (sorry for mine, not fluent as you guess) made me smile, I'm that way with my language, though I'm over-lenient with bad language people now (blasé with low general level :). But I wander from my question.

      As you like books and know well the writing codes, I was wondering : did you ever think of writing a book of your story ?

    3. Yes, I have thought of writing a book and have been urged to do so often. It's just so emotional. For me, this blog is like taking baby steps towards the book.

      I don't actually think that marriage is sexual slavery, not real marriage between two equals in love. Just the parts of me that are stuck in childhood trauma feel that way, and I'm trying to teach myself that real love is possible. Not all men are monsters. In my adult life, I've known some wonderful, gentle, feminist men and I'm going to marry one of them. Of course, I've also known some absolutely terrible, cruel women. Every human is different.

  7. While you weren't paying attention the good already has won out over the bad, at least in the sense that you have allowed someone else to enter into a partnership with you. Someone very special - because you deserve no less than that.
    Use the courtesy scooters, Charlotte. They are there for you and you shouldn't even hesitate to ride them and make them look good. If I can rock Nashville Fashion Week in an electric wheelchair you can certainly take great, pain-free outfit pictures!


  8. Trying not to be incoherent....let me know how I do.
    I believe beauty reflects the proper order of things, which is why evil tries to tear it down. If beauty disappeared because horrible things happen to innocents, the world would completely reflect the abusers. Remember how kind everyone was to strangers after September 11? We suddenly remembered what was important- people and life and love- and stood against hate. I wish we hadn't stopped.
    As one human to another, what can I do to help you while you fight to live well?
    Keep doing what you are doing (two steps forward, one step back though it seems); you triumph over them every time you exercise your empathy.
    Can you recommend any organizations that you trust that work against human trafficking? What happened to you was a crime (literally- did any of the perpetrators go to jail); I want to help make sure others don't have this happen to them.
    Bugger- not coherent at all.

    1. Quite coherent, actually. To be honest, what I noticed after 9/11 is that white people suddenly stopped trusting Muslim people they'd known for years. To this day, my brown students say they have trouble getting across the border into the States.

      I love what you say: "you triumph over them every time you exercise your empathy." That's beautiful and very helpful for me. In fact, you see it exercised in the above paragraph, now that I think of it. My experiences have made me keenly aware of the suffering of other marginalized people, which may be why I find myself reading so very much about the experiences and triumphs of Canada's Aboriginal people.

      What can you do? Good question, which means, on a practical level, I'm not totally sure. There are some organizations but my feeling is that they mostly work with slightly older victims who are "groomed" and then "pimped" by people they meet outside of the home. These are worthy organizations but they're not addressing the issue I am, not quite. If anyone reading this has any suggestions, do let me know. I should probably start including some hotlines and charities on my page.

      I can certainly also ask you always to keep your eyes and ears open to the pain of others, children included, and to always err on the side of caution if you even have the slightest suspicion of abuse.

      And try not to speak in generalities or universals about human experience in such a way that it shuts out the reality of the abused. For instance, it's always salt in the wound when people talk about the universal goodness of mothers, or the universal "carefree" quality of childhood.

    2. Good point about universals...never trust 'em...(heh). As I research the question about organizations, do you want me to let you know what I find? However, you've already noted the most important aspect of stopping brutality- be aware of the pain of those around you and be willing to do something about it.

    3. I'd love to hear what you find. Not to sound like I'm just into self-promotion, but I think another thing people can do is share some of my posts on the topic of abuse, to help open eyes, and to help reach other survivors.

  9. Just wanted you to know that I often read, even though I don't always comment. I often can't think of a thing to say that would be of the least value, except to let you know that there's one more person rooting for you, and for you and Beau, and for you and the child you'll both raise. Just that. These are difficult posts for us to read, but they should be. Soft pedaling the horrific events of your childhood would only help keep the veil of cultural avoidance, and that's not what needs to happen. Expanded public awareness starts with one person's history told to another, and then another. I know your wish is that your story might prevent another from happening somehow. Keep talking about it. You are quite right.
    Sex within any relationship, even super duper healthy and supportive ones can be a minefield. Never doubt it! My wish for you is that you can both muddle through with love and fulfilled good intentions, and hang on to the best moments with both hands.

    1. I'm so glad you can see my intent in writing some "heavier" posts. Sometimes I wonder why I do it but I do think you're right, that "expanded public awareness starts with one person's history told to another."

      Beau and I now live with his two children, nine and twelve, not one child, and he and I don't intend to have any more children. But, yes, I guess I really am raising children now, aren't I? Eeek! So far, it's going very well.

  10. WOW!! You are so beautiful!!! :) Inside and out! Only a truly strong strong woman would be able to share her heart in this way. As a law student wanting to fight for girls that have been trafficked or suffered any sexual abuse, this was so good to read. Knowing that i will never truly understand, but truly to fully wrap my mind around the trauma to give me the motivation to keep fighting! You are strong! :) Healing is a daily process and you are not giving up which means your abusers did not win! <3

  11. The paradox of good and bad living side by side is very evident in your posts. Your physical and emotional pain bleeds through your words and yet your photos are full of beautiful people and things. I adore your blog (from afar til now) and enjoy the depth you bring to this often superficial blog world. I feel your panic as your special hideaway is invaded (albeit in a new location) and yet I also sense the depth of love you have for Beau. I look forward to reading more :-)

    1. Thank-you so much! I never really know who's reading my blog unless they leave comments so it's nice to discover new readers. I've never been very good at the superficial and it gets me in trouble sometimes. The ironic flip side, though, is that some people mistake me for superficial because I enjoy style so much. What they don't know is that it's a balm for me, not an all-consuming interest.

  12. I really enjoy your blog, and have awarded you the sunshine and shine on awards!

  13. I know it sounds aweful....or maybe it doesn't and its just that I'm grateful for you because of who you are now and everything that was but not because I don't wish those things never happened - such horrors should never happen to anyone let alone to a child. Let alone done by those who should love and value us- protect t us. I am grateful for all that you are and the courage you had to write it because I am not alone. Approve my post or don't I just didn't want to read in silence. I am always smiling and I don't try to explain anymore because I am tired of lying...and no one wants the truth. I have met precious few who can handle even parts of my past and it still baffles me that love like theirs can exist....but understand? No...but what you wrote...Thank you. I am not alone.

    1. No you aren't, and neither am I. I got tired of lying too. So now I just tell the truth. I quickly learn who can handle it and who can't. If they can't handle it, they're not my friends. But, if they can, well, they're better friends than I had before. But you're right: very few people can even hear it, let alone deal with it. They erase us. That makes me very angry and I have every right to that anger. So do you.