Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Anti-Christmas Outfit: Bah Humbug, Only Prettier

I hate Christmas. The season is very stressful and emotional for me because I was horrifically, sadistically, sexually abused on Christmases past. Everything about the season reminds me of pain and terror, not comfort and joy. I won't go into detail about the abuse in this post but I did a year ago in a post entitled When Christmas is a Trigger: Enduring the Holidays with PTSD. It went a bit viral and is one of my most read posts to date.

I'm glad I wrote it. Friends who thought they knew how bad it had been for me, but really didn't, are now kinder and gentler with me during the holiday season. They go out of their way to ask how I'm doing, and how I feel about the barrage of decorations, songs, advertisements, well wishes, movies, etc., that constantly remind me of some of the worst moments of my life.

I'm also glad I wrote it because the response I got to that post let me know that I'm not the only one who feels this way about Christmas. I'm not the only one who struggles just to survive it. I'm not the only one more liable to throw up on Christmas Eve than to celebrate it. I know that I'm not alone, and those who feel the same way can now know that they're not alone either. 

Not only was I badly abused at Christmas time, but many of my abusers, in an effort to justify their abuse, perverted Christian holidays and iconography, including those of Christmas (and Easter). Many of them not only claimed to be good Christians, but told me that they were abusing me in the name of their Christianity. The season reminds me more of cruel depravity and my abusers' efforts to destroy my spirit than of good cheer and the salvation of souls. 

It is partly for this reason that I ask well intentioned readers of Sublime Mercies to please stop trying to convert me to Christianity and to help me find Jesus. It happens a lot! For the record, I do have faith -- the very name of my blog, Sublime Mercies, is a testament to that fact -- but it's mine: private, strong, and sustaining. I do not need to be rescued into someone else's manifestation of faith.

Plus, I'm more than half Jewish. I have, in my own, not very observant way, been a self-identified Jew for most of my adult life. Moving away from Christian holidays, language, and iconography has been very healing for me, as it has given me a way to express my faith without being constantly triggered and reminded of the abuse I endured. 

Take Hanukkah, for example. While it feels like the whole world is putting up Christmas trees, I'm lighting the Hannukah candles, brighter and prettier each night, beautiful and festive, and not in any way related to my abuse.  

But it's impossible to ignore Christmas, at least in Western culture. I was a bit of a wreck throughout December. I was cranky, I was grumpy, I was liable to pick fights with Beau or start crying "for no reason." Beau had to keep reminding me, "It's Christmas. You do have a reason." 

It's not easy to like myself much when the person I love most is bearing the brunt of my negative emotions about something that happened long before I even met him. As is common for me all year round, I've been plagued by self-loathing.

I had panic attacks this month, that terrifying rush of adrenaline that my brain sends through my body when it incorrectly senses danger. The danger? Christmas itself. 

My body didn't fair well either. My headaches were far more frequent and intense. I got two cold sores in a row, the second one infecting so badly, the side of my face was pink and puffy and I had to go to the doctor. An exacerbation of the symptoms of PTSD affects the body as well as the soul, and I was depleted to my core. I still am.

The day of Christmas Eve is the worst for me. My "inner children," those parts of me frozen in childhood moments of inescapable danger and terror, were in a panic. The rational mind can do little to explain, "It's okay. The danger is long gone." 

Comfort must come in less cerebral forms, like toys that help remind those childlike parts of me that childhood was not unceasingly horrific. There were good things too, like Fisher Price toys! Remember them?

But I still hate Christmas Eve. 

Boots, cape, earrings, sunglasses, rings (except engagement ring), bracelet, and cane: vintage; Skirt: ModCloth; Tights, top, gloves, and sweater: Reitman's
That's why I was so excited when my very first Mod Cloth order arrived on the day of Christmas Eve. The timing could not have been better. It felt like an anti-Christmas present. I mean, can you imagine a skirt that is less Christmas-y -- while still being so incredibly festive

I didn't even take the time to iron my new skirt. I had to create an outfit around it immediately, my only concession to the season being my rather dun boots. Christmas? What's Christmas? It's Spring

It felt like a form of rebellion. It was a form of rebellion. 

I was still in a bad mood, mind you, but I was diverted and sometimes diversion is a very welcome gift. (I was also diverted by the redundancy in that sign. "Roe" is fish eggs, so the sign essentially says, "Herring fish eggs eggs.")

Plus, after days and days of heavy rain, the sun was out.

I've always wanted a full circle skirt to twirl in. Now I have one.

Of course, I can't twirl anymore. Beau asked me to try but I was nervous and it hurt.

It hurt because, as a child, I was repeatedly sold to men who sexually abused me so badly that they permanently injured my back. It was my family who sold me. 

All the talk of family at Christmas is like salt in my wounds. It's family-this, and family-that, and if I dare suggest that not all families are ones with whom any sane person would want to celebrate anything ever ... well, then I'm assumed to be some peevish, immature daughter, holding a petty grudge. This year, on the 26th, when I told a woman that I am glad that Christmas is over, she looked at me as if I'd said I like to kill kittens (an act I also witnessed in my home, by the way). 

People won't let themselves imagine how bad a family can be. I wish they would.

Because of my "family," I am in significant and constant pain. The cane not just a fashion statement.

I have every right to be all "bah humbug" at this time of year, and I did do a fair amount of that. But, on December 24th, I opted to rebel against the day by wearing bright yellow, and turquoise, and pink, not a Christmas colour in the mix. 

It was my anti-Christmas outfit, and it felt a bit like going to an abuser's funeral dressed in red. In other words, it felt good.

If I've got to use mobility aids, at least I can look good doing so.

I got the cane second hand and this was my first time using it. Doesn't it go well with the skirt?

But why do they put those damned stickers on them? Do you know how hard they are to get off, even for an able-bodied person, let alone for someone whose weak back makes scrubbing painful? I'm sure Beau will help me eventually. I hate having to ask him for so much. But I digress.

My outfit was my own way of saying, "So there!" to my abusers.

They say that living well is the best revenge. I really can't say I feel I'm living well. I feel too deeply affected by the abuse to claim that I'm living well. But some abuse is so extreme that simply living at all is an act of defiance -- and I'm still here. So there!

Is dressing well an act of revenge? Even if it isn't, it brings me some cheer and that's a good thing.

My skirt felt like it was its own sunshine on a dark day of my soul. It seemed to glow.

It made me feel mischievous and sly, like I was playing a trick on the day. I wasn't dressed for Christmas; I was dressed against it.

I made sure to look sunshiny in every detail. I love my vintage brooches. I almost never leave the house without picking one for the day. A day this hard called for three brooches!

I try, in my way, to carry the sun with me, and maybe even generate a bit of sunshine from within.

Doing this is not "laughing in the face of adversity," though I do have a pretty keen sense of gallows humour. I am not a cheerful cripple, ignoring my pain, and not talking about my reality -- so other people feel more comfortable around me. That's not me at all.

I cry. I rage. I get cranky. I curse. I complain. I hate myself. I ask for help. I rant. And, let's not forget, I write a little, in your face blog called Sublime Mercies.

I stare adversity in the face, acknowledge it, talk about it, agitate for others to acknowledge it too.

And, at the same time, I try to go on, to go forward, even as the past tugs and pulls, not just at my heart, but at my very body, which was so misused in adversity.

So I can't twirl in my skirt. I can mourn that loss, and I can swish my skirt and have genuine fun doing so. 

I try to be the one noticing the flowers -- even if I have to wear them because they can't be found anywhere else.

It brightens my days and maybe brightens other people's days too. You see three shadows here; two are Beau and his cousin. The other is a complete stranger walking his dog, stopping and smiling while Beau took photos. That's me noticing him and saying he shouldn't let us impede his walk. Was he amused by our little photo shoot? I hope so.

So, whether it's an act of revenge, an act of self-preservation, or an act of generosity, I wore "flowers" in my hair on Christmas Eve ...

... even when the barren trees and winter sky mutely proclaimed that there were no flowers.

There are always flowers, literal and metaphorical. You just have to look for them -- hard.

And the trees are never really barren of life. These ones were alive with the sound of excited crows.

I can't literally lay down my physical and emotional burdens, as much as dearly wish I could.

So I just do what I can: walking in pain ...

... having fun in pain ...

... playfully decorating my home for that fun ...

... taking the time to notice the details that somehow make my life a little easier ...

... doing what I can for my children within (aka, "the littles") ...

... carrying whatever sunshine I can with me.

This has been my sly secret, my odd rebellion, since childhood. I saw beauty where others didn't. I kept my secret so it couldn't be taken away from me.

It doesn't need to be a secret anymore.

I never want to turn my back on pain or be in denial, but I'm also trying to never turn my back on goodness either. That's what kills the spirit.

When one learns to see clouds as landscape, the sky is never barren, even on the darkest days. 

Yes, that's a metaphor. 

And so it goes: I try to move forward, my face toward the sun, and carrying my own sunshine with me. 

And I am SO glad Christmas is over! I do not look forward to its return.

Bah humbug! in a pretty way.

I'd like to dedicate this post to my friend, "Joe," who can't see any of the beautiful photos in the post. His mother's abuse blinded him when he was a baby. He endured years more abuse before, like me, he was able to leave "home" in his mid teens.

(I'm sharing this with Spy Girl, Hat Attack on The Style Crone, and Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet.)


  1. This is such a beautiful skirt! I saw it on one of my favorite bloggers a while back and was considering purchase myself. I am so glad you have it because you look amazing in it! Love the colors you combined in this outfit, and I so agree with you about the internal sunshine. Shine, Charlotte, and let kind people love and treasure you. xxx

    1. Isn't it a great skirt? I almost never wear yellow but, as long as it's not near my pale pale face, it seems to work. You should get it too. And thanks for your words about kind people. I try.

  2. Wow! Charlotte. Its Joe...I hear everything you've said. I think I realized that for the first time ever even with other abuse survivors, I no longer really have to say anything to be understood by one. And that one is you, my dear friend. When you wrote spoke my/our truth too. We are like you. We have others inside of here with us. We were mercilessly tortured and abused in ghastly ways, in the name of a religion. That the religions for you and I were different, doesn't matter a bit. I/we hear and understand this better than anything else I believe any of us have ever read. It spoke our own truth beautifully. No love. I could not see the pictures. My own mother took my ability to see away from me when I was a bbaby. Fiction doesn't get more bizarre than that statement, or even the idea of it, I know. But there you go. That was my llife. I've tried for 39 years to be a resolute and competent blind person, blowing everyone's mind by simply walking by them with confidence. Acting like I have no care in the world. And yet...Complex PTSD teaches us to survive. It definitely does that. But now, I'm learning how to both accept what is gone, and grieve its loss. I'm tired of being the courageous cripple Charlotte, and I want to be truthful about that. You just gave me proof that it can be done with grace and acceptance, beauty and reality. All of the love and respect I've got coming your way. --Joe Freeman

    1. I don't want to be the courageous cripple either, but you and I have no choice. I hate that. People always tell me how strong I am. I don't feel that way at all, but just the fact that you and I are still here is testament to our tenacity. I think it's good that we're both learning to admit our weaknesses. THAT'S courage!

  3. I have an affinity for those that don't have an enthusiasm for the holiday season. The holidays are centered around family and if one's family history was not great beginning with Thanksgiving and ending with Christmas the season can be quite a struggle to get through. Thanks for continuing to share with your readers. Your skirt is so pretty. It is a great symbol for brighter days. I wish you a Happy New Year.


    1. Luckily, Thanksgiving is not a big deal in Canada. That shortens the holiday season a bit for me.

  4. I read your linked post. And this one. And all I can say is: that's a damned fine anti-Christmas outfit!! Time to celebrate anti-Christmas with every fiber. Absolutely fantastic. Your sort-of-twirl is stellar. Here's to a great new year. Hugs.

  5. Well, I'm glad you made it through the season! Your skirt is so gorgeous and it looks fabulous on you! I really enjoy seeing color this time of year! :)

    1. I live in a city that's rainy and overcast almost all the time into the winter, so bright colours almost seem necessary to me.

  6. Love your anti-Christmas outfit. I, too, would twirl in that skirt. Fabulous photos. Thoughtful, soulful writing. Send you my hugs.

    1. That twirl was almost impossible for me. I used to be a really good dancer. It's sad.

      "Soulful writing." I like that. Thanks.

  7. So many things to love about this post. Firstly, I'm so glad you seem more healthy this year. Secondly, i love the skirt. Thirdly, way to sock it to 'em! I love the presents to the inner child, and the way you see "hidden" beauty. I humbly offer another of my poetic responses to your story.

    I am in pain
    Back pain
    My back is pained
    By my abusers

    I look back in pain
    Terrible pain
    Hauntingly cruel
    My Back story

    Look through the pain
    See through pain
    I will not turn my back
    On my pain

    Fighting pain
    Triumphant pain
    Back to back
    My Beauty

    I hope you see your own beauty some day, as easily as you see it in the world, creatures, fashion and in gemstones. xo Jazzy Jack

    1. JJ, I'm really touched by your comment and poem here. I like that you really understand that it's not healthy to turn my back on my pain, literal and metaphorical. And your hope that I learn to see my own beauty really hit home. For all my bravado on this blog, I actually have very low self-esteem about my appearance, and even lower feelings about my goodness as a human being. A child can't be constantly told that she's good for nothing but sex, and not have it eventually affect her self esteem. But I'm trying and I think that's the best I can do.

  8. Thank you for sharing yourself, your pain and your gorgeous style with Hat Attack.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing. Your anti skirt wins! Love all the flowers, secret and overt both.

  10. Oh yes, this is a gorgeous skirt, and I absolutely adore your outfit! Looking forward to see all other ways you will style it. You really shine beautifully, Charlotte, inside and out! xxx