About Sublime Mercies

The deets on me, Charlotte Issyvoo:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CIssyvoo

Sublime Mercies is a blog about style, disability, feminism, and child sexual exploitation, also known as sex trafficking. Does that sound like an odd combination? Let me explain.

When I started writing Sublime Mercies a few years ago, I honestly thought it would just be about style, just a foolish little diversion from Important Ideas, Real Life and, especially, Chronic Pain. I had not yet learned to really honour the positive, healing role that style and beauty have always played in my life.

In about 2008, I was felled by terrible back pain, with which I had struggled for years. I was told I would get better, and I did, very slowly, and to a certain point. And then I plateaued. No matter what I did, no matter how carefully I adhered to all my doctors' and physiotherapists' recommendations, I just couldn't get any better. I blamed myself. I thought I must be doing something wrong. It was a mystery to my medical helpers. If I was doing something wrong, they didn't know what it was.

I don't think I need to tell you that I was depressed. To combat this depression, I did what I've always done; I hoarded small joys: feeding birds on my balcony, loving my cats, reclaiming my love of style, despite my weight gain and low self esteem.

Just as it had not occurred to me to write in my style blog about the horrendous abuse I suffered as a child, it had not occurred to me to talk to my medical professionals about it either, until a good friend and my partner both suggested there could be a link between my pain and the abuse.

I finally first sat down with my physiotherapist and said, "I was sex trafficked as a child. I was frequently and repeatedly gang raped, brutally, sadistically -- and that's when my back pain first started, at nine or ten." I gave him explicit, painful details.

He told me that my futile struggles to get better now made sense. My back injuries were much more serious than anyone had known, I'd lived with them for much longer than they'd thought, I'd received no medical treatment when I was first injured, and my child's back had never had the chance to develop normally. Disability had been inevitable.

It was extremely unlikely that my back was going to get better -- ever.

I was devastated. My world fell apart. My world view fell apart. My identity fell apart.

Me, at about four.
I was a disabled woman who would be in pain for the rest of my life -- because a bunch of pedophiles, including close family members, one of whom pimped me, cared more about their depraved pleasure than about my emotional or physical health and survival. Even though I'm the one who lived through it, that level of evil is impossible to comprehend.

I felt grief and sorrow so deep, they were a black hole within me that threatened to implode and take me with them. Simultaneously, I felt rage so huge, it threatened to explode and take me with it.

Part of my anger was toward a world that would rather turn its back on the reality of child sex trafficking than do something about it. I wanted to yell at them, "Listen, look, know, act!" I decided to yell with my writing.

After keeping secrets most of my life, something in me said, "Enough!" I had to speak. I had to let the world know the truth of how bad life can be for children. I had to do what little I could to change that horrible truth.

If telling the truth about my life made others uncomfortable, that was not really my problem. I was quite a bit more than "uncomfortable" and I needed to do whatever I could to help myself and the world. At first tentatively, and then with more courage and directness, I began to write about child abuse in my blog.

The response was amazing and completely positive. Other people who had been sexually abused and/or sex trafficked reached out to me and said, "Me too," and, "Thank you!" I get several letters or comments a week to this effect.

People also told me I was brave" and "amazing." People praised me for doing so well in life in the face of so much hell. I'd never seen myself that way! I still have trouble doing so.

And, throughout all this, on all the hard days, of which there are many, when I could not bear to think about what had happened to me, could not bear this new revelation -- I'm disabled because of pedophiles -- I'd focus on beauty, an outfit, jewelry, flowers -- and I would feel relief.  More and more, I realized that beauty and style have helped me survive all my life.
Me, at about nine or ten, back already hurting, in an outfit I thought particularly cool, with my long hair tucked up under my Chinese cap.
I have always loved beauty, in nature and in style. A vintage brooch or sunlight on a mountaintop can so brighten my day that life seems eminently worth living, even in the midst of hell. I've been like that since I was a tiny child. I realize that it's a kind of skill, a wonderful survival technique, to see these beauties, these Sublime Mercies, in what I well know is a big bad world.

These qualities in me have not been encouraged or even respected in the circles in which I have travelled all my life. The Quakers who raised me thought it was pride, a pride that distracts one from doing good works, God’s one true commandment. The hippies to whom I was born thought it was mainstream and materialistic. The feminists and lesbians with whom I came out of the closet thought it was a sign of passivity and capitulation to patriarchal standards of female beauty. Academics (academia being where I have built my career) seem to think that it signifies stupidity and foolishness.

In short, in the worlds in which I have travelled, a love of fashion is seen as synonymous with a lack of intelligence, and an unthinking shallowness and acceptance of sexism. Any thinking woman, the argument seems to go, will throw off the shackles of femininity and style and liberate herself into unadorned self-actualization.

Most of the time, I believed this to be true. But I just couldn't help myself. Pretty things just make me happy. I was actually ashamed of this fact!

But now? After the sex trafficking, after the onset of PTSD, after the onset of chronic pain ... with all the nightmares and triggers and daily struggles ... If something gives me relief and joy, I'm done with shame. I'm going to celebrate my love of beauty. Even as I write about hell, I'm going to write about and show images of beauty, and of the adornments that have been a part of my survival.

I call these: Sublime Mercies. They're what my blog is all about. I hope you like it.



  1. You'll never have to defend yourself with me. It's perfectly fine to want to look as beautiful on the outside as you are on the inside ;-)

    Spashionista (Alicia)

  2. Hey, Charlotte! This is my first reading of your "About" page (though I've read many of the posts). It's a great piece!

    1. Thanks, Heather. I do think it makes it more clear why a style blog for me is less trivial than it might initially seem. I am going to update this soon though to give a little more information about the nature of my disability and such.

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  4. I couldn't sleep tonight due to my degenerative Osteoarthritis and chronic pain,so I was surfing the web and came across your blog. Omg I wish I could express how much what you write touches me. There are no words for the horrors you survived, and I won't cheapen that by trying to say any. But thank you for sharing your life,telling it like it is about being in constant pain. Finally-someone that truly DOES understand.You are my new hero.-Pamela-Marie ,London,UK

  5. Oh wow! Thanks so much. This is really nice. I do so hope I'm doing some good with this blog. Knowing it helps you makes me think maybe I am.

  6. I am so moved by your story and honesty, Charlotte, and appreciate mightily the good that beauty can bring even to moments or epochs of great pain. I have always loved fashion and I, too, felt that it was not "serious" or "worthy", because I did not make money from it! I am looking forward to reading your blog and seeing more through your eyes.

    1. I hope you enjoy the style part just as much as you learn from the "heavier" stuff.

  7. I so admire your nature- your plain stating of truths, your calming love of not only beauty, but simplicity (IMHO), your recognition that people who want to rain on your parade shouldn't be allowed to (no matter who they are and how hard they try) and your trying to keep focused on the future/goodness, all the while acknowledging that the past can't ever be erased and that it must be dealt with, so others don't repeat it.

    I hold many of your beliefs and desires in my heart, but I don't share your past, as far as personal abuse being sexual, and can't even imagine what it feels like, especially the ultimate betrayal of being perpetrated by family members and when you were just a young child, who should've been cloaked in innocence. It rips my heart open to think of you being touched in that way, and also lights a fire under me to be a vocal advocate against sex trafficking and child abuse. I must say that, as much as I feel the duty to speak out against sex trafficking (and I have, greatly), your sharing of your lifelong plight has emboldened me to go even further, which I'm grateful for.

    I can certainly relate to your feelings of all consuming grief and also rage, when you see and feel the effects of what sick child violators have done to you. I wish there were a magic wand that could remove your physical pain and inner turmoil, so you could enjoy beauty as true beauty and not think of it as a way to deal. I'm very happy you did find a way to deal that was not self destructive, as so many in pain have. For that alone, you have to be very proud of yourself. I hope you never stop speaking out and never stop seeing beauty in so many simple things in life. The latter is a true gift.

    1. It's taken me a long time to reply because I'm so touched, I don't even know what to say. Thank you for all your eloquently kind words here, words that make it clear to me that you understand what I'm doing with this blog, and,also why I feel it's important to share my story. I'm really glad that my writing has "emboldened" you "to go even further" in your fight against child trafficking. There's just no way we survivors can do it on our own, though we keep trying.

      Thank you too for pointing out my own love of simplicity. I don't think of that way often, but you're right. It's taken me a long time to realize it, but you're also right that my ability to find beauty is indeed a gift. I too hope to reach a point where enjoying it is not merely "a way to deal." Sometimes I'm there. That's a start.

      But, you know, where I teared up was when you said I should be proud that I've found ways to deal that are not self-destructive. It's not easy, but self-destruction is just not in my nature. I'm too stubborn to let those horrible people's actions lead me down that path. If I thrive, there is some justice, if only a little.