Yes, yes, I know it’s January, almost February, but this has been weighing heavily on me and I felt the need to get it out, write it out.
There’s something so alienating and soul destroying about being alone for Christmas. Even for someone that is an atheist, that recognises the commercialisations of the holiday, for someone that logically knows that not every family is celebrating and not every family is happy. No amount of logic or disbelieve or anti-capitalist thinking is going to stop just how lonely and empty you feel, though. Not when it seems like the entire world is screaming their happiness at you; not when you turn on Facebook and you see all your friends with their families (and even those that aren’t with their families are at least not alone), not when you turn on TV and you see crappy film after crappy film after crappy film of happy families spending the holidays together. It all just becomes so painful and no amount of logic is gonna save you from the very simple fact that you are alone on the day that what feels like the entire world is celebrating family and love and togetherness.
Each little thing starts to bug you. Friends complaining about their families – simple little things like not knowing you well enough to get you the perfect Christmas presents or being woken up early by younger siblings or being criticised for what you’re wearing (I’m aware that last one could be definitely seen as somewhat abusive, but if it’s all you have to worry about?). It just leaves me feeling so resentful and so annoyed. I just want to scream ‘AT LEAST YOU HAVE A FAMILY TO SPEND THE DAY WITH!‘ I know some of those people may be spending the day with genuinely abusive families or being in spaces where they were previously abused or having to deal with horrific homophobia/lesbophobia or something equally harmful and my heart really does hurt for those people, but for those who I know have good families, good lives, good relationships, who are complaining about petty, small things? My sympathy ends and my resentment kicks in.
I rarely saw anything offering love and kindness and support for those alone. A couple of pop up’s of the Samaritans number on TV. Everything else targeted at the elderly. A few posts on Facebook telling me I’m not really alone, that God is with me, which is very little comfort to an atheist who was brought up in a Catholic household, who had God and faith and religion used continuously and abusively against her.
It gets especially harder when you’re alone and filled with flashbacks and memories. Christmas was never a fun time for me, in reality, I never really had a Christmas before 2011, when I was twenty-two years old. Prior to that, my Christmas days had been filled with nothing but abuse and neglect. I suppose in theory, it wasn’t that bad until I hit about nine years old. Well, at least it wasn’t from my perspective, many people only know what my Christmases were like prior to that and they seem genuinely horrified, so who knows?
My Christmas was generally spent as the house slave. That’s all I was worth, it’s all I was ever gonna be worth. I would have had to have had the house spotless prior to going to bed on Christmas Eve (which would inevitably be to my mother’s bed, so she could abuse me a little more), regardless of my age, I’d always been responsible for the housework, all of it and if anything was not up to my mother’s high standards I was beaten and abused until I learned my lesson. Christmas was no different, except maybe her standards got a little bit higher. Each morning I had to be up before everyone else. I was responsible for cooking and cleaning throughout the day. I learned to cook early on. For the first few years of my sister’s life, my mum was always out drinking and ‘working’, when she was home she was either hungover or still high. Caring for my sister became my responsibility, including cooking.
I had to time everything perfectly. My mum’s coffee had to be perfectly brewed moments before she came into the kitchen, their breakfast had to be at exactly the right temperature, my sister who early on learnt she was equally entitled to such high standards demanded her orange juice to be an exact temperature, cold, but not too cold. Considering I spent most of my life this way, it became second nature. Waiting for the slight creek of the floorboards from my mum’s room and knowing how much time she took from that moment till she came downstairs. Equally listening from my sister’s room for tell tale signs she would be down, soon.
After breakfast I was responsible for washing up, I wasn’t allowed breakfast, I was never allowed to eat, I was already far too fat according to my mother, I was only allowed coffee, which after so little sleep whilst my mother raped me, I desperately needed and wanted. I’ve been drinking more coffee than humanly possible for as long as I can remember, now mostly to fight off sleep and nightmares and flashbacks and keep me vaguely functioning. Whilst I washed up and did more prep. for Christmas dinner, they opened their presents.
After opening their presents, my mum would call me in. There was a tiny pile with my name on, pitiful compared to that of my sister’s and my mum’s. Presents from people who didn’t know better, people who didn’t know I’d never get them anyway. My sister was the one that got to open them. I was only there to sit and watch, to be tormented with them. After she was done opening them, they’d take their pick of the things they wanted. Anything that was left over was split into two piles; one pile that was worth something and my mum could sell and pocket the cash, the other pile that were so worthless to them but meant so much to me. My mum would destroy anything in that pile. Burn it, tear it to shreds, rip it apart with scissors, smash it. Just completely destroy it, making me watch in the process. When I was younger I used to cry. Used to hold on to broken shards of what was left as some kind of comfort. As I got older I watched stone-faced, no matter how much it still hurt.
The only things that survived my mum’s destruction was books. My sister never read them, she never had an interest in reading. It was the bane of my mother’s life that I was the intelligent, academic reader and my sister just never showed any interest. She was supposed to be the perfect one, but of course, the standards of perfect changed to fit who my sister was. I quite often used to sneak those books and read them myself, if I felt I could get away with it.
Later on in the day, after spending the day cooking, other family members would turn up. Namely my grandma, my granddad (and my biological father) and for a few years, my mum’s boyfriend. I’d serve them their food, I still wasn’t allowed to eat and start cleaning while they ate. The first year my mum’s boyfriend, Paul, joined us, when I was eight, he messed with the status quo and I could see my mother fuming, but refusing him something was as bad as refusing her something, so I reluctantly gave in, knowing I wasn’t going to win anyway. I think I was mostly disappointed because washing the pots meant I got to sneak leftovers off the plates without anyone noticing. He invited me to join in playing Monopoly after they ate, saying that the pots could wait. My mum made a joke about him not being able to wait. I knew without a doubt that everyone at the table, barring my sister got the joke, they all laughed and Paul winked at me and had me sit between him and my granddad.
I don’t remember much of the game, it was the first time I’d ever been allowed to play, to join in, but I couldn’t concentrate. Paul and my granddad were taking it in turns to put their hands up my dress, stroking my thigh, molesting me under the table where no-one else could see. They both firmly kept eye contact and maintained conversation, mostly with my mother who even I could see was enjoying what she knew was happening. They kept missing each other, totally unaware that they were both doing the same thing. They jumped when their hands met, then grinned at each other over my head, silently agreeing to work together to abuse and humiliate me. I wished more than anything that the game would just end, that it’d just be over, that I’d just be able to go back to my jobs as I was supposed to.
After my grandma and granddad left each Christmas and after my sister had gone to bed, that’s when ‘my’ Christmas started. Mum always bought me ‘special’ presents each year, each Christmas and each birthday, that she’d give me in secret. Always in her room, so she got to use them straight away. They were always, without fail, something she used to abuse me with. She’d sit in glee, watching me opening them. Me knowing without fail that they were gonna be used to hurt me and knowing there was nothing I could do about it.
I still can’t do presents. I panic, instantly. I know the people in my life now would never think of getting me such things, I know they’d never do that to me. Yet still, I panic. I panic when things are wrapped, I panic a little less if they’re in a gift bag and I can peek and assure myself they’re safe. I trust the people in my life, but that doesn’t make the fear and panic go away. If I’ve learnt anything in my life, it’s that presents = things that are used to hurt me and that opening presents is instantly followed by rape and abuse.
I did slightly better this year. Each year, myself and my friends celebrate our own Christmas, a few days after the fact and presents are always invariably a part of that. I picked a quiet corner in the room with all my friends. One friend gratefully suggested all opening at the same time so there was no pressure on anyone (thank you <3) and it left me able to disappear into the corner and open them in peace, able to focus on my breathing and staying grounded. My friends understand who I am, they understand that I don’t do well with presents, that I might not always respond favourably, even if I am actually grateful for their gifts. With them, there’s no pressure, there’s no need to sit there and look insanely happy and grateful at what I’ve gotten. Every time I open presents, I still have the same memory of my mum, eagerly watching me open something I knew she was gonna abuse me with, knowing I had to sit there and be happy and thank her, despite knowing what was going to happen next. I usually completely run away when it comes to presents, open them alone and away from prying eyes. It takes me a long time to be able to thank people because I’m just so on edge. It usually takes me an incredibly long time to put gifts away; I’m constantly waiting for someone to change their mind and take them back, to destroy them in front of me, to say they were never meant for me, that I’m not worth that, that I’m not worth anything, that I’m not deserving of anything other than things used to hurt me.
I don’t even know how I really got through Christmas day this year, honestly. I had wonderful people to reach out to, to talk over the phone. But I still ended up breaking down badly. I cried myself to sleep on Christmas morning. Cried over the flashbacks and memories. Cried over feeling so horribly alone. Cried over my family. What my family never was. What they actually were. I just cried and I cried and I cried. The rest of the day is pretty much a blur.
As I got older and more involved with the child prostitution ring, my Christmases changed for the worse. I’d work the entirety of Christmas Eve. Right through the day, right through the night. I wasn’t taken back home till very early Christmas morning where I’d be allowed an hour or so of sleep before I had to make their breakfast. An hour or so later, I was picked up again, taken back there, was working again. So many people seem to think that the johns just don’t come out over Christmas, that they’re at home with their families, with their loved ones, that of course it’d be the one day of the year they wouldn’t do that. They’re wrong. How many times has your dad or uncle or brother or husband gone for a Christmas Day walk? Wanted a few hours away from the kids? (Fucking shame on him for leaving a woman to do the emotional labour, as if she doesn’t fucking do it the rest of the year) Gone to the pub with his mates to see in Christmas? How sure are you that that’s really where he’s going? Christmas was one of my busiest times. Client after client after client. With barely any rest in between. Some of them would bring me gifts. Disgusting, horrific things. Lingerie, drugs, alcohol, sex toys, porn, erotic novels. I remember really clearly one of them buying me The Sleeping Beauty Quartet because he knew I liked reading. I was utterly disgusted, I was fifteen and I understood exactly what he’d given me. I felt sick, but then, I always felt sick while I was there. I did this every year, every year from the age of nine until I was sixteen.
I remember, one year, one of them brought a present in, it was for his daughter. A dress. He wanted my opinion. Asked me if he thought his daughter would like it, that she was about my age. I just agreed, said of course she would. But what did I know? I didn’t know what normal girls my age liked? My world was pretty simple. Man pays for me. Man rapes me. Man leaves. I didn’t know about dresses or fashion or what nice, normal girls liked. I wasn’t like them, I was never gonna be like them. After he got my approval, he smiled and put it away. Said thank you, that I was the only other girl her age he knew. Then he raped me. Me, a prostitute the same age as his daughter.
Yeah, men don’t stop just because it’s Christmas. They never stop.