Every year I forget how evocative certain Christmas smells are. Not just the more obvious things like candles and oranges and mincemeat and brandy, but certain specifics. It was black treacle and spices the other day, as I was making gingerbread dough. Suddenly as I counted out the syrupy spoonfuls I was taken back to being stood in front of another cooker, aged maybe 7, stirring the pan dissolving the sugars, with my mother watching. Chain smoking, of course. A knot of emotions expanded inside me as they did then. Excitement for Christmas. Some kind of enjoyment of doing a grown up thing. Delight at wanting to make pretty biscuits. Wanting to get it right and please my mother…. well, the desperate need to get it right, impeccably following the process she had shown me. That meant tenterhooks and anxiety and churning emotions, too often teetering on the edge of me ruining everything again (I thought). One mistake, one deviation from her instructions, her watching would explode into anger, ridicule, accusations and threats. Hours of shouting and violence would follow. And everything, I had made her do, and each time I’d have that sick terror inside that this time it was over and the threats were being fulfilled. Looking back and seeing how little was needed to tip us into that disaster, it’s bizarre. Laying a biscuit onto the baking tray in the “wrong” way (ie not the precise arrangement she required), not getting the bow on a package right fast enough, touching the wrong switch on the oven – even simply letting any of my anxiety show. It sounds almost as if it should be funny. But it isn’t funny when someone has you isolated, under their power and in fear; not in fear of them but in fear of yourself. Because one sure thing to me at the time was that it was my fault.
So, standing there measuring the treacle it all came back. As I’ve been making the biscuits over the last day or so, I keep being catapulted into so many emotions and suddenly reliving snatches of good and bad … And to tell the truth I’ve been pulled into the bad too much. Exhausted.
I’m fighting it, because there’s no way my abuser’s having this Christmas. This Christmas is for God and the present and my fiancé and it’s about all the good we can do and are thankful for today. I speak briefly, quietly to God as I roll the dough, cut, bake , ice, package these cookies. I’m pushing through the dissociation to do all I can to hope for this Christmas and for every flashback find twice as much I’m thankful for today.
I’m going to start to put up the Christmas tree later. Usually I’d be looking forward to this. This year I’m not. I can’t seem to feel any excitement or happiness or hope. it’s very hard to get any creativity going even when I’ve been making presents for people. I feel guilty for not being joyful, as it feels ungrateful for the good people I have around me and most of all ungrateful for God’s gift of the Christ Child to us. Feelings can’t easily be changed but at least if I can’t feel I can try to do, so I’m going to make my preparations for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and do as many things I can to bring happiness to other people, completing each tiny task with love, out of thanks to God.
So, the tree is going up later. This will be the first time my cat sees the Christmas tree (I did have a foster cat staying with me last year but it was a different cat) so it remains to be seen will her reaction be. Will I find her half way up it or flinging the baubles across the room, I wonder? It’s an artificial tree so hopefully the appeal won’t be as strong as if it were a real tree. Just as well I don’t have a puppy, where this might be the result:
(Not my cartoon – I just stumbled across it and I’m afraid I don’t know who the artist is!)
When do / did you put up your tree?
The house clearance turned out to be more emotional than I expected. The small local firm that did it were very good. Three guys came in a big van and 2 hours later I was looking at my emptied home. Unfortunately I was also looking at the large patch of hairball sick the cat had left under the bed without my knowledge which the workmen politely didn’t mention. Guess I can always hope they thought it was an unusual pattern in the carpet?! Actually I felt utterly disgusted. How badly had I been living that I could be unaware of a pile of cat sick?! That the damp in the bedroom had taken hold on even the one piece of furniture in that room I wanted to keep?
Clearing through my possessions in the days before the workmen came, as well as the hairball incident, left me with a question. How could I have let my home fill with clutter and hoarding, yet despite this frighteningly surging tide of possessions, I am still without certain much needed items? So many things incomplete? For example, though I’ve been over 2 years in my flat, I have not got the painting done and the walls are still patchy and stained just as they were when I moved in. The same shelves are broken in the cupboards, just as the day I moved in. I still don’t have a table to eat at. Yet I had 14 nail polishes pretty much untouched, baskets of broken jewellery, pieces of ripped paper I might supposedly use in a craft project one day, clothes stuffed tight in cupboards (shamefully hidden and many of them purchased in dissociative or irrational episodes for an identity other than “me”), and cluttering nick nacks covered in a film of dust.
My head was full with disgust at myself, confusion, failure, not knowing who I was. Who, what part of me, unquenchably acquired all these things? I am wholly responsible for it, but frighteningly out of control and unable to connect with who or why.
The neighbours must have thought I was moving out with all the bustle.
Despite the exhaustion and disgust I am gradually starting to see that this is a new start. My home is emptier. It is different now. The furniture I have left is not broken. It matches together as much as I can manage. Surfaces are no longer jam-packed. I can see space and calm and bit by bit I am attaining some of the mental quiet I so desperately need and I have been trying to achieve.
This is going to be a home I can make good for my fiancé and I; when we get married please God next autumn our home will be my flat. He has not had a home of his own, at least not one where he feels safe, for a long time. It needs to be different now for both of us. I need to look forward.