Clara Barnhurst

I spent my last Christmas on a plane. Time zones meant I could have a meal with my youngest brother, his wife, my mum and my stepfather. A Chinese place - just about the only restaurant we could find. It was lovely to see them. My mum drove me back to hers and I sat in a jet-lagged stupor. Slept quickly upon arrival. I was happy but tired and addled; I didn’t really get a Christmas Day, though a Christmas was had and I remember it fondly. It was my first Christmas spent away from my abusers.

I didn’t know I was being abused. Psychological abuse isn’t obvious from the inside - that’s part of how it works. I always looked forward to the holiday and, within the boundaries, I was cared for and loved. I just couldn’t leave the boundaries.

Last Christmas Eve, I was in an airport hotel in Schiphol, Netherlands. Alone. My mum made it poetic, ‘You’re on a journey within a journey.’ She was right; it suited me. I was happy to be alone - not at all normal for me, but the task of getting from A to B was enough to keep the part of me that frayed from unraveling. My mum was right in a different way: I was leaving the boundaries.

People will shut me down, but for me the Christmas season starts on November the first. Get Samhain out of the way and then it’s onward to Solstice. I was raised with witchcraft from an early age - escapee Mormon here - and since emigrating I didn’t miss Thanksgiving even if it always ended up being marked by those around me. November would be full of folk songs and old pagan rhymes. They would sidle over and make room for more traditional, modern Christmas songs as December wore on.

Decorations would spring up - I wasn’t allowed to help - and the house would take on the faint glow of fairy lights. Winter is dark - twilight starts at around three o’clock by Solstice - and the atmosphere inside was warm. The smell of mince pies being baked began mid December. Confinement was comfortable. Invisible. Enviable in places - full of warmth. I would tell my family every year how wonderful it was.


When I came out I lost my home and, with it, the extensive net that kept me cushioned from the rest of the world. I was thrust naked into the kaleidoscope of people, places, feelings and events I was in no way prepared for. Friends went easy on me: I’d lost my home, father and chosen family. I also slowly came to understand how much damage my confinement did. Accepting my abuse took a year and a half; I still struggle to call it that.

I would never sleep on Christmas Eve. I would excitedly shift, twist, and eventually read the night away. I would get on my computer - pass the time. I had too much adrenaline to rest. It was Christmas! I felt the magic of the day powerfully even after so many years. It didn’t even wane when I finally let myself know about Santa Claus - a moment my mum remembers well as I cried my eyes out in the car, age fourteen. Of course I knew, but I didn’t let myself know. Maybe I knew I was being controlled but didn’t let myself know?

This Christmas, I lack the same fervour of the previous years. The pagan songs and folk tunes still play in my room, but they’ve given way to other, not-so-Christmassy music. I don’t feel the magic as I did - could be hormones. Much of the magic I’m used to sensing as part of my spirituality is different since hormones. I also have one new fact to give meaning to: I was abused. Gaslit.

Last Christmas, I didn’t assign that quality to my old relationship. I was trying to make sense of why I felt relief: pulling my head above water, breathing. Feeling the light on my face and letting the air hit me. I thought it was my transition and it was, but there was more. I was free, but I hadn’t let myself examine the ugliness of what I escaped. There was too much to process. I didn’t miss Christmas in my old home despite my fond memories of it - that struck me as odd.

Now I understand in a crude, intellectual way that doesn’t help with any of the feelings. Thoughts given form but not substance or function. I understand the context, but I don’t have any meaning for it. And because I didn’t know what was happening at the time, I don’t have any overt memories of being hurt. Things were bad, but in that normal estranged marriage kind of bad. Obstacles were there, but they were typical, if exacerbated by my ex’s mental illness.


I don’t know what to think about Christmas anymore. The magic is there, but it’s subdued and confused. Last Christmas, I had the travelling to focus on. The jet lag to recover from; long diminished family to rediscover.

Christmas this year is with my fiancée’s family. They accept and like me; they include me in their activities and even express eagerness for me to join them this year. I feel their warmth and I’m grateful: the second Christmas away from my abusers. I’m with people who value me for me. I am more than lucky.

I hope everyone finds their own peace this Christmas. Despite everything, my holidays were always warm and full of creature comforts. Last year, they weren’t - at least not on the day. But I was free and with people who cared for me without confining me. This year I am finding a new magic. I know not everyone will, but I can send that wish into the universe. Merry Christmas everyone.

Comments (2)
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Clara Barnhurst
Clara Barnhurst


So glad you have found a safe place xx


In many ways I identify with your past, mine was physical and mental and for the first time in my life I am having a decent holiday season thanks to my amazing wife. I am glad you found the right people too, Happy Holidays and thanks so much for sharing!

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