“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
“Stuart, open your door, its Christmas. And the weans want their sweets.” Bellowed my mum. It was Christmas evening, for them. For me it was just another weekend as I did not have a shift.
So I lay in my room, pretending to be asleep and not wanting anything to do with the joy all around me. I was in my early 20’s (really cannot be sure how old, that’s how messed up my life was at that point) and I worked as a building site security guard for a company called Ark Security Services. They were part of a community outfit called Barlarnark Community Business. It meant I would arrive on site at 4pm and leave at 8.30am. Home for a sleep, up at three, out to get a fix and back to work. Weekends I normally started at 3.30pm Friday and finished at 8.30am Monday – for 1.50 pounds per hour.
I hated people. Being around people reminded me of how far gone I was so I’d rather not be around them. I did my job, took my drugs and that was that. Anything else interfered with getting a fix. At this point in my life I only felt tolerated, even by myself. I wasn’t working this weekend as I had been given a choice of Christmas or New Year and had taken the latter, although I had begged for both.
As I lay there with my big sister, Yvonne now calling I knew I was going to have to give in. All the sweets and treats for the younger kids were on top of the wardrobe in my room. I had actually been out with mum to get them in one of my more lucid moments and had naturally put them up there as no one came in my room. Probably more out of fear off what they might find. Yvonne was screaming at me and calling me all the selfish *&^^%$ in the world. She was right and I knew she was. So I opened the door, feigning a yawn, took the stuff down and gave it to her. Then promptly closed the door again. Back into my own oblivion, my own private hell. I wept.
As a kid, Christmas was great. I remember very early on, probably about 7 or 8 years old going out with mum and dad on my own. There were five of us at that point, with youngest Neil not being born yet, so it was very rare and I loved it. We went down the Barras, it was Christmas Eve and it was snowing (it might have been rain but I am writing this so I get to wrap it in nostalgia). I remember as we passed the shopfronts just down from the market, we stopped and gazed in at a window full of toys. My eyes lit on a Scalextric set. I remember thinking I’d love to have that, and couldn’t believe it when mum and dad both asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I could not even get the words out buy just pointed. “Ah we’’ll need to see if Santa can manage that” said dad. My mum grabbed me then and said “c’mon over here wi me” as she took me over to a clothes shop. Can you believe it. From a shopfront full of toys and THAT Scalextric set, to a shop full of clothes. I honestly could not tell you what sort of clothes it sold. I never even copped on to the fact that my dad did not follow us, and even when he caught up, it never occurred to me to ask what was in the large bag he was holding. Even now, sitting here typing this on a December morning 40 years later I am crying at the memory of such a vivid scene from my early years.
Christmas morning was always great in the Patterson house. Christmas was celebrated. It was an occasion. It would always start with baths and early bed on Christmas Eve. John, the eldest would always beg to stay up, but never won. Apparently there was some mystery happened in the house on Christmas Eve that children were not allowed to witness.
All five of us seemed to have synchronised body clocks that would rise around five am on Christmas morning. We whispered and cajouled each other to go and wake mam and dad. We were all cowards though. We knew the drill. Around 6 -6.30 mum and dad would get up and dad would then let us begin the Christmas search. We had to find the handle from the living room door. It was always removed the night before, as this was part of the mystery dad would say. Obviously it was because We were a bunch of nosey, impatient kids and we probably would not have waited until they were up. We knew the drill, whoever found the handle got to go in first. I am nearly convinced that Gary, second eldest, discovered it this time in my parent’s wardrobe.
As dad attached the handle we all wondered, in pent up adoration of what was behind the door. Who’s pile of presents would be biggest? Who would have the best present?Where would my pile be stacked? Mine and Darrin’s were always next to each other, so I would always look on with a very critical eye to see who had the largest pile. Up to when I turned 18 they were always the same.
So the door opened, and in we went, led by Gary. Our living room always looked like a treasure house on Christmas morning. Despite never really having much, mum and dad always went way out at Christmas to spoil us.
The sitting room was an explosion of colour and things. Piles of stuff everywhere, but all I saw was Scalextric.
I had never wanted something so much in my life and here it was. I could not wait to get it set up. Didn’t matter what the others had. My petty jealousy of my wee brother, Darrin and what he got was forgotten. I was not interested in the myriad of books that would be in my lot. Whatever I normally got at Christmas, I always got books. I was in heaven. I wept.
20 years later, there was another locked sitting room door on Christmas morning. I was now in Teen Challenge, after battling to remain since entering in May that year. It was Christmas and Tehran old apprehensions were still there. I knew of Christ, knew OF the real reason etc, but the ghost of Christmas past came back to taunt me that morning, or so it seemed. The buzz around the Centre was unreal, around 20 guys all enjoying and enduring their first sober Christmas. I had never known a sober Christmas as an adult.
I was aware of my family back in Glasgow, that for them they did not have to worry about locked doors, and stoned son / brother. I was aware of aunts and uncles and cousins all delighted that I was getting myself sorted. I was aware of an awful lot, which in fairness I had used drugs to numb the awareness of before.
I was aware and it hurt. It was not just the ghost of Christmas past that taunted me, but the present and the future. In real terms, I was seven months into adult life at the age of 27. My past had cast a long dark shadow over my present and my future, and this morning it seemed a little bit too much. I longed for the shop window and the hidden door handle and mum and dad to myself and my brothers and sister fighting over each other’s presents and Christmas dinner and visiting nana and granda and going to sleep on Christmas night. I longed for THAT Christmas.
The lounge door was locked in Teen Challenge at night as some students had gotten into the habit of sneaking down late on to watch TV. Why that was not allowed is for another time? For me though, it set up the memory of the ghost of Christmas past.
Some of the guys around me had kids, and families of their own. Some were banned from contact with their families, others were only a few weeks in the door. Staff members that had completed the programme were buzzing and told us we were about to find out what Christmas was really about. There were no work duties, other than the basics. It was downtime all day and carefully selected and censored Christmas movies.
However I remember the same dread that I experienced on that night a few years before. Unsure how to approach this moment. Unsure of my new found faith in Jesus and how it would work out through this day.
My next memory is sometime that day, Paul Evans, one of the kindest men I have ever been blessed to know, and his wife Pru, one of the kindest ladies I have ever been blessed to know, walking in the doors with their young daughters Leeann and Bethan. I was confused, it was Christmas. Should not they be with their family at Christmas instead of in a rehab (its funny because this is the ONLY time in my whole TC journey that I though of it as rehab). This confused me.
At the earliest opportunity I asked Paul. I knew he was on duty so I knew he had to be there. I will never forget his answer.
“Stuart, you guys are our family. This IS what Christmas is about . Its not just all you that Christ is restoring but all your families and even communities. Hope starts here for you all. Why would I not want my daughters to see the real reason for Christmas?”
I was in heaven.
This blog is part of a wider collection to show the journey that would eventually lead to the cross of Jesus Christ and my personal redemption, and my journey of faith afterwards.