News

Our conversations during our free monthly meet-ups take us in a variety of directions, and in order to ensure we circle back for reference, we post these resource blogs the day (or two) following a meet-up. The intent is to provide a roundup of resources or references from the conversation that night.

Last week, we had some new faces and some inspiring regulars. It was a night of many gifts and many lessons for us all, but there were some recurring themes to make note of.

ANNIVERSARY

We were wonderfully reminded that this month marks two years that we have been running our BFF Meet-up program! We want to sincerely thank everyone who has become part of our community and helped us make this our most successful program to date. Also, a huge thank you to The Commons for being amazing supporters and donating their space to us each month.

THEMES

  • Compassion and community: following the Humboldt tragedy that has struck so many, we discussed many takeaways that could be considered silver linings in this trauma. A recurring thought was that in the face of awful tragedy, the entire world learned how to love one another. This has been an amazing example of how a community can come together and the simple act of holding space and showing compassion can make all the difference.
  • Try everything: one of the great reminders we get from meet-ups is that there are a lot of things that can help you in your healing process, but not one thing will work for everyone, but we encourage you to try things until you find what works for you.
  • Support people need support too: a great point brought up by a therapist in the room, was that in professions who are there to support trauma survivors (therapists, doctors, first-responders, etc.) sometimes the importance of self-care doesn’t get the priority it deserves. Remember, doing your own work is just as important as helping other people do theirs.
  • Trauma comes in all forms: a powerful moment in our meet-up resulted from the sharing of a story about bullying. It was an important moment for many reasons, but it was a reminder and reflection for all of us that trauma comes in all forms. Our organization was born as a result of the Victor Walk and childhood sexual trauma, but our mandate has always been to support people dealing with all kinds of trauma. Our brains can view trauma as many different things: physical pain, disease, divorce, failing a test, fighting with our parents, abuse, war, bullying—the list is endless.

IDEAS & INSPIRATION

  • Sweat lodge: spirituality is always a theme that gets brought up at our meet-ups but many people advocated for the success they have had in sweat lodges. We would encourage you to do some research on this and explore some avenues to take part in one if it’s something that interests you. Many members of our team have taken part in sweats, and it is always a powerful experience.

REFERENCES

  • Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA): We were so honoured to be joined by members of BACA in Calgary. If you’re unfamiliar with the amazing work BACA does for children, here’s a bit about them:

Bikers Against Child Abuse, Inc. (B.A.C.A.) exists with the intent to create a safer environment for abused children. We exist as a body of Bikers to empower children to not feel afraid of the world in which they live. We stand ready to lend support to our wounded friends by involving them with an established, united organization. We work in conjunction with local and state officials who are already in place to protect children. We desire to send a clear message to all involved with the abused child that this child is part of our organization, and that we are prepared to lend our physical and emotional support to them by affiliation, and our physical presence. We stand at the ready to shield these children from further abuse. We do not condone the use of violence or physical force in any manner, however, if circumstances arise such that we are the only obstacle preventing a child from further abuse, we stand ready to be that obstacle.

OUR MEET-UP STRUCTURE

Because our meet-ups are growing each month (which we are so grateful for), we now have the need to provide more structure to these meetings so everyone gets more out of them. Last night we introduced a few rules and ideas for the meetings:

  • Please no cross-talk. We want to be respectful of people’s stories and their time, so please allow others to finish their piece, before adding on.
  • We encourage participants and members of our community to reach out to new joiners and offer to support them or be a mentor of sorts. This type of thing is a successful structure in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) with their ‘sponsor program’.
  • As BFF members, we are at the meetings to facilitate a safe conversation, but a reminder that we are not therapists.
  • If you need someone to talk to between meetings, please reach out to the Calgary Distress Centre or call their 24-hour line at 403-266-HELP.

UPCOMING FUNDRAISER

We are in a dire position. Funds are extremely low and as a result, we have a long waiting list for our Therapy Grant program. Many Albertans are reaching out, in desperation with their PTSD and mental health symptoms, and BFF is left in the saddest of positions — unable to help.

On Saturday, May 5, Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino is the host venue for the Breaking Free Foundation’s Celebrity Bounty Poker Tournament.  Play for a chance to bet against celebrity players.  In addition to cash payouts, prize bounties will be placed on all celebrity players.  Sign up today, and help raise some money for a worthwhile cause!

10 am to noon | Celebrity Meet & Greet
2 – 8:30 pm | Poker Tournament
9:00 pm | Concert with Theo Fleury and the Death Valley Rebels
~ Silent Auction runs from 10 am to 6 pm ~

More information and registration is online here.

Our conversations during our free monthly meet-ups take us in a variety of directions, and in order to ensure we circle back for reference, we post these resource blogs the day (or two) following a meet-up. The intent is to provide a roundup of resources or references from the conversation that night.

Last night, we had some new faces and some inspiring regulars. It was a night of many gifts and many lessons for us all, but there were some recurring themes to make note of.

THEMES

  • Trauma and control: trauma takes our control from us so it’s natural that survivors and victors of traumatic experience look for control in other areas of their lives. Disordered eating, addictions, compulsive behaviours — all examples of looking for control. Is it possible to seek control over something that is not unhealthy? Yes! We can choose healthier food options, we can choose to exercise and how we exercise. This leads us into the next point…
  • Mindfulness: mindfulness and meditation were constant themes last night, as many participants noted these as being important tools in their toolbox. One of our favourite participants, Susan Rochow of Eckert Centre, explained the notion of mindfulness in this aspect so perfectly:

“It’s really the issue of intentional dissociation.  There is a time to be present with thoughts and feelings, and there’s a time to turn them off.  When we do it via auto-pilot, that’s dissociation – great survival technique, but not particularly “healthy” as a lifelong strategy.  When we do it mindfully, we are saying to ourselves, “this is important and needs my attention, but not right now.”  This is a really important skill to develop….to be able to be with our stuff, or put away our stuff, depending on what we need in that moment.  For example, it’s important for me to be able to contain my stuff when I’m going to work, when I need to sleep, when I’m tired of crying, etc.” — Susan Rochow

  • Forgiveness: this question always gets asked, and it’s the hardest one to answer. There is no secret recipe for getting to forgiveness. Try not to pressure yourself into forgiveness. Forgiveness is a feeling, not an action. Forgiveness can be difficult for many reasons: we haven’t let go of our anger, we want to harm those who’ve harmed us, or simply the notion that forgiving will free our offenders from justice. When battling with being able to forgive, it’s important to note that forgiving does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean justifying the actions of your offender. [Read more]

“Remember, real forgiveness does not make excuses for the other person’s hurtful behaviour. Forgiveness is a decision that you make with your whole self after you have done your emotional work.” — Kim Barthel, from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ 

IDEAS & INSPIRATION

  • Spirituality: this is a concept that circled back into the conversation last night. Spirituality often gets mistaken for religion, but spirituality is broader than religion, it’s a simple belief system that helps us connect to ourselves, others and things beyond us.

“To me, spirituality is all about relationship. Most addicts are traumatized in their family of origin situations, so what they really lose faith in is relationship. That’s a setup for addiction. The trauma causes emotional pain for which the best answer is spirituality.” — Theo Fleury from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’

REFERENCES

  • EMDR: EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is an integrative psychotherapy approach. This type of therapy uses a patient’s own rapid eye movements, to take emotionally charged memories out of traumatic events. Using eye movements and “tricking your brain”, therapists can essentially reprogram the memory of a traumatic event to more positive or neutral emotions. [Learn more about how it works]
  • Eastside Family Centre: this is a walk-in counselling service provided by Woods Homes. If you are looking for help between meetings, this is a great option.

NEW MEET-UP STRUCTURE

Because our meet-ups are growing each month (which we are so grateful for), we now have the need to provide more structure to these meetings so everyone gets more out of them. Last night we introduced a few rules and ideas for the meetings:

  • Please no cross-talk. We want to be respectful of people’s stories and their time, so please allow others to finish their piece, before adding on.
  • We encourage participants and members of our community to reach out to new joiners and offer to support them or be a mentor of sorts. This type of thing is a successful structure in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) with their ‘sponsor program’.
  • As BFF members, we are at the meetings to facilitate a safe conversation, but a reminder that we are not therapists.
  • If you need someone to talk to between meetings, please reach out to the Calgary Distress Centre or call their 24-hour line at 403-266-HELP.

FUNDRAISER

We are in a dire position. Funds are extremely low and as a result, we have a long waiting list for our Therapy Grant program. Many Calgarians are reaching out, in desperation with their PTSD and mental health symptoms, and BFF is left in the saddest of positions — unable to help.

Because of this our Chair, Amber, has organized an emergency fundraiser to help our organization stay afloat! Trauma comes in all forms and BFF sees it all, and we need your support. On February 24th, you can take part in an incredible evening in support of BFF. Some of Calgary’s most talented artists have stepped up to help us put on a night that will drive incredible conversations and much-needed funds.

At the event, you’ll be able to bid on inspiring art — all inspired by trauma or PTSD. The stories behind these incredible works of art will flood you with emotion. Not to mention, these are breathtaking pieces that anyone would want to have in their homes! In addition to the silent art auction, songwriters and spoken word poets will be performing pieces, inspired by their own trauma experiences.

It is going to be an incredible night. Space is limited, so get your tickets! The event is taking place at the gorgeous new Railyard Brewing. Please note: there is no kitchen on-site, but we will have a small concession open with proceeds to BFF.

In the age of #metoo, people seem to be left with more questions than answers, and among the most popular question I hear lately is “what is consent”?

Believe it or not, there is a lot of debate around consent lately, especially with the media circus highlighting the revolving door of accusations surrounding people in the public eye. But fear not, consent is actually very simple and I am going to (hopefully) make it even more clear and dispell some of the myths surrounding consent.

First thing’s first, and this is of utmost importance — consent is not about saying “no”, it is about saying “yes”. This is not up for debate. If someone doesn’t tell you to stop, it does not mean you are invited to keep going. Carrying out a sexual act without consent is what is called sexual assault.

According to the Criminal Code of Canada, sexual assault is any sexual activity without consent, regardless of whether there are physical injuries or a weapon used. [Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA)]

A common myth surrounding the #metoo movement is the claim that victims may be lying about being sexually assaulted. Here is the truth about that one — only two to eight per cent of rapes are falsely reported, the same percentage as for other felonies. [1]

Even if you have a relationship with someone, consent is still required. Sexual assault is not about “stranger danger”, 86 per cent of sexual assault victims know their perpetrator. Also, a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot consent to sex. Further to that, committing sexual assault while under the influence of drugs or alcohol does not excuse the crime.

If a person’s decision-making abilities are impaired by drugs or alcohol, they are not able to consent to sexual activities. Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol is not an excuse to commit a crime; a person is still responsible for their actions no matter how inebriated they are. [Calgary Sexual Health]

Consent is all about communication and that communication needs to happen every time. Giving consent to kiss is not giving permission to have sex. Having sex with someone is not giving permission to have sex every time. Another thing to note is that you can change your mind about consent at any time.

For more resources on consent and sexual assault, check out these resources:

[1] Rape Victim Advocates 

It has recently come to our attention that a supporter of our organization is hosting an event in Yellowknife, NWT this week, that has been tied to the Breaking Free Foundation. We realize the media messaging surrounding this event has been confusing, but we want to clarify our position on this.

Breaking Free Foundation is not affiliated with this event, nor are we able to endorse this event at this time. While we are appreciative that people are being inspired by our BFF meet-up model, in simplifying trauma awareness and healing conversation, we are currently only running these events in Calgary, Alberta. While we would love to expand this program to other areas in the future, our goal is to perfect our programs in Alberta first and then create a training program for expansion.

Any inquiries about our events or this story can be directed to Amber Craig, amber@breakingfreefoundation.ca.

Our conversations during our free monthly meet-ups take us in a variety of directions, and in order to ensure we circle back for reference, we post these resource blogs the day (or two) following a meet-up. The intent is to provide a roundup of resources or references from the conversation the night.

On Wednesday, we had some special guests, some new faces and some veteran staples. It was a night of many gifts and many lessons for us all, but there were some recurring themes to make note of.

Initial thoughts to circle back to: 

  • “They” don’t need to see what they’ve done, for you to get better.
  • Forgiveness is an inside job.
  • Remember that healing is a journey, not a destination. There are many peaks and valleys on this ride, but celebrate every small step forward.

Themes: 

  • Spirituality: When it comes to our healing journey, there’s one aspect that oftentimes gets overlooked—spirituality. Spirituality often gets mistaken for religion, but spirituality is broader than religion, it’s a simple belief system that helps us connect to ourselves, others and things beyond us.

“To me, spirituality is all about relationship. Most addicts are traumatized in their family of origin situations, so what they really lose faith in is relationship. That’s a setup for addiction. The trauma causes emotional pain for which the best answer is spirituality.” — Theo Fleury from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’

  • Fight or flight: this is our body’s physical response to stress, also known as acute stress response. This Psych Central article explains a bit more:

The fight or flight response is characterized by feeling bodily sensations of stress — for instance, an increased heart rate and faster breathing. You can feel a pressure in your chest as though something is pressing down on you. You may also have heightened sensory sensitivity — you’re more sensitive to sights or sounds around you. [Psych Central]

  • Forgiveness: Forgiveness is a feeling, not an action. Forgiveness can be difficult for many reasons: we haven’t let go of our anger, we want to harm those who’ve harmed us, or simply the notion that forgiving will free our offenders from justice. When battling with being able to forgive, it’s important to note that forgiving does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean justifying the actions of your offender. [Read more]
  • “Remember, real forgiveness does not make excuses for the other person’s hurtful behaviour. Forgiveness is a decision that you make with your whole self after you have done your emotional work.” — Kim Barthel, from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ 

Our special guests, Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA): 

We were so honoured to be joined by members of BACA in Calgary, and we had the pleasure of hearing a bit more about what they do and some of their powerful stories of their ‘heroes’. If you’re unfamiliar with the amazing work BACA does for children, here’s a bit about them:

Bikers Against Child Abuse, Inc. (B.A.C.A.) exists with the intent to create a safer environment for abused children. We exist as a body of Bikers to empower children to not feel afraid of the world in which they live. We stand ready to lend support to our wounded friends by involving them with an established, united organization. We work in conjunction with local and state officials who are already in place to protect children. We desire to send a clear message to all involved with the abused child that this child is part of our organization, and that we are prepared to lend our physical and emotional support to them by affiliation, and our physical presence. We stand at the ready to shield these children from further abuse. We do not condone the use of violence or physical force in any manner, however, if circumstances arise such that we are the only obstacle preventing a child from further abuse, we stand ready to be that obstacle.

Because of the work Breaking Free Foundation does on the Victor Walk every year, this group is particularly special to us, so we thank them for making the time to join us.

Stay tuned for our next meet-up date!

You may have heard members of the Breaking Free family reference a “banana”, and you are probably wondering… what the heck we are talking about! What started out as a bit of a joke, has turned out to be the best daily reminder for myself when that “not good enough” sign shows up in neon lights.

Last year, when we were in Whistler for the Victor Walk Documentary premiere, a few of us were attempting to pose for a selfie, and Shandra said, “I hate myself in photos”. It was a very honest statement, and one that I’m sure many people can relate to (myself included). I immediately scolded her (in the nicest way possible), and jokingly said that anytime she said something bad about herself, I’d say “banana” as code to snap out of it. We had a good chuckle about it, but that word has stayed with us to this day.

Trauma teaches us many things about ourselves, and a big one is that we are not good enough. I know for myself, I’ve struggled with my “not good enough” stuff a lot lately. “Will anyone ever love me? Am I good enough at my job? Does anyone need me?” That yucky track can be like a loop in my head. But when that loop gets going, I stop myself and yell “banana!” Many times, out loud, which can make for some interesting scenes, I’m sure. It is just a small reminder that I am lovable and good enough and valuable. It always does the trick at getting me out of my own head.

I also really appreciate when my BFF family tosses a “banana” at me too. If they catch me saying something negative about myself, someone (usually Dawn or Shandra) is quick to yell “banana!”

I am sharing this story, because we all get that yucky “not good enough” feeling from time to time, and maybe you can get some help from the banana too.

Our conversations during our free monthly meet-ups take us in a variety of directions, and in order to ensure we circle back for reference, we’re going to start posting these resource blogs the day following a meet-up. The intent is to provide a roundup of resources or references from the conversation the night before.

Last night, we were given so many gifts, as many familiar faces returned and some new ones took part in conversation as well. It’s safe to assume, that everyone in that room left with a feeling of gratitude and compassion. Thank you.

Initial thoughts to circle back to: 

  • Remember that healing is a journey, not a destination. There are many peaks and valleys on this ride, but celebrate every small step forward.
  • Helping is healing. When you share your story, your vulnerability creates safety for someone else to share.

Themes: 

  • Compassion: When we encounter something joyful in our lives, it’s easy for us to instantly react with love and compassion. But pain doesn’t instinctively translate into compassion (for most of us), but learning to transform our reactions to pain into compassion is incredibly healing. A lot can get in the way of compassion, especially for those who have suffered trauma. When we feel wronged or hurt in some way, it’s difficult to actively let go of control and embrace a feeling we’re not used to associating with pain. [Read more]

“Compassion is a feeling of empathy for ourselves and for others. It is the emotional response to suffering, and it motivates a desire to alleviate that suffering.” — Kim Barthel from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’

  • Forgiveness: Forgiveness is a feeling, not an action. Forgiveness can be difficult for many reasons: we haven’t let go of our anger, we want to harm those who’ve harmed us, or simply the notion that forgiving will free our offenders from justice. When battling with being able to forgive, it’s important to note that forgiving does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean justifying the actions of your offender. [Read more]

“Remember, real forgiveness does not make excuses for the other person’s hurtful behaviour. Forgiveness is a decision that you make with your whole self after you have done your emotional work.” — Kim Barthel, from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ 

References: 

  • Trauma loop: 

Brain states are states of confusion. A Trauma Loop is a brain state that has created a pathway in the nervous system. We use it again and again and it gets stronger. An example is a rage response to stress. Trauma loops occur when reality is overwhelming. Too intense, too scary, too loud, too fast. The nervous system can’t organize and reverts to survival threat response behavior. [Colorado School of Somatic Studies]

  • EMDR: EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is an integrative psychotherapy approach. This type of therapy uses a patient’s own rapid eye movements, to take emotionally charged memories out of traumatic events. Using eye movements and “tricking your brain”, therapists can essentially reprogram the memory of a traumatic event to more positive or neutral emotions. [Learn more about how it works]

Ideas and inspirations: 

  • Writing: The practice of writing about trauma, or journaling, has been shown to have huge benefits both physically and mentally. In fact, a study from the University of Texas explored this notion, and found that participants who wrote about their traumatic experiences, visited counseling services less often, cut down on pain relievers, etc. [How to get started]
  • Spirituality: When it comes to our healing journey, there’s one aspect that oftentimes gets overlooked—spirituality. [Read more from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’]

Religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, report researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine. In addition to the brain’s reward circuits, the researchers found that spiritual feelings were associated with the medial prefrontal cortex, which is a complex brain region that is activated by tasks involving valuation, judgment and moral reasoning. Spiritual feelings also activated brain regions associated with focused attention. [Science Daily]

  • Create a “ta-da” list: one of our friends at the meet-up last night, suggested in lieu of a ‘to-do’ list, to have a ‘ta-da’ list. Instead of getting bogged down in how much work we have to do, try making a list of all you’ve accomplished. For practice, we will start with this at the next meet-up in January!
  • Star Trek: we had to throw this in because it made for amazing conversation! There has been unconventional practice on using episodes of Star Trek as therapy, in tackling different topics. Interestingly, this was the subject of a Psychology Today article that explains more.

Today is Giving Tuesday, a global day of giving that affords people all around the world the chance to support a charity or non-profit that’s important to them. While there are so many great organizations to support today, and every day, here’s 25 reasons we would love your support.

  1. We support all people affected by trauma, either first-hand or as support people. Trauma affects everyone.
  2. Canada has the highest rate of PTSD in the world, with over 9 per cent of the population developing PTSD over a lifetime. Keep in mind, that not everyone who suffers trauma will develop PTSD, but this is still a staggering number.
  3. Vicarious trauma from PTSD can be passed from parent to child or from client to trauma worker, which is why we also work with therapists, first-responders, teachers and more.
  4. PTSD affects twice as many women as men.
  5. Sexual assault is more likely to cause PTSD than other traumas. In Canada, 1 in 3 people suffers unwanted sexual contact.
  6. Our mindfulness journal is an easy way to support us and give to yourself in the process; journaling and writing are incredible tools in the healing process.
  7. Our Therapy Grant Program allows trauma survivors to access high-quality trauma therapy with trauma-trained and certified psychologists.
  8. For our Therapy Grant Program, we pay our trauma psychologists their regular rate, in order to ensure the utmost quality treatment for our clients, and support these amazing people in the work that they do.
  9. But demand is huge for our Therapy Grant Program. In fact, we have nearly 20 people on a waiting list who are desperately seeking the help they deserve.
  10. Therapy Grant recipient: “If I were to compare where I am at after eight months of involvement with BFF, I would say that I have really started to step up into being more of who I truly am. I have started to love myself much more than I could have ever imagined before. I know I have value now, and I know that what I have to say matters. I now know that I am worthy, and I am so blessed to be able to share energy and a safe space with other people like me.”
  11. Christine Littman: “The cost of proper trauma therapy can be overwhelming and unattainable, making it easy for a person to delay or avoid seeking treatment altogether. Mental health, when ignored or denied, can lead to many other physical and mental issues. To those of us who are just beginning our journey of healing, knowing where and how to start can be an overwhelming and intimidating process. The guidance and direction that the Breaking Free Foundation provides is crucial in helping a person take the first step. A step that can easily be abandoned if trying to face it alone.” 
  12. Our Monthly Meet-ups are a free place for trauma survivors and their supporters to come and talk about anything related to trauma—mental health, addiction, you name it.
  13. We have requests from people in Ontario, Northwest Territories and Manitoba to expand our Meet-up program, and we are working on getting this done!
  14. We are in the process of getting our charitable status, but in the meantime, we work so hard for every dollar we receive. Right now, donations are crucial to our survival.
  15. You can be part of our “me too” movement and support us at the same time by purchasing our “me too” bracelet, designed by Drops of Gratitude in Calgary.
  16. Our annual Victor Walk is a national initiative to raise awareness about childhood rape, and give a voice to those affected by this epidemic. We hope to turn every victim into a Victor.
  17. 32 per cent of Canadians [have] experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, exposure to intimate partner violence or a combination of these while they were young.
  18. Do you know someone suffering from addiction? Trauma is at the root of addiction.
  19. Do you know someone suffering from depression, anxiety or mental health conditions? Trauma is at the root of mental health problems.
  20. People who suffer from social, economic or educational disadvantage or racism within a given country are more likely to get PTSD than those who don’t.
  21. Did you know 52 first-responders have committed suicide this year so far in Canada? It’s true. This demographic is particularly vulnerable to the effects of PTSD.
  22. EMDR is an incredibly effective therapy treatment for PTSD, but it is expensive, that’s why our Therapy Grant Program is so important.
  23. Every dollar we receive is helping someone dealing with the effects of trauma. We have one employee, our incredible Executive Director, Shandra Carlson. Because of this, a lot of work we do is facilitated by volunteers, so your dollar is really being put to work at BFF!
  24. Someone you know is suffering from PTSD or the lingering effects of trauma.
  25. You can make a difference in someone’s life.

Every week in Canada, PTSD drives at least one first-responder to take their life. So far in 2017, 52 first-responders have committed suicide in Canada, and there were 68 last year. The numbers are real, and they never get easier to hear.

This weekend I was shaken, once again, to hear of the suicide of a first-responder. Someone in Calgary. Someone I knew. Barry Dawson was a 47-year-old firefighter in Calgary, who sadly took his own life on November 11th, after a hard battle with PTSD.

I first met Barry about ten years ago, when I was working at a restaurant in Mount Pleasant in Calgary’s northwest, right across the street from the fire station Barry was working at. Him and his crew would order pizza from us often, and he was always the first one to start up a friendly conversation with myself and the other staff. Over the years, I would see his updates from time to time on Facebook, always with that friendly personality injected into them.

I did not know Barry well, almost not at all. I did not know of his struggles with PTSD, but it does not come as a surprise to me that he lived in this darkness, as so many other first-responders do. I know how crippling PTSD can be, having lived with it for the better part of my life. Trauma drove me to some of the darkest places imaginable, as it does for so many. In fact, many of the people closest to me, including members of our Breaking Free Foundation family, have had their own brushes with suicide.

What makes PTSD so prevalent for first-responders however, is that while many of us have trauma thrust upon us, these courageous people bravely face trauma every single day of their lives on the job. The most terrifying of situations that we strive to protect ourselves and our families from, first-responders deal with head-on, regularly.

I am heartbroken that the loss of another great person is giving us the opportunity to have this conversation, yet again. I am even more saddened by the fact that this tragedy was buried among a news feed that is full of trauma and tragedy. In fact, it was two of my friends who brought Barry’s story to my attention, after they had shared it on their social media channels. These two women are friends that I admire greatly, who are both first-responders as well. Just imagining the struggles they might be facing too, makes me wish I had the power to heal their pain.

But I don’t have that power. I do however, have a voice. And I am constantly reminded in the most obscure of ways, that every time I share something about PTSD, that someone is always listening or reading. So I hope that I am reaching someone today who needs to read this.

You are not alone.

Since working with Breaking Free Foundation and co-facilitating many of our monthly meet-ups, I have met more and more first-responders who are dealing with the struggles of PTSD every day. I know I speak for all of us when I say, we are in awe of the courage that all first-responders show and grateful for the vulnerability those have shown in sharing their struggles with others. Every time you share your story, you are helping someone else. When a “me too” moment happens in front of us, we know a light is opening up for someone who was living in darkness. In saying this, I also want to acknowledge one of our board members, Zoran Zelic, a first-responder who has shown amazing vulnerability at our meet-ups and has been able to connect with others who need to feel heard.

If you feel you are suffering from the effects of PTSD or trauma, I encourage you to tell someone. Reach out for help, or connect with someone you work with. If you want to take part in a conversation about PTSD and trauma, please join us at our next meet-up, on December 13th at The Commons. These are safe places to talk, listen or connect. You can also reach us via our website or on social media if you are looking for some resources in your area.

To all first-responders, thank you for your courage. I promise to never let your stories go unheard.

Me too. 

 

 

Our 2nd annual BFF Golf Tournament is being held at the gorgeous Sirocco Golf Course on September 21, 2017.

Golf alongside NHL alumni and celebrity guests, featuring:
Theo Fleury
Curtis Glencross
Charlie Simmer
Dennis Polonich
Lindsay Carson

*STAY TUNED for more celebrity announcements*

The schedule: 

11:30 AM Registration & Silent Auction Begins
12:00 PM Outdoor BBQ Lunch
12:30 PM Demonstration by Lisa Longball Vlooswyk
12:45 PM Get to Your Starting Hole!
01:00 PM Shotgun
06:00 PM Awards Banquet

It’s a full day of fun, golf, amazing food, company and supporting a great cause. Register as a golfer or foursome (link in description). There will swag bags for registrants, a silent auction and lots of prizes to be won. Register online here.

 

Our conversations during our free monthly meet-ups take us in a variety of directions, and in order to ensure we circle back for reference, we’re going to start posting these resource blogs the day following a meet-up. The intent is to provide a roundup of resources or references from the conversation the night before.

  • Self-care ideas include journaling or writing, many people seconded having a gratitude journal. Physical activity can be a great asset as well, and reading was also noted as an effective tool for self-care.
  • Changing perspective led us into a great conversation about how thinking about our trauma from another person’s point of view, can really reshape how we think about that memory. Try it for yourself!
  • EMDR is an incredibly powerful tool for dealing with trauma and PTSD. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is an integrative psychotherapy approach. This type of therapy uses a patient’s own rapid eye movements, to take emotionally charged memories out of traumatic events. Using eye movements and “tricking your brain”, therapists can essentially reprogram the memory of a traumatic event to more positive or neutral emotions.
  • Complex PTSD: we were led into this discussion surrounding another branch of PTSD, Complex PTSD. This article gives some great insight:

Unlike formally recognized PTSD diagnoses, C-PTSD doesn’t stem from a singular event, but is instead the result of sustained abuse and powerlessness, from which the victim has little hope of escape.

“C-PTSD occurs when the hyper-vigilance of PTSD is accompanied by a breakdown in the ability to self-regulate,” said Julian Ford, a psychology and law professor who heads the Center for Trauma Recovery at the University of Connecticut. “Intense emotions or emotional deadness will overwhelm the person’s ability to cope. Mentally, they will suffer lapses in consciousness or in problem solving or judgment. And interpersonally, they will have extreme conflict in or withdraw from relationships.” [Vice]

The Breaking Free Foundation Golf Tournament is coming up on September 21, and the push is on for more golfers! If you don’t golf, you can simply join us for dinner. Details and registration online here.

Our conversations during our free monthly meet-ups take us in a variety of directions, and in order to ensure we circle back for reference, we’re going to start posting these resource blogs the day following a meet-up. The intent is to provide a roundup of resources or references from the conversation the night before.

Our next meet-up date will be in September, to be announced soon, stay tuned!

FACT: one in two girls and one in three boys falls victim to unwanted sexual advances before the age of 18.
FACT: 60% of rape victims are under the age of 17.
FACT: Sexual assault refers to all incidents of unwanted sexual activity, including sexual attacks and sexual touching. Sexual assault = rape.

Canadians must rally together to take a stand against the trauma of childhood sexual abuse and rape. Our first Victor Walk in 2013, was a huge success nationwide, and since then we have been working to keep the momentum high with the community we’ve built up together. A national movement powered by an Orange Wave of Courage, the Victor Walk will see Theo Fleury giving a voice to those who have been affected by trauma throughout their lifetimes. Supported by communities across the country, this Victor Walk on July 22, 2017, is recognized as a national movement and is hoped to change the way Canadians understand the effects of childhood trauma.

In 2017, our team will be walking an extended route for five days from Saskatoon to Regina, Saskatchewan, to bring a very bright spotlight on the horrors of childhood rape. Eight million Canadians have suffered from shame and pain of childhood sexual trauma long enough. An exciting addition to this year’s walk, in every stop in Saskatchewan, we will be screening the eye-opening documentary, Victor Walk, which followed Fleury and his team on the first Victor Walk in 2013. The film screenings are FREE!

All of the details of the 2017 route will be updated as they are available, but here’s where the 2017 Victor Walk Tour will be heading and when:

  • July 18: Saskatoon 
    • 4:30 – 5:30pm: meet at Persephone Theatre (100 Spading Crescent E) for walk
    • 5:30pm: rally with Theo Fleury & Victor Walk team (location TBD)
    • 7:00pm: documentary screening at Persephone Theatre (100 Spading Crescent E)
    • Stay up-to-date on Facebook
  • July 19: Swift Current
    • 4 – 4:30pm: meet at Subway (1100 – 11 Avenue NE)
    • 4:30 – 5:30pm: walk
    • 5:30pm: rally with Theo Fleury & Victor Walk team at Market Square (corner of Central and Chaplin)
    • 7:00pm: documentary screening at Lyric Theatre (227 Central Avenue N)
    • Stay up-to-date on Facebook
  • July 20: Moose Jaw
    • 4 – 4:30pm: meet at Subway (825 Thatcher Drive E)
    • 4:30 – 5:30pm: walk
    • 5:30pm: rally with Theo Fleury & Victor Walk team at Moose Jaw Funeral Home (268 Mulberry Lane)
    • 7:00pm: documentary screening at Moose Jaw Funeral Home (268 Mulberry Lane)
    • Stay up-to-date on Facebook
  • July 21: Estevan
    • 11 – 11:30am: meet at Subway (513 – 4 Street)
    • 11:30am – 12:30pm: walk
    • 12:30 pm: rally with Theo Fleury & Victor Walk team (location TBD)
    • 2:00pm: documentary screening at Orpheum Theatre (1235 – 4 Street)
    • Stay up-to-date on Facebook
  • July 22: Regina
    • 4 – 4:30pm: meet at Subway (919 Albert Street)
    • 4:30 – 5:30pm: walk
    • 5:30pm: rally with Theo Fleury & Victor Walk team (location TBD)
    • 7:00pm: documentary screening at Conexus Arts Centre (200 Lakeshore Drive)
    • Stay up-to-date on Facebook

Many of you have expressed interest in joining us on the five-day journey, however due to safety reasons, we cannot oblige.

We encourage you to join your own community walk, or if you live along the route that we are walking, meet us during the walk to cheer us on. Please click here to find out how you can organize a Victor Walk in your area, and be a part of one of the greatest teams ever assembled to make a difference on behalf of childhood trauma.

Cities where Sister Walks are being organized:

Watch the trailer for Victor Walk documentary.

*The Victor Movement reserves the right to refuse people or groups to join or participate in the Victor Walk at it’s sole discretion. The Victor Movement is not liable in any way for any injury or damage caused by participating in the Victor Walk.

**Sources: Sexual Assault Canada, Badgley Report, Statistics Canada.

The Victor Walk movement is an initiative of the Breaking Free Foundation, helping support those who have suffered trauma. All funds raised on the Victor Walk, go to support the Therapy Grant Program via Breaking Free Foundation.

A HUGE THANK YOU TO OUR 2017 SPONSORS!

Without the generous donations of amazing businesses, the Victor Walk movement wouldn’t be possible. We have sincere gratitude to all of the people and organizations that stepped up this year to make our 2017 walk a success.

Did you know that one in three girls and one in five boys will be victims of unwanted sexual activity before the age of 18?

I do, now. Thanks to the work I do with Breaking Free Foundation and the Victor Walk, I am armed with an arsenal of education and awareness on this difficult reality. Having survived ten years of sexual abuse as a child, I knew of my own experience only, but was not surprised to learn that three people in my family had suffered the same reality (that we know of).

I had my first “me too” experience at the first Victor Walk in 2013, when I stood in front of strangers at the Calgary rally and revealed the truth that had weighed me down for years. Since then, my voice has catapulted me to new levels of healing and happiness and vulnerability that I never knew existed. The domino effect of positive change that continues to occur from the Victor Walk movement, never ceases to amaze me. But, it did amaze me this past week in a huge way, when I got to to witness the ripple effects in my own family first-hand.

Towards the end of 2016, my uncle Peter emerged as a newly sober and inspired person. We had spoken in December about his plans to cycle across Canada following his sobriety journey, and that in light of learning about my story and the other members of the family, he wanted to dedicate this ride to raising awareness about child sexual abuse. But truthfully, this was the last we really spoke of it.

Uncle Peter, and his newfound friend Jacques Letourneau, began their bicycle journey across Canada in May. On June 16th, they arrived in Calgary. The second day they were in town, I was surprised to find my uncle donned in Victor Walk apparel.

“Where did you get that?” I asked.

“I ordered it online months ago,” he said.

I was shocked, in a good way. How cool is it that he was cycling across Canada dressed in orange Victor Walk gear?!

The rest of the weekend was great, I had not seen my uncle in six years, and it was great to spend time with him, Jacques and the rest of the family for a weekend. On his last day in Calgary, my uncle divulged that him and Jacques had setup a website to raise money and awareness for child sexual abuse on their cycle trip across Canada. Their website was titled “2 Frogs Against Abuse”, and they chose in part for humour because they both hail from Montreal, but also because the Victor Walk frog inspired them. The notion that a frog never hops backwards, was a key message for them.

Sexual and physical abuse are prevalent, systemic and at epidemic levels.  Abuse is masked, silenced, or ignored by institutions like the army, police forces, the media, former native residential schools, universities and even our own families.  Recently, Peter  learned that his family and his neighbourhood were casualties.  The number of victims are reflected by a shocking national average of over 30%. Furthermore, the relationship between abuse, addiction and crime are overwhelming. We want to dedicate our ride across Canada to all those who have been traumatized by abuse.

Wow, I couldn’t believe the gratitude I felt that they would take inspiration from our message and kickstart this whole nationwide movement. I was also thrilled to learn that he, as a teacher, has taken his platform and has been using it to raise awareness and educate young people about consent, addiction and sexual abuse.

Yesterday, my uncle called me from Edmonton, to let me know that CBC wanted to interview him about this awareness ride. He asked my permission to mention me in the piece, of course, I obliged. He also let out a few tears over the phone and let me know that he was very proud of me, and that this is important to the family.

As fellow victims of childhood trauma will know, that feeling of “not good enough” can linger. And for me, hearing that threw me into a whirlwind of emotions. I hung up that phone and cried my eyes out. I was happy, proud and most of all grateful. Silence took a toll on myself and my family for years, and it is really amazing that conversations are starting to happen. I am so incredibly proud of my uncle and the Victor Walk movement.

For our Francophone friends, here’s an interview in French on CBC radio that my uncle and Jacques did; for English, check out this video on CBC (hit the 10 minute mark).

You can learn more about the Victor Walk here.

 

Our conversations during our free monthly meet-ups take us in a variety of directions, and in order to ensure we circle back for reference, we’re going to start posting these resource blogs the day following a meet-up. The intent is to provide a roundup of resources or references from the conversation the night before.

  • EMDR is a great therapy tool for PTSD and untapped memories. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is an integrative psychotherapy approach. This type of therapy uses a patient’s own rapid eye movements, to take emotionally charged memories out of traumatic events. More on how EMDR works.
  • This Brene Brown video on empathy is a great illustration on how to hold space for someone.
  • Some quick strategies for diffusing your anger, as per this Psychology Today article.
  • Dealing with trauma in children can be tough to navigate. Here are some tips on recognizing trauma in children, and also on responding to disclosures. The organization RAINN has some great tips for how and when to start the conversation with your kids about sexual abuse.
  • If you’re looking for information on reporting a historic sexual assault, Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse has a program, PACES, that helps navigate this.A Sexual Assault Worker who is trained in sexual assault trauma and is experienced in the justice system can help address your concerns and assist with a variety of issues including:
    • Answering questions about your options in reporting the assault.
    • Going with you to the police and crown prosecutor.
    • Answering questions about police and court processes – what to expect.
    • Discussing your concerns about going to court.
    • Going with you to court and offering support.
    • Assistance writing a Victim Impact Statement.
    • Assistance filling out Victim Compensation forms.
    • Providing post court follow up.
    • Making appropriate referrals.

 

Corey Deacon, neuroscientist at Neurvana Health, conducted brain mapping (QEEG) for a few members of Breaking Free Foundation, so we could learn a bit more about brain chemistry, trauma and the technology that gives experts this insight into our minds.

For the purposes of this case study, we are going to share my report and imagery from the brain map Corey did for me. Having experienced multiple traumas in my life, I have been left with some lingering side effects of those experiences, both physical and mental. After reviewing Corey’s thorough report and seeing the imagery myself, it seemed an interesting opportunity to share publicly how trauma affects our brain and our bodies in a very real and physical manner.

How does QEEG work?

QEEG stands for quantitative EEG, which is a non-invasive technology that evaluates brain function based on electrical activity and communication between different hubs and networks of the brain. The process uses a head-cap a lot like a swim-cap, with 19 electrodes simultaneously transmitting data to a computer. Once a certain amount of data is obtained, this data can be generated through a variety of algorithms to obtain measurements for brain functionality.

As opposed to MRI or CT scans, QEEG can evaluate underlying causes for symptoms such as PTSD, chronic pain, addiction, depression, anxiety, ADD, autism, head injury, fatigue, insomnia, early developmental trauma, cognitive issues and much more.

Because structure does not change on a macroscopic neuronal level with these issues, MRI and CT scans cannot generally see them. Most of these scans come back ‘normal’, even though brain functioning can be massively disrupted. — Corey Deacon

What are we looking for?
In analyzing trauma, experts like Corey are specifically looking at brain areas of the limbic system (amygdala and hippocampus) in addition to the cingulate gyri.

These structures are responsible for hi-jacking our higher brain functions such as motivation, cognition, pleasure, creativity, relaxation, and many more. The limbic system and cingulate gyrus can hi-jack the brain to the point of experiencing sensations like the trauma, constantly and consistently. In Amber’s case this process has led to problems with anxiety, sleep issues and addiction. — Corey Deacon

Snapshots from the actual report from Corey:

The results of Amber’s brain map in eyes closed (drowsy state) are as follows:

  • Elevation in alpha in the frontal and prefrontal regions of her brain. This is correlated with difficulties coping with stress, addictive tendencies, and it can also be related to alcohol and marijuana use.
  • Significantly decreased delta rhythm in eyes closed. Because delta is required for deep sleep, this pattern explains Amber’s issues with insomnia and staying asleep.
  • Significant hyper-coherence issues (indicated by red lines in alpha and beta). This means the brain is in a state of hyper-communication. This is commonly seen in brains affected by trauma. This will also correlate with the sleep anxiety and insomnia Amber experiences.
  • Elevation of beta 3 (high-activation) in Brodmann Areas 23, 30, and 31. This is part of the cingulate gyrus and is correlated to anxiety, difficulties with worry & rumination, and sleep difficulties. This is directly connected to the limbic system and is more than likely the direct link to Amber’s traumatic experiences.
  • Elevated activity in the amygdala. This is the fear center of the brain. It is fully operational while we are still in the womb. Trauma can therefore start before we are even born and can be additive over our lifetime. Neurofeedback can be used to decrease this activation and reduce intrusive memories and feelings of fear.

 

Eyes open results indicate:

  • Substantial elevation in temporal beta and hi-beta. This indicates hippocampus and amygdala being ‘on fire’ and on high alert. This is more than likely contributing to issues with sleep anxiety.
  • Elevation of theta over fronto-central regions indicates limbic ‘hi-jacking’ of the frontal lobe that can cause both pain, inflammation, and make one feel out-of-control when dealing with stress, anxiety, emotions, etc.
  • Amplitude asymmetry indicates significant dissociation between the 2 hemispheres of the brain. This again causes difficulties coping and is more than likely caused by the sexual traumas experienced in her past.

 

The most exciting part of QEEG is that when a problem is isolated, we can actually change the functioning of the brain and improve symptoms. We do this with neuromodulation technology, and my favorites are:

  • LORETA neurofeedback: This is where we train and teach the brain out of its current state into a more organized, symptom-free state using operant conditioning methods. This is a form of self-regulation and probably the most important when dealing with a traumatized brain
  • Pulsed EMFs This is a type of neuromodulation where we add frequencies to the brain in pEMF form, forcing the brain into a certain state. This can also be used to decrease inflammation and normalize communication in the brain.
  • Low-level Laser Therapy: Another great way to decrease inflammation, increase detoxification, increase neurogenesis (the building of new brain cells), and increase energy availability for brain functioning.
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation: This technology utilizes a microcurrent to ‘turn on’ certain brain regions, and ‘turn off’ others.

— Corey Deacon

This case study was provided in conjunction with reports and findings from Corey Deacon, MSc, DNM, BCN, HHP, PhD of Neurvana Health.

 

 

 

 

 The eye-opening documentary film ‘Victor Walk’ will make its Calgary debut at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium on June 2, 2017, raising funds for local non-profit.

Local non-profit, Breaking Free Foundation (BFF) is pleased to host the Calgary premiere of the eye-opening documentary, ‘Victor Walk’, at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium on June 2, 2017. The documentary follows Calgary Flames legend, Theo Fleury and his team on the inaugural Victor Walk back in 2013, where they walked from Toronto to Ottawa to raise awareness on the epidemic of childhood rape.

Since 2013, Fleury and the Breaking Free Foundation have led two provincial Victor Walks in Alberta and Manitoba, and the team will be heading to Saskatchewan this July for the 2017 Victor Walk.

In Canada, one in two girls and one in three boys falls victim to unwanted sexual advances before the age of 18, which is why this film is an important awareness tool.

The event is also serving as a fundraiser for the non-profit, founded by Fleury and six other Calgarians in 2015. All of the proceeds from the June 2 premiere will go towards funding the organization’s work for trauma survivors in Alberta.

The money raised is vital to keeping their innovative Therapy Grant Program running,which provides free trauma therapy to Albertans suffering from PTSD, mental health issues and the lingering effects of trauma.

Tickets are available online at Ticketmaster, with exclusive VIP packages available. The evening will be full of surprises including exclusive Victor Walk merchandise, photo opportunities with Theo Fleury, meet and greet with BFF and a special performance by Theo Fleury and the Death Valley Rebels following the screening.

The Victor Walk Documentary premiere is June 2, 2017 at 7pm at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium (1415 – 14 Avenue NW). Tickets available online at Ticketmaster on 10:00 AM on Wednesday, March 8th.

As a member of the Breaking Free Foundation team, and open advocate and Victor, many people are familiar with my trauma stories and struggles with PTSD.

And part of my ongoing conversation is to share my struggles with suicidal thoughts, including the final battle I won, where I attempted suicide at 14-years-old. Most people assume that this dark day came as a result of years of dealing with a number of sexual traumas, something I’m very open and honest about having been through.

But the truth is, my darkest period of depression and suicidal thoughts, came crashing down as a result of bullying. Yes, traumas from childhood had compounded, but the abuse and constant harassment I endured day-to-day in junior high school, was what finally led me to that ultimate feeling of hopelessness.

It’s easy as an adult to say “kids are mean, girls are awful” and blow off terrible behaviour as a part of growing up, but that’s just not easy to explain to a teenager who’s being bullied. But tell that to the parents of Tyler Clementi, Amanda Todd or Rehtaeh Parsons.

Puberty came late for me, I was a flat-chested teenager with too much eyebrow, too little makeup and definitely no clue. Perhaps that sounds like I gave bullies a lot to work with, but what ultimately led to my dance with darkness was a silly junior high breakup, so insignificant in the grand scheme of life, but at that time it was everything.

I was made out to be the bad guy in this scenario, in a huge way. What resulted was months and months of verbal abuse of the worst kind. Not just from people I never considered friends, but people I had hung out with hundreds of times, my classmates and my confidantes. Notes in my locker, screams down the hallways, huge letters inked across chalkboards on my way into class.

“Amber is a slut.”

“Fugly.”

“Flat bitch.”

It was never-ending, and it was absolutely horrible.

What many suicide survivors will tell you, is that it’s not necessarily about wanting to die, it’s about not wanting to live. Or at least, not wanting to live life the way it was. Perhaps this is the reason I didn’t “try hard enough” to take my life that day, but nonetheless, I had a rope around my neck. I tied a noose, and the other end of the rope around a metal pole in our unfinished basement. I walked around that pole until the rope slowly tightened on my neck. When I was teetering on unconsciousness, I ran back the other way, unraveling it.

It took that moment of panic, looking possible death in the face, that I was finally led to come to my parents with a plea for help. I was honest. Honest about what I was suffering through, with my emotions, and my plaguing thoughts.

At that moment I stepped into the world of hope and healing for the first time, and I’m so thankful I did.

For #PinkShirtDay, I have a few thoughts for those who witness bullying, are victim to it, or are causing it:

  • Don’t fall into the ‘eat or be eaten’ mentality. You don’t have to victimize someone else to avoid being bullied. I fell for this trap once as well. Remember there is a human being on the other end of your words, how would you feel?
  • Tell someone. Anyone. Tell a parent, teacher, counsellor, friend—anyone you trust.
  • Stand up. Make that person who’s being bullied aware that you are someone who cares.
  • Share. Being vulnerable is what creates change, and it’s a ripple effect.

“Whenever one person stands up and says, “Wait a minute, this is wrong,” it helps other people do the same.” — Gloria Steinem

— Written by Amber Craig (follow on Twitter)

Today is Pink Shirt Day, an awareness initiative focused on anti-bullying, a topic that rarely gets associated with trauma, but it should.

Recent updates to the definition of PTSD, as well as our understanding of it, proves that victims of bullying can develop PTSD later in life.

PTSD is caused by one or a series of terrifying events and results in delayed and prolonged symptoms such as anxiety, depression, withdrawal, suicidal thoughts/behaviour, substance abuse, and emotional issues. Being victim to continuous bullying would absolutely fall into this definition of a “series of terrifying events”.

In worst-case scenarios, the abuse of bullying can lead its young victims to suicide, sometimes called “bullycide.” But even though most children grow out of the stage of bullying and being bullied, victims of this hateful crime are still at risk for the long-term effects of PTSD. [Psychology Today]

Some examples of bullying include:

  • Physical violence
  • Verbal teasing
  • Spreading rumours
  • Excluding/isolating
  • Group mentality/”ganging up”
  • Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is on the rise in Canada, thanks to the prevalence of social media and the ease of access to the Internet. Just a few months ago, it was released that one in every five young Canadians has been victim to cyberbullying. That’s more than 1.1 million kids and adolescents in Canada alone.

Being a victim of either cyberbullying or cyberstalking raises the risk of having a reported emotional, psychological or mental health condition and a low level of trust in people at school, work, or in the neighbourhood, the report says. [CBC]

Keeping empathy and compassion in mind, we know that hurt people hurt people, and there are a number of reasons why children may resort to becoming bullies. This can include factors like neglect or abandonment issues, abuse, etc.

However, the best defence against developing PTSD later in life, is to stop and prevent the bullying early on. This requires adults to be mindful when it comes to this, especially for parents, those who work with children or in schools (as this is where it commonly occurs). Here are some signs a child may be being bullied:

  • Isolated or disconnected behaviour
  • Sudden physical complaints (be mindful of reasons for the child not to attend school or events)
  • Drop in school performance or interest
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Withdrawal, depression
  • Hyper-vigilance, anxiety

The RCMP has online self-assessment tools to help you understand if you’ve fallen victim to cyberbullying, or bullying.

By keeping a conversation going about anti-bullying, we can do so much to end this type of trauma. Take part in the conversation with us today on Twitter with #PinkShirtDay.

 

If you’ve ever attended one of our BFF meet-ups, you’ve likely heard Theo Fleury talk about his successes with EMDR therapy. When it comes to trauma treatment, this particular type of therapy has some incredible research and anecdotal evidence to back it up.

Before you decide whether or not EMDR is the right approach for you, here’s some information about what it is and how it works.

What is EMDR? 

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is an integrative psychotherapy approach. This type of therapy uses a patient’s own rapid eye movements, to take emotionally charged memories out of traumatic events. Using eye movements and “tricking your brain”, therapists can essentially reprogram the memory of a traumatic event to more positive or neutral emotions.

How does EMDR work? 

When people experience trauma, the brain does not process information as it would normally. A moment can become a lasting memory, and flashbacks can come in the form of images, smells, sounds, etc. EMDR however, allows patients to take direct control of how their brain processes information. By reprogramming the traumatic memory into a neutral or positive memory, you remove the upsetting emotions that come with it. You will still remember the event, but it won’t leave you in distress anymore. There are many different ways therapists do EMDR, but the idea is to activate both sides of your brain during the reprogramming of the memory, and this can be done with alternating lights or even just tapping with hands.

EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way. [EMDR Canada]

How long does EMDR take? 

Before your actual EMDR session, you will have one or two meetings with the therapist so they can properly understand the nature of your difficulties and trauma, in order to properly prepare for the EMDR session. They may also determine that EMDR treatment is not a good fit for you. EMDR sessions last 60 to 90 minutes on average, and the number of sessions you need can vary from one to several.

How effective is EMDR? 

Approximately 20 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR. These studies have consistently found that EMDR effectively decreases/eliminates the symptoms of post traumatic stress for the majority of clients. Clients often report improvement in other associated symptoms such as anxiety. The current treatment guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies designate EMDR as an effective treatment for post traumatic stress. EMDR was also found effective by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, and many other international health and governmental agencies. Research has also shown that EMDR can be an efficient and rapid treatment. [EMDR Canada]

Who can benefit from EMDR? 

EMDR is noted as an effective treatment option for those suffering from PTSD, or those who have a hard time talking about their traumatic experience. However, many studies have shown EMDR to benefit people with:

  • Panic attacks
  • Complicated grief
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Disturbing memories
  • Phobias
  • Pain disorders
  • Performance anxiety
  • Stress reduction
  • Addictions
  • Sexual and/or physical abuse
  • Body dysmorphic disorders
  • Personality disorders

To find a therapist in your area who uses EMDR therapy, visit the EMDR Canada website.

The Breaking Free Foundation (BFF) is has confirmed additional dates for our groundbreaking events at The CommonsBFF Meetups: group healing through conversations. Our President, Theo Fleury and members of the BFF team will lead a group conversation about trauma and healing. Participate actively or simply as a listener, as these are safe spaces to connect with BFF and the greater trauma and healing community.

BFF Meetups are only being held in Calgary at this time, and you can join us on one of the following dates:

  • March 22, 2017 7 pm at 105, 1210 – 20 Ave SE. *FREE to attend*
  • April 19, 2017 7pm at 105, 1210 – 20 Ave SE *FREE to attend*

Entry to BFF Meetups is FREE! We appreciate the support for our organization and the community. You can follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram as well.

The benefits of verbalizing our feelings by talking to a therapist, have long been proven to help us on a therapeutic and scientific level. But if you’ve never experienced therapy before, like any new change, it may seem a bit scary. We could share with you the research behind how therapy can help you overcome trauma and live a fulfilling life, but instead we will let some real people share how therapy helped them (in some surprising ways too).

What was the biggest benefit you got from talking to a therapist?

  • “The biggest benefit I received from talking to a therapist was validation of my experience. Despite my training and experience in the mental health field, I often find myself quietly self-shaming my internal experiences. There really is no hack code for experiencing unconditional acceptance and non-judgmental validation; it has to come from another person.” — Molly Hayes
  • “Tools for coping with all of life’s every day stresses.  On top of helping me work through my baggage, the tools to help me better manage future issues continue to be so beneficial in my day-to-day. Often very simple explanations, suggestions have had the greatest impact.” — Amanda S
  • “It’s a great way to check in with yourself, sit with your emotions and release any stress or negative energy that may be brewing.” — Monsy
  • “I didn’t know how much I would benefit from a third party to not only listen, but interpret my struggles. To have another ear to listen and voice to respond that isn’t directly connected with your own issues is extremely helpful!” — Bonnie
  • “I think my biggest benefit and certainly a feeling of relief was, the weight off my chest, a ‘letting go’ type of experience. Being able to open up to a professional without a fear of personal judgment really helped the encounter.” — Joel
  • “I owe a great deal of gratitude to therapy. If not for the therapists I’ve worked with over the years, I never even would have been able to identify my trauma and put it into words. Going through the therapy process has allowed me to identify my issues, process them and develop tools and skills to move past them.” — Amber Craig
  • “I think the benefits intertwined for me. Recognition that I wasn’t responsible for someone else’s actions, validation that what I was going through was real, and tools to help me work through both the process and change.” — Shandra Carlson

What is the biggest stigma about therapy, in your opinion?

  • “There’s this misconception that we should be able to figure out life on our own, and that going to therapist means you’re either crazy or weak, when in reality I believe it’s so healthy to seek advice and learn from the wisdom that someone else can offer!” — Bonnie
  • “That you have to have something wrong with you. Therapy is as great a tool for prevention of emotional imbalances as it is for working through current ones.” — Amanda S
  • “In social circles, I have noticed a stigma pertaining to the potential of diagnoses relating to therapy. It appears that some people believe that seeing a therapist means that at the end of a session or series of sessions that one will receive a permanent diagnosis for a mental illness. Fearing the judgment, misjudgment, and permanence of consequences for expressing one’s inner experiences, people avoid it. This comes from a pervasive misunderstanding of the experiences and goals of therapy and diagnostic procedures.” — Molly Hayes
  • “That it means you are weak or have ‘issues’. The reality is, there isn’t a person on the planet that can’t benefit from therapy. Even when I’m feeling unstoppable and on top of the world with my healing, I can have an amazing therapy session just the same and come out of that conversation having improved some area of my life.” — Amber Craig
  • “I’ve heard many people say they don’t need that ‘crap’, yet without giving it an opportunity, how do they know? The stigma that independence = I’m okay or maybe even better than those who don’t ‘need’ therapy, can keep people from becoming the best version of themselves.” — Shandra Carlson

Who do you think can benefit from therapy?

  • “I truly believe everyone can. There is not one person that has picture-perfect past without some form, small or large, of trauma, bullying, abandonment, neglect, hostility, etc.” — Joel
  • “I am a firm believer that there is an appropriate therapy out there for everyone.” – Amanda S
  • “Every single person!” — Amber Craig
  • “What Amber said! If connected with the ‘right’ therapist, we all benefit.” — Shandra Carlson

What forms of therapy, besides talk therapy, have you had success with? 

  • “Journalling has to be my favourite form of therapy. Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m feeling until I’ve written my thoughts and feelings on paper. Feelings can seem so overwhelming until I have the chance to organize them.” — Monsy
  • “I’ve had a lot of success “trying on” the therapies of other cultures i.e. sweat lodges, Eastern meditation practices, travel, etc.” — Molly Hayes
  • “I’ve tried lots of forms of therapy, and my biggest successes have come from spiritual ceremonies like guided meditations, sweat lodges, etc. I have also found writing and journalling to be extremely helpful, as well as music and physical activity.” — Amber Craig
  • “I have a phenomenal support system with my family and friends, which I consider a form of therapy for me! I fought journaling for years but finally decided to give it a go, and it has definitely become one of my greatest treasures.” — Shandra Carlson

Are you interested in talk therapy for your trauma healing? Click here to learn about our Therapy Grant Program.

Last week, the Breaking Free Foundation was in Whistler, BC for the 2016 Whistler Film Festival, taking in the excitement of the Canadian premiere for Victor Walk Documentary. The screenings of the documentary were emotional, powerful and motivating for all who watched them. As our community already knows, the Victor Walk is an important awareness movement aimed at bringing attention, healing and change to the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse and rape.

While in Whistler, our President Theo Fleury, was given the first-ever WFF Humanitarian Award for his continued leadership and advocacy work on the topic of trauma and healing.

“Theo Fleury is a true hero for being brave enough to share his story and advocate for victims of sexual abuse and change,” said WFF Director of Programming, Paul Gratton. ”VICTOR WALK is a testament to his story, and given recent events that make Theo Fleury’s concerns about inadequate legal punishment all too relevant, we expect this film to reignite the debate.”

Theo Fleury has been awarded the Canadian Humanitarian Award, The Queen’s Jubilee Medallion, and is an honourary Chief and recipient of the Aboriginal Indspire Award. He was awarded an honourary doctorate in Science from the University of Guelph-Humber for outstanding contributions to the Mental Health of Canadians. Most recently he was bestowed with a second honourary doctorate in Laws from Brandon University in recognition for his contributions combating child sexual abuse and for his outstanding efforts to promote healing and recovery. [Whistler Film Festival]

The BFF and Victor Walk teams are truly grateful and honoured that the Whistler Film Festival believes in the importance of this message and this film. We look forward to sharing the film with many more in the future, check out VictorWalkDoc.com for updates.

 

Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is the global online movement, Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday is an initiative focused on giving back—and November 29th is your chance to give back to a non-profit in need, like the Breaking Free Foundation (BFF).

The Breaking Free Foundation is a registered non-profit, that runs entirely off the generous donations of others. Donations to BFF go towards our many initiatives and public services:

  • Victor Walk: this is a national movement powered by an Orange Wave of Courage, giving a voice to those affected by childhood rape and trauma. The Victor Walk movement is a nationwide initiative that runs every July. Our 2017 Victor Walk will be taking place July 18-22 in Saskatchewan, more information can be found here.
  • Therapy Grants: one of the main focuses of the Breaking Free Foundation is to help make trauma healing more accessible for everyone. One of the ways in which we are doing this, is through our therapy grant program, which allows approved candidates to receive designated therapy services, paid for via our foundation. How this works is simple: interested applicants just fill out our Application for Grant Therapy, and mail (or email) it to us. We review each applicant, and assess their needs for trauma-based therapy. If the applicant is approved, we match them with one of our approved and screened trauma therapists. Our model differs from other free counselling services, because we pay the trauma therapist their regular fee, so we can ensure that we are providing our clients with the best possible quality of therapy. We also only work with therapists who are trauma trained and specialize in this type of work. We look for specific designations and certifications and screen all of our therapists thoroughly. You can find out more about our Therapy Grant Program here (available to Alberta residents only at this time).

If you’re interested in donating to the Breaking Free Foundation, you can do so here. If you are interested in supporting us by purchasing some of our awareness apparel or “me too” bracelets, you can find out more information here. Contact us for opportunities for volunteering as well!

*This was originally posted on the ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ blog

It’s Media Literacy Week in Canada.

The media has many important roles, and timely and sensitive coverage of stories can be very helpful, particularly when it comes to emergency situations. There are many benefits to media coverage: positive changes in public perception and policy; awareness on important issues like abuse and drunk driving, to name a few.

The media can also be a great outlet for trauma survivors, an avenue to tell their stories, and humanize the people involved. This kind of coverage can help create resilience and hope within a community, but when reporting is done at inappropriate times or with inaccurate information, it can do more harm than good.

Media coverage can re-victimize trauma survivors, reinforce misconceptions about trauma and crime, and in some cases trigger PTSD symptoms. In order to protect the survivors in these stories, it’s important for media to take some precaution.

  • Interview survivors at appropriate times: when victims may feel numb, confused or most vulnerable is right after a crime, during a trial, etc.
  • Creating perceptions about the survivor or victim: creating the impression that the victim or survivor contributed in some way to their victimization is damaging to the person involved and everyone close to them as well. Digging up negative information about victims is traumatic, as well as communicating the story in a way that uses misleading language.
  • Avoid taking or publishing inappropriate photos: avoid taking or publishing photos of bodies, body bags or potentially traumatic things at crime scenes like blood, or personal items (baby clothes, etc.).

When myths about crime are perpetuated in the media, it can have traumatic consequences on victims and their surviving family members, as well as impact negatively on a victim’s efforts to reconstruct his or her life following a crime. Even when myths are not explicitly stated, language is important. [Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime] 

Language is particularly important, because victim blaming, whether intentional or not, can be traumatizing to a survivor, but also feeds misconceptions in the public. We all want to be part of the solution, not the problem, so keeping trauma survivors at the helm of communication is important.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime has more great resources for media available on their website.

— Written by Amber Craig

Trauma and mental health issues are not necessarily more prevalent now, but the awareness about these issues is certainly growing. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 57 per cent of Canadians believe that the stigma associated with mental illness has been reduced compared to five years ago; and 81 per cent of Canadians are more aware of mental health issues compared to five years ago.

In understanding these figures, we know that stigma is slowing decreasing in Canada, and therefore the prevalence of disclosures will likely increase as people feel safer with sharing their stories. People in our lives: friends, family, coworkers, etc. can be dealing with a trauma or mental illness at any time. In order to create the safe and supportive space necessary to receive a disclosure, here’s some tips to prepare yourself with.

BODY LANGUAGE

  •  Make eye contact, give this person your undivided attention.
  • Point your body towards them (focus on the feet) instead of appearing disinterested by facing another direction. Things like crossed arms can read negatively in another person.
  • Man-to-man, it’s the best to stand beside them, instead of face-on.
  • If you don’t know the trauma or source of the problem (especially if it’s a stranger), avoid physical contact, regardless how tempting it can be to hold that person. For someone who has been through sexual trauma, physical touch can be a trigger if it comes from the wrong person.

WHAT TO SAY

  • “Thank you so much for sharing.” This is something you should always say in response, especially if you’re the first to receive this information. It can be an anxiety-inducing feeling to share your story for the first time, so thank them for choosing you.
  • “I’m here for you.” This is an excellent choice for someone that you know, but may be an inappropriate response to someone you don’t know, who you can’t fulfill this commitment to.
  • “You are not alone.” Many times people who are going through a trauma or mental illness can feel like they are the only one in the world going through it. Vulnerability can be a powerful tool, if you can offer someone a “me too” moment, it can be incredibly comforting and freeing for them (and you).
  • “Let me go with you.” Again, this is something you can offer to someone you have a relationship with. Maybe going to their first group therapy meeting or counselling session is too difficult for them, you can offer physical support in certain cases.
  • “What can I do to help you?” We don’t always know what we need from someone else, so being proactive with helping this person identify their needs, can be very helpful.
  • “How are you feeling about that?” Give this person an opportunity to put their emotions into words, this can help with processing and can also help you gauge where they are at.
  • “That must be so tough.” Validate their feelings by expressing your genuine response and recognition of how hard this must be for them. What can be triggering for many, is to respond in a ‘silver lining’ way, by saying things like “well, at least”. Brene Brown has an excellent explanation of empathy responses in this short animated video.
  • “Have you thought about getting help?” While we cannot force someone to seek help, we can certainly help navigate them in the right direction.
  • Nothing. Sometimes just creating a safe space is all someone needs to hear. They obviously have something they need to get off their chest, being there to receive it can be very helpful.

If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with trauma or mental illness, help is available. Contact us on Facebook to get access to resources in your area. If you’re in Alberta, learn more about our Therapy Grant Program, which gives access to high-quality, trauma-specialized therapy for FREE.

— Written by Amber Craig (follow her on Twitter)

This day started out like many of my other days in university except that it was the day before I was leaving to go home for Christmas break.

I had a class or two to attend in the morning and then I was going on my first date. Well, we really weren’t going anywhere. We were just going to watch a movie and hang out in my dorm room while I packed to go home. Nothing special but I was excited and so nervous. I didn’t date ever in high school so this was my first.

Everything was going great. We were talking, watching a movie and getting to know each other all while I was packing.  I am really unsure of when things took a turn for the worse but they did.

I still remember how he felt on top of me. I remember not being able to scream or yell as I sat there looking at my unlocked dorm room door. Once in the past someone had just walked into my room and I was hoping at that moment it would happen again. I can picture how he looked. There are certain aspects I remember about him including blonde hair and both of his nipples were pierced. I cannot for the life of me remember what his name was.

It was painful.  After all, this was not the way I planned on losing my virginity. I am not sure how long it lasted but it felt like years. He just got up off of me and walked out the door.

I slowly got up and gathered up my clothing.  I walked to the showers and washed up while I bawled my eyes out. I went back to my room, took off the bed sheets, packed the rest of my things and headed off to my parent’s house, about a four hour car drive.

Everything else was a blur. I just remember I felt differently. I wasn’t sure how to act and I felt like everyone would see it on me – what had happened. After a few days, my parents knew that something was wrong.  I remember my dad asking me if I had had sex and I lied and told him yes. I didn’t want him to know what had really happened. I will never forget his response. His words were, “Promise me you will never have sex again.” I guess being a father and only having girls will make you want to believe that they will be virgins for a very long time.

I went further and further into a deep hole as the days went on. I didn’t know how to handle anything. I shut myself into my bedroom. I became antisocial, depressed, lonely and lost. I had no idea what way was up or down or even how to handle myself. I had completely lost who I was and was becoming this person that no one recognized. I still kept it to myself.

The only way I knew how to handle myself was to find the comfort in other men. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I knew my life had to change. I wasn’t sure how to do it or where to even begin but I knew it needed to be done.

I remember bawling while being intimate with my husband (boyfriend at the time). We would have to stop and he would comfort me and tell me everything was okay. I felt alone, like no one knew what I was going through. He was the only person that truly knew what had happened to me.

It took me another nine years to truly begin to heal. I kept it locked inside believing that it was my fault. That I was somehow to blame for what had happened to me. I was ashamed to tell anyone including family and friends for the fear of judgement that I thought they would have of me.

It was in the fall of 2014, when we made a huge move and started over. Life felt different. It was a new beginning for us which meant a new beginning for me. I decided to take back my life. I now had two children (aged six and three) and they needed me to be 100 per cent me again. They needed me to teach them how to love themselves and that was impossible when I didn’t love myself.

I started my blog, BeYOUtiful Rewritten, to show the world my transformation.  To start truly believing that what happened to me wasn’t my fault and that there was no shame in it.  I decided to finally announce that I was raped. Show the world that what happened to me didn’t define me. It was an incident that happened in my past but I was overcoming it and becoming a stronger person day-by-day.

I don’t want any other woman to suffer for 11 years before they realize that it wasn’t their fault!

I want you to know that you are not alone. This does not define who you are.  In no way what happened to you is your fault. You are beautiful, courageous, loved and most importantly, stronger than you realize.

— Guest post submitted by Samantha Laycock (follow on Twitter)

Would you like to share your trauma healing story on our blog? Please submit it to us online

The Breaking Free Foundation (BFF) is excited to announce additional groundbreaking events at The CommonsBFF Meetups: group healing through conversations. Our President, Theo Fleury will lead a group conversation about trauma and healing. Participate actively or simply as a listener, as these are safe spaces to connect with BFF and the greater trauma and healing community.

BFF Meetups are only being held in Calgary at this time, and you can join us on one of the following dates:

  • December 7, 2016: 105, 1210 – 20 Ave SE *FREE to attend*

Entry to BFF Meetups is FREE! We appreciate the support for our organization and the community. You can follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram as well.

In light of the the Graham James parole request that is making headlines across the country today, Theo Fleury has decided to forego making a comment about this story, and instead use the opportunity to promote the more important message—healing.

Right now, Fleury and his team are on the third Victor Walk, a powerful grassroots movement and nationwide awareness campaign focused on childhood trauma. After the first Victor Walk in 2013, hundreds of thousands of people have stood together to say, “me too”.
Stories that give the limelight to abusers like James in the media, only serve to re-victimize the people who they have hurt, and put attention where it’s not needed. We are only interested in bringing attention to one message—healing.
The message of the Victor Movement is not about seeking justice, it’s about focusing on our individual journeys of healing. A movement from victim to Victor. There is emotional pain and suffering in the past, and that is why the frog is our symbol for the Victor Movement: frogs never hop backwards, they always move forward. Our team is supported by thousands of people nationwide, who are banding together this week, to break the cycle of trauma and empower the cycle of healing.
On July 19, Fleury’s Victor Walk team has been walking from Russell across Manitoba, where their journey will eventually come to a finale in Winnipeg on Saturday. We have been honoured and moved by the incredible support in the communities across Manitoba and Canada, that have come together to help share this message of awareness on childhood trauma.
Perhaps the most important underlying message of the Victor Movement, is the spreading of awareness of the Breaking Free Foundation (BFF), the non-profit that was founded by Fleury, following the first Victor Walk in 2013.
The Victor Walk is supported by and for BFF, an organization that is aimed at providing survivors of traumatic life events with the treatment and support needed to reclaim their lives.
In addition to providing online support for people healing from trauma, we provide a safe space for people to share their stories. Perhaps the biggest mission of BFF however, is to ensure everyone has access to trauma therapy, despite their economic status.
With an innovative new initiative, BFF has introduced a Therapy Grant Program, where survivors of trauma can apply for paid trauma treatment with a high-quality, vetted trauma psychologist.
The 2016 Victor Walk tour wraps up in Winnipeg on July 23 at 11:00am, more information can be found here. For information on the many sister walks happening across Canada on July 23, click here. To learn more about the Victor Movement, follow us on Twitter or Facebook.
To learn more about BFF, follow us on Twitter or Facebook.
*Information on donating to BFF can be found online, as well as applications for both Trauma Therapists and Therapy Applicants who want to be part of our programs.

Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, a definition that describes mass shootings and terrorist attacks perfectly. Violence, especially when it’s targeted towards a specific group, has very widespread effects. The survivors, family and friends of lost ones, and the world watching, will all feel the effects of trauma at this degree—such as we are from the tragic Orlando shooting this past weekend. The LGBT community, and the globe as a whole, is mourning and attempting to cope with the trauma of the largest mass shooting in US history. This past weekend, 103 people were shot in an LGBT nightclub on Orlando, 50 of them losing their lives.

As a result of this heinous act, millions of people around the world are reacting, both online and in their communities, to the deep pain of such an event. Individuals who survive trauma, or are exposed to it in some way can develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and it can have a damaging effect both physically and mentally.

The combination of life-threatening traumatic personal experiences, loss of loved ones, disruption of routines and expectations of daily life, and post-violence adversities pose psychological challenges to the recovery of children and families. [National Child Traumatic Stress Network]

Symptoms of PTSD can include:

  • Flashbacks, or reliving the trauma
  • Nightmares
  • Intense fear
  • Avoidance
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Guilt, worry or depression
  • Difficulty remembering the trauma
  • Hyperarousal
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Severe emotional distress

In addition to PTSD, there are other psychological effects this event can have on people:

  • Danger reactions: when violent events like this occur, there is an increased fear in people and the desire to be near loved ones is more imminent. It can be increasingly difficult for people if they are separated from loved ones as well.
  • Grief: there is no “appropriate” way to grieve, everyone does it differently, and there is no wrong way. Grief can be harder to deal with if loss occurs during a traumatic event.
  • Depression: this can occur with prolonged effects of trauma or PTSD.

In addition to meeting people’s basic needs, there are several ways to enhance people’s coping. Physical: Stress can be reduced with proper nutrition, exercise and sleep. Youth and adults may need to be reminded that they should take care of themselves physically to be of help to loved ones, friends, and communities. Emotional: Youth and adults need to be reminded that their emotional reactions are expected, and will decrease over time. However, if their reactions are too extreme or do not diminish over time, there are professionals who can be of help. Social: Communication with, and support from, family members, friends, religious institutions and the community are very helpful in coping after catastrophic violence. People should be encouraged to communicate with others, and to seek and use this support where available. [National Child Traumatic Stress Network]

Listen to your body and your emotions, and in general, if you are having trouble coping with the symptoms from trauma or PTSD, seek professional help. If you are dealing with the trauma of a mass shooting or violent event, immediate mental health resources are available in Alberta via CMHA Calgary. If you want to speak to a trauma-specialized therapist to deal with your PTSD or trauma symptoms, please check out our free Therapy Grant program.Keep in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook to learn more about trauma, the effects of trauma and how to cope with PTSD.

— Written by Amber Craig, BFF Chair 
{Follow on Twitter}

 

I recently returned from a month-long trip working and living abroad, in Indonesia. The trip was amazing, but my PTSD presented a fair set of challenges for myself and my roommates. After surviving (and I do use the word ‘surviving’ intentionally) a month living with eight people and my PTSD (because it has a life of its own), it left with me with a lot of reflections on what it’s like to live with the lingering side effects of trauma.

Being the Victor of multiple sexual traumas in my life, I now live with PTSD that takes on various forms, and is triggered by a number things. I guess I never realized how much some of my symptoms had become my new normal, until I was faced with sharing a bedroom with someone else, and a home with people I didn’t know. At 28-years-old, I have mastered most of my PTSD side effects, in the sense that I know how to cope with them and I can live a relatively disruption-free life because of the skills I’ve acquired over the years. Like most people who have suffered trauma, certain things can still trigger me. Unfortunately for me, my biggest triggers arise from bedrooms and sleeping, two unavoidable things and two things that caused a lot of grief for myself and others on my trip.

Let me set the stage for you, I travelled to Indonesia with a friend who thankfully knew about my PTSD before we went there, and was supportive of my needs in dealing with my PTSD. However, the seven other people we were going to be staying with were strangers to me, and right off the bat I hit them with my annoying request: “I need my own bed”. For many years, my PTSD has reared its ugly head almost every time I fall into a deep sleep, causing me to rise instantly from bed and run around my home locking doors and barricading myself in my room, until my brain realizes there is no real threat, and then I can go back to sleep. Sounds fun, right? Because I live alone, this is more of an inconvenience that has become the norm for me, but nothing more. The added “threat” of another person in my bed, causes anxiety I can’t even begin to describe.

Because of the lodging situation, I agreed to share a room with my friend, on the one condition that I would be able to have my own bed in the room. However, we realized after booking the villa that there was in fact just one bed in the room, so we had to bring another one in. Here was PTSD inconvenience number one: purchasing and moving a spare mattress into the room.

On the day we moved in the mattress and I was to start the journey of sharing a bedroom with someone, my anxiety kicked in almost immediately. Before my friend had even entered the bedroom, I stared down at the mattress beside my bed on the floor, and my throat just started to feel like it was closing up. I felt short of breath, panicked and scared. I immediately expressed my anxiety to my friend, and bless his heart that he was so understanding through ALL of this process. He came up to the room, and said, “maybe we can close the curtain around your bed at night to give your brain the extra sense of security at night?”. Yes, it was a kind suggestion, but I couldn’t help but think about how this was my life.

The duration of our stay, I had to work very hard to keep my PTSD sleep anxiety at bay, which meant a lengthy process to get to sleep every night.

  • Check under the bed (seriously)
  • Position myself in the middle of the bed to allow for the most surface area around my body on all sides
  • Close the netting around the bed to create imaginary separation between myself and my roommate
  • Put my headphones in to block out all noise
  • Turn on a video on my laptop, which was placed beside my head on the bed every night

All of this just to trick my brain into thinking there was nobody else in the room, and no threat in falling asleep. To my credit, it worked almost every night. I only woke up in extreme panic a few times the entire month, and aside from the usual quick wakeup and tossing and turning, I was able to get some sleep while I was there. A true success for me!

While people have been mostly supportive of my PTSD symptoms over the years, sometimes a suggestion is posed that points a touch of blame, though almost always unintended. What I want to express to everyone, is that there is no such thing as an irrational fear when you’ve suffered trauma. Every fear seems very real. When I take a step back, I can see (as I’m a very realistic and logical person) how silly it might seem that I am in essence, afraid of sleeping. But anxiety makes no exceptions, neither does trauma and neither does PTSD. Mental illness, trauma, it can affect anyone. But I share this story not to gather pity or frighten people into thinking PTSD is some inescapable beast. My intention in sharing this story is to show that after many years and a LOT of work, PTSD can still show up. But that’s okay. Every day I get a little stronger, and every day I get a little better. And some days, I get hours of uninterrupted, anxiety-free sleep. Those days are coming more and more often too.

Fear not your experiences or your struggles, they shape us and they don’t have to be burdens. Conversations and honesty can remove the stigma and bring everyone a step closer toward healing.

— Written by Amber Craig
[follow me on Twitter]

It’s Mental Health Week in Canada, a time for our country to reflect on the elephant in the room—mental health. Mental health affects every Canadian, whether directly or indirectly; 20 per cent of Canadians will experience mental illness first-hand in their lives. This means that we all know someone who is living with a mental illness. What we hope for, is a world where they can live with that mental illness without stigma and with the help they need to live a happy and healthy life.

How many people are affected by mental illness in Canada? 

  • Nearly 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives
  • 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in life
  • Mood and anxiety disorders impact an estimated 22% of the Canadian population
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age
  • Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds
  • 3 million Canadians are currently suffering from depression

It’s a big problem, so how are we doing with it? 

  • Only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them
  • On any given week, more than 500,000 Canadians will not go to work because of mental illness
  • Two-thirds of homeless people using urban shelters suffer from some form of mental illness

The reality is, we need to do better, and we can always do better. Many Canadians are without mental healthcare benefits, meaning they are left to pay for therapy sessions out-of-pocket, which can add up quickly when the average psychologist is $120/hour. Even Canadians who have health benefits, many must seek therapy through a work-approved therapist, which may not be the right person for their specific needs.

This is why we created the Breaking Free Foundation Therapy Grant Program. Our program allows Albertans to apply for high-quality therapy services with vetted trauma specialized psychologists, at no cost to them. Through fundraising and sponsors, we are able to pay for therapy for our clients, and ensure that they are receiving the specialized care they need to begin healing.

Right now, our program is available in Alberta only, but we will be expanding nationwide eventually. For information on how to apply for our Therapy Grants, please see here.

*Statistics via Canadian Mental Health Association, Mental Health Commission of Canada

By definition, trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, a definition that natural disasters fits right into. When Mother Nature’s wrath wreaks havoc, it can take both a physical and psychological toll that is widespread. Alberta is no stranger to the trauma left by natural disasters, the floods of 2013 left a huge path of destruction, and now thousands of people are dealing with the ongoing trauma of the fires burning in Fort McMurray this week.

Individuals who survive trauma, or are exposed to it in some way can develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and it can have a damaging effect both physically and mentally. Besides the people being evacuated, first-responders are also at huge risk to develop symptoms of PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD can include:

  • Flashbacks, or reliving the trauma
  • Nightmares
  • Intense fear
  • Avoidance
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Guilt, worry or depression
  • Difficulty remembering the trauma
  • Hyperarousal
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Severe emotional distress

It’s difficult to determine when those symptoms will arise, some people feel fine at first only to develop PTSD later on. In general, survivors of natural disasters are recommended to seek professional help if they find they continue to suffer from the effects of PTSD for more than a month. 

If you are dealing with the trauma of a natural disaster, immediate mental health resources are available in Alberta via CMHA Calgary. If you want to speak to a trauma-specialized therapist to deal with your PTSD or trauma symptoms, please check out our free Therapy Grant programIf you want to help with the fire relief in Fort McMurray, donate to the Red Cross.

Keep in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook to learn more about trauma, the effects of trauma and how to cope with PTSD.

— Written by Amber Craig, BFF Chair 
{Follow on Twitter}

Sexual assault in the workplace is a serious issue, an issue that has garnered a lot of extra attention as of late, with many big companies facing allegations and investigations right now. The media has been all over big brands in the last couple of months, for the stories of sexual assault happening among their employees or in the workplace.

In any case of sexual assault, it’s important to remember that there’s nothing rare about it, it’s how companies react to these allegations that can brand them as leaders or part of the problem.

FACT: sexual assaults are extremely common, 460,000 sexual assaults happen every year in Canada. Of that number, 33 out of every 1,000 sexual assault cases are reported to the police. Perhaps more importantly, only 2-4% of reported sexual assaults are determined to be false reports.

In understanding the statistics, companies should realize that in the majority of cases, these are very legitimate claims and need to be taken very seriously. However, some companies jump into PR mode when a sexual assault claim arises, and go on the defensive instead of putting their energy where it can be most effective—in care and compassion for the victim.

Brands are worried about losing credibility, but in going on the defensive, they end up hurting their business even more, and the victim too. A perfect example of this misstep, is what happened to Uber this past month. After a huge BuzzFeed investigative story was posted, it was unveiled that 6,000 complaints involving sexual assault were filed against Uber. Instead of going the compassion route, Uber posted a very defensive open letter on Medium, which proved only to cause more scrutiny towards the company, and re-traumatized the immense number of victims.

“Our analysis for all of these results shows five tickets that allege an actual rape occurred (0.0000009% of rides in the three years from December 2012 to August 2015) and 170 tickets with a legitimate claim of sexual assault (1 in every 3.3 million trips).” [Uber on Medium]

Needless to say, the response to the public concern over the high number of complaints, led to some serious scrutiny by many.

So Uber apparently thinks it’s okay to defend itself by announcing that only 1 in every 3.3 million passengers is sexually assaulted? Even if that number was 1 in every 3 billion, it would be one too many. Uber has an obligation as a company to ensure the safety of its passengers and to use figures like this as a form of defense is an insult to everyone who has ever reported such an incident. [The Next Web]

So how should a company react when a sexual assault claim is brought against their business or an employee?

  • Assure the person bringing forth the complaint that the matter is being seriously looked into. Walk them through the process and what will happen next, and be sure to offer support both on a professional level and through required HR resources or third-party resources (therapy, crisis lines, etc.).
  • Consult with your HR department and upper management on how to proceed with the situation internally and externally. Be sure to inform staff of the process occurring and provide the necessary support, as trauma can have a ripple effect within a workplace. The Government of Canada has some great resources on responding to trauma in the workplace, we also have additional resources on this on our website here.
  • In many cases, an external communication plan will be needed. If you don’t have the resources in-house, consult with both an HR and PR representative on how to address the situation publicly and with compassion and information.

If your company does not offer insurance-covered therapy with a certified trauma specialist, please check out our Therapy Grant Program for any employees dealing with the trauma associated with sexual assault. You can follow us on Twitter for more resources.

— Written by Amber Craig [Twitter]

Going to see a therapist for the first time, can be understandably nerve-racking, but if you know what to expect it it will likely put you at ease. Understand that taking this first step is something to celebrate, and that progress can happen quicker if you know what to expect from the experience.

Your first session with a therapist will be somewhat of an assessment, an opportunity for the therapist to get to know you, and why you’re there. It’s also an opportunity for you to get a feel for the therapist, and take the first step towards a safe relationship with that person.

Here’s what your first therapy session will likely look like:

  • An understanding of what brought you to therapy: while you will uncover many layers during your therapy, it’s important to clarify a specific reason why you are seeking therapy. Therapists do an amazing job of seeing below the surface to deeper causes, but let them in on what’s on the surface level first.
  • Your current symptoms and feelings: you will be asked by the therapist (and likely in a questionnaire too) about any symptoms you may be experiencing at the time. Things like: insomnia, flashbacks, loss of appetite, etc. Based on whatever type of trauma has led you to therapy, you will be asked a broad variety of questions regarding symptoms and emotions. Be honest with yourself and the therapist, there’s no shame in the safe space of a therapist’s room, and your progress comes quicker when you’re upfront about these types of things.
  • Family tree and relationships: relationships and family origin play a big role in how we’re shaped, so your therapist will likely ask you a variety of questions about your family history and important relationships in your life.
  • Be honest, be open, be ready: since you know now that your first session will largely be an interview (for which there are no wrong answers), try to formulate what your answers will be ahead of time.

Your therapist will probably leave you with something to think about for the next session, but keep in mind that therapy is a process not a quick solution. Be patient with yourself and the process, and you’ll reap the benefits of safe, open conversation.

If you’d like to learn about how you can access free therapy from a trauma therapist, read about our Therapy Grant Program. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more updates and resources.

— Written by Amber Craig
[Follow me on Twitter]

The Breaking Free Foundation is excited to announce the launch of a new program we’re offering, BFF Meetups: group healing through conversations. Our President, Theo Fleury will lead a group conversation about trauma and healing. Participate actively or simply as a listener, as these are safe spaces to connect with BFF and the greater trauma and healing community.

BFF Meetups are only being held in Calgary at this time, and you can join us at locations listed on the following dates:

  • August 10 at 7pm at The Commons: 105, 1210 20 Ave SE *FREE to attend*

Entry to BFF Meetups is with a donation to Breaking Free Foundation, and at Cardel with a food bank item as well. We appreciate the support for our organization and the community. You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in Calgary launched a 60 day initiative recently, to help end stigmas surrounding mental health and addiction. Each day, their website featured stories about resilience, strength and hope in healing. The Breaking Free Foundation Chair, Amber Craig, shared her story on the CMHA blog. Her piece:

“Sharing your truth is key to the healing process”— Theo Fleury from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake

Have you ever had a secret that ate you up inside, a secret that you hid from the world, for fear of judgment or misunderstanding? I did. I hid myself in a cloak of shame and secrecy for 20 years.  

That shame and secrecy manifested itself in many difficult ways, including my depression diagnosis at 13-years-old. I felt very alone during my teenage years and early adulthood, mainly because I thought I was the only one dealing with this pain, and my secrecy kept me from accessing the mental health care I really needed.

In 2013, a nationwide movement was launched by Theo Fleury called the Victor Walk, an awareness initiative on ending childhood sexual abuse. The focus was to help survivors transition from victim to victor, it sounded amazing. I volunteered to help coordinate a Victor Walk rally in Calgary, and on May 23, 2013, my life changed forever.

During our Victor Walk rally, I listened to a dozen or more strangers bravely stand up and share their stories of trauma, abuse and the effect these experiences had on their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The last person to come up was a young girl, about six-years-old, with her mother. The pair shared a heartbreaking tale of abuse the young girl had suffered, and that brave little girl stood in front of us without fear, and declared to the world she would be a ‘victor’ too. Something shifted inside me as I heard these two share, or perhaps someone, the six-year-old girl inside me.

I grabbed the megaphone, and for the first time in my life, I spoke my truth and said “me too”. In that moment, I felt so incredibly free, I had risen above my mental illness and past trauma and accepted myself without shame. The best part was, the fear I was holding onto all those years turned out to be totally unfounded, because what happened after that day in 2013, was a domino effect of support from near and far. Even more compelling, the amount of people who reached out to say “me too”.  

Following the Victor Walk in 2013, I made a promise not to live in secrecy and shame anymore. I wrote a blog about my experience, and that blog made its way to the person who indirectly opened the door for me in the first place, Theo Fleury.

Fleury kick-started a group of Calgarians with a common goal to help the trauma community, and the result was seven of us creating the Breaking Free Foundation. Our foundation not only continues to put on the annual Victor Walk movement, but also provides free trauma therapy via a grant process. I feel blessed to work with an amazing group and in an amazing community of supporters and advocates who are working together to create awareness and end stigma surrounding trauma and mental health.

In the three years since the first Victor Walk, I have transitioned from victim to victor to advocate. Not only was I able to finally receive mental health treatment from an amazing psychologist, I have been able to turn my experience into a gift.

Today, I live a fulfilling and mostly happy life. Like many others with mental illness, I too have ups and downs, but I’ve learned to embrace them as opportunities for growth. I am always learning, always healing and always growing.

#NowImStronger because sharing my story helped me help others.

 

Link to the CMHA story and website here

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January is a very exciting month for the Breaking Free Foundation, not just because we’re looking ahead at all the great things to come in 2016, but because we welcomed a new member to the BFF family—Shandra Carlson. Shandra joins our team in the official capacity of Foundation Administrator, and since you’ll be seeing more of her, we wanted to give you a little insight on who she is.

Here’s our Q&A with Shandra:

Q: What attracted you to BFF? 
A: I first heard about BFF as a result of the Victor Walk that started a couple years ago. Truthfully I think what attracted me about both the Walk and BFF is having observed Theo Fleury over the past few years. He has worked hard on his own ‘stuff’, he’s been transparent with his process and his desire to help others work through their own trauma makes it easy to want to participate and support the cause.

Q: What are you most excited to be a part of with the BFF team? 
A: What excites me is to be a part of a team, a group of individuals with a heartfelt focus on assisting people in their healing process. One of my favourite sayings is, “No one of us has it all together, but all of us together, have it all.” Not one of us has overcome our challenges without the involvement of others. We can’t do life alone, and it’s a wonderful thing to be part of an organization that truly wants to support healing, not just coping.

Q: What’s the most important thing you think people should understand about trauma? 
A: One of the keys I think, is to recognize that each of us processes life differently and therefore, each of us experiences and processes trauma individually. There is no pat answer when it comes to healing, what works for one may not work for another. I think sometimes we humans have a tendency to think if we find and apply a formula it should just work. As unique as our fingerprints are, is as unique as working through our trauma is.

Q: What’s something you learned about BFF after you joined the team? 
A: One of the first things I learned was how dedicated the team is to finding ways to connect people to one another in order to initiate the healing journey for our grant applicants. I also learned that we have a long way to go in bringing mental health to the forefront of the healthcare system, primarily the premise that if our minds are healthy and strong, it will automatically cause a ripple effect in experiencing healthy bodies, relationships and lives. The brain is a many splendored and complex thing that impacts every part of who we are!

Q: How do you like to spend your spare time?
A: I saw a cartoon recently that made me laugh, it read, “It always makes me uncomfortable when people ask me what my hobbies are…I mean, what do they want? I’m a mother. I enjoy trips to the bathroom alone, naps and silence.” I’m still looking forward to that moment when a trip to the bathroom isn’t met by banging on the door – and my kids are teenagers!  I do love to read, and write, and my friends. I describe coffee as my comfort food, and anything personal development related usually gets my attention. I’m a bit of an adventurer too and my motto is, “live now, never wait.” Whitewater rafting has to be one of my all-time favourite experiences, especially at Kicking Horse. Can chocolate be described as a hobby? Watching a good hockey game is in my DNA as well!

Q: What gets you up and excited in the morning?
A: My cat usually gets me up in the morning, but what gets me excited is my first cup of coffee. Seriously though, watching people come fully alive is where my happy place is. What I mean by that is, when I’m able to participate in a discussion or work through a situation with someone and they have that light bulb moment, that’s what stirs me. I am a lifer when it comes to learning, so when I have the opportunity to discover something new, that also gets me excited.

Q: A perfect day to you, looks like what? 
A: Depends on the day! I never dreamed I’d call myself a morning person, but now that my kids are older and stay up later, my 5:30 am start gives me the alone time I require to support my sanity. On weekdays I am happiest when I get to be there as my kids get ready and leave for school. Starting their days off on a positive note – and making sure they take their lunches – sounds simple, but it gets my day off to a great start as well. I really am pretty simple when it comes to describing a perfect day. If I get to watch a sunrise or a sunset, see the mountains on a clear day or stare up at the stars, I feel like I’ve been given a rare gift. Adding swimming with dolphins or sea turtles to my adventures would describe a pretty perfect day as well!

We are thrilled to have Shandra a part of the BFF team! You can check out the rest of the BFF family here.

 

 

 

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The Ogden Legion (Branch #154) in Calgary unfortunately had to close its doors this year due to a lack of membership, but they are leaving an incredible legacy behind. On December 8, 2015, the Ogden Legion handed out $2.2 million in donation cheques to 20 Calgary non-profits and charities, and the Breaking Free Foundation was incredibly honoured to be one of them!

Members of the Breaking Free Foundation board were in attendance at a presentation ceremony this week, where we were given an amazing donation of $100,000! Being in our first year of operation, this donation is a game-changer for us, as we’ll be able to roll out our much-anticipated Therapy Grant Program.

If you’re unfamiliar with our Therapy Grant Program, it allows us to provide free trauma therapy to Albertans. We screen and select the best trauma-trained therapists across our province, and match them with applicants who need mental health treatment. Our biggest goal, is to make trauma treatment accessible for everyone, regardless of economic status.

If you’ve been following the news in Alberta lately, it’s no secret our citizens are in desperate need of access to mental healthcare: domestic violence, mental health problems and suicides are all on a steep incline in our province this year. Trauma affects everyone, and comes in thousands of forms from abuse and combat to disease, death, divorce, addiction—the list is endless. This $100,000 donation allows us to help so many more people, and we’re so grateful for the amazing people at the Ogden Legion for thinking of BFF.

19 other amazing local non-profits received donation cheques as well, here’s the list:

  • Boys and Girls Club of Calgary
  • Made by Momma
  • Ogden House Senior Citizen’s Club
  • Alzheimer Society of Calgary
  • Association for the Rehabilitation of the Brain Injured
  • BC and Alberta Guide Dogs Program
  • Stopbully.com
  • Alberta Animal Rescue Society (AARCS)
  • Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse
  • Calgary Poppy Fund
  • Calgary YWCA
  • Legacy Place Society
  • Little Warriors
  • Meow Foundation
  • Millican-Ogden Community Association
  • Ogden Legion Pipe Band Association
  • Prairie Sky Equine Assisted Therapy
  • Project P.A.L
  • Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre

Huge thank you again to the Ogden Legion, we look forward to serving the trauma community for many years to come! For more information on our Therapy Grant Program, see here. You can reach BFF via email or contact us anytime on Facebook or Twitter.

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November 25th marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which is the start of a 16-day activism campaign against gender-based violence.

From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world. [United Nations]

Violence is a worldwide epidemic that no gender is immune to, but to put this specific trauma against females into perspective: 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual abuse, in some countries it’s 7 in 10 women. Even more startling, a majority of those abuse cases are committed by someone close to them, many times an intimate partner.

The ripple effect of violence against women has a ripple effect that has global side effects, which is why the United Nations created this awareness day and campaign. As per the UN website:

Violence against women is a human rights violation

Violence against women is a consequence of discrimination against women, in law and also in practice, and of persisting inequalities between men and women

Violence against women impacts on, and impedes, progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security

Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential

Violence against women continues to be a global pandemic.

Did you know harmful practices like female genital mutilation still occurs in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East? An estimated 133 million girls and women have experienced this type of traumatic abuse.

How common is domestic abuse against women? In 2012, a shocking 50% of women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family. In Calgary alone, domestic violence is on a startling rise, with a heat map being released last week showing just how prominent the pandemic is.

This year’s campaign focuses on ‘Orange the World’. Why the colour orange? For starters, it’s the same reason we chose this colour for our organization, it’s the colour of courage. The United Nations also chose this colour because it’s an optimistic shade representing a future free of violence.

On this day, and every day, help us ‘Orange the World’ and end violence against women. Use #OrangeTheWorld on social media, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

*If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please report it to your local authorities. If you are suffering from trauma and would like help, learn more about our therapy grant program.

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**Spoiler alert: if you have not read the book ‘Room’, or watched the movie, you may want to wait to read this blog until after you do so. 

The book, ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue, was recommended to me months ago, and I hadn’t yet read it when the movie hit theatres this past week. After seeing rave review after rave review online, I figured I’d break the cardinal rule and see the movie before finishing the book. I am so glad I watched it!

The topic was heavy: a 17-year-old girl is kidnapped, abused and held hostage in a garden shed (“room”) for seven years, during which time she gives birth to a son, and they manage to escape when he is five-years-old. The story is told mostly from the perspective of the little boy, but the movie portrays the storyline from a variety of angles, and does so brilliantly.

While it evoked a lot of emotions in me while watching the film, mostly that of sadness, it also caused me to reflect and think a lot. What I kept processing throughout my mind while watching it, was how it was a perfect portrayal of not only the effect of trauma, but the widespread effect of the lingering PTSD from a traumatic event or experience. The traumatic instances during the “room” scenes weren’t what affected me the most, it was everything that happened once the mother and son were back in the real world. That’s when PTSD took over, and showed us all how it can be.

The writing of the characters and their response to the trauma was perfection, and I loved how each character in the story dealt with the PTSD differently. While the son had obvious challenges, having never seen the outside of the “room” until they escaped, the mother had obvious trouble with her PTSD after escaping. Depression, anxiety, dissociation, attempted suicide—she was experiencing the depths of her PTSD.

There was a particular scene with her father, which he is completely shut off and can’t even look at his grandson in the face, and that really resonated with me. While some people wear their emotions on their sleeves, others completely shut down and avoid it.

But what really got me, was how the little boy, after being in the real world for a few weeks, yearned to be back in “room”. Even though he lived in such a traumatic place for the first five years of his life, it’s the only life and environment he knew. I had to look into this further, so I did some research online and found (among many research papers) a study on abuse and attachment in children.

This particular study looked at what affects young brains to foster attachment instead of fear in traumatic environments. While this study was done on rats, they found the information to be parallel to humans (which years of research has already proven).

In the amygdala of rats attracted to the aversive odours, there were lower than normal levels of the neuro-trans­mitter dopamine. This lack of dopamine activity may have turned off their brain’s fear response, enabling attraction to take place instead. A similar mechanism may occur in abused children, Sullivan says, although how much the amygdala is involved with early human attachment is un­clear. Barr suggests this behaviour probably evolved as a survival tactic. “The animal has to be able to survive, which means it has to be attached to its caregiver no matter what the quality of care,” he says.

What I was left reflecting on after seeing ‘Room’, was that even after someone is taken out of their traumatic environment, the trauma still lingers in some way. We also get a glimpse of the recovery from trauma in the movie, and while there is certainly a hopeful ending, we get a realistic look at the process and how it differs from person to person. Healing from trauma takes time, and this movie portrayed that as well.

Trauma effects everyone. And the differing reactions to trauma in the film, is certainly the reason there wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre, we’ve all experienced trauma in some way. But healing is possible.

If you’re interested in learning more about trauma visit our online resources, and if you’d like to learn more about our trauma therapy grant program, you can find it here.

— Written by Amber Craig
[Follow me on Twitter]

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October is Child Abuse Awareness Month in Canada, and now is the time to pay attention to an epidemic in our country—one-third of Canadians have been abused as a child. That number is far too high, and hopefully the increased attention to this problem this month will serve to educate Canadians and hopefully work to lower those numbers.

32% of Canadians [have] experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, exposure to intimate partner violence or a combination of these while they were young. [National Post, Canadian Medical Association Journal]

The data from the report (quoted above), was released last year, and it’s just a small snapshot of the big problem our country and our children are facing. Not to mention, a majority of those who cited experiencing abuse as a child, would develop mental health problems later on. Child abuse and trauma is something that affects everyone, across all generations.

Each province and territory has its own child protection legislation that defines the circumstances in which a child is in need of protection, and you can find out more about that on the Government of Alberta website. But if you find yourself in a position where child abuse or neglect is being disclosed, here’s how you can respond:

  • Acknowledge: be sure to acknowledge the child’s situation and their feelings. Be a careful and attentive listener, but refrain from interviewing the child. Listening is more important than asking questions at this point.
  • Comfort: ensure the child they are safe and comfort them. No matter what, child abuse is never the child’s fault.
  • Take notes: document what the child says or what it is that you see, then take action by reporting it to the local police authority.

When in doubt, report suspected child abuse.  You do not have to be 100 per cent certain that abuse has occurred. The safety of the child or youth may be at risk. The authorities have the responsibility to determine the facts and evidence, not you. [Canadian Red Cross]

More resources on identifying and responding to child abuse can be found on the Alberta Government website. Take to social media to speak up for kids as well, you can find us on Twitter and Facebook.

— Written by Amber Craig
[Follow me on Twitter]

Interested in sharing your story on our blog? Please send submissions to: contact@breakingfreefoundation.ca

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Previously published on the ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ blog

When we are in a stressful situation or state of mind, “fight or flight” comes into play as a response. This refers to how our body deals with or avoids what your brain deems as danger. This can happen when we are experiencing a re-traumatization, or even in day-to-day events such as traffic jams, stress at work, etc.

High stress situations can lead us to anxiety attacks, trouble breathing, headaches, high blood pressure, and the list goes on. Prolonged stress comes with a long list of health problems as well, so it’s important to remember that we have the ability to self-regulate. In other words, we can use our body to calm ourselves down when we feel agitated, and this can especially be done with slow, controlled breathing.

“Slower, regulated breathing decreases the metabolic activity in different parts of the brain and specifically allows our frontal lobes to calm down so that we can think better. And be more rational.” — Kim Barthel, from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’

Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion, which can make you feel short of breath and anxious. Deep breathing is the practice of breathing in slowly through your nose, filling your lungs and allowing your lower belly to rise. You can do this at times of stress, or in preparation for something that might make you nervous, like public speaking for example. The daily practice of deep breathing will also serve to benefit you in your day-to-day life as well.

“Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.” — Harvard Health

— Written by Amber Craig
[Follow me on Twitter]

‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ on Twitter or Facebook

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Labels.

When I look back at my life thus far, it seems every segment of it has been defined by a label someone gave me. My biggest mistake, was letting myself believe they were true.

My childhood labels were generally harmless, imposed upon me by adults, teachers mostly. “Distracted”, “talkative”, “class clown”, these words only served to define more once I felt like there was some of kind of title to uphold.

As puberty hit, so did the bullies. I’d have welcomed those harmless labels from years past any day over the new ones: “slut”, “fat”, “ugly”. I knew deep down this was just the pain and suffering of others being projected onto me, and I certainly knew deep down they weren’t true, yet I wore the shame along with those labels anyway.

At the first Victor Walk in 2013, I went public for the first time about the trauma in my past. At first, it was a show of support for the group of strong strangers surrounding me, all sharing their story in unity. But soon after, it was as if a weight had been lifted, it became fuel for the fire I was burning as an advocate for change, and proved to be a huge leap in my healing process.

“Helping is healing.” ~ Theo Fleury

Those words have proven to be exceptionally true for myself. But even as I was making huge strides in healing and happiness, labels got in the way again.

“Victim”, “survivor”, these labels tarnish the hard work that I’ve done. People feel comfortable labelling me based on my experiences. But what many don’t realize, is that these labels give power to my abusers, and take the power away from me.

I don’t need to be called anything, I’m just me, and my past does not define me. But if you must call me something, you can call me “strong”.

 

— Written by Amber Craig
[Follow me on Twitter]

Interested in sharing your story on our blog? Please send submissions to: contact@breakingfreefoundation.ca

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This is a letter to the men out there. Men in my past, men in my life now, and the men I’ll meet in the future.

My abuse does not define me. It took over a decade of silence for me to be honest with myself, and the world about being sexually abused. So please, please don’t think you’ve got me all figured out the second you find out about the trauma in my past. Even I am still trying to figure out what it means in my life, and I’m constantly learning how to heal and grow.

The worst thing you could do, is treat me differently. I am still the same girl you met, and developed a relationship with. I am not my trauma, please remember that.

I am capable of intimacy, love and trust. Of course, going through sexual trauma made relationships and trust very difficult (and nearly impossible) for many years, but every day I grow and every day I do better. I have loved, and I have been intimate and I have learned to trust. You can tread carefully if you need, but I’ll guide you through it. Just communicate with me, and we’ll be fine.

Don’t walk away because of my past. A fellow Victor told me that her husband left her when he found out she had been sexually abused, and that broke my heart. I sympathize with the fact that you may not understand the trauma I’ve been through, but you don’t have to. If I can stand up and be honest about it, and face everything that comes with that honesty, you can at least stand by me.

If you don’t know what to say, just don’t say anything. Just be with me. Letting my past mar your view of me, just gives more power to my abuser. I am strong, I am getting stronger, and I am still capable of love.

My trauma does not define me. I’m still me.

 

— Written by Amber Craig
[Follow me on Twitter]

Interested in sharing your story on our blog? Please send submissions to: contact@breakingfreefoundation.ca

When someone experiences something traumatic, whether first-hand or by witnessing, they can develop stress reactions or develop PTSD. Symptoms of trauma can range from flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, detachment to disorders like depression, addiction or other mental health issues.

There is a lot of evidence to support how talking about traumatic experiences can relieve the symptoms of PTSD and stress reactions, whether that be with a friend, family member or therapist. But for some people, speaking about these experiences can be re-traumatizing and difficult, but new studies are showing great evidence to support how writing about trauma can be very beneficial.
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A recent study out of the University of Texas, asked students to write about personally traumatic events, for 15 minutes a day for four days, and the results were quite positive. Those who wrote about their trauma ended up visiting on-campus counsellors less often, using pain relievers less often than those who did not write their experiences.

So if traditional healing methods don’t appeal to you, try journaling and take advantage of such a healthy coping method. Besides, as Kim Barthel says, it’s not what happened to you, it’s how you deal with it that counts.

“In healing from trauma, it’s not so much what happened to you, but how you deal with it that has the most impact on how you cope. I used to work with a veteran who had just returned from Afghanistan. He told me he believed he would be better when he no longer remembered his trauma. And I said, “And then you’ll be dead.” It’s impossible to erase the memory of trauma; it’s how you deal with it that matters.” — Kim Barthel from ‘Conversations With A Rattlesnake’
It’s encouraging to see that so many trauma survivors are finding solace and guidance in reading ‘Conversations With A Rattlesnake’, and we encourage those of you who have to share your stories with us. Additionally, our blog is full of information on this topic and others that you may find helpful. And you can always join the conversation with us on Facebook or Twitter.

— Written by Amber Craig