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My people. They get it and they don’t try to fix it. My people listen and hug me and remind me I am loved and doing great. I am loved and I’m doing great! Yes, that is true. Sometimes, I am loved and not doing great, that’s just as real.

I was a mother of two and nearly twenty-three years old when I got clean and sober. A counsellor named George helped me to see there was more to life than substance abuse and a marriage destroyed by domestic violence and addiction. George met me where I was at and helped me move along the path to a better way of living. He introduced me to authors whose work changed my thinking and my life’s trajectory. George would say at the end of every appointment, “You haven’t had your best day yet, kid!” He was right.

Wayne, my AA sponsor found me pretty humorous. He would chuckle while I belly-ached about something or someone, then give me some wisdom to live by via a question like, “Who can you change?” or  “What’s your part in this?” He would remind me, “This thing isn’t gonna crawl up your ass and into your heart, sweetheart! You gotta do the work!” Wayne was the first man I knew in my soul, loved me for me. He never expected a thing from me. He also did not believe my bullshit. He was the first man I trusted with my truth, no holds. 

Those were the early days of change for me. I was a single mom and trying to figure out a creed to live by. I was learning to adopt the 12-Step program into my way of life along with the wisdom of authors like Leo Buscaglia and Hugh Prather. 

Since those days I have been blessed by the addition of tremendous women into my life, the same women I have walked the path with for more than twenty-five years. Most of these women hail from the addiction recovery world, however, two come from my church background and a couple of them are past colleagues. Two recovery women in particular, made the ride much richer and more bearable because they chose to love me no matter what. Wendy and Anne stayed the course, whether I was sitting, singing or squawking. Forever, I will be grateful for the heavy blanket of unconditional love and acceptance they have covered me in.

Being connected to others has been life-restoring for me. My journey has been shaped by all kinds of learning; physical, emotional, spiritual. A few years ago, I read enjoy every sandwichby Lee Lipsenthal, M.D. (2011). In the book he speaks to what we can do when we are living within “four small walls” of pain, depression, self-pity, etc., those things that make us stuck:

“…scratch away with prayer, meditation, yoga, exercise, laughter, art, movement, gratitude, acceptance, and love. Scratch away with the knowledge that there is so much more to life than what we imagine it to be. There is so much to death than what we imagine it to be. And there is so much more to living and loving and being than can be seen from inside our little walled-in world. If you choose not to, there is no one else to blame.” Lee Lipsenthal, M.D. (p.193)

Long before I read his book, I had utilized all of Lipsenthal’s suggestions. I add to his list, my own items that encourage growth and change in me: therapy, 12-Step meetings, service to others, workshops, silent retreats, running, writing and reading. Where would I be without writing and reading?! 

I just keep making the effort, and when I am unable or unwilling to do what is needed, I have folks in my life who encourage me, wait for me, push me, sit with me, pray with me, and prod me when it is time to change forward. These are my people, changelings like me, people doing the work, the ones whose magic fairies have not yet climbed up their asses into their hearts to fix everything. These are the ones who stayed, they are tellers of their own truth, they light the path should the path be of interest or need to others. It is a path of love. And I am surrounded by it, enveloped in its juicy, healing heat.

The Red Plaid Rambler

Lipsenthal, L. (2011). enjoy every sandwich. New York, NY: Random House Inc.

It happened again recently. I completely zoned out, lost time, just 10 or 15 minutes this time. I come to. She is still ranting, gesturing, intense. I stand up and announce “I’m done”, or “I’ve got to go”, words to that effect. They look at me, questioning with their eyes. I want to explain but, in that moment, I have no words to do so. I blame my abruptness on the subject matter. The repeated discourses have exposed the ignorance and discrimination behind her politics, the unbridled contempt for my children’s people. I did not decide to check out. There was no imminent danger,  no logical reason to disappear, to leave the reality before me; but it happened. This time there was ranting, that’s all, an elevated, hateful tone and it triggered me. I was outta there! 

The last time I disappeared or turtled, was around ten years ago, in the lounge across from Rexall Centre after an NHL hockey game. I love watching hockey in person! I don’t care what age group or who is playing. It’s not the same on television but live it’s fun! That night I was with a bunch of folks I didn’t know, some of them coworkers to my spouse. It was a booze schmooze for my husband’s work. A colleague was doing his best to show my spouse and myself a good time after receiving some tremendous support for his business, requiring my husband to be away from home for over two months. A three-hour supper (pre-drinks), great seats at Rexall and drinks afterward for the show of gratitude. Perhaps, I should have felt more grateful.

Nearly all of those present had been drinking steadily since 4:30 p.m. I hadn’t touched substances for 20 years or so at this time. By midnight I could feel myself going in and out of presence. I was tired, I had become bored with the crowd, the drunken discussions. I felt trapped, I didn’t want to be the one to spoil others’ fun. I was feeling the pressure from my spouse to accept the celebrating, to take it easy, put up with the bullshit. I remember leaning over to him at midnight and quietly, with venom in my tone, telling him if we didn’t leave soon, I was going to take a cab back to the city we live in (better than 2 hours away). A little dramatic for the situation! No imminent danger, no one holding me down. He looked at me like I was nuts and said, “No you’re not!” I’m like, “Yes, I will, I have the cash in my purse to cover it!” Sometime after 1:30 a.m., I come to. I’m standing up, I say, “Okay, I’m done.” Everyone else started to move, we all got ready to leave. 

We headed back to the hotel and the men stayed down at the bar for a nightcap. I called my sponsor, knowing she wasn’t at home, just to vent. I felt crazy! Why didn’t I just get in a cab and go back to the hotel? Why didn’t I DO something, anything, not just sit there and take it?!

Familiar questions, these. Why didn’t I do something?! Why didn’t I tell someone?! Why didn’t I leave sooner?! Why did I go back so many times?! Once in a while, even with years of recovery and therapy under my belt, I still get taken out. It doesn’t last long, just a few minutes, but it is still disconcerting. And I don’t need saving, but my brain doesn’t know that in the moment. It’s just doing its best, helping me not be present to what it perceives as a threat. It helped me so many times before, took me away from the childhood predator, the rapist at age seventeen, the violent spouse of my youth, and the verbally abusive boyfriend that came afterward. Anger wasdanger; ranting, elevated speech wasdanger; a drunk man wasdanger. 

Feeling trapped, I took refuge inside myself. There was nowhere else to go. Until there was. I will be 34 years clean and sober in March 2019. I have just finished 38 years of parenting six kids; the youngest moved out on his own four months ago. After years of working as a counsellor in an addictions treatment centre, I shook my whole life up by returning to school at 52 years old. Recently, I completed a degree and landed a lovely position in an agency I enjoy being a part of. 

And still, a trauma response catches me off guard. Yup. Then I call my people, the ones who get it, who know the language I speak and the road I have travelled. They know the illness and the recovery, the healing and the loving. More on that next time…

~ The Red Plaid Rambler

We had whiteout conditions in Calgary and were going to send everyone home as soon as they arrived because it was too late to notify everyone that we intended to cancel.

People kept arriving so we decided to have a check-in anyway at least, and ended up having a fantastic, albeit short, meet-up.

Two topics we focused on:

Where do our loved ones go when they need help or support themselves, when they’re trying to help us?

  • Online resource: Heather Tuba, providing trauma-informed support to partners (and others) of survivors.
  • CMHA Calgary has drop-in groups for families or caregivers (anyone supporting a loved one or friend).

What free (or low-cost) resources are available that we may or may not know about that we can access ourselves or recommend to a loved one?

  • Calgary Counselling Centre: The link to their website takes you right to their main page where there’s a list of five things you need to know about Calgary Counselling Centre, including their fee structure (sliding scale, no financial barrier, so essentially free if you cannot afford service. It’s a full-service menu, so be sure to ask for what you want, i.e., if talk therapy doesn’t work for you, but you want to try EMDR, or somatic therapy, etc., be sure to tell them in the intake call. There is no wait list either, once you’ve completed the intake form, you will receive a call to set up an appointment within three to five business days.  Day, evening and Saturday appointments are available. https://calgarycounselling.com/counselling/
  • Carya  provides trauma-based counselling to individuals, families, and groups; available on either a “brief” 8 – 10 sessions format or longer-term; there is a wait list but they have just hired more staff so it should be shorter soon; also based on sliding scale format; locations in downtown Calgary and Forest Lawn: https://caryacalgary.ca/
  • Catholic Family Services: You do not have to be Catholic or religious to access their free services and several community members have suggested them: https://www.cfs-ab.org/what-we-do/
  • Primary Care Network (PCN): You can ask your family doctor for a referral to the PCN for counselling. They have locations throughout the city so you are able to access this resource in your quadrant. They do an intake with you over the phone and then connect you with an AHS therapist who best suits your needs, including EMDR, CBT, and other modalities.

*Please note these resources were provided by our community members as resources they have either used or have been recommended by their own therapists. We are sharing them as possible ways to access help but encourage you to look for what suits you and will support your healing.

Remember when you are looking for support that it may take more than one try to find someone who suits your needs, and that’s okay. Advocate for yourself. What works for one may not work for another and it’s important to recognize that in pursuing your healing journey.

First, a shout out of gratitude to Susan Rochow, Registered Psychologist with Eckert Psychology and Education Centre, for being a guest facilitator!

Our meet-up conversation this month took us through three main topics:

Ongoing #MeToo coverage and its effects on us, what actions are taking place

At times it’s overwhelming and at times we need to learn how to “put it away” so that it doesn’t trigger us. Some suggested they have to compartmentalize the discussions or avoid listening to the news. Others commented that it has opened up the ability to talk about abuse and harassment more openly. Still others shared their frustration with the difference between all the talk, but question what we’re actually doing to create change.

Learn to be assertive. Many of us tend to be nice, use humour or avoid inappropriate comments. One question to ask is, “Why is okay for you to feel uncomfortable in those situations but it’s not okay for the other individual to be offended – or uncomfortable?”

Various reactions stem from fight or flight. We are either avoidant or aggressive. Assertive might look like this: “Hey buddy, I love you (depending on the situation!), but when you say or do that, it makes me really uncomfortable and I’d like it if you would not do/say that.”

For those who are frustrated with lack of action or ‘what next’, we were invited to reflect on the idea that what we do in our meet-ups IS part of the action.

Trauma impacts our triggers

Trauma changes the brain, whether it’s a brain injury from a car accident to surviving war, or an experience with physical or verbal abuse. The type of trauma doesn’t really matter.

We have pre-conscious memory, usually until we’re 4 or 5 years old. We’re learning more and more about kinaesthetic and emotional memory as well. While some of the words can sound big, it basically means that even though we may not remember consciously, trauma experienced in the womb or as a toddler impacts us and creates triggers we may not understand, even into adulthood.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk is a recommended read, to help us understand our brains and why we get stuck and feel like we’re on a hamster wheel in our trauma.

Self-Care

When asked what each of us do to look after ourselves, these were some suggestions*:

  • While you’re healing, release yourself from the responsibility of how others react or respond to you.
  • Peer support – like our meet-ups.
  • Structured sleep, pay attention to your sleep hygiene.
  • Nutmeg, turmeric/curcumin are good for relaxation, sleep enhancement, inflammation reduction.
  • EMPowerplus Formula (vitamin/mineral supplement). A few attendees knew what this was and use it – overall health formula. It is available at natural or health food stores, or online. We must include a disclaimer here, that we are not endorsing this product, just sharing the information from our meet-up.
  • Naturopath to discuss personal sensitivities and nutritional needs.

Check out this resource re: the container exercise we learned at the end of the evening. As many found it beneficial, you may want to try it, too!

Other Resources:

Safe Place Relaxation Techniques 

The Body Keeps the Score – by Bessel Van Der Kolk
Getting Past Your Past – by Francine Shapiro
The Haunted Self – by Der Hart Van (Author),‎ Ellert R Nijenhuis (Author),‎ K Steele (Author)
*These suggestions were expressed by those at the meet-up and are not necessarily an endorsement by BFF.
Next week we launch #BF4ME – a holistic approach to removing excuses and taking control of our healing journey! If you aren’t on our email list but would like to find out more, please sign up here.

What a gorgeous, blue sky day. As he cinched the rope around my waist, I instinctively knew this was no blue sky, innocent outing.

I begged Mom not to make me go outside to play with him, but I was met with no choice. How could she have guessed my discomfort? At the age of four, my inability to communicate the fear of being alone with him left me vulnerable. I felt helpless. It wasn’t the first time he’d tied a rope around my waist.

As he led me down the back alley, I wondered what was next. Last time it was just a walk. Would it be the same this time? Of course, my Mom had no idea he had a rope at the ready, nor that his intentions were less than pure.

As a curious 12-year-old, he found a ditch for me to lay down in, and promptly pulled down my underwear and began to explore. Part of me wished it was a more private spot as other neighbours drove by, trying to figure out what we were up to. He told me to get my panties up fast, and promptly walked me home to avoid questions. Yes, the rope was still around my waist until we’d reached my yard. He never asked me to ‘play’ again, thank God. I wonder sometimes who else was subjected to his curiosity.

Fast forward to when I was twelve. I had a friend down the street who invited me to join her on the wild side, meeting the gang at the park, smoking and drinking. I never could get the hang of smoking and refused to drink – the smell was disgusting to me and I had absolutely no desire to try, but oh how I wanted to fit in.

One night after dark, the guys started talking about us girls and our various stages of development. As the most under-developed of the bunch, they began to mock me, teasing that they should “feel me up” to see if there was anything there.

Initially I didn’t take them seriously but then they started heading my direction. I told them not to even think about it and I was scared. I started running but it didn’t take much for them to catch me and throw me down on the gravel.

As three or four of them held me down, the guy I’d had a crush on for months stuck his hand up my shirt. His buddy was next. They laughed and laughed as they announced to the rest that there was nothing to feel.

I got up off the ground and took off running again, but this time they didn’t chase me. As I got closer to home I tripped on the curb and fell, resulting in a cracked elbow.

At least it was a good cover for my tears.

Years later, as an adult, I shared those experiences with my precious Mom. She was sad and mortified, apologizing that she hadn’t picked up on the fact that the neighbour kid was unsafe, or that there was more going on with my rebel friends than what she already knew. I didn’t blame her. How could she have known?

That was a time when stranger danger wasn’t a thing (but neither perpetrator was an unknown anyway), and such topics weren’t discussed. She wishes she knew then what is common practice now.

I don’t know that I’ve talked about it much, but I felt I’d resolved some of the underlying issues as a young adult and didn’t need to discuss it.

Given the community I am now involved with here, however, leads me to believe there is power in sharing my story. If even one person feels they aren’t alone in their silence and finds their voice, it will have been worth it.

Even though I inherently knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, shame lived inside me for several years. The ‘not good enough’ self-talk was prevalent too. No wonder hey?

We’re scared to talk, we feel ashamed, we want to protect ourselves and maybe even others, thinking it’s better if they don’t know.

As children, we may not know how to put a voice to it. As parents there is often talk about age-appropriate discussions regarding safe touch, but when age-appropriate isn’t considered from a perpetrator’s point of view, when exactly do we talk to our kids? Knowing what I’ve experienced and what stats indicate, I’m beginning to wonder what age-appropriateness and stranger danger conversations should sound like.

What I do know is, staying silent is never the answer. Encourage your ‘others’ to talk, provide a safe and trusting environment, even if it’s uncomfortable for you. Their safety and security may depend on it.