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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.

 

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.

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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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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