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Five in a Five Part Series by Sandra McDonald

Boys, this is a really rough time for you, hey? For a minute there, it looked like one power-hungry victimizer might act as a lightning rod of all of mankind, allowing other attackers to skulk off into the shadows unnoticed. But the word is out: assault happens.

You might be feeling a bit demonized? A little freaked out? What if someone accuses you of a #MeToo offense? What if you’re guilty? What if you’re not guilty?

And how are you managing the chilling memories of your own trauma? Are you ok?

Some of you need to be called out. You know who you are (and you’re definitely not reading this blog).

Some of you will be wrongly accused (maybe you already have been?). That will unjustly upend your world.

Some of you are the long-silent sufferers of wounds so deep and frightening and life-shaping. You didn’t ask to have your own memories yanked out from there hidey-holes, but two little words, a hashtag, and a media explosion, and now you’re face to face with your own ghosts and monsters.

You certainly don’t deserve to be hated, blamed, or shamed for just being male, but it’s a little tense out there right now. Our current culture is so tough on you: you’re either Homer-Simpson-sluggish or Trump-Weinstein-lecherous. You are the buffoon, the emotionally bereft slug, the power-mongering tyrant, the hammer-wielding superhero. Gone are the days of being just a regular, God-fearin’, hard-workin’, nice guy.

Would you consider re-writing that narrative? Your story is important.

Right now. In this conversation. You might have your own #MeToo chapters in your story?

How can we, as a culture, make space for men to be men to be men. What does that even mean today? I have three sons that, I have to tell you, I’m scared to death for. Did I do enough to teach them the value of their gender identity – in all of its masculine, feminine, and something-wholly-other goodness? Did I teach them the value of all humanity? The need to respect, validate, and truly hear the stories of their Others? Will they be at ease in their own bodies, with their own thoughts, and in engaging wisely and generously with the world – as men? Will they manage their need to be respected and powerful in the world, and will they do this without attempting to master another person along the way?

Your story. As brother-father-son-victim-abuser. We need to hear it just as badly as you need to give voice to it. There are people who will listen, without judgment to the scariest bits of your history. And if those bits include hurting others, don’t make a shiny apology, using words to gloss over bad behavior in an effort to distance yourself from hard truths. But don’t take on responsibility where it’s not yours to bear, either.

Contribute. Learn. Listen. Validate. Believe. Tell the truth of your experience. Know your own hungers. Own your hungers, and learn to manage them in ways that do not bring harm to any other person. You are not a monster. You are a man. #MeToo can be made a thing of the past with your work to that end.

Four in a Five Part Series by Sandra McDonald

#MeToo is an exposure of men behaving badly – and at great cost to the security, well-being, and identity of women. It is a match-flare flash of light into the dark corners of long-kept secrets. A sudden, alarming glimpse of the danger faced by most (all?) women at some point in their lives.

It is right that long-silent victims have an opportunity to bring their own violation out into the light (where it will lose so much of its shaming power). Your experience has made you stronger, more courageous, more fearful, more resolute, more timid. You’ve been marked by it in one way, or another.

Do find a safe and loving space to share your story. We might argue that social media isn’t the most secure place for that vulnerability. But your dear friends, a trusted advisor, a mentor, a space like BFF – it is important for your healing, and the healing of your world, that you tell your story.

#MeToo and #ItStopsNow are also a  testimony to the wrenching truth that women have just not been there for each other.

I well know what it is to be the one powerless woman in a room full of powerful men. I know how they use their bodies, their language, and their money to keep an intelligent, resourceful, get ‘er done gal in “her place.”

And I know what it is to be one of many women in a room, looking hopefully from one face to the next, thinking “Surely these women will stand with me for what they know must be done here?” only to see, immediately, that their heads are bowed and their lips are silent.

“Maybe if you weren’t quite so opinionated they would agree to make changes/adjust policy/implement procedure.”

“If you just talk more like a man they’ll be more willing to listen to you…”

“Oh, you just misunderstood his intentions.”

“It sure wouldn’t hurt if you just showed a little ankle…”

I was part of a community of women that knew exactly which ones were being hit by their spouses. It was an open secret, amongst the women, that Sally’s husband had gotten “a little carried away” with Sue…but it was all just a misunderstanding.

Your story can help change how men interact with women. More importantly (?) it may help change how women interact with one another.

But not if we leave it as a hashtag one-liner out in the Twittersphere. What is our part, girls? In our homes, our relationships, our places of employment, and the way we spend our dollars? We don’t need more blog posts, news feed buzz, or clever kitty-cat headbands. We do need to put action and choice and instruction (with some maturity and cool-headed sass) to the dogged work of adjusting the mindset of a culture. A global culture.

Three in a Five Part Series by Sandra McDonald

Have you found yourself tangling with unexpected memories of your own sexual history these past few months? Yeah, me too. In fact, #MeToo has compelled my own experience with unwanted touch and talk burbling right on up to the surface. I didn’t invite these thoughts. But here I am: thinking about my 47 years through the misty lens of long-quashed memories.

In “Your Story” I noted (in over-simplified terms, for sure!) that we communicate in the pattern of our own generation. I’m somewhere in the middle of, “Shhhhh. Nice girls don’t talk about such things!” (Words sternly spoken by the matriarch of my family. We also sit legs graciously crossed. We do not pick our noses in church. And we never, ever cry.), and “Don’t use those words – that’s my trigger!” I’m learning sensitivity to, and pushing against, this position just a bit…but that’s a different story, Resilient Friends. You’re stronger than you know!

This means that I share easily about some things, but there are many things that I, for the sake of propriety and the protection of the bullies in my life (What a strange propensity we have for this, right? A jumble of terror and politeness.) feel more comfortable remaining mum about.

I am not a beautiful woman. No, don’t protest that. Not even out of politeness. I’m not being self-deprecating or hateful. I am not pretty. I am prone to chubby with small eyes, thin lips, and a too-stubby chin. I’ve got a set of great birthin’ hips (read: broad and well-padded). My wobbly bits have always been strangely wobbly and I have never turned the head of a boy with the flip of my hair.

And I am a victim of sexual shaming and inappropriate touch. How I missed being more violently assaulted I cannot tell because there were some near misses.

“You fat cow!”

“You have hands like a man – look how big they are!” (One of the church elders made it a weekly point to meet me by the coat racks, my back pressed against dangling jackets and stacks of Bibles, to comment on some aspect of my physical appearance. Eyebrows too furry, waist too narrow, dress too short/too long/too lacey/too plain. And big ol’ man-hands.)

“You eat enough to be a farm boy!” (For Gramma, whom I revered, love and loathing were baked, equal parts into cookies, and squares, and ooey-gooey cinnamon buns.)

“You’re filling that top out really well right now.” (This by a man, lolling, legs-spread-wide in his church pew, as he leered at my milk-engorged breasts after the birth of my first son.)

“Come here. Sit on my lap. I want to show you how much God loves you.”

My stomach turns to jelly as this memory lurches to mind. He was a man 30 years my senior. A professional counselor working from a Christian retreat centre. I was 17 years old and feeling lost. My upbringing was staunchly patriarchal (that is, man is the head and woman is the submissive, weaker second), and subjugated (men lead, women serve). It did not, for even a second, occur to me not to obey.

And these are just a few of the encounters with men. It is the stories of women, one after another, from as early as I can remember, putting me in my place with shaming, hate-filled, “If only you were born a boy” intent that has heart-scars twinging with confusion and self-deprecation just when I least expect it.

My story is riddled through with religion, sex, morals, ethnic background, and shame, shame, shame.

But it doesn’t stop there. I am the mother of three sons. I am a neighbor, a friend, a wife, a relative. I am a listener and a story keeper. Countless women and men have shared their stories of one-off assaults and chronic abuse at my kitchen table. Of rape, incest, verbal assault, and unwanted solicitation. And I’m asking myself, “How have I contributed to the continuation of shaming-into-silence?” To listen to your story with full-hearted compassion and the willingness to look for resources is one thing. But is there more for me to do to ensure that cycles of abuse cease? How do I more capably advocate for healing for victimizers? How can I hone my language to ensure this conversation is being given space (carefully, gently, boldly) and then sacredly held? Did I (and here my heart stutters and my lungs fail with sick fear) do enough to teach my sons the honor due all of humanity? All races, genders, religions?

My story goes well beyond creepy men and handsy boys into a life where it is (desperately) important that I make space for women and men like you to bring some of the hard stuff out into the light of day. By getting what’s on the inside out, in a space that is wise and patient and free of judgment, we can heal hearts and quiet minds.

You, too. BFF can help.

Two in a Five Part Series by Sandra McDonald

I am a woman of a certain age. Not quite a senior. Not quite a young woman. The generation before me talked about nothing. Compelled to silence by strong (read: threatening) hands, the social mores of their day, and the hopelessness that comes from deeply entrenched belief that their story will not make a difference, their inner voice says, “What difference would it make if I did talk about it?” #MeToo is a bit baffling and alarming to the ones who’ve gone before us in building a tidily polite society.

The pendulum is swinging to the extreme opposite of that rigidity. The generation following mine talks about everything. Nothing is private, sacred, or off-limits. #MeToo makes sense and there’s an understanding that paying attention to Self is legitimate, normal, and even useful.

You fit somewhere in this mix, too, hey? For reasons that are good enough for you, you have openly spoken of your trauma, your broken spirit, your fear for the future. For reasons that are good enough for you, you have kept your experiences tucked well away from the eyes and ears of even the people who know and love you best. You wouldn’t dream of speaking them aloud.

Your story is your story. You carry great courage through your day (and you know it takes courage just to get out of bed some mornings!). The goodness that is deep within you is always ready to bring light and hope right out into the open in this dark world. Your humor and uniquely-yours point of view? It’s going to be the thing that helps make the world a softer place for someone else.

You are resilient. Do you know that about yourself? You probably don’t feel resilient, but consider what you’ve come through – and here you are! Still breathing in, breathing out. Sometimes that’s enough. But you’re moving past that, too. You’re loving others. You’re considering loving yourself.

That is a bit of sticking point, right? Loving Self. For some of us, that’s a far off and distant land – the stuff of fairy tales and whimsy. Or, more darkly, impossible: to love Self would mean considering who that Self is. And we don’t think that person is worth knowing at all.

While our newsfeeds explode with stories of assault, intimidating powers-that-be, and stories of intimate violation your own story has been pulled to the forefront of your thinking. You didn’t invite it. But thoughts you’ve avoided for years, forever, are suddenly squarely in your line of sight.

It’s ok if you don’t know what to do with that today. It’s ok if want to talk about things long-silent. Your experience is your own. It’s ok to find someone who is safe and present and selfless to share how you relate to the cultural story. It’s also ok if you don’t want to talk about this yet.

If you are ready to talk about the very complex ways that you have been impacted by trauma (and that trauma may not be sexual in nature), you are not alone. There are listeners, friends, and professionals nearby. Your story is important. A healing and moving-toward-wholeness You will ensure that the generation that comes after us…and the one that comes after them…can focus their energies on other things.

First of a Five Part Series by Sandra McDonald

#MeToo is not a new movement, but it is new to Hollywood, and that means that, for this brief moment, it has grabbed the spotlight, our imaginations, and talk show conversation. The other night I watched an interview between a comedian and a famous actor. The former boldly challenged the latter to account for accusations of inappropriate touch. The latter, panic-eyed and breathy, choked out scripted lines (carefully shaped to reassure that he meant no harm, he doesn’t remember, he’s appalled that anyone could ever think…), decrying the shocking extent of sexual victimization in his industry.

But you, BFF reader, are not surprised by the reach of sexual assault, rape, or inappropriate touch and language. You already know that it can happen to anyone. Anywhere. And it happens at the hands of the powerful, the rich, the frightened, the poor. It is perpetrated by those who know better and who glory in the control they wield. It is perpetrated by those who were victims first, and who, truly, may not know any other way to be. It continues in closets and corners and offices and public spaces. It’s happened to you, and to the people you adore.

Maybe you’ve even contributed to this not-so-secret secret shame? Courage, friend. We all have. If only by our silence, the turning of an avoidant gaze, you and I share in this part of the human condition.

Organizations like BFF have had boots on the ground on these issues for years. They’re doing the good work of making space for conversation, helping us to find the language to shape and understand our own stories, and moving us forward in finding wholeness.

You have a role in this conversation, and in changing our world. If you are a man or a woman who has wounded another, it’s time to make things right. BFF can help with that. If you are a woman or man who has been wounded, will you give yourself permission to consider moving toward healing? There is space here for you, for your story, and for the restoration of your heart, mind, and body.

If you are the loving Other of one of the above, you are not powerless. Be the loving, attentive, and aware listener that your Hurting Person needs. Your part of hearing and helping is no small thing. Feeling inadequate and overwhelmed? That’s ok. This is really big stuff! But you can give to a work that is equipped to provide professional care. You can make it possible for the people who are courageously walking alongside the hurting to keep doing what they’re doing.

It’s ok if you and I are not comfortable putting ourselves out there on the front lines. It’s not ok for you and I to pretend that the people we love, and who love us, have not been marked by this.

Whatever our engagement in this (temporarily?) public conversation, let’s move things forward together. Then, when humanity revisits this conversation in the decades to come, it will have been propelled forward by good work done in our time.

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 

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.