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It has taken me exactly 20 days to write this blog, because I needed that much time to process and digest the emotional gift that was May 26, 2018.

Before I tell you about that, however, we need to go back a bit, to September 2017.  I will be honest, that was a horrible month. The five years preceding that month were also horrible. I won’t get into all the details, because I’m still not there yet. But I will share that I was sexually assaulted many years ago, that isn’t necessarily new information, me sharing my story (or parts of it) has been imperative in my healing process and my work with the Breaking Free Foundation.

The assault left me with PTSD, as rape often does, and some other side effects that have ultimately led to the demise and diminishing of many relationships and friendships. In September 2017, I finally got my day in court. Getting there was hard, and I will never lie about that, it was very hard. At one point, even my work with Breaking Free Foundation and my friendship with Theo [Fleury] was also attacked.

Again, I’m not ready to share all the details of that day, still feeling handcuffed by the whole experience. But I will be honest in sharing with anyone who is reading this, that that day in court was nearly worse than the assault. I felt battered, sick, empty and I left that very long day without the one thing I still had up until that point—my voice.

It silenced me. And when the #metoo movement started making waves, I was so proud of all of the incredibly brave men and women who were coming out and sharing their stories. But I still felt unable to speak. Still vocally paralyzed.

Recently, my best friend shared a dream she had about me. A dream where she was at my funeral, trying to speak my truth for me because I had not been able to while I was alive. That was so hard to hear, and I was really struggling with this the weeks leading up to May 26th, 2018.

Fast forward. Myself and our Executive Director, Shandra Carlson, were invited by two amazing women, Amy Monea and Angie Payne, to host one a special BFF Meet-up at the Rafter U7 Ranch (a facility where these women host equine therapy sessions, among other things). I was so excited to go! I love animals and horses and I was dying to learn a bit about equine therapy, which I had heard nothing but amazing things about.

Well, nobody came. So “work” was off for Shandra and I, so Amy and Angie asked if we wanted to be treated to the authentic experience and try out a session. OF COURSE, our answers were an enthusiastic YES!

Having Romeo’s eyes on you from the minute we walked into the arena might be worth mentioning? I only say that because of how it impacted me before we ever started. He “had your back” from the very first eye contact.

We started off with pulling oracle cards (or whatever you want to call them)… boom. Here it begins, mine was titled, “Exclaim”. The second line reading, “For a while now, you have been swallowing your personal truth”.  I honestly laughed out loud at this, which I truly believe is what most of our Breaking Free family would have done at that moment if they were there because the cards always know!

Angie and Amy co-facilitated a very emotional therapeutic experience for both Shandra and I. When it came time for me to face my demons about the? trial, magic unfolded before our eyes. I won’t give it all away, but the role of my attacker and the system as a whole, was being played by an object in the room for role-playing sakes. Fancy, a beautiful white female horse, strutted towards it and faced it head-on.

She was tall and strong and she didn’t flinch. Even when the dogs started barking like mad right in front of her, trying to throw her off, she just stared at it. She was everything I felt I wasn’t in that moment, and I fell apart. Wow, it was a big moment.

To wrap up the session, Shandra and I were asked to join Fancy and Romeo (a handsome, strong male horse) in the round pen. Angie and Amy instructed us to stand in the middle and just let the horses do what they need to do.

I was facing Shandra, and my back was to the horses so I couldn’t see what was going on, but I could see her face and tears filled her eyes. “Oh my god”, she said. “What!?” I asked.

All I could feel behind me was the two horses suddenly brushing their noses up and down my back, almost like they were comforting me. I think if two animals that big came toward me like that in the wild, I would honestly be a bit frightened, but it was the most soothing and safe experience I’ve ever had. They were gentle, and they just wanted to let me know I was okay. After they finished caressing me, they walked in front of me and just stood there, as if in a protective stance.

Even as I’m writing this now, it’s still emotional to think back to that moment. And trust me, I am not doing it justice right now.

Shandra, by the way, was one of the amazing people from my “other family” (Breaking Free) who were in court to support me that day in September. So it was very meaningful that she got to share this moment with me. Even though I still feel a bit silenced, I got to speak a lot that day and I felt a thousand pounds lighter leaving the ranch.

To the three women, the two horses and the energy in that ranch that day—thank you.

———

Amy and Angie: you ladies are such a gift. You allowed me to be so vulnerable with you and I felt as if I had known you both my whole life. What an incredible thing you both do and I am so glad I got to experience this type of therapy first-hand.

You can learn more about Amy Monea and Angie Payne’s work at their respective websites:

http://www.equineenrichment.com

https://linktr.ee/heardwellne55

 

 

 

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.

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.