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’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.

  • 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.

 

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 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.

For all of you who tuned into this blog, just waiting to expand your vocabulary with the most offensive swear word I know, you’ll be happily disappointed.

The word is actually an acronym. So what is this offensive acronym? PTSD – or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychological injury, or condition of caused by experiencing traumatic event(s). PTSD is often found in military personnel and emergency service workers, although it is certainly not exclusive to them. Having PTSD does not mean a person is a cry baby, has their feeling hurt easily, someone who is weak, or has a disease of Bubonic Plague proportions. Although talk to someone who has experienced if for themselves, or worked in emergency services, and they will likely feel different.

I have extremely personal experience with both being diagnosed with PTSD, and treatment from colleagues that work in emergency services. Don’t worry, this is not a story of someone complaining about what has happened to them, or how they were treated. Rather, it’s a story of Trauma, enlightenment, perseverance and Triumph.

Granted we all face difficult times and task throughout our whole lives, sometimes those situations can be too much and can affect our present.

I was hired in 2007 in emergency services. Within the first couple of years I attended several horrific events:

  • An accident where the driver was scalped
  • A collision where  people 19-22 years old where killed,
  • I had a 15 year old die in my arms from a collision
  • Watched a 19 year old die from a collision and later attended that autopsy (that’s a whole other story)
  • Watched a co-worker die in front of me in a freak accident
  • Was put in a position to mentally commit to taking a life

Over the next few years I attended several more collisions and watched a few more people die in front of me at the hospital. I had a mother hand me  a 2 week old baby that was dead, and I attended to many other situations where I saw death, or had to make choice to cause serious harm or death.

In a span of five years, I managed to see a lifetime of trauma. One day I just became overwhelmed and sought help. I got professional help, and this was honestly the best thing ever to happen in my life. I learned mindfulness, so much so I became a certified instructor. I learned I needed better fitness for my body and with that came some unique performance hypnosis ideas. I identified that I suffered from low confidence, so much so that I decided to become a master certified self confidence coach to overcome it. I also learned Tai Chi and found it so helpful I continue working towards instructor certification.

However, according to my colleagues, at some point I changed from a coworker to a cry baby. I had my feelings easily hurt, I was damaged goods. These opinions were held about other co-workers who had been in similar situations as well. I, and others in my category, were avoided by our coworkers. I had an emergency service refuse my application, until I could prove this type of injury wouldn’t happen again, until I quoted from the Human Rights Act.

I was absolutely surprised to hear what coworkers thought about PTSD, how an emergency service would ever say they needed proof that PTSD wouldn’t happen to me again. Add to that the fact they already knew I was diagnosed with PTSD because my coworker felt it was so dangerous, they had to disclose it without my permission to this emergency service once they had found out I applied.

As I thought about my personal treatment, the treatment of others with PTSD, I began to notice something that seemed to make no sense. If someone had a physical injury, like a dislocated shoulder or they required knee surgery, their injuries were never seen as being of weak body. They were not cry babies. The expectation was that once they had surgery, rehabilitated the injury, learned some techniques to strengthen the injury they were welcomed back with open arms.

So why was I not? Why was the fact that  I saw a doctor, had the injury fixed, rehabilitated and learned some strengthening techniques to make sure it was less likely to happen again not the same? Was it because of one word that changed it from a physical injury to a psychological injury? Or realistically four additional letters (OLOG), that made this injury unrecoverable? The emergency service I applied to never asked about my dislocated shoulder, nor did a coworker feel they needed to tell this service that I had dislocated a shoulder. So why such a small difference then?

Well simply it comes down to a lack of knowledge. Although emergency services and management of those services are educating themselves at an encouraging and unprecedented rate, there is still so much mystery.

A psychological injury in the emergency services is not any less common than a knee that requires surgery, a shoulder that dislocates. A psychological injury is far less likely to be reported, and people will suffer years in silence for the fear of being ousted by a coworker. Coworkers oust those who do come forward; 1) because they don’t see a psychological injury or, 2) don’t understand a psychological injury. People often fear what they don’t understand.

What can we do to change attitudes towards psychological injuries? There is no doubt that anyone who works in an emergency service, or knows someone who does, should educate themselves about what PTSD is and what it is not. Gain understanding that like any other injury, you can recover and not return to where you were before, becoming better and stronger than where you were before.

Another strategy is mindfulness. In fact, mindfulness is a huge weapon in relation to PTSD. When we really learn to be in the moment it’s hard to be affected by the past. Another great strategy is to talk to someone, and don’t be afraid to see a psychologist. You will not regret that decision.

My favourite strategy is one of the biggest foundations I believe all of us need in life – self-confidence. Self-confidence, if you are the one suffering, will help you to learn. The best and most successful people in the world seek help. You owe yourself the love and compassion to seek that help and become better. Gaining self confidence will help these people work through the fear of the unknown, being able to treat the co-workers based on their actions. If your coworker has gotten help and says they are better, there is a real chance they’re not only better, but BEST.

By being self-confident as someone who has recovered, you have a real opportunity to inspire someone suffering in silence to get help. Professional help, or maybe just have you teach them the techniques you use to strengthen yourself, to help prevent a build up that causes harm.

By being self-confident as a coworker of someone who has recovered or suffered, you will be an excellent support. You can help your coworker have strength to seek help, have support while getting help, and have comfort that it’s alright for everyone to stumble once in a while, it’s how we get back up that truly matters.

Who knows, maybe your confidence will save a life! I often wonder just how many suicides of emergency professionals are related to silent suffering. There are enough true dangers in the world. We can do without fear of getting help, or fear of those who get help.

— Written by Jason Rorick (follow on Twitter)

 

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)

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}

 

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

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]

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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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In my past life I was a counsellor at an organization that provided support for women and children who were experiencing homelessness, poverty and family violence. It took me a long time to recognize that I was dealing with unacknowledged trauma of my own. In May of 2014 I made the decision to leave the organization where I had worked for eight years. It was painful to leave the colleagues I loved, but I realized that it was time to find a new place to shine. To my great surprise, immediately after I made this decision and seemingly out of nowhere I was pulled into dealing with my own trauma that had gone for so long unacknowledged. It was as though my body was waiting for me to be still and then it said, “We have to deal with this.”

I finally had to acknowledge that as a little girl I was sexually assaulted by someone that I really loved. I will never forget the pain. I could feel that my little body was bending and straining against itself in a way that was never intended. Part of the assault was witnessed by an adult I loved and trusted, who chose to do nothing.

I was so heartbroken and confused that I buried my pain and shame deep in my heart and tried not to think about it. As someone who worked for many years with children and families who had experienced suffering, I know it seems ridiculous that I didn’t ever acknowledge my own. I was completely unprepared for the debilitating despair, shame, fear and anxiety that overwhelmed me as I tried to confront this experience. The numbness and sense of deep unworthiness that I carried my whole life now made complete sense. I now recognise that there is no area of my life (physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual and mental) that this experience has not distorted.

I was cut off from spiritual resources during the first steps of this journey because I was raised in a loving but unhealthy family that participated in a very spiritually abusive cult for a time. I had completely rejected any spiritual connections as adult, so I was startled to establish a loving attachment to the Divine Feminine – I call her “Maman”, the French word for mother.  (The Over the Moon community has been so influential during this process – thank you).

I have been reflecting on many different aspects of the healing journey. For years I witnessed it and indeed facilitated it in others. Now I am experiencing it and of course, that is very different. I don’t have easy answers. What I am hoping is that by being open and honest with my experiences, some of the things that I have been discovering in this darkness might resonate with other women.

I am in therapy with a very skilled, gentle and feminine counsellor who has an extensive background in treating sexual trauma. Still, that has been exhausting and overwhelming. I wonder if it is like going to cancer treatment – you really hope that it is working, because the treatment itself is so painful.

Things that have unexpectedly been helpful and meaningful are exploring art and literature and reconnecting to the Divine Feminine. The last one may seem obvious, but as someone who had been in a patriarchal and abusive cult, it was a very big discovery for me.

I love to reflect on the special, ordinary things that come up throughout my day – sometimes a little meditation on a poem or a piece of art. I am also very interested in the stories of my French mother and grandmother. Healing my spiritual feminine lineage has become very important to me on my journey. In my years of working with people who had experienced trauma, we constantly recognized the importance of art, stories, dance, music, play and expression in healing. Now I am experiencing this for myself, and I know it is true. For years, I feared my body – large tracts of it were frozen and inhabiting it felt like living in a haunted house. To my surprise, she has turned out to be a wise and gentle friend, who remembers everything and never lies to me.

Thank you so much for listening to my story. I know that I have a long way to go on my journey. But I feel grateful to look back and acknowledge that there has been some progress after all, and that I found love in all kinds of dark, unexpected places.

— Written by Claire Anderson
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I have heard many stories, shared in deep sadness and pain, and also been witness to the immense inner-strength and resilience present in so many people affected by trauma. However, when I speak of trauma, it is not based solely on definitions such as the one from the American Psychological Association which states, “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Although trauma is definitely made up of these events and many more (childhood abuse, neglect, and abandonment).

I think of a quote from D.W. Winnicott (a renowned British Psychiatrist) who theorized that “there are two things that can go wrong in childhood: Things that happen that shouldn’t happen – trauma such as abuse and neglect – and things that should happen that don’t happen – such as being unloved and emotionally abandoned.”

My experience is based on my time as a trauma therapist but also from personal experiences that have caused me to re-evaluate all I do and say, especially with my children. It may already seem that I must have been raised in a difficult home. When others looked at my home life, they were very envious of what I came from. My best friend came from a broken home with an alcoholic step father and a very verbally and physically abusive mother. He loved the times he spent at my house as it was his escape from the chaos and feelings of hate, abandonment, and neglect. However, there are always different perspectives on the same situation and my perspective was much different than my friends.

I grew up in a religious home from the time I was seven. My parents immigrated to Canada from England with a one-year-old baby and another on the way. They came to a new country knowing no one as my father came to work for a family that needed a mechanic. They were isolated, alone, scared, and barely knew one another (met and married within three months).

My mother was raised in a very abusive home by her grandmother and she carried this pain and feelings of abandonment and neglect into her own family. For her to feel loved, she felt like she had to save everyone and be there for everyone. This resulted in many hours at the church helping others and bringing in countless numbers of young men who she took under her wings. My father was depressed and struggling with Colitis and the medication that resulted in extreme mood swings. We never knew what mood he would be in when he arrived home.

It took me many years of self-awareness and reflection to understand that how I respond to my wife now, my ex-wife in the past, and other females over the years was what I was missing with my own mother. I felt completely rejected and unloved during those years. I felt like I was not good enough, otherwise why would she need to bring in other young males to make her feel good about herself. Fortunately, I have a good relationship with my mother so we have been able to discuss this over the years, even more recently so I have had the opportunity to express my feelings and begin the work towards becoming a more securely attached husband, son, father, and brother. I am coming to understand that none of us is really aware what someone else is going through and even if their issues do not seem as big as our issues, it may be catastrophic to them.

We need to support everyone for where they are at with love, acceptance, kindness, and a non-judgmental attitude. We need to foster safety, comfort, and openness so those who need to talk, share, and become more self-aware have the opportunity to do so without fear or worry. We all have a unique story that needs to be heard. The more we listen, the more we hear and the more we understand. Vulnerability is true strength. I encourage everyone reading this blog to find someone you feel comfortable with to open up and share your story.

Written by Stephen Roberts, RPC – Guidance Professional Services Inc.

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