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.

Our next meet-up date will be in September, to be announced soon, stay tuned!

FACT: one in two girls and one in three boys falls victim to unwanted sexual advances before the age of 18.
FACT: 60% of rape victims are under the age of 17.
FACT: Sexual assault refers to all incidents of unwanted sexual activity, including sexual attacks and sexual touching. Sexual assault = rape.

Canadians must rally together to take a stand against the trauma of childhood sexual abuse and rape. Our first Victor Walk in 2013, was a huge success nationwide, and since then we have been working to keep the momentum high with the community we’ve built up together. A national movement powered by an Orange Wave of Courage, the Victor Walk will see Theo Fleury giving a voice to those who have been affected by trauma throughout their lifetimes. Supported by communities across the country, this Victor Walk on July 22, 2017, is recognized as a national movement and is hoped to change the way Canadians understand the effects of childhood trauma.

In 2017, our team will be walking an extended route for five days from Saskatoon to Regina, Saskatchewan, to bring a very bright spotlight on the horrors of childhood rape. Eight million Canadians have suffered from shame and pain of childhood sexual trauma long enough. An exciting addition to this year’s walk, in every stop in Saskatchewan, we will be screening the eye-opening documentary, Victor Walk, which followed Fleury and his team on the first Victor Walk in 2013. The film screenings are FREE!

All of the details of the 2017 route will be updated as they are available, but here’s where the 2017 Victor Walk Tour will be heading and when:

  • July 18: Saskatoon 
    • 4:30 – 5:30pm: meet at Persephone Theatre (100 Spading Crescent E) for walk
    • 5:30pm: rally with Theo Fleury & Victor Walk team (location TBD)
    • 7:00pm: documentary screening at Persephone Theatre (100 Spading Crescent E)
    • Stay up-to-date on Facebook
  • July 19: Swift Current
    • 4 – 4:30pm: meet at Subway (1100 – 11 Avenue NE)
    • 4:30 – 5:30pm: walk
    • 5:30pm: rally with Theo Fleury & Victor Walk team at Market Square (corner of Central and Chaplin)
    • 7:00pm: documentary screening at Lyric Theatre (227 Central Avenue N)
    • Stay up-to-date on Facebook
  • July 20: Moose Jaw
    • 4 – 4:30pm: meet at Subway (825 Thatcher Drive E)
    • 4:30 – 5:30pm: walk
    • 5:30pm: rally with Theo Fleury & Victor Walk team at Moose Jaw Funeral Home (268 Mulberry Lane)
    • 7:00pm: documentary screening at Moose Jaw Funeral Home (268 Mulberry Lane)
    • Stay up-to-date on Facebook
  • July 21: Estevan
    • 11 – 11:30am: meet at Subway (513 – 4 Street)
    • 11:30am – 12:30pm: walk
    • 12:30 pm: rally with Theo Fleury & Victor Walk team (location TBD)
    • 2:00pm: documentary screening at Orpheum Theatre (1235 – 4 Street)
    • Stay up-to-date on Facebook
  • July 22: Regina
    • 4 – 4:30pm: meet at Subway (919 Albert Street)
    • 4:30 – 5:30pm: walk
    • 5:30pm: rally with Theo Fleury & Victor Walk team (location TBD)
    • 7:00pm: documentary screening at Conexus Arts Centre (200 Lakeshore Drive)
    • Stay up-to-date on Facebook

Many of you have expressed interest in joining us on the five-day journey, however due to safety reasons, we cannot oblige.

We encourage you to join your own community walk, or if you live along the route that we are walking, meet us during the walk to cheer us on. Please click here to find out how you can organize a Victor Walk in your area, and be a part of one of the greatest teams ever assembled to make a difference on behalf of childhood trauma.

Cities where Sister Walks are being organized:

Watch the trailer for Victor Walk documentary.

*The Victor Movement reserves the right to refuse people or groups to join or participate in the Victor Walk at it’s sole discretion. The Victor Movement is not liable in any way for any injury or damage caused by participating in the Victor Walk.

**Sources: Sexual Assault Canada, Badgley Report, Statistics Canada.

The Victor Walk movement is an initiative of the Breaking Free Foundation, helping support those who have suffered trauma. All funds raised on the Victor Walk, go to support the Therapy Grant Program via Breaking Free Foundation.

A HUGE THANK YOU TO OUR 2017 SPONSORS!

Without the generous donations of amazing businesses, the Victor Walk movement wouldn’t be possible. We have sincere gratitude to all of the people and organizations that stepped up this year to make our 2017 walk a success.

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.

 

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.

 

Corey Deacon, neuroscientist at Neurvana Health, conducted brain mapping (QEEG) for a few members of Breaking Free Foundation, so we could learn a bit more about brain chemistry, trauma and the technology that gives experts this insight into our minds.

For the purposes of this case study, we are going to share my report and imagery from the brain map Corey did for me. Having experienced multiple traumas in my life, I have been left with some lingering side effects of those experiences, both physical and mental. After reviewing Corey’s thorough report and seeing the imagery myself, it seemed an interesting opportunity to share publicly how trauma affects our brain and our bodies in a very real and physical manner.

How does QEEG work?

QEEG stands for quantitative EEG, which is a non-invasive technology that evaluates brain function based on electrical activity and communication between different hubs and networks of the brain. The process uses a head-cap a lot like a swim-cap, with 19 electrodes simultaneously transmitting data to a computer. Once a certain amount of data is obtained, this data can be generated through a variety of algorithms to obtain measurements for brain functionality.

As opposed to MRI or CT scans, QEEG can evaluate underlying causes for symptoms such as PTSD, chronic pain, addiction, depression, anxiety, ADD, autism, head injury, fatigue, insomnia, early developmental trauma, cognitive issues and much more.

Because structure does not change on a macroscopic neuronal level with these issues, MRI and CT scans cannot generally see them. Most of these scans come back ‘normal’, even though brain functioning can be massively disrupted. — Corey Deacon

What are we looking for?
In analyzing trauma, experts like Corey are specifically looking at brain areas of the limbic system (amygdala and hippocampus) in addition to the cingulate gyri.

These structures are responsible for hi-jacking our higher brain functions such as motivation, cognition, pleasure, creativity, relaxation, and many more. The limbic system and cingulate gyrus can hi-jack the brain to the point of experiencing sensations like the trauma, constantly and consistently. In Amber’s case this process has led to problems with anxiety, sleep issues and addiction. — Corey Deacon

Snapshots from the actual report from Corey:

The results of Amber’s brain map in eyes closed (drowsy state) are as follows:

  • Elevation in alpha in the frontal and prefrontal regions of her brain. This is correlated with difficulties coping with stress, addictive tendencies, and it can also be related to alcohol and marijuana use.
  • Significantly decreased delta rhythm in eyes closed. Because delta is required for deep sleep, this pattern explains Amber’s issues with insomnia and staying asleep.
  • Significant hyper-coherence issues (indicated by red lines in alpha and beta). This means the brain is in a state of hyper-communication. This is commonly seen in brains affected by trauma. This will also correlate with the sleep anxiety and insomnia Amber experiences.
  • Elevation of beta 3 (high-activation) in Brodmann Areas 23, 30, and 31. This is part of the cingulate gyrus and is correlated to anxiety, difficulties with worry & rumination, and sleep difficulties. This is directly connected to the limbic system and is more than likely the direct link to Amber’s traumatic experiences.
  • Elevated activity in the amygdala. This is the fear center of the brain. It is fully operational while we are still in the womb. Trauma can therefore start before we are even born and can be additive over our lifetime. Neurofeedback can be used to decrease this activation and reduce intrusive memories and feelings of fear.

 

Eyes open results indicate:

  • Substantial elevation in temporal beta and hi-beta. This indicates hippocampus and amygdala being ‘on fire’ and on high alert. This is more than likely contributing to issues with sleep anxiety.
  • Elevation of theta over fronto-central regions indicates limbic ‘hi-jacking’ of the frontal lobe that can cause both pain, inflammation, and make one feel out-of-control when dealing with stress, anxiety, emotions, etc.
  • Amplitude asymmetry indicates significant dissociation between the 2 hemispheres of the brain. This again causes difficulties coping and is more than likely caused by the sexual traumas experienced in her past.

 

The most exciting part of QEEG is that when a problem is isolated, we can actually change the functioning of the brain and improve symptoms. We do this with neuromodulation technology, and my favorites are:

  • LORETA neurofeedback: This is where we train and teach the brain out of its current state into a more organized, symptom-free state using operant conditioning methods. This is a form of self-regulation and probably the most important when dealing with a traumatized brain
  • Pulsed EMFs This is a type of neuromodulation where we add frequencies to the brain in pEMF form, forcing the brain into a certain state. This can also be used to decrease inflammation and normalize communication in the brain.
  • Low-level Laser Therapy: Another great way to decrease inflammation, increase detoxification, increase neurogenesis (the building of new brain cells), and increase energy availability for brain functioning.
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation: This technology utilizes a microcurrent to ‘turn on’ certain brain regions, and ‘turn off’ others.

— Corey Deacon

This case study was provided in conjunction with reports and findings from Corey Deacon, MSc, DNM, BCN, HHP, PhD of Neurvana Health.

 

 

 

 

 The eye-opening documentary film ‘Victor Walk’ will make its Calgary debut at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium on June 2, 2017, raising funds for local non-profit.

Local non-profit, Breaking Free Foundation (BFF) is pleased to host the Calgary premiere of the eye-opening documentary, ‘Victor Walk’, at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium on June 2, 2017. The documentary follows Calgary Flames legend, Theo Fleury and his team on the inaugural Victor Walk back in 2013, where they walked from Toronto to Ottawa to raise awareness on the epidemic of childhood rape.

Since 2013, Fleury and the Breaking Free Foundation have led two provincial Victor Walks in Alberta and Manitoba, and the team will be heading to Saskatchewan this July for the 2017 Victor Walk.

In Canada, one in two girls and one in three boys falls victim to unwanted sexual advances before the age of 18, which is why this film is an important awareness tool.

The event is also serving as a fundraiser for the non-profit, founded by Fleury and six other Calgarians in 2015. All of the proceeds from the June 2 premiere will go towards funding the organization’s work for trauma survivors in Alberta.

The money raised is vital to keeping their innovative Therapy Grant Program running,which provides free trauma therapy to Albertans suffering from PTSD, mental health issues and the lingering effects of trauma.

Tickets are available online at Ticketmaster, with exclusive VIP packages available. The evening will be full of surprises including exclusive Victor Walk merchandise, photo opportunities with Theo Fleury, meet and greet with BFF and a special performance by Theo Fleury and the Death Valley Rebels following the screening.

The Victor Walk Documentary premiere is June 2, 2017 at 7pm at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium (1415 – 14 Avenue NW). Tickets available online at Ticketmaster on 10:00 AM on Wednesday, March 8th.

As a member of the Breaking Free Foundation team, and open advocate and Victor, many people are familiar with my trauma stories and struggles with PTSD.

And part of my ongoing conversation is to share my struggles with suicidal thoughts, including the final battle I won, where I attempted suicide at 14-years-old. Most people assume that this dark day came as a result of years of dealing with a number of sexual traumas, something I’m very open and honest about having been through.

But the truth is, my darkest period of depression and suicidal thoughts, came crashing down as a result of bullying. Yes, traumas from childhood had compounded, but the abuse and constant harassment I endured day-to-day in junior high school, was what finally led me to that ultimate feeling of hopelessness.

It’s easy as an adult to say “kids are mean, girls are awful” and blow off terrible behaviour as a part of growing up, but that’s just not easy to explain to a teenager who’s being bullied. But tell that to the parents of Tyler Clementi, Amanda Todd or Rehtaeh Parsons.

Puberty came late for me, I was a flat-chested teenager with too much eyebrow, too little makeup and definitely no clue. Perhaps that sounds like I gave bullies a lot to work with, but what ultimately led to my dance with darkness was a silly junior high breakup, so insignificant in the grand scheme of life, but at that time it was everything.

I was made out to be the bad guy in this scenario, in a huge way. What resulted was months and months of verbal abuse of the worst kind. Not just from people I never considered friends, but people I had hung out with hundreds of times, my classmates and my confidantes. Notes in my locker, screams down the hallways, huge letters inked across chalkboards on my way into class.

“Amber is a slut.”

“Fugly.”

“Flat bitch.”

It was never-ending, and it was absolutely horrible.

What many suicide survivors will tell you, is that it’s not necessarily about wanting to die, it’s about not wanting to live. Or at least, not wanting to live life the way it was. Perhaps this is the reason I didn’t “try hard enough” to take my life that day, but nonetheless, I had a rope around my neck. I tied a noose, and the other end of the rope around a metal pole in our unfinished basement. I walked around that pole until the rope slowly tightened on my neck. When I was teetering on unconsciousness, I ran back the other way, unraveling it.

It took that moment of panic, looking possible death in the face, that I was finally led to come to my parents with a plea for help. I was honest. Honest about what I was suffering through, with my emotions, and my plaguing thoughts.

At that moment I stepped into the world of hope and healing for the first time, and I’m so thankful I did.

For #PinkShirtDay, I have a few thoughts for those who witness bullying, are victim to it, or are causing it:

  • Don’t fall into the ‘eat or be eaten’ mentality. You don’t have to victimize someone else to avoid being bullied. I fell for this trap once as well. Remember there is a human being on the other end of your words, how would you feel?
  • Tell someone. Anyone. Tell a parent, teacher, counsellor, friend—anyone you trust.
  • Stand up. Make that person who’s being bullied aware that you are someone who cares.
  • Share. Being vulnerable is what creates change, and it’s a ripple effect.

“Whenever one person stands up and says, “Wait a minute, this is wrong,” it helps other people do the same.” — Gloria Steinem

— Written by Amber Craig (follow on Twitter)

Today is Pink Shirt Day, an awareness initiative focused on anti-bullying, a topic that rarely gets associated with trauma, but it should.

Recent updates to the definition of PTSD, as well as our understanding of it, proves that victims of bullying can develop PTSD later in life.

PTSD is caused by one or a series of terrifying events and results in delayed and prolonged symptoms such as anxiety, depression, withdrawal, suicidal thoughts/behaviour, substance abuse, and emotional issues. Being victim to continuous bullying would absolutely fall into this definition of a “series of terrifying events”.

In worst-case scenarios, the abuse of bullying can lead its young victims to suicide, sometimes called “bullycide.” But even though most children grow out of the stage of bullying and being bullied, victims of this hateful crime are still at risk for the long-term effects of PTSD. [Psychology Today]

Some examples of bullying include:

  • Physical violence
  • Verbal teasing
  • Spreading rumours
  • Excluding/isolating
  • Group mentality/”ganging up”
  • Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is on the rise in Canada, thanks to the prevalence of social media and the ease of access to the Internet. Just a few months ago, it was released that one in every five young Canadians has been victim to cyberbullying. That’s more than 1.1 million kids and adolescents in Canada alone.

Being a victim of either cyberbullying or cyberstalking raises the risk of having a reported emotional, psychological or mental health condition and a low level of trust in people at school, work, or in the neighbourhood, the report says. [CBC]

Keeping empathy and compassion in mind, we know that hurt people hurt people, and there are a number of reasons why children may resort to becoming bullies. This can include factors like neglect or abandonment issues, abuse, etc.

However, the best defence against developing PTSD later in life, is to stop and prevent the bullying early on. This requires adults to be mindful when it comes to this, especially for parents, those who work with children or in schools (as this is where it commonly occurs). Here are some signs a child may be being bullied:

  • Isolated or disconnected behaviour
  • Sudden physical complaints (be mindful of reasons for the child not to attend school or events)
  • Drop in school performance or interest
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Withdrawal, depression
  • Hyper-vigilance, anxiety

The RCMP has online self-assessment tools to help you understand if you’ve fallen victim to cyberbullying, or bullying.

By keeping a conversation going about anti-bullying, we can do so much to end this type of trauma. Take part in the conversation with us today on Twitter with #PinkShirtDay.

 

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)

 

*This was originally posted on the ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ blog

It’s Media Literacy Week in Canada.

The media has many important roles, and timely and sensitive coverage of stories can be very helpful, particularly when it comes to emergency situations. There are many benefits to media coverage: positive changes in public perception and policy; awareness on important issues like abuse and drunk driving, to name a few.

The media can also be a great outlet for trauma survivors, an avenue to tell their stories, and humanize the people involved. This kind of coverage can help create resilience and hope within a community, but when reporting is done at inappropriate times or with inaccurate information, it can do more harm than good.

Media coverage can re-victimize trauma survivors, reinforce misconceptions about trauma and crime, and in some cases trigger PTSD symptoms. In order to protect the survivors in these stories, it’s important for media to take some precaution.

  • Interview survivors at appropriate times: when victims may feel numb, confused or most vulnerable is right after a crime, during a trial, etc.
  • Creating perceptions about the survivor or victim: creating the impression that the victim or survivor contributed in some way to their victimization is damaging to the person involved and everyone close to them as well. Digging up negative information about victims is traumatic, as well as communicating the story in a way that uses misleading language.
  • Avoid taking or publishing inappropriate photos: avoid taking or publishing photos of bodies, body bags or potentially traumatic things at crime scenes like blood, or personal items (baby clothes, etc.).

When myths about crime are perpetuated in the media, it can have traumatic consequences on victims and their surviving family members, as well as impact negatively on a victim’s efforts to reconstruct his or her life following a crime. Even when myths are not explicitly stated, language is important. [Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime] 

Language is particularly important, because victim blaming, whether intentional or not, can be traumatizing to a survivor, but also feeds misconceptions in the public. We all want to be part of the solution, not the problem, so keeping trauma survivors at the helm of communication is important.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime has more great resources for media available on their website.

— Written by Amber Craig

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)

This day started out like many of my other days in university except that it was the day before I was leaving to go home for Christmas break.

I had a class or two to attend in the morning and then I was going on my first date. Well, we really weren’t going anywhere. We were just going to watch a movie and hang out in my dorm room while I packed to go home. Nothing special but I was excited and so nervous. I didn’t date ever in high school so this was my first.

Everything was going great. We were talking, watching a movie and getting to know each other all while I was packing.  I am really unsure of when things took a turn for the worse but they did.

I still remember how he felt on top of me. I remember not being able to scream or yell as I sat there looking at my unlocked dorm room door. Once in the past someone had just walked into my room and I was hoping at that moment it would happen again. I can picture how he looked. There are certain aspects I remember about him including blonde hair and both of his nipples were pierced. I cannot for the life of me remember what his name was.

It was painful.  After all, this was not the way I planned on losing my virginity. I am not sure how long it lasted but it felt like years. He just got up off of me and walked out the door.

I slowly got up and gathered up my clothing.  I walked to the showers and washed up while I bawled my eyes out. I went back to my room, took off the bed sheets, packed the rest of my things and headed off to my parent’s house, about a four hour car drive.

Everything else was a blur. I just remember I felt differently. I wasn’t sure how to act and I felt like everyone would see it on me – what had happened. After a few days, my parents knew that something was wrong.  I remember my dad asking me if I had had sex and I lied and told him yes. I didn’t want him to know what had really happened. I will never forget his response. His words were, “Promise me you will never have sex again.” I guess being a father and only having girls will make you want to believe that they will be virgins for a very long time.

I went further and further into a deep hole as the days went on. I didn’t know how to handle anything. I shut myself into my bedroom. I became antisocial, depressed, lonely and lost. I had no idea what way was up or down or even how to handle myself. I had completely lost who I was and was becoming this person that no one recognized. I still kept it to myself.

The only way I knew how to handle myself was to find the comfort in other men. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I knew my life had to change. I wasn’t sure how to do it or where to even begin but I knew it needed to be done.

I remember bawling while being intimate with my husband (boyfriend at the time). We would have to stop and he would comfort me and tell me everything was okay. I felt alone, like no one knew what I was going through. He was the only person that truly knew what had happened to me.

It took me another nine years to truly begin to heal. I kept it locked inside believing that it was my fault. That I was somehow to blame for what had happened to me. I was ashamed to tell anyone including family and friends for the fear of judgement that I thought they would have of me.

It was in the fall of 2014, when we made a huge move and started over. Life felt different. It was a new beginning for us which meant a new beginning for me. I decided to take back my life. I now had two children (aged six and three) and they needed me to be 100 per cent me again. They needed me to teach them how to love themselves and that was impossible when I didn’t love myself.

I started my blog, BeYOUtiful Rewritten, to show the world my transformation.  To start truly believing that what happened to me wasn’t my fault and that there was no shame in it.  I decided to finally announce that I was raped. Show the world that what happened to me didn’t define me. It was an incident that happened in my past but I was overcoming it and becoming a stronger person day-by-day.

I don’t want any other woman to suffer for 11 years before they realize that it wasn’t their fault!

I want you to know that you are not alone. This does not define who you are.  In no way what happened to you is your fault. You are beautiful, courageous, loved and most importantly, stronger than you realize.

— Guest post submitted by Samantha Laycock (follow on Twitter)

Would you like to share your trauma healing story on our blog? Please submit it to us online

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}

 

pexels-photo-large

Today is my last day of counselling for the treatment of sexual abuse. I went to 25 sessions, spread out over two long years.

When I started, probably fortunately, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I remember my counsellor saying to me, “You do understand, don’t you? It’s going to get harder before it gets easier.” And I said, yes. I understand. Of course, I didn’t and in an unbelievably short time I was so overwhelmed that my boat nearly capsized and I almost didn’t make it. I look back and feel amazed by what I survived, and by all that I’ve come through.

Here’s what I know about sexual abuse.

When I was in Paris, I got to see countless paintings, sculptures, buildings and other pieces of art. Each had been a painstaking labour of love, conception and skill for its artist. A thousand details and decisions, big and small, had to made, and although perhaps invisible to the average viewer, the care and attention of the creator went into every aspect of what they were trying to convey through the marble, the paint, the fresco or the canvas.

And some of those works had been really damaged – by time, weather, neglect, or a violent mishap. Some had been exposed to cruel lighting, water, mould, war, careless transportation, improper storage or other elements of wear, tear and harm. In some cases, these objects have been lovingly and painstakingly repaired by experts who were doing their very best to restore them to dignity and integrity. And some, like the magnificent Winged Victory of the Samothrace in the entrance to the Louvre, have to be enjoyed the way they are. They are wonderful and regal, damage and all.

I can’t help but think of the artist — the creator — and feel a sense of loss that we will not be able to see the authentic work the artist originally intended. Repairs can be made. Works can be beloved and glorious as they are. Damaged objects are not worthless and they cannot be dismissed.

A Da Vinci is a Da Vinci.

A Botticelli is a Botticelli.

A Michelangelo is a Michelangelo.

A work created by a master is a priceless extension of the artist who envisioned it and gave it life. And yet, what a very great loss never to see that mighty work of marble or canvas in its wholeness and its entirety, as the artist envisioned. I believe that this is important to say, because I think that in a good intentioned hurry to reassure victims that they are not “damaged goods” the people we actually placate are those who have done the harm to begin with. The resulting message can sound like: the results of your actions are minimal, can be easily fixed, and anyway, they are in a place where nobody can see.

Those who have been harmed know the truth: that the hurt is pervasive and permanent. The costs and the processes of reclamation and restoration are expensive, overwhelming and painful. That the very pieces that are missing are the ones that would to have been so foundational, so important to healing.

“It’s only the face that is scribbled over, who needs an identity!”

“The spiritual connection is irretrievably damaged. What could possibly go wrong?!?”

“All the sexual impulses have been unplugged, reordered and/or reinstalled by a mad person. But that won’t interfere with functioning, surely?!?!?”

You will never be the same.

But you are a Da Vinci.

The damage can only be repaired, never undone.

But you are a creation of Michelangelo.

This is the paradox.

Because the painting was priceless, the damage is, too.

Here is to the art restorers, to those who slave away behind the scenes in the most unglamorous places imaginable, trying with devotion, patience and care to repair these inimitable masterpieces. May they experience moments of deep joy and satisfaction as a reward for their commitment and sacrifice, cleaning up other people’s messes.

And here is to the casual, every day art lover, who stands in wonder, and sees only the loveliness and the hands of the great artist. They little know how healing the love and admiration of their gaze can be.

— Written by Claire Anderson 
[Follow her on Twitter

Are you interested in sharing your story, or experience breaking free from trauma? Please contact us to guest blog. To continue the conversation about trauma, please follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

I recently returned from a month-long trip working and living abroad, in Indonesia. The trip was amazing, but my PTSD presented a fair set of challenges for myself and my roommates. After surviving (and I do use the word ‘surviving’ intentionally) a month living with eight people and my PTSD (because it has a life of its own), it left with me with a lot of reflections on what it’s like to live with the lingering side effects of trauma.

Being the Victor of multiple sexual traumas in my life, I now live with PTSD that takes on various forms, and is triggered by a number things. I guess I never realized how much some of my symptoms had become my new normal, until I was faced with sharing a bedroom with someone else, and a home with people I didn’t know. At 28-years-old, I have mastered most of my PTSD side effects, in the sense that I know how to cope with them and I can live a relatively disruption-free life because of the skills I’ve acquired over the years. Like most people who have suffered trauma, certain things can still trigger me. Unfortunately for me, my biggest triggers arise from bedrooms and sleeping, two unavoidable things and two things that caused a lot of grief for myself and others on my trip.

Let me set the stage for you, I travelled to Indonesia with a friend who thankfully knew about my PTSD before we went there, and was supportive of my needs in dealing with my PTSD. However, the seven other people we were going to be staying with were strangers to me, and right off the bat I hit them with my annoying request: “I need my own bed”. For many years, my PTSD has reared its ugly head almost every time I fall into a deep sleep, causing me to rise instantly from bed and run around my home locking doors and barricading myself in my room, until my brain realizes there is no real threat, and then I can go back to sleep. Sounds fun, right? Because I live alone, this is more of an inconvenience that has become the norm for me, but nothing more. The added “threat” of another person in my bed, causes anxiety I can’t even begin to describe.

Because of the lodging situation, I agreed to share a room with my friend, on the one condition that I would be able to have my own bed in the room. However, we realized after booking the villa that there was in fact just one bed in the room, so we had to bring another one in. Here was PTSD inconvenience number one: purchasing and moving a spare mattress into the room.

On the day we moved in the mattress and I was to start the journey of sharing a bedroom with someone, my anxiety kicked in almost immediately. Before my friend had even entered the bedroom, I stared down at the mattress beside my bed on the floor, and my throat just started to feel like it was closing up. I felt short of breath, panicked and scared. I immediately expressed my anxiety to my friend, and bless his heart that he was so understanding through ALL of this process. He came up to the room, and said, “maybe we can close the curtain around your bed at night to give your brain the extra sense of security at night?”. Yes, it was a kind suggestion, but I couldn’t help but think about how this was my life.

The duration of our stay, I had to work very hard to keep my PTSD sleep anxiety at bay, which meant a lengthy process to get to sleep every night.

  • Check under the bed (seriously)
  • Position myself in the middle of the bed to allow for the most surface area around my body on all sides
  • Close the netting around the bed to create imaginary separation between myself and my roommate
  • Put my headphones in to block out all noise
  • Turn on a video on my laptop, which was placed beside my head on the bed every night

All of this just to trick my brain into thinking there was nobody else in the room, and no threat in falling asleep. To my credit, it worked almost every night. I only woke up in extreme panic a few times the entire month, and aside from the usual quick wakeup and tossing and turning, I was able to get some sleep while I was there. A true success for me!

While people have been mostly supportive of my PTSD symptoms over the years, sometimes a suggestion is posed that points a touch of blame, though almost always unintended. What I want to express to everyone, is that there is no such thing as an irrational fear when you’ve suffered trauma. Every fear seems very real. When I take a step back, I can see (as I’m a very realistic and logical person) how silly it might seem that I am in essence, afraid of sleeping. But anxiety makes no exceptions, neither does trauma and neither does PTSD. Mental illness, trauma, it can affect anyone. But I share this story not to gather pity or frighten people into thinking PTSD is some inescapable beast. My intention in sharing this story is to show that after many years and a LOT of work, PTSD can still show up. But that’s okay. Every day I get a little stronger, and every day I get a little better. And some days, I get hours of uninterrupted, anxiety-free sleep. Those days are coming more and more often too.

Fear not your experiences or your struggles, they shape us and they don’t have to be burdens. Conversations and honesty can remove the stigma and bring everyone a step closer toward healing.

— Written by Amber Craig
[follow me 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

By definition, trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, a definition that natural disasters fits right into. When Mother Nature’s wrath wreaks havoc, it can take both a physical and psychological toll that is widespread. Alberta is no stranger to the trauma left by natural disasters, the floods of 2013 left a huge path of destruction, and now thousands of people are dealing with the ongoing trauma of the fires burning in Fort McMurray this week.

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. Besides the people being evacuated, first-responders are also at huge risk to develop symptoms of PTSD.

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

It’s difficult to determine when those symptoms will arise, some people feel fine at first only to develop PTSD later on. In general, survivors of natural disasters are recommended to seek professional help if they find they continue to suffer from the effects of PTSD for more than a month. 

If you are dealing with the trauma of a natural disaster, 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 programIf you want to help with the fire relief in Fort McMurray, donate to the Red Cross.

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 
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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]

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in Calgary launched a 60 day initiative recently, to help end stigmas surrounding mental health and addiction. Each day, their website featured stories about resilience, strength and hope in healing. The Breaking Free Foundation Chair, Amber Craig, shared her story on the CMHA blog. Her piece:

“Sharing your truth is key to the healing process”— Theo Fleury from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake

Have you ever had a secret that ate you up inside, a secret that you hid from the world, for fear of judgment or misunderstanding? I did. I hid myself in a cloak of shame and secrecy for 20 years.  

That shame and secrecy manifested itself in many difficult ways, including my depression diagnosis at 13-years-old. I felt very alone during my teenage years and early adulthood, mainly because I thought I was the only one dealing with this pain, and my secrecy kept me from accessing the mental health care I really needed.

In 2013, a nationwide movement was launched by Theo Fleury called the Victor Walk, an awareness initiative on ending childhood sexual abuse. The focus was to help survivors transition from victim to victor, it sounded amazing. I volunteered to help coordinate a Victor Walk rally in Calgary, and on May 23, 2013, my life changed forever.

During our Victor Walk rally, I listened to a dozen or more strangers bravely stand up and share their stories of trauma, abuse and the effect these experiences had on their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The last person to come up was a young girl, about six-years-old, with her mother. The pair shared a heartbreaking tale of abuse the young girl had suffered, and that brave little girl stood in front of us without fear, and declared to the world she would be a ‘victor’ too. Something shifted inside me as I heard these two share, or perhaps someone, the six-year-old girl inside me.

I grabbed the megaphone, and for the first time in my life, I spoke my truth and said “me too”. In that moment, I felt so incredibly free, I had risen above my mental illness and past trauma and accepted myself without shame. The best part was, the fear I was holding onto all those years turned out to be totally unfounded, because what happened after that day in 2013, was a domino effect of support from near and far. Even more compelling, the amount of people who reached out to say “me too”.  

Following the Victor Walk in 2013, I made a promise not to live in secrecy and shame anymore. I wrote a blog about my experience, and that blog made its way to the person who indirectly opened the door for me in the first place, Theo Fleury.

Fleury kick-started a group of Calgarians with a common goal to help the trauma community, and the result was seven of us creating the Breaking Free Foundation. Our foundation not only continues to put on the annual Victor Walk movement, but also provides free trauma therapy via a grant process. I feel blessed to work with an amazing group and in an amazing community of supporters and advocates who are working together to create awareness and end stigma surrounding trauma and mental health.

In the three years since the first Victor Walk, I have transitioned from victim to victor to advocate. Not only was I able to finally receive mental health treatment from an amazing psychologist, I have been able to turn my experience into a gift.

Today, I live a fulfilling and mostly happy life. Like many others with mental illness, I too have ups and downs, but I’ve learned to embrace them as opportunities for growth. I am always learning, always healing and always growing.

#NowImStronger because sharing my story helped me help others.

 

Link to the CMHA story and website here

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What an appropriate mental picture of our unsaid words and unresolved issues. We may not physically see the “elephant”, but boy is it there!

“When you avoid something, you automatically create a void.”

Life is filled with experiences – good, bad and ugly – every one of us has them. But what about when hurt happens? What about those moments that shut us down, shut us in? It could be as simple as a misunderstood text or email, or as complex as a traumatic experience that hasn’t been shared with anyone. It could be an incident that impacted you, that the other person has no idea took place.

We had an incident in our family that hasn’t been talked about for years. Over Christmas it came up, a complete surprise for me that anyone even wanted to discuss it. It was a true Christmas gift for all of us. I immediately thought about how we invite the elephant in, feed it, watch it grow until it becomes an adult, and then wonder how we’re going to walk it out the door, because it’s not going to escort itself out.

What happens then, when it gets so big it seems impossible to deal with? I think that’s where the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” comes in. “One bite at a time.” It’s generally used in reference to projects that overwhelm us that we need to dissect into segments so we can manage it, but if we applied that principle to all areas that seem larger than life it could potentially make a significant difference in the long run.

So, why do we tend to avoid our mental health? Or the discussions that need to happen – but haven’t? What about those conversations we know will never take place? Where and how does resolution come? We can be so overwhelmed, feeling hopeless and paralyzed by it. Or we may not even consider its importance. So many of us are willing to take care of our physical health but zoning in on our mental health doesn’t always cross our minds.

“If we cared about our mental health like we care about our dental health, we would be okay.” — Howie Mandel

Mental health carries more significance than most other parts of our being (besides oxygen), because without it we lose so much of who we are. Caring for our mental health may be as simple as an extra half hour of sleep at night. That’s one bite out of the elephant. It may mean being courageous and saying something vs keeping it hidden inside. It could be phoning your mom to tell her you love her, or booking an appointment to talk to someone. I don’t know what those bites might look like, but I do know you’re worth the effort. If you take time to invest in your whole health, you and those you love will most definitely reap the rewards.

Bell Let’s Talk Day is January 27th, and you can participate on social media by using #BellLetsTalk. Find out more about Bell Let’s Talk and ending the stigma around mental health, here.

Helping is healing and healing is possible.

— Written by Shandra Carlson, follow 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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Are you interested in sharing your story, or experience breaking free from trauma? Please contact us to guest blog. To continue the conversation about trauma, please follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

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November 25th marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which is the start of a 16-day activism campaign against gender-based violence.

From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world. [United Nations]

Violence is a worldwide epidemic that no gender is immune to, but to put this specific trauma against females into perspective: 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual abuse, in some countries it’s 7 in 10 women. Even more startling, a majority of those abuse cases are committed by someone close to them, many times an intimate partner.

The ripple effect of violence against women has a ripple effect that has global side effects, which is why the United Nations created this awareness day and campaign. As per the UN website:

Violence against women is a human rights violation

Violence against women is a consequence of discrimination against women, in law and also in practice, and of persisting inequalities between men and women

Violence against women impacts on, and impedes, progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security

Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential

Violence against women continues to be a global pandemic.

Did you know harmful practices like female genital mutilation still occurs in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East? An estimated 133 million girls and women have experienced this type of traumatic abuse.

How common is domestic abuse against women? In 2012, a shocking 50% of women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family. In Calgary alone, domestic violence is on a startling rise, with a heat map being released last week showing just how prominent the pandemic is.

This year’s campaign focuses on ‘Orange the World’. Why the colour orange? For starters, it’s the same reason we chose this colour for our organization, it’s the colour of courage. The United Nations also chose this colour because it’s an optimistic shade representing a future free of violence.

On this day, and every day, help us ‘Orange the World’ and end violence against women. Use #OrangeTheWorld on social media, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

*If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please report it to your local authorities. If you are suffering from trauma and would like help, learn more about our therapy grant program.

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**Spoiler alert: if you have not read the book ‘Room’, or watched the movie, you may want to wait to read this blog until after you do so. 

The book, ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue, was recommended to me months ago, and I hadn’t yet read it when the movie hit theatres this past week. After seeing rave review after rave review online, I figured I’d break the cardinal rule and see the movie before finishing the book. I am so glad I watched it!

The topic was heavy: a 17-year-old girl is kidnapped, abused and held hostage in a garden shed (“room”) for seven years, during which time she gives birth to a son, and they manage to escape when he is five-years-old. The story is told mostly from the perspective of the little boy, but the movie portrays the storyline from a variety of angles, and does so brilliantly.

While it evoked a lot of emotions in me while watching the film, mostly that of sadness, it also caused me to reflect and think a lot. What I kept processing throughout my mind while watching it, was how it was a perfect portrayal of not only the effect of trauma, but the widespread effect of the lingering PTSD from a traumatic event or experience. The traumatic instances during the “room” scenes weren’t what affected me the most, it was everything that happened once the mother and son were back in the real world. That’s when PTSD took over, and showed us all how it can be.

The writing of the characters and their response to the trauma was perfection, and I loved how each character in the story dealt with the PTSD differently. While the son had obvious challenges, having never seen the outside of the “room” until they escaped, the mother had obvious trouble with her PTSD after escaping. Depression, anxiety, dissociation, attempted suicide—she was experiencing the depths of her PTSD.

There was a particular scene with her father, which he is completely shut off and can’t even look at his grandson in the face, and that really resonated with me. While some people wear their emotions on their sleeves, others completely shut down and avoid it.

But what really got me, was how the little boy, after being in the real world for a few weeks, yearned to be back in “room”. Even though he lived in such a traumatic place for the first five years of his life, it’s the only life and environment he knew. I had to look into this further, so I did some research online and found (among many research papers) a study on abuse and attachment in children.

This particular study looked at what affects young brains to foster attachment instead of fear in traumatic environments. While this study was done on rats, they found the information to be parallel to humans (which years of research has already proven).

In the amygdala of rats attracted to the aversive odours, there were lower than normal levels of the neuro-trans­mitter dopamine. This lack of dopamine activity may have turned off their brain’s fear response, enabling attraction to take place instead. A similar mechanism may occur in abused children, Sullivan says, although how much the amygdala is involved with early human attachment is un­clear. Barr suggests this behaviour probably evolved as a survival tactic. “The animal has to be able to survive, which means it has to be attached to its caregiver no matter what the quality of care,” he says.

What I was left reflecting on after seeing ‘Room’, was that even after someone is taken out of their traumatic environment, the trauma still lingers in some way. We also get a glimpse of the recovery from trauma in the movie, and while there is certainly a hopeful ending, we get a realistic look at the process and how it differs from person to person. Healing from trauma takes time, and this movie portrayed that as well.

Trauma effects everyone. And the differing reactions to trauma in the film, is certainly the reason there wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre, we’ve all experienced trauma in some way. But healing is possible.

If you’re interested in learning more about trauma visit our online resources, and if you’d like to learn more about our trauma therapy grant program, you can find it here.

— Written by Amber Craig
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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
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Interested in sharing your story on our blog? Please send submissions to: contact@breakingfreefoundation.ca

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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.

Are you interested in sharing your story, or experience breaking free from trauma? Please contact us to guest blog. To continue the conversation about trauma, please follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

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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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‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ on Twitter or Facebook

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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