I Will Never Say “I need to lose weight” Again

For a while I thought society was changing. Seeing body positive messages everywhere made me believe that I was now acceptable, that my size didn’t matter. But the real truth is that I stopped holding myself to the standard that society prescribes. I came to the realization that by giving others the opinion that I felt I needed to lose weight, gave them permission to think that as well.

I figured that I could be socially acceptable if I let people know that I was trying to lose weight, that I was “working on it”.

I will never say it again, and I encourage, but don’t prescribe, that others do the same. When you say things like…I need to lose weight. When you put yourself down, and even when you do the smaller things like post pictures on social media of other women’s bodies, the body that you maybe want, others will see you the way that you see yourself. As not “that woman”, as someone fat who can’t lose weight.

So what do I want them to see? I want them to see that I am perfect just as I am. I want them to see that I can never have another woman’s body, because I am not her. I am not eating vegetables to make my thighs smaller, I am eating vegetables because they are healthy for me. I am not exercising because I should in order to be a “Work in progress” fat girl. I do it to keep my heart pumping.

And when I see others posting about losing weight, or talking about it, I remember that I was them once. I once gave others permission to see me in a negative light. I see thin women posting about weight loss, larger women posting about weight loss, it doesn’t matter who you are or what your body looks like. Your body is yours, and you are beautiful. Don’t give the world the satisfaction of labeling your body.

Take the pledge to remove the words from your vocabulary, put “I need to lose weight” in the past, and embrace your beautiful self, every bump and curve.

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Things that are worse than being fat

Of all the problems that exist in this world, let’s put size into perspective.

Things that are worse than being fat:

  • Being rude
  • Having cancer
  • intimate partner violence
  • Not being legally allowed to marry the person you love
  • Being addicted to substances
  • Not having cats in your life
  • Breakups
  • Children going hungry
  • Adults going hungry
  • Animals going hungry
  • Not having a home
  • Not having access to clean drinking water
  • Being in Jail
  • Losing someone you love
  • Getting attacked by bears while trying to have a picnic
  • Human Trafficking
  • tornados
  • Global warming
  • Animal extinction
  • The return of dinosaurs (could happen)
  • A Zombie apocolypse (Will happen, are you prepared?)
  • Running out of cookies
  • Running out of coffee
  • Being bitten by misquitos
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Inequality
  • Running out of rum.
  • Murder
  • Breaking your favourite mug
  • Getting into a car accident.
  • Mental health problems.
  • Having someone drop by unexpectedly and your place is a disaster.
  • The plague
  • Reality TV
  • Accidentally drinking sour milk
  • Getting jail time for a crime you didn’t commit
  • Having a miscarriage
  • Breaking a limb
  • Losing a limb
  • Living in a country at war
  • Dying young
  • Living in a haunted house
  • Getting in a fight
  • Regret
  • Disrespect
  • Not having a place that makes you feel safe
  • Finding your first grey hair
  • Nightmares
  • Sinkholes.

I would rather be fat than experience these things, and many more awful things. Feel free to comment if you have any to add.

Remember that you are beautiful just as you are, and your size isn’t really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

Rivers, Rapids and Mortality

It’s hard to accept that one day we will die, and that the bodies we have now are fragile. When we are young we see death as something far away, that will happen years from now when we are old and wrinkled in a nursing home. But sometimes it happens so fast we never see it coming. Sometimes we put ourselves in situations where our lives could be snatched from us, saved only by the grace of god or whatever supreme being you believe in. If you don’t believe then you may call it lucky. We survive life threatening experiences without even acknowleding the impact on our mental health, the trauma to our souls.

I had this experience last weekend and now I sit going over the possibilities in my mind.

I enjoy kayaking, I have been sea kayaking in BC, on lakes in farther up north. I am not an expert, my skills are beginner at best, but I love the independence of kayaking, and often fancied a fantasy life of buying a kayak, and venturing out on my own for solitude in nature. But rivers always scared me because that meant rapids.

This weekend after telling multiple people that I had agreed to go kayaking on the grand river, and that there were no rapids just fast moving currents. I was placated and any anxiety that I brought up was quickly calmed by those around me.

Well we did hit rapids, and my kayak tipped. I was then pulled through the current, hitting rocks as I went. I could hardly stand by the end of it, in no way aided by the rounded algae covered rocks. Helped by my rescuers the fellow kayakers on the trip I got to shore, and felt slightly my tears slightly vindicated by my swelling ankle.

I noted later that I had remembered one thing, if your kayak tips hold onto your paddle. It kept my head above water.

A week later I am still dealing with the consequences, thanking my lucky stars that my emergency room stay revealed no broken bones, just tissue damage. Took me about 5 days to be able to walk without a crutch, and many people to drive me around.

The most common reaction I get from those who don’t know me is that I must be very adventurous, and brave to have gone through rapids on a kayak and I assure you I was nothing of the sort, about 7 other people were kayaking with us, only two of us tipped. Don’t picture this waterfall with sharp jagged rocks. I want you to understand that people kayak this river daily. Do they put their lives at risk? Maybe, but we also put our lives at risk when we get in a car, or a plane. It isn’t about bravery, it is about taking risks.

I would not have taken the risk had I known what could happen.

This event paralelled in my mind with the discovery of a young man who went missing 7 years ago, whose mother I met through community social work events as she fought for acknowledgment of the trauma the families of Canada’s missing persons. They found his skull in the Canadian north by a lake, and they believe he injured himself, a skull fracture. He was an experienced kayaker, used to surviving Canada’s harsh northern landscapes.

I don’t compare the situations, only the risks and the saving grace. Why did my head stay above water, but there was no hand of god ending for him. Or maybe it was the paddle.

I won’t stop kayaking. I won’t stop taking risks. But I will think about how lucky I am, how blessed I am, and how divine it is that I am recovering, that I am alive.

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Men are not emotional Islands: Supporting males who have experienced domestic violence

I am a woman, and I am about to write about men, without having the lived experience of being a man, or identifying as male. I am a cisgendered ally, and have no lived experience of being a gay or trans man. I come from a place of white privilege. But I stand in solidarity to men who have experienced domestic violence. I cannot be their voice, but I can as a social worker try to foster a world where they do have a voice.

There has been a lot of media attention surrounding CAFE’s new billboard and the discussion around male victims has never been more prominent. Which is great, we are talking about it, we are arguing about it, and we are hopefully allowing this to bring some attention to the shortfalls in service for male victims of violence, specifically domestic violence. But yes I am going to say what a lot of people are afraid to say…male victims of domestic violence exist.

I know they exist because I have helped a few, and heard their stories. I know because even though we don’t want to admit that men can be just as vulnerable as women, we don’t want to talk about them because we think if we do, we are minimizing the violence against women. Our good intentions to the female gender unfortunately means that we end up minimizing the experience of the male domestic violence survivor. We can support male victims, and female victims, by providing services for both. We can acknowledge both experiences.

I don’t mind bringing a bit of controversy to the table, and I don’t mind if you disagree with me, but at least read and take the time to think about it for a while. CAFE may have questionable statistics, and their methods may be extreme but what is it that we find so laughable about a shelter dedicated to male victims? I understand activists and feminists rallying against CAFE’s cause, as the words “male activism” usually really means “Male domination”. I get that. But I think we have to be very careful with who we alienate and what words we use. Because there are men out there who are victims of domestic violence, and it is in no way a joke to discuss the possibility of a male shelter.  We can denounce CAFE if we feel their motives unethical or questionable, but we cannot denounce any victim of violence, we must separate these two issues.


 

The statistics

Men don’t report violence very often, and so the statistics are skewed. We don’t know how much they are skewed, but we know that the statistics presented to us are incorrect. We know self report statistics, which is what CAFE looked at for their billboard state that around 50 percent of the cases self reported had male victims, and we have police reported statistics which say that around 90 percent of victims are female. Both of these statistics are an incorrect representation of what is really happening. If you ask me, it doesn’t matter what the real statistics are. Statistics can never fully represent the human experience, abuse is not quantifiable, abuse is not a number.

These statistics don’t even accurately reflect all the abusive behaviours that are not chargeable, emotional abuse. Put downs, control, manipulation.


 

Men are emotional islands

Our concept of manliness has been passed down for generations. Men are strong, men don’t show emotion, men are emotional islands. Islands that are self-sustainable and need no comfort, emotional sustenance. This belief system is passed down through social learning and societal expectation.

When someone challenges this system, when someone dares to say they have experienced violence, it shakes us. Our first reaction will be outright denial, followed by the attempt to put that individual back in the box we have created for them. We tell them to act like men, to handle it like men, to be men.

Identifying yourself as a man is the ONLY requirement to being a man. You don’t have to always be strong, you don’t have to be what we consider masculine. This includes Trans men, if you identify as a man, society should not place any expectation or requirement on your manhood.

We have to stop telling men that they can’t be hurt. Stop teaching our little boys not to cry. Tell them that being a man is only about gender, being a human being means that you can experience a range of emotions and have many different experiences. Men can be victims, men can be raped, men can be beat up by their intimate partners.

Yes men have the privilege of being male, in the same way that I have the privilege of being white. This gives them an automatic societal acceptance that women do not experience. But having privilege does not mean they are exempt from experiencing violence.


 

Assumptions that create barriers to change

1. Even though they say they were the victim, they probably were the abusive one. This may be the most daring thing I have to say. Not all men who have experienced violence were abusive themselves. Those men who report domestic violence get ignored, ridiculed, and even face social isolation due to this assumption. They will already be under a huge amount of scrutiny when walking into any counselling agency stating that they have experienced domestic violence.

2. That men can take getting hit because they are stronger and don’t feel the same emotional effects. I have heard this from women, I have heard this from men. They say it is not abuse to slap a man. Slapping any human being is abusive, no matter what gender you are.

3.  Abuse can only happen between a man and a woman. Abusive behaviour does not discriminate. Two men, two women, trans individuals, everyone can experience domestic violence. Gay and Trans men face even more barriers to reporting domestic violence because of society’s belief

4. Even if they were physically or emotionally hurt, they don’t need the same amount of support that women do.  Men experience the same emotional effects, and need just as much support as women do. I can’t tell you the amount of men who walk into my office and they just cry because they have no idea where to turn for support.


 

Why they don’t report abuse

Let’s face it, the criminal justice system puts women through the ringer, they are emotionally re-traumatized, and face many levels of hardship as they go through the system. Men face a battle as well, they face taunting by police officers, disbelief, are told to “act like a man”. Many years ago a friend went to the police due to an ex-girlfriend stalking him, and they wouldn’t even write a report. They told him that he should go apologize to her as he clearly had upset her and caused her to act this way.

Only now is the criminal justice system acknowledging that a gay man can experience abuse from their partner. However though the laws have changed to make these offences chargeable in North America, police prejudice keeps them from reporting these incidents.

Men aren’t refraining from calling police because they don’t need help, they are refraining because they don’t think the police will believe them, they fear that they will get arrested instead, and they are ashamed. They don’t want their friends and family to perceive them as weak. When a man walks into my office the first thing he usually says is that he has no one that he feels comfortable talking to about the abuse they have experienced. There is so much shame, and a feeling of failing our societal expectations of their maleness.


 Can we do anything about it?

On a personal level we can start change at home, by changing perceptions surrounding gender and by providing safe spaces for everyone who has experienced violence.

When someone comes to you who has experienced violence, do not focus on their gender, provide a listening and supportive atmosphere, encourage them to report the abusive incident (but don’t force them to).

Next time you are at a party, and your friends make an offhand remark about slapping a man, say something. I guarantee you will get into an argument with probably everyone, but maybe…just maybe, you will teach them something.

If you have experienced violence, and you also happen to be male, don’t give up hope, there are people who care. If you need help, most hotlines will talk to men, and some counselling agencies will provide help as well. You are not alone and it is not your fault. You may have a long battle ahead of you, and it probably won’t be easy, but pioneering change is never an easy thing.

The one thing that will not help is to deny that men can experience domestic violence. The one thing that will not help is to tell men that they have to “suck it up” and “handle it”. So don’t do those things. And don’t be sarcastic or act like it is a joke to provide men with a domestic violence shelter or services.


If you liked this blog entry, remember to follow me on Facebook or twitter, or whatever social media platform you prefer.

 

 

 

 

 

8 Steps to Managing Your Fears

I have worked hard to overcome my fears. I had a lot of fears, as I have anxiety issues, and sometimes things that can seem like an everyday task or part of life seems so overwhelming to someone with anxiety. I have been lucky in that I have found a way to manage it, while also challenging it. I don’t have the more extreme kinds of anxiety, I don’t experience panic attacks (Though I came close once or twice). I do however always have anxiety, it is constant and never fully goes away. I originally was going to title this “overcoming” your fears, but as I was making my list of fears I realized that I am still afraid of all of these things, but I do them anyways.

I was/am afraid of many things. And I am ok with this. I refuse to let it hold me back in life. I chip away at my fears day by day, and I never give up even if it takes me years. My fear of driving kept me from getting my license till I was 25 years old. It held me back. Now I drive all the time, but sometimes I am still scared. But not as scared as I was when I drove the car off the lot at the dealership. Every day gets better.

This is how I manage my fears, hopefully it helps you as well, but don’t feel defeated if it doesn’t work, people have varying levels of anxiety and fear to deal with, and yours may be a bit harder to manage, seek help from a counsellor or a doctor if you can’t manage it on your own!

First a rule, tackle ONE FEAR AT A TIME! This is a lifelong process, not a quick fix.

1. Make sure you want to change

Because it isn’t going to be easy. It will be painful, possibly embarrassing, and at first you will want to run back into your home and pull a blanket over your head. You have to be ready, and this means that you can acknowledge that it is holding you back. There may be some fears that you aren’t ready to challenge, and that’s ok, choose one that you think has the biggest impact in your life, and that makes you feel the least uncomfortable with changing. They will all make you feel uncomfortable, just choose the least uncomfortable.

2. Make a plan

Make it a small one, decide what the first step will be and where you want to end up when you have accomplished a few steps in the right direction.

3. Forgive yourself when you back out at the last second

So many times this happened, but I was making progress. In my book you are awesome for even thinking about making the attempt to manage the fear. It takes a lot of strength and it’s ok to say you know…thinking about it was enough for me today.

4. Be prepared that not everyone is going to understand

They won’t know why their driving terrifies you, or why you can’t go to their party because there’s going to be too many people you don’t know, and they won’t like it. Sometimes they won’t like you because of it. It’s your choice whether you want to hold onto those friendships. Sometimes their insistence that you attend or try can be a motivating factor, but then it could also be emotionally damaging if your attempt fails. When you find someone who tries to understand, encourages you, and is still there when you fail, grab hold tight to those people and never let go! Ever!

6. Make that baby step

Everything can be broken down into smaller steps. Nothing is impossible. If you are afraid of a mountain, climb a hill. If you are afraid of driving take your written test.

7. Evaluate, and Increase or decrease accordingly

Could you handle it? If yes, increase, so climb a bigger hill. If you can’t handle it, if you failed, and you are more scared than ever…take some time to recover. Decrease it even more, so don’t climb a hill, make a pile of sand and step over that. Or wait for another year and re-try because maybe you were not yet ready.

8. Celebrate

You did it, you have become just a little more free. Or if you didn’t celebrate anyways. Take joy in your attempt, and learn from the fail. You can try again after you eat some ice cream and binge watch The Walking Dead.


 

If at any point in this process you have panic attacks, or are generally prone to panic attacks, I would suggest getting the supervision of a doctor or psychiatrist before even attempting to manage your fears.

Making Insurmountable Problems Manageable

This is less of a manual than it is a memoir.

I was in British Columbia for a social work conference, that was mostly research based. I was with academics spouting off facts about homelessness across Canada, and the interventions that were needed to help victims of violence. I felt out of place. I am not what I would label an academic, I was built for field work, I have a way with words and a big heart. Put me in a research setting and I will just bring it back to the people, I have difficulties relating to Macro studies. I thought to myself, don’t give me statistics about homelessness, let’s go talk to some people who have experienced living on the streets. There were people around the corner from my hotel sleeping and living in the bushes.

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You could see blankets and clothes neatly piled inside the shrubbery. They took great care to make it look like home because it was all they had. Instead I was hearing percentages and words upon words about them without them even having a voice. I have nothing against research. The people who fund social work programs want to hear about that stuff, because they find more value in it than the words of a person with lived experience. They want us to prove that giving a homeless man a coat will keep him warm. They want us to prove that giving someone a shower can help them get a job. So thank you, social work researchers, for somehow helping us quantify this information. I don’t know that I will ever fully understand it.

The whole time as we ate the fancy cheese, and discussed the important issues, I was thinking…when am I going to hear something that matters. I came here to this beautiful province with its deep cultural roots in aboriginal culture, and influences of immigrant families and the deep dark swirling ocean that I kept staring into hoping for some kind of answer. I begged the universe as I fed some harbour seals.

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I walked the waterfront countless times.

It was my first vacation, my first time on a plane, and I did it alone. I came from a hardworking family that vacationed by camping in nature, not visiting different parts of the world or country. I was so excited but so scared. I pushed myself to the limits. But I felt like it just wasn’t enough to just go.

After about the third day of presentations, I waited for the bus back to my hotel. When it pulled up, I asked the bus driver to let me know when my stop was coming out. “I am from Ontario.” I said as if in apology. “I don’t know the bus routes.”  As I walked through the bus a woman says “You are from Ontario? What are you doing in B.C.?” I sat down near her and told her about the conference.

The woman was Irish, bright eyes with short curly hair pulled back into a loose ponytail, with stands of it flying out, untamable. , she was small, but animated as she spoke. She wore light blue. She smiled so widely that I instantly felt safe and conversational. “Oh that is interesting, what do you do?”

“I work in Domestic Violence. I am a student still but I will be graduating soon.”

“Wow, that is great that you can do something you love, while helping people, and make a career out of it” She seemed deep in thought for a few minutes, as if there was something she needed to tell me. We spoke for a few minutes about the weather, but I knew if I waited she would talk.

She began to tell me about her life. She grew up in Ireland where she said inequality was steeped in the culture at the time. Before she left that the welfare cheques would only be addressed to the men, and that pubs had a right to cash those cheques, as a result families would go hungry. The men would spend their nights drinking. Where she worked in a factory it was mostly men as well. They would make fun of her and laugh when she used tools like hammers. She said she did it because she had a passion for it, like I had a passion for my work.

“I love helping people” I told her. “It follows me around everywhere, in everything I do. You can’t turn it off. And it is hard sometimes but I like to think that social workers have an infinite hope that keeps us going.”

“That’s what I would have trouble with. When people get into that negative space and can’t get out of it. I know because I have been that person., and you probably have too.” She said.

I tell her “the key is persistence, for people in such a negative space and all you can do is slowly chip away at it until you see the smallest of changes.”

She says “I know something about persistence”. She had decided to go back to University. She faced so many obstacles with this choice, the first of which was that she had been in high school in the 1960’s in Ireland, and they kept no records, written or otherwise. She had to fight and prove herself to be admitted, and she won that battle. Her next barrier was that she had sustained serious injuries, could hardly walk anymore, and had to re-teach herself to read, write, and speak. She told me how hard and depressing it was. Some days she wanted to badly to give up.

“There was no professor who was so discouraging.” She said he was mean and never believed she would succeed.

He asked her how she thought she could complete university when she couldn’t even write properly. She responded “The same way you would eat a whale, one bite at a time”

“There came a day when I lay in bed, and I just couldn’t move. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

She had tears in her eyes as she spoke.”I told myself, if you don’t move, you are going to die. I had a choice to make, move or die.”

“Just move your big toe, I told myself….but that was too hard, so I said…just move it an inch. If you can move your big toe just an inch…” and she did, “After that I just kept moving and didn’t stop.”

I could see clearly the emotional intelligence in the way she had overcome her barriers. “wow that is amazing that you were able to do that. You took a problem that was so big you couldn’t face it, and made it a small as wiggling your big toe. you made it small enough that you could manage it.”

Her face changed, her eyes lit up “You’re right. I did that. I have never thought about it that way before. I took a big problem and made it small.”

“Not many people can do that. it takes a great amount of skill and self-awareness” I said.

The bus came to a stop, I had hardly noticed her pull the cable as she rose to exit the bus. She moved quickly, but in the doorway, she stopped and turned back to me, she took my hand.

“You know…I am so glad you are going to be working in Domestic violence. I wanted to tell you that the injuries I mentioned, my head injuries and the reason I couldn’t walk….was the result of domestic violence.” She released my hand and said a few final words “People need your help much more than you think…”

And she was gone. I never got her name. But she taught me more than I will ever be able to tell her. She helped me to understand my role as a counsellor and how all the strength lays in the people we help, all the goodness and resiliency is in her, as she struggled to build her life after experiencing such a life changing event as violence is. It’s not in us. As social workers all we can do is show them that strength. All we can do is facilitate the movement of that big toe, that bite of the whale.

So I sat for hours in my hotel room crying, processing, hurting for her but also celebrating with her, for how far she had come and the path she had chosen.

 I spent the rest of my trip doing adventurous, terrifying things like sea kayaking and whale watching.

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I watched that beautiful Orca spring up from the water, and dashed under our boat is if to say “I see you there, you tiny humans. I will show you my might.”

Scary and wild, hauntingly beautiful, much like the ocean itself. You float on a tiny kayak and think, this huge ocean could just swallow me whole, fold me into its depths.

It released me to live another day.

Life can swallow us up, but if move with the waves and take things one step at a time we can survive that deep swirling dark mass. If it’s too big to handle, break it down into something smaller that you know you can manage.

For some people all they can manage is just moving an inch, and that’s ok. We just have to keep moving forward. One day we will look back on that moment that we made the choice to try, and see how far we have come.


Thank you for reading this story, I promise you every word is true, even though sometimes looking back on it I think she may have been a ghost, but the reality is that these moments happen in our lives, such surreal moments. Her face will never leave my memory.

How People Find Themselves in Abusive Relationships and Why It’s So hard to Leave

Trigger warning: Domestic violence trigger, this blog discusses abuse in relationships and may bring up negative feelings for anyone who has experienced abuse. If you are currently in an abusive relationship please read with the understanding that you should do it in a location where your partner cannot see you/have access to your internet history. See the resources at the bottom of the blog for more help. 

I got a lot of views and comments about my last blog entry, and some very good questions.  Not every blog I write will be about Domestic Violence, but I decided to follow the last one up with another blog entry about how we “fall into” or “end up” in abusive relationships. It’s not a choice we make ahead of time, no one sits down and thinks “I think I will date someone who hits me, or scares me, or controls me” I use the allegory of the ladder, when you first start the relationship you are high up on that ladder, and your partner slowly pushes you farther down step by step, and before you realize what is happening you are hanging on the last rung.  Within domestic violence we use what is typically known as the “Cycle of Abuse”. But I don’t want to come from this subject with a social work standpoint, and teach directly about the cycle, I want to delve more into how these phases look in relationship, and hit on those few warning signs we may have missed, and more importantly, why we missed them.  I also want to talk about what draws us in, and what makes us stay.

More about the Cycle of Abuse:   http://www.1736familycrisiscenter.org/pdf/Cycle%20of%20Violence_v3.pdf  (Please note that I do not like the term “battered woman”, that this link uses, this is a term (Still used predominantly in the U.S.A. that carries a lot of negative connotation, as well as labels women, a better term would be Someone who has experienced violence. Because you are first and foremost a person, not a “battered woman”. Your experiences do not define who you are.)

Since most of the research on domestic violence is about men, a lot of this blog entry will be more applicable to the behaviour of Men. So much more research needs to be done in regards to both females who act abusively and those who identify as LGBTQQ2A. In my last blog you know I kept those pronouns as neutral as possible. And I will continue to advocate for more research being done, but to be honest I am not sure if a woman acting abusively would fall into these categories. That being said, I don’t want to rule out the possibility and have someone click away because I use pronouns that are not applicable to them, so neutrality here we go!

Not all abusive people follow this pattern, even abusive men, this is a guideline not a bible, and it is meant to provide insight not a diagnosis. Please take it for what it is.


 

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(Photo Credit: Piotr Bizior – http://www.bizior.com)

The Honeymoon Phase

Every relationship has a honeymoon phase, so don’t be worried if some of these things apply to you, however if you are identifying with every word it may be time to consider whether your relationship is heading down this road. This is a phase identified on the cycle of abuse, but I am breaking it down a bit further here to include some aspects that I have noticed. The Honeymoon Phase is when things are going great, the partner is buying you presents, taking you to dinner, being emotionally supportive and loving.

We all like praise, maybe for some it is because we haven’t heard enough of it, we need it somehow. And then here comes this seemingly wonderful person, and they are telling us we are beautiful. We are perfect. We are wonderful. They have set us up high on this alter of love, they worship us, they make us feel invincible. We are the only person who can love them. WE are it, we are the one, WE complete them. And we think how did we get so lucky? To find this person who worships us. We are up so high on that pedestal and we are looking down thinking about how lucky we are to have found someone who not only worships us, but who can’t live without us. This is the fairytale we have always dreamed of.

Warning Signs: No one is perfect. If someone calls you their goddess, uses the word “perfect”, though it may be nice to hear, we can never be perfect, and that is a very high standard for us to live up to. Constant gift giving, attention, may seem great now, but it is a warning sign. 


 

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Vulnerability

Now we are hopelessly in love, head over heels. And we think it couldn’t possibly get any better, Then one night, probably after a very intimate moment (sex), your partner tells you something. Something that makes them so vulnerable that it breaks your heart. You thought your partner was a strong, emotionally secure person, but it turns out that they NEED you. It’s not just that they want you, they need you. It’s hard not to feel emotionally connected to someone who shares their deepest darkest secret to you. Some examples of this secret often include childhood physical or sexual abuse, or some traumatic event. Please keep in mind that your partner most likely isn’t lying, They are on a cycle too, though they may or may not be aware of it. Some abusive partners are in denial that deep down it is part of the method to gain control over you, and some are hurting so much inside that they lash out as they cannot deal with their own pain, they need to make you hurt too.

Warning Signs: This isn’t a negative thing in and of itself, however we have to remember that when someone is in pain, they often cause pain. If your partner has experienced a traumatic event, this does not make them abusive, but their need for you to constantly support them emotionally may not be healthy. If this traumatic event becomes a justification for later abuse or hurtful comments, this is a warning sign. 

 


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Rumours about a violent past

At this point you are so emotionally connected, you are joined at the hip. You go everywhere together, you do everything together. But then you hear something, maybe a rumour, maybe from his parents, or a friend, that the person you are with had a lot of fights with their ex, and maybe there was some police involvement. You feel like you should give your partner the benefit of the doubt, so you confront them about it.

Most commonly the response given is “My ex was crazy. She made up all that stuff.” My suggestion, ask to see court documents, any information that your partner has. You may not be able to get to the truth due to confidentiality, but even knowing what your partner was charged with could provide some insight. Please also note that even if the charges were dismissed be cautious, because sometimes they can take a counselling program to have the charges dropped, it does not mean that they did not act abusively.

Obviously it’s hard to not know the facts, but be wary of rumours and blanket statements about previous partners. Please know that if charges were filed, whether you feel at this point it is possible or not, your partner may have some issues with abusive behaviour.

On that note, if your partner does not attempt to hide their past incidents with abusive behaviour, be just as cautious. Especially if the incidents happened with multiple partners. It will probably happen again. We like to think (especially when we are still on the pedestal) that we are different than those “crazy” ex-partners. But this may be your partner blaming their abusive behaviours on their partner. Even knowing about our partners past sometimes doesn’t stop us from staying, because they were so vulnerable and shared and we want so badly to help them.


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Falling off the Pedestal/Altar

For some relationships this phase can take place before or after they begin to tear you down. Sometimes this is the sparking event that switches that person into their phase of abusive behaviour, and sometimes it is the last straw after weeks of slow degradation.

Falling off the pedestal is when your partner realizes you aren’t perfect. And who is? None of us are perfect, and it is not our fault that we fall off the pedestal because we are up way too high and cannot keep our balance. Falling off the pedestal could be something as simple as saying “my food is too salty” at a restaurant. There is nothing wrong with saying your food is too salty. But in an abusive relationship the meaning of a simple statement can be skewed into my partner thinks the restaurant I picked isn’t good, and then they relate that to themselves, I can’t make good decisions, that is what my partner thinks, how dare they say that! That thought process may be a bit hard to follow for someone in a healthy state of mind but often people who have abusive behaviours attribute the smallest thing their partner says with their own inadequacies, it is called projection. And now that their partner has fallen from that pedestal, they are no longer a person. They are objectified, and therefore abusable. Often they no longer see you as a person, and may call you hurtful names, instead of using your given name.

A lot of people in abusive relationships are walking on eggshells, thinking that if they just do everything right, if they just do everything their partner needs and wants, that they will be ok. That is why so many people feel that it is their fault. And sometimes it is so hard to come to that realization that the relationship is not healthy.


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The Bad times

As previously stated, the bad times can happen at any point in the relationship, sometimes it starts off slow and barely detectable. Warning signs include:

  • Put Downs: Your Partner may make comments about your body. One week they may tell you that you are beautiful, then that you are ugly. This is so that you don’t notice that they are chewing away at your self esteem. 
  • Social Isolation: They may start to talk about your family and friends, saying that they don’t like how you act around them. Or that they don’t like how your family treats you and makes you feel. They will ask you to stay home instead of going and spending time with your family/friends. This may make your family and friends angry, and cause tension between your partner and friends/family.
  • Control: Your partner may start to control or monitor your actions/behaviours. They may request that you only leave the house with them, and they may check your phone/computer/ other devices and read your private conversations. If they have already succeeded in isolating you from family and friends, their justification for this control may be that they don’t want you to do anything without them. You may become fearful of talking on the phone in case he may hear, and you may experience high levels of anxiety.  
  • Physical abuse: This can include kicking, punching, strangulation, throwing objects, damaging property, pulling hair etc. 

This list could be a lot longer, and one day I will write a blog about the different types of abuse, and how they can manifest, but for now, I will stick with these as they apply more to what we are talking about.

 


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The good times are so eclipsingly great

This is something that both partners use to justify staying in the relationship, even when they know that it isn’t healthy, and may even be dangerous. This phase is like an eclipse, because it blinds us to the darkness. The brightness of the relationship in the “Honeymoon” phase sets us into a survival mode, and we think if we can just get back to that good time, and stay there, it will be ok. We have so much history, we have shared so much (Vulnerability) how can I walk away now that times are tough. 

The danger in our thinking is that the cycle is going to come back around, things will get good, and then they will get bad again. Not only that, but every “bad” time will get progressively worse, and sometimes can lead to death for the partner experiencing abuse. I don’t take this subject lightly because that is the reality, you could die. You are especially at risk if:

  • Beatings are getting more and more severe and frequent
  • You are pregnant
  • You are about to leave the relationship/Threaten to leave

 


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Afraid to Leave

At this point a person may be too afraid to leave. They may fear that their partner will kill them if they talk to anyone about the abusive behaviour. At one point they may have been through all of the above phases but been unable to acknowledge that they were at risk. Generally once the more overt abusive behaviour starts is when we start to feel afraid, trapped. And then the guilt and embarrassment arises too, because we don’t understand “how we didn’t see it coming”. Some still blame themselves for their partner’s abuse. You are not to blame. You didn’t see it coming because your partner didn’t want you to see it coming. We are all at risk. No one is safe from this pattern. It has nothing to do with intelligence, it has nothing to do with economic status. The nature of an abusive relationship is that the emotional, psychological, and or physical/sexual abuse takes away from us our strength, our self-esteem, our support. We are unable to leave because we are scared and alone, or in denial that the abuse is happening.

If I can send one message to someone who is experiencing this now, or thinks that it may be headed down this path, you are not alone, and it is not your fault. No one ever has the right to be abusive towards you. No one has the right to hit, there is no justification or reasoning that would make it ok. No one has the right to track your movements, or to confine you to your home.

Thanks for reading, please know there are people out there who care and want to help you. Stay strong and reach out for help.

For more on how to support someone you know in an abusive relationship check out my last blog entry: https://socialworkmania.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/7-ways-to-support-someone-who-may-be-in-an-abusive-relationship/

 


 

Resources

If this blog entry triggered you in any way, of if you would like more information on resources on this topic, here is a short list of resources relevant to North America, if you are a reader from outside this area and you are having difficulty finding resources, let me know, and I can try to help you find some.

http://www.fsws.ca/safety.htm

http://www.thehotline.org/

National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224

http://www.ncadv.org/


If you liked this blog entry please remember to subscribe via email or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

7 ways to support someone who may be in an abusive relationship

Trigger warning:


If you have experienced/or are experiencing violence please be aware that this blog entry may bring up feelings of past trauma. Please reach out for help if this is the case, though this blog is here for informational purposes, I wouldn’t want to re-traumatize anyone. Also please note that if you fear for your safety, there are websites where you can hide the page if your partner walks in the room, I do not have this feature so please proceed based on your level of current safety, or click here www.thehotline.org to access such resources safely.

Disclaimer:


Even though I work in this field, I am not an expert, I learn new things every day. This list is not exhaustive, and some may disagree with some of them, and that is ok.

While working in the domestic violence field I have often been asked the question, how can I help my friend/son/daughter/acquaintance who I think maybe in an abusive relationship. Especially in my personal life when people know I work in the field, and they don’t know where to turn for help.

Abuse can happen to anyone, young or old, men or women or non-binary, gay, straight, two spirited, bisexual, transsexual, questioning, A-sexual, and anyone else on the spectrum. This is why throughout this article I do my best to be gender neutral, I want this to be an inclusive resource. None of us are exempt from entering into a relationship that is abusive. I cannot tell you how many people say:

“I never thought I would be the sort of person who let this happen to me”

Well I am here to tell you, you didn’t LET this happen to you, someone DID this to you.

For those of you who identify yourselves as having abusive behaviours, there is help out there for you too, a huge part of change is being able to acknowledge that you have acted abusively, as so many continue to live in denial and blame their partner for their abusive behaviour. You are the only person who can stop your abuse, break the cycle now and seek out your local counseling agency for help. A good place to start is here: http://services.findhelp.ca/ovss/#results:m=TOPICS&q=P4

If you know a child under the age of 16 who is being abused, call your local children’s aid office or the police as soon as possible, you can even do it anonymously if you are worried about retaliation.

7 Ways to Support


1.  Above all, be willing to listen without judgement.

You will hear this a lot I am sure, but what exactly does it mean to listen without judgement. It means not giving advice unless you are asked to. The best way to do that is to acknowledge a person’s feelings, by making statements like “You must be so stressed” Or even asking them how they feel, “Do you feel scared/Upset/angry?”. If you feel as though you want to offer advice, ask them if it is ok first. Try to avoid making judgements about them or their partner, instead stick to facts and feelings.

2. Ask them how you can support them.

Ok so you have listened, now it’s time to ask the most important question. How can I help you? How can I make you safer, what can I do? Probably more important than asking this question however, is being ok with the answer. Because the answer might be…nothing, or I don’t know. It might be that they are too scared, too worn down, to know what they need. And you need to be ok with that. They may want to stay with their abusive partner, and any negative comments you make about that partner, may drive them further away. Instead tell them that you understand it must be difficult to think about leaving someone they care about, and make sure they know that even if they want to stay with their abusive partner, you are still there for them.

3. Do not give ultimatums, or threaten to cut this person out of your life.

This is going to be hard. Very hard.  It will be emotionally draining to watch someone you love go through this. But please remember that abuse is not the same as addiction. With addiction there is a concern known as enabling, where family and friends enable that individual to continue to use because they offer support (financial, emotional). In abusive situations their partner may be attempting to socially isolate their your friend/family member. They may do this by discouraging their partner, and making statements like “I don’t like the person you are around them”. Their partner may at some point attempt to end your friendship or relationship with that person. with family. Although you cannot control them or change your friend or family member’s mind, let them know that your door is always open to them, and that you are there for them even if they choose not to take your help.

3. Help them safety plan.

A safety plan is there to help someone in an abusive situation be prepared to leave quickly if there is an abusive incident, as safely as possible. Tell them you will hold onto a bag of essentials for them, such as toiletries, clothing, medications, and cash. This bag could be picked up by them anytime if they have to leave the house quickly. This is part of safety planning, which will make it easier for that person to walk out the door knowing that they have essentials nearby. Offer to store other items for them if possible, such as money, furniture, personal items, important documents. Come up with code words that they could use to let you know to call 911 without alerting an abusive partner. Help them plan an exit route from their house, making sure that they know where all the exit doors are. You can get more detailed information about safety planning here: http://www.fsws.ca/safety.htm

4. Do not confront the abusive partner.

Some people may find that they are really angry at the abusive partner, and this anger makes them feel helpless. Some people may be fighting the urge to approach this person. Please take a moment, and a few deep breathes. This can have some very negative consequences for your loved one. The most serious of these consequences is that it may put them in danger. The confrontation will mean that the abusive partner knows that your loved one has been talking to someone about their abusive behaviour. That takes away their control and may lead to them lashing out at their partner. The second consequence is that you may push your loved one farther away. If they are already being socially isolated, this may become a justification to cut off contact with you. Abusive relationships sometimes become them against the world as family and friends try to dissuade them from being together.

5. Do not imply that abuse the person experiencing the abuse is at fault.

Although you may not realize it, your reaction could be implying that the person experiencing abuse is at fault. Often their are societal or cultural reasons why family members or friends try to justify the abusive partner’s actions. Statements like:

“What did you do to make them so angry”

“Well maybe if you hadn’t done that…”

“You shouldn’t have called the police, this is a family matter”

imply that the situation could have been prevented in some way by the person experiencing abuse. There is nothing that you can ever do that gives someone the right to punch you, kick you, throw objects at you or around you, yell at you, or put you down. If someone thinks they are to blame, encourage them with statements like:

“Nothing you do justifies someone being abusive towards you”

“It is not your fault”

6. Do check ins.

Don’t let a month go by before you check in. If possible schedule a regular time to meet and just talk, or do an activity outside of the house such as going for a walk, or out to dinner. Maintaining regular contact will let them know that you care, and you will follow through with your support.

7. Don’t be afraid to call the police if a life is in jeopardy.

Abusive relationships, especially abuse involving children, is hinged on the misguided belief that domestic issues should be kept secret, and should be dealt with inside the family unit. This continues the cycle of abuse because it gives the abusive partner complete control over all members of the family, and socially isolates their partner and children. Never promise to keep secrets, always be 100 percent upfront and honest, tell them from the start that if you fear for their life, you will have to call the police. Keeping a secret about abuse lets the abusive partner keep the control and power. This does not mean that if they disclose to you that they have experienced abuse you will immediately involve the police, but it does let them know that you have their safety in mind, and that if you feel there is an imminent threat to their life, that is when that call will be made. Letting them know this ahead of time instead of promising them secrecy means that you don’t have to break your promise later if  they are mid-assault and asking you to not call the police. Please understand that if it is a life-threatening situation, the police have to be notified or your friend/family member may lose their life or be seriously injured. If you need advise on when to call, speak to a domestic violence hotline in your area.

Resources


If this blog entry triggered you in any way, of if you would like more information on resources on this topic, here is a short list of resources relevant to North America, if you are a reader from outside this area and you are having difficulty finding resources, let me know, and I can try to help you find some.

http://www.fsws.ca/safety.htm

http://www.thehotline.org/

National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224

http://www.ncadv.org/


If you liked this blog entry please remember to subscribe via email or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Online Dating is Not an Instant Messaging Service

I knew it…as soon as Tinder became a “thing” the entire online dating world would be rocked to the core. Everyone would start to take the easy way out because minimal effort is best…RIGHT?

WRONG! Tinder has brought about the ruin of online dating with its reliance on the idea of instant messaging. You swipe and you pass and deny all those faces, until something catches your eye, and then you send them a “Hey” and they send back a “Hey” and you send back a “how are you?” and so on. It takes the mundane-ness (yes I just made that word up) of life to a new level where people can skip the magic and get right into the awkward talking-as-if-we-are-already-friends point. This is not ok. Where is the magic, the mystery, the old fashioned glory of sending someone a long message, and waiting in anticipation for their reply. Slowly but surely delving into the story telling, heart bearing, words of two people coming to understand and know each other.

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And yes, I concede, some people are on Tinder and they don’t want to date, it is strictly for sex, which is valid and fine, I get it, I still don’t really get it. But the problem is that this attitude has moved beyond Tinder, and into sites like POF and OKCupid. Gone are the days when messages are even a few sentences long. The “belief” in the method of Tinder to find love has ruined us. Technological ease has pacified us into thinking that this is ok.

If you can’t send one page of writing, how on earth are we going to sit down for coffee or dinner and have a REAL conversation. If all you can think to say is “Hey”….hey….hey…where on earth is the rest? Where are YOU in that message. Send me a letter, write me a grammatically correct (or at least the attempt) well thought out letter. Tell me your hopes and dreams, show me that you have things to say, words in your head. No longer do I have the luxury of rejecting someone based on the content of their words, no the standards have been lowered gentleman. See how easy the instant messaging world is going to make it for you, write a letter, and you are already ten steps ahead of everyone else out there. And this is the ONLY platform where length really does matter.

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Maybe this new trend will wear us down, leave us no other choice than to join the mindless instant messaging service type of online dating. But not me, not yet, I am holding out for the hero at the end of the night For that special person that can write me a letter.