But why didn’t you report it?


I wanted to write a short post about why survivors of sexual assault don’t report and often don’t tell anyone.  More specifically, why I didn’t.  There are as many reasons not to report and/or tell as there are different survivors.

To distinguish the terms, reporting means telling someone in authority, for example the police, law enforcement or people in a position of power.  Telling, could mean talking to a friend, a family member, a doctor, counselor, religious leader etc.   Reporting is often done to accomplish some goal related to punishing the perpetrator or holding him accountable.  Telling is often done for the benefit of the survivor, finding support, discussing options, being believed and validated.

It can be very dangerous to mix these two concepts.  Because the people you might report to (the police for example) are not likely to, nor is it fully their job to, support the survivor.  In my opinion, it should be their job to BELIEVE the survivor, but even this cannot be guaranteed.

Some women choose to tell, but not to report.  And some survivors neither tell, nor report.  It’s important to remember that this choice should always be made by the survivor and she should not be pressured into reporting.  Sometimes the question “why didn’t you report it?” can feel extremely judgmental and can shut someone down even further.

Let’s talk about some of the reasons women, and folks in general, tend to stay silent when they experience sexual violence

  1. Real or perceived stigma associated with being a survivor of sexual violence.   We live in a rape culture society that tends to blame the victim and most survivors instinctively know this.   In many situations, there is also a great deal of internalized sexism, internalized judgment and internalized guilt and shame related to being abused which created a sense of stigma that might not have actually existed.
  2.  Fears of not being believed.  Many people stay silent, to avoid giving other people the power to judge whether they are telling the truth of not.
  3. Fears related to what they were doing at the time of the assault.  For example if the woman was drinking, if she was out late at night, if she willingly went to the perpetrators house etc.   Many survivors assume that because they consented to one thing, it means they automatically deserve the assault that happened, or that they will not be believed because they “put themselves in the vulnerable position” or were “asking for it”
  4. Fears related to oppression.  A woman may feel afraid to come forward if she is marginalized in any way, for example a Woman of Colour, a person with a disability, a person with a mental illness, a queer person, a trans person, a sex worker or someone using substances.  These folks may feel they will not be believed due to their experiences of oppression.
  5. Not recognizing what has happened as sexual assault.  When people are abused, it isn’t always immediately clear to the survivor that what happened was assault.  This is especially true when survivors are children or when abuse happens in a relationship context.  Often abusers are very kind and meet the survivors needs in some ways, while simultaneously being abusive in other ways.  This confuses the survivor and leaves her struggling to understand and define her own reality.  Also, some people (children for example) literally lack the vocabulary to define what they have experienced.
  6. Not having the option to tell.  For example, not knowing that reporting is an option, or not having a safe person to tell.  Or not trusting anyone enough to tell them.

This list is not exhaustive, but is meant to illustrate some of the complexities related to this topic.

When I was abused as a child and teenager, I neither told nor reported.  I didn’t tell anyone because of a combination of the reasons above.  I didn’t have the words, I was confused about my relationship with the abuser, I didn’t know reporting was an option and most of all I feared judgment and had deeply internalized shame and guilt about what had happened.  I blamed myself.

As an adult, I didn’t report because I was confused about my relationship, because I minimized the abuse as “not that bad,” because I disassociated and coped with self harm, because I had a mental health diagnosis I feared that I would not be believed, because I had children with the abuser and other reasons.

When I was assaulted single times by perpetrators I was not in close relationships with, I didn’t tell because I was ashamed.  Because I felt like it was my fault because I agreed to go with them.  I didn’t want to face the stigma with people I knew and because I worried people would not believe me or would judge me.

In the end, in all the situations I have faced, I have eventually either told, and in some cases, told and reported.  Reporting sometimes felt necessary for various reasons, including protecting other potential victims and attempting to receive external validation within systems, that the abuse actually did occur.

This blog is a way of telling my story and encouraging, or showing, others that telling is an option.  There may be a stigma attached to surviving sexual violence, but there are also communities of survivors and allies out there who will believe and who will validate.  There are safe people.  There are people who believe survivors.

Believing a survivor may seem like something trivial, but it makes all the difference.  Believe me!

P.S I mainly use the word “woman” and the pronoun “she” when describing survivors because the majority of survivors are women and gender non-conforming folks, and the majority of perpetrators are cis-men.   But I want to validate that survivors and perpetrators can both be any sex and/or gender.

A Dance with Disaster


Two years ago I met a guy in the social dance community.   It was a community within which I felt safe and I’d never had any problems there.  I had made friends and it didn’t seem unusual to go for ice cream with this guy after the dance.  Dancing makes you hungry and late night snacking is a part of the ritual.

We went twice for ice cream.  On two different weeks and we texted minimally.  On the third evening, I agreed to hang out after the dance.  Again, I was expecting to go for ice cream or snacks.  He wanted to go to his place.  I somehow thought we’d park the car near there and then get ice cream nearby.  He lived near a busy street where there were lots of restaurants open late.

It was late, maybe 12:30AM.  He asked me to come into his place.  Every voice inside me was yelling “No, don’t go with him!”  But then I shut myself down, I told myself “You can’t always be expecting the worst of everyone, you have to trust people, this guy is from the dance, he’s most likely safe”

In other words, I had that moment which so many survivors describe, of knowing that something wasn’t right.  But, like I’d done in the past, I ignored it and went along with what he was suggesting.

He lived in a bachelor apartment inside an older house.  The couch was so close to the bed they were almost touching and there was barely any space to move around.  We sat on the couch and I started talking nervously.  I told him that I’d recently separated from an abusive husband, that I had been sexually abused.   I was trying to give a clear signal that I wasn’t interested in fooling around with him.    He listened without saying much.

Then he started kissing me.  His hand was on my thigh, pushing up my red and white dress.  I froze.  In my head I was gathering strength, making a plan.  Finally, I said “No” very clearly.  But he didn’t stop.  He kept kissing me and touching me.   Again, I froze, I went into my head and continued planning.   I said “No” a second time and a third.  The kissing and touching continued, his hand touching my underwear under my dress.

I realized at this point that I was in trouble.  He was bigger than me, likely stronger.  We were alone, nobody would likely hear me scream.  Thoughts were rushing through my head.  By the third “No,” my brain was ready to check out.  I was on the verge of disassociating, my energy was used up and my old responses were kicking in.

He picked me up.  Lifted me in his arms and placed me on his bed.  He was on top of me kissing me.  And I had a moment of clarity.  My internal voice spoke firmly (I’m paraphrasing my internal dialogue):

You cannot disassociate right now.  If you disassociate you are going to be raped.  You barely know this person.  You have to fight.  You have to escape.  You do NOT want to be raped tonight.  You have to stay in the present, you can’t zone out!  This is your chance to protect yourself.   This guy didn’t listen to words, you have to use force!”

I gathered my strength and I pushed him as hard as I could with both my hands.  He stopped, lay down beside me, hands still touching my legs.  He seemed upset, as if I’d been leading him on.  I don’t remember him speaking.  I could just tell he was angry.   I breathed one more time, regenerating some strength.  Then I told him I had to leave, jumped off the bed, grabbed my coat and purse and ran.

I ran down the stairs.  I ran out into the street.  My car was parked a few blocks away, but I barely remembered where.  It was late, after 2:30AM.   As soon as I hit the fresh air I was crying.  I was shaking with the exertion of defending myself.  The PTSD was overtaking me, everything was happening and I was still trying to find my car.

I took out my cell phone, and called the guy I was casually dating.  He often stayed up very late and I prayed he would answer.  I called a few times, no answer, left a panicked message and finally located my car.

My friend called me back as I was driving home.  I remember crying on the phone while I was driving.   He stayed on the phone with me for a long time, until I was finally able to sleep.

He was so angry.  He wanted me to call the police, but I knew that was basically useless.  I was also really embarrassed and I didn’t know the people in the dance community to know.  I felt like somehow I’d be the one who would be shamed.  I knew on one level I could, and probably should, tell one of the organizers, but I was too ashamed.  I wanted to keep it a secret and just try to forget about it.   I didn’t want to call the police, because I hadn’t been raped.  It wasn’t “that bad,” and I’d escaped without injury.  I’d just forget about it and move on.

But I was traumatized.  I had flashbacks for days, weeks.  I felt embarrassed, I felt like somehow everyone could know that I’d been assaulted.  It was a similar feeling to when I’d been a teenager and was convinced the whole world knew, when in reality nobody did.

I struggled to wear that red and white striped dress again.  Because when I wore the dress I could feel his hands moving it up my thighs without my consent.  I shuddered just looking at the dress.

I also felt a sense of empowerment, that I was able to defend myself rather than disassociating.  It was the first time in all my years of experiencing sexual abuse that I’d ever physically defended myself. But it was small comfort.  If there was one thing I didn’t need in my life it was to be sexually assaulted again.

The worst part is that I still see this guy.  He’s still a part of the dance community.  He’s on facebook, online dating sites and if I’ve seen him I’ve blocked him.   But I can’t block him from the dance, not without telling someone.  And what’s the point now?  It’s been over 2 years and what if they didn’t believe me?   Worse, what if they think I’m exaggerating or making a big deal of nothing.  So I see him from time to time, I ignore him with all my strength, I walk away, I dance in a different part of the room, I try to imagine him disappearing.  But honestly,  when he’s there I never feel 100% comfortable.

People often say that sexual assault only lasts for a few moments.  Why ruin someone’s life by accusing them of assault and reporting them to the police over something that only lasted moments?   Why ruin someone’s reputation?  Why report at all?

Well, sexual assault doesn’t last only for a few moments.  Not for the survivor!  For the survivor it never fully heals, it’s never fully forgotten.  It’s like a stain on your favourite dress, one that you can’t ever get out.  Or your favourite dress that you can’t wear again, because the stain is the memory of the assault.  It’s  just there, in your closet, to remind you of a night you’d rather forget.

It is “that bad.”  It just is.



Depression doesn’t always look the same.  Sometimes it is most clearly described by how I feel when it lifts.  When I’m depressed I’m not actually myself and when the depression lifts I wake up and I’m me again.

When I’m depressed, I am physically exhausted by social contact and social situations, but at the same time I don’t always want to be alone.  One of the reasons social situations are so difficult is because social anxiety is a symptom of my depression, and depression is fueled by my social anxiety.

Over the past few weeks, interactions with others leave me drained. Probably because half the time I’m spending with people I’m hyper aware of whether or not I’m behaving appropriately.  Because depression blunts and numbs some feelings and amplifies others, I’m constantly monitoring myself and thinking:

Am I acting normally?  Can this person tell I’m acting?  Am I smiling enough?  Am I smiling too much?  What should I do with my hands?  Stop picking at your skin! Remember to make eye contact!  Not too much eye contact!  Stop fidgeting!  Is my facial expression appropriate for what they just said?  Make sure your face is responding like a normal person! That was a joke, laugh.  But don’t laugh too much.  Did that sound stupid?  Do they hate me?  Did I make a mistake?  Is my facial expression appropriate?  Oh my god, did I even hear what she just said? Smile.  Act normal

After a short interaction I’m exhausted and I want to flee to a place where I can just be.   This usually means being alone.  I’m completely relieved to be alone.  I often hibernate under quilts and blankets where I feel safe.

But then the loneliness hits.  I text.  Texting is much easier than phone calls or in person hang outs.  When I’m texting I just have to think about the words and not all the other complex social dance behaviours that I’m sure I’m completely mangling.  Texting is safe.  Texting breaks isolation, without crowding me or making me self conscious.

When I’m lonely and depressed, I start to believe I’m literally the only person on the planet who doesn’t have plans at that moment.  All logical reasoning to the contrary is dismissed by my social anxiety brain.   I start to think that nobody likes me, that I’m boring or annoying, that I’ve said terrible things to offend everyone I know.  I feel jealous about the plans and social gatherings of others.  And yet, ironically, I often cancel plans or say no to things I am invited to.   The contradiction of depression is frustrating and impossible.

Depression is panic attacks in crowded places.  Panic attacks about choosing food, or anxiety about eating around other people.   Depression is feeling “fat” when my body hasn’t changed. Depression is anxiety that everything I say or do might get me into trouble or make my situation worse.  Depression is reading my emails over and over and over and over, obsessively, worried that I made a mistake, said the wrong thing or was oppressive.   Depression is paranoia that the email was accidentally sent to the wrong person, somehow ruining my life.  Depression is knowing I have to do something at work, but feeling incapable, afraid and ashamed to ask for help, thus procrastinating and avoiding.

Depression zaps energy.  I’m literally exhausted almost every minute of the day.  It’s not something that can be fixed by more sleep.  Though less sleep makes it much worse.  My body feels heavy and I struggle to get out of bed in the morning.  My bed feels warm and safe in the mornings, but physical pain and stiffness in my body prevents me from lying down for too long. Sometimes I’m drained and have to lie down after taking a shower in the morning.  But somehow I push through it.

I feel like robot, automatically going through the motions of my day.  I check each task off against a mental list.  Breakfast, check, kids to school, check, commute to work, check.  Each day moves through a series of tasks to be completed.  I’m always counting time until the next time I can be alone and rest.  I’m often watching the clock, but I’m never comforted by it. Then after about one day of a weekend alone, I’m lonely and waiting for my kids to return.  It’s a terrible feeling, like you have nothing to look forward to, but are always looking forward to something unimportant.  Maybe the next day will be brighter, maybe the next _____ will break the cycle, maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel better.

Depression is being unreasonably and intensely irritated by innocuous things.  Like the sound of someone chewing near me.  I could scream.  My whole body is tense, I can hear every sound.  Depression is losing patience in a split second, in situations I would normally be able to cope with.  Depression is feeling frustrated when people repeat themselves or take a long time to get to the point of their stories.  Depression is hating myself because I know I’m not being as kind as I should be.  Depression is losing my temper at my children, when they are barely doing anything wrong and my rage is uncontrollable like a volcano, then dissolves into guilty desperate tears.  Depression is intense compassion fatigue.  Not having enough energy to have empathy for others and then beating myself up with self judgment afterwards.

Depression means rarely living in the moment.  Depression is being caught in a tangle of awful memories from the past, or absorbed in worries or thoughts about the future.  Or more often, ping ponging back and forth between memories and worries.  In the moment, there is often zoning out, disassociation, numbing and that floating feeling of being something less than human, unable to connect with anyone.  Feeling like my essence of humanness is just beyond reach.

Depression is either crying too much, or (this time) not being able to cry at all.  Depression is either all the feelings right at the surface every single minute, or all the feelings pushed down and boxed up into controlled spaces inside me.

Depression is the darkness in the Fall and Winter months.  Depression is waking in the dark, coming home from work in the dark and forgetting what the warmth of the sun feels like.  Depression is like sitting at a dirty window, watching the normal world proceed just outside my grasp.

Depression is feeling suicidal, obsessing about death and dying.  Sometimes it is destructive impulses, or sometimes, wishing I hadn’t been born at all.  Sometimes it is a passive thought of just not wanting to be alive.  And then the torturous, trapped feeling of knowing that suicide is no longer an option.

Depression is boring.  Like this blog post feels boring.

It’s a world without light.  Depression is obsessive, recurring thoughts.  Depression is feeling like a bore to others, feeling self-obsessed, immature and uninteresting.  Depression is feeling unlovable and like you will always be alone.

Depression lies.

Even if I know that depression lies, it’s not so easy as just snapping out of it.

When I’m depressed I’ve learned that the best I can do is to stay as safe as possible, sleep regularly, eat and drink regularly, self care, be patient with myself, lower my expectations of myself and just do my best.

Because depression always lifts.  It’s not forever.   But it feels awfully bleak.

Body Positivity is a Mystery


<trigger warning for those with eating disorders>

This picture was taken 5 years ago.  I haven’t owned a scale since.  To me, a scale is an actual weapon that only causes damage and pain.  I can’t be around them.

Ironically, when I first became anorexic, I never weighed myself.  I didn’t own a scale and anorexia wasn’t about achieving a certain weight or ideal of beauty.  It wasn’t about how I looked, it wasn’t about my body.  Anorexia was a complex and deadly form of disassociation, which over time turned into equally deadly obsessive compulsive disorder.  So my eating disorder was not about losing weight, but losing weight was a side effect of my eating disorder.   This is a really important thing for people to understand.

Over time though, sexual assault and anorexia F#@ed up my relationship with my body.  And as a woman, patriarchy and ideal standards of beauty and thinness began to impact me.

As I began to “recover” the first time (I was forced to gain weight),  I was terribly uncomfortable with my body.  I equated safety with taking up less space, being smaller and following my strict food rules.  Anorexia means that I feel extreme levels of anxiety when I break my food rules.   Today, in imperfect recovery, I have fewer rules and more good days, but ultimately, the terror remains.

The terror of becoming “fat” and being out of control and unsafe.

I’m going to admit something terribly un-feminist.  Even though I read blog posts about body positivity and I fundamentally hate fat shaming, I am puzzled by larger, rounder bodied and fat people.  I’m not judging them.  I don’t think they are weak or lazy, or those negative stereotypes that the media forces down our throats.  I’m just puzzled and curious.  I really honestly want to know “how is that fat person comfortable in their skin?”  I want to know because if I could figure that out, maybe I could accept myself.

I’m tortured by the feeling of clothing being tight on my skin.  Some days I can’t wear certain clothes just because of the way they touch me and make me feel “fat.”   So how do many people I know, who are rounder and love themselves, achieve this self love?  I’m struggling just to tolerate my body.

I’ve been in told in therapy that “fat” isn’t a feeling.

That “fat” is a code my mind has made up, as a cover story for real underlying feelings.  Objectively, my body is not fat, large, or round.  It’s also not unusual, it’s not disgustingly ugly, it’s not misshapen or weird.  It’s just a body.  Most people would say I have thin privilege and that I’m ridiculous for thinking I’m fat.  And even if I were fat, that would be okay.  I believe that intellectually, about other people.  I’m not judging others, I am holding myself to a standard I would NEVER apply to a friend or even a stranger.  I love your body, I will fight for your right to body positivity no matter what your shape is.  But I hate my own body.

“Fat” is not a feeling.  I think the feelings I have are shame, sadness, anger, grief, guilt, fear and many others.  But when I feel “fat” it’s not about my weight, any more than my anorexia was originally about my weight.  I was never fat. “Fat” is about the shame I feel as a survivor of sexual abuse.  “Fat” is about feeling my own body betrayed me.  “Fat” is about me blaming my body for the abuse.  “Fat” is me thinking that if I had no body I’d be safe.  “Fat” is my fear of being assaulted again.

I never weighed myself.   When I was in treatment, they weighed me and I stood backwards on the scale.  After leaving treatment I continued this practice at doctors appointments.  A few times over the years, I knew my weight.  But whatever the number, I was unhappy.  The number was never okay.   At various times I had F#%ed up goal numbers, but they were not based on anything other than pure magical thinking.  And they never correlated with my actual healthy weight range.

In 2011, I was struggling with abuse in my marriage.  I was in school and I was struggling with that too.  As I would take the bus home from school, I sometimes snuck into a store and used the scale there to weigh myself.  I’m not sure why I started doing it.  But my OCD anorexia mind told me it would keep me safe and comfort me.  I did this for probably a month or more.  I was consumed with guilt and shame.  I never told a soul.   Then one day I decided it would make more sense to buy the scale and take it home, to avoid the shame of sneaking into the shop.  I hid it and I never told anyone I had the contraband item.

Big mistake.

It was the first time I’d owned a scale since I developed anorexia.  Within a few months of owning it I was suicidal.   The thing about OCD, is if you give in to it even one little bit, it will take you for a ride, a hellish ride.  First I started weighing myself once a day, first thing in the morning.   Then, gradually I started weighing myself at night too.   And before I knew it I was weighing myself 8-10 times a day.  It was out of control.  And it got out of control in a matter of a few weeks.  I was controlled by that scale.   This was at the same time when I was receiving ECT treatments, I wasn’t eating very much because I felt quite ill.  My weight dropped and because I had a scale, I obsessed about it.   Then when the ECT was finished and I began eating more normally again, I began to PANIC about the weight gain.

Normal, intellectual, reasonable thought of someone without an eating disorder:  “I was sick, I lost weight and it was unhealthy, it’s normal and healthy that I’m gaining it back

Anorexia: “You are weak, you are “fat”, you are out of control, you are ugly, you need to stay at this number on the scale or something bad will happen

In the end, the suicidal thoughts became so overwhelming that I decided to get out.

I took a hammer, I went into the garage when nobody was home, and I smashed the hell out of that scale.  I smashed it until it was in pieces.  It was surprisingly sturdy and difficult to break.  I was sore and sweating from exertion by the time it was destroyed.   And I felt empowered.

Five  years later and I’ve never owned a scale again.   Sometimes in weaker moments I will weigh myself on a scale at a friend’s house, or in a store.  But I know that this practice is self destructive and only gives Ana ammunition to destroy me and shame me.

Scales are for fish.

I will continue to admire the folks around me who embrace their bodies of all shapes and sizes.  I will continue to be mystified and curious about the concept of body positivity.  I will continue to strive towards true recovery from anorexia.

True recovery goes so much further beyond weight restoration.   True recovery means that the scale is powerless over me.  True recovery means I can be comfortable in my clothes.  True recovery means that food is nourishment and enjoyment and doesn’t have  moral value.  That my weight does not mean anything about my self worth.  True recovery is freedom from shame and self hatred.

I may “look good” but don’t be fooled, Ana still runs my life.



Night Bears.


Someone told me a story about her daughters, who woke up at night and looked for the “bears” that were scaring them, having misheard the word “nightmare” as “night bear.”  It was a sweet story and I loved the imagery.  I took to calling my PTSD nightmares, night bears.   It makes them less scary in a way, because I think of bears as being soft and cuddly rather than threatening.

Night bears are something I’ve struggled with since I was a small child.  I still remember some of my recurring childhood nightmares.  I remember a dream where I was Red Riding Hood, walking along a dark path between tall, thick, dark shrubs.  I heard sounds and I reached my hand through the hedge, only to find a giant, grey, terrifying wolf grabbing at my hand.  I would wake up terrified and frozen.  I tried to call out but my voice didn’t work. That paralyzed feeling happened often as I woke from dreams, I felt I couldn’t move or speak.  Eventually I would be fully awake and run into my parents room.

When I was a teenager I took some medication to prevent malaria while travelling.  I was 16 and it had a very negative impact on me.  I’ve always been sensitive to strange side effects from medication.  I began to have even more vivid dreams.  They were full of all the sensations.  I remember having a dream about being on a battlefield during World War Two.  I could actually smell the smoke from the fires burning around me, I could feel it in my nose.  The heat was burning and I woke up sweating.

As a teenager I also began to have precognitive, predictive dreams.  This may sound bizarre and ridiculous to you, it sounds strange to me too, but it happened.  I had a friend in high school who struggled with self harm and suicide attempts.  I would have vivid dreams about her.  When I arrived at school she wouldn’t be there.  I remember calling her house, frantically from the pay phone in the hall.  Every time I found that she was in the hospital after harming herself, often in similar ways to my dreams.

In my 20s and early 30s, I had another friend who I had a similar connection with.  I’ve written about her in some of my other posts “MJ.”   We lived in different cities, but the precognitive dreams were eerie.  She could never figure out how I knew she was in trouble, or in the hospital, before she even contacted me.  It happened so many times that we both began to trust in the strange premonitions I had about her.

Because of these experiences, when I have vivid dreams about death and violence I am often afraid.  I worry that something bad has happened to someone I care about. I worry that there will be bad news.  I worry that it’s a sign.  It’s a horrible feeling, and I try to reassure myself that precognitive dreams are not real and that my brain is just expressing stress and worry through images of violence.   I’m never 100% reassured though.

In the last few years of my marriage, I had vivid rape and sexual assault dreams.  I would wake up screaming, thrashing around in bed.  It would wake up my husband too and he would comfort me.  But I often felt confused and afraid.  The person who was abusing me, perhaps triggering the dreams, was the only one there to protect me from the nightmares.  I remember having one particularly bad dream in the months before I left him.

In the dream I was attacked by a man on the street.  I was trying to fight back and to scream but I was pinned to the ground.  There was a chain link fence beside me as I lay on the ground, on the side walk.  I was trapped under his weight as he raped me.  The only part of my body that I could move was my right hand.  I somehow grabbed a stick and frantically banged the chain link fence with it, trying to attract the attention of someone who could save me.  I remember waking up, my right arm hitting out in bed, strangled cries coming out of me.  I used to worry it would wake up my children in the other rooms.

As long as I can remember, nightmares have been a feature of my PTSD.  When I am under too much stress, the nightmares return.  They cycle through various themes over a period of days to weeks, and then they relent for a while.   I rarely have the dreams which are so intense I wake up shouting and fighting imaginary enemies anymore. I do still occasionally wake up in a sweat, from deep sleep to intense panic attack, then back to sleep again.

Recently, I’ve been having a lot of nightmares.  I think it is because of the stress of the court case and the triggers related to my marriage, the unfairness of the system and the stories I hear at work.

This week I’ve been dreaming about death, violence and natural disasters.  When I wake from the dreams I’m disoriented and confused.  When I’m alone it’s very difficult to feel safe and calm.  Sometimes I turn my cell phone on, just to ground myself in reality and remind myself that I’m not alone.  That I could call or text someone if I needed to.  I open the window, I listen to the wind and the leaves.  I cuddle my teddy bear.  I breathe and I let the semi-medicated, blurry sleepiness take me back into sleep.

Last night I was feeling unsettled and struggling.  I’d gone up to bed early but had some trouble relaxing.  I had the window slightly open as usual.  I woke up in a complete panic, startled awake by the house shaking from the strength of thunder and lightening nearby and wind howling through the window, rain pounding.   It was so intense that I was afraid.  I usually love storms.  But I hate being startled awake.  It’s a trigger to the abuse.

I was dreaming about being in a hotel by the beach.  There was a giant tsunami crashing onto the beach.  I was running from room to room in the hotel, as it filled up alarmingly quickly with water.  Somehow all the rooms were sealed and there were no windows to open.  There was not enough air and eventually no place to run.  It reminded me of the passengers trapped on the sinking Titanic, right at the end.

Last week I dreamed about being at the strip mall near my house, at dusk.  I was alone.  I found a severed head on the pavement, blood everywhere.  I was shocked to realize that the head was alive and speaking to me. I called 911 on my phone and ran over to the head, trying to comfort what was left of this person.   At the same time, my mind was screaming at me that it was impossible for a head to be alive without a body and that something supernatural or unnatural was happening.  I was calling out and calling out for help and then I woke up.

That same week I dreamed about an old man dying while I held him in my arms.  His face was hollow and his breath rattled as dying people’s do.  I woke up so sad, and the sadness stayed with me all day.

That’s the thing about PTSD nightmares.  They don’t just fade when I wake up.  Bad dreams fade, neutral dreams fade, but PTSD nightmares stay with me…sometimes for years after.  They can put me into a mood before I’m even out of bed in the morning.  They also make me feel exhausted, as if I’ve lived a whole day instead of sleeping through the night.

They are difficult to talk about.  I expect to hear “don’t worry, it was just a dream,” but they don’t feel like dreams to me.   These nightmares are resistant to medication, to therapy, to the power of positive thinking.   They have a life of their own and I can’t control them.  That also feels triggering.

To everyone who struggles with PTSD night bears.  I hope you have a restful sleep tonight.  I hope you have someone to comfort you when you wake up afraid and disoriented.  I hope you can comfort yourself too.  Nightmares aren’t “just dreams,”  they can be traumatic, draining and incredibly frustrating.

Reverse Sexism isn’t a Thing.


I’m angry, frustrated and upset about some comments that were made to me by a male friend this week.  We’d been disagreeing and at odds recently, and he told me in a string of texts a few things that really stuck with me and were triggering given my current situation.

He accused me of treating him badly because he was a man.

First of all, that’s like accusing me of reverse sexism, which isn’t a thing.  It’s just not.   I was angry at the unreasonableness of the comment.

Then he went on to say that he feels like my court case and my job have changed me (implication was that it wasn’t a change for the better).

I didn’t read everything else in the texts. I deleted them because I wanted to scream and was triggered.


Of COURSE my highly prolonged, extremely traumatic, family law case has changed me.  It would be miraculous to the point of ridiculous impossibility for an experience as stressful and difficult as facing my abuser in court, fighting for custody of my kids and being re-traumatized by the legal system over and over, not to impact me.

When I’m struggling, when I’m having a difficult week, it’s even more important for people in my life to be more gentle with me, more understanding and more patient.  Because when I’m dealing with my court case (and thus my ex),  I’m triggered.  I feel vulnerable.  I’m not always as kind as usual. I’m impatient and irritable, and it’s rarely to do with the people who I care about.  Memories from the past and feeling tones from the past are driving me.  I’m more suspicious, less trusting and more wary.  I need space, time and comfort in order to ground myself.  The court case changes me, and I need help from my friends (not their judgment) to get back onto the path to kindness and safety.

My job has changed me too.  It has changed me immensely and completely and wonderfully.  Working in a feminist organization, helping women and learning from women has helped me grow and gain confidence.   Over the years I’ve been working there, I’ve slowly and painstakingly gained back some of the self confidence I had lost during years of abuse, self hatred and isolation.  My job has changed me, as I’ve learned a greater appreciation for my own privilege, and a greater respect and depth of understanding and empathy towards the many faceted situations of others.

Feminism is important to me, because without feminism I might not be alive today.

Does that mean that I hate men?  Of course not!  I hate the patriarchy and white supremacy and heteronormativity and ableism and cis-sexism and sexism and inequality.

And I hate folks who I have to justify this to.

I don’t exist merely as a sexual object for others.  I don’t exist merely to uphold systems of privilege without question.  I don’t exist merely to please others.  Feminism helps me believe that I am worthy of so much more than that.  Feminism empowers me and gives me strength and a path towards a meaningful purpose to my life.

A life that, a few short years ago, I considered meaningless and worth ending.

I wouldn’t change this about myself.  I wouldn’t want to go back in time and not have this job.  I love what I’ve gained from it and I love myself more than I have in years because of the sense of community I’ve gained from feminist allies.  I think that not working, and not being able to work outside the home, was an aspect of the abusive environment within my marriage.  For that reason, I celebrate my new abilities, my ability to work and my ability to have a greater purpose.  I don’t take my ability to work for granted, because I worked hard in recovery to achieve this.

I have changed.   I will keep changing.

And I won’t apologize for it to anyone.




I’m single right now.  Single enough that I sometimes frequent online dating apps, despite the peril and the ridiculousness involved.

I’m also queer.

This is the term I use to self identify my sexual orientation.  Key word being “self” identify.

Recently, I’ve been hoping to meet another woman or anyone who doesn’t identify as a cisgender man.  I haven’t met anyone.  There are fewer people online who are also not straight, and so today I switched my profile to show me everyone (men and women).

I messaged briefly with this guy, he seemed interesting and apparently we were a 92% match.  That was BEFORE the train wreck of mansplaining that derailed the conversation.

Dude: What’s the difference between bisexual and queer?

Me: It’s just another word for not straight. I’d be open to dating any gender, including trans folks, so bisexual doesn’t seem to quite fit and I just like that way of self identifying.  It seems to fit.

Dude: Isn’t that pansexual?

Me: (silently thinking is this actually happening?)  Yes, that’s true. pansexual, but I identify more with queer. I just looked it up on Wikipedia and it gives a decent explanation of it:

Because of the context in which it was reclaimed, queer has sociopolitical connotations and is often preferred by those who are activists—namely, by those who strongly reject traditional gender identities; reject distinct sexual identities such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight; or see themselves as oppressed by the homonormativity of the politics of the broader “gay” or “LGBT” community. In this usage, queer retains its historical connotation of “outside the bounds of normal society” and can be construed as “breaking the rules for sex and gender”. It can be preferred because of its ambiguity, which allows queer-identifying people to avoid the sometimes rigid boundaries that are associated with labels such as “gay”, “lesbian”, or even “transgender

….so… I like it for those reasons.

Dude:  I get that but, assuming the purpose is to indicate who you’re (sexually) attracted to, selecting “queer” seems unnecessarily vague. Especially given that queer could meant that you’re gay, bisexual, pansexual or everything in between.

Me:  That’s what it means..and that’s okay.

Dude: silence

What the actual f#@k just happened?  This complete stranger,who I’d known for about 5 minutes online, decided that my sexual orientation was “unnecessarily vague” and that he knew a better word (pansexual) for me to use to define myself more clearly.

This is a terrible example of mansplaining and oppression rolled into one.

In my experience, folks choose words to define themselves based on how they feel and how they want to express themselves.  The words marginalized groups use to define themselves are important, and often have historical or political significance.  Nobody has the right to tell someone else that their identity is incorrect or inconvenient.

This is the type of binary thinking which problematically excludes so many people.  People don’t just exist in boxes: gay or straight, man or woman, black or white, disabled or able bodied and so on.  There are beautiful spectrums of folks in this world, people who identify all along those spectrums and don’t identify with binary concepts.  Self identification doesn’t exist for the convenience of others.

When it comes from outside it’s a label and labels are for jars, not people.  When it comes from inside, self identification can be liberating and empowering.

Please, ask questions from a place of curiosity if you do not understand a word or concept.  Better yet, educate yourself first.  That’s what google is there for!  But don’t assume that you know a better, more accurate or clearer word for someone to use to define their own lived experience.  It’s not cool, it’s oppressive and it is certainly not attractive.

To My American Readers


(photo credit Jessica Bennett)

I’m not an American citizen.  I can’t vote in the upcoming election, but today I’ve been triggered and upset due to the state of American politics.

American friends, I urge you to vote and to consider your vote carefully.

I, and other survivors of sexual violence, have struggled today.  Women (and others impacted by gender based violence) have felt a little more uncomfortable and that their world is a little less safe.  And decent men and masculine folks, you are harmed by these comments as well.

I’m talking about rape culture.

It’s 2016, and one of the people running to be the leader of the most powerful country in the world, is promoting racism, xenophobia, patriarchy, and rape culture.  A disturbing proportion of what this man says is actually considered hate speech by many people around the world.

A politician should be a leader and set the tone for the people they lead.

Glorifying sexual assault is disgusting and it gives people the clear message that consent is optional.  If you are rich and powerful you have the right to take sex. If someone says no, then just try harder.  Or better yet, don’t ask at all…just grab their ****.   It sickens me.

I’ve had a difficult day today.  As a woman, I do not exist to be a sexual object for others.  As a woman, I do not want to be treated as if my word is less valid because of my gender.  If I say no, I mean no.  Consent culture is important to me.  As a woman first and as a survivor of sexual violence.

I don’t want to live in a world where the leader of the country to the south of us grabs women without their consent and then brags about it after.  I don’t want my children (or any children!) seeing this as normal behaviour.  It’s not just locker room banter, it’s assault, harassment, hate speech and misogyny.   A world where this is normal reduces women to sexual objects and men to sex crazed, power hungry rapists.  It benefits no one.

I don’t want to live in a world where racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia are being spouted by world leaders.   It scares me, and I benefit from white privilege.  It scares me that anyone would even consider voting for this man. It scares me to think of the divisive direction this world will take with him at the helm.

It benefits no one.

We are better than this.



Talking to kids about mental illness


At dinner tonight my  kids were joking about various things and my younger child started joking about being in the “mental health room” and the “mental health unit” and basically laughing about people being crazy.

I felt frozen.  I’m a social justice warrior parent and I’ve been quick to call in, correct, and stop my kids around issues like racism and oppression.  But I was tired today and I wasn’t sure how to broach the subject that I’ve been a patient in mental health hospitals.   My older daughter knows about some things from my past.  They both have seen my scars and know that I used to self harm.  My older daughter knows a bit more, she was more aware of my depression before I left her father.  But they don’t know even a fraction of the story.   I wondered today about what they will think of me when I tell them.

I wanted to jump into the conversation with “it’s not polite to joke about people with mental health problems.”  But that didn’t seem like enough and I was so tempted just to honestly say: “I’ve been in mental health hospitals and it’s not something funny to joke and tease about.”  I wasn’t ready for the conversation and they were happy and I didn’t want to add stress to the evening.

But now, hours later, I’m thinking about it.  What will I tell my kids about my past?  When will I tell them?  Will it be planned, or will it spill out one day in a situation like this one?   I don’t want to talk too much about things that might upset them, but I also don’t want them to feel like mental illness is a taboo or a stigma that people should be ashamed of.

How do we talk to children about mental illness?   Before my first child was born I downloaded a fact sheet from CAMH called “talking to children about mental illness.”  I told myself that I had a few years, until she was 2 at least, to fully recover.  I told myself that she would never know and that I’d be 100% better by the time she was old enough to be aware.

I was optimistic.  But even when I downloaded the fact sheet, I think a part of me realized that it wouldn’t be that simple.  Anorexia, depression, anxiety and PTSD weren’t going to disappear the moment my new baby was born.  It made me (and makes me) so sad to think about talking to my children about my mental health struggles.

The fact sheet suggested reassuring the child that they were not responsible for my health.  Reassuring the child that I was seeking my own help and talking to other adults about my issues.  In this way, she would not feel responsible for me or worry about my health.

I struggled with postpartum depression after both my kids were born.  My older child was impacted more severely because she lived through both episodes.  I struggled to cope with taking care of my toddler after my second baby was born.   I hated myself for it and I still struggle to forgive myself for how I felt during the postpartum depression after my second baby.  By the time my older one was 5-7 years old, I was again coping with depression due to the abuse in my marriage.

My child was bright and extremely emotionally aware and emotionally intelligent.  I knew she worried about me and it broke my heart.  I knew she was aware that I was not happy.  When she was about 6, I read her some books from the public library which explained depression to children.  I told her the words from the fact sheet: “I love you,  I talk to my doctor and my friends when I am sad, you aren’t responsible and it’s not your fault.”  But it was difficult and I felt like a horrible mother.

My eldest was 18 months old when she first noticed my scars.  She was sitting on the potty and she looked at my arms and said “draw, draw?”  She thought they were marker marks on my arms.  I told her they were just marks and not to worry.  I knew I was only buying time until she would ask again.

When my eldest was 7, I separated from her father.  My mood improved and we no longer talked about depression. But over the next year she started to ask me incessantly about my scars.   For a year I told her that I would “explain when you are older,” but after a time it wasn’t enough.  She began to cry at night, get angry at me and say that I didn’t trust her enough to tell her.  She started refusing to talk to me about her problems because I wouldn’t explain the scars.  I spoke to my doctor and together we came up with a plan of how I could talk to my daughter.   He said that the fighting was likely more damaging to our relationship than just telling her an age appropriate version of the truth.

So I told her.  I told my 8 year old child about my past self harm.  I told her that all the scars were due to me injuring myself.  It was very difficult for me and I had a lot of guilt.  I told her a version of the truth.  I told her that when I was younger someone was mean to me and not respecting me and that I never told anyone.  I told her that sometimes when you keep secrets like that inside you start to cope in bad ways like hurting yourself.  I explained to her that this is why I always encourage her to talk to an adult about her problems.   My daughter was sad.  She told me that self harming was a very bad decision and that I should have talked to someone.  She asked me such a wise question: “If someone was hurting you, why did you hurt yourself?”

Since I told her, the questions stopped.  Once in a while I notice her looking at my scars with a sad expression, sometimes when I read to her at night she touches them and looks wistful.  I hope that my honesty will allow her to make choices to help herself in her own life and not turn to such negative coping.   My younger child still thinks the scars are cool, like battle wounds that make me funky and unique and a warrior of sorts.  She knows on some level that they are from self harm, but I’m not sure she is ready to accept that and she doesn’t ask questions.

I don’t think that talking to an 8 year old child about self harm is ideal.  But what options do I have?  My scars are obviously visible and it’s impossible to deny them or hide them.  If I had another type of physical disability I would have to explain that to my children.

Why is it so difficult to have open and honest conversations about mental health and mental illness?

I would like to tell my children that joking about the “mental hospital” isn’t funny.  I would like to tell them that it is triggering for me and could be upsetting for other people as well.  I want them to know that there is no shame in asking for help and getting treatment for a mental illness.  I do want them to know some aspects of my story when they are a bit older.  I want them to know because I made a lot of mistakes, and I hope that the knowledge I’ve gained on this journey could help them avoid the same mistakes.  I also want them to be the kind of people who help others rather than judging them or putting them down.

I want to shatter the stigma.  But today I was tired, my kids were happy and I didn’t want to put a shadow over a good day.   The conversation that started at 18 months old with an innocent “draw, draw” is likely one that will be taking place in stages as they grow up.  My psychiatric survivorship story IS my life, it is a part of me, and because of my scars I can’t hide it, even if I did want to.

And maybe one day I won’t feel ashamed and embarrassed to talk about it.

Wash your mouth out


When I was being sexually abused I soon learned that pleasing the other person, quickly and in the ways they preferred, would mean that I would be safer.  I found it more upsetting to be touched against my will, than to touch the other person.  At least I felt I had a marginal amount of control over the non-consensual sex.  This is one of the impacts of surviving sexual violence that has been hardest to recover from.

My earliest sexual experiences taught me that my own needs were irrelevant, unimportant and that my body existed to please others.  In the present, I struggle to internalize the idea that I have rights, likes, dislikes and the right to say both yes and no in intimate situations.  I keep living out what I learned: pleasing the other person is best the way to stay safe.  I have a lot of guilt, shame and disgust which I direct towards myself, focusing the hatred on my physical body which at some level I blame for the abuse.

When I was 15-16 and being abused by X, I remember such intense shame.  I felt like it was my fault that the abuse was happening, that I was guilty and that my body was to blame.

I remember one late afternoon or evening.  I believe it was in the summer, because it was not dark outside yet.  I was 15.  I was in X’s room.  His room was always dark, the blinds always closed.   His family was home, which only increased my level of shame as I imagined his parents thinking what a terrible, slutty girl I was.   I remember him standing naked at the foot of his bed.  There was music playing.  There was always music playing, giving the impression of teenagers making out, but in reality, disguising the dark tone of the abuse.   I don’t remember how we got there, or how I got home after.  I do remember that my shirt was off, I think I was still wearing either a skirt or underwear.   He was kissing me, he had his hands on the sides of my head.  Then his hands moved more to the top of my head, pushing me down onto my knees and holding me there.   His hands were forceful.  I didn’t try to fight, but I imagined that if I did, his hands would only have held me tighter.  I knew what he was wordlessly “asking” for.  Something I’d never done before, but something I’d heard about from older, more experienced cousins and friends.  I knew the word for it, but it wasn’t something I was even remotely interested in.

I remember his hands on my head.  I remember feeling choked and struggling to breath.  I remember the salty taste, and stumbling quickly to the bathroom.   The bathroom was brighter, ordinary.  A different world.  I remember feeling shaky.   I stood in front of the white sink.  I spat and rinsed my mouth with water.  I can’t remember if I cried silently, or if I was beyond crying and only filled with disgust and shame.

I couldn’t think of how to cleanse myself.  I remember seeing a plain white bar of soap beside the sink.  In desperation, I grabbed it and put it in my mouth, literally trying to wash his taste from my memory.  Washing myself clean, spitting the soapy taste back into the sink.

I don’t think it worked.  I’m not sure it’s possible to wash away the dirt of being raped.   The memory stayed with me, even 20 years later it is vivid as if it were yesterday.

The saddest thing is that teenage me internalized it all.  Never told a soul.  Blamed myself and didn’t spend a lot of time considering X’s responsibility.

I remember going back to his room.   It happened again and again over the months that followed.  He didn’t have to hold me down every time.  I knew what was expected and I did it.  It’s so important for people who have not lived through sexual violence to understand that just because a person doesn’t fight back, it doesn’t mean there is consent.

Consent is a state of mind.  Consent is active.  Consent involves desire, curiosity, wanting, love, interest, participation… Consent is between two people.  There is a matching process, a parallel course, desires intertwined, questions and answers.

Abuse is the absence of these things.  Abuse is a teenage girl mechanically going through the motions so it will be over more quickly.  The violence isn’t always overt (hitting, holding down),  sometimes the violence exists merely in the absence of consent.

Without consent, it’s not sex.  It’s abuse.   It’s just that simple.

It’s a long journey back.