Saturday, December 26, 2009

Easier Said Than Done

December 26, 2009

During difficult times we are encouraged to focus on the good. Count your the blessings. Look on the bright side. Remember that time heals all wounds.

As true as these encouragements may be, there are moments when they are of little or no comfort. At these times, the anguish of myriad small realizations intrudes upon us, and we are undone. In these moments, breathing is an accomplishment.

At these times, we must focus on the tiny moment in which we find ourselves...and survive it.

Friday, December 25, 2009

December 25

December 25, 2009

Today might be a special day for some, but for others, it's a very difficult day. Or just a day like any other. Or a day on which to seek oblivion or avoid "the whole thing."

Whatever December 25 means to you, I wish you:
  • one satisfying moment
  • a smile
  • the desire to do one good thing
  • awareness of your worth
  • a moment of gratitude
  • a bite of something delicious
  • a feeling of affection -- current or remembered
Make a great day.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Head + Heart + Hands + Feet = Action

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thousands of studies have shown that childhood abuse in its many forms – sexual, other physical, verbal, emotional, spiritual – often, often contributes to, develops and/or erupts into these results:
  • children and teenagers running away
  • suicide ideation, attempts and success
  • self-harm through cutting and addictions, for example
  • harming others
  • being abused and assaulted in adulthood
  • difficulty learning
  • poverty
  • physical illness
  • incarceration
  • repeated unsuccessful or harmful relationships
  • risk-taking behaviour
  • promiscuity
All this research is useful head work, but when society -- that's you and me -- denies and ignores the truth of these conclusions, more babies get raped, more girls and boys are tormented, more teens cut and burn and drug themselves, more people get beaten, more people commit suicide and commit crimes.

The abuse of children, teens and adults is wrong. Period. You and I can do something. Period. I encourage you to join your head to your heart, hands and feet.

Learn about abuse. Feel something. Do something.
You can, truly, do something to help. Learn in your head, feel in your heart, move your hands and feet; it's not really so hard, and the benefits are immeasurable but real.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Seven Questions

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sometimes life gets so hectic, and then our minds get so hectic, that it's hard to slow down and smell the coffee or the roses or whatever it is we want to smell.

This simple practice can help with that. I call it Seven Questions, and you only need about five minutes to do it. In fact, it takse longer to read this explanation than it takes to do the exercise itself. However, the Seven Questions exercise can refresh you and re-ground you in your own skin.

- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Take a slow, deep breath or two.

- Ask yourself, "What do I see?" Then just name (silently or out loud) a few things your eyes fall upon -- the wall, a window, a lamp, the ceiling, curtains, a picture, whatever. Don't evaluate or judge what you see. Don't move your head around a lot to see more. Just relax and notice a few things.

- Then ask, "What do I hear?" Again, in a calm way, just notice and name what you hear. There may be a lot or a little. Don't strain. Just relax and notice.

- Continue in the same way with, "What do I smell?" This question has the added benefit of encouraging you to breathe in more fully, which is good for smelling and for calming you with fresh oxygen.

- Ask, "What do I taste?" There might not be much here, but notice what you can. Maybe it will be the coffee you just finished drinking or your unbrushed teeth if it's first thing in the morning. Whatever it is, remember not to interpret or assess; just notice.

- Ask yourself about the fifth sense, "What do I feel in my body?" Pay quiet, calm attention to the way your pants feel on your thighs, your chilly bare feet, the tension in your jaw or shoulders, how your glasses feel on your nose, etc. Don't worry about adjusting things or thinking you have to fix any of it right now; just calmly observe.

- Now that you've observed through your five senses, ask yourself two more questions. "What am I feeling emotionally?" and "What am I thinking?" As with the senses questions, ask each one separately and answer them gently and in a light, sort of detached manner. You might feel happy or sad, angry or expectant. You might be thinking you have to call your friend or that this is a boring activity or that you wish you'd been nicer to your spouse this morning. Again, don't judge your feelings and thoughts or try to change them; just notice and accept them as they are.

- Finish by taking another deep breath or two. Then express gratitude for this chance to slow down and be aware of yourself. Express your gratitude to your spiritual source or to the universe or yourself; the main thing is to appreciate these moments and whatever they have brought you.

A few comments about this grounding practice:
  • Ask the five senses questions in any order; that doesn't matter. You might want to change the order once in a while, so you don't get in a rut.
  • You can write in your journal after you're done. Comment on what you noticed or how you felt during and after asking the questions.
  • It's useful to do the Seven Questions exercise just once a day at first, for a week or two, to get the feel for it and see what you think. If you do it too often at first, you might burn out on it and decide it's boring after the "honeymoon" wears off.
  • Once you're familiar with this practice and you find it to be helpful, you can also use a shorter version throughout your day. Ask yourself a question or two during your morning break, when you go to the bathroom, standing in line at the store -- any time you have a moment and want to slow your racing mind.
So, when the rat race is getting to you, or even when it isn't, give yourself a few minutes to slow it all down. Discover or remember that being in your own skin is a good place to be.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Choose Your Attitude

Friday, December 11, 2009

This morning I had a conversation in which I was reminded that no matter what the circumstances, I can choose my attitude toward those circumstances, toward myself and other people.

This business of choosing my attitude is an active one in which I decide, step by step, what I will focus on and what feeling I'll nurture in myself. These choices are all immediate and specific to a given situation, often one in which I want to blame someone or something for what's happening to me.

By trial and error and by getting help from others, I've worked out a process that makes it possible for me to change my attitude in tough situations. I end up feeling better, and things usually work out better than they might have otherwise. Sometimes the process happens quickly, and sometimes it takes a while, but it does help. Here's a brief look at how it works for me:

     * At some point in the situation, hopefully sooner rather than later, I notice what I'm feeling -- anger, resentment, being "right" or sorry for myself, etc.

     * Once I notice my emotions, I stop and acknowledge that I don't like the way I feel. This has nothing to do with what the other person did or what's going on. I just say, sometimes out loud, "I know I don't like how I feel right now." I always get at least a tiny bit of relief after acknowledging this. Even if I still feel justified or whatever, I can acknowledge that it doesn't really feel too good in my gut or my heart.

     * Next I acknowledge that I can choose to feel better if I want to. Usually I'd rather feel calm or happy instead of resentful or justified, but sometimes I do want to roll around in my misery, and I have the choice to do that, too. Remembering this choice offers more relief because I don't have to feel better if I don't want to -- and the little kid in me just doesn't want to sometimes. But consciously remembering that I can choose to feel better at any time generally shortens my "little kid" phase.

     * Whenever I do decide to feel better, I ask myself what I'd like to feel and think instead of anger or blame or whatever.
    • I might remind myself that everybody makes mistakes or has a bad day, so I can stop focussing on their recent action or words.
    • Or I can decide that this matter is important and I need to talk about it or do something to change it. 
    • Sometimes I can't sort it out yet, but I can decide to set the issue aside for the time being and do something useful or enjoyable in the meantime. This is not the same as sweeping it under the rug. I've just set the issue to the side, knowing I will come back to it at a better time or when I have clarity.
     * In all situations, I've learned to ask myself what part I played. Did I add to the problem? Was I implying something or dwelling on negativity or blaming somebody else? I don't always do this right away because it may not feel comfortable to take responsibility for my own actions, but it helps me to ask such questions as soon as I can.

     * Having decided to let go or deal with the situation or let it rest for a while, I consciously choose to get on with my life in a positive way. I do something I enjoy or get a job done. I might make a time to talk about things or acknowledge that it isn't such a big deal. Maybe I'll realize that the same thing didn't bother me last week, so maybe today I'm tired or thirsty or feeling vulnerable for some other reason...and then I drink some water or rest or do whatever I need to.

     * At some point soon I consciously pay attention to the fact that I feel better or the situation has improved or I've learned something. This usually includes expressing gratitude for the improvements or, at least, for my decision and ability to choose a better way. This step is important because it solidifies my learning (for the next time) and helps me live in a more aware way.

Choosing your attitude is not magic, but doing so can bring practical, almost magical results in the form of calmer days and less stressful relationships. I like the advice of a guy named Mike Dooley who says, "Thoughts become things, so choose the good ones."

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Day After

Yesterday was December 6.

Here in Canada, December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. This day was established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada to mark the anniversary of the 1989 murders of 14 women at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal. Only women were killed that day, because the killer consciously targetted women.

Since December 6, 1991, women, men and children have gathered in school gyms and community halls and churches across Canada to focus on the grim realities of women and children who live -- and die -- in violence. In my area, we gathered yesterday to listen to the daughter of a local woman who was murdered by her partner and to Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. We lit candles for the fourteen women murdered in Montreal twenty years ago and for every woman in our area who has died violently. None of this was done to stir or condone hatred of men but, rather, to acknowledge the lives of these women and to remind everyone present that violence against women and children continues.

Hatred is not a solution. For me, it is not an option. It is my hope that every person who attends these gatherings or reads this post or loves another person will transform his or her thoughts, feelings and words into action.

This short list of links is a starting point for those of you who would like more information. Please do something -- today, the day after December 6 -- to become more aware, to change your words and ideas, to act. Every single human being is worth it.

The Montreal Massacre -- coverage in the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) archives
Violence Against Women -- an international journal
YWCA December 6 Fund -- offers interest-free loans to women leaving violent homes
Men for Change -- a pro-feminist organization dedicated to promoting gender equality and ending sexism and violence
Learning and Violence -- a website that explores and explains the impact of violence on learning

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Healing Actions -- an Exercise

Yesterday I posted a journalling exercise about healing attitudes. Today's exercise involves several healing actions you can take. This is not a complete list of helpful actions, just as yesterday's list of attitudes was not complete. These are starter exercises you can use at any time and to any depth you like. It might be helpful to read my post, "Keeping a Journal 101." There's no right or wrong way to keep a journal; just do whatever works for you.

Write or type your response to each of these healing actions:
  • talking with someone you trust
  • writing about what's going on
  • digging inside yourself for questions and answers
  • relaxing
  • listening intuitively
Then, as with the Healing Attitudes exercise, explore one of the healing actions more fully and focus on what you can do about it today. Maintain that focus for one week, then two. If you like, give each of the other healing actions the same treatment after you're done with your first choice.

Date your entries for future encouragement. Smile. Cry. Draw. I invite you to express yourself in these simple and helpful ways.

And just for the record, it doesn't matter if you do the Healing Actions exercise before or after the Healing Attitudes exercise. They can both be helpful, so trust your gut.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Healing Attitudes -- an Exercise

Here is a journalling exercise that can help with your healing or personal growth. The exercise is presented in two parts, in two posts. You can do one or both of them or, of course, neither. The choice is yours.

I invite you to check out my earlier post called "Keeping a Journal 101" to read a short introduction to journalling. As with all journalling exercises I do and recommend, it's fine to either write on paper or type on your computer. I do suggest you date your writings if you plan to keep them; it's helpful and interesting to re-read them later to see how you've grown, what you've learned or what still needs work.

Below is a short list of healing attitudes. Consider and write briefly about how each has been helpful to you or could be helpful to you. Then pick one and write in more detail about what you can and will do today to make use of that healing attitude. And keep it simple, Sweetheart; one change at a time is plenty.
  • willingness
  • honesty
  • acceptance
  • determination
  • creativity
If you'd like, maintain your attention to your chosen healing attitude for a week, then two weeks. Journal about what is changing as a result. Talk with someone trustworthy about what's happening with you.

You could then go on to focus on the other healing attitudes -- one per week -- and see what happens. However you approach this journalling activity, remember to listen to yourself. Take breaks. This is not a marathon. Enjoy yourself and give yourself credit for every effort. Healing and recovery aren't always easy, but they can definitely be satisfying!

In a companion post to this one, I'll offer a similar journalling exercise using healing actions you can take to help yourself.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pushing Through

My mother is a painter, but I didn't inherit her gift. My grandfather was a carpenter, but I didn't get that gift, either. What I do is meander, float and dig around inside myself in search of the exact phrase, the perfect rhythm with which I can articulate ideas and emotions. I use words to express myself.

For the past month, I haven't been able to do much meandering or digging. I've been too stunned and exhausted by the death of our youngest son. Most of my expression has come in the form of tears and weakly returned hugs and an inability to sleep. I've flipped around all over the place -- by turns a zombie or a simmering volcano or a puddle of mush. Several times I sat at the computer, willing myself to write something, anything, but for the most part, it was beyond me to do so.

Then this morning I read an article in the January 2010 issue of Writer's Digest magazine. Titled Inspiration vs. Perspiration, the article discusses the balance required if one intends to write for a living. Author Mary E. DeMuth's words made a great deal of sense to me and, more importantly, urged me to sit the heck down and write something, anything, even if it was schlock. Ms. DeMuth writes, "Understanding the dynamics of each [inspiration and perspiration] and how they relate to our finished written work can help us capitalize on our most inspired times and push through our most difficult moments."

Well, mourning has certainly brought many difficult moments. But I realized as I read that if I am to honour my love of words and my livelihood, I do have to push through. I can focus for short times, so it's important to do that when I can. I can help myself, and maybe somebody else, by getting things "down on paper," as I so often tell my students and clients. And I trust that by doing so, I'll have more inspired moments...and be better able to push through future difficulties. Thank you, Mary DeMuth.

(Check out my Word Wonder post about willingness. I'm pretty sure that writing it helped me grab onto what Ms. DeMuth had to say in her article.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reaching Out to Grief

A week and a half ago, our youngest son, Daniel, died. He was twenty years old. In the fog of grief and exhaustion, I've sometimes wondered what I would say in my first post since that day. It felt strange to have my mind jump to such ordinary things, but even in the middle of the worst moments, I have known life really does go on, whether we like it or here I am. I'm a writer, and I value healing and relationships, so it helps me to be here. I hope it helps somebody else, too.

I have learned a powerful lesson in the last ten days. I've learned that any expression of caring and support is of value when someone has died. I used to think that I might cause more grief by calling and stirring things up, or that I'd be one person too many during an exhausting time. As a result, I often hung back when a friend's loved one died. I suspect some of that hanging back was connected to unresolved grief of my own and to a general discomfort with death. But a large part of it came from my belief that my small offering was too small to bother with or would be badly timed.

Well, I'm here to tell you that's not how it works.

My husband and I began to heal early on, a bit at a time, as we were lovingly touched by the hundreds of people who called, emailed, came by, hugged us, sent cards, cried with us, posted a message on Daniel's Facebook tribute page, prepared and brought food, tidied up, sent flowers, sang and drummed, prayed, smiled, and reminisced with us. One friend and neighbour came by and fixed the porch light -- what a helpful, caring act! Every good thought, each small act, has helped us avoid despair and overwhelm -- and will continue to do so.

So, please, trust your instincts when someone suffers a loss. Believe that you do matter. Your offering of support and caring helps. My husband described it this way: the sadness, grief and numbness of Daniel's death emptied our reservoirs, but each act of kindness and support refills our reservoirs one drop at a time.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Joy of... Text

Check out my short essay on writing at this Kate Thompson Writes link or the one at the top of the page.

The Joy of... Text

The first memorable and deeply satisfying piece of writing I remember was the big school project I did on the city of Paris. I was in about Grade 4, and I saved that thing for years, through the many moves so characteristic of our unsettled family. I was especially proud of the Eiffel Tower I'd so faithfully drawn on the cover. Back then, we either drew our own cover designs or cut pictures out of magazines to announce our topics. My mother is an artist, and I guess for a few years I fancied myself one, as well, because I loved that drawing as much as I'd loved the research it introduced.

Research. I didn't know the word, really, but that's what I loved doing. I would sit in the library for hours, buried deep in the stacks of Do Not Remove Reference Books I so loved. I would yearn to be able -- just once -- to be allowed to Remove One. But I never was, and I never did. Sometimes I'd stand in front of the numerous shelves lined with several matched sets of encyclopedias. Oh, the joy, the satisfaction of all that information and all those pictures! The maps and the Flags of the World just about sent me into orbit. If I'd been either a "bad" kid or a gutsier one, I'd have torn out those flags and secreted them away in my lunch box or something. For better or worse, I was neither. Besides, there was the sacrilege of tearing a page out of a book. Nope -- just wasn't gonna happen.

Anyway, the deep pleasure of getting lost in the pages and words and smells and ideas of books has never left me. And I feel equal satisfaction from putting my own words and ideas onto the pages of my own books, articles, and stories.

So whether you've always loved to read and write, or you're just discovering a new love...keep at it. Have fun. Learn and share and stretch yourself. Reading and writing aren't the only great things in this life, but they sure are somewhere near the top. Climb up there and take a look. You might get tired or a little dizzy sometimes, but you can hack it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Does Surrender = Giving up?

This afternoon, the idea of surrender came up in a conversation. Like my friend, I used to think that to surrender to someone else's idea or to a new way of thinking meant I was giving up, turning into a doormat, being a woos. I've spent a lot of years figuring myself out and finding some sense of strength, worth and power. So why would I give that up...?

Luckily, I've learned that's not what surrender means. To me, surrender now means being willing to listen to a suggestion from somebody with more experience than I have. It means trying something different for a while, even if it's uncomfortable at first. It means being willing to give up something that doesn't work for me anymore, so I can replace it with something that does. Surrender means acknowledging, grudgingly or gracefully, that I don't have all the answers.

Dr. Gabor Mate, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, was recently interviewed on CBC's Tapestry program. He gave an example of surrender that really makes sense to me. He told about someone who had decided to surrender not only his own drug and alcohol use, but also his drug-selling business. This guy gathered up all his drug paraphernalia and address books and threw them into a big garbage bag, and then took it all out to the trash. His decision and choices were surrender in action -- not just a theory or an intention, but making it so.

It's my intention to keep surrendering what isn't working for me, because when I've done this in the past, I have always benefitted. Sometimes I'm not so willing at first, or even after a while. Sometimes I just keep rolling around in the garbage for a while longer. But I can surrender my stubborn refusal to admit change is sometimes necessary. I can follow another's suggestion. I can at least be willing to be willing to be willing.

Fortunately, it doesn't take much to get started. I can surrender to the possibility of surrender.

The Tree of Gratitude

People often talk about being grateful for their blessings or making gratitude lists. More challenging is the suggestion that we be grateful for the hard times. All this talk about gratitude has become so common that it's easy to lose sight of how far-reaching the concepts are. I wanted to take a look at the underlying richness of gratitude. What are its roots? What other concepts are connected to gratitude -- maybe concepts I'm not aware of? How can these concepts deepen my understanding of gratitude?

First, then, a look at the roots of the word. The Latin word gratus means pleasing, beloved, agreeable, favourable and thankful. Through time, new words and shades of meaning have grown from that ancient beginning: grace, grateful, gratify, gratis, gratitude, gratuity, agree, congratulate, disgrace, ingrate, ingratiate and maugre (which means "in spite of"). In addition, the Indo-European root of gratus gave rise to the word "bard," meaning "he who praises." - Funk & Wagnall's Canadian College Dictionary and Dictionary of the English Language

Every human utterance is an expression of some experience, thought, feeling or action. The words that have grown from gratus are deeply rooted and closely intertwined. Take a look at how these word-cousins show up in daily life...
Most people feel grateful when a beloved or otherwise agreeable person shows them a kindness. We appreciate favourable words when we are congratulated for an accomplishment. We might even praise that person or the gift. The giver of the gift often feels gratified to have given it and to know the gift was pleasing. On top of all that, we are often encouraged to express gratitude in spite of circumstances that don't seem to be so favourable. Sometimes we're able to accept disappointment with good grace. Doing so can also be gratifying -- at some point, anyway, even if not right way.
I encourage you to ponder the universality and gifts of gratus. Notice its presence in your thoughts and emotions. Express it in response to your daily experiences. Share it with others. Stop and acknowledge what is pleasing and favourable to you now. Let the roots of gratitude grow deeper inside you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Premeditated Resentments

A friend recently told me how disappointed and angry she'd felt when a group leader made crass and hurtful statements to her and others in the group. This is a small organization aimed at helping people feel better and live better than they did the day or week before. "Crass and hurtful" are not the norm there. My friend felt betrayed by the leader's words and attitudes.

I definitely know how it feels to be disappointed by someone in a position of authority. I've felt similar shock, hurt, confusion and righteous outrage. He should know better! How can she say that?! He shouldn't do that.

However, I believe "should" is a useless word and approach. Although it seems natural to want our leaders to be all-wise, kind and in control, we know that's not always how it is. Whether we're talking about a parent who abuses a child, a politician who dips into the money bags, or a teacher who can't teach, it's just not helpful to throw around our "shoulds." They get in the way of our own peace of mind, and they sure don't add to the other person's desire to improve.

Another friend once told me, "Expectations are premeditated resentments." That makes sense to me, so instead of stuffing resentments into my emotional backpack, I aim for realistic optimism with others. I can't control them or fix them, even though sometimes I wish I could. Therefore, it helps if I'm clear about what I'm looking for without feeling bent out of shape if I don't get it.

When I meet with unexpected disappointment, like my friend did recently, I still have the choice about how much, if any, resentment I want to carry about it. I might have an emotional reaction at first, but I don't have to be ruled by my emotions. I might speak up about it, or I might decide to walk away. Either way, I can get rid of my resentments as soon as possible.

Do I manage this all the time? Definitely not. Am I getting better at it? Yes, definitely. A saying I believe in is Practice Makes Better. Never mind trying to be perfect. But, I can certainly get better at something, even if I never get perfect at it. That's a peaceful and responsible approach to life that works for me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Healing is Possible

If you have been sexually assaulted or abused, you might have experienced a range of physical reactions and results, such as:
  • varying degrees of physical pain
  • physical injuries
  • no physical pain
  • sexual pleasure (which can feel very confusing)
  • physical numbness
In addition to those common physical feelings, most children, teens and adults who've been abused also feel:
  • fear
  • anger or rage
  • shame
  • guilt
  • embarrassment
  • dread
  • isolation
  • confusion
  • "deadness" inside, lack of any feelings at all
  • helplessness
  • anxiety or nervousness
And in addition to all that, it's common for abused people to feel trapped by the abuser. The abuser might threaten to hurt another person or a pet, or to kill the victim as well as sexually assaulting him or her. Even if no threat is spoken, the abuse itself is a threat to safety, trust and security, so many victims say nothing.

Some people feel stupid for "getting caught," thinking they "should" have been able to predict or prevent what was going to happen. They feel they "should" have been able to fight the attacher off or avoid the attack.

Certainly, if you already knew the abuser, you might feel betrayed by him or her. And many people, especially children and adults who've already been victims of other physical violence, carry a deep feeling that they deserve to be assaulted in this way. They might feel responsible for the abuse.

If any of these responses to sexual abuse and assault sound or feel familiar to you, please know that although they are common reactions, you do not have to continue to feel this way.

You did not cause your abuse. You did not make someone else decide to attack you -- period. No matter where you were or what you wore or how old you were, you did not cause the abuse. You had the right to say "No" at any time, even if you were too afraid or  young or drunk or confused to say it out loud. Being unable to stop the abuse or assault is not the same as being responsible for the abuse or assault.

Help is available. You don't have to be alone. Many people are trained to help survivors of sexual abuse and assault.

Healing is possible. Absolutely. Many previous victims of abuse and assault have become able to live happy, secure, satisfying lives. They are free of the guilt, anger, shame and feelings of powerlessness created by the abuse.

You can move forward from where you are now.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Workbook for Teens and Adults

Filling out forms is quite a challenge for many people. In response to this fact, I co-wrote a workbook to help adults and teens learn some of the ins and outs of forms. Helpful to literacy, upgrading, ESL, and high school students, the workbook is called Fill It In -- Working with Forms, For Aboriginal Students.

Having worked in adult literacy and upgrading programs for many years, both Christianna Jones and I were happy to produce this book, published by Ningwakwe Learning Press in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. The workbook contains how-to information, an extensive glossary, a practitioners' section, resources, and practice forms useful for those working in:
  • Literacy and Basic Skills Levels 1-3, as formulated by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities
  • Essential Skills Levels 0-1, as formulated by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC).
The book gives students practise using forms from all areas of life -- personal, school, and work. Here are a few of the sixteen forms found in the workbook:
  • Book Order
  • Fax Cover Sheet
  • School Photo Consent Form
  • Daycare Application
  • Application for Registration of a Child under the Indian Act
  • Housing Application
  • Online Change of Address
You can order Fill It In and many other resources for the Native literacy field from Ningwakwe Learning Press at .

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Links to Manitoulin Island sites

Experience Manitoulin - authentic Manitoulin tourism experiences

The Manitoulin Expositor - your gateway to Manitoulin Island and the Island's two weekly newspapers

Manitoulin Family Resources - a community service provider for women, children and families on Manitoulin Island and the Northeast Shore of Lake Huron: children's services, women's shelter, 24-hour crisis line, court support services, counselling, outreach

Manitoulin Island Farmers' Market Association - We make it, bake it, grow it!

Manitoulin Media - print/web marketing solutions for Manitoulin and the North Shore

What is Sexual Abuse or Assault?

Sexual abuse/assault is frighteningly common, and many people misunderstand what it is and what it isn't. This article is intended to help explain sexual abuse and sexual assault so that victims, abusers, and family members can be clear. It is by no means a complete look at the subject, but it might provide a helpful starting place for you.

To begin with, "sexual abuse" is the term that is often used when referring to child victims or others who experience unwanted and repeated or long-term sexual behaviour. The term "sexual assault" generally refers to the particular act of unwanted sexual behaviour. For general purposes, either term may be used to name what has happened to you or someone you know.

Sexual abuse/assault happens to boys. It happens to girls. It happens to teens, women, and men. It happens to babies, elderly people, and to those who are handicapped. Sexual abuse/assault happens in every possible gender combination -- male to female, male to male, female to female, and female to male. Sexual abuse/assault occurs in isolation, one person abusing one person, and it also occurs in groups -- more than one person abusing one or more other people. It can happen once or over and over again.

In all cases, no matter what the circumstances, sexual assault is defined as any unwanted sexual act. Some examples of its many forms are: showing pornography to a child; making a threat about forced sex; unwanted touching (whether it hurts or not); forcing someone to touch another person (or animal) sexually; rape. Two key concepts are important:
  1. An adult who is threatened, tricked, or forced to engage in unwanted sexual activity of any kind is a victim of sexual assault/abuse.
  2. A child cannot ever be considered to give consent to any sexual act with an older or more powerful child, teen, or adult. (Although it might be difficult to pinpoint or define, and not everyone would agree, young children can quite healthily "play doctor" or be curious about another young child's sexual organs. The key is whether or not both young children were comfortable and agreed to their investigations.)
Many adults who were sexually abused as children find ways to cope with their past experiences. It's very common for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to:
  • forget the abuse or the abuser (this is a "surface" form of forgetting; the memories are still there)
  • drink alcohol, do drugs, work, overeat, under-eat, gamble, or over-exercise to bury the images, feelings, and memories
  • cut or burn themselves or physically harm themselves in other ways
  • attempt or succeed at suicide
  • engage in risky sexual activity
  • have sex with many people
  • have trouble, or make trouble, at home, work, or school
All of these reactions to childhood sexual abuse can help keep memories buried -- at least for a time. They can help you raise a family, go to school and work, have fun with your friends, and so on. The problem with these forms of coping is that they will not make the memories go away, and they will not help you actually deal with those memories. And of course they are often damaging to you and your loved ones.

"I thought I'd dealt with it." So many adults I've worked with have said these words! But drowning or temporarily forgetting painful memories is not the same as actually dealing with them -- and healing from them.

You can do so much to help yourself. You can tell someone, even if you've never told anyone before. You can learn tools to help you work through the terror and rage. You can learn that you are not to blame for being abused.

In future articles I will offer suggestions and information about childhood sexual abuse and what it can be like to heal from it. In the meantime, call your local women's shelter, crisis phone line, or counselling centre to find help. And here are some Internet resources that also might be helpful:

Ontario Women's Directorate -- Sexual assault: What every girl and woman should know

American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress --

Learning and Violence --

Rape Victim Advocacy Program --

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Word Wonder -- solitude

1. The state of being solitary or remote from others; seclusion

[From the Latin word solitudo, which comes from the Latin word -- you guessed it -- solus, meaning "alone"] - Funk & Wagnalls Canadian College Dictionary

The word "solitude" turns things upside down from the often negative connotation of being alone. Solitude is desired and sought by spiritual seekers and stressed out citizens. It implies rest, renewal, refreshment. Solitude often brings connection to spirit and nature -- all so contrary to many people's perception of being alone or solitary.

The words "solitude" and "alone" are called doublets because they came from the same original word (solus), but they entered the language through different routes. Another example of a doublet pair are the words "royal" and "regal."

So "alone" and "solitude" have the same origin and the same basic meaning but such different emotional definitions! And just as the use of a word can change over time in a culture, it can change over time in your own mind.

Allow yourself to seek solitude, to be alone, to enjoy solitary pursuits. What a treat these can be!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Loving Problematic Spanish

In June 2009, publisher Jordi Nadal, owner of Plataforma Editorial in Barcelona, Spain, published the Spanish edition of the book I wrote with my brother, psychotherapist Bill Klatte -- It's So Hard to Love You -- Staying Sane When Your Loved One is Manipulative, Needy, Dishonest, or Addicted (New Harbinger. 2007.) -- a book for people dealing with difficult personal relationships.
The Spanish edition, Que Dificil es Quererte, is discussed in an article by Clara Bassi for Consumer Eroski, a general interest online magazine from Spain. Based on an email interview between Clara Bassi and me, the article is entitled "Como convivir con un ser querido problematico." 
Clara Bassi's article can also be found at , a website called Bahia Noticias, originating in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Follow the links above to buy the book, read the article, and explore the online magazines.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dealing With Difficult Relationships -- in six languages

When my brother, psychotherapist Bill Klatte, and I published our book It's So Hard to Love You -- Staying Sane When Your Loved One is Manipulative, Needy, Dishonest, or Addicted (New Harbinger 2007) a couple of years ago, it was a most exciting accomplishment. Our purpose in writing this book was to help people learn to deal more effectively with difficult relationships. It has been gratifying to see the book being accepted by over ten thousand English readers.

Over the past several months, It's So Hard to Love You has also been published in Polish and Spanish. The Polish title is Jak kochac klopotliwych bliskich? and is published by sensus. Que Dificil es Quererte was published in June 2009 by Plataforma Editorial in Barcelona, Spain.

Speakers of French, Arabic, and Finnish will also be able to read It's So Hard to Love You in their own languages in the coming months. Keep an eye out for these other three editions.

Word Wonder -- alone

1. Without company; solitary. To live alone

[From the Middle English word al one, meaning "solitary." The word "solitary" comes from the Latin word solus, which means "alone."] - Funk & Wagnalls Canadian College Dictionary

The words "alone" and "solitary" are so interwoven and laden with negative meanings that some people feel panicky at the very thought of being alone. Such fears can come from childhood trauma, personality traits, addictions, depression, and so on. Being alone is sometimes tied to feelings of not being safe, of being vulnerable, or of punishment, as in solitary confinement. It's also tied to beliefs that if we are alone, we must be less valuable than others who "have someone."

But look again at the definition of "alone." It simply means solitary, which means "living, being, or going alone." It does not have to mean "lonely," "lonesome," or "less than." Such ideas have been piled on top of these words...but you don't have to accept old definitions.

You can redefine your ideas about being alone. In fact, most of us need time alone to recharge, to get to know ourselves, to rest. You can choose your own definitions for words and for your life.

Word Wonder -- stupid

6. a general term of disparagement

[From the Latin stupidus, which means "struck dumb" which, in turn, comes from stupere, which means "to be stunned"] - Funk & Wagnall's Canadian College Dictionary

"Stupid" is such a loaded word! Yet you can see from its history that its meaning has changed over time. At first it meant "to be stunned." When we're stunned by an event or have received shocking news, we are easily stunned into silence -- struck dumb -- not stupid, just speechless.

Human beings can be nasty, and somehow, somewhere, that word stupere began to be used as an insult. Unfortunately, insults stick really well. So now, the word "stupid" is thrown around for all sorts of reasons and as a result of many actions and inactions. "He's so stupid." "How could you be so stupid?!"

This hurtful word is intended to make someone feel inferior. Many people learn the incorrect lesson that they are inferior to others, so they learn to accept -- and dish out -- the label "stupid".

But you can rethink your use of this word. You can distance yourself from its negative definitions by considering the following:

* Taking your time to speak is not stupid.

* Being different is not stupid.

* Lack of knowledge does not equal stupidity. Do you know anyone who knows everything? I don't know how to repair a car, but that doesn't mean I'm stupid; I just don't know how to repair a car.

* Making a mistake is not stupid. Every single human being makes mistakes, and some of them are very useful. Microwaves were accidentally found to melt the chocolate in a scientist's pocket. Silly putty was found by mistake when scientists were seeking a substitute for rubber. Somebody clumsily fell through an old floor and found King Tut's tomb. A woman who thought chunks of chocolate would melt and make the cookies chocolate made a really delicious mistake when she found out the chunks didn't melt completely.

Even if your mistakes don't lead to major discoveries for humankind, they still do not make you stupid. Ask yourself, "Would it help if I change what I'm doing so this doesn't happen again? What can I learn from this? "

You are not stupid. Period. You don't have to accept this label, and you don't have to fling it at anyone else.

Links to relationship & personal growth sites

Learning and Violence - extensive website on the effects of violence on people's ability to learn
Manitoulin Family Resources - a community service provider for women, children, and families on Manitoulin Island and the northeast shore of Lake Huron (Espanola and surrounding area): children's services, women's shelter, 24-hour crisis line, court support services, counselling, outreach

New Harbinger Publications - psychology and self-help books since 1973

Ningwakwe Learning Press - First Nations, Métis and Inuit literacy and education resources

Ontario Women's Directorate - provides focus for government action on issues of concern to women

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's So Hard to Love a Manipulative Person

Do you have a loved one who tries to manipulate you? Maybe you're not sure if her actions are legitimate or not. Maybe you feel like you're to blame for the lack of harmony between you. Or maybe you feel like you're going crazy almost every time you try to talk to this person.
Well, before you can learn to deal with a manipulative person, it can help if you're clear about what manipulation looks like. Here are five common tactics of this sort of crazy-maker:
  • seems to stubbornly refuse to understand you when you explain something
  • arranges situations to make you look foolish
  • says one thing but does another
  • tries to "make you" feel responsible, inadequate or guilty
  • brings up problems or requests in front of other people, making it hard for you to be honest or to refuse
If any of this sounds familiar, you may be dealing with a manipulative person. So what can you do? You can begin to take control of your part of this relationship without giving up, giving in, or belittling your loved one in return. By adjusting your thoughts and actions, you can improve how you feel about your crazy-making manipulator and deal more effectively with his behaviour.

You have many choices in how you think about and act toward this person. Consider the following responses to the five examples of manipulation listed above:
When she seems to stubbornly refuse to understand what you're saying:
  • Your thoughts --> Remember that though you've spoken as clearly as you can, you cannot force anyone else to understand you, whether they're genuinely trying to comprehend or not.
  • Your actions --> Say your piece only once. More than that might just be helping her frustrate and manipulate you.
When he arranges a situation to make you look foolish:
  • Your thoughts --> However embarrassing this is, know that his (or anyone's) opinion of you is far less important than your opinion of yourself.
  • Your actions --> You can remain silent or state calmly that his version is not the whole story. Then you can leave the situation or stay, depending on your preference.
When she says one thing but does something else:
  • Your thoughts --> You might need to learn not to count on what she says, even if she seems sincere. You don't have to let her sincerity or deceitfulness rule your choices.
  • Your actions --> Don't base your plans on her plans. Make your own plans, which can include your loved one if you choose.
When he tries to "make you" feel responsible, inadequate or guilty:
  • Your thoughts --> Remember that no matter how much you love this person, and no matter what he says, you are in charge of your own choices and feelings.
  • Your actions --> You can say something like, "That seems to be how you see it, but I see it differently." Then do or don't do whatever seems best to you in that situation.
When she makes requests or statements in front of other people that feel embarrassing or difficult to respond to:
  • Your thoughts --> Keep in mind that manipulative people want to feel superior and on top of things, but that you do not need to accept their actions or let them determine what you say or do.
  • Your actions --> You might stay silent, or you might calmly say something like, "This isn't a good time for us to talk about this, but I'm willing to talk about it later."
These few suggestions can give you some ideas for taking a new direction. You do not have to allow anyone else to manipulate your feelings, thoughts or actions. Why they do this is less important than how you respond, so put your valuable energy into creating new responses, and you'll find new energy to live your life -- no matter how your loved one chooses to live his or hers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Choice is Yours

A few years ago, I was dealing with a difficult family situation that was bringing on a lot of stress, frustration and resentment. As I wrote and doodled about the situation in my journal, I printed a question in big, stressed letters: "So What Am I Going To Do About It?". I think I wrote and printed it several times, taking out my frustration and confusion on the paper and pen.

After a while, I noticed all those capital letters and wrote them down, too: S-W-A-I-G-T-D-A-I? The acronym looked almost like a word, and I pronounced it "swag-tuh-day." I thought, Well, Kate, what are you going to do about it? SWAIGTDAI? I spent a while coming up with possible answers to that question and slowly worked my way out of my frustration and confusion. The situation didn't go away instantly, but I found ways to handle it that worked for me and didn't include striking out at anybody.

I told my family about SWAIGTDAI and how it was helping me focus on my options and strengths, and we started to use it in all sorts of situations. We quickly found it can also work when you say it -- with love, not sarcasm -- to someone else: SWAYGTDAI? So What Are You Going To Do About It? Both versions of SWAIGTDAI are meant as gentle and firm reminders that we have choices, even if we can't see them at first or don't like them.

For example, if a family member steals from me, I have several choices in how I respond:
  • scream and yell
  • cry
  • talk calmly with the thief
  • tell everybody in the family about it
  • not talk about it at all
  • give the silent treatment
  • kick the person out
  • call the police
  • not call the police
  • etc.
Some of those possibilities might seem so obvious that they don't look like choices at all, but they are. And every one of them is in my power to act on or not act on, even though the whole situation and my possible reactions might feel difficult at the time.
Every day, every hour, and minute brings choices for us to make. We can make choices that work for us or against us. We can think, feel, and act in ways that ease a tough situation or make it harder. So when you feel confused, frustrated, or just plain stuck, ask yourself, "SWAIGTDAI?" Then be willing to try the answers you get.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Build a Short Fence in Your Tough Relationship

Some relationships are tricky. You ride up and down, in and out, and still you hang on as best you can, even when the going gets tough. If you have problems with somebody you love – your spouse, son, aunt, friend, or whomever – you know how exhausting and scary this roller coaster ride can be.

Relationships like this are described well in these lines from the song, “Put Some Love into It,” by
The Laws, a married duo from Seeleys Bay, Ontario, Canada:

Life can be a bed of roses,
Sometimes it’s just a bed of nails.
You’re up one day, down the next, it never fails.

People want their relationships to bring love, companionship, fun, support, and happiness. But if you're in a relationship that brings the opposite -- chaos, worry, sadness, frustration, hurt -- you might be feeling very discouraged. So what can you do to smooth out the ups and downs of your difficult relationship? How can you feel more peaceful and less worn out?
...By changing your approach and your thinking. You can consider new ideas, learn new skills, and change your actions. Take a look at this:
Imagine that you have next-door neighbours whose messy yard really bugs you and even messes up your yard. Their weeds broadcast seeds that take hold in your lawn. Their overflowing garbage can smells awful, and their dog drags the refuse onto your porch. They never cut their grass. Rusting cars and old appliances fight for space in the front yard. But as much as their stuff bothers you, are you going to go over there and weed the garden, haul the junk to the dump, and cut the grass? Not likely. Why not? Because it's their mess, not yours.
The same is true for your troublesome loved one's life. It's his mess, not yours -- even though it sometimes messes up your life and even though you love him. So since the mess is not yours, and you didn't cause it, and you can't control it, how about trying something different?
Here's a useful tool to help you do that. Picture a short fence, about knee height, standing up between you and your problematic loved one (between your yard and his messy yard). Now, each time your relative or friend gets drunk or yells at his kids or gets fired, picture yourself walking right up to that short fence. But you do not step over the fence, even though it's low enough for you to do so. You stop at the fence because whatever is on the other side belongs to your loved one, not to you. Picture yourself feeling love for that person, and then turn around and walk away. Find something to do that pleases you. Get a hug from somebody else. Watch a movie. Go for a walk. Do something that helps you stay on your side of the short fence and respect that your loved one's life (messy yard) is theirs to fix, not yours.
Here are two examples of how to stay on your side of the short fence:
  • If your sister comes over when she's drunk and wants to drink your booze, don't try to convince her to stop drinking. You could tell her you'll talk with her when she's sober or when she decides to get help, but you won't help her drink. Your short fence reminds you that you cannot control her drinking, and her drinking problem isn't yours to fix.
  • When your husband gives you the silent treatment because he's angry with you, remember that how he reacts to you is not yours to fix. You did not make him choose that reaction, and you can't make him change it. Even though the silent treatment can feel painful and confusing, you can choose to stay on your side of the short fence by getting on with your daily activities. You might calmly tell your husband that you're prepared to talk when he's ready and that you're not allowing his anger to make you feel punished. You have things to do, and you're going to enjoy your life with or without his silence or his participation.
An important key to the short fence is that you stay "in your own yard" without pointing your finger at your loved one. The short fence is not an excuse to hurl insults or blame from a safe distance; it's an opportunity to let go of anger and blame and to make positive choices for yourself. It gives you the energy to live your life and, if he decides to change, to be ready to move forward together.
The short fence can help you remember that each of us has his or her own life to live. We are each responsible for our own choices. We cannot change or control anyone but ourselves. With troublesome loved ones (TLOs for short), life and love can certainly feel more like a bed of nails than a bed of roses. However, by living your own life as well as you can (by staying on your side of that short fence), you can start to grow some roses and offer your TLO a healthier form of love. And then, as the Laws’ song goes on to say:

Love can help you climb a mountain,
Take you where you want to go.
No need to be afraid,
So have a little faith, in something we already know...
Don’t hold nothin’ back,
Remember what we’re living for,
And you’ll get so much more.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Keeping a Journal 101

Writing in a journal or diary is a useful and simple way to sort through your thoughts and feelings. You can write words you would never speak. You can draw and muse and meander or record daily events and weather.

I have a friend who has written in her diary every single day since she was a girl, and she's now in her sixties. Some of her entries are very short and simple -- Storm today, for example -- while others contain significant ups and downs, emotions and ideas. While I don't come even close to that sort of constancy, my journals provide me with a welcome outlet for muddled thoughts and exploding emotions, for plans and possibilities.

In most journalling workshops I offer, some participants have never kept a journal and feel they don't know how to start. In response I quote The King in Alice in Wonderland: "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop." In other words, just get started. What you need to say will come out, and you can stop when you're done. Spelling and punctuation are not important, and it doesn't matter when or where you do your writing.

So find yourself a simple spiral notebook, a beautiful hardbound journal, or a new "sheet of paper" on your computer and give it a try. I suggest you write the date at the top of each entry; it can be interesting to look back later and see what you thought or what was going on at this time in your life.

Here are two good ideas to start with if you've never journalled before or would like to get back to it:

  1. Write this sentence starter and then finish it with whatever comes to mind: I have no idea what to write, so I'll write about the time somebody said to me...
  2. Describe the weather at this exact moment or when you first woke up. Does the weather affect your mood or what you do?
From time to time I will offer other journalling ideas in this space. Have fun, record your life for posterity, or explore your inner workings. Your journal won't tell.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's So Hard to Love a Needy Person

A needy adult is one who frequently and regularly wants more than you have to offer. They feel inadequate or lonely and they expect you or others to fix their problems and to "make them" feel needed, wanted and loved -- in short, feel better than they do on their own. (My comments here do not refer to children, teenagers, the elderly, or sick people -- though at times these folks can ask for more than you have to give.)

Certainly, there's nothing wrong with feeling loved and appreciated or with demonstrating affection. It can feel deeply satisfying to know you've helped someone who's having a hard time or to work side by side with a loved one.

However, some people's requests and demands don't seem to stop, no matter how much you do. If this is the case for you, and you're feeling drained and frustrated, be reassured you can definitely do something to feel better. Try these suggestions:
  • Recognize that both you and your TLO (troubled, troubling or troublesome loved one) have all the strength, value, and skills needed to live contentedly. Tell yourself, "We're both adults, and we both have all we need to do what is good in our lives."
  • Know that you cannot change the other person -- but you can change how you interact with him or her.
  • Consider what you've done so far to help this person. Pay attention to what happens when you do those things. Does the situation change? How, and for how long? Do some things you do work better than others? Does your TLO get better at solving her own problems?
  • Notice how you feel before, during and after your TLO asks for or demands your help.
  • Then, choose one situation that drains you and decide to change one of your responses to it.
  • Evaluate your new approach by writing it out or discussing it with somebody you trust.
  • Practice this new response until it feels comfortable and works at least most of the time. Or change your response until you find something that does help you feel less responsible for your TLO's situation.
  • Realize that these suggestions can help with many difficult interactions and that some changes will come quickly, while others will take longer. Be patient; we're all works in progress.
Remember that even if a needy person's demands never seem to end, you do not have to fulfill them. Helping is one thing; fixing everything is quite another. Give yourself permission to say "no" when you choose to, and you'll find more energy for moving forward and showing genuine love to others.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Relationships, healing and a helping hand...

Need help with relationships? Want to feel better about yourself and your life? Join me here, at Kate Thompson on Manitoulin, for help with what's not working for you now. As I continue to build this site, you'll find journalling ideas, relationship suggestions and tips, personal healing help, encouragement, links to related sites, and updates on my writing and activities.