Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Silence is...golden and deep

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A number of years ago I attended a weekend retreat for women. On the first night, after supper, we were told that we would all spend the evening and the night in silence. I had never done anything like that, but I was intrigued.

It was a strange and lovely time. About fifty women of all ages moving around, sitting together, reading, writing, drawing...but not talking. The beauty and power of those hours stayed with me.

Then a few years ago, I offered two retreats for women, and both of them included periods of silence. Every woman who attended said those times were easier than she'd expected them to be. They also agreed that the silence was gentle and strong and almost tangible. Women wrote and sat together, sewed, walked.

The silence surrounded and filled us, and it soon became like a wonderful friend whose presence is welcome and comforting. I encourage you to find ways to take part in communal silence, even for just an evening or a day. You may be surprised at what you find there.

During the last afternoon, I wrote the following poem to express how the silence and the weekend felt to me.

Silent Treat

Silence settles around us – a shawl,
surrounding us with such substance,
i am almost surprised i can’t see it.
Soft containment.

Impossibly silken fog becomes the air we breathe,
and within which we grow --
heal and rest.

Souls planted firmly on the ground,
arms reach for wind and rain and sun.

Silence settles within us…

To find our Selves.
Each lowered i rises,
       becomes we...

We descend into silence
and become.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Word Wonder -- stout

Saturday, July 24, 2010

1. Strong or firm of structure or material; sound; tough. 2. Determined; resolute. 3. Fat; bulky; thickset. 4 Substantial; solid. 5. Having muscular strength; robust. 6. Proud; stubborn.

Last night I went for the second time to a local community theatre's production of Iolanthe, one of many works created by the British musical team of Gilbert and Sullivan in the late 1800s. Afterwards I asked my actor friend, Peter, to explain the meaning of a particular gesture one character had made during the performance; I hadn't been able to figure out what it was supposed to mean either time I saw it. He told me the gesture was meant to contribute to that scene's song about a character who had once been stout but was now virtually wasting away because of unrequited love.

This led us into a chat about the multiple meanings of the word "stout," and I, unable to resist word etymology, looked it up this morning. You've read most of its various meanings above. And, so, why am I writing about it in this blog? Because of its third meaning: fat.

In many circles, those who are fat, stout, thickset are considered to be of less value than those who are not. Some would protest that I'm exaggerating, but I really don't think so. If fatness were considered to be preferable, or even acceptable, stout women would adorn the covers of fashion magazines and freelance writers would get rich writing articles entitled "Gain 10 Pounds in Time for Christmas" and "5 Recipes to Ensure the Chunky-Bikini Look." Or how about, "Fat Men I Have Loved"?

I am not talking about the recognized health risks of being much overweight. I'm talking about the social and economic taboos against fat that permeate North American (and other?) thinking. I'm talking about women, men and teens who place tight bodies on mental and emotional pedestals. I'm talking about the preference for thin receptionists and CEOs, especially if they're female.

I am talking about pre-pubescent girls who go on diets so they'll be accepted and boys and men who masturbate while looking at pictures of naked, curvaceous, fat-free women and men. Chubby is unacceptable. And, by extension, the person who is chubby is deemed to be unacceptable.

But as I read the definitions above and mused about the range of meanings for "stout," I imagined a community in a time and place in which many people were poor and, therefore, malnourished and thin. They worked hard and died early of diseases related to poverty. A stout house, one made of substantial materials, was something to be cherished. Stout friends, those who were determined to help in times of trouble, were essential and appreciated. A stout, robust horse or cow was a prized possession.

Imagine now the few wealthy citizens in that community -- well-fed and having better medical care. They tended not to be so thin, and their physical well-being might have been seen to accompany their stubborn, proud, resolute ways. And so, being stout could also have come to mean "fat" as proof of one's wealth and position in society. It is certainly true that in some cultures and times, a man is/was considered to be a "real man" if his wife is/was fat,  proving him to be a good hunter and provider.

So, given that perceptions about body size are influenced by external conditions, I urge you to reevaluate your own ideas about size. Do we need to be brainwashed by magazine covers and movie stars striding along red carpets? We don't if we're willing to reconsider what we've been taught.

Does anyone know a wonderful, loving, intelligent person who is overweight? Of course. Have overweight people ever looked attractive or raised happy, responsible children? Obviously.

The place to start is to look at our own attitudes to stoutness. Do you think fat is ugly? Would you rather go out with a thin person than a heavy person, without getting to know him or her? Do you laugh at "fat jokes?" Have you ever looked in the mirror after a shower and felt disgusted or ugly because of cellulite or a roll in the middle?

These responses are learned. They are not "right" or "wrong." They are the results of conditioning, and they can be changed. You can change your own subtle, "subterranean" feelings about beauty and worth.

My intention with Word Wonders is to encourage us to rethink our assumptions. Be a stout individual -- one who is determined and resolute in your determination to examine deep-lying attitudes. Being physically stout does not have to negatively define anyone, but it will as long as we let it do so.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Website for Sexual Abuse Survivors

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I have recently learned about a website dedicated to "Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) Working Together To Heal, Recover, and Enact Change and Understanding to Confront the Effects of CSA Throughout An Adult's Life."

The website is hosted by the Let Go...Let Peace Come In Foundation (click here to visit the site), which is based in the United States but aims to reach survivors all over the world. Their mission statement reads:

The mission of Let Go, Let Peace Come In is to bring healing, support, and awareness to the hundreds of millions of adult childhood sexual abuse survivors and their families worldwide. We plan to enact change within the healthcare systems, political systems, and societies by teaching and educating through the current technologies. We will weave our message of peace, hope, recovery and happiness into the fabric of these societies by integrating published materials with video, audio and Internet media throughout the world. And we will raise money for a non-profit fund to provide the financial assistance necessary to start survivors of childhood sexual abuse on the path to recovery “one” survivor at a time.

What I've seen of the website so far impresses me. Anyone who has been abused is encouraged to explore the site and write in if they wish. Professionals and others who have expertise or interest are also welcome to participate in the ongoing work of the Foundation.
If you were sexually abused as a child or know anyone who wishes to learn about sexual abuse and healing, this resource might be helpful.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sexual Abuse: A Powerful Secret

Friday, July 16, 2010

People who have been sexually abused or assaulted experience a wide range of feelings. Depending on the circumstances, it is very common to feel some or all of the following:
  • confusion
  • shame
  • physical pain (often, but not always)
  • fear, terror
  • despair
  • anger, rage
  • guilt
  • disgust
  • sadness
  • loneliness
  • disconnection from self
  • isolation from others
  • hatred
  • depression
  • dread
  • shock
  • desperation
  • a belief that she or he deserves the abuse
  • betrayal
  • abandonment
  • a desire to protect siblings from the abuse
  • guilt and/or relief when another sibling gets abused instead
  • denial
  • responsibility
This mix of responses to sexual abuse can be truly overwhelming. In addition, this terrible "package" is wrapped up in a powerful layer of secrecy. This secrecy might be conveyed by the abuser directly: "Don't tell anyone, or you'll really pay." Even when such threats are not spoken out loud, most victims feel so overwhelmed with the above feelings that they don't know how to tell or whom to tell. In many cases, they do not have the words to describe their experiences, or they can't see how anybody would believe them.

And so the secret gains power.

If no one knows about the abuse, no one can stop the abuse or help the victim. If it continues, the victim often finds ways to just keep getting up each day and trying to live as "normal" a life as possible -- school, play, work, relationships. He or she finds ways to cope after the abuse ends, too, and learns to believe it's been dealt with.

And so the secret gains power.

The years go by, and the terrible memories go deeper and deeper. Outward ways of coping, such as addiction, promiscuity, workaholism, depression, suicidal thoughts are blamed for life problems instead of being seen as very human long-term responses to earlier abuse, degradation and neglect.

And so the secret gains power.

Though this sort of pattern is common for many, it does not have to continue. At any time, someone who has been victimized can tell someone else about what happened. It is never, ever too late to tell. It's never too late to reach out and grab a helping hand. It's never too late to begin recognizing the past for what it was -- somebody else acting out his or her need to control.

The secret loses its power when you talk about the abuse. Telling is rarely easy at the beginning, but you can learn the skills needed to heal.

Over the years, I have often talked openly about the sexual abuse I lived with as a child. I have talked just as openly about what I've done to heal. Nearly every single time, someone has come up to me afterwards and said, "I never told anybody, but that happened to me, too."

And so the secret loses its power.

I encourage you to talk about what happened to you. It is not your fault if someone abused you as a child or assaulted you as an adult, and you no longer have to carry it alone.

Please talk to a counsellor, spiritual leader, police officer, friend or anyone you feel you can. If that person doesn't know how to help you, talk to someone else. Not everyone knows what to say or how to help, but many people do. And those people are ready, willing and able. Give them a chance to help you end the power of the secret.

Friday, July 9, 2010

How to Use This Blog

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Now that I've had my blog going for a year, it might be a good idea to pass on some pointers for using it. I didn't do so before, as I wanted to work the kinks out; plus, life has happened in difficult ways this winter, so I'm just getting back into the swing.

I have been delighted to discover how much I enjoy keeping this blog. Its eight sections are:
  1. blog posts -- Most of these are dated. In each post, I offer information, suggestions, and resources to help with relationships, healing and personal growth. At the bottom of each post you'll see the small green word "comments." I would love it if you'd click that link and leave a comment, telling what you thought of the post or how it helped you. I do my best to respond to every comment. Below the comments, you'll see the labels -- or main topics -- covered in that post. Posts are located on the left side of your screen. Everything else is located on the right side of your screen.
  2. A Helping Hand -- This is where I introduce myself and give an overview of my blog's purpose.
  3. Contact -- This section gives four ways to reach me or learn about me, plus a list of the types of services I offer.
  4. Blog Archive -- Here you'll find a chronological list of all my posts. Click on any year or month to see what I wrote during that time; then click on any titles that interest you.
  5. Links -- This brief list offers links that I think are relevant to this blog or which I wish to support by mentioning them here.
  6. Labels -- This long alphabetical list helps you find information or support on a particular topic. The number beside each label shows how many posts refer to that label. To explore a topic, just click on the green word (such as "abuse" or "responsibility"), and you'll be taken to a page in my blog which shows every post using that label. To return to the most current page of my blog, just click the header (Kate Thompson on Manitoulin) or the Refresh button on your browser.
  7. Followers -- These are people who check into my blog regularly or who want to show support for the blog. To become a follower, which requires nothing of you, click the "Follow" button near the top of this section. A new window will open that takes you through a very brief sign-up process. If you do this, I thank you! If you don't, I still thank you for checking out my blog.
  8. Twitter Updates -- Though I've fallen behind this winter, you can connect to me easily on Twitter by clicking those links. I'd love to hear from you there or any way mentioned in my Contact section.
I hope you've found this explanation useful. I invite you to bookmark my blog in your Favourites or to follow me. Maybe I'll be able to lend you a helping hand sometime, or maybe your comments will be useful to someone else.

Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Reality of Sexual Abuse

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In past months I have written a number of posts about sexual abuse and assault. (To find them, scroll down the long, alphabetical list of Labels in the right-hand column of this blog page. Click on "sexual abuse/assault.") In those posts, I've defined sexual abuse and described common feelings people have when they are abused in this way. I've offered resources to look into.

As I've also said before, people of all ages, genders, educational levels, financial backgrounds, religions and cultures experience sexual abuse. These photos represent this diversity. As sad as they are, I encourage you not to turn away. The sadness, shame, confusion, loneliness and fear you see in these faces reflect the reality for many. If you find these images and words difficult to take in, imagine what it is like for those who have experienced the abuse themselves.

Do not leave them alone with their pain any longer.

Current official statistics indicate that 1 out of every 3 females experiences sexual abuse before the age of 18. One in every 6 males does, too. Many who work in the field believe the numbers are higher, but due to the power of this terrible secret, many victims never disclose the abuse they endure.

No matter what the numbers may actually be, here is a way to turn the stats into human reality. Think of any common setting in which you find yourself on a regular (or irregular) basis -- the grocery store, church, work, an airport, etc. Stop and look around. Count off every third or or sixth person in that place and realize that the chances are very good that you are seeing the number of people who have been or will be abused sexually.

Every third or sixth person in your community has been touched sexually without giving permission; or has been forced to look at sexual pictures against his or her will; or has been raped; or has been forced to perform sexual acts on another person or an animal; or has been exposed to some form of unwanted sexual touching or activity.

Every third or sixth person has felt so terrified, betrayed, threatened and confused that she or he cannot tell what has happened. He or she may not even have words to describe the abuse, even if they wanted to try.

Every third or sixth person you see around you is doing his or her best to carry unbearable memories deep inside...and still live daily life as "normally" as possible.

If you have never encountered sexual abuse yourself, you may find it hard to believe, accept or face. But be assured, sexual abuse is a regular, nightly, daily occurrence around the world. In your town. Probably on your street. You owe it to yourself, your loved ones and your community to learn about sexual abuse. Find out what you can do to support healing for those who need it.

Healing is absolutely possible!

If you are one of the people I am talking about, give yourself huge credit for making it this far. You're not as alone as you may feel. You are not to blame. You can learn to understand what happened to you and deal with your difficult and overwhelming feelings.

Everyone can make choices to help themselves and others move forward. Talk to a counsellor, trusted friend, police officer or religious leader. Read about sexual abuse online and in books.

You do not have to carry this alone.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July - Warmth & Well-being for 31 Days

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Today is Canada Day for me and just about Independence Day for Americans. As I've said in other first-of-the-month columns this year, I have mixed feelings about some holidays. However, I am grateful to live in this country. Canada is, of course, not perfect, but Canadians enjoy many freedoms and opportunities. I feel grateful to live here. It is the land of my heart, though not the land of my birth.

So, as I begin a new month with thoughts of gratitude and celebration, I offer these other July observances for your consideration:

Freedom From Fear Of Speaking Day - July 2
For many who have been abused, neglected or otherwise discounted, it can be very difficult to speak up. So much of what I believe in and write about has to do with undoing degrading messages. One part of this undoing is starting to speak up for yourself. As with many personal changes you choose to make, you might find this one easier to kick-start with small changes. Say "no" when asked to do a chore you really do not want to do. Don't just go along with the crowd that does something you disagree with. Tell someone you trust how you really feel about a difficult topic or decision. On July 2 give yourself the challenge and the chance to speak up and speak out.
Take Charge Of Change Week - July 9-15
Click on this link,, to find tips and resources for making change in various aspects of life.
Toss Away The "Could Haves" and "Should Haves" Day - July 15
Here is another great chance to change your thinking about yourself. For this one day, July 15, remind yourself not to say or even think the words "could have" and "should have." These words are so loaded with shame, guilt, blame and regret. What's more, the words and the thinking behind them drain away the energy you could be using to stay in the moment, to feel, act and think positively.
World Youth Day - July 15
See my comments below about National Make a Difference to a Child Month. Honour the young people you know and encounter. Be willing to drop your assumptions about them. Encourage their questions and support their efforts. Love them, respect them, enjoy them.
Parent's Day - 4th Sunday of every July

Visit the American National Parents' Day website at 
Mental Illness Awareness Month

Social Wellness Month

Purposeful Parenting Month

Family Reunion Month

National Make a Difference to Children Month

The other day I wrote about Dr. Gabor Maté, a physician working with addicts in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Maté states that every female and many of the males he has worked with who have serious addictions were abused as children. I have seen the same correlation between childhood trauma and addiction. So please, please make a difference to one child this month (for starters). Speak out against childhood sexual abuse. Learn how to spot the symptoms of abuse. Love the children in your sphere by offering them consistent care, respect, smiles and safety. Be a trustworthy, safe adult so children have someone to go to with their struggles and questions. DO NOT SHAME CHILDREN. Don't laugh at them when they make mistakes or do something differently than you think it should be done. Allow for individuality and teach them solid practices. Don't guilt or coerce them into compliance. Do what you say you will do. Make a difference to the children around you.