Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

My car & I

Kelly Snow

I have to preface my blog with a backstory. I will try to make it quick.

In 2011, I was hired at the Howard Johnson Hotel by the Falls by a gentleman named Fernando Morales, who was my manager. This was one of my first summer jobs, where I worked throughout university. Fernando became more than just a boss to me – he was a mentor, a leader, and a dear friend. Even after we both left the hotel for other positions, we remained connected and worked together on other projects.

In 2014, I was looking for jobs after college, and I happened to score an interview with the Ontario Minister of Labour’s Chief of Staff. As a Labour student, this was my dream job. She called me on the Friday of that week and asked me to come in to meet the Minister himself on Monday. I had called Fernando in a brief panic and asked for advice on interviewing – he had done hundreds of interviews during his career – and his powers of persuasion were second to none. He suggested we get together and he generously took the evening off work for me, paid for our meals, and at the end, he thanked me for coming to him for help. He told me that it meant a lot to him that I came to him for this first. If I learned anything from my time as one of Fernando’s lucky staff, I learned to work hard (although, that was a lesson I learned first from my own father), and to be generous with my time and my resources – and my blessings. I learned to treat anyone who came to me for help the same way I’d want my own family to be treated.

In November of last year, Fernando was in a car accident on his way to work. He was airlifted to Sunnybrook hospital where he passed away. Not a week later, I was also in a car accident after being clocked by another driver. I was fine, if a little shaken up, but my car was written off. Fernando’s funeral was on a Saturday, and I spent the latter part of that same weekend car-shopping.  I bought a bright blue 2016 Prius C and it was special because it was the first car I bought brand new. It was the first time I could afford to do so –  a steady job allowed me to be a bit pickier than I had been in the past. I’d like to think that it was partially on account of Fern – he had provided me with the tools necessary to obtain my first professional role out of college, which eventually lead to my current position. And I’d like to think that partaking in No Fixed Address is my way of paying forward and honouring the generosity and kindness he always showed to me.

 

Kelly Snow is on the YWCA Niagara Region’s Board of Directors and apart of the YW BOD NFA team.

IWD Q & A

I am very lucky to have so many strong, amazing and empowering female friends. We have had many discussions about how we don’t really feel affected by gender inequality because we grew up feeling equal to men and we have always been very independent. I have one amazing friend, Kelsey, who ended up becoming a tool and die maker, and is one of the only women not in an administrative role at the company she works for. She’s been featured in newspapers and magazines about her success in the field, and is a role model for other women to start a career in the trades. Our friend group always jokes about her success and badassness (that’s a word), and her ability to do, well, anything. She had graduated 2 different programs with honours and awards by the time most of us had graduated university. When we were talking about International Women’s Day/Month at the last Blogger’s Meeting, I immediately knew I wanted to interview her about her journey in the tool and dye field.
Amazingly, she had been asked to instantly fly down to South Carolina to do some work at another factory. She was working non-stop down there and still found the time to answer these questions for me, so thank you!

D: So what the heck do you do for a living?

K: I am a red seal certified tool and die maker, I work for a company that builds the dies for many different companies such as Ford, GM, BMW, Mercedes etc. I work as a lead hand delegating jobs, fixing issues with the dies, making sure we meet the customers’ timelines, and provide a die that will make a dimensionally and cosmetically correct car part. My company often builds dies that produce more complicated parts and the ones consumers actually see, such as the body side, tailgate, and doors. Tool and die is a hard trade to describe to people, but there’s my attempt explaining it in one sentence.

Abandoned Conveyor Belt by darkday

 

D: Well you did a pretty good job at explaining it, in my opinion. Did you always want to be a tool and die maker, or what did you want to be when you grew up, as a child?

K: I remember as a child saying I wanted to be a veterinarian, often a popular choice with kids who like cats and dogs but I never obsessed over a certain career.

D: So what did you do after high school?

K: In high school I used the co-op placement to work at a bakery, and that experience helped me decide to go to George Brown College for Baking and Pastries Arts. I remember in grade 11, really having no idea what I wanted to do but knowing university wasn’t right for me, so I picked baking as a career path.

D: [Sidenote: Kelsey then became the friend we would force to make cakes for us when we had a party or holiday coming up.] So what made you want to change careers?

K: I found the culinary trade relies heavily on your passion for the work, and often the desire to open your own business. I enjoyed baking but you work long days, often really early mornings, and you have to work holidays. I never really got a chance to enjoy my time off, or get time off to begin with. I knew I would never open my own bakery and I felt the job would never allow me to be financially independent. All the job postings I was seeing for bakers were often lower paying with no benefits. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.

D: Okay, so you decided you wanted to do something different. What made you think of a tool and die worker?

K: I decided I didn’t want a career as a pastry chef, but I also didn’t know what I should do instead. My father works in the trades as an insulator and said he thought I would make a good millwright. That made me start looking into millwrights and possible schooling options. I discovered the Centre for Skilled Trades and Development in Burlington. They offered a Millwright/Tool and Die Pre-Apprenticeship Program affiliated with a company that would hire you depending on how the training goes. The program was also only 6 months, which was great because I wouldn’t have to take a long break from working full time. Based on the schooling, I decided I would become a tool and die maker (not a millwright) and was hired as an apprentice. I continued my training for 3 more years by going to Sheridan College one day a week while continuing to work. It was great because I wasn’t racking up any student debt (my tuition was only $400 a year) and received government grants from companies supporting the skilled trades.

D: What was your very first day on the job like?

K: The first day was extremely over whelming! No amount of classroom training can prepare you for, what looks like, such a chaotic environment. A production plant is fast paced with many moving elements. I could feel that eyes were on me. To make things worse, I didn’t have a proper work uniform yet so I felt really self-conscious walking around in my jeans since they are more form fitting than regular uniform pants.

D: Were you scared at all to work in a mostly male-dominated industry?

K: I feel like scared is the wrong term. I think I was just as nervous as anyone would be starting a new job, regardless of gender. I had no idea if and how I would be accepted. I honestly believe the men I worked with were just as nervous and worried that they might say something wrong or inappropriate to me. For the first couple months, I don’t think I had a genuine conversation or joked around with any of my coworkers. The conversation was often super formal or just filler talk about the job. It definitely became easier to bond with my coworkers when I got a new job at a different company that had more employees closer to my age.

It sometimes feels like high school, except I somehow ended up in the boys’ locker room.

D: What are you most proud of during your time in the tool and die industry?

K: My current role as a lead hand has come with a lot of responsibility, stress, and a strong feeling of pride. I am one of very few female tool and die makers and it’s even rarer for one to take on a supervisor type position. It is the most stressful and challenging job I have ever had, and that just proves to me what a smart decision I made with this career path.

D: What are some funny or crazy stories that you can share with us?

K: I have been in a fair share of strange, awkward, and funny situations at work; most times it becomes a good story to tell my friends and sometimes it’s something that really pisses me off. I can share that the men’s washroom is covered with graffiti and inappropriate writing on the walls. When a co-worker told me about that I was so confused because they were all working adults, I just didn’t get it. There was also a time when a mystery person was drawing penises all over the factory, and it got so bad that management had to get involved and start checking security cameras. It was so embarrassingly unprofessional and they never figured out who it was.

I remember at the first place I worked, there was this one line worker that wouldn’t stop asking me out. The first time he asked me, I politely said “no sorry, I have a boyfriend.” But he would still always ask to take me out to dinner! I would walk a different way around the shop to avoid him because it was always such an uncomfortable conversation. Eventually he quit or was fired, so I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. Now, if anyone asks me out I just immediately shut it down. I have worked at my current company for so long everyone knows me and that I’m married and it’s not a situation I face anymore.

Boys Locker Room by Mari Gildea

Other than that type of thing, every now and then at the lunch table someone will be looking at their phone and they start laughing and pass the phone around to the other guys at the table. Then they stop and realize I am also at the table and they don’t know if they should pass the phone to me or not. I guess they don’t want to take the chance of potentially offending me. It sometimes feels like high school, except I somehow ended up in the boys’ locker room.

More recently, I found myself working down in the States fixing issues an assembly plant had with the dies we built them. The plant manager would go and talk to one of the guys who was down there working with me and asked him for timelines and the progress of the job. My co-worker paused and proceeded to point at me and say “I don’t know, go ask my boss.” Honestly, I find nothing really phases me any more. I really enjoy my job and the work environment. The job is awesome; not just the work and the financial benefits, but all the entertaining stories I get to tell my friends.

D: Tell me about one of your biggest accomplishments, or something you are most proud of.

K: I have had a lot of success in my career, (considering I have only been working in this industry for 6 years) and I am already a lead hand at my company. But, I am the proudest of the fact that I am able to inspire other woman to work in the trades, and breakdown the preconceived beliefs about women working in this industry. Volunteering with Skills Ontario and talking to high school girls about the many career options out there brings me great pride. I have had a couple different women tell me that my career story gave them motivation to pursue a future in the trades.

D: What does your husband think about your profession?

When we were first dating and I told him I was quitting the bakery to go back to school for a tool and die maker, he was confused. Mostly because he had no idea what a tool and die maker was, and secondly because he didn’t want me to stop making delicious cookies. Now that he gets what I do every day, he is really impressed and proud of what I have been able to accomplish. However, sometimes he can get frustrated with the amount of hours I work. There are times when I will work 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week and get home and immediately pass out on the couch. We have talked about balancing work and life, and how there will be times when I have to work those long days, or randomly go to the States for three weeks for a job. He knows how important my job is to me, and he’s the person I confide in when I had a bad day, when nothing goes right, and when I’m questioning my abilities. My career has also been beneficial to him: he doesn’t have to be the sole breadwinner in our household, and was able to take a lower paying position with better options for advancement because I could support us.

D: Thank you, Kelsey! You can add this blog post to your wall of newspaper and magazine articles about how amazing you are!

K: [Eye roll and laughs]

Blogger Talk – Self-Care

Candice

Who do you know that has “Self-Care” down to a fine art?  Please give them a shout out and share why you admire this skill.

I believe that self-care is a journey, and with this I believe it will always be a working progress and commitment as it looks different with each activity or life event that happens for everyone.  There may be some who have mastered self-care in the moments or at this time, but I believe it is never truly mastered.  So instead of giving a shout out to one person, I would like to give a shout out to everyone who has embarked on a journey of self-care and what that truly means to them, to those who are currently working through what that looks like, and those who have mastered it in the moments.

Who do you know that has “Self-Care” down to a fine art?  Please give them a shout out and share why you admire this skill.

I believe that self-care is a journey, and with this I believe it will always be a working progress and commitment as it looks different with each activity or life event that happens for everyone.  There may be some who have mastered self-care in the moments or at this time, but I believe it is never truly mastered.  So instead of giving a shout out to one person, I would like to give a shout out to everyone who has embarked on a journey of self-care and what that truly means to them, to those who are currently working through what that looks like, and those who have mastered it in the moments.

Flipside to question 2, who would you give the gift of the ability to provide “Self-Care” to themselves?  What would you like to see them do for themselves?

I can’t think of one particular person, if that makes sense.  If I could I would give the gift of the ability to provide “Self-Care” to everyone.  I would encourage and challenge everyone to take on the journey of self-care and really give themselves permission to see what that looks like and means for themselves.  I would do this with everyone because it is needed with everyone, it is impossible to give to anyone else unless we are first giving to ourselves or to be present in the moments of life without being present within ourselves.

Is there a difference between “Self-Care” and Self-Love”?  If yes or no, please explain further.

I believe that self-care and self-love are directly related and that you can’t have one without the other.  Self-love is loving yourself enough to take care of yourself and giving yourself permission to ensure that you have self-care in whatever way needed.  Without self-love you wouldn’t be able to explore the true meaning of self-care and what that means for you.

Good at “Self-Care”?  Have you always been?  If not, what changed?  Please share.

For years when I thought about self-care I thought about my self-care looking like spending time with my kids, or my husband or my family, or even having a hot bubble bath.  Recently, I have been given a different outlook on self-care and what that means to me.  This all started with a time where I was struggling emotionally and having difficulty balancing, when talking to one of my space holders about my concerns and where I was at my space holder looked at me and said those magic words “what do you do for you when things get tough?” I automatically started talking about these above things, mostly around my kids, spouse and family, she then asked me the same question again… I didn’t get it at first until she explained to me that self-care is about filling my own cup up, and though these pieces are strategies used for self-care it is so much more than that.  For me in that moment I realized that for years I was trying to fill my own cup up through others without looking at what I really needed in those moments in order to care for myself in mind, body and spirit.  Since then I have dedicated myself to figuring out what my self-care needs to look like, and though I don’t think this will ever be mastered it is a working progress.  Since this time I have been able to realize that there are moments where I absolutely need to fill myself back up through the happiness of others however, there are also moments where I need to allow myself the freedom to do the opposite.  I need to give myself permission to leave the house without having the expectation of being a mom, wife, daughter, sister, Social Worker and just walk, just walk to clear my head without any interruptions.  I need to give myself permission to rest when my body says it needs to rest, and to have all emotions needed in those moments without guilt and shame.  I have realized that on overly tough days my self-care does look like a quiet bubble bath, but with that I also realized the importance in giving myself permission to have a good cry if it’s needed.  So in closing, I believe that self-care comes in so many forms and what I have learned for myself is that it depends on where the need for self-care is, but regardless of the need the important thing that I learned and continue to practice is to give myself permission to do the things I need to do for me to care for myself so that I can care for others.

Please share your tried and true “Self-Care” strategy that anyone reading this blog post could also do.

As stated above my tried and true self-care strategy is continuously in the works.  But with that it is loving myself enough to give myself permission to fill my own cup up whenever and however it’s needed without guilt and shame.

Donna

Finish this sentence:  The one thing for myself I would love to do but can’t seem to do it is ____Travel

Reflexology as my own business.  I see it in my future and I am taking baby steps to get there.

 

Please share your tried and true “Self-Care” strategy that anyone reading this blog post could also do.

Positive thoughts, in relation to the law of attraction.  I create positive energy around myself, and that is what comes back to me.  Try it, it really, really works.

What is your most luxurious “Self-Care” indulgence that you couldn’t possible do without?  Please share.

It is a combination, through trial and error that I have established to feed my soul: My monthly massage, practicing yoga, long bubble baths complete with scented candles, journaling and family game nights.  These are my must-have.  

Recommendations for a Very Good Bath: Finding Your Chill Zone

Jennifer

I’ve gained a reputation (in my house) as someone-who-takes-baths-very-seriously. I wasn’t always a serious bather; I showered almost exclusively from the ages of 12 –25, but the bath has recently become the most important part of my self-care routine. I’m on a one-bath-per-week minimum these days, and it’s an actual ceremony. It’s ~a dance~

Bath GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

I flip the laundry basket upside down and drape a towel over the hard plastic so that you can’t see the hard plastic (ambiance is Very Important). I strategically place my computer on top so it’s at the right height to watch in the tub, from where I’ve watched all of the classics: Gilmore Girls, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the Grinch (in season). I have a book too, or instead, probably something with feminist undertones, really. If I’m reading, the 8tracks playlist hastags like ‘Chill’ ‘Jazz’ ‘Winter’ ‘Relax’ or ‘Piano’.

 

I have a Very Big mason jar full of icy lemon-water or green tea, set in the front-left corner of the towel that’s draped over the laundry basket. I pull out one or two essential oils – maybe rosemary, then lemongrass, or maybe lavender, then bergamot – and I put them on the edge of the tub where they wait for me until I’m ready.

I flick the lighter and light the end of a Balsom Fir incense stick from a box that I was gifted by a friend at Christmas two years ago. I take a second to reflect on the almost-empty box. I know I’m going to miss the smell. It’s woodsy and it makes me feel like I’m outside. I light a candle or two, too.  I drop in the special combination of essential oils (the rosemary and lemongrass or the lavender and bergamot) at a rate of 10 drops per oil, and I hop in. For the next hour I inhabit a territory that I like to call a “chill zone”.

 

Chill•ŸZone noun The mental and/or physical space or state in which you are most comfortable, relaxed, zen, clear-minded, and peaceful.

 

Ideally, an act of self-care will allow you to spend time in your “chill zone”. I’ve bestowed this name upon a room before, but it isn’t always a physical space. It could be sitting on a bench taking deep inhales and exhales of fresh air. It could be drinking black coffee and starting a new book. It could be drawing in your journal while sitting beside a Vanilla scented candle. It could be watching a movie with your cat. Maybe it involves using something that a loved one gave you as a gift. Maybe it’s eating a big bowl of spaghetti bolognese with lots of Parmesan shaved on top while you listen to Amy Winehouse. Your “chill zone” is your own space and it’s up to you to find it and spend time there. For me, it’s a Very Good Bath, and I suggest that you give it a try.

 

 

Question of the Month: Self-Care

The question of the month is: In one of the coldest months of the year, how do you or your loved one’s take care of yourself?

Dana

I have felt extremely lucky the last couple of weeks because the weather hasn’t been too cold, so I have been happy to pretend that winter was on its way out (but as I am writing this, it’s very clear that winter is STILL here!) I always struggle with winter time, there is less sunlight, it’s cold out, and it limits what I can do. In the past I have found it very depressing, and all I want to do is cuddle up and eat carbs while waiting for spring. This year, however, my boyfriend and I adopted a rescue dog in October and it has completely changed our lives! I can say that Cooper (our wonderful dog) has completely brightened up these dark months and he is the reason why we are both taking better care of ourselves. Obviously, owning a dog means we are way more active, and that makes a huge difference in our moods. We are out playing/walking/hiking for at least 2 hours a day, which has led to our clothes fitting much better and our confidence growing! We also have gone to new places, taken on new adventures, and spent more quality time together. We are still huge fans of cuddling up on the couch, but having a dog to take care of has pushed us out into the world to discover new things. We have noticed that we both have more energy and get a lot more accomplished in the day.

Emotionally, having this wonderful addition to our family has made us so much happier and appreciative of what we have. I mean, how can you be down when you have an adorable dog looking at you for love 24/7? Cooper is an absolute joy in our lives, and he is definitely making these cold and dark months fly by. It is a little depressing going for a walk in the dark at 6 pm, but at least we are doing something together. Being outside is great for the soul, and now we make sure to enjoy and make use of every minute of sunlight we have! We are counting down until spring and can’t wait until there is warmer weather and new adventures to go on!

I think the biggest difference for me this year, is not allowing myself to get stuck in the ‘winter rut’ of secluding myself inside.

I am much happier getting out every day with the ones I love most, going on adventures on the weekends and enjoying that extra minute of sunlight we get every day!

McKenzie

During the darker winter months of the year, it can be tough to keep up with a self-care routine. Over the years I’ve learned that I’m a person that requires a lot of self-care in order to stay relaxed and rejuvenated, as well as to keep stress levels down. Everyone’s routine for self-care is different, and can take some exploring before you find what really works for you. Here’s a few things to try out the next time you’re in need of some “me time”!

Bubble Baths:
My #1 go-to self-care routine is definitely having a bath. I don’t skimp when it comes to a luxurious bath! When I’m able to afford it, I’ll take a trip to Bath & Body Works or Lush and stock up on bath bombs, face masks, soaps, and moisturizers to use for all of my self-care bath sessions, that way I’ve always got a stash to pick from when I feel like changing it up. I usually plan my bubble baths around the rest of a spa night, where I’ll do hair treatments or paint my nails as well… I really go all out. Once my face mask is on and the bath is ready, I’ll climb into the tub with a good book and soak for a good hour or so! You can modify your routine for a shower as well – I’ve even made rosemary and eucalyptus hangers that I put over the showerhead, so that when it gets hot and steamy, the beautiful smells start to come out and make for an amazing shower!

 

Pets:
Spending time with my furbabies is also another go-to in my self-care routine. Nothing makes me happier than snuggling with them! I currently own guinea pigs and a kitten, who are all very eager for love and attention. I love coming home after a long day and being able to cuddle them and spend time with them!


Journaling:

This is a great way to keep track of you and your life. I found that writing myself letters or writing about my day or how I’m currently feeling is very cathartic and can help me work through situations or emotions that are stressing me out. I really enjoy it because it feels like a personal therapy session with myself; I’m checking up on me, seeing where I’m at in my life during that particular day and working through it. Some days when I don’t really feel like writing I’ll draw little pictures or doodles too, or maybe add a few stickers if they’re lying around.

Meditation:
It requires some practice and dedication, but it is definitely worth it! Meditation has helped me relax when I’m going through a stressful time, and helps balance my emotions. I usually make my bedroom into a ‘zen room’ with candles and some calming music, set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes to start and sit quietly, being mindful of my breathing and letting thoughts come and go in my mind. Meditation can be tricky to get used to, and there’s even a bunch of free apps to help you get started!

Yoga:
It can also help with stress levels, but I love yoga simply for the fact that it’s easy exercise. I’m generally not the type of person who will go out for a run or go to a gym – I’m very much a homebody, so yoga is a fantastic way for me to still get my exercise without having to go out. I found it much easier to do than meditation at first because of the focus on the movements and stretching of the body. If you’re the type of person that has a tough time with sitting in one place for too long, definitely try it out!

Hopefully some of these ideas could help you start your own routine! All of these, paired with eating well and getting enough sleep each night really had a positive effect on my life and energy levels, and really encouraged me to put myself first and take really good care of my body and mind, especially during the coldest months of the year!

Let’s Do Something, Not Nothing

101 Men: An Innovative Approach to Ending Gender Violence

By Inspectable Todd Gilmore

November 18th, 2016, St Catharines, Ontario.

Let’s Do Something, Not Nothing.

If this event was called Men 101 it might be a training event for women to better understand why some men exhibit harmful behaviour towards women. We learned during the training that women have always taken a leadership role in ending gender violence so that’s an event that’s probably already occurred many times over. Women’s leadership on this issue was easy to see at the event itself. Behind almost all the display tables of community organizations that work to end gender violence, stood a woman. As we also found out during the training, if this event was called Men 101 it could realistically be a training program that explains why not enough is being done by men to end gender violence even after men participate in this training.

I believe the group of men I was with at 101 Men Event in St Catharines, Ontario will show courage and do something, not nothing.

I’ll start with this article.

Let’s be clear the main problem when it comes to gender violence is men abusing women.  This abuse can take a number of forms including verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual. To end gender violence we learned this has to be a “men’s issue” and men in positions of power and influence, like the men with me at the 101 Men Event, need to step up. And punch up, not down, if required.

We learned that the best place to influence or intervene is by attacking language, attitudes, beliefs, and aspects of our culture that support abusive behaviour towards women or make it seem acceptable. By the time the gender violence occurs it’s too late and we’ve missed a ton of opportunities to address the root causes of gender violence that are so pervasive around us. It can be as simple as using active instead of passive language. Passive language says “how many women were raped?” while active language says “how many men raped women?”. You can easily see that using passive language takes men out of the equation when the opposite should occur and the men involved should be held accountable.

“Passive language takes men out of the equation.”

General Marsden of the Australian military said it best when he made a statement of action while dealing with inappropriate men’s behaviour in his own organization.  He said “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

On Friday November 18th, 2016 I spent 8 hours with 101 Men, community leaders from across Niagara and the surrounding regions who were there because they want to take action. I saw an outstanding group of men who were there to make a change, to not walk past, to take ownership of a men’s issue and to create higher standards in their sphere of influence in order counter gender violence.

Join me in doing something, not nothing.

(Insp Todd Gilmore, OIC RCMP HNRD)

We must raise the bar

You’ve heard it before. You’ve been discussing an incident of domestic violence or sexual assault with or in the vicinity of men and a man has piped up and said, “That’s not my problem. I don’t abuse or assault women. I respect women and treat them right.”

And that’s all well and good, but maybe we need to raise the bar of what it means to be a “good guy” a little higher than simply “I don’t abuse or assault women.”

Continue reading

“You have a right to be here.”

Debbie Zimmerman speaking at WINspirational Women. Photo credit: Renate Hodges.

She spoke these words a few times over the course of the evening and – most powerfully – she ended on them. “You have a right to be here.”

Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of Grape Growers of Ontario and long-time local politician was speaking to a room full of women (and a few men) at Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce‘s Women in Niagara (WIN) Council event: WINspirational Women. I had the additional pleasure of sitting beside Debbie’s mother, Pearle Roy, and chatting with her about how strong all of her daughters are. Continue reading

Dealing with trauma

“I don’t want to keep retelling my story.”

“I’m tired of being bounced from service to service.”

“How am I supposed to trust helping professionals if they never give me the support I need?”

I regularly hear these comments from the people I serve; and having worked for a number of organizations in Niagara over the past 20 years, hearing them still breaks my heart, even after all this time. Presently, I work with individuals living with the impact of sexual violence and intimate partner violence. I consider it an incredible privilege to support others in negotiating the daily impact of the harm they have endured, and it has been some of the most rewarding work I have ever engaged in. I also believe that working with survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence has fostered a new appreciation of why the above comments are significant and deserve further consideration.

Victim Blaming

Sexual violence and intimate partner violence are significant and widespread; the outcomes of both are far reaching. Although a number of statistics exist indicating who is most at risk and/or who is primarily affected by these concerns, I have learned in the course of my work that sexual violence and intimate partner violence do not discriminate. And for multiple reasons, many people do not report their experiences or reach out for assistance. Individuals who have endured such pain are often reluctant and anxious about telling their story for fear of what others might say or do. They are regularly told to “get over it” or “move on”. They are shamed into feeling they did something to bring the violence upon themselves, or end up being criticized and judged about how they chose to respond. These reactions from loved ones, friends, and helping professionals cement for me the notion that abuse tends to exist in a shroud of secrecy and fear. Is it any wonder when people continue to be silenced and blamed for circumstances beyond their control?

Dealing with trauma

The impact of sexual/partner violence extends beyond one’s mind or body; one’s very spirit has been violated as well. When someone is wounded in these ways, their ability to feel safe and trust others becomes compromised. They struggle with a number of crippling physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioural reactions that are often confusing, frightening, and exhausting. A person’s experience of the world becomes forever altered, and the harm that has been perpetrated insidiously seeps into every crevice of their life. It shows up in the most unexpected ways, and causes significant damage to the relationship with oneself and others; because at its very core, trauma is relational.

I’ve come to appreciate the complexity of trauma whether it’s childhood sexual abuse, recent sexual assault/rape, or intimate partner violence because the brave souls I encounter in the course of my work somehow find the courage to reach out for support. It is incredibly difficult to cope with the aftermath of these forms of trauma. The impact to one’s mental health is significant and people often engage in coping strategies that are labelled “unhealthy”. I struggle with framing coping in this manner because if people were able to manage their pain in another way, I’m convinced they would. People don’t intentionally try to make their situation worse. They do what they need to do to survive. And it’s is easy for us (i.e., external others) to judge how they manage the outcomes of their harm, particularly when we haven’t walked in their shoes. No one has the right to judge or shame; these responses cause as much, if not more damage, than the original violation.

Systemic Challenges

It is equally important to recognize that the complexity of an individual’s circumstances is often compounded by the way in which various systems support them. The pitfalls that individuals encounter within systems they access are numerous, oppressive, and cause considerable harm to someone who is already struggling and incredibly vulnerable. Although these systems are in place to support individuals in addressing the outcomes of their trauma in a meaningful way, more often than not, I have found these systems to be inadequate and ineffective. As a result of my work, I have come to believe that systems, not the people they support, are the problem.
I encounter few people who sing the praises of the systems that address various aspects of trauma. And I don’t blame them for this one bit. It’s not that people are ungrateful for the support they receive. If anything, I would argue they have come to believe that substandard support is what they are entitled to because they encounter it so often when attempting to engage in services that are supposed to help. But the people I serve deserve better. They deserve more. They deserve care that is accessible, timely, compassionate, and integrated. This means the systems people utilize in their efforts to get back on track need to work together to streamline support and put their clientele at the center of care. Trauma’s goal is to disconnect and fracture, and it does this incredibly well. We cannot expect to assist people in healing from the harm they have endured if we ask them to accept support that is fractured and disconnected. If we do, we run the risk of perpetuating the same harms that we are tasked with standing up against. Instead, connection and collaboration is required across systems and in conjunction with the people we are responsible for serving.
I have deep affection and admiration for the people I serve. And I respect the guts it takes to reach out from the darkness when it would be much easier to hide in the shadows. Every single day, the people I work with teach me about what it means to negotiate interpersonal harm; I am surrounded by the courage it takes to share one’s story and I am blessed with multiple opportunities to witness the endless possibilities that exist for healing. I am regularly reminded about the resilience of the human spirit and feel incredibly honoured to walk with people through some of their toughest moments. It is with gratitude that I engage in supporting others who are struggling because I am acutely aware that how I choose to engage matters. Because the way in which we respond and connect to others, without question, makes all the difference.

The obstacle-ridden road to recovery

Erica lived with various mental health challenges, including borderline personality disorder, anxiety, depression, and addictions to alcohol and drugs. She tried for so many years to get better, but the road to recovery was littered with obstacles.

Erica started drinking when she was 12 and, admittedly, I had no idea what to do beyond telling my parents, and I certainly did not understand what was happening or how/if I could help her. I chalked the addictions up to choices she was making, because that was the context in which I had learned about my grandparents’ and my aunt’s alcoholism – they were making choices. Continue reading