Why I chose to cut ties with my family

Why I chose to cut ties with my family

Three and a half years since I’ve seen their faces. Two years since we last spoke. Fourteen months since the court hearing that sealed the deal.

I look back on it now and wonder if things could have gone differently. I feel incredible grief. Loss. I walk through life and some small moment, a random memory will perforate my mind and I am thrown back into my childhood and I stumble. I can hardly breathe. It hits me so hard. But I collect myself, continue on my journey.

Three and a half years since I’ve seen their faces. It was my decision. Mine alone. And one that I do not regret one bit.

Choosing to cut ties with family is not simply an emotion-filled moment of anger by an adult child. It’s not flash rage and slamming doors. It’s a well thought out decision that takes months, even years to come to fruition. And to be honest, it was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. But the best one.

We live in a cultural norm of acceptance; that what happens in the family, should stay in the family. Children are to respect their parents and accept them, flaws and all. But what if parents are hurtful, over and over? What if the family dynamic is broken and poisonous? Is it the adult child’s responsibility to accept that? Accept that his parents are the way they are and somehow carve out his own life in that overwhelming construct?

We wouldn’t accept a broken relationship outside of our families. Anyone who continually holds someone back, undermines our feelings and breaks boundaries, we would remove from our lives. So, why do we accept it in families?

As I’ve told my story publicly, I’ve received a lot of support and kind words. But I’ve also received criticism for not accepting my family for who they are. For not forgiving them and letting the past lie in the past. It’s been difficult hearing those criticisms because we are simply hardwired to want, need and seek out acceptance and love from our parents.

My husband tells me, “But you have a new family now.” To which I respond, “Yes, I do. But they’re not my family.” He knows. I know, in time, I will feel differently.

Let the past be in the past, I’m told. That is exactly what this is – snipping the tie is like letting loose the rope tying a tiny dinghy to the boat that is the anchor to the world in an ocean of unknown. Let it all be in the past.

It’s also terrifying cutting ties. When I wrote the word “goodbye” I felt the floor sink beneath me and the tears flooding me and I simply fell to the floor and cried. I cried for days. I have never felt such extreme, excruciating pain as I did that day.

Sometimes I still do, all this time later. But I don’t regret removing them from my life. That world was broken, hurtful and poison. Simply that. And I needed to move on. Things have gotten much easier for me, much simpler. With them gone, I feel as though the fog has lifted. Granted, some days seem rather bleak, but at least I can see the path in front of me.

I have my good memories. I know my family is who they are and some of the memories are filled with love. I try to remember those memories. I try to remember when my mom would smile at me or call me her pet names. I try to remember my dad snuggling me in his chair. I try to remember playing with my brother when we were very small, in the fields behind our house, before he changed.

But those are memories.

The reality was much different. It is the reality I said goodbye to.

Just because they’re family, doesn’t mean they are good for us.


Mental Health and Exercise – or, log one of my science experiment

Mental Health and Exercise – or, log one of my science experiment

Let’s lighten things up shall we?

I read this article today which introduces the University of Toronto‘s program/research into the link between mental health and exercise. I know, not a huge surprise there, but what got me was the hands-on approach the University is taking. Not to say that I’m not biased, being both alumni and a student of U of T, but this program looks awesome. If this can help students suffering with mental illness, then imagine the impact on the greater population?

But then I thought, well I’m pretty much a prime candidate for this program right? Bipolar disorder falls smack dab in the middle of mental illness land. So, what if I test this out myself? You know, for fun. Because, exercise is fun, right?

Please tell me it’s fun.

So I consulted my expert on this matter, my husband, who happens to be a personal trainer (why I don’t have the lithe figure of Gisele Bundchen is beyond me but I like to look at it from a positive perspective – I have such willpower NOT to workout and to TRY to eat unhealthy that I simply blow my own mind. Ah, never mind).

Getting back on point, I decided to test this out on my own and track the roller-coaster that is my moods and log my exercise, looking for any correlations between the two.

I know, infallible science, right? Why NASA doesn’t recruit me, I will never know.

So, since we bipolar people have to ride the high waves when we get them, I decided to start today. So, here’s the log:

Day: Monday, April 4, 2016

Status: Bipolar Disorder, type II.

Current mood: This morning: pissed off (might have something to do with the snow), mid-morning: irritated, lunch time: goofy and practically inarticulate, late-afternoon: hangry and despondent over work, evening: on top of the world. Variable.

Medications: Two chewable vitamins.

I decided to practice yoga this evening. I’ve practiced yoga before, but still can’t remember half the names of the poses so spent most of the class looking around in wonder as to where to place my limbs. The instructor was more than patient, guiding me through with repeated words like, “left hand…left hand, no left hand. That’s your right.” And poses like Warrior make me feel slightly like a shaking Chihuahua with muscular atrophy rather than a serine Yogi.

Beyond that, yoga is more about breath, which works well for me. Focusing on breaths, keeping them deep and even and moving your body in time to your breaths works wonders for a sense of calm and control over your own body. Bipolar disorder often comes with anxiety in the depressed times or hyperarousal in the manic times – both of which lead to increased heart rate and the feeling of mice running around in your chest at all times. So breathing is good, and a feeling of control over one’s body helps with a sense of control over one’s mind.

Yoga not only helps to decrease overall body pain but helps build muscle and increase strength as well as lowers blood pressure. This has got to be good for the psyche. In fact, in a Harvard University study, yoga has been shown to lower the body’s stress response by modulating the heart rate to be more effective in proper stress response. It’s also been shown to reduce anxiety by up to 30% and depression by up to 50%.

Sign me up!

Okay, so all statistics aside, my experience with yoga is very good. Near the end of class, my muscles feel worked-in, stretched out and I swear I could hear them sighing with contentment. And then comes the really awesome part – after all those tough balancing poses, muscle strengthening poses and just-one-more-breath-until-I-collapse poses, you get to lie down, on a bolster, with a blankie draped over you while someone soothingly tells you to breath out all your troubles. And the room smells like lavender.

My heart rate dropped pretty much to that of a turtle’s. It was fantastic.

Current mood: Relaxed, confident and very much ready for bed. After a snack, of course.

See you next week!



The behaviour of sexual assault victims is not what you think it should be

The behaviour of sexual assault victims is not what you think it should be

I wrote this article last week but at that time, chose not to post it. Some days I just don’t feeling like speaking publicly, about rehashing these issues again and again. And then I see cases like this one and I grow even more despondent and feel as though my voice falls on deaf ears. But a friend of mine told me I needed to post it. She said, “This is what you do, Kelly! You’re the voice for this!”

So here it is…

The Ghomeshi verdict was passed down March 24, 2016 with a resounding cry of disbelief bordering on horror among many. And not just over the fact that an alleged sexual predator now walks the streets free, but over the verdict which was delivered by Judge William Horkins. In fact, it was Justice Horkins’s verdict which prompted the largest outcry and for reasons that seem as archaic as one could possibly imagine our justice system being.

As iterated in a CBC article, “Justice Horkins noted that each charge ‘is based entirely on the evidence of the complainant. Given the nature of the allegations this is not unusual or surprising; however it is significant because, as a result, the judgement of this court depends entirely on an assessment of the credibility and reliability of each complainant as a witness.’”

While this was only the beginning of a long and disheartening verdict, this statement, on its own merits, presents the largest hurdle for victims of sexual assault and abuse to overcome. When it comes to sexual assault and abuse, despite Marie Henein’s assertion that the system works, it’s a he-said-she-said court system and that alone fails victims entirely.

Why? Because victim behaviour post-trauma is not what you, or even Justice Horkins, may believe it is or ought to be.

Allow me to explain.

Normalizing and relating to the assailant

                Dr. Judith Herman, in her ground-breaking work, Trauma and Recovery; the aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror, states that in the aftermath of rape:

“[w]omen often take risks naively, in ignorance of danger, or rebelliously, in defiance of danger. Most women do not in fact recognize the degree of male hostility toward them, preferring to view the relations of the sexes as more benign than they are in fact.” (Herman, 69)

In fact, rape survivors often will revisit their trauma, sometimes in memory and sometimes in reality, obsessing per se over particular moments or scenes of the rape, sometimes returning to the scene of the incident or even remaining in contact with their assailant (Herman, 39). These behaviours may seem to completely contravene rational behaviour, as Justice Horkins very firmly stated, and not what one would expect of someone who had just suffered an extremely traumatic attack(s).

This behaviour, however, can be attributed to a normalization or rationalization of what could be considered the completely irrational. Why me? Why was I raped? – is often the primary question on survivors’ minds and often solicits periods of extreme anger. How can one rationalize the irrational? How can one gain control over something so out of control? But by normalizing the event in her own mind, even relating to her assailant and questioning her own behaviour, a rape victim will often rationalize the moments of the trauma. And this can often include contact with their assailant even after a rape has occurred.

And yet, Justice Horkins stated in his verdict “[t]he expectation of how a victim of abuse will, or should, be expected to behave must not be assessed on the basis of stereotypical models. Having said that, I have no hesitation in saying that the behaviour of this complainant is, at the very least, odd.”


It is to stereotypical models to which we must turn when assessing victim behaviour because, quite frankly, most victim behaviour post-trauma is what anyone would consider “odd”. But does that make it any less normal for a victim? As Toronto-based lawyer, Erin Ellis stated, there is no “normal” behaviour for victims.

So, by ignoring the research and simply stating that a witness’s testimony cannot be based on “odd” behaviour is throwing out the very root of the damage caused to the victim by the rape. Odd behaviour. Odd thoughts. Odd everything. What, exactly, should be normal about rape and how one should behave afterwards?

What, exactly, is normal about rape?

Amnesia post-trauma

                The second glaring issue with Justice Horkins’s verdict is his dismissal of post-traumatic amnesia. It’s fairly widely accepted that memory is fragmentary in the aftermath of any traumatic event. But this seems to have not trickled down to our justice system. Justice Horkins stated, “[t]he factual inconsistencies in her evidence cause me to approach her evidence with great scepticism.” He also took issue with the timeline which one of the complainants remembered Ghomeshi owning a yellow Volkswagen Beatle. And, in his mind, this appeared to be enough to rule the witness testimony incredible.

I get it – beyond a reasonable doubt. But isn’t there room for error in the system? I do believe Marie Henein truly felt that the system did it’s job when rendering a verdict of aquittal. But does that mean the system is fool proof? Does it mean that one system of beyond a reasonable doubt is a large enough brush to cover an issue as delicate as rape when victims themselves doubt even the veracity of their own claims?

Justice Horkins’s statement was tantamound to saying that’s like looking at an iceberg from a ship two miles away and claiming, “my how tiny that iceberg is! This iceberg must be completely inconsequential.” Only to discover how completely consequential that iceberg, and normative belief, truly is.

Post-traumatic memory is scattered at best. Research has shown this, time and again. Dr. Herman states, “[b]ecause the truth is so difficult to face, survivors often vacillate in reconstructing their stories. Denial of reality makes them feel crazy, but acceptance of the full reality seems beyond what any human being can bear.” (Herman, 181) The chronology of the trauma becomes like piecework to the victim, where bits and pieces overlay, sometimes jumbled with timelines and inconsistencies. Even war veterans experience the same fragmentary amnesia rape victims do and this issue has long been a burden for Crown prosecutors to bear and a large reason why so many sexual assault and abuse cases, if brought to trial, usually are acquitted.

The system is broken and Justice Horkins only caters to a fractured and antiquated construct when he states of complainant Lucy DeCoutere that, “[a]n inability to recall the sequence of such a traumatic event from over a decade ago is not very surprising and in most instances, it would be of little concern. However, what is troubling about this evidence is not the lack of clarity but, rather, the shifting of facts from one telling of the incident to the next. Each differing version of the events was put forward by this witness as a sincere and accurate recollection.”

They were put forward as “sincere and accurate” because that is how the memory of a traumatized individual works. If Justice Horkins had consulted a professional in trauma psychology, or even a psychological journal, he would have known that. Instead, we are left with more antiquated rhetoric and silenced victims.

What is to be done?

Justice Horkins’s verdict is not unique and nor is Jian Ghomeshi’s acquittal. In Canada in 2004, 3 out of every 1,000 cases of reported rape led to a conviction. Why? There are a multitude of reasons but one glaring problem is witness testimony. Again, it all boils down to he-said-she-said. Whose testimony is more credible. Whose character is more believable. And we now know that the behaviour of victims post-trauma is characteristically “odd”, as Justice Horkins so elegantly iterated. Should this behaviour and memory of victims should not predicate the entire outcome of a case? Physical evidence is extremely rare in rape cases and even if it is present, it is often overlooked or alternative theories for its presence are offered by the defence. So how can the legal system sort out the liars from the truth? How can the credible be found amongst the incredible?

In my opinion, the Court should have consulted an expert witness – an individual who has in depth professional knowledge of victim behaviour and memory. In fact, I propose that in all sexual assault and abuse cases before the Criminal Court in Canada, mandatory and neutral expert witnesses in trauma psychology should be consulted by the courts in order to sift through the chaos that is post-trauma psychology.

If we do so, and continue with this discussion, we may take our first step towards making these statistics history:

  • Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police
  • 1 – 2% of “date rape” sexual assaults are reported to the police
  • Only 2 – 4% of all sexual assaults reported are false reports
  • In Canada in 2012, out of every 1,000 rapes that occurred, 997 assailants walked free
  • In that same year in Canada, an estimated 460,000 rapes were committed.

It’s time for the broken system to be fixed. It’s time for prominent lawyers like Marie Henein to stand up for what is right, not what is written in the rules.

It’s time for this to stop.

Returning to school at 36…no, 37…wait, how old am I again?

Returning to school at 36…no, 37…wait, how old am I again?

Over the Christmas holidays, I was in the shower (hands up if you get your most profound, Socretian ideas in the shower), pondering over the suds, wondering what life had in store for me. I know; navel gazing etiological drivel. I’d already graduated university, was doing well in a ho-hum job which, while I didn’t enjoy, gave me stability, a decent income and confidence, and I had a happy marriage with my very best friend.

But seriously, is this it? Is this all she wrote? I had all the above, and more, and I still was wondering what else there was for me out there. I thought about my best gal pal, leaving her really awesome job where the golden handcuffs come silk-lined, to globe-trot for a year and a half and I thought, “Why not me?” If she could follow her heart and still come back in one piece, happy and changed, why couldn’t I do something similar? Why couldn’t I go out on my own adventure?

What the hell was holding me back? A steady paycheque? Sure, that’s a decent thing to have. Disappointing my employer? Yeah, that’s a factor. Employability? Well, I can’t say employability has ever been top of my list of Reflections-On-My-Deathbed. Man, what a life – but I probably should have been more employable. Okay, pull the plug now and let me leap into the white light!


It was in between shampoo and rinse that my eureka came – what if I went back to school? I loved school, I loved learning and I’d always felt that the first time around was not the experience I would have liked. Nor was my specialty. So, what if I went back and completed another degree in something that made my heart flutter? Why not? Why the hell not? I’m sure there are others out there who complete second degrees, right? People who may be close to or at the top of the hill of life and look behind them and say, “What a hot mess that was!” So, why was I still wondering what else I could do? Why do I continue where I am?

Wait, why am I still in the shower asking myself this?!

I immediately hopped out of the shower, wrapped a towel around myself and went to my husband: “Baby, I have a crazy idea!” He was, of course, all over my crazy idea.

Over the following few weeks, I inquired with my university as to a return for a second degree. I got in touch with my registrar, jumped though a couple of hoops (universities love their bureaucracy), contacted my college (yes, two separate entities, who knew!) and finally received the email of approval. I was going back. Starting again. Fresh.

A fresh start. Life always has a way of providing us with fresh starts, with new opportunities. But like the very cool Ashton Kutcher said, “opportunities look a lot like hard work”. I knew my new degree in psychology and neuroscience was not going to be easy. I’d always had an aptitude for the sciences and mental health has become a calling for me, but it had been years since I looked at a differential equation, or distinguished a covalent bond from a van der Waals interaction. I mean years. So I did some searching and found some old syllabi and began reviewing the course materials.

Meanwhile, the little Kelly over my shoulder, the one with the horns and evil eyes (the one who’s voice sounds frightening like my nay-saying mom), kept telling me I was too old to do this, that this was an irresponsible venture, that I should get my head out of the clouds and just grow up already!

But one night, my husband said to me, “I’m so proud of you. Preparing yourself, really making sure you know this stuff. You’re going to do amazing!” And I kept thinking about the classes I can take, the opportunities I can strive for. I kept thinking about the future and, for the first time in my life, I became excited.

School (again) at 36…no, wait, 37. School again at 37. A full twenty years older than most of my peers.

Opportunities are hard work. And life isn’t about sticking within the box our predecessors carved. I’m not saying we should be complaining about the norm. I’m just saying, life is about finding the courage to ignore the norm and make a new set of rules of your own. And working your ass off to get there. At any age. At any time in your life.

And just an FYI, I gave my notice at work last week. And bought a new backpack.

I’m ready.


Boxing at 3 am

Boxing at 3 am

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris recently gave a Ted Talks which blew my mind. She spoke about the physiological ramifications of long term childhood trauma. Of course, this hits close to home for me and I’m going to use Dr. Harris’s analogy here because, quite frankly, I’ve yet to find a better one.

Let’s start with the question of what is the human response to danger? Imagine you’re hiking deep in the woods. And then you turn a corner and there’s a bear.‎ The moment you see this bear is also the same moment you have the terrifying realization that he sees you too. What happens to the human body? The brain’s stress response system becomes activated. The hypothalamus sends a signal to your pituitary gland which sends a signal to your adrenal gland. Immediately stress hormones are released. Cortisol and adrenaline flood your blood stream and in one heartbeat they’re throughout your entire body. Your pupils dilate, your heart races and your airways expand. You’re ready. Fight or run for your life. And this is an incredible response.

If you’re in the woods.

And there’s a bear.

But what, in Dr. Harris’s words, if that bear comes home? What if the bear lies in wait every single day, in your most sacred places – your living room, around your dinner table, in your bedroom?

This is what is called prolonged trauma exposure. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist or even a psychotherapist. I am a survivor who has done so much damn research to try and answer questions that really can’t be answered in my lifetime. If ever. And my journey to survivorhood has lead me to this: childhood trauma has an incredible prolonged effect on not only the psychological self (which is obviously a massive growth factor in childhood), but how our physiological pathways respond to every day stimuli – in other words, our physical make up. And this every day stimuli for people without this exposure is inconsequential to their daily activities. But not so for a survivor.

It is starting to become a well-known fact that exposure to early childhood trauma results in impairment in the nucleus accumbens – the pleasure and rewards center of the brain which is the control for substance dependence. It inhibits the prefrontal cortex which is the impulse control and learning regulator of the brain. MRI results of victims of childhood trauma have shown distinct differences in the amygdala – the part of the brain that controls fear response. It even affects how our DNA is read and transcribed.

Our biological pathways become altered the more that bear rears his ugly head and long term effects of this leads to increased risk of heart problems, cancer, mental illness (as in my case) and a massive propensity towards suicidality. Dr. Harris’s research has led to the realization that individuals who have experienced increased amounts of childhood trauma (violence, sexual abuse, neglect, parental substance abuse, war, etc.), are twelve times more likely to commit suicide than those without exposure.

What I heard is: I am twelve times more likely to take my own life.

That right there my friends pisses me off. The very fact that people like me, through no fault of their own have experienced such horrific experiences are now at risk of these maladies is quite frankly, unjust.

But maybe that is part of the rage that still speaks to me. The rage that still burrows itself underneath the skin of a survivor and breeds. This rage, this over-abundance of emotionality, can turn into mental illness. Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, you name it. It’s there. Childhood abuse primes the brain for future mental illness.

There we have it folks. The fight or flight is always on. The rage has a nutrient rich home in which to proliferate. But what do we do with these feelings? What happens after the therapy session is over, after the layers of the abuse have been peeled away, shed like reptilian skin? These unregulated emotions remain in a state of what I like to call Mr. Hyde. When particular triggers are present, the Hydian quality bursts forth and the survivor is almost entirely unable to control this influx of emotion. There is no emotional regulation and all a survivor sees is that bear in the woods and the fight or flight instinct takes over. This is what is called a dissociative state or dissociation.

I used to rapidly and frequently experience these dissociative states. In fact, I spent quite a few years with Mr. Hyde over my shoulder, ready to unleash the assault of cortisol and adrenaline – and I never chose flight – I was a fighter. Over the years of therapy and with the ability to unleash my story with the unwavering love and support of my husband, I learned to control that emotionality. I satiated Mr. Hyde and my world started to depart from the State of Nature – the fight or flight.

But not always.

A little while ago I experienced a very intense trigger. It was very late at night after a party when I was confronted by a particular individual who I perceived to be a threat – aggressive, suggestive, predatory and very much drunk – and my world split in two. After well over a year of Mr. Hyde’s slumber, he reared his head again, ready for the fight. And I wanted to fight. I wanted to rip, tear, break, destroy. I couldn’t contain it.

My husband knew immediately what was happening to me and although I don’t remember much of what I said or did (this being a part of the dissociative state), I do know he got me out of the situation, ushered me into a taxi and took me home. But I do remember saying to him on the way home, “I wanted to kill him.” And I meant it.

“I know,” he said. He did know but he also knew that wasn’t who I was.

When we got into the house, my emotions were no longer in my control. All the hatred, rage, fury, injustice of my past, grief, everything overwhelmed me and I could think of nothing but burying my face in a bottle of vodka and proceeding to destroy my life. Maybe down too many pills – maybe take them all with a gin chaser. All these thoughts came flooding as I closed the front door behind me.

My husband looked at me and I just said to him, “I’m not okay.” The tears came, angry and hot. I doubled over, grasping my knees, my party clothes soaked with sweat. I was gasping, overwhelmed.

“I know you’re not, baby,” he said. And through my haze, I saw my runners chucked to the floor in front of me. I looked back up at him, confused. “Put them on,” he said.

I took off my jewelry and put on the shoes. When I looked back to him, still pitifully crying, he took my sweaty hands and shoved boxing gloves on them. He then took two targets and placed them on his own hands.

“Hit the targets, left then right. Slow.”

“Huh?” I’d never boxed in my life. And it was 3 in the morning. And I was drunk and crying and furious. I just wanted to keep drinking and create violence all around me.

Violence – then I got it. It takes drunk me a little longer than sober me to get there, but I always do.

I reared up my left arm and with all the force and rage and anger I had in me, smashed that target like I wanted it to explode.

It didn’t explode, but I almost did. My face twisted with malice, I slammed my right fist into the other target. Another sob tore through me. I slammed my fist again, harder, hearing the perfect slap of contact.

“Focus on the center. Keep your elbows up. You wanna knock him out? You gotta make it count.” I heard my husband’s voice smooth in my ears.

You wanna knock him out? Fucking right I do.

My fist made contact again, slamming so hard I felt the reverberations through my arm up to my shoulder. He stepped backwards with the force.

“Good. Again.”

I did it again, with each punch tears coursing down my face. I imagined all the hurt inside me, all the abuse I took, I imagined the abusers, I imagined all those assholes who ever tried to hurt me, or did hurt me, or told me I couldn’t be anything. I imagined that drunk guy earlier that night and how much I wanted to tear the skin right off his face.

And I slammed my fist into every single one of them. Over and over and over until I couldn’t breathe. My husband holding the targets, repeating “Good, faster, left, right. Make the contact. Keep your wrists straight. Elbows up. Don’t stand on the balls of your feet.”

And I listened while I punched and my punches became more forceful, more effective. It felt like I dealt a thousand punches, fight or flight and I was fighting all the fight I’d had built up inside me for a lifetime. Until finally I doubled over, gasping, crying. Satisfied.

“Good,” he said to me, gently pulling the gloves off my raw fists.

I straightened up and looked at him, dried tears on my face, fatigue overcoming me, and said: “Can we do this again? But not at 3 in the morning?”

“Absolutely, my love. Now let’s get some food into you.”

We haven’t stopped boxing since that night. But my aim is much better now.

My point is, fight or flight, those biologically ingrained pathways, the way our brain is structured, is just about entirely out of our control. If we are victims of childhood trauma, it’s almost inescapable how we will react in certain situations – how our brain regulates and processes stimuli. Once we have been exposed to that trauma, once the bear has been invited in, it’s almost impossible to change our physiology. And it sucks, big time.

But our outcome does not have to be dictated by the bear. We do not have to be slave to Mr. Hyde or fight or flight. What we can fight is for the person inside, not the victim, not even the survivor, but the person who will thrive.

All it takes is a little boxing at 3 am.

An open letter to my abuser

It’s time we had a tête-à-tête. I don’t consider myself a victim; to be honest I hate the word. I feel like I’ve come too far to be labeled in such a way. But in an effort to place you and I exactly where we belong, I am a victim. And you are the abuser.

Yes, you.

Your parents believe I filed a claim against you with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board with absolutely no evidence; that you were never given “a recourse of defence”.

Really, do you truly believe a board of educated and well-trained adjudicators would believe me if I were lying? Do you think someone like me could pull the wool over their eyes; those who have listened to countless stories of abuse? No, they wouldn’t. They heard the truth and firmly believed the truth.

Let me assure you, I have documentary evidence of what you did that would make you terrified. Documentation dating back almost twenty years, of people I had approached, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, medical reports confirming the abuse, words over the years stating what you had been doing to me for over a decade.

I needed someone to hear me, believe me, so that I wouldn’t feel like I was going crazy. I felt like an alien in my own body. I told them not to tell my family. I was afraid, terrified. Terrified they would have me committed, force me on medications, yell at me, or worse, turn their backs completely. Throw me out of the house.

I was right to be afraid. They would have done all of that.

When I went before the Board, the hearing of which you were notified and had every recourse and right to attend in any way you chose, I told the adjudicators everything. I told them the words you would use on me. That you said you’d make me perfect for all the men in my life. That you would tell everyone at school how crazy I was if I didn’t comply. That you would protect me when bullies came after me if I did as I was told. That you needed this. That you needed me.

I told them about your ever present guilty conscious and how, later, after you had broken me, that you had said it was my fault and that I made you do it. You said I disgusted you. You couldn’t look at me. And to never, ever tell anyone or you would tell everyone in school how sick I really was.

Do you remember breaking me? Over and over. Do you remember me crying?

It was only when one of the adjudicators used the term “grooming” that I knew what had really happened. I knew what had happened to me wasn’t my fault. I know you groomed me.

Over the years my story has never changed, not in the slightest. I remember so much. And those memories and the silence almost killed me. My first suicide attempt almost worked. Were you aware of that?

Do you remember, a few years ago when I got a call from you? I had just moved to the city in an effort to mend the frayed semblance that was my life. It was late, I know because it was dark out as I looked out my balcony window. I’m sure it was still light where you lived when my phone rang. It was you on the other end.

Do you remember?

You were troubled, undeniably upset and shaken. You told me you were in your car, sitting in a parking lot. And your mind was heavy. We began talking about our troubles, as we tended to do sometimes.

But then you said you had something you wanted to say to me. I don’t know why or how I knew because it had never been spoken of between us, but I knew what you were going to say.

“Kel, I’m so sorry,” you said the words and you started to cry.

I said, “Don’t worry about it,” even though my heart had started to race and all I wanted to do was scream at you and whip my phone over the balcony and watch it smash, watch you smash, four stories below.

“No, it’s not okay,” you persisted. “I took advantage of you. I had a responsibility to you. I’m your big brother.”

And then you said, “I abused you.”

My entire body was convulsing. “I forgive you,” I said.

Do you remember that? I remember that. Did you really truly mean to apologize to me or did you need to hear the words I Forgive You more than you needed to apologize?

Because right now, I don’t feel that apology.

Your parents think I have made it all up. Your family categorically denies every single part and defends you to their core. Your family says I am sick and twisted and have convinced the world of your wrongdoings. That I have conceived of such elaborate lies.

Let me ask you, would you feel like I feel right now if your family defended your abuser? If they said you were just so sick and corrupt as to make up those disgusting stories? For almost twenty years? I know what happened to you and I know your family swept it all under the rug in the biggest most irresponsible and pathetic attempt at normalcy. I know they never gave you the help and care you so badly needed. You were never allowed to talk about what that man did to you.

But let me ask you, do you have flashbacks of what he did to you? Do you remember how he always had eyes for you? I do. Do you ever wonder why your life is in such shambles? I know why. I remember your mother telling me that man would never come around our house again. And when I asked her why, she said he had been inappropriate with you. She had suspected, she said, for some time.

You see, abusers are never born the way they are. They are groomed and hence, they learn how to groom. And they pick out the weakest, most trusting of the pack. The prey. Sometimes, they don’t even have any consciousness of what they are doing. They have no clue that what they are doing is wrong, life crushing and illegal.

You were not born a bad person. You still aren’t a bad person. You have a conscious that is sensitive, emotional and can be kind and sweet. I’ve seen it. But you are alone. You will be all your life and you will remain broken with this lie hovering over you, blotting out the light of day. You will never mend the scattered bits of yourself if you don’t come clean. You will never know true love.

People inherently aren’t bad; it’s the decisions they make that are. You will never find happiness knowing how, over and over, you broke your little sister. And now that I have the courage to confront you, publically and bravely, you have no choice but to face what you have done.

Do the right thing. Tell the truth. Be a beacon for other abusers. Show them the light at the end of the tunnel just as you can show victims hope. Victims are rarely ever afforded the opportunity to confront the people who hurt them. They remain afraid, ostracized, shut out. They doubt their own memories, they blame themselves. Allow their lives to crumble around them because they simply can’t deal with the anguish brought upon them. I see it as victims reach out to me, when they tell me their stories. When they can’t live with the past any longer.

They search for the needle in a haystack that is that small part that could have possibly made it all their fault. And when you are a victim, you are made of magnets so every single needle in that haystack is drawn to you.

But not anymore. There is nothing more your family can do to harm me. They may try, and I have absolutely no doubt they will. And you cannot harm me but somehow I doubt you will even try. Because you know the truth and your guilty conscious won’t let you. The good person inside you won’t allow you to hurt me anymore.

Besides, you know, deep down, I have enough evidence, hard evidence, to back up my claim, despite what your family may believe. And now, an adjudication decision which categorically states I was abused by you.

And you know the truth.

I will never stop telling my story. Not as long as there are people like me, like you, out there who need this brought to the light of day. I will never stop no matter how hard your family may try to stop me. No matter what they try and take away from me.

Brother, it’s time. Own up to what you did. Don’t do it for me, I don’t need it anymore. I’ve given up on the family I once had. Do it because of your abuser, tell your family what he did to you. Tell a friend what he did to you and then what you, in turn, did to your sister. Tell your psychiatrist. Tell someone. Every time you do, the words get easier and you will give hope to abusers and victims alike. Every time you do, the weight will be lifted off your shoulders. And every time you do, you will begin to right a very heinous wrong you did so many years ago.

You are not a bad person. But what you have done, your continual silence and denial, is rotten to the core.

But if you are brave enough to tell the truth, I will give you the forgiveness which will set you on the path to being whole again, the forgiveness you asked for those years ago but so undeniably did not deserve.

What Mother’s Day means to those with no mother

What Mother’s Day means to those with no mother

The title may be a bit of lie. I do have a mother. And I love her. But we are estranged and this is not a bad thing. Hurtful, but necessary.  And everywhere I go lately, I am reminded of my mother, of the fact that we are estranged and of the hole that is left in my heart.

I’m sure there is a hole in her heart as well but quite frankly, I don’t give a damn anymore.

Ungrateful daughter? Not really. Sometimes we have to rip the painful band-aid off before we can start to heal. Sometimes the salt, the dirt and infection is the very thing that the world thinks we need: family, mothers.

But what does Mother’s Day mean to me then? Should I be angry, upset, depressed at this time? Should I hunker down and pretend the day doesn’t exist? Not in the least.

I was recently asked to provide a picture of my mother and me for a Mother’s Day fundraiser gala. I ignored it, being offended and angry at the innocent request.

“Why does everyone assume all mothers are wonderful?” I thought angrily.

But then I started to realize, there are too many women who I would want in that picture. You see, Mother’s Day to me isn’t what it may be to a lot of other people.

This Mother’s Day I want to acknowledge all those girlfriends of mine who so bravely and selflessly are raising their own incredible little ones. Who have fielded my questions from everything about marriage, pregnancy, motherhood, depression, anxiety and even belly stretch marks. I want to acknowledge all the mothers who have taken me under their wing and allowed me to be their adoptive daughter, lost and confused, and who still and always have believe in me.

And my mother-in-law, who is such an inspiration, an unrelenting mother who would and has never stopped for her children. Who loves me unconditionally. Who has seen me at my worst, alongside her son, my husband, and still held my face in her hands while she called me mia bella ragazza.

But I also want to acknowledge the mother that I lost. We had good times. Precious times. Moments in my life that are untainted by the irreparable  hurt caused, by the women she became. Times when my mother was her true self, unfettered by mental illness, by her own abused past, but the true kind woman that is deep inside her. The part I fear is already dead. I yearn for that mother and I hope to be only the sweetest part of her. The part she gave up on.

I have learned to compartmentalize those memories of motherhood that I remember from my youth. The sunny afternoons with coffee and brunch. The nattering over any and all topics. Nothing, not even the woman my mother is today, can take that away from me.

That mother I miss. And that mother I will cherish as I look forward to more Mother’s Days with my girlfriends and their children and adoptive mothers, mother-in-law and my nieces.

Happy Mother’s Day.

My nieces on my wedding day
My nieces on my wedding day

CBC #GhomeshiReport indicative of systemic problem with gender inequality

CBC #GhomeshiReport indicative of systemic problem with gender inequality

So, have you read the latest on the #JianGate scandal? The report CBC commissioned in the wake of Jian Ghomeshi’s very public firing and subsequent pending criminal trial? It’s a damning piece of writing. It’s downright shameful to be quite honest.

But in my opinion, it’s bullshit. Pardon me, but would the CBC honestly have even commissioned the report if Ghomeshi wasn’t rightfully and bravely ousted by his victims? Would CBC have cut ties with major players like Chris Boyce if Gillian Findlay hadn’t uncomfortably and painfully grilled him on The Fifth Estate for the entire nation to witness?

And the CBC knew about the abuse long before the public did. But, they got caught.

And would we be talking about violence against women if Jian wasn’t such a big star in Canada? Why does it take celebrities like Bill Cosby, Ray Rice and our own golden boy, Jian Ghomeshi to bring such a dark and dirty issue as violence against women into the light of day?

Denial. That’s why. And denial is why our nation is polarized on the issue.

Why did it take them so long to come forward? Smells fishy to me. This was simply one of many comments I have been reading about the Ghomeshi scandal.

If he wasn’t famous, I’d believe her. But common, he’s a cash grab for her.

If that thought doesn’t make you sick to your stomach, you may not want to read any further.

Denial is even more rampant than rape. All it takes is one accusation to watch the nation separate like oil in water. Even CBC execs remained in the cozy realm of neutrality until they were forced to address the issue in a public forum. Our society, even in our modern age where we launch communications light years into space, where we can mend organs as complex and intricate as the human brain, where we save lives, improve lives, beat all the natural odds, we still cannot swallow the idea that woman who cries rape could be telling the truth. It’s unseemly to us. Our first path to take is doubt.

The facts are nine out of every ten reported cases of rape are true. Nine out of ten women are telling the truth. And that’s just reported cases. Millions of incidents of violence against women remain unreported because there is too much at stake for the victim. Social ostracization, career suicide, economical ramifications, the list is endless.

And big corporations, big public corporations, corporations that represent the voice of Canadians, keep their well manicured hands out of the dirt. By doing so, they only represent half of Canadians. The remainder, well, don’t walk alone at night; be careful what you wear; don’t drink with men present. It’s your own fault if you do. And if you are attractive at work? Well, you had it coming to you, didn’t you?

So, have you read the recent report commissioned by the CBC on the Ghomeshi scandal? The entire cover-up of violence against women? Of discrimination? Of objectification and abuse?

I didn’t think so. Too little too late right?

A view from the inside – part II

A view from the inside – part II

She had dark, closely cropped hair. And she was fat. Short and fat. She didn’t stay long, but she screamed, kicked and screamed the entire time.

I remember hearing her in the middle of the night, while the lights were still on, cameras in our rooms watching us sleep. She would wail and wail and wail.

I tried not to cry.

The second night, she ran out of her room and around and around the nurses’ unit until the orderlies got her. Held her down. Injected her.

I tried to think of it all as a bad dream.

I will wake up. I will wake up. Why did you put me here?

“Hi sweetie. Would you like some breakfast?”

It’s morning? Oh right, it is. I’ve been awake all night.

I nod to the same nurse who took my blood the first day. She carefully places a plastic tray on the blue blanket on my bed. I sit up. Look over my shoulder to the barred window. Gray, gloomy. A man is pacing back and forth outside my room.

The nurse pulls up a chair across the room from me. “Do you mind if I sit, Kelly?” I shrug.

You can pitch a fucking tent and camp out for all I care.

“How are you feeling today?”

“Fine,” I mumble. I don’t remember what was on the tray. Maybe cereal. Maybe apple sauce. But I know there was no coffee. In the cup I had hoped was caffeine were little pills.

But I remember the fork had no tines. And no knife.

“I would like to take a shower,” I look up from the tray at her.

“Of course, dear.” The man pacing outside my room was peeking in now. He wore slippers. And a robe. I don’t remember much else but the nurse telling him to remember his manners and not spy on people.

What the fuck am I doing here?

I tried not to cry.

“Do you really think this is the best place for someone like me?” The words came out of my mouth before my brain reacted.

She turned to me, smiled. Her smile reminded me of The Stepford Wives.

“What do you mean, people like you, honey?”

“People like me, who just need a break. I just need a holiday is all. I didn’t mean to do anything wrong.”

“Honey, everyone needs a little break every now and then. Now, how about that shower?” She smiles to me again.

The nurse begins to usher me out of my room, into a main hallway which circulated around an enclosed nurses’ station. The windows had the same bars as the windows to the outside. That scared me more than the girl screaming at night, more than the police car that brought me here.

“What happened to that girl?” I asked the dark haired nurse.

“What girl, sweetie?”

“The one who screams a lot.”

She opened a door with a key and ushered me inside a starkly lit, sterile looking white room.

“She’s gone to another part of the hospital dear. Now take off your clothes.”

I turn to her. “Excuse me?”

She moves over to what I can only presume is a shower. A grated hole in the wall starts to spout warm water. There is no curtain. The mirror is brushed metal and bolted to the wall. The toilet has no seat.

There is nothing with which I can hurt myself in this room.

She tests the water, turns to me and smiles.

“Clothes, honey.”

“May I please have some privacy?”

“No, honey. Clothes please.”

I begin to strip as the tears pool in my eyes.

Get me out of here.

 A view from the inside – part I here.


A view from the inside

A view from the inside

My heart has been racing lately. I have been reflecting. But when reflection turns into a tumble down the Rabbit Hole, my heart races. My emotions commit mutiny and Mr. Hyde comes out.

Today I have been reflecting on a very brief time in my life that I realize, I have never actually written about. Only parts I can write because, quite frankly, my memory is a broken puzzle surrounding the events.

I was twenty one. I remember bright lights. I remember feeling cold. Cold right through my entire body. I could smell vomit and iodine.

I remember turning my head, weak on the bed, and seeing a bedpan filled to the brim with thick, black muck.

My heart is still racing.

I remember nausea. I remember not being able to control my muscles. I remember a tremor. Like a stroke. I vomited more black, vile mess.

The nurse kept saying, “If you don’t drink this, I’ll have no choice but to shove a tube down your throat. Do you want that?”

She was a bitch. That I do remember. I passed out.

The doctor came in. He was tall. With glasses.

“Kelly, we need to take your arterial blood. What you ingested has a dangerous effect on blood pH.” I know. I’m not stupid. “This will hurt.”

“A lot.”

I remember screaming. I kept thinking that he was ripping my arteries out through my wrist all the way up to my heart. My arm was on fire and every bone was breaking. I screamed for him to stop.

Patches, stickers, were placed on my bare chest. “Your heart is in danger,” the doctor mumbled.

My heart is already dead. Why do you think I’m here. Everything went dark.

I woke up in a room. A brightly lit room. It smelled different. Sounds were different. I couldn’t hear the rhythmic beeping anymore. The sense of panic, of franticness, was gone.

I could see the sunlight spreading it’s fingers across the linoleum tiled floor. I was covered in a blue blanket. And a hospital gown.

I looked to the source of the sunlight, the window. I was horrified to see bars, two inch squares, covering the entire small window.

No, no, no, no.

“Good morning,” a voice from the doorway with no door. I remember turning and looking at a small, dark haired woman. “May I come in?”

I looked back up at the window, the bars, and nodded.

“I need to take more blood, sweetie.” She started to unearth my arm from the covers. I looked down. A smattering of bruises, a splotch of dried blood in the crux of my elbow. My wrist was purple.

“From where?” I mumbled.

“Oh honey, I’m  really good at this.” She smiled at me. I wanted to like her smile but it felt like she was smiling at a child. “How are you feeling this afternoon?”


I just looked at her.

“Pretty rotten no doubt,” she answered for me. “Do you know where you are?”

I shook my head, no. No, I don’t fucking know. And why are there goddamn bars on my window?

“Honey, you tried to hurt yourself. Do you remember that?”

Fuck off.

“You’re in Homewood. You’ll be spending a few days here.”

That’s when I heard the girl in the room next to me scream. Saw the uniformed men rushing into the room.

I don’t remember much. But I remember her scream.

My heart is still racing. Fifteen years later.