Stepping Out of the Fire: A Year of Living in a Pandemic

This has been the longest year. The official anniversary of the global pandemic was this week. Where i live, while we heard of Covid19 before March, my own life changed when my kids started March Break last year and then never went back to school until September. During this year, we have experienced so much – it’s been a full catastrophe of living indeed.

Early on, i experienced a whirlwind of feelings, stories, and fears. I had to learn fast how to pivot so i could still do All The Things – parent my children who i never wanted to home school, work from home when i never wanted to do online therapy, be home all the time when access to nature and friends is a big part of my self-preservation and coping. Like many, my body went into fight/flight/freeze reaction.

I was one of the lucky ones – i never got sick nor did any of my family. I was able to continue working, and i am safe at home. There were a few weeks where i was not sure how to pivot and work from home and online. I love being in connection with people i support: As a somatic-based trauma therapist, i rely on being in a shared space to look for cues in people’s body language as well as a way to co-regulate. And yet, people started to meet me in my Zoom Room. More people came too: This past year was my busiest ever. More people needed support to take care of their mental health, nervous systems and trauma stories because of the added experience of the pandemic in their life now.

A big part of my practice is supporting people with tools for emotion regulation and nervous system psychoeducation. And yet, i struggled with sleep, loneliness, despair and overwhelm myself. As a therapist, i am not immune (tricky word these days) to feeling all the feels.

I am privileged in several ways as a working parent. I am white and able-bodied. I have my own business that was able to shift to online relatively easily. And yet, i did not plan to work from home exclusively. I continue to pay rent to a cute office i can call my own a day per week. In fact, after months of not leaving my house at all, I started going to it this summer as a way to get that luxury of luxuries – undivided focus on one thing – in this case, work.

Don’t get me wrong: I love being a parent. I chose to be one. More so, i wanted to be a working parent as work fulfills me and sustains me as a parent. I am a better parent BECAUSE i work. And yet there are days when i hate parenting, and the work of it. The pandemic both intensified the work as there was no break, nor community support. My body’s flight response to feeling overwhelmed was being challenged as there was NO place to GO. I felt like that caged animal in the zoo.

After a summer of no plans – no camps, no trips – we chose to have our own children go back to school in-person. It was better for all 4 of us; our mental health needed this time apart and we felt safe in this decision. It was a glorious rhythm of 3 months. I worked from home exclusively and my children were able to come home after school. We were happy to be reunited each day.

“My children cause me the most exquisite suffering of which i have any experience. It is the suffering of ambivalence; the murderous alternation between bitter resentment and raw-edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness sometimes i seem to myself, in. My feelings toward these tiny guiltless beings, a monster of selfishness and intolerance.” in Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich

After this past year, of basically no school, summer ‘break,’ in-person school, and then virtual school for 2 months, i have an idea what is best for mental health and resilience: Routine and Time Apart. What’s best for my kids is to go to school in-person. What’s best for my Worker Bee Part is for my kids to go to school. What’s best for the community is for my kids to stay home so we can all be safe. What’s best for my relationship with my partner is that he goes to work. What’s best for feminism and the workforce is for kids to go school. What’s best for my family is where i am still not sure.

I do not have a history of anxiety and yet as a therapist, i recognize the signs of anxiety and overwhelm in my body. It is just too much to bear. I have a fight/flight response that kicks in when i feel threatened or pushed to my breaking point. Being at home with my beloved family all these months has surely pushed me to no end.

I also see how my Inner Child is being activated in all sorts of ways. She shows up when my children are in conflict. She shows up when my children are defiant to me. She shows up when I’m lonely. Sometimes, she wants to to scream. Other times, she wants to flee. There are times she needs to confront the beast. And there are equal times she wants to dance – hello 80’s music mix that makes me want to dance and break free.

We need a break from each other.

But what is the answer?

One way i get breaks is to escape into a good book. I have been reading in abundance during the pandemic. While i have not been able to give myself time to do other passion projects, i have been able to push my reflective mind and critical thinking radar. One book that i read really resonated with me: Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers by Sady Doyle. The title (while awesome) is a bit misleading. It is more about how women and mothers are portrayed in film. And yet, the writer breaks down the societal assumptions and expectations of women as a way to prove how these stereotypes still persist today.

For instance, Sady researched historically accurate narratives of women alongside their fictionalized versions. She shows how women have always been kept at home and their power was something men feared. That’s why, in part, women were accused of witchcraft when they were healers or midwives. Women then (and today) were best seen in the homes working to contribute to the home as men worked in the public realm. All you need to look for evidence of this is to go to history books and see how men worked in the fields and women worked in the kitchen. The division of labour has a marked history tied to traditional gender roles. When women were called in the factories during war-time, they thrived and felt a new-found independence and pride. That too was taken from them.

Just read this powerful excerpt to get a sense of the book: “there’s a fire on the horizon. You can see it burning out in the edges of the world. The wind is hot and taste of ashes.… This is the fire that haunted the dreams [of women before us] and filled them with monsters. This is the light of the Furies too long forgotten coming to keep the end of the bargain. This is the fire at the end of the world and it will consume everything you know. But we are the fire. We are the apocalypse, the risen Furies, the Scarlet woman riding her red Dragon over the horizon because we know that the woman in the dragon are always one and the same. Dead blondes and bad mothers, harlots and abominations witches at the gate of light and darkness: we are the end of the world that was, and the first sign of the world to come in the age after patriarchy, and monsters rule the earth. Our blood holds magic and her stories do too. The violence we survived can be our guide to what needs to change. The fire that burned the witches can be the fire that lights our way. Our power is waiting for us out in forbidden places beyond the world of men. Step forward and claim it into the boundless and female dark.”

We are stepping forward into the fire…tenderly.

Enter the Mom-Cession:
In our current situation, it is mainly women in heteronormative-coupled families who have made sacrifices to their career, income, and life separate from childcare. Here’s a staggering number for you: 850,000 women left job force in Septin order to take care of kids. New statistics in January show even more angering numbers.

After the stats showed us the drastic number of women stepping back from the public realm, and back into the home, many of us were angry. Angry again for being put in the corner, for doing what was right, expected of us, and yet this martying and sacrifice is not sustainable. It is what keeps us in the fire.

We are not meant to do a 40-hour work week, it’s outdated as it was created when someone was home to do meals, clean, childcare. That someone was women who did not work outside the house because men felt that a woman’s place was in the home. That belief was also outdated as its history was based on hunter-gatherer lives centuries ago. Men went out to hunt, women worked in the home. It is also based on racist misuse of power and white supremacy, where the labour of Black slaves was prevalent.

Cynthia Eller shares this reminder in Gentlemen and Amazons: “The gender stereotypes upon which matriarchal myth rests persistently work to flatten out differences among women, to exaggerate differences between women and men, to hand women an identity that is symbolic, timeless and archetypal instead of giving them the freedom to craft identities that suit their individual temperaments, skills, preferences, and moral and political commitments”

I’ve read various views on the benefits of a matriarchal society. Some say we don’t want that either, as it just swings the pendulum to the other side: read Pedagogy of the Oppressed if you need more context. But maybe we do want more feminine energy? Matriarchal societies are more egalitarian and gender-equal communities where there is a seeking of peace and nurturing of the young,the old, and the marginalized. They are founded on the principles of gender balance and giving to the economy. “The markers of patriarchy or dominance, individualism, oppression, champion of individual success, rigid social roles, and aggressive tribal allegiances. Matriarchies don’t simply replace the major players of the system with women, they just change the game” writes Sam George Allen in her book Witches: What Women Do Together.

So, why the long post here and history reminder?

This is the time to reflect on your priorities. We carry many roles, titles and status labels. Some we choose, others are chosen for us. And with each are the values, dreams and priorities that hold the role in reverence. I saw a recent quote by Stephen King, who reminded editors that his wife is more than a wife – “wife is a relationship or status – it is not an identity.’

In my status as a mother, for example, i value raising my children as intersectional feminists, as embodied hope for our future to be better than it is. So we talk about things, i encourage them to come to me, i hold space for their feelings. All their feelings are valid, even the ones that are hard for me. As a partner (okay, ‘wife’), i value this relationship because it is the most secure attachment i have ever had and all of me is welcome to the table. As a working mom, the role may dictate some of my available time, and yet i am privileged in my self-employment to take time off each day to pick up the kids from school, go for walks at lunch with them, and have slower summers.

Motherload
And now that so many of us are home to work, we are reminded that the housework still needs to be done. Children need to be tended to. To-do lists and chores cannot be ignored. And yet, it is not up to women to do it. Sure, i like to bake cookies and go back-to-school shopping with my kids, but that is not because it is my job, but rather because i love this quality time, where i show i care about my kids, and I’m fostering their attachment to me. It is about what i prioritize or value, not the role itself that i do this for.

Doing domestic chores is not a MOTHER task (read this great article for another woman’s voice on the matter), nor a WOMAN task but rather an ADULT task. Baking sourdough bread or mending ripped jeans is an adult thing. The term ‘adulting’ is quite infuriating to me as it belittles the rite of passage into adulthood. A mature adult is anyone between 26-end of life. Any adult needs to know these life skills. It’s called LIFE after all, and not woman skills. The patriarchal nuclear family just doesn’t work anymore, if ever. (Don’t get me started on the term ‘lady’ where only certain women of status could even be called that). It only worked to oppress women by seeing their worth tied to relying on them for free labour at home.

After most of us worked mainly from home this past year, it’s time to see what is sustainable and how to pivot (a top 5 word of 2020 in my opinion) to having a more equitable division of labour at home. So many cishet new parents i support struggled as the new mother continued to carry the motherload while the male partner worked from home. Now both were home, which highlighted just how inequitable and gendered the division is. So many mothers continue to martyr themselves when they claim their partner partner can’t be tired for work. Instead of reminding colleagues and supervisors at work just how unfair it is to expect the mother to carry the load, families continue in this outdated way of life.

My family made a decision later in the year than I’d like to admit, but we did it honestly and organically. We started cleaning as a family. The kids are involved in the household tasks, and they see both of their parents sharing the labour. While i do more of the mental load and my partner does all of the grocery shopping, we are modelling a practice that is aligned with our values. To me, what is included in the definition of partner is the shared responsibility of household work and respect for each other. Good partners both do the housework.

So, what is your priority in your role as an adult, mother, parent, partner, wife? What is it that makes you the happiest version of you? How do you embody this role? And, now that we have completed one year around the Sun with the pandemic, what has been working for you, and not something you want to continue. The change is now.

I have started a new hobby: Collecting articles about how this pandemic is going to impact us in the long-term. As a trauma therapist, it is important for me to know. As a woman and mother, it is important to look into the future. As a feminsit who wants us to learn and unlearn from our mistakes, we can’t have this repeat. There has been a plethora of articles that share the impact of the pandemic on mothers. Mothers generally and working moms specifically. And yes, the wording is intentional – mothers more than fathers are being greatly impacted by this. We are experiencing a double impact of how we have had to adjust to life during a pandemic. I have been keeping a list of all the articles that come my way, via social media. I have quite the curated list. I’m not even looking for them, they find me based on my algorithms. Ironically, I’m considered the ideal audience – my own partner who does his share of house work and active parenting work has yet to see an article unless i am the one forwarding it to him. Why is that?

I’ll give you a hint…patriarchy is not dead yet.

How do I Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways: Six Principles of Self-Love

This month, I have been diving into what ‘self-love’ means. Each year in February, i do a daily practice to honour what needs tending. It is a practice of self-love, and yet it remains a work in progress that is fluid and ever-changing.

This year, the pandemic has flipped the practice on its head. Not because it made it harder to do, as most of the exercises and rituals are things i do at home in private, but rather the need to do it was made even clearer.

This year has pushed so many of us to our edges. We are surviving a global pandemic, some are faring easier than others (privilege, geographic location and government decisions all play a role in this). We are also just getting by and now are finding that our survival and coping strategies are not enough for our bodies to sustain and thrive. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And yet the cracks in our boats are starting to be felt.

I felt the initial shock of the pandemic very hard. I remember being in the fetal position, crying, and screaming more than i want to admit. I was one of the lucky ones – my job became an essential service as did my partner’s, and we could work at home. I found it hard as community is a big part of how i stay regulated in my body, and i was forced to shelter at home. Again, i am lucky to be home with family and yet i also need a break from them in order to get that balance. This is the epitome of mixed feelings that make us feel stuck in a hamster wheel of guilt and gratitude.

So, this past year, i have been noticing how practices of self-love can be that salve for our mind body and soul. I have been taking more time to myself, be it an early evening long bath, reading a lot, and intentionally reaching out to my community. It was with these commitments that i started to see how i practice self-love regularly, and have some principles that i adhere to.

Before i share them, i wanted to unpack the differences between all of these ‘self’ words – no wonder the ‘self-help’ industry is so abundant. It is also important to note that while work on our Self is a private and independent act, it thrives in community and co-regulation with others. The healing process of therapy is successful mainly because of the relationship; whereas self-help books done in isolation are not as productive. The concept of Self comes from various psychologists from yesteryear. Jung speaks of it and Schwartz (of Internal Family Systems) speaks of the Self and it’s 8 C’s – (check out this helpful PDF here.) I have adapted from these as well as my own work on my Self.

Self-Worth is seen as the way of holding yourself in high regard and worthy of respect and happiness, and Self-Esteem is how we see ourselves and relies on self-worth. Self-Love is the action that is behind the feeling and thought, and it requires some acceptance of our Self as we are. Each of these concepts do not exist in a bubble and are influenced by our community, culture, and connections to others. They are shaped by our early attachments and also can be healed when we are not shown love as children. This is why self-love work is so important for re-parenting that inner child who is wounded.

There is a shadow side to Self-Love, even more than the other selfs of worth and esteem, acceptance and compassion. We are taught to be modest, especially for those of us who identify as women. To have love or esteem for oneself is vain or immodest. This needs to change, and we need to reclaim that sense of holding our Self in high regard as not only sustainable but our birthright. Those of us in femme bodies especially struggle with this shadow side – White supremacy and patriarchy have benefited from capitalism’s profiting off the modernization of our way of living. Feminine Sensuality is very much a needed part of our herstory that needs tending to again. We must move away from a male-centred value system. But that is a topic for a later article…

As self-love gets a bad rap, i wanted to share quickly what it is NOT – being conceited and holding your needs as superior over others (we are all perfectly imperfect and valuable as is); giving yourself a free pass whenever things are hard or go wrong (love admits mistakes and working on them); remaining stuck and unchanging or being rigid in your routine and views (self-love is ever-changing, evolving, and learning), relying on other’s compliments to validate me (though i’m not entirely sure i need to love myself before others love me either); performative self-care acts or rules to follow just because (it is a felt-sense of something in the moment and looks differently as moments are fleeting).

Self-Love is sometimes connected to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as a process of getting there after tending to body needs, safety, connection via self-awareness and then self-acceptance. I wonder if it’s more complex and non-linear than that. It incorporates the various parts of self – physical, spiritual, social, emotional, and mental realms. To me, Self-Love is an Intentional Commitment (gotta do the work!) that helps me get a felt sense of inner glow, empowerment, sovereignty and affection for my Self.

Here are the 6 Ways i Practice Self-Love

Boundaries
While these are not in any order, I think it’s important to know the role of boundary setting in order to help us feel self-love. When we can say no to outside expectations, requests, demands, or assumptions, we are honouring our own needs. We deserve to honour our own time, body and decisions. We are putting our Self on our priority list. This is hard for many of us to do, and yet the reward is us tending to what is important – our safety, autonomy, time and voice. As social creatures, we thrive in community but sometimes that community is not safe or respectful of our boundaries. We need both time alone to rest and time in community to feel connected. We need breaks from devices and social media as well. As there are different types of boundaries, it helps to learn them – maybe you want to start with practicing saying No, or maybe a more energetic or emotional boundary that seems more attainable.
One Small Thing: Take stock of your friends and family and see who honour and respect your No

Self-Compassion
Self-love is the response to giving myself compassion and care, as i do for others. Self-Compassion and Self-care are the actions we take that help us embody the affection we have for our Self. So, it is the kind self-talk that intentionally works on forgiving myself for a mistake; it is the voice that quiets the judgement that sneaks in; it is the Permission Slips that remind me that i am perfectly imperfect like all humans. It is also the times i validate myself and take pride in what i do. This is how i hold space for myself and honour me, because if i don’t than this is what I’m modeling for others. This is where mindfulness of the here-in-now moment is sacred, slowing down and being present in my body is self-love.
One Small Thing: Write out some Permission Slips to have ahead of time – i.e. i give myself permission to make a mistake and then give myself a hug

Self-Trust
One of the benefits of learning more about self-care and self-compassion practices is the ability to learn how to trust our Self. When we listen to our needs, honour them, and are guided by our intuition and not our fear, we can then make confident decisions. Sometimes, that means also needing to learn how to NOT believe all i think as well. That may be a part of us showing up that is wounded, or the Inner Critic who is worried about making a mistake. When i start to listen more to my Self, i know where the worry is coming from: That is trust. Another important aspect of self-love is being able to work on our goals, dreams and plans – when we trust our Self, we see how the cycle of our life can impact our plan, instead of feeling hopeless or pessimistic. Knowing that i am working on my goals in general, and that my mood impacts my optimism is a big step to keeping on task with my dreams.
One Small Thing: Do a Needs Assessment for a day and honour some, be it a glass of water or changing stop scrolling through social media when it starts to hurt

Pleasure
We can’t have love without pleasure and playfulness. As Deb Dana talks about “glimmers and glow moments’ we need to have these examples to remind ourselves that we can be happy, present, and capable of pleasure. Self-love does mean giving ourselves a Gift sometimes, and taking stock of achievements. As the old commercial reminds us, we are worth it. This is where the ritual of gratitude is meaningful. When we see our achievements and our proud of ourselves, we feel empowered. When we find ways to play and be present, we are attuning to our heart’s desire. Is there a pet project you love to focus on for instance? To take it a step further, our Home life is also a reflection of this. Is there a space in your home that helps hold your pleasure practice? What rituals do you have honour that captures it.
One Small Thing: Create a Pleasure Corner with some cozy items in your home (think of a comfy chair, candles, a book and blanket to have on hand)

Know thy Self
After this past year, many of us have learned what our limits and needs are. We have been stretched to the max, exhausted, overwhelmed and afraid. When we learn more about our own nervous system and its capacity (also known as Window of Tolerance), then we can tend to our wants, likes and needs. It is so helpful to know when we are reacting in Fight Flight Freeze Fawn, and when we practice self-love, our needs are being respected. When we know if we are regulated or getting dysregulated, we can pull out the best resource from our ‘toy box’ of tools to tend to our Self. This is a sort of Love Map of my Self. Anyone who has endured trauma benefits greatly from this inner work, to heal and integrate the trauma and Shadow side (also called Fragmented Parts). Another important part of knowing our Self is to learn what our Attachment Styles and ancestral stories are, so that we can listen to the inner dialogue of our Parts that are trying to take up airspace, in order to help us be safe in the world, as well as what shaped us to become who we are and how we think about our selves and worth.
One Small Thing: Learn more about what you need to stay emotionally regulated and create a cheat sheet for when you need it

Body Attunement
Another part of self-love work that can be tricky is our relationship to our body. A lot of us were taught to be modest – to take compliments with grace, to not be vain, to not hold our appearance to the highest regard. This has lead to a disconnect between our Mind and Intellect to our Body and its appearance. Further, it has made our thinking brain the powerhouse to admire and be proud of, and puts our body in the shadows, especially when it comes to pleasure, ability and size. So, self-love rituals most include ways to move the body, listen to it, and do healing work (whether it is talk therapy, walks, yoga, massage, what you eat, etc). Move your body and then rest it, eat nourishing food, take breaks, have that bubble bath. When we reclaim Embodiment and Bodyfulness, we are more attuned to what our body is telling us – and it never lies: Listen to it.
One Small Thing: Put on some of your favourite music and see what your body does in response; try a 3 song minimum

Still unsure how self-love works? I had been finding the ritual of journaling to be so helpful – taking time to reflect, give myself a new perspective, as well as slow down and stay with my feelings is a powerful way to practice self-love. It is a way of holding space for myself.

So, if you are stuck on this concept, how about taking some time to reflect on some of these journal prompts:

*When did i show myself love this week?
*What is my favourite time of day and how to i linger in it?
*When do i feel happy? When have i felt happy – reflect on a time in your past.
*How do i feel connected to my needs?
*Write a love letter to myself from my Wise Self, or to my Inner Child Part
*What are 5 positive things to tell myself that i am proud of doing this past week?

Remember, self-love is a powerful way of reclaiming sovereignty over yourself – itself a radical act of self-care so be gentle with your Self: we are all a work in progress. It is your birth rite after all.

Rise into a New Year

It’s 12 days into 2021. Today is the first New Moon of 2021 so a perfect time to look at the year ahead, with a strong back and soft heart. I’m still not convinced i feel the shift of a new year yet. So much lingers from last year: My kids are doing remote-learning from home as all school-age children are in my province; Covid cases are at a drastic high; and the cold winter days make it hard to feel in contact with nature.

And yet we press on. Because we are resilient and because we have to. It’s not easy, and i know my version is easier than most – I’m in a secure relationship with my partner, I have worked consistently during the pandemic, and we are healthy. Some of my resilience and reality comes from privilege, white privilege namely, as well as living in Canada.

I am also privileged because i am a therapist who is resourced with tools to take care of my mental health. Most of the time i know what to do. As an imperfect human, there are times that my humanness during the pandemic gets in the way of my Therapist Part. Most of the time, I’m okay with that. I have learned that my reflection and response to my children when in conflict is as important to being perfectly regulated in the first place. I am not always perfectly regulated because, well, Covid. And being attuned to my own body’s needs is a relatively new tool. I am modelling for them and for my own Inner Child that apology for snapping at them, or being inpatient is not their fault, nor is it mine. It’s because I’m stretched thin and needing to rest. Rest that does not come easily these days.

So i use the energy and guidance of the moon to help set a pace for me. I am slowly down my to-do list this week and giving myself permission to not be productive. There is no need to rush ahead.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions as they set us up to fail, compete, and produce. Rather, i sit and take stock inwards, and listen to what is aligning within me. I also sit with what the collective needs, and what is moving me forward instead of staying stuck.

Each year, i have been reflecting on the year that was and planning intentions for the year about to begin. This help me set guideposts of intentions for my coming year. This ritual also helps me get a sense of how to pace myself and live my life fully. Like many of us, 2020 threw me a for a loop. I sat with core words like reflect, rest, reset, intention, strength, safety, empathy, and encourage. And while all the words sounded good, they just didn’t speak to what my body was quietly and consistently whispering.

In the final months of 2020, i saw where i was able to show up for myself, my family and community. I also saw where that was harder for me. I came face to face with my needs and realities and did an evaluation of what was at the core for me.

For instance, i love to learn, both personal courses like learning how to do macrame, as well as professional development. And yet, when i continue to be a perpetual student, i don’t always have the energy to step into the learning and allow time for a new role to emerge. After several courses in 2020 (i think it was a record high of 12), i am taking a pause and stepping sideways.

I rise.

I am stepping into the wings of the emergent butterfly, the phoenix using from the ashes of 2020, and of the moon showing its wisdom in all its phases.

I don’t mean I’m going to rise and and claim space that is not mine, or even to assume I’m an expert, but rather rise my head up high and take what is mine to feel proud of. To not stay quiet, to walk with an embodied dignity, grace, and confidence. This is what my core essence is speaking to, to calling me towards.

“Just like moons and like suns with the certainty of tides, just like hopes springing high, still i RISE” Maya Angelou

I rise as a white woman who wants to do the hard work of addressing and challenging white supremacy.
I rise as a feminist who is a mother raising feminists and co-conspirators for change
I rise as an adult who wants to be wild, free, and fully human
I rise as a woman who wants to embody her feminine strength
I rise as a therapist who knows, shares, and loves working with people to heal from trauma
I rise as a human who is working on healing her Inner Child Part who wants to Play
I rise as a being who is attuning to her mind body soul
I rise as a partner who is working on her reactions versus seeping knowing around what she needs in the moment
I rise as a leader who has been doing work on healing trauma and gender-based violence for over 20 years
I rise as the imperfect person who believes that change is possible

What does that mean? Well, stay tuned for some exciting projects i have in the works. For now, there are two things i want to share with you.

Reflections of the Year Guidebook
First, i created a workbook to help you find your word, goals, or dreams for 2021. After years of doing others, i compiled and created a guidebook that speaks to me. It’s a 14 page booklet that you can get and use for yourself. All you have to do is – click the link to get your own free copy!

Secondly, the other word that kept coming to me was REST. Rest my mind body soul after the hard year of 2020. Honour the need for us all to rest, as we learned that more than anything, we need to rest during collective trauma, not be productive worker bees. Yes, we can pivot and work from home, but should we? I definitely didn’t want the blurred lines of work and home balance.

Then, i made a connection to something else that is near and dear to me – supporting women who have experienced abuse and trauma. A big part of my work journey to now has been supporting women (many who are parents) who have developmental trauma and/or experienced intimate partner violence. As the trauma impacts all aspects of who they are, it’s no surprise that parenthood has been made even challenging.

So, I give you REST – Resources for Empowerment and Support after Trauma.

No one else can empower someone. Each of us has capacity to be resilient and heal after trauma. This is at the essence of post-traumatic growth. We cannot do this work in isolation or alone. This is where collective healing comes into fruition.

This has been a big part of my individual support to people, and I’m excited to see where this chapter takes me next. As community is so important to me, I hope to foster a community via groups, webinars, and some other intentional sharing of resources. I have been sitting in stillness and have had my thoughts lead me to some great ideas! So, stay tuned for more articles, resources, and programs coming up later this year…

A Year in Review: My Mind Body Soul Rhythms

I am writing this from my bed on my birthday. Another turn around the sun. I am officially in my mid-forties now, as well as mid-life. I am in the ripening stage of life, a deep womanhood of the mastering and maturing phase. While I, like many of you, have had to make adjustments to celebrate my special day, i am still holding true to some rituals. Like a journal entry of my year in reflection.

What a year it has been.

What started off as a hopeful, new decade surprised us all with the hardest year most of us have had to face. Like you, i have experienced the collective trauma of living in a pandemic. I had to pivot, make changes, let go of wishes, grieve, and also relish in the everyday joys of life as it continued forward.

Looking back on my year, my word of choice is not as ironic as i thought it was once a few months ago. In December of last year, i sat down and worked on some key words to help hold and guide me in 2020. Now, RHYTHM seems to have been the perfect word because it ultimately gave me strength, balance, and pause each step of the way.

One place i look for rhythm is in the trifecta of embodiment – mind body soul. I sat with each of these and reflected on how rhythm showed in my life, even during this trying year. I was surprised how i was still able to practice it, as well as grace, joy, connection and integrity.

Mind
I gravitate towards books for balance. I read nightly before bed, even if it’s just a few pages. This time for my brain to slow down and unwind is a ritual that i’ve practiced since my early years as a child. This year alone, i think i have read more books during the 9 months of the pandemic than most years in total.

Here are some books that have really stood out for me:
*Strange Situation by Bethany Saltman
*My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem
*Untamed by Glennon Doyle
*To Have and to Hold: Motherhood Marriage, and the Modern Dilemma by Molly Millwood
*Rupi Kaur’s new book of poetry, Home Body

I also have taken courses this year, both for work as well as my own personal learning. As a student of the world, and as a therapist who believes that we should always be learning and unlearning, i have found a balance with when to be a student and when to be the leader. I spoke a bit about a course i took in my last journal article. I am now looking at the year ahead, and how i can step more firmly into my role as a leader. I have been so honoured to share some of my work both with people i support, as well as other community leaders and programs. This balance also helps me find a nice rhythm.

One course i took more for my Self rather than my Therapist Worker Part was Lisa Olivera’s Cultivate You Course. She put together this gentle and transformational collection of reflections. I love how she focuses on Wonder and Awe to help us cultivate our truest and fullest Self. I have found ways to incorporate her short videos and journal prompts into my week, and am so grateful for the rhythm and peace it gives me.

Lastly, in regards to my mind, i have made a huge change in my work life. It was the ultimate decision to find a rhythm in my life: i left my job at an agency that i worked at for 15 years in order to devote more of my time and energy to my private practice. Actually, it was to re-align my time and energy to me. What it also did was give me so much better access to rhythm. In retrospect, it was just what i needed to slow down the impact of burn-out. After leaving in July, these last few months have shown me that i am no longer being pushed to my limits, and there is more peace in my body. While the pandemic had a lot to do with my decision, it was something i was contemplating for some time.

I’m so lucky to have always been doing what I love, both in work as well as my creativity.

Body
In reference to my body, i have been turning inward and noticing more what my subtle body sensations are hinting at. I have been able to honour the need to scream, to dance, to sway, to eat, to rest, to cry, to shake, and to play. These are embodied practices of rhythm.

I have heard from many that our bodies have become activated by the pandemic. Being stuck at home created restlessness, re-traumatization for some of us who have a history of trauma due to abuse, as well as new experiences of anxiety and fear.

I mentioned some courses and programs i participated in already. Two of them were body-based courses on healing trauma. Jane Clapp’s Movement for Trauma Level 1 was a helpful program of integrating various types of movement exercises alongside trauma therapy theory. As Jane is diving deeper in Jungian work, this really aligns with my own studies of Parts Work and archetypes.

To say i’m a fan of Kimberly Ann Johnson’s body of work is putting it mildly. I took 2 courses with her this year alone; one on somatic parenting and one called Jaguar in the Emergent World. She intentionally combines the pivotal work of Somatic Experiencing with Feminine Spirituality and breathe work. That is totally my jam. Her honest and direct method of sharing profoundly helpful info about the human body and nervous system is integral in my own life and work.

One way i’ve reconnected with my body is the daily small rituals and pauses i’ve been giving myself. They in fact have been the salve for the rhythm my physical body has needed this year.

Here are some body-based takeaways i am grateful for this year:
*Learning to get on a scooter and take it for a spin – my Inner Child was so excited and my adult self was proud, though a part of me (unnecessarily) worried about ripping my new jumper
*Dance parties with my kids and online with you – an ecstatic, intuitive and vulnerable sharing
*Baths at 7pm just because i want one, not because i need a quick shower to start my day
*Ordering out take-out from favourite restaurants, and often
*Walks in nature, monthly visits to the water – it took me several weeks or even months to notice that my body needed to get away from my home and alleyway to help me regulate. I re-discovered my love of sway dancing in water.

Soul
A big part of my soul work is getting into nature, especially water. So each month, we travelled to the cottage, we swam in the water when we could, and we walked along the rivers and lake at home.

My beloved cat died earlier in December. Over 17 years ago, finding him and bringing him home turned my life with my new partner into a family. I was never a cat person before and he gifted me with so much over these years. My grief for him is painfully raw and i’m allowing myself to honour it. It is no coincidence that i took a course called Shadow Work with Amy Wright Glenn – i finished it mere weeks before his death. I spent 2 months reading about grief, loss, and how to hold space for others. In effect, i was able to ride the grief waves more fully and presently. This is Soul Work for me – to feel grief means i have loved.

While my Soul work is a private ritual, I have a strong need for community and connection. As i delved deeper into understanding how old insecure patterns of attachment can be healed for adults, i realized that my own internal rhythm needs more contact with people. I don’t necessarily need touch (though i do miss hugs), what i need is co-regulation by making eye contact and laughing together. This for me is a spiritual need as it’s deeper than just my body feeling regulated.

Resmaa Menakem calls the Vagus Nerve the Soul Nerve, so as our vagus nerve is connected to our social engagement system, this really speaks to me. We are social creatures and need community, not isolation, to survive. No wonder so many of us struggled with loneliness, overwhelm and dysregulated bodies this year. The vagus nerve is what gives our mind body soul a connection to each other.

So i started a few things in order to get this need met:
*I got onto social media – a)I started a Facebook group with and for friends, to support each other during the pandemic and b)i made the vulnerable leap to make my Instagram page public and have been rewarded with new connections because of this shift c)I started writing more regularly and launched a monthly newsletter
*I came to the cottage of my childhood every month, sometimes for a week or a few days. This gave me a pause from the city and a way to get back in rhythm via nature and the water
*I re-aligned my focus on my rituals – regular tarot card pulls, journal reflections and breathe work intentions
*Creativity exercises that help me pause, slow down, and be present
*I created a rhythm for my moon reflections and guides. While this practice continues to evolve and find solid footing, this past year, my moon rituals have been such an anchor

Like many, early in the pandemic i struggled with things to do to keep me busy. I bought puzzles, i read, and i played in my alleyway. I also made some updates to my home – it is a sanctuary after all. I was slowly cracking open, having my own felt sense of grief, fear and uncertainty. I was struggling with going to sleep for the first time in my life. And my window of tolerance/capacity/presence was shrunken to a tiny spiral that was so fragile.

I had to do something about it.

Along the way, i noticed a shift in me: Early on, i struggled with overwhelm and a loud inner critic. After taking stock, i realized that i was being hard on myself and kept minimizing the toll of the pandemic on me as a human. My Therapist Part maybe knew what to do, but the imperfect Human has every right to be sad. And then i noticed that we are NOT meant to be productive during a pandemic. We are meant to REST and slow down, to turn inward and find balance in our bodies. We need to find ways to anchor ourselves when life is messy and uncertain

So i gave myself permission to fail, and permission to be more patient. I reflected a lot on my family members’ very different ways of coping, being seen, and having needs. I noticed what triggered me, and while some if it was out of my control, i learned how to start noticing the triggers in my body and how to tend to them. I am still a work in progress and i am so much more regulated, aware, and tender with myself now. This has got me to a better place in December than i was in April.

I am all the better for it!

Goodbye 2020, onwards and upwards we R I S E …

((stay tuned for my annual Core Anchor Words that will guide me into 2021))

The Journey to Me: Shadow Work and the Many Moons of the Self

I recently completed a course called Shadow Work, offered by Amy Wright Glenn at the Institute for Birth, Breath and Death. In honour of this darkening time of the year, I’m sharing a version of my final paper with you here.

Each of us are made up of parts that make us complex and unique individuals. For most of us, some of these layers are hidden in shadow, not unlike a Russian Nesting Doll or that dark corner in our basement. While they are always present, it can be hard to know when they show up and become revealed, and for what purpose.

As humans, each of us also has the experience of living through some type of trauma or pain. Depending on the support we are given at the time, it can become a deeper wound or shadow that then presents itself when triggered later on in life. Shadows are embedded in us. Carl Jung shared that the shadow is a part of a person’s psyche that stores the parts of the Self that are seen as unacceptable or uncomfortable. They then move into our shadows and become unconsciously unaware. Shadow Parts show up later in life by trying to keep you safe and not get hurt, but sometimes it’s overdoing its job.

We do not have just one Shadow, but several, built over time. One type of Shadow is our Inner Child – raw, immature emotions that get stuck in us during an especially hard or unfulfilled time in our life.

Shadows start to form in childhood, especially after age 8 or 9 when human development connects to autonomy, self-esteem and a sense of self. As my own children are 11 and 8 years old, I am seeing in real time how this starts to happen. Their full personalities are forming, as are the parts of themselves that they are self-critical about or struggling with. They also mirror the parts of myself as their parent who is modeling for them how I cope with the big emotions in my life. As Amy Wright Glenn shares in her book Holding Space: On Loving, Dying and Letting Go, children need to see our smaller grief and ways that we heal it, so that we create scaffolding for our children against the bigger losses that happen later in life.

The Shadow side may compare yourself to others, or even other times in our life. It wants to preserve connection with others, so may fawn or appease to get that connection, even if it means that the Self is being martyred or self-sacrificed. That is usually from a history of not having secure attachment or healthy bonds in childhood. As humans, we thrive on social engagement, not unlike other animals like wolves or elephants.

Many family dynamics include intergenerational trauma as well as learning. We inherit our ancestors’ shadows, and they can become active or remain dormant in us. Trapped emotions become shadows as they are like hungry ghosts in us that cause disharmony; we also taught that only easy and good emotions are valid to be seen or shared so many more get hidden in shadows of Self.

The concept of the ‘dark night of the soul’ is when a Shadow part is triggered and brought to feel sadness, confusion, despair or a crisis. When we recognize this work, it is a deep awakening to the healing, growth and transformation we can go through. The Shadow is fuel for the fire that doesn’t want to get to the light.

A word of caution: While the terms shadow and light were historically neutral, we need to be mindful of the covert nature of claiming darkness as bad, wrong or ugly. In today’s world, we need to reclaim the term so that it doesn’t get tied down to white supremacy and internalized power. The dark is not inherently bad. Good grows in the dark too. Think of the seed planted in dark soil, or the beautiful butterfly that is born out of a dark chrysalis state. We can be transformed because of the dark too.

When we befriend our Shadow, we not only heal and accept it, but we accept our true Selves by not cutting off any of the pieces that live with pain.

Over these last few years, I have been doing some soul work, and diving deeper into myself. As a trauma-focused therapist myself, this work is integral. As I have been learning more about Shadow work, Inner Child Healing and somatic bottom-up work that connects the body to healing the mind, I see more fully how my own Shadow lives in me.

For instance, I see how shadows may be in charge when we are triggered by someone else as a quality of them is activating us. For instance, it used to be really hidden in shadows when a certain tone of voice or energy scared me. Now I help people connect it to their own childhood. Maybe your parents grew up in difficult family structures, homes where some feelings were not welcome, or anger and stress overruled affectionate touch. While they tried their best to raise you, they brought their shadows with them when they became parents themselves. Just like Peter Pan’s shadow, they were quite tethered to the parts of their life they were trying to leave behind.

There are shadow sides of the feminine as well as masculine. As a girl growing up in the big world of 1980s (or pick your decade!), I learned quite early to have a strong emphasis on being good, pretty, or embody positive vibes. I had to cast out negativity in order to feel safe, which meant I also couldn’t show the harder feelings like sadness or anger, let alone fear. This led me to be stuck in a rut of sameness as I was conditioned to be the good girl to a fault. Good girls don’t complain or disagree. They don’t have strong feelings. Like many people, I learned to say “I’m fine” even when I’m not. This too is a shadow part trying to protect us: Instead of being honest, these words cover up my true feelings as they are seen as too sensitive or vulnerable. Even though girls are conditioned to be more sensitive than people in male bodies, it is still quite unacceptable to show the fuller range of emotions and vulnerability.

I got my period at quite a young age and so my body was also sexualized by men. A shadow side that was brought forth was the part of me that should know more about toying with men or flirting with them, and yet the innocent side of me didn’t align or allow for my sexual self to be accessed as I got older. I hated my sexual body for a long time. It has been a wonderful journey to reclaim it.

I shy away from conflict. And when in conflict, our shadows tend to show up because they were not taken care of before. They are trying to protect us and instead we complain and our pride gets in the way of healing and repair work. I used to want to flee but now as an adult, a part of me goes into fight mode. I used to fawn more, and have been working on this people-pleasing part. Shadows live in the murky boundaries that don’t get enforced. They rely on our loyalty. As Pixie Lighthorse shares though, “comfort is not a companion to change.” We need discomfort in order to create the shift that is needed.

Based on our survival response, when in conflict our shadows show up and say:
Fight – “No I’m not, you are!”
Flee – “I’m out of here”
Fawn – “oh my goodness I’m so sorry. What can I do?”
Freeze – “I can’t do anything so why try…”

In order to see the gold in us, we need to practice alchemy to bring out the shadow parts and integrate them. Yet we hang it in self-doubt, negative self-talk and worthlessness too long. We judge ourselves and are critical of others when we are scared. My Inner Critic keeps my Imposter Syndrome alive and active so I don’t take those esquisite risks. I see this in myself, especially as I continue to be a perpetual student instead of embracing my own expertise and knowledge to be a leader. What else am I training for?

Our own amazingness also lives in our shadow Self, as doubt and shame are a shadow. We tend to hang out in worthlessness too long. Ironically the stems from being told having pride or a positive self regard is also a negative aspect of self or ego. We need to feel in connection with others in order to lessen the impact of shame or doubt. When we are in community and share stories, we see the mirrors of our soul reflected in others experiences that are so similar.

Imposter Syndrome sets us up to fail as it’s in bed with our Inner Critic voice. While technically trying to save us from getting hurt, it is in fact what is hurting me. We need to embrace a collective change to be inclusive and supportive of each other instead of competitive and comparative in suffering, productive and successful to a fault.

There is Work to Do
Shadow Work has been brought to light in many ways, especially these last few months during a global pandemic as well as with anti-black racism in the States. Generally, shadow work is a personal process, one that is about the individual facing, confronting, and then integrating their shadows. As we live in community and thrive when in connection others, we cannot negate the relational aspect of also needing to heal our collective shadows that live in our external worlds with others. Hence, shadow work needs to be both internal and community-based intentions.

We have been called to unlearn inherited stories, and instead focus on collective healing. This work is the calling to bring what was before unconscious and subconscious to the forefront. Shadow work is the evolution to heal our primal Nervous System response as our shadow always wants to be revealed and integrated with love.

“Rituals are created to serve humanity and help us awaken from slumbers of ignorance” shares Amy Wright. One key part of this work is to intentionally connect individual repair work to the more collective reparations that are needed. It may be hard to say sorry and own our mistakes and yet this is crucial to repair and integrate our Shadows into our true Selves.

Shadow Work is uncovering what is hidden in the layers of the sub- or unconscious so that we can integrate them and also heal our lineages. We need to see it for what it is and give it self-care and nourishment, just like we would a physical wound or ailment. We need to like and appreciate all our parts.

Pixie Lighthorse wisely shares that a return to liberation as “shadow work is an act of liberation” as it is a collective healing and anti-oppression work in its full essence. She further shares in her book Goldmining the Shadows, “composting fear and pain in order to grow self-compassion and overall wellness is alchemy which needs fuel and functionality.”

Shadow Work is very similar to Richard Schwartz’ work with Internal Family Systems, where he talks about the 8 C’s of Self – compassion, calm, connectedness, creativity, curiosity, clarity, confident, and courage. My Self needs to be in charge, so I know it is there if any of these “C’s” are present. When we get stalled, it’s because something in us is not yet seen and hides in shadow. When we show empathy for the parts of our Self that weren’t loved before, this new wholeness helps interrupt Parts that are so wounded and exiled that they can’t see a way out.

Another layer of Shadow Work is spending time in mindful contemplation of our body: Somatic work like this helps us notice where the shadow lives in my body. For me, it lives in my stomach or gut (our second brain) as well as my racing heart. When I feed my shadow love, compassion and attention, it feels more calm and cared for.

We also need to re-parenting ourselves, which accesses hope for a secure attachment, possibly for the first time. It is not indulgence but rather self-preservation to do this work. Amy Wright shares how “love weaves meaning between the 2 thresholds…as the work of holding space for our fears and the hungry ghosts is ultimately one of love.” One way to do this is to practice the art of re-parenting ourselves. Reparenting isn’t denial of the parent we had, but rather what our inner child still needs. That young brain needs to heal what it needed back then and didn’t receive.

Shadow work is the evolution to heal our primal Nervous System response, unbeknownst to us our shadow does always want to be revealed. This work is self-compassionate work for our body mind and soul.

We need to feel your feelings or stay with them in order to get through them. Otherwise they keep showing up, coming out of the shadows to test us. Nothing is permanent, even our feelings. We can’t rush this work, nor is it a quick lesson. Working with our shadows needs a personalized healing balm to care for Mind Body Spirit in intentional ways. There are some great ingredients like knowing self-regulation AND co-regulation exercises and learning more about Polyvagal Theory and Vagus/Soul Nerve. As humans, we need a sense of belonging and collective. Our Shadows rely on being alone in order to stay alive in the darkness. Nature can also heal me like a tree or lake needs Mother Earth. Self-compassion is a practice of building trust in myself and what I need in the here-and-now moment.

This is a crucial time in history. The elections in the States have shown the dark side of the moon, and yet there is hope moving forward. “In becoming intimate with your injuries, you are befriending your innermost self.” This trust will help you develop deeper relationships with others as well. This is the reward of shadow work – being seen for my shadows as well as valuing yours. I hold space for us both and we step towards the light.

When we get stalled it is because something in us is not yet seen and hides in shadow. It is time to slow down and notice what is hidden then. You can do it alone, or ask a trusted friend what part of you needs to be tended to with self-compassion. Sit with your Shadow and welcome it with open arms.

What lives in your shadows?

Tips to a Find a Good Trauma Therapist

you are already whole just like the moon, who is only going through stages

I’ve been going through a bit of a metamorphosis in my own life, as i have grappled with a decision to do what is best for me, versus something that may have been more aligned with an earlier version of me. I think my wings of transformation have been able to be fully opened now.

I recently made a big decision in my life, which is to fully embrace my private practice full-time. While it was something that i have been deliberating about for some time, i have been in the VAW (violence against women) field so long that it has shaped my identity as a therapist and human. After over 22 years, it is now time to accept this transition. It was hard to let go of this identity, as i jumped into it with all my being. It is also what has made me be the therapist i am today.

When i started my private practice in 2015, it was to complement my work as a gender-based violence counsellor. The work i did initially in my practice was supporting new parents, especially those that experienced a traumatic birth or were having a hard time integrating this new role of parent in their life. It was also a way to balance the hard, necessary and all-encompassing work as a VAW/gender-based violence counsellor.

As my two work hats started to blend over the years (because we cannot separate the intersections of parenthood, trauma, and past abuse), it gave me pause with where i wanted to go moving forward.

Covid and the pandemic has played a role in my decision. As a working mother, it is important for me to balance and have a rhythm that works for me. When schools, extra-curriculars and summer camps all shut down, i noticed the toll of working from home with my children home as well. I also noticed that i need more clear boundaries and self-care practices in order to be the mom and therapist (and friend and partner and daughter) i want to be. Let alone the woman for my own Self. Yes i was burning out, and yes i was not alone with this. And yes we deserve better. (In another post, i will speak to my anger with how this year has gone for us as working moms). I may be a therapist who knows about vicarious trauma, burn-out and self-care, and i am also a human experiencing a collective trauma with everyone else.

Welcome to the new me here: The trauma therapist

While working my decision to make this change, i sat with what kind of therapist i am, what kind of therapist i strive to be, and what makes a ‘good therapist.’ Last year, i shared my thoughts on what is important for therapy to work. You can read it here. Of course, as anything, what makes something good for one person is not necessarily true for others. And yet, there are some important factors to think about when you are looking at starting your path with a therapist.

You have the right to shop around to find the fit that feels right. Book calls with a few therapists – if they don’t offer this free consult, that itself is a sign. Read about what you need in therapy, like Annie Wright’s article. What feels right may be different for each of us, but some things to consider are:

1) Relational
As a general rule, we need to have RAPPORT so that you feel safe enough to want to come back and share intimate things. Rapport is a bit of a vague term, so some things i look for are: using humor, a warm smile and nod, holding space and making room for all emotions and choices, being a compassionate witness to your pain – i really do care about you and have hope for your healing journey. I want you to live the life you love.

Building trust, respect, rapport and a safe container are probably the most important key ingredients for therapy to work. If we don’t have trust, it is hard to go deeper. I can’t promise to fix you or even have a fully safe space, but i do work from a relational place and am honoured when you choose to get support from me. Trust is earned and respect is something we all deserve all the time (and i know that we don’t always get). For instance, when I make a mistake, can you call me in and do i make the changes you ask of me? Do you look forward to therapy, even if that means you may cry or bring up stuff? Do you feel lighter when we are done, even if you feel raw?

Some other ways to show respect are how i treat my space, your boundaries and information. For instance, i strive to provide a safe(r) space and container, which includes privacy. I am committed to write you back quickly, write client-centred notes that i share with you. It is also important to me that you know I am listening fully. My room (even virtually now!) is inviting and i remember details of your life, like the name of your dog or a favourite vacation.

Working from a relational place in therapy means i have a unique, good and special relationship together with you, and what comes up in session is organic and active. I share my delight in seeing you, i see the best in you no matter what, and am grateful and honoured that you come and share vulnerability with me. Our relationship does not exist in a bubble, even though it is a unique one, that usually does live in some secrecy from the outside world. Is the foundation of the relationship solid, and do you get a sense of my authenticity, empathy and compassion for you?

My work is rooted in attachment theory so it shows up in sessions in an overt way. I don’t just mean i ask you about your childhood (full disclosure, i do), but we also work on healing old attachment wounds by repairing your unresolved need for attunement. As social creatures, we thrive when in connection with others. Healing this type of rupture with a therapist is instrumental to get to a more secure attachment style in your present life. This itself depends on the relationship between us that we are working on together.

2) Trauma-Informed
Not all therapists work from a trauma-infomred place, even though we all work with trauma as each human has experienced trauma in their life. So, a respectful and more safe way to support people is to have trauma humility. It starts with learning about what is trauma, the systems that perpetuate trauma, and ways to help integrate the traumatized part into the rest of our Self. This means therapists need to support you to have resources before going to trauma resolution work; we need to ensure you feel safe enough and are within a window of tolerance (or capacity might be a better word to describe this. We are not just building tolerance to hard feelings but the ability to handle them). If we open the wounds too fast, the healing takes longer.

If you are human you have experienced trauma

Being trauma-informed also means that i hold hope for you and you can feel it. I believe that you can get better, and have hope for healing with post-traumatic growth. I am just here as an alchemist, adding the right ingredients to help you get there. You are doing the work. I act as an anchor to guides you and gives you the resources you need to take the plunge.

Another part of trauma-informed care and philosophy is the awareness of Intersectionaity for each of us. Living as a cis-gendered white therapist, i have to do my own work to unpack my inherited white privilege. I can do harm if i do not prioritize this work. A layer of this is to to have unconditional positive regard and a non-judgemental stance of you. I am not afraid of you, and all your emotions are valid, though i can be worried FOR you.

Being a trauma-focused therapist takes it a step further. To help you heal the traumatized part means i honour and sit with your pain without trying to change it, but rather help you find resources that are already there within you. I co-regulate from a place of a regulated Nervous System myself; I do this by staying present and regulated even while feeling compassion and moved by your experience. As Resmaa Menakem shares in his book, this is a necessary part of a good therapeutic alliance: I provide a safe container without assuming safety.

A lot of clients earlier in my career believed it was important for their own healing to tell me their trauma story. While i struggled with this as i intuitively knew this was re-traumatizing them, I honoured their need. Now i know better in how to frame this support. Trauma resolution doesn’t mean I need you to share the details of the actual event; In fact, it is not necessary or even helpful to do so. It runs the risk of re-living the abuse.

3) Integrative
Therapy as a practice is not a new concept. People have been talking to others for support, guidance, and a listening ear for millennia. It is actually also an art, with things coming up organically in the space where there is no agenda. It is a very present and attuned practice. When people come to me for therapy, i do not hold an agenda in mind and the hour flows from there.

We need to be client-centred in order for the work to have any effect. And so there are so many different modalities and styles, approaches and specialities. I believe that knowledge about trauma, anti-oppression, body-based therapies, and working from an integrative and holistic place are the ingredients to make therapy impactful. Honouring the mind body spirit is also integral. That also means that therapists need to continue learning, adapting, unlearning and being vulnerable with their peers. Growth happens when we are uncomfortable as that leads to change.

There are so many therapists with all sorts of training. It is a sign of strength and passion when therapists want to keep learning, as it keeps them humble and human – no one knows everything. I may know a lot about trauma and supports that work, but i cannot assume any expertise in what you need – that is up to you.

Good therapists also seek their own supervision, whether with another colleague, in a peer group or more informally. I do all of these, and i also see my own therapist. This helps me stay grounded, accountable, and present at all times. It also helps me take notice of transference or counter-transference experiences.

I also think it’s important for the people i support to know that i am passionate and committed to this work. I may make people cry for a living, and my compassion for you helps me hold space for you when those tears come up. Do you get a sense that i am skilled and confident in my abilities as a therapist? Do i show that i want to do the best for you?

I wholeheartedly believe that good therapists have learned various modalities. Even if they have a couple of preferences (mine are Feminist Narrative Therapy and somatic therapies), no two people are the same. Part of the art of therapy is that we follow the flow of what comes up organically in a session. So, we need to be integrative because the client is their own expert and the approach on a given day also depends on what is present in the room at the time. We may pull from several modalities in one session, or for one situation are you struggling with. If you are new to therapy, read about the therapists’ bios and see if it feels like a right fit – does the idea of somatic or body-based attunement speak to you, are you more into staying cerebral, for instance?

Further, therapy should not just be talk or cognitive-based – it is imperative to also include emotion-focused resources, as well as somatic/body tools and other ways to learn like expressive arts mediums. There is a time for talk and there also needs space for pause, quiet, and using our pre-verbal, creative part. This is also where our Ventral Vagus Nerves lives, so it makes sense that it needs to be activated in therapy sessions.

This year specifically, i have made a commitment to learn more about how to be a better Anti-racism co-conspirator. I have read books, taken courses, had discussions, and made changes to my business to honour this work. The learning is not a one-time act, nor should it be performative.

4) Own Expert
You are on your Own journey. While i have the honour to support you for a time, i only see you for an hour each week. In between sessions, or when you move on after therapy, you have your Self to get you through. I am happy to meet you where you are willing to go, and to model self-regulation as a mirror. What you do with it is up to you.

I meet you where you’re at and i am next to you on this journey. I may make suggestions – and not the dreaded ‘should’ statements. Sometimes, people i support ask for me what i would do, or to give them advice, and i need to remind that i cannot answer this. I am not in their shoes and empowerment to feel good after a decision only comes from within.This is where change lives too. I do not want to set up for failure either. At times, i may share my own experience. I do this not for you to copy my choices, but rather as a way to honour the attunement and self-compassionat practice of shared humanity.

I also believe that therapy must include advocacy for you and larger systems at play. I am hear (spelling intentional) to help you heal as well as challenge the systemic issues that are impacting our collective healing. We heal in community as we are social creatures, not unlike jaguars, wolves and elephants.

You are in charge of the session. My service to you is professional and catered to what you need. That means you navigate the session and i do not act on my own agenda. If i every steer you away from something you want to focus on, it is your right to get back to the work you want to do. This is Agency. I don’t take this personally. I also ask explicitly (called a frame) what direction you want to go to when we are faced with two paths. This is an example of consent being sought intentionally.

I am a trauma survivor and have done my work to resolve it. This knowledge informs my work, as well as gives me access to lived experience and a shared humanity that healing is possible. I am at a very good place in my own life, as i have done my work, and my nervous system is regulated: You do not need to take care of me when feelings show up in the room together.

Sometimes, we need to normalize the experience of your reaction, by also honouring your unique story. I offer psychoeducation about your reaction as a way of providing safety when a part of you starts to feel shame, guilt, or even anxiety about choices you made when you were scared or hurt. When we know others have felt and responded in similar ways, it resets our nervous system and negative self-talk that we are a worse version of ourselves.

5) Exquisite Risk-Taker
It takes courage to seek out therapy. I push you to take exquisite risks that are NOT beyond your limits. Therapy does not exist in isolation. The hope is that you start to see increments of change, even after a few sessions. Therapists cannot guarantee to ‘fix you.’ Therapy is also NOT a cyclical or linear process, as each session is unique and alive in the here-and-not moment. But it is a moving forward process. It is also not a place to purge your thoughts without also being a space for reflection and support. It helps to think about what is said in a session during the week, and see if you want to work on the resources that are offered. It is not ‘homework’ that gets marked or judged, but rather an opportunity to practice a new language of self-healing.

One of my favourite compliments is when i hear “What would vania tell me.”

I am hear to offer you choice and options, whether it is for resources, or things i hold in my grounding basket. I may make suggestions when i contact (notice) a body or emotion-based response during a session, but i don’t want you to feel that i cannot handle your emotions. I will not pass you a tissue to suggest you need to stop crying. I am here to welcome and honour all the feelings, and to slow them down in order for you to build your capacity to sit with them. Our society is not good with the hard feelings – we typically only welcome joy, surprise, and sometimes fear. Otherwise, we feel like we have to hide the other ones as the person who is with us cannot handle them – which turns into an internalized translation to them not being able to handle us.

I love the word “Organicity.” Pat Ogden’s body of work Sensorimortor Psychotherapy speaks about this concept. It means what happens in the room during a session is what to work on, or what happens together is the work. Sometimes there is some risk to stay with something that is only poked at typically, or passed over quickly. Narrative Therapy and somatic therapies both intentionally dive deeper into the implicit. Kind of like Russian Nesting Dolls where we open up to a new story or opportunity, or version of our Self. We do experiments together, with curiousity. Taking risks can get to a more whole and new stage in your healing. We need this courage to get to a new place, otherwise our cycle remains active.

One way to start to notice if the therapist you are working with is a good fit is to take stock and see if you can sense the change in you and see new positive opportunities. Do you laugh together and have a sense of play together? Does your therapist delight in your progress and process without claiming responsibility or saviourism? This is the balance of taking risks and being held.

I will meet you there.

I am still transitioning into this new role, and version of myself. As a white, cis-gendered and able-bodies female therapist, I know i carry and hold a lot of power and privilege. The world of private practice therapy already feels so reflective of the two-tiered approach that I usually cringe over. This is part of my work – continuously reflecting, checking, and sitting with my discomfort and working towards a new feminist model of private practice therapy that is more inclusive and accessible.

Did you notice how I tilted this ‘good therapist’ and not great or perfect? For one, i don’t believe in perfect anything but i do trust that there are better fits just like there is a perfect hair stylist for each of us. I also think you are the one doing the work, and i am beside you, so the emphasis of the work being done is for you, not for me to take the credit.

Harvesting a Good Feeling

Raise your hand if you have been having some big feelings these last few months! Don’t worry if you are reading this alone, because chances are, all of us are raising our hand in a big YES to this question.

And guess what?! We can slow down the overwhelm of big and hard feelings. Magic happens when you practice alchemy by adding more time noticing the good and gentle feelings. The magic is when we can control the cognitive realm of our Self by adding positive cognitions and more present awareness.

Does that sound hard or give you a headache? One amazing aspect of our body is the energy it exudes, so we become more intentional or in control of our thoughts. Our body has an energy field called Torus, which is the external expression of our nervous system. Our heart is known to have a donut-shaped (torus) energy. This is that feeling you have when you ‘just have a feeling’ or a gut instinct. I love how this aura permeates from our centre, as it can also symbolize that feeling when we are close to someone meaningful and special to us. It shows up in those butterflies in the stomach or blush on our face. These are some ways we can start to notice the impact of our thoughts and choices, and how they might linger in our body. A beautiful outcome of this energy is the glow we can feel when we are accessing something positive or happy even.

Our body gets impacted by intergenerational trauma and well as more direct experiences of trauma. A traumatic memory starts to linger in the body and becomes so blended that it makes it hard for the person to step outside of the traumatized part. This is when the torus field gets compromised and then impacts our general physical health with continued ailments, health challenges, and continued incidents of trauma. During MRIs, our brain lights up as the colour blue when we feel rested and at peace, and red when it’s in fight or flight, or anxious. We need to find ways to get the brain to be blue, to rest and get to the glow.

When we start to balance or titrate these harder experiences with more pleasant, positive or optimistic ones, we give our body a chance to rest. We then start to heal that part that is still struggling. Our toric field and nervous system starts to heal and notice signs of distress earlier. Taking time to take stock of our energetic somatic level is a great way to start intentionally building an emotional wellness toolkit, especially as the Winter months are coming.

The wonderful work on Polyvagal Theory has brought so much rich goodness to healing and living more embodied, especially during this pandemic. In Deb Dana’s latest book, Polyvagal Exercises for Rest and Connection, she speaks about Glow and Glimmers. Glimmers are the opposite of a trigger; they are the sensations in our body that help us get to a safe and connected zone. Glows are the more sustaining feeling when our Ventral Vagus Nerve is activated. They are the deepened state of feeling calm and connected.

Another beautiful concept of this body of work is the ‘Soul Nerve’, from Resmaa Menakem (the author of the important and pivotal book My Grandmother’s Hands). In his book, he shares that this is where we experience a felt sense of love, compassion, and the full range of emotions as well, like sadness, hope anxiety, disgust, fear, grief. The felt sense lives in our body, in our lizard brain and also is easiest to access near our solar plexus and gut (known sometimes as our second brain). The amygdala aka lizard brain is where our body feels the 4 F’s (flight fight freeze fawn) and respond. We need to intentionally activate the mammalian brain of connection and rest, where we feel vibrant, and relaxed as well.

So, what do we do with all this knowledge of our body and brain? One simple way is to start to have a pleasure practice. Pleasure does not have to have an overtly sexual connotation but rather a more embodied sense of feeling ease and pleasure in a here-and-now moment. For instance, you can meditation, stroke your body in a self-massage, slowly add lotion after a bath or shower, masturbate, do a yoga yin practise, connect with the 5 senses to anchor a good moment in your body, be present, watch a candle burn for a few moments and follow it with your breath.

I recently heard a helpful strategy called the “5 percent Pleasure Rule by Ann Nguyen; find ways to ask yourself how to make an event or activity 5 % more pleasurable than it is right now. Maybe you are eating dinner – can you make it a bit more pleasurable by lighting candles, having a cloth napkin or tablecloth, or maybe it is adding lemon slices to your glass of water. How can you build capacity to ENJOY your day more – this increases pleasure which then tells your body and mind that you are resting and not always activated in flight or fight.

Think about in the bedroom, where you enjoy more sexual and intimate pleasure. Can you surrender a few percent to build up the pleasure muscle? How might that look for you?

The Vagus nerve (as I’ve written about before) is active throughout your body. As it’s known as the second brain in the gut as well as easily accessible in the solar plexus, there are ways to help access it intentionally when you’re feeling activated or under distress. Think of ways to access it now that you know where it lives in your body – as you are reading this now, see what happens when you hum a bit, sigh out OM, buzz like a bee, give yourself a vagus throat stroke, sing, chant, rub your belly, do belly breathing, rock or sway. Did you notice an exhalation or softening?

When we notice what is happening in our body and have resources to take care of ourself, it helps us hold agency and choice. We can then follow the pull for rest versus feeling compelled to push through.

We have been taught that we need to be productive even during a pandemic. We’ve also been taught that self-care is selfish and rest is both a sign of weakness as well as a luxury. One big step is to reclaim this process and see you rest as worthy and actually sustainable. These breaks can help productivity AND also increase your access to the nerve that helps your body rest and digest.

Here is a list of ways to relax and access the ventral vagus nerve. What might you add to your own personalized list?

* Take a break – re-centre yourself, pause, take in the surroundings, do it during a busy day
* Cook or bake something new
* Be off social media, devices
* Read for hours
* Journal
* Laugh
* Hammock or swing – sway back and forth
* Between moments of busyness take in your senses – 5 senses game
* Get bored to unwind after feeling overloaded – jog, podcast, one thing at a time
* Meditate
* Draw or paint
* Play with clay or dough
* Dance
* Change your meal plan
* Play catch
* Skip rope
* Sing
* Play music while cooking and sing
* Eat a fresh veg and fruit meal – find ways to savour them and pick your own fresh produce
* Treat yourself to a bouquet of flowers
* Watch adorable videos – cute animals
* Clean a spot in your home and relish that order
* Water bath – swim, look at photos, bliss out in the water
* Enjoy a view – mountain, forest or beach – in real life or photos
* Hug someone even yourself
* Talk to someone you love
* Tea break with a ritual process
* Do nothing but watch a kettle boil
* Eat chocolate
* Write a real letter to a loved one and mail it
* Watch a favourite happy movie scene or show
* Re-read a favourite book and recall where you read it before
* Cuddle a pet or someone else’s
* Play a fun game like Animal Crossing, or a game that takes you to your youth like Go Fish or Connect Four and recall how it made you feel back then
* Be barefoot outdoors
* Nap
* Cuddle with someone
* Sit in a rocking chair
* Plant something in soil get your hands dirty
* Wake with the dawn – watch a sunrise or sunset and look closely at how the horizon change
* Cold bath plunge
* Bird watch – or watch a butterfly in flight, a snail at a slow pace…
* Self-massage
* Happy place mediation

It might be overwhelming to think of things to do so why not split them up by season? With the Fall Equinox happening this week, it’s a great time to intentionally notice what things might help you glow. Fall is a perfect time to get back in rhythm as it shows us how cycles can be re-invigorating and helps us bring this awareness into our own life. Think of the 5 senses to help you start a list. Notice how you can navigate a new mindset shift and bring a sense of peace and warmth to your everyday. When we can anticipate a GOOD feeling and something we are looking for instead of dreading, that is a healing way to reset and get back to a rhythm. Have you heard of the concept of Hygge? This is the perfect time to add cozy and rest-encouraged activities and rituals in your everyday life. Let’s harvest some.

What are some things you look forward to this Fall?
* Drink chai or a spicy tea
* Puzzle play, crosswords, stock up on board games and new books
* Knit (or learn to)another new craft like weaving or macrame
* Get a new journal to write in and capture moments of gratitude
* Light a candle or oils
* Put lotion on your hands and feet at bedtime
* Put together a calming playlist and listen – do nothing else but catch your breathe
* Make Fire Cider
* Have a bath
* Can some fresh food for winter
* Apple picking
* Get a cozy blanket and keep it ready
* Stock up on indoor plants
* Witness a sunrise or sunset
* Get comfy clothes
* Hot apple cider
* Bake – bread, cookies, warm up store-bought cinnamon rolls
* Hug a tree and stare at its branches – fractals are repetitive patterns that help your brain meditate, or effortless looking
* Forest bath – mindful walk in a forest. Lie in it. Be still and focus. Hike. Notice the leaves and their change in colours
* Sitting by a crackling fire

In the next few days, why don’t you sit down with a cup of warm nourishing tea and a piece of paper and pen. Then, jot down some ways that you can add these activities of rest for yourself. What you come up with will be part of your Wellness Toolkit as we prepare for the Winter ahead, one that may be harder than years past. See what you can harvest. Find what makes you glow.

Parts of a Mother

My kids have been wanting to paint the walls. And not just figuratively, which they surely have been doing during this pandemic. They have been admiring the graffiti and street art in our city, and need to look no further than our own alleyway. Some artwork merits a smile and blush, others are thought-provoking, and some are eye-rolling.

We had the opportunity to fulfill this summer bucket wish last week. Our neighbour wanted to put her own tag on the wall and cover up some questionable artwork. So, luckily i was able to share with her that my daughter’s wish all summer was to use spray paint. What a good mom i am, right?

We were at the right place at the right time – paint in hand and ready to be accomplices, or rather apprentices, depending on your stance on graffiti art. I supervised the endeavour. I was happy to oblige my kids and a part of me was excited about the opportunity. And then i noticed the various parts of me that showed up alongside this joyful moment. Some were invited like the Good Mom. Others were a surprise like the Enforcer. And one happy surprise was the Inner Child who happily and tentatively held a bottle and made her mark.

After a while of being sous chefs, the kids were allowed to go wild and paint to their hearts content. They wrote lovely mantras like “love yourself” and “Me cool, you cool, we cool.” They were silly and they were in the moment. They were happy. And yet, i was surprised to notice my own voice barking at them, instructing them to not take up too much space. To not hog the space or take over. To not waste the paint. To not make a mess. I was able to notice it, and i apologized to the other adults whose project it was originally, to only notice later that who i needed to say sorry to was the kids because THEY weren’t doing anything wrong (and yes i know that graffiti is technically illegal). I felt guilty for them taking up too much space on the wall; i was directive and bossy and deferred to my neighbour as a way to people please – that other Part of me that gets exiled because i want to be assertive and confident, and yet she visits because i want to be liked and included. And like most of us, i have stories to tell from my youth of not fitting in and being bullied, and being afraid of conflict. I’m a work in progress too, and it’s taken years to notice that I withdraw from conflict and fawn to that person who is holding the reigns: It’s a safety survival reflex.

Internal Family System is a therapy modality that uses our parts of our Self that have become embedded in who we are. They are formed over our years of living our life, as tools to help us during a hard or scary moment. Typically, we have Manager, Fire Fighter and Exiled parts. We then have wounded parts that have become exiled and only show up when we are being triggered or if that part thinks we need their help. As a Feminist Therapist, i like to look at all these parts of my Self as my Archetypes – the Inner Goddess, Child, Warrior, Wise Woman, Apprentice, etc. Each of these has a role to play and our hope is that they get integrated into our true full Self, the person we are becoming and is our authentic wholeness. Think of your Inner Critic voice – from what Part do you think that comes from?

Our Parts are a bit different from the roles we play – i am a woman, partner, therapist, parent. I am also embodying all of these roles in my own unique way. For instance, let me take being a parent as a reference. In a given moment, my Perfectionist, the Inner Fraud, the Nurse, or maybe the Researcher or Governess shows up. Preparing my kids for school during a pandemic is definitely activating a few Parts so my Researcher hat is helping guide me. When i feel overwhelmed by my daughter’s messy room, my Perfectionist Part is kicked in gear. She’s there to try to help make sense of things and calm my nerves that get triggered by mess. It takes some time to notice what presents for you, and it can be helpful as it gives a way in to see what may need to change. When we notice the parts of us that show up in a harder moment, we get to engage in our own infrastructure. We also get to Reparent what is needed now, as well as what i needed back then.

Re-parenting my Self is a practice of self-compassion. And it’s indulgent because it is a way of building a secure attachment for the first time. We are working on meeting our need for nurturance and attention, sometimes for the first time. When we take time to learn how this looks for us, we are able to practice meeting our needs and getting to a place of a fuller, more happy life.

What are some parts you notice in you? What are some that you intentionally bring up to support you? Do you have an angry part that helps you when you need to address someone who’s being an asshole. Do you have an artsy side that helps you when you are stuck on something to wear? Name them – give them a voice so you can also talk back to them. These parts may need the same compassion your friends need. Thank them for trying to help you, remind them that you want to do try first and you well reach out to them if you need them. Send them a Dear John letter!

My journey to inner work is both one for myself as well as for the people i support. I’ve found such insight in books so i wanted to share some resources with you that may be helpful if you also want to learn more about Inner Parts work:
Recovery of Your Inner Child by Lucia Capachhione, a renowned art therapist
– Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner life by Tom Holmes
– books by Richard Schwartz, Frank Anderson, or Bonnie J Weiss
– this lovely deck of cards that i use in sessions and for myself; sometimes i pull a card to help me reflect on how to channel or nurture that Part, or sometimes it’s a way for me to guide my day with intention.

How do you say hello to the possibly long forgotten Inner Child Part? Do you notice any glee or happy shriek in your body as you skip with a skipping rope, or catch bubbles, or play with clay? Taking a ride on “Party Island” at the cottage has always been a happy place for me, as it gets me back in tune with my Inner Pre-teen Surfer wanna-be.

During this pandemic, I’ve been intentionally saying hello to my own Inner Child. I had one mantra that guided me: Get outside, laugh and move my body every day. It has helped me get through the harder days. I’ve been doing crafts I love like macrame and drawing, dancing on my own, eating comfort food, napping, playing in water. Earlier on, we had sleepovers as a family and watched a lot of classic movie marathons. These moments are not to escape this reality but rather finding a way to slow down and notice what my body is needing to balance this scary time. It’s also a way to capture what supported me as a child when times were hard: Life goes on.

Perfectly Imperfect Summer Vacation

Today marks the End of vacation mode for me. We were supposed to go to France the first 2 weeks of summer vacation, in honour of 20 years together with my partner. It was to be the first major trip for our family and the honeymoon I never had. While that’s not what ended up happening (thanks Covid!), we did a get an extended cottage break outside the city.

I’m not ready to go back to the city just yet. We’ve been away for close to 2 weeks and it’s been the break we all needed. It’s not France by any means and yet it was the remedy for some hard months.

Here are some of the things i will hold on to:

I swam daily, sometimes more than 3 separate times

I paddleboarded quite a bit and saw the bottom of the lake

I read 3 books while here and am onto book 4, #12 since the pandemic started

I found an abundance of new heart rocks to add to my collection

I saw my parents for the first time since February

I was creative – I sewed, played with clay, and knit a new summer sweater

I slept with my children, as we played musical beds as we would on a vacation

I had mindful moments watching butterflies 🦋

We had family time – in the water, which has always been our salvation, video games and we watched the whole first season of the new The Babysitters Club show

I lead my kids through some witchy classes to give them some routine

I saw the full moon and said hello to the stars most night

I sat in my beloved Donut Donut

That may sound like perfection, or at least an easy vacation. But of course, travel with kids is never that. Anywhere you go, life gets in the way.

Of course this time away wasn’t perfect and there are things I’m sad I never got to do. Maybe my expectations weren’t realistic, and some things were out of my control.

So….to keep it real:

Our yard in Toronto is a small square and we have so much green space here but we never went for walks in the forest.

I only did yoga once and only then because my back hurt too much so it was more for necessity

I never slept well until the last night

I didn’t journal once

My kids still had epic fights and there was some family yelling

I made a huge mistake in the romper I wanted to sew

My parents only stayed for a quick visit even though this is their space

We didn’t play any board games as a family, and we brought several from home

And I only read in the hammock once, because my kids needed me more and this time away was about attuning to each other.

I share both sides because we are prone to compare ourselves to others, making our side the deficit. I know I’m incredibly privileged to have access to an oasis during a heatwave. And ever, for that matter. I also know that I wasn’t able to truly relax into it. I worked still and so did my partner, still had to manage the kids needs, and the dishes were never ending.

One thing i noticed only in retrospect is that some of my expectations were of times past. So while realistic as a teen or twenty-something, now with young children of my own, going to the cottage means something else. I can definitely swim and read, but not for the hours of end i grew up doing. No wonder i was a bit disappointed – my expectation was just out of the realm of realistic.

This is every day life after all, pandemic or not. Vacations are just as imperfectly perfect as every day life and they don’t escape the “full catastrophe” of living.

My son is having a hard time holding on to any good moments. We review each day at bedtime, helping him notice that there were moments in the day that were good, even during a pandemic whhen his life was thrown upside down. I’m not suggesting to avoid the hard feelings, as I’m not a positivity cheerleader. And yet, when we can hold space for BOTH/AND experiences in our body, we allow more space for good feelings. This is Titration and helps heal us when we are going through hard things. It makes it easier to go through it when i know i can also feel good in a day, even for a few moments.

So, instead of focusing on the hard part of life, it helps to notice moments of joy. Our bodies can relax and get a handle on the hard. In a few weeks’ time, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’m going to recall this time away. I’m going to sit and breathe in the sounds of the birds chirping, or the cool lake water on my feet, or the grass under me when i read a book. This intentional practice will let me body relax and sigh out a bit more.

I am a bit nervous about regular life as this summer looks so different than usual. So when i need a boost of joy, i will feel the sun on my body, some shared giggles and slowing down these past two weeks: I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

The Tipping Point: Power and Control During the Pandemic

I have worked in the Violence against Women Sector all of my career. Fresh out of university, i jumped into work in various shelters and helplines, both in my own city, as well as in India and Kazahkstan. It is something that i am very passionate about: My identity as a therapist is very connected to the part of me that is a VAW (violence against women) Counsellor, and has been for the past 22 years.

In my new role as a private practice therapist, I work predominantly with various types of trauma, especially with people who have experienced relational trauma as well as developmental trauma from their childhoods. While abuse from relationships is just one type of trauma, it is one that has lasting impact and yet we can still heal from it.

I share this history into my work past as it holds weight for what I know – abuse is still prevalent in our homes and is even more intense now because of the Covid19 pandemic. The pandemic is a ‘perfect storm’ that intensifies this type of trauma for both adults and children alike.

I also know that abuse isn’t just directed to women from men, and I appreciate the more inclusive language of ‘gender-based violence’ as it takes many forms, including intimate partner violence of people from all genders. And yet, it is without question mainly women that experience this type of abuse, by their male partners.

Why? Because of the need for Power and Control. That is also very steeped in male privilege, patriarchy, misogyny and gender-based violence. Men who use violence are also victims of our sexist society that views vulnerability as weakness, imperfection as a demerit, crying as a fault, and the old boys club status to aspire to.

During the pandemic, the pull for power and control is even more amplified because so many of us feel out of control, and that leads to internalized feelings like guilt, shame, fear or insecurity. Loss of work impacts our sense of status and contribution, it also makes us question or worth as we are taught to be productive at all costs. That internalized felt sense needs an output and for many of us, we were not taught how to expel anger, fear and sadness.

Then we lash out to get the feelings out and to feel in control again, even if that means we are not controlling others or displaying power OVER someone instead of power within.

I also know that people who use violence are not just the perpetrator but most likely have lived through their own story of abuse and trauma from their past or childhood. Some of the responsibility in this consequence of the pandemic lies not just on interpersonal relationships but at the systems that perpetuate them. Funding for shelters and helplines have been drastically cut, and people are isolated from each other and cannot access help.

No one deserves to be hurt no matter what.

One of the first tools I learned when i school to be a Feminist Therapist was the Power and Control Wheel, originally created in Wisconsin at the Duluth Centre. It helps create a visual image of the various ways that abuse is perpetuated. Since its original example, many others have been created to show reference to inclusivity and intersectionality. In all of them, they show how power and control are at the centre. They also depict the various forms of violence, especially ones that are more covert and therefore less likely to be noticed. This tool may be hard for some to read, and please note it’s used for educational reasons, to help others see what types of abuse exist. The impact on the person who is being abused is unique to each person and will be the focus of another article soon.

I’m not sure if the folx at the Centre have created a wheel for the pandemic: As no one today has ever lived through a global event like this, I wanted to share how abuse can be started or escalated during a pandemic. The wheel looks at interpersonal violence, so it’s important to note that there is a larger societal role that is steeps in how our community and global society continue to perpetuate Power and Control (stay tuned for another journal article soon on this).

In following the original model, we can assume most people have a general sense of Physical and Sexual Violence – for the most part they are easier to see or detect, and are a criminal offence. And yet there are other more covert or implicit types of violence as well. In keeping with the Wheel, I have broken them down here. This pandemic also alters the types of violence used, even physical and sexual examples. Please note that this list is not exhaustive, as there are unfortunately other examples as well. It is also a draft as more research and sharing of experiences is just being collected. Some of these examples are from the people i support first-hand.

Physical Abuse
Hitting, slapping, pulling hair, pushing; all mainly focused below the face as it is the only visual cue to others if the person is using video conferencing for work or social calls.

Sexual Violence
Forced sexual acts against consent; kissing and other forms of touch without consent or use of
health and safety precautions; being coerced or pressured for sexual acts because they are claiming to risk their health to come for a visit or are lonely and need to feel connected; not disclosing health concerns to sexual partner; having more than one sexual partner without disclosure; pressure to do sexually things virtually that makes person uncomfortable

Financial Abuse
Making the person take a leave from work and collect CERB or another social welfare program as it keeps them at home all the time; not allowing them access to funds – whether cannot go to bank machine due to pandemic or not sharing funds directly; Threaten to report person to take department or social welfare office to intimidate them; this is a form of financial abuse, threats, as well as privilege because it is used as a form of power if they are not using the same sources of income; not allow partner to share planning budget, paying bills, and otherwise knowing what the household income is; controlling what is bought for the home including groceries when only one partner leaves the home; quitting work themselves without consulting partner and relying on them for financial support

Threats
Using intimidation or threats to keep the person at home and not socializing, even via social media; threatening to tell authorities if person breaks ‘physical distancing’ rule; threaten to leave them or hurt themselves if partner leaves; intimidation to be violent with words or actions; breaks belongings or threatens to take things important to them; threats or hurts pet; partners may not live together and one uses power to pressure the other to visit even if they do not feel safe due to health and safety cautions.

Impact on Children
When abuse starts or escalates at home with children, they witness it even if they do no see it directly; can also increase incidents of child abuse due to stress at home and misdirected anger; using children in between former partners during exchange or access visits; telling ex-partner they cannot see children due to fear of getting virus; not allowing partner’s children from other person to visit or stay with them; involving children to be messenger of info

Emotional/Mental Abuse
Being at home with the person who uses violence is very stressful – there is no break and tensions can rise; conflict or stress can escalate and the perpetrator may be more diligent and hurtful in their language, put-downs on food preparation, demands on time, name-calling or derogatory and mean words. They may minimize their actions (called gaslighting); blame the person for the abuse or being stuck at home; claiming safety concerns to justify behaviour; minimizing the threat of the virus and using conspiracy theories to pressure partner to go out when they feel anxious to; not asking them how they are and providing support and only focusing on positive feelings

Isolation
During a pandemic when we are to stay in our homes is isolating enough; people who use violence can use this to not allow their partner to contact friends or family by phone or video; pressure them to not go out in the community; jealousy and control that leads to partner not wanting to go out; do all the social outings like groceries, etc which keeps the person stuck at home and not able to ask for help; ghosting their partner during Covid19

Using Privilege
Treats partner like a servant and makes all the decisions regarding the household alone; other forms of privilege include threatening to out the person if they are LGBTQI2S and want to leave partner, or having white privilege and is not a target in the community, or citizenship privilege and can access supports that someone who doesn’t have status can’t; able-bodied privilege where they do not understand the further impact on someone who needs physical support and their care workers cannot do home visits during pandemic.

There have been some great initiatives that have started during this pandemic to help support people who have experiencing this in their homes. If you are someone, or know someone who needs support or to learn about safety plans, please be mindful when doing searches online. Reach out for help, as you are not alone and deserve better.