Thursday, July 31, 2014

Goderich, Ontario: Post trauma and tornado - beauty from rubble



Last year, we went to the Celtic Roots Festival which is held annually in Goderich, Ontario.  The same little town that the tornado hit in 2011.  The same little town that sustained major trauma and damage.

The park that this event is in is off the road which heads down to the harbour and beach area.  If you go to the far end of the park and look down, here is what you see.  The Sifto salt mine and harbour.  (This is a close up shot using my zoom lens.)


Going to the festival, I wasn't really thinking of the tornado.  It had been almost two years by that time.  Most, if not all, of the damage from the tornado had been repaired.  Life goes on.  Memories fade.  Especially if the event doesn't affect you directly.

I don't live in Goderich nor do I know anyone who does.


The festival takes over the entire park.  Tents with vendors are all over the place along with a story telling tent, a small tent for daytime performances (pictured below) and a large, outdoor stage for the night time performances.

Arriving at the tent for the daytime performances, I was greeted by this amazing tree sculpture of a lion.  I'd never been in the park before, so I had no idea of its history.  Here in parts of small-town Ontario I've noticed a growing trend for people or municipalities to take damaged trees, cut them down so there's a large stump and carve it.  Sometimes, as in the lion above, they're painted.  Sometimes they're not.  But however they're done and wherever they are, they are intriguing.



It wasn't until I was taking the picture below and overheard a couple of women conversing to each other, that I discovered the origin of these particular sculptures.  They were made from trees that had been damaged or broken off during the tornado two years earlier.


They were Goderich's memorial to the tornado but also a permanent marker of this small town's resiliency, it's courage, it's focus on healing and restoration from this event.  It's determination not to let a "little" thing like a tornado destroy its identity.

In short, this little town on the shores of Lake Huron made something beautiful out of the rubble, the destruction.


As I walk through my own journey through the rubble and devastation left by workplace abuse and trauma, I often meet others who have or are walking a similar path.


Some of which, like me, are still in the process of recovering, of finding out who they are, what their passions are and what they want to make of the rest of their lives.  But some have already been there and done that.  Some are already in the process of creating new and beautiful lives for themselves.

Like the lady I met early on in my own journey of recovery, quite by accident, who left her abusive workplace and started a bead store in a small town in Ontario.  She related that she was so much happier in her new life.

Or, there's the lady I met after the writers conference who had read my blog.  She too had her own story, her own experience of workplace abuse, more than a decade earlier.  She ended up using that experience, as difficult and painful as it was, to build a new life, a new profession based on her passions and creativity.  She's now a writer, singer and songwriter.  

Wow!  And backwards !woW.


Not everyone has these kinds of stories.  Not every tree that has sustained major damage in a windstorm is used to make a work of art.

The trees had no choice in the matter.

We do.

I do.

Every day I choose to get up in the morning, get dressed and sit down at my computer is a victory.  A day of grace.

Every day I choose to focus on recovery and enjoy the things I have left is a day of victory.  A day of grace.

Every blog I post is a victory.

Today, I am victorious.

*******

So, the rambler rambles a bit going off the projected course once again.  But it seemed to fit right here, right now, in the course of this blog and in the course of my life.

I'm not a tree.  

I'm not completely there yet, but I'm committed to the process of getting there.  Whatever there will look like for me.

Maybe as a writer?  Perhaps a photographer?  Or how about my knitting and crocheting?  

One of the above?  Two of the above in combination?  Or maybe a mix of all three?

Who knows?

Where are you on your journey?

What strengths, what passions, what talents do you have to throw into the process of recovery?

Until tomorrow, have a good day.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Trauma and Tornadoes

Sifto Salt Mine, Goderich Harbour, Goderich, Ontario, July 2014
 Looking at the above picture of the Sifto Salt Mine operation at Goderich, Ontario taken less than two weeks ago, it's hard to believe that a small but powerful tornado hit the town in August, 2011 barreling down the harbour past the plant, killing one person who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and basically levelling the downtown area of this lovely town.  (Please click on the links for more information, especially the link identified as tornado it is linked to the newspaper article in the aftermath of the tornado).

It was a major blow.  For the town.  For tourism which the town thrives on.  For the people whose homes were blown away and apart.  Especially for the family whose loved one died that day.  All he was doing was working at the mine.  Unfortunately, he was working above ground, not in the mine itself safely hidden under the lake.

Major rebuilding had to occur.  Along with major healing.

*******
For a better look at the Goderich tornado damage in the immediate aftermath, please check out the link provided.  The pictures are heartbreaking in their intensity, in their devastation.

*******

Major rebuilding did have to occur.  Eventually.  But not that same day.  Nor even the day after.  It took weeks, months, even a year or more before houses were rebuilt, damages to those structures still standing and deemed repairable, trees replanted, etc.  Insurers had to be contacted.  Contractors as well for places that had to be rebuilt.  Processes to be followed.

Take a look at the pictures below which were taken in May, 2012 approximately 9 months after the tornado.

A main street in Goderich leading down to the beach and harbour areas.
Most businesses were by then operational.  This street houses my favorite store in Goderich, the Christian book store.  Pictures in the paper in the aftermath of the tornado showed the street littered with scrap and debris from the buildings.  I feared for this independently run store and it's owners, yet when I visited nine months later, they were still in business.  I asked them about it.  It turned out that just a week or so before, they'd had their front windows reinforced which meant that they had sustained relatively minor damage.  The sign on the front was damaged - and still has not been repaired to the best of my knowledge.  They've partially covered it with a banner. They said that they were one of the few businesses to remain operational in the immediate aftermath of the tornado.  People just had to enter the back door rather than the front.

The courthouse where a farmer's market was taking place.
I never thought to take pictures of Goderich on previous trips, I guess because I felt it wasn't picture worthy.  We went there for day trips at least once a year or so.  It was pretty much like the couch in the living room.  Always there.  Not changing.  So I don't have any photos from this view so you can visualize "before".  However, before the grounds were covered in large trees which were blown down and shattered in the tornado and, therefore, had to be removed.  Before was not as sterile or barren, it was lush with life, laughter and vitality.

Damage still evident on the main traffic circle in town
Although most businesses were able to repair and reopen, some were not and scars still remained on the buildings evidence that something traumatic had taken place in this lovely, tranquil town.  Something no one expected or foresaw.  Something no one had control over.  The tornado came up from across Lake Huron so fast that very few people even knew it was happening until it was all over.  Within 20 minutes, the event had happened, the damage had occurred and the sky had turned bright  blue with white clouds.  Except for the damage littering Goderich, sirens, etc., it would be hard to believe that something that traumatic, that life altering had taken place just minutes before by looking at the sky.

Down at the harbour, Sifto Salt is still repairing the damage
 This picture spoke to my heart as a visual about damage and how long it takes to repair.  And we're talking about physical damage here.  What you might call "external" damage.  Damage that can be seen to the naked eye.  I have no idea what this view looked like mere hours after the tornado.  I wasn't there.  Non-residents were advised to stay away, to give the emergency workers room to assess and work.  But what about internal damage.  Damage such as emotional trauma.  Damage not visible to the naked eye?  What about it?


Nine months later, repair and restoration were still happening.  Work in progress was still visible.


Nine months later, life was not back to normal.  Getting close, but not there yet.  I was told about one family who had lost their home in the tornado.  It had just been rebuilt and they were finally back in their own home.  Nine months later.


The aftermath of tornadoes and trauma just doesn't magically disappear after a short period of time.  It takes work - and courage - to repair and rebuild.

*******

If  physical damage takes so long to restore and repair, what about people like me?  And you?  What about our damage?  Damage that no picture can capture?  Damage that is internal?  Damage that is emotional?

What about the emotional "tornados" that trounce through our lives, leaving no markers in their wake?  No physical debris littering the scene.  No sirens of emergency personnel or vehicles.

Just quiet.  Unless you can hear the tears.  The screams that reverberate in the victim's soul but don't penetrate through their mouths.

But what would you think, what would you perceive and assume, if you could hear them?  If I did wail heartbrokenly in my misery and devastation?  What you understand?  Or at least try to understand?  What would sit with me and embrace me in your love?  Or would you be a Job's comforter and give me useless words of advice and "wisdom"?  Words that sound good to you, but leave me feeling cold and more alone than ever?  Would you tell me to move on while my mind is still processing and assessing the damage?

This is another place where perceptions and assumptions occur on the part of others.  They assume that because there is no physical wreckage, nothing visible to the naked eye, there has not been any substantial damage.  That healing should occur immediately.

Those around us cannot see the damage; therefore, they don't perceive its reality in our lives.  Thus, they have no patience when it takes us days, weeks, months and even years to find our way out of the mess, to repair, to rebuild.  We're not rebuilding a building here; we're totally reinventing our lives.  We're becoming totally new from the inside out.  Nothing a coat of paint can do.

They feel that we should get over it quickly.

Looking at the trauma still visible in Goderich nine months after the tornado, still being repaired, how much deeper and long lasting is internal damage caused by trauma?  How much longer does it take to repair?

*******

This is not the blog posting I had planned for today.  It sort of came through my fingers and mind of its own volition.  I intended to lay more foundation from H. Norman Wright's book, my "bible" in the journey of recovery, about emotional trauma.

However, today I think was a necessary step in realizing that if physical trauma from a naturally occurring random event like a tornado takes so long to recover from, how much more so should we allow for the victim of emotional trauma?

Until tomorrow ... when hopefully my fingers and mind decide to follow my planned path on the road to recovery.



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: The Significance of Trauma in our Lives and our Recoveries



There are quite a few possible postings waiting, not so patiently in my mind, to be explored after writing my last posting about the visit by the church staff member. 

The two most pressing issues are:  trauma and continuity.  Both of which not only played a large part in what happened in my safe room that day but in my journey towards recovery.  

Of course, there are always perceptions and assumptions.  If you don't understand the role trauma plays in a person's entire life - in my case post workplace abuse - you simply will have no idea where the person is coming from, why they say the things they do and why they act the way they do.


*******

 As I've said before, I love H. Norman Wright's book, Helping those Who Hurt:  Compassionate and Practical Ways to Offer Comfort, because he writes in language which everyone can understand.  Because he knows what he's talking about.  Because he doesn't preach.  He simply explains.  You don't have to by a psychologist or psychiatrist to understand what he is saying.  This particular book which I bought early on in what I now call Phase I of my recovery process - after the first episode of workplace where trauma ate at me like a cancer because it was undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated - has been invaluable in my recovery process.  I call it my "Bible".

So today, looking into trauma I will let Mr. Wright do most of the speaking.

H. Norman Wright writes:
Trauma has many effects.  It shatters our beliefs and assumptions about life, challenges our belief that we have the ability to handle life, and tears apart our belief that the world is a just and orderly place to live.  That's quite dramatic, isn't it?  Whether it's your friend or you, here is what to expect:   
Trauma leads to silence: I don't have the words to describe it.
Trauma leads to isolation:  No one seems to understand or enters into the experience I had.
Trauma leads to feelings of hopelessness:  There was no way to stop what happened or the memories of what happened.  (chapter 7, pg. 75).
And this is just for starters.

In chapter 6, pg. 70, he goes on to write under a subheading called "What's Trauma Like?"
What we used to see as a safe world is no longer safe.  What we used to see as a predictable world is no longer predictable.  
Before I make any comments about either of the two quotes above, I'm going to add one more which I feel is pertinent to understanding trauma and it's impact on the victim.
Perhaps not as obvious is the emotional wounding caused by trauma.  Our psyche can be so assaulted that our beliefs about ourselves, our life, our will to grow, our spirit, our dignity, and our sense of security are damaged.  ... In trauma they have difficulty bouncing back because they feel derealization (Is this really happening?) and depersonalization (I don't know what I really stand for anymore). (chapter 6, page 71).
Bingo.  Bingo.  And bingo.

All three of these quotes reverberate at the very core of my essence.

My beliefs and assumptions about life, especially about life being fair and orderly, were ripped apart in the workplace by four years of escalating bullying.  By four years of increasingly being put on the proverbial hot seat for everything I said or did.  Even my beliefs, i.e. being a Christian, were called into question and ridiculed.

At the end, my co-workers were running to the supervisor consistently with frivolous complaints such as saying hello to a co-worker (I kid you not, it really happened and I got grilled for two hours about that one), telling a co-worker who was standing in the middle of our small office, talking loudly and over me and waving her arms "I'm sorry, you hurt me.  I'm sorry.  Good-bye." As I then walked out of the office after my shift was done.  I got a phone call at 8:21 the next morning inquiring about that one.  By the time I walked into the workplace later that day, it had already gone to HR. (That resulted in my first stress breakdown.)  What?  And then there was the trainee who decided she didn't want to be trained and ran towards the supervisor's office because I had simply told her that we didn't do something she was doing.  The supervisor had already gone home for the day, but I knew how this was going to play out from previous experiences.  The supervisor felt that I was the problem.  I was in error.  She had already asked me such questions as:  "How do you think I feel when I come in to an email like this?" (referring to the email from the co-worker who was waving her arms and talking loudly.)

How does she, i.e. my supervisor, feel?  Is that really the question here, how she feels?

I don't think in hindsight that that was the real question here.  The better question would be how do I, the accused, feel about these complaints.  This consistent barrage?  How do I feel when a co-worker accuses me of disrespect when I say hello?  And, more importantly, why does she feel that she can do that?

My world, my beliefs, were shaken to the core by these events and many more.  My world was no longer a safe place.  Certainly, my work situation was not safe for me.  My subsequent actions, my thoughts, reflected that.

I had always felt that if you treated others respectfully, they would treat you respectfully.

Not true.  Not in this workplace.

And there is more.  Much more.

But for now, I will stop and let you chew on what I've written today.

*******

Emotional trauma is real.  It's not like physical trauma where you can see the injuries, the blood, etc.  But it's there.  Hiding inside.  Invisible to the naked eye.  But there.  Real to the person who has experienced the trauma.  

Recovery from trauma takes time.  It takes effort.  It takes energy.  It takes people walking alongside you to hold up your leaning side.

Most of all, it takes knowledge about trauma and its affects/effects to be able to work through and walk through all the things trauma has thrown at you.

If only ... the staff member from my church had brushed up on what trauma is and what it does, she could have been more understanding, more empathetic and, most importantly, helpful.

Until tomorrow when we take another step ... or maybe even two ... on the journey home from workplace abuse.



Monday, July 28, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Working through and processing events


My safe room.  It may not look like much, but it's a place where I feel comfortable, where I have all the "comforts of life" (more or less), where creativity happens and, mostly importantly, where healing happens.

Needless to say I was not only in a world of hurt when this staff member from my church left my home that day, but also badly in need of processing what had just transpired in my safe room.

Processing for me is where recovery begins.  I've been accused of being over-analytical and analyzing things to death, but at the same time this ability to analyze and process things has been one of the major strengths my therapist has discerned in her walk - and work - with me.  I analyze and process things so that I can pull back and look at the event(s) from a distance.  To distance myself.  To get a better grip on it.  To diffuse the incredible hurt and emotion involved.


*******

Processing doesn't always occur in any order.  It just is.  So here are some of the thoughts I've processed since that visit:

One of the most important things I've learned throughout the post-recovery from workplace abuse and post-aftermath of loss of a loved one journey(s) combined, is that people don't always stay in one category i.e. "safe" or "unsafe".  They can change categories at any given time based on their own circumstances.  A person who was once safe and supportive cannot be expected to stay at that level when they themselves are going through their own traumas, their own issues i.e. a sibling who is also going through the loss of the same loved one, etc. 

People have their own assumptions and perceptions which they are most likely totally unaware of.  Because assumptions and perceptions simply are.  They're part of us.  Most people have not had their assumptions and perceptions thrust at them as something bad so that they haven't had to really look at what assumptions and perceptions are in order to break free from lies.  In short, most people are not me and are not working through all the lies, the hurts, the misperceptions, etc. that I am. 

People are not mind readers. I thought that because my thoughts were so loud, almost screaming inside my mind, that they were so loud others could "hear" them, i.e. pick up on them.  I have had to learn that that is not so and that I have to use my words even with those closest to me like hubby.

Most importantly, I analyzed that day that the staff member who came into my home had no knowledge of trauma.  What it is.  How it affects others.  She was looking at me and my behaviour from what she and others who have not been wounded by trauma would assume and perceive.

I internalized that day that although this person had badly wounded me, she had done so through ignorance of a major issue in my life.  She was not a "bad" person.  She probably didn't intend to do as much damage as she did.   In fact, to this day, she still may not understand the incredible hurt and damage she did.  She simply didn't understand the basics.  In short, she was the wrong person to come into my home that day.  She didn't have the tools she needed to build a foundation with me.

I also realized that she had no idea of what my background in the church had been.  That when I had started attending six years prior, I was totally a basket case due to what had happened in the church prior.

How I started out trying to be a shadow.  I didn't want to draw any attention to myself.  I didn't want people to notice me or talk to me.

I had done all the "right" things in my former church.  Attending faithfully.  Volunteering.  Going to small groups.  Praying.  Giving. At the time, the lead pastor came to our door furious with me, I was even almost single-handedly feeding a family of five.

In the end, none of that mattered.  The only thing that mattered was that I had thrown my Bible on the floor in the church library in front of someone whose classification still remains a mystery.  The lead pastor originally classified her as a visitor but since she was in the library to "job shadow" me that day in order to volunteer, I would wonder about that.  When I voiced my concerns about that classification to the lead pastor, he quickly amended it to being new, very new. Whatever.  *shrugs shoulders*

I had worked hard for six years regarding trauma, PTSD, etc.  I had had significant recovery in those six years by working hard with my new therapist, by being consistent, by researching, reading.  It cost me time and money.  Money for gas.  Money for continued therapy.  None of which was covered under any existing health or benefit plans.  I did it because it was important to me.  Because I didn't want to stay stuck.

You name it, I probably did it.  As regarding this particular issue with my former church, eventually I forgave all those involved which was a long process.  As regarding the issue of feeling comfortable in a different church, I had eventually liased with the then interin pastor who has since go on to the mission field and is still in contact with me to this day.  He and his wife were invaluable in the process of being able to call our new church a church "home".  When he left for the mission field, another staff member took over.  We both saw his role as giving me the Biblical perspective.  He was not there as my therapist.  His role in my life was also invaluable.  He attended a session with my therapist and myself about trauma and we could both see how he was trying to wrap his mind around concepts that were foreign to him.  He too left the church after a few short months.  His replacement was supposed to take over that support role.  A role he never embraced which led us to this meeting in my home with a staff member who had no clue.

In the aftermath of that meeting in my home, my safe room, that day, I realized that all that knowledge was gone.  None of it had been passed on.

In the six years I had been in that church up to that time, I had joined a small group.  I came in afraid of my own shadow and slowly began to feel safe and build up relationships.  The group ended.  I guess I assumed that when the former leaders of the group found another small group, they would invite us in.  That didn't happen.  I discovered inadvertently one day that there was another small group which met on weekends and had included the former leaders of our small group in their small group.  Maybe I had at long last found another small group home.  I verbalized as much - and I saw the mask come down over the eyes.  It turns out that this group was by invitation only.  They had to know you.  They didn't know us.  Discussion closed.

These were all things this staff member who came into my home with her own judgements, perceptions and assumptions had no way of knowing.  She had no way of knowing where we had started off from.  She had no way of knowing that we had indeed been affiliated with a small group which had stopped and had never been reconnected to another one.  She had no way of knowing that I had regularly attended the women's meetings nor the seniors' luncheons.  She had no way of knowing about trauma.  She had no way of knowing anything that transpired after the one minister left.

She had no way of knowing.

*******

And this is where I end for today.  I am emotionally and physically exhausted with the effort of writing this post.  Every part of me has been screaming to leave it.  To stop typing.  To stop thinking.  To lie down.  To do something else, like watch a DVD, pick up some knitting.  Whatever.

Yet, I know that if I do that I may not start again tomorrow, or the next day, or the next.

At the writer's conference in June, one nugget I learned was to be consistent in my blog.  Since I've started writing five days a week to continue that way.  Also, to be consistent in the time I publish my blog - which since I write it after waking up in the morning and have been sleeping in lately has not been consistent.

I ask you to bear with me as I both walk the path and write about the journey at the same time.

Here is a pictorial view of what my path looks like at the moment.

Grab your hiking boots and come with me.

Until tomorrow ....


Road construction in my "hood"














Friday, July 25, 2014

Post Workplace Affirmations: The Value of Affirmations in Recovery

I am going through a period of intense exhaustion these days.  Whether it's from doing too much, pressing the envelope too far, or other factors, I don't know.  I just know that it's all I can do to get up in the morning, get dressed and then attempt to be consistent in this blog.  So far, being consistent is winning; getting dressed is losing.

Yet, I feel that it is good to be consistent.  To write daily as I've started this blog as a daily blog five days a week.  I feel that there are people who like to read the daily updates on this blog.

I'm still not 100% sure where I'm going.  There is a wealth of information about trauma, PTSD, workplace abuse that I can write about.  To do so would take a very long time.  Just building the underground, the foundation for people to understand as they either walk through these things or attempt to walk alongside someone who is going through these things.

Then there's the dailyness.  The things that happen in any given day which either help - or hinder - me on my road to recovery.

I hadn't quite decided how to approach all these things in one blog, how to include the dailyness while not getting distracted and following rabbit trails along the road to recovery from workplace abuse - specifically my road to recovery post workplace abuse.

Today we go back in time to that period when the staff member from my church came into my house with what I believe are false assumptions and perceptions.  A time when others who didn't even know or have contact with each other, affirmed the very qualities the staff member dismissed.


By the end of 2012, I was sunk in depression.  Along with the ever constant pain both physical from the broken wrist and emotional from the grief of my mom's death and trauma from workplace abuse.  I felt like I was in a deep hole from which I would never emerge.  It was too deep for me to climb out of on my own.

I have what I call a "patchwork" support system.  One person here, another there:  a friend I've known almost three decades, hubby, daughter, daughter's mom-in-love.  Various assorted others who pop up here and there.  Small.  Very small.  It works because we make it work.

But sometimes more is needed, and this period of time in my life and in my recovery was one of those times when I needed the proverbial village to get through.

It came at the tail end of that dismal period in 2012.

It came in the form of unexpected notes and phone calls.

I don't know if I can remember everything but I will try.

The first one came when I received a note from a young mother who I've befriended in the past.  When her daughter was born, I made her a special afghan and brought over a homemade meal (I was still able to cook at that time.)  I received a thank-you note from her.  Imagine my surprise and gratitude at receiving this note of appreciation at that particular time in my life as the "baby" was by then 14 months old!

Let me go back a bit to more than a year prior to the Fall of 2011 when I was still reeling from the impact of the abusive workplace situation.  I was taking a walk with one person who has walked with me through most of the saga from the first episode of workplace abuse onwards.  She probably knows more about me than I know about myself.  We were talking about my confusion about who I was directly after the second episode of workplace abuse as the adversaries in the workplace had successfully launched a petition accusing me of many things including being a major stressor in the office.  Being Christians, we often use portions of the Bible to express things.  This friend quoted a verse about knowing the truth and having the truth set you free.  I think she meant it from the point of view of God showing me the truth about who I am in Him.  I received something a little different.  A different perspective.

I had a really strange dream that night.  The first part of which is irrelevant to this post.  Also too wordy and complicated to recount.  However, towards the end of this dream, young mothers, children and some fathers started appearing.  All with hand made blankets.  Made by me.  One young mother said that she had been pregnant and a stranger in town and I had given her this blanket and it meant so much.  Others had similar affirmations.

I began to realize that the truth was that I had a lot of value.  That I was a very giving person and that people appreciated it.

Then, I received a phone call from my daughter telling me she'd run into a woman neither of us had seen in a few years.  A single mother of four whom I had supported during a time of extreme neediness and turmoil in her life by providing food.  Almost single-handedly I provided groceries for that woman and her growing children for the better part of a year.  She still remembered with thankfulness.

The weekend after the disastrous meeting with the staff member from my church when I was still reeling from the impact of the words said, I received a phone call from my niece.  Because of an autoimmune disease, she was told it was not in her best interests to have children, so she and her husband started the adoption process years before eventually being successful in the adoption process.  While they were still in the process, when no baby was on their horizon, I took out my trusty, dusty crochet hook and started to make one of my favorite patterns.  One reserved for special people as it's very time consuming to make.  It has a border of puffed hearts around it.  As I crocheted it, I prayed for the child who would eventually be enfolded in it.  I got a sense that the child I was praying for had not yet been conceived and that the birth mom would be a teenager.  I also felt the baby would be a boy.  On that last I was wrong.  

I gave that blanket to my niece for Christmas that year even though it was kind of strange as no baby was yet on the horizon.  But she understood.  Her phone call was to tell me that her daughter who was by then six years old had found the blanket and asked her mom about it.  My niece replied that Aunty Cassie had made it before she was ever born and prayed for her when she was making it.  To that, my little great-niece matter-of-factly replied:  "Oh, so that's why I'm here."

Out of the mouths of babies, eh?

I kept in communication with a man I've known for years who had just found out that his mom had terminal cancer and was having trouble dealing with his new reality.  I sent him the prayer afghan I had started to make when my own mom was dying and which was originally intended for her.  He let me know in these calls how much that simple act of caring meant to him.  How he found comfort in it.

It was these affirmations that gave me a handle to hold on to at a very dark time in my recovery period.

Ironically, it was these affirmations that came flooding in at the same time the staff member from church came to tell me how worthless - or worth less - I was and that the things I did for people under the radar - the caring, the concern, the hand made gifts some of which took quite a while and cost quite a lot to make, the on-going prayer - were worthless.  They didn't count; therefore, I didn't count.

In her mindset given the perceptions and assumptions she came into my house with, I didn't qualify for help, for outreach from the church.

In retrospect though, I have to ask the question which perspective, which set of perceptions and assumptions, was correct?

I know what my answer to that is.  What is yours?


My mom on her last birthday wearing the shawl I had made for her during that sweltering heat wave.  The niece I had made the diamond bordered special afghan for before she was ever conceived.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse:


Today we continue on the journey of debunking the lies:  perceptions and assumptions.  From the other side.  From the side of those who observe us.  From the side of those who rather than getting acquainted with us and our stories and attempting to find heathy ways to walk alongside us in our journey rely on what they see and, most importantly, what they've been told by others.

Relying on someone else's perceptions and assumptions on the matter rather than investigating for themselves and making their own perceptions and assumptions based on something more solid - like a relationship with the individual involved.

This is my story.  Uniquely mine.  Told from my side of the equation, the side that has gotten bruised, battered and very muddied through the journey.  The side that has somehow continued to get up in the morning and chose to focus on recovery.  Even after seeming defeats.

That side.  That story.


*******

Remember the earlier postings about the earth cam?  The saga of the search for this seemingly elusive piece of technology in North Myrtle Beach and subsequently finding it in Myrtle Beach?  How we stood in front of that building talking on the cell phone with our daughters back in Ontario?  How people passing us had no idea there was an earth cam in that location and that people from all over the world could see them (and us talking on our cell phone) as they passed?  I'm guessing that the people who observed our behaviour that day, the ones who had no clue there was an earth cam there, had some perceptions and assumptions of their own about us.  We were nuts.

Assumptions and perceptions.  Based on their senses.  What they saw.  What they observed  And their knowledge - or lack of it in this particular case. 

My journey of unrelenting hurt, pain, exhaustion, inability to do even the simplest tasks continued on throughout the fall of 2012.  So much so, that I've blocked out whole pieces of that particular time.  I remember only the bigger things like the first Thanksgiving after Mom's death and feeling overwhelmed and inadequate even trying to put on a very simple meal for immediate family members only.  Likewise, I remember falling out of the bathtub and breaking my wrist.  The excruciating pain. The hospital journey.  Again, the unrelenting pain.  The times I met with a friend who was walking through a painful journey of her own with cancer and the talks we had - until I broke my wrist and could no longer drive.  I remember the same person coming over on one of her good weeks immediately after I broke my wrist with a plant, a home made card, and a meal.  A meal ironically which had been given to her by our church.  Because she too was down for the count.  She too had no resources to cook and do things.  I remember this incident so clearly because she gave out of what she had in a time when she was needy herself.

Similarly, there is another time, another incident which occurred at the very end of that year, that period of time in 2012 which is forever seared in my memory.

Finally, after three months of being ignored and feeling abandoned, a staff member from the church called and asked to come over.  I had had previous positive interactions with this staff member and felt that she was safe.  Perceptions and assumptions which turned out to be false.

Things started out well.  I tend to be a visual person, so I wanted to tell her the story of bereavement and post bereavement visually through pictures on my computer and the things I made. My own show and tell.

In short, I let a person who in retrospect turned out to be unsafe into my safe place.  My safe room.  My sanctuary.

First clue.  She wouldn't sit on the comfortable chair provided.  She stood over me.  Looking down on me.

Second clue.  Body language.  Looking down on me.  Arms folded across her chest.  Stiff.  Unyielding.  Definitely not relaxed.

I was sharing with her the emotion of how abandoned I felt when suddenly she said:  "I wonder if you realize when you hurt others."

I felt like I'd been slapped on the face.

We weren't talking about me hurting others.  We were talking about my excruciating hurt.

With that simple sentence, she turned things around.  Frankly, I had no idea what she was talking about.  Who had I hurt?  When?  How?  And what did that have to do with helping me?

We suddenly shifted from my hurt to unknown others.  And that somehow when I'm in such a world of hurt that tears are cascading down my cheeks like Niagara Falls, I'm supposed to deal with others' hurts.

My perceptions and assumptions allowing her to enter my home were (a) that she was a safe person and (b) that she was there to problem solve ways in which the church family could come around me and support me during this time in my life.  Maybe even offer an apology for not being there in the first place.

I was wrong.

Having gained the advantage, the power and control over the situation, she continued on in this vein.  Standing.  Looking down on me.  Body language tense.

I showed her the things I made.  She told that this was not who I am.  With these words, she dismissed something very valuable to me.  My right brain therapy.  What I do.  How I cope with my situation.  Most importantly, how I bless others.

I was told that I hurt others in the church, and that is why no one wanted to talk to me.

Slap.  Slap.  Slap.  Verbally not physically.

I was told that my friend who was going through a very serious physical illness was worthy of church help because they had been in the church for years, her parents went to the church, they had been in a small group, she had volunteered with the children's ministry, etc.

Similarly, I was told in as many words that I was not worthy because I did not belong to a small group.  I was not involved in ministry.  I was not doing the things that they considered worthy in their criterion of evaluation.  The fact that for most of my tenure at the church, I was actively working on recovery and was not in a place where I could do these things was not taken into consideration.

More slaps.  More hurt.

I was told that I was abandoned because I had "weak" relationships.

At that point, I began to realize that this woman had absolutely no idea of where I had been when I first came to that church six years prior.  Of the injury from the former church.  How extensive it was, the steps I'd taken through the years.  That I had once been part of a small group and that it had folded.  Most importantly, she had absolutely no idea of trauma.  In addition, I realized that people who were part of the church in my earliest days of attendance who had walked with me and had even attended a session with my therapist on trauma so that they could walk with me had all scattered to other places, other posts.  One went to the mission field.  One felt that his "shelf life" had expired after the church had appointed a new minister and left.  All the knowledge about trauma left with these people.  Ditto all the knowledge about the steps I'd taken and the progress I'd made.

I also realized that the church I had walked into six years prior was no longer the church I attended now.  Same building, yes.  But the focus had changed from acceptance and helping wounded people to something else.  A different focus I'm still not sure of.

Gone.  This woman had no clue.  She hadn't been there in that position at that time.  She didn't know.  She came into my home with "knowledge" based on faulty perceptions and assumptions.

I was also confused.  I don't know what Bible this woman reads, but this is not how my Bible reads.  Giving to others so I can receive back?  Not in the Bible. 

Knitting and crocheting chemo hats, prayer shawl, afghans and giving them to others across Canada and the U.S. who were going through their own difficulties, who could not repay for my gifts, did not count. Ditto: praying for others did not count.  Investing time and energy in those who were outside the church body and could not possibly repay me also did not count.  Probably because these were things that the church could not see and, therefore, could not objectively evaluate or quantify.  These were things they would only know if they were walking with me.

She did ask how the church could support me in my journey given the circumstances.  That is always a hard question to answer as my experience has shown that once I voice my viewpoint I become (a) vulnerable, (b) I'm not expecting the question so I bumble and stumble and (c) I am placed in a position where the other person can easily shoot down.  To say no.  In short, I become vulnerable.

This is what happened in this situation, in this very room where I write these blogs, where I knit and crochet, where I feel safe.

It would have been so much better if that person had come into my house, my safe place, with a plan already formulated of how they could support me better in the upcoming months in place.  A plan we could discuss and modify.

I felt that having someone regularly reach out to me via phone as in every week or two to see how I was doing and if there were any needs they could meet, would help a lot as it was in the silence, the absence of human contact that I was having so much trouble with.

Her answer:  No, we don't do this.

So where did this leave me?  

Nowhere.

During most of this conversation, I was deluged in tears.  I was still crying uncontrollably when she left.  Her face dispassionate as though I were some whiny kid trying to get something I didn't deserve.

I cried for the best part of 20 hours.  I couldn't sleep.  I felt so worthless.

Somehow I made it through that miserable night.  In the morning, when I felt it was late enough that I would not awaken my daughter, I called her.  As I've said before, she has walked with me through this journey even when she was hurting herself and it was probably not in her own best interests.  She was appalled at some of the things that had been said especially about knitting and crocheting being not who I am. She understand the hurt, the devastation, the vulnerability.  She too was confused as she said:  "But that's what you do and how you bless people."

While we were still on the phone, another call came through from someone we both know and are close to.  Someone who has walked with me in this journey.  Someone who doesn't always understand everything, but has learned to listen, to ask questions, to love.  I switched to her call.  It was like the two were unknowingly tag teaming to get me back to a stable platform, a healthier place emotionally.

The fog began to lift.  I began to slowly come to terms with the visit.  To understand the dynamics that had been in place.  The misperceptions.  The faulty assumptions.  The lies.

However, the hurt, the injury, the disconnect with my church remained.

*******

I'm going to stop here for today as remembering this is taking its toll on me.

I was left with many impressions and questions after this meeting.

The most crucial question I had was turning around this person's question, Do I realize when I hurt others?, to Does she realize when she's hurting others?  Did she not know how badly she hurt me?  Especially when she could see the tears?

She had badly injured me during a time when I was very vulnerable.  Yet, she didn't seem to either realize it or care.

Questions that arose in my mind after the fact were:  "What was she doing in my home?, What was her purpose, her objective, that day? Did she come to help me?  Or did she come to confront me?"

She was going on a sabbatical for three months just three days after this meeting and would be completely severed from the church body for that period of time as in no communication with people from the church and no attendance at the church, so there was no continuity, no follow through.  Given that circumstance, why was she in my house?

Perceptions and Assumptions.  I believe that she came that day with her own set of perceptions and assumptions.  Those she had gained through others.  Others who were conspicuously absent on my journey.


Until tomorrow ....

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Recovery from Workplace Abuse: Perceptions, Assumptions, Injuries, Coping Strategies

"Downtown" Stratford

Yesterday was my Stratford day.  My counselling day.  The day when I go in and touch base with the woman who has walked with me through this entire episode of my life.  A woman who has told me that she has learned a lot about trauma just by walking with me through this.  Which says a lot as the reason I chose her in the first place was that she was already familiar with trauma.

Trauma.  Both the core and the bane of the problem.

The core, because as with a physical illness that's what this injury is all about.  A bane because so many people don't recognize it for the debilitating illness it really is and/or don't have a clue how to deal with it.  So they usually either ignore it or walk away.

Adding to the complications of both walking through it and attempting to recover from it is that often the person finds that for emotional and/or physical reasons they feel more comfortable inside their own home, their own physical surroundings where they can create a safe space.

Out of sight.  Out of mind.


*******

That was my scenario, my situation, in a nutshell during that period of time.  And prior to that period of time as I'd had to severely draw back and limit all outside activities when the chronic, physically debilitating phase reared its head in the fall of 2011.

Out of sight, out of mind.

I adapted to my situation as best I could.

I learned there were all sorts of pre-made foods in the stores.  Unfortunately, most of them which made complete meals in themselves were in the form of pasta such as lasagne.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I love lasagne.  I love pasta.  But when that's all the options there are for meals that can be simply popped into the oven from the freezer, it gets boring.  Monotonous.  What I would have given at that time for a meal of roast beef and potatoes!

I did discover that there were frozen options for mashed potatoes.  Ditto other options such as bagged salads.

We ate those bagged salads a lot.  We ate lasagne and other meals in a bag, box, whatever often.

I coped as best I could ...

UNTIL ...

I fell out of the bathtub one morning and broke my wrist.

All bets were off at that point.

If I thought I was in a world of hurt before, I REALLY was in a world of hurt physically now.

My ability to take care of myself before the broken wrist had been limited to physical fatigue, feeling overwhelmed much of the time, depleted cognitive skills which made it difficult to impossible to read and follow instructions i.e. recipes.

I still had all of that.

But now I had added on extreme pain plus a cast that limited my ability to do common things like drive a car.  Did you know that it's illegal to drive a car with your arm in a cast?  It is.  It's also pretty well impossible as it's impossible for a casted wrist to grip anything.  Which is probably why it's illegal.

That cast prevented me from gripping anything with that hand - which happened to be my dominant hand.  I couldn't grip a knife to cut anything.  I couldn't grip a manual can opener to open cans to fix lunch.  I can't manage to grasp a spoon to dig into the coffee bag to get out coffee grinds to make coffee.  Try fixing even a simple lunch under those conditions where opening things is impossible.  I dare you.

I've been accused many times of being resilient.  Of having good coping skills.  Of learning new ones as needed.  I plead guilty to that and throw myself on the mercy of the court.

If I knew I needed a can opened, I would have to plan in advance and have hubby do it before he went to work.  The dear person who drove me to and front counselling would often step inside and do things like slice cheese for me.  Often that would be my lunch for the day.  I learned to open the cat's canned food by leveraging a knife under the tab and exerting pressure.  I would be breathing heavy at the end of the process, but I would have done it!  And the cat would eat another meal.  I learned to find a shallow tray, lay my measuring spoon on it and pour the coffee grinds into and over it using my left hand to measure the coffee into the basket.  I couldn't handle pouring water into the coffee maker using the bin provided (I don't have a coffee maker with a carafe which would have been easier), so I learned to take a common plastic drinking glass, fill it up and pour it into the reservoir as many times as was needed to make a pot.  I learned to use my left hand for as many things as possible.  I learned to communicate via the computer using the old-fashioned, one finger approach - using only the left hand. People learned to decipher my typos.  Any one of these things would leave me completely exhausted.  All of them together was more than I could handle.  I became more and more physically depleted necessitating more and more bed time.

My therapist said that I needed to rest in order to heal.  Both physically and emotionally.  But how?

Given my circumstances ... how? ... was the cry of my heart.

My counsellor asked me if I'd let my church know that I'd broken my wrist.  I snorted and said no.  I was already bitter about being left alone to my own devices during a time when I needed support more than I'd ever needed it in my life.  I asked my counsellor, why should I let them know?  If they weren't inclined to step up to the plate and support me with the grief issues, then why would they choose to support me now?  She said that physical was different.  They would understand that.  Try them.  Give them a chance to come alongside you and support you.

So I did.

I was I hadn't.

Yes, I got a meal delivery. One.

The person who brought over the meal was the same one who had brought the first delivery over.  In hindsight, I believe (as in perceive and assume) that that original delivery was done under duress.  They didn't understand the situation and were doing it only because I had made noise.

This person came into my home, looked at me with my bright blue wrist and blurted out:  "So you really did break your wrist!"

Many thoughts went through my mind.  One of which was:  "So I need to provide a doctor's note in order to get help?"  Another one was:  "Why did you doubt me?  Did you think I would make something like this up?"

I didn't say any of those things.  

I did get her to put the food items in my fridge.  

This, though, may have led to another misperception and assumption in the line up as my fridge was bulging with food.  Food which I had no way of preparing.  As someone verbalized much later on in that phase of the journey while the cast was still on, I had food.  I just didn't have hands.  She never came back.  No one from the church office or the caring committee ever called me to see how I was doing or if I could use another delivery.

I had food, but I needed hands to convert that food in the fridge, the raw materials, into a bona fide meal.  Just as the yarn in my stash isn't going to magically become a scarf, etc. until needles are applied.  Needles with hands attached to them.

Which leads me to another huge problem in the recovery process.  Knitting and crocheting are my right brain therapies.  Those I use to help keep me stable.  With my wrist in a cast, it was impossible to knit or crochet.  I had lost, at least for a time, the ability to do something which I needed to do in order to heal emotionally.  Those who are knitters themselves will understand fully.  Those who are not, will not understand.

I had a husband. But husbands, especially those who are working a physically demanding job, can only do so much.  They come home tired and hungry after a long day's work.  They want to come into the door, smell a good meal on the stove and say:  "Smells like someone loves me."

Instead, the poor guy came home day after day to a house where it was obvious that nothing was on the stove for supper and had to start preparing a meal for both him and his wife.

In the original stages, the poor guy had to dress me.  I figured out how to bathe myself (remember what I said about being resilient and coping skills?).  The one thing though that I needed help with that I couldn't figure out on my own and he refused to do was wash my hair.  We found a hair cutting place which was willing to wash my hair for just a few dollars as opposed to the approximately $40 fee most places charged.  We found ways to cope.  But each way took a toll a me.  A physical toll on an already depleted body.  Plus, an emotional toll on a person who was already feeling worth less than others.

As my counsellor said, I needed to rest in order to heal.  However, without more in the way of practical support, that was not possible.

As I've mentioned from the book which became my Bible, my handbook, during the earliest phases of recovery Helping Those Who Hurt:  Compassion and Practical Ways to Offer Comfort, a needy person can easily suck those who walk with them dry causing them to burn out.

I came to realize that those who walk with me need to take care of themselves.  They need to be sure that whatever they choose to do will not burn them out.  I realized that not only did these people who were already walking with me before the death of my mom, before the broken wrist, could only do so much.  It would be unfair of me to expect them to take on more.  I chose to value them for what they were already doing.  I chose to thank them for each thing they did for me.

I needed more people to come alongside me at that time to do a designated task.  What ever they felt they could do without burning out.

For example, I would have loved for someone to call me every week or two just to see how I was doing.  It would have made my day to have a handwritten note or card in my mailbox, especially if it was regularly.  Anything to let me know that people cared.

It didn't happen.  Was it because people didn't care?  Or because they didn't know?

I prefer to think the latter.  I prefer to believe (i.e. perceive and assume) that there are caring people who would have stepped up to the plate if they had known, if someone from the church office had communicated the need and asked.

I prefer ....

*******

As I wrote this segment today, I realized how hurtful this could sound to those who did walk with me.  The lady who drove me to Stratford and doctor's appointments.  The friend who had lunch with me and even came by to help me plant spring bulbs in my garden in honour of my mom.  The friend who herself was walking through a horrible time with a dread disease and wanted to be there for me, but couldn't.  The neighbours who put sympathy cards in my mailbox when I first came back after my mom died.

Believe me, I appreciate you.  Thank you for being in my life.

Until tomorrow....



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: My "Stratford" days

Today we take a wee break from the theme of perceptions, assumptions, and their role in workplace abuse.  Today is what I call my "Stratford" day.  It used to be a bi-weekly occurrence.  Now it is every four weeks.  Soon, if recovery continues as well as it has been lately, it will be every six weeks as we gradually taper off - much like a mother weans her child.  

Until about three years ago, my counselling day used to be my "Milverton" day.  (I wrote a post about Milverton back in the very early days of this blog.)  Back then, every two weeks like clockwork.  I was still working then - afternoons.  I would book a morning appointment, drive in leaving extra time to walk around a bit.  Put my own personal touch on this journey.  Make it my own adventure.  I got to know the thrift store there, the little convenience store which had a great, though somewhat unreliable, coffee machine with English Toffee.  Wonderful staff who got to know me and welcome me on my bi-weekly visits.

A town with a strong Old Order Mennonite presence, the thrift store reflected the community in which it was located.  Yarns, crafts, buttons, etc.  Christian CDs.  I loved to go in, walk around and browse a bit. Sometimes buy.  I got some of my favorite CDs from that store.

After my appointment, I would boot it back into town, have a hurried lunch somewhere and go straight into work for the next eight hours.  That is why I began to call it my "Milverton" day in the beginning as when I had a counselling appointment, it basically wiped out the entire day.

Mama swan and babies in the Avon River in Stratford a few weeks ago.

But time passes on and things change.  My job ended.  My therapist felt a pull to move.  She located approximately 45 km from my house.  There was basically no difference in my driving time.  Just a different direction.  That change in location - and direction - makes a huge difference in scenery and experience though.  Gone now is the Old Order presence I enjoyed in my previous trips.  Passing buggies on my drive in.  Gone now, my visits to the tiny town with just a few shops.


Stratford is also a small town located in southwestern Ontario.  Just not as small as Milverton.  Stratford is where the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is held.  A small town, yet it has a strong tourist pull. The streets crusted with touristy shops and places to eat most with a Shakespearian theme.  The Shakespeare theme runs through the town with the river that runs through it being called the Avon.


I still meet with my counsellor in the mornings, even though I'm no longer working and haven't been for more than three years.  I guess old habits die hard.  We now meet in a large church on the outskirts of town.  If I'm well enough, I drive into the town proper, park the car and walk around.  Maybe even enjoy a gourmet poutine at Boomers - a very tiny eatery known for it's poutine varieties.

Sometimes, we really make it an adventure when my daughter comes with me.  During the time of the broken wrist when I could not drive, she became my chauffeur.  It was during this period that we discovered Boomers.

Although I am usually well enough to drive myself these days, it is still a treat when my daughter - and sometimes even the grands - come with me.  They explore the town with it's one-of-a-kind toy store (Friends & Co.), cheese shop (The Milky Whey), etc. while I continue working on the road to recovery with my counsellor.  Smoothing out the wrinkles life has thrown at me during the time period between appointments.


As with Milverton, if energy permits which it does more often these days, I try to make the day "my" day.  A special treat for me to congratulate myself on all the work I've done on the road to recovery.

Gone now too as the days when I left my former counsellor's office in tears, more confused than when I began the appointment.  Feeling like I needed an appointment to discuss the appointment.

"Dessert" is located right next door to Boomer's
We may have done some tough work in the session, but I come out knowing that I am valued.  Knowing that despite my challenges, I'm still an OK person.  Instead of being angry with me, my counsellor keeps reaffirming that I'm amazing.  Because she contends that most people would have given up after the first counselling situation and never tried again.


Why did I try again?  Why did I choose someone so far away from my home town when I absolutely hated to drive long distances?

Perhaps the answer is simple.  At that time, I had nowhere to go but up.  I felt I had nothing left to lose.   I simply had to find someone who would reach out a hand and help me get my feet unstuck from all the muck they were mired in.  I needed someone who believed in me.

That is what I found.  First in the tiny, sleepy town of Milverton and now in Stratford.  Unconditional acceptance.  A place to safely explore the boundaries.  A place to grow.  A place I feel comfortable in.

Both in my counselling relationship and in the larger environment of the town itself.

I feel safe.

Stratford town hall
Someday, maybe someday in the near future, these visits will be winding down to a close as recovery occurs, and I'm more and more able to stand on my own two feet - both physically and emotionally.

Until then, I will continue to make my Stratford days an adventure.

Until then, I will continue to enjoy these outings.

See you tomorrow as we continue on the road to recovery post workplace abuse.