Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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You Do Not Own Me

I wrote this poem last year after dinner with my eldest daughter in Vancouver. She had shared the details of an incident where some men had been cat-calling her as she walked by their construction site.

In our conversation, I shared with her the numerous times I had simply ‘walked on by’ or stood still while some man felt he had the right to overthrow decency with his innuendos and suggestions of sexual possibilities.

I remember when my daughters were little girls and some of the boys in their school (a private school btw) had started reaching up under girls skirts and pulling down their panties — My daughters refused to wear skirts. I refused to stay silent. I went to the school and spoke to the Administrator. After hearing my concerns she replied, “Boys will be boys.”

She got to hear my outrage.

Allowing statements like ‘boys will be boys’ to explain away bad behavior is how boys grow up to be men who think it’s okay to continue the behaviours that denigrate and objectify women — nobody ever taught them better.

Eventually, a group of us pulled our children from that school.

I was reminded of this poem after reading an article about Taylor Swift’s courage to speak out against a man who thought he had the right to treat her body as if he owned it.

She won the case. And my admiration along with the admiration of millions of young girls across the country.

We need to all stand up. To not stay silent. To not just keep walking on by.

Namaste.


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Just because it’s the oldest profession doesn’t make it right for anyone.

“To understand what prostitution’s really like, you need to go eyeball to eyeball with a John.”

I listened to the words spoken by a vice-sergeant in the police force I’d been working with for several months as I researched street teens and found myself nodding my head yes.

“Good idea.”

Which is how, a forty-something woman found herself standing in the night along a downtown street, trying to lure the men who drove slowly by in their cars to stop and negotiate sex-for-hire.

I had rules. At no time was I to get in the car with a man and if I felt in danger, I was to use the get-out-of-danger line the two cops who were watching over me had provided.

Easy. Peasy, I thought and headed out to the street one night, dressed in my fishnet stockings, short skirt and top specifically designed to reveal the most cleavage. I thought I would gain understanding of what it was like for the young, and not so young women, who stood out, night after night, trying to entice men to pay them to have sex with them.

I had no idea what I was in for.

I knew many of the other women lining the street. I’d chatted over coffee with most of them during the weeks leanding up to that night. They’d answered my questions with grace. They’d shared their stories and thoughts and ideas on life, children, helping one another, and of course, sex.

I had empathy, compassion, admiration for the girls. They were strong. Courageous. Funny. Kind.

I had way more judgements of the johns.

They were the predators. The men who preyed upon women, enticing them with money-for-sex while they relieved their tensions and sexual frustrations in cars parked in dark alleys and out-of-the-view-of-prying-eyes-corners of the city.

And then I went eyeball to eyeball with a john.

He was young. Good looking. Blonde. In his twenties. When his little blue car pulled to a stop in front of me I was scared. My mind went blank and I forgot every carefully coached word the vice cops and the girls had given me to help me through the night.

After a hasty, “Hi. You want to party?” as I approached the open window of his car, I immediately played my ‘get out of danger’ card ithout uttering another word. “There’s too many cops around out here. I’ll meet you down the back alley behind the hotel.”

I had borrowed a girlfriends fur coat for the night and was holding it tightly closed with one hand at my neck as I leaned into the open window.

As I stepped back and before he pulled away, he leaned over towards the window and said. “Hey. Maybe save you a walk for nothing. Let me see what you’ve got under your coat.”

Really?

I opened my coat and showed him my wares.

He nodded his head and pulled away.

I didn’t know if I should say thank you or F*u. I stepped back onto the curb and started to shake. My first encounter with a john and I send him away with alacrity.

I knew I couldn’t stay out and walked back to one of the unmarked police cars where Ron, my police guide and watchman for the night was howling with laughter.

“I wondered how long before you’d have to open your coat,” he said before adding. “Give it ten minutes. He’ll be back.”

And he was. A few minutes later, joining the stream of cars, circling the block, again and again, looking for just the right girl.

I lost my innocence that night. I lost my blindness. My ability to ignore what sex-for-hire does to the self-worth, heart and soul of everyone engaged in its dark underbelly.

When I stepped out onto the street that night I carried my judgements with me. I had no compassion, no sense of empathy, or even pity for the men called john who abused these young women and made them pay for their failings by getting them to do unspeakable acts just so they could feel better about their lives.

In one night I discovered all my thinking of them as perps, as evil, as scum could not change the fact, they were not there on the street because everything was great in their lives.

They were there because they too are broken, damaged, hurting.

Holding my judgements against them, holding my condemnation, my blaming and shaming does not change anything, other than leaving me standing in the darkness of my own mind.

I cannot change or heal what I do not acknowledge. Condemning the johns only made the night darker. No matter how much I wanted to hate the johns, to carry my condemnation into the night and not feel empathy for those who in my mind, were the cause of prostitution’s presence in our world, did not change the fact, they are there because they don’t know where else to go to relieve their pain.

It doesn’t make it ‘right’. It does make it easier to understand why we can’t just stand by, do nothing and use the excuse, “they’re not hurting anyone.”

Prostitution, say some, is the oldest profession.

Longevity does not make it right.

It does not make it safe.

And it doesn’t make it a career we want our daughters, and sons, to engage in.

Standing on the street that night, I came up against my own humanity, my frailty, and my judgements. Standing in the dark, I could see clearly that until we see all people through the light of compassion, we will continue to hurt one another to relieve our pain because our pain is even older than prostitution.

Namaste.


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There’s no ‘getting over’ a Psyhcopath

A woman I have never met writes me an email to tell me how she has just seen the documentary that was created about the journey I took through hell with a man whose lies and deceit almost killed me. It still occasionally appears on Discovery Channel and OWN and I always know when it’s been on. Someone will write to tell me they saw it. That they too have a story like mine.

Often, they will write of their misadventure and ask me, “How did you heal? How did you get over that?”

They will also, as this woman has, thank me for having had the courage to tell the story. To share it. “I don’t feel so alone,” she writes. “I am not crazy.”

It is one of the reasons I did the documentary. So that people know they are not alone. Not crazy. That there is hope, and life, after an encounter with a psychopath, or as I used to call it in the early days of my healing, a P-encounter.

Sometimes, the woman will tell me she is still in the relationship, or trying to break it off. Sometimes, it is a mother writing for her daughter’s sake, or a sister, pleading for understanding. Asking me to help them make sense of what is happening. Why won’t she leave? How do I save her?, they ask.

You must cut off all contact with the “P”. You cannot save anyone as long as the “P” is calling the shots. You are not powerful enough to combat the poison he feeds you, or the person you want to help, with every breath he takes and every word he speaks.

We must first stop the poison from entering before we can heal its effects.

There is no sense in encounters of the “P” kind. They are designed to drive the victim and those around them crazy.

“P” encounters are never about Love. They are always about Abuse.

P-encounters rob you of joy. Of your sense of worth, your self-esteem, your belief in yourself. They destroy hope. They tear apart lives, rip apart families and decimate relationships.

The damage is terminal if you stay  in the relationship. Your heart will wither within your body. It will become capable of pumping only enough blood to keep you alive. But moments of joy. Moments of bliss, of seeing the sunshine and feeling the warmth on your face, of feeling alive and free, those will be transitory, fleeting, brief.

When in a relationship with a “P” you will always be connected to the umbilical cord of his lies and deceit feeding you the poison that is cutting off your blood flow, your free-thinking, your heart. He needs to keep you connected in order for him to stay alive. He will do anything to not let you go.

Fear, manipulation, terror, deceit. These are all tools of the trade for a “P”. They have spent their lives perfecting their art. They are subject matter experts in human manipulation. (and yes, women can be P’s too).

And we, their prey, whether a man, woman or child, are simply a means of keeping their art alive.

How did I heal?

By naming what happened for what it is. Abuse. By stopping all contact, even in my mind, with the ‘memories’ of a lost love. It was never real. It was only the creation of his desire to catch me in the web of his lies.

How did I heal?

By taking one step after another, every single day, and reminding myself as each step took me away from those dark and violent days, that I was not healing from a love story gone wrong. I was healing from abuse.

How did I get over it?

I didn’t.

It was not something to get over. I wasn’t trying to climb over a fence dividing ‘those days’ from these days now. I was healing from the loss of joy, the ripping apart of all my relationships, the destruction of my dreams, my heart, my belief in my worth, my belief in magic and wonder and awe.

To heal from the loss, I had to reclaim what I had lost. And I couldn’t do it by getting ‘over him’. I had to do it by letting go of the idea of loving him and believing he was my soul mate, my perfect lover, the man of my dreams, my Prince Charming.

I had to stop all thoughts of loving him and the lies I told myself about how I had lost a beautiful love so that I could see myself without the poison of his lies holding me enthralled in the make-believe he’d created when that relationship first began.

I had to become fierce and tenacious and willing to feel the pain of the loss of myself so that I could fall in love with me. All of me. Beauty and the Beast. The abused woman. The woman who deserted her children. Who let go of her life to take that journey to happily ever after and became lost on the road to hell.

I had to fall in love with me, the woman who is caring, kind, sometimes funny (Ask my daughters. They will tell you being funny is not one of my strengths 🙂 ) Who believes in angels and sees fairies dancing on sunlit water and hears the wind whispering stories of far off places in seed pods dancing on the branches of a tree in springtime.

Who believes we are powerful beyond our wildest imaginings because, she knows with all her heart, we are magnificent human beings capable of creating a world of wonder where harmony, joy, peace and Love abounds.

That is the woman I have fallen in love with. And that is how I ‘got over’ the P-encounter.

Namaste.

 


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Addictions Treatment: Is it all about the money?

In his provocative and compelling TEDGlobal Talk on addictions, journalist Johann Hari says, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”

Titled, “Everything you know about addictions is wrong” Hari suggests the research has it all wrong. That what we do to the addicts in our world is not working because we haven’t looked at the other ways that do work.He cites the case of Portugal which has de-criminalized all drugs from Marijuana to Heroin and is experiencing dramatic results as a case in point.

His talk is engaging, but it’s also depressing, writes Doug Chaudron, formerly of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and author of Theories on Alcoholism. In his response to Hari’s TED Talk at The Progressive Economics Forum, he writes that there is nothing new in what Hari is suggesting. The addictions recovery business has seen the research and known that there are alternatives that work better for decades.

” The depressing part is that the research (e.g., Alexander’s Rat Park) and the conceptual alternatives he discusses have been well known in the addictions business for decades.

…Equally, even more, depressing is that the concepts have not “penetrated” the addiction-treatment industry. For an equal number of decades, research has shown that: shorter treatment is as effective as, or more effective than, longer treatment; outpatient treatment is as effective as, or more effective than, inpatient treatment; treatment by modestly-trained counselors is as effective as, or more effective than, treatment by heavily-trained experts; and brief interventions are as effective as, or more effective than, extensive and intensive interventions. But the treatment industry continues to prescribe long-term, intensive, inpatient treatment delivered by highly-trained experts.”

Chaudron’s conclusion is as depressing as what he says about Hari’s talk.

It’s all about The Money.

Go figure.

A billion dollar recovery industry is all about the money.

We could do better. We choose not to because… money talks.

The voice of money is louder than the voice of 10% Albertans who live with an addiction.

The voice of money is louder than doing the best and right thing for those suffering from addictions. And while Hari has not discovered a new understanding of addiction and simply repackaged old information, the fact is, as Chaudron says,

“research also leads to the discovery that the less-effective forms of treatment involve the making of more MONEY by their providers than the proven alternatives. Surprise, surprise…”

Regardless, Hari’s TED talk is worth watching because in the end, it’s not about the addiction it’s about people, relationships and connections. It’s about our ability to be compassionate and our ability to LOVE.


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Why does he choose to hit her?

YWCA_WAM 10 Year logo_02.02.15It is a question almost always asked of a woman living in the perils of an abusive relationship. “Why does she stay?”

The question not often asked is, “Why does he choose to hit her?”

The first question suggests, in some way, that she has options, that she is in control of the situation. For the woman, the question of ‘why does she stay’ is a reflection of our belief that she knows how to get out of the situation she’s in. That she feels in control and powerful enough to make a different choice. Yet, abuse, by its very nature, is designed to undermine, to tear away an individual’s sense of self-efficacy, to destroy their belief in their power to change what is happening in their life and the options they have to do so.

In not asking the question, “Why does he choose to hit her?” we are placing the responsibility for the abuse solely on the woman. We are suggesting the relationship and all that is happening in it are of her doing. He is just being who he is. He is just doing what he does.

In not asking the second question we make abuse a woman’s issue. Solely.

It’s not.

Yes, she knows abuse hurts. She knows it destroys self-esteem, drives you crazy with it’s crazy nonsense, it’s brutal reality, it’s ugly existence.

She knows abuse is wrong. So does he.

The responsibility for abuse is 100% the responsibility of the person choosing to use violence as a tool to get what they want, to control another through using their physical size and other measures such as control of money to exert power over another.

Why does she stay?

She stays because after years of living in the confusing, terrifying, reality-shifting crazy-making world he creates with his abuse, she’s learned to take it, to withstand it, to lie down to it. She’s learned to believe him when he says, she cannot leave, she’ll be nothing without him. She’ll have nothing without him. He’ll kill her if she leaves.

She’s believed everything else he’s told her. Why wouldn’t she believe he’d do that too?

She stays because of the children. Because she has no money and no control or access to their finances. She stays because he tells her to. Because she believes all the lies he’s told her about why it’s her fault, how she’s the bad one, she’s the crazy one, the one who doesn’t deserve anything other than what she’s getting.

She does not stay because he hits her or because she likes his abuse.

She stays because she believes no one can stop him. He’s told her that often enough. It must be true.

She stays because she not only feels worthless, undeserving, like he is all she deserves, she believes it. He’s told her so many times that she is worthless, a piece of garbage, stupid, ugly, and every other horrible word he can think that will make her believe it’s true. She does. Believe it.

The question is: Why does he do it? What does he lie and manipulate and scream and yell and do everything he can to convince her she is unworthy of anything other than what he gives her?

Why does he choose to hit her?

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On September 17th I have been invited to speak at the YWCA Calgary’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fund-raiser.

I am honoured to be able to do so and have been thinking about what I will say. This post is a reflection of some of my thoughts.

Do let me know yours.

Thanks!


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Nature is a natural anti-depressant

IMG_6220I read a fascinating article at Tales from the Conspiratum about research coming out of McMaster University on the effects of anti-depressants on our brain’s ability to cope with stress.

It doesn’t make depression better. In fact, it could be making it worse, suggests Wade Hemsworth, author of the article from the McMaster University Daily news, “The Science behind commonly used anti-depressants seems to be backwards”. 

It’s an interesting read that suggests for people suffering from the most common forms of depression, SSRIs might actually be an obstacle on their path to recovery.

Nature, writes Tales from the Conspiratum, is still the best anti-depressant.

It is one of the challenges of depression. That which is healthy, healing and natural for recovery is also that which takes energy. And energy is not high on the list of things to expend when depression is clouding every thought, breath and feeling.

Had I gone to a doctor and been diagnosed when in the depths of a relationship that was killing me, I might have been prescribed anti-depressants.

I had no energy. My thinking was dark. I had constant suicidal thoughts. I had little to no belief in getting out of the relationship alive. Every joint, muscle, cell of my body hurt. I would awake in the morning and wonder if I didn’t have some incurable disease because it hurt so much to move out of the bed. I hoped I did. That would put an end to my misery.

And then, he was arrested and I was given the miracle of getting my life back.

Overnight, my bones stopped aching, my joints stopped hurting. When I walked, my hands were no longer clenched tight into fists. My gait was no longer stiff.

Yes, suicidal thinking still clouded my mind, but not every moment.

Without the poison of his abuse feeding me lies about my worth and my right to live, I could see clearly that without him, I had only one task, to heal so that my daughters could heal too.

It became my sole purpose in life. To do whatever it took to ensure my daughters knew, what happened to me had nothing to do with my lack of love for them. I knew as teenagers they could easily translate my disappearance into ‘I am not loveable’ and I could not let that happen. They had to know they are loveable exactly the way they are.

At the time, I remember believing what happened had everything to do with a lack of love for myself. In retrospect, miles from those dark days and nights of wishing to die and feeling like I already had, I can see that it was never about love, always about abuse.

What happened to me had everything to do with being in an abusive relationship.

Once the abuser was gone, I was free to fall in love all over again with me, myself and I. The depression that had clogged every fibre of my being began to lift as I began to see clearly, without him I had peace of mind.

I was blessed. I was in a time and space, surrounded by the loving support of my sister and her husband, to heal without fear. Everyday I would walk in the woods with Ellie the wonder pooch and breathe in freedom, exhale sadness. I would look up into the trees and see the limitless possibilities of the sky above and know, in freedom from abuse I could do anything.

I didn’t take an anti-depressant. I took nature’s natural gifts and breathed deeply into all she had to offer to help me heal. I was surrounded by beautiful seascapes, mountains soaring to the sky in rain-forested glory. Wrapped in nature’s embrace, beneath the sky and wind, beside the ocean, amidst the trees and wind-swept vistas of Vancouver’s north shore, I found the one thing I savoured and needed most, freedom.

Being in an abusive relationship is depressing. Staying in one is nullifying.

For a long time I couldn’t see that there was only one thing in the world that could change the sadness and fear that permeated my being throughout that relationship, and that was to walk away.

And then I did.

I had a lot of help and I am grateful. Walking away from abuse into living life beyond the edges of my fear has been a great gift. I don’t look back to remind myself of what he did. I look back to remind myself that that was then, this is now. And now is the gift of time to live with peace of mind, a joyful heart and restful soul.

And now is the time to walk in nature and give thanks for all her beauty shimmering in the air I breathe.

 

 


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Speaking the Truth is not always a cake walk

On the second weekend of the Choices journey, (Givers 1) we talk about the 6 points of power:

  1. Pay Attention
  2. Speak the Truth
  3. Be Responsible for YOUR Life (be accountable)
  4. Ask for what you want
  5. Keep YOUR Agreements
  6. Create Value in ALL things

Speaking the Truth can be challenging. For me, the fear of rejection, my fear that someone won’t like me, or will be angry with what I have to say kept me from speaking up and standing comfortably with my boundaries intact. Because my boundaries used to be so weak and permeable, I continually compromised on my truth and subsequently, lived someone else’s truth. In that process, I became more fearful, not less.

For me, speaking my truth is about lovingly standing my ground without fearing the other person’s reactions. I am not responsible for how people respond. I trust myself to be responsible for and with my words. I trust others to be responsible as well. My trust is not based on their actions, but on my ability to discern how their words and actions affect me. When I respond negatively to someone, it is not a reflection of them. It is something in me that is creating that response. My responsibility is to honour what it is in me by taking appropriate action. It is my responsibility to be true to my values, principles and beliefs.

When I speak my truth, I do not have the right to hurt nor harm someone else. My truth is not a stick with which I bludgeon others. My truth is not a knife with which to spear someone else’s heart in order to open them up to me.

My truth is a reflection of me. How I speak it is a reflection of who I am, my values, principles and beliefs.

When I am angry, my truth reflects my emotion, not my being. I have the right to my anger, I never have the right to be cruel.

Several years ago I managed an organization where the principle was extremely abusive. He believed that it was okay to berate staff, to scream and yell for what he wanted, to threaten dire consequences when he didn’t get it.

I didn’t believe the same things.

For six months, I worked hard to keep staff from feeling the brunt of this man’s abusive behaviour. One of the things I did was organize a two day retreat with the core team to facilitate healing and communication. At the retreat, the principle committed to stop yelling, cursing and belittling staff. I committed to staying on board — with a caveat — if the behaviour continued, I would resign.

One day, shortly after the retreat, the principle started shouting and swearing at the staff in a meeting. I stood up and said, I do not accept this behaviour and I left.

In that instance of speaking my truth I was responsible for my actions and words. My truth was, I do not accept abusive behaviour. I could not change the man. I could not determine whether or not others chose to remain under his abuse. I was not that powerful. My power was in my capacity to make the changes I needed to honour my truth.

Inside me there was a voice that wanted to scream at this individual and rant and rave and really tear a strip off of him in front of his staff. While the momentary relief of doing that might have made me feel good, the truth is — that behaviour would have compromised my values, principles and beliefs.

I value courteous behaviour. I value common decency. I value respect.

I stand true to myself when I step lightly through each moment with dignity, grace and respect. When the footprints I leave are filled with love and do not become potholes for others to fall into.

I believe I am responsible for every thought, word I speak, action I take.

I believe I am responsible for my own happiness. And I trust others to be responsible for theirs.

I believe the world is a place of infinite possibility and beauty.

I believe it is up to me to create it in my own life and to lovingly share my light so that the world around me is illuminated with love that will inspire others to step joyfully through their days — regardless of the weather.

When I stand comfortably in my truth, I am standing in love. In love, I do not hurt others. I do not retaliate unkindly. I lovingly state what is true for me, and do not give myself up to make their truth mine.

There are no boundaries to speaking truth as long as we remember, there is truth in everything, but not all things are true. In our truth is the only place we can stand to live free of fear that our truth is not enough.

We are enough.

In all our truth.

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Thank you RH for the inspiration for today’s blog.