Progress!

Sometimes it’s hard to measure my own progress. But the other day, it was easy.

I met up with a guy who I’ve only met twice before. I originally met him through the lion. We were both in relationships at the time, but both of those relationships are over. We were both able to talk about our exes a bit, and I found out through him that the lion has been engaged since September 2017. That stirred up some uneasiness within me, but that’s another story. I was very nervous before we met and still felt somewhat on alert during the day while we were hanging out, but it was a lot of fun. For the situation I was in, I felt more relaxed and excited than I have in a few years. I wasn’t scared. Progress!

And then, destruction.

A person I worked with many years ago suddenly decided to message me from across the planet: “Hey, so I’m curious to try anal sex with a guy.” Buddy, what you do in your life is your choice; and frankly, I don’t care. Don’t tell me these things. I know this person doesn’t have a lot of friends and is socially awkward. I wanted him to leave me alone, but I also knew that if I didn’t respond, it’d just become a one-sided conversation and I’d be annoyed by the notifications. I composed a filtered response. “What you do in your sex life is your business, not mine. If you find someone who consents to doing whatever you want to do, go for it. It’s your life; you don’t need my opinion or validation on any of this.” I hoped he would understand that I wanted him to stop.

Surprise, surprise; it didn’t work and the “conversation” got worse. He kept messaging me. I was busy and didn’t want to be a part of this so I tried to ignore it.

Then, “Can I send a pic.”

He sent four. “My semi,” my notifications told me he said. I’d chosen not to focus on this online conversation, but rather the things I was doing in-person, so I thought for a split second, he sent me photos of his car? Then I went back to what I was doing. I made a point of not looking at the conversation.

“I just want a nice girl. Stroke her hair. You’re a nice girl. Pretty.”

The text crept off my screen and hovered heavily and intrusively around me, invading my personal space. I felt sick and violated. I’d lost my patience. I’m having a good day, damn it.

I found a comfortable moment to respond. I typed and retyped. How much do I write? How much do I say? What words do I use? How do I express what I want to? Do I use caps to look like I’m yelling? Do I not? Finally, I sent my completed response.

“This is sexual harassment and I have no patience for it. You stop right now. Do you understand?”

Progress.

I allowed him to respond if he so chose.

“Yup. Sorry.”

I couldn’t and wouldn’t tell him it was okay, because it wasn’t. “I accept your apology.”

“Just lonely. Sorry. Just suffer from depression and anxiety, I’m sorry. Lonely, sorry. I don’t mean to bother you. How do you like being at home? My friend lives in Tokyo.”

I ignored this, enjoyed the rest of my day, and responded the following morning while on a long train ride. I had time to think and compose to my satisfaction. How could I help him understand why this behaviour is a problem? I chose to explain to the best of my ability. I did this because I want it to stop. I wan’t to be part of the solution. I want to help prevent this from happening in the future. Unfortunately, by this point, I’d seen the photos he’d sent the day before. They were most definitely not photos of a car.

“I’m sorry you are lonely and having a rough time. However, this behaviour is not acceptable. DO NOT EVER send uninvited photos or provocative messages to a woman again. It will very likely destroy whatever type of relationship you had with her. Many women are afraid of, do not like or trust men because of this type of behaviour. No man is entitled to a woman’s body or love. Any and all types of sexual interaction – messages, photos, touching, etc. – MUST BE CONSENSUAL. All people involved must actively want the same thing and it must be explicit. Do not forget this. It is very important. No type of relationship (romantic or not) can exist without respect. This type of interaction does not include respect. Do not do this again.” It was far from perfect, but I responded and I (at least tried to) explain why it’s wrong. I felt proud of myself. Could I have done this two years ago? Nope. Progress!

Of course I told Kei what happened, and she backed me up. “Who the fuck is this asshole? I’ma kill him. Get rid of him. He doesn’t know his boundaries.”

I got in touch with a male friend who also knows the person who sent me the messages. This friend sounded more upset than I was. He swore, apologized to me about what happened, and deleted the person’s contact right away.

I felt validated and protected. Yes, these are the friends to keep. I know that not all men are inappropriate. I know that not all men are disrespectful.

These two days allowed me to see my own progress quite clearly, which was pretty exiting. And yet, the messages and photos I received also make me feel sad, angry, and disappointed. Are there men out there who haven’t figured out that this is not okay, after all that the media has picked up on in the past few years? I mean, obviously there are, but… I still wish change happened faster.

I had a fun day with a guy, a disturbing “conversation” with a guy, and then I was supported by a guy. It’s kind of funny when I think about it like this.

I will not keep quiet. For the sake of my past, present, and future self, for the sake of all humans who have been harassed and violated, I will to be part of the solution. I want to be part of the movement that increases awareness and prevents future incidents from happening. My influence my be small and limited, but it’s better than doing nothing.

I am strong enough to do this.

Progress!

 

 

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A Visit

A few months ago when I visited Japan, I went back – for the first time – to where I lived with the lion. It was fittingly cloudy.

I was nervous, yet oddly calm.

This photo I took near the entrance of the building, and it looks toward the road we took to go to work. We walked and cycled this bridge to and from work everyday and to get groceries.

Toward the beginning when things were exciting and mysterious, we sat under the tree to the right of the bridge, and talked about our dreams and life goals.

Less than a year later, we were under that same tree, having a totally different discussion, if you can call it that. It was the night he left me with a black eye, grabbed my throat, threatened to kill himself and blamed me for putting him in that situation.

A few months later, the night he kicked me out of the apartment via text from France, it poured and river flooded. There were calls for evacuation in parts of the city. The flooding caused the river banks to change – trees were uprooted, grass died, rocks, pebbles and other debris were brought here by the fast flowing water. Within about 24 hours, I’d left with most of my things, and then when he came home a day or two later, he’d gotten angry at me for leaving.

I was sad that things looked different after the river flooded, but at the same time, part of me was grateful it had changed.

I don’t know when, but I will go back again. It helps me remember, and it gives me motivation to continue moving forward.

Much needed clarity

I’m fairly open about the fact that I have therapists, and that I see them on a regular basis.

I’ve been really lucky. I’ve found two therapists who are a good fit for me. One in Canada, one in Japan. They’re different in their style and what they focus on, but seeing both has had many benefits for me. One helps me focus on my emotions, feelings, and difficult-to-explain reactions. The other helps me with more physical things – activities and tasks I can do to move forward.

I began seeing the first one over two years ago, and her style worked wonders with me at the time. It was exactly what I needed. I saw her every weekend for months, talking about triggers, emotions, reactions… Things I couldn’t necessarily explain “logically”. When I moved back to Canada, she agreed to meet with me online, so we did that for a while. Then I was able to find a therapist here too, and now I see both, depending on what I feel I need to work on.

I recently saw a friend from high school who has been struggling with mental health issues. She often comes across as being happy, energetic, chatty… but that’s not always what goes on inside. I don’t see her often, but we know what the other has been through. We talked for a few hours over delicious coffees.

And about a month or two later, she messaged me. She’d taken the first step to find and see a therapist.

“Legit, you helped me take the step to seek help. So yeah…”, she typed. “You’re great. You gave me some much needed clarity.”

My hope is that I can use what I’ve learned to help others find ways to cope and overcome their hardships. I’m far from perfect, and there are many things I don’t know or understand. But trying is better than not, right…?

I’m grateful I was able to tell her what I wanted her to know the most:

“I know it sucks at the time, but it’s okay to feel not so good. Just know that lots of people love you and support you no matter what.”

Waiting for my sister

For this past academic year, my other sister – the one I haven’t written a specific entry about yet – has been up north, teaching in a small First Nation’s community. She loves her students, but it’s been a tough year. The principal at the school is a sad woman. She is non-Native, and moved into the community a long time ago, had a relationship with a man there and they had a son. The father of her now adult son, the man she refers to as her husband, is a serial rapist. He has a police record. I have no idea if he’s in the community or not. This woman hasn’t dealt with her life pain. She has explosive emotional reactions to things and doesn’t think things through logically. She has no proper training on how to be a principal of a school, and in my opinion, makes no real effort. She keeps saying she’ll leave the community, but still hasn’t.

She is manipulative.

My sister is a strong woman, but no one is immune to the different types of abuse that exist. She’s known that the principal doesn’t make sense, is irrational, and manipulative. And yet, as it does, it’s eating away at my sister and she’s falling apart. It’s gotten pretty bad. But thankfully, she’s coming home very soon.

I am sad and hurt for all my sister has gone through. I am so angry at this person who has been tearing her apart. I’m so angry that I need to distance myself because I can’t handle the intensity of my emotions. I have no real way of expressing how I feel.

As my sister spoke to me, crying on the phone the other night, I remembered again how she reacted when I was in a low place. She’d cried for me, both when on the phone with my father (my dad had told me this later), and also when I’d tried to talk to her about it in person. She was living in New Zealand at the time, and when I went to visit, she was so patient with me.

This entire situation pulls, scratches, and cracks the scabs of my own emotion wounds. It’s been two years now since I left the Japan, and more since I left him. And yet, although certain memories fade, it’s still so painful.

I tried to remember how Kei helped me, how she talked to me, but I don’t know what she did. I don’t know how she did it. Every time I think about it, I’m floored by how amazing, how strong and wonderful of a friend she was – and still is. After I messaged her to say what’s going on, she responded, saying that instead of telling my sister what to do, I need to turn what I want to say into questions. Let her realize it herself. I agree, but it’s so hard. I want to tell my sister to leave, to talk to a good, helpful professional, to ignore the manipulator… but I also know that just as I did, she needs to realize and find her own way out of this dark place. I can only be there to support her along the way.

The scabs on my wounds are cracking, and starting to bleed. But I’ll bleed for my sister. Both of my sisters mean the world to me, and I’d do anything in my power to protect them.

I’m so glad she’s coming home… Is this how my family felt when they knew I was coming home?

As I sit at home and wait for her to end the long, arduous year, I only hope that I can reciprocate all the love and support I was given.

Grief

I came across this recently… and I felt like it makes a lot of sense. Perhaps not in all cases, but the grief that I’ve felt in my lifetime, I think it can be explained well with these words.

When I lost friends and relatives, I felt this way. Even when when I lost the lion (he didn’t die, but the relationship I had wanted with him was lost – even from my imagination and hopes) I think this explanation makes sense.

I wonder how others feel…

It’s okay.

My experiences are mine. No one can take them away from me.

I don’t regret any of my choices, and I don’t wish away any of what I’ve lived through. It’s all part of who I am.

Life is full of trials, challenges, and hardships.

But what do you do with these?

Do you hide in a corner? Do you hate the world? Do you take your anger out on someone else? Do you seek sympathy? Do you advertise your hardships? Do you pretend nothing happened and ignore your pain?

Talking about difficulties and painful memories and experiences isn’t bad. Running away from a situation in order to protect yourself isn’t bad. Seeking help isn’t bad. Taking time to hide from the world and heal isn’t bad.

In losing one thing, I gained another. Through experiencing tough times, I can identify and enjoy the good times. I appreciate the light, because I’ve seen the dark. And although I say “dark”, I realize that I am fortunate in so many ways. I will never know the depth of the pain that some people experience. Good and bad, I’ve experienced by own pain, and no doubt will again in the future. But that’s okay. What’s important is that I get through it, and that I continue to move forward.

If I learn something from it all, it’s okay.
I can only hope to turn around and help someone else, just as I’ve been helped.

 

Jack.org

“All across Canada: 152 Jack Chapters in every province and territory; 87 trained Jack Talk speakers delivering 250 Talks this year; a national Jack Summit bringing 200 of our student leaders from every province and territory together and 18 youth led Jack Regional Summits all across the country.

We’re making change. Our ambitions are large. We’re just getting started.”

Jack.org, founded in 2010, is a Canada-wide network of 150 chapters of young leaders changing how we thing of mental health. They have an ambitious goal: “With initiatives and programs designed with the input of young people at every step, we will end stigma in our generation.”

As of last year, they are officially in every province and territory in Canada.

In their Jack Summit, 2017, they put together a plan of four priorities for the following year. The top priority was to normalize mental health conversations through storytelling.

Storytelling is powerful, but not always taken seriously. I know many people, including myself, who have – and still are struggling with their mental health. It’s a challenge, but knowing you have support and someone to turn to and talk to when you need, makes things so much better.

As with anything else, I think awareness is really the only place we can start, but it’s the first step to so many possibilities.

I’m not a student anymore… but I’m definitely hoping I can check out some of their future events.

They also have a Jack Ride: Canada’s Ride for Youth Mental Health. I used to participate in the Heart & Stroke Ride for Heart. I haven’t ridden a bike in quite a while, but I loved long bike rides and used to go all over on my bike, so for me, fundraiser bike rides are a real motivation to move forward and gain mental and physical strength.

The final messages from him

On Sunday April 17, 2016, I received the last messages from the lion.

11:12am: “hello Kokoro, can you please stop ignoring me for a few minutes so that we can figure out what’s best to do?”

2:44pm: “Ok so… Since I absolutely don’t know what to do, I asked Kei for some advice… Hope you don’t mind, but without you telling me what you would like me to do I don’t see any other solution. Bye”

He’d been messaging me for months about what we were going to do, or what I wanted him to do, but there was nothing more to say. I wanted him to be safe and do his work. I wanted me to be safe too. These things either didn’t make sense to him or didn’t constitute as answers to him, since my sentiments were ignored. He continued to ask the same questions.

The day I received these messages, Kei and I had gone to visit Audrey and her daughter, Aisha. I saw the second message while I was babysitting. Audrey and Kei had stepped out to pick up snacks for us all. I didn’t have long to wait for them to come home, and when I informed them of what happened, Kei checked her phone to find the message from him.

She read it out loud.

“Hi Kei, hope I find you good. Was great to see Shun [her partner] again and as I told him, if you don’t mind it would be great to see you too at some point. Sadly the situation is extremely complicated right now and I don’t know what to do to make things better for everybody. Honestly I’m actually desperate about that. You’ve been a great help and a kind ear for me at some point, and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for that. It’s been a while I have wanted to talk to you and to ask you for some advice, but since I wanted to leave some space to Kokoro I prevented myself from doing it. Maybe it was yet another stupid mistake, and maybe right now is the worst moment for it. If so I’m deeply sorry for that. Well… that’s about it. Basically I’d love to talk with you at some pint if you have a bit of time or space for me, and I’m sorry for bothering you. Thank you for everything, have a good day.”

By the time she finished reading this, she was fuming. She was so angry she was shaking. She’d never been so angry.

Kei and Audrey decided they needed a drink. Together, they drank and composed a response to the lion. They wrote, swore, rewrote, laughed, swore, cried, drank some more, swore, and edited again. I played with Aisha during most of that time, sometimes listening to the rage, sometimes watching them talk, laugh, cry, drink, and write. This continued for about three hours until they were properly drunk, and had sent the response. We all hugged and cried.

I was supposed to go home to my own apartment that night (I’d been living at Kei’s), but after this, I wasn’t allowed. I had dirty laundry in my backpack that Audrey washed for me. It was agreed that Shun would escort me to work the next morning and Kei would pick me up by car in the evening. This continued for a few days, and even during the day, I didn’t leave the safety of the locked doors at work alone.

I felt so loved. I left like I was protected by a pack of wolves. It was totally new to me.

On the train heading home from Audrey’s, Kei was still drunk. Part way back, she got sick. Luckily, I had a plastic bag and a few towelettes. I had them ready to go, only to find out the bag had a hole in it. Laughing, I pulled out another plastic bag – it was pink, and came with a golden twist-tie – from my collection of random things in my backpack. I got Kei’s hands and jeans cleaned, the floor of the train all cleaned, and her vomit wrapped in the pink bag, closed off with the golden twist-tie. It looked like a gift. Once everything was out of her system, Kei was fine, and we got off the train laughing, threw out the bag, and walked back to her apartment as if nothing had happened.

It was a crazy day, but a very important day for me. I have a photo of Audrey and Kei, their heads back from laughing, sitting at Audrey’s dining table as they drink and compose the message they sent the lion. It’s a great photo.

“Today, the day you lived without much thought…”

(English below)

日本で素晴らしい1ヶ月を過ごしてきました(っていうか昨日カナダに帰国したばかりです)。

伯母の家でこれを見つけました。暫く生命について考えこんでしまいました。生を望む人、死を望む人…そしてそれぞれの答えに辿り着くまでの理由のことを。1、2年前の私は死んでも良いとは思っていましたが、今は生きたいと思います。

I just spent a wonderful month in Japan. While at an aunt’s home, I found this hanging on the wall.

Here is my translation:

“Today, the day you lived without much thought, is the tomorrow that those who passed away yesterday desperately wanted to live.”

I spent a while staring at, thinking about all of its implications, and desires that we have – some for life, some for death, and what differences may lead us to different conclusions.

One, two years ago, I didn’t mind dying; but today, I have a passion for life and I enjoy living.

Online training, common misconceptions, and evidence-based intervention

With a variety of online and in-person courses and seminars, Professional Domestic Violence Trainings has lots to offer. On the home page, John Hamel presents a short video that includes the 4 most common misconceptions of domestic violence, and discusses research-based evidence for intervention – for both perpetrators and victims.

I learned from it too, so let me briefly describe them:

Assumption #1: Domestic Violence is the same as “battering”, a pattern of physical and emotional abuse that only gets worse over time.

Nope! “Domestic violence” refers to physical aggression, whether it results in injury or not. Most assaults are of this type. “Battering” is a pattern of physical & emotional abuse, typically resulting in injury, as well as controlling behaviours.

Assumption #2: While women sometimes abuse men, they typically do so in self-defence or as a means of expressing anger.

Nope. Men and women physically assault, emotionally abuse, and exhibit controlling behaviours at similar rates, and for the same reasons. Most domestic violence assaults are not done in self-defence. Men though, are more likely to engage in stalking and sexual coercion. Women have a higher risk of suffering from serious (life-threatening) injuries, and report higher levels of fear. Children learn from parental behaviours, regardless of the parents’ gender.

Assumption #3: The primary cause of domestic violence is patriarchy – that is, social structures and prevailing norms that allow and encourage men to dominate women and to use domestic violence as a means to maintain male privilege.

Wrong again. Pro-violence attitudes are correlated with DV perpetration, but it’s better to think of them as personality, rather than cultural, traits. International research findings are mixed, regarding the status of women and DV rates. The importance of social factors depends on the country. Other factors, like personality, are also important (everywhere). DV is a human problem, not just a gender problem. In the US, men who value ‘traditional gender roles’ aren’t any more likely to be violent than men with egalitarian views. The overemphasis on patriarchy in the States has had a negative impact on intervention, since it can undermine the relationship between the treatment provider and perpetrator.

Assumption #4: Mutual abuse is rare between intimate partners, and treatment approaches that use the couples or family format are inherently unsafe for victims.

In a majority of abusive relationships, the violence is bi-directional. There’s a correlation between partner violence and child abuse. Couples therapy for lower-level forms of violence is just as effective, or more-so, than group interventions. It’s also just as safe. Family therapy may be promising – but this isn’t conclusive yet. It’s worked for substance abusers, who have a lot in common with DV perpetrators. Couples and family counselling is prohibited in some states for offenders, even though some couples want it and think it can help them.

*For more details, clarification, etc., please watch the video.

If you’re interested in learning and reading more, you can also check this out:

The Partner Abuse State of Knowledge Project (PASK), which is brought to us by the Editorial Board of the peer-reviewed journal, Partner Abuse (introduced in the video described above), and the Advisory Board of the Association of Domestic Violence Intervention Programs, provides lots of free information – facts and stats at-a-glance, manuscripts, summarized studies, international research, video presentations, a discount code for the online courses offered at Domestic Violence Trainings, and so much more.