This is me and my brother Andy. His birthday is 8 days before mine and we are what is known as Irish twins. Born within a year of each other. Now the reason I am posting this is because I see a serious flaw I would like to point out. My brother has his dukes up. He was taught that, to be a little fighter and believe me, him and I got into some pretty crazy battles so I learned quick. When we were young my Dad would put the boxing gloves on us and then we would fight. When I started to win it was game over. Couldn’t have the girl beating up the boy. Then Andy got taught he should be a lover not a fighter… Yah well this isn’t about him so we can stop right there. I got to sit in the background as the girl and hear all these things but I was expected to put on the dress and act differently. It’s un-ladylike to want to fight, it’s not very girly-girl to act that way. So from the start there was a double standard I have had to fight. I have fought so hard to get where I am. I have fought to expose the truth, I have fought to find myself and I have fought for the rights of others to be treated fairly. I have fought for love, love that wasn’t even worth fighting for because fighting was what I knew. I had to fight myself to finally love myself. I am the black sheep of the family for doing what is right because it’s the right thing to do and it’s OK. I cannot fit into a World I was not meant to fit into. I was taught to be passive, submissive, unasserting, non-resistant, docile. meek, non-aggressive and afraid while my brother got taught right from the start to be dominant and aggressive. Had I not had my Brother I would not have learned how to be a fighter. I also thought that as a girl watching Disney someone was going to rescue me but nope, had to do that myself as well. I am learning that while I still need to stand up for myself, it is OK to not fight the battle, just let it go as well. Feel the pain, surrender to it and deal. It’s not pretty but the other side sure is…. The other side of the pain, when you realize how beautiful and worthwhile you are, what your value is and the only person you need to impress is yourself.
A Connection to Nature, Indigenous Ways of Healing and PTSD
For: Professor Dan Longboat
By: Dawn McIlmoyle
Class: INDG 2601Y
Canadian veterans are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at an alarming rate for a variety of different reasons. In 2013 Statistics Canada conducted a survey of Canadian Forces Regular Forces members and found that 1 in 6 members reported some form of depression, anxiety disorder, PTSD, or alcohol abuse/dependence (www.statcan.gc.ca, 2014). This survey also found that between 2002 and 2013 there was an increase in the prevalence of PTSD and panic disorder with 11.1% of these members experiencing PTSD in their lifetime (www.statcan.gc.ca, 2014). This survey also pointed out that 48.4% of Regular Force members experienced some form of mental or alcohol disorder in their lifetime (www.statcan.gc.ca, 2014). Veterans can develop PTSD from other things such as military sexual trauma (MST), interpersonal violence, and operational stress injuries (OSI) (Conard, Young, Hogan, & Armstrong, 2014; Rowe, Gradus, Pineles, Batten, & Davidson, 2009; Wanklyn, et al., 2016). Wanklyn et al. (2016) conducted a Canadian study of active duty personnel and found that men were more likely to suffer from PTSD for deployment-related issues, nonsexual interpersonal trauma and an event happening to another whereas women were more likely to develop PTSD due to sexual trauma and nonsexual interpersonal trauma. There were also a high number of women who had other or undisclosed trauma.
Military Sexual Trauma is defined as “sexual assault or repeated unsolicited threatening acts of sexual harassment that occurs during military service (Rowe et al., 2009 p.388).” Kintzle et al., (2015) found in the United States and that between 9.5% and 33% of women had experienced an attempted or completed rape during their military service. These numbers increase significantly when all forms of harassment are included (Kintzle et al., 2015). The numbers of women experiencing PTSD from MST are significantly higher that women with a civilian sexual assault (Himmelfarb, Yaeger, & Mintz, 2006; Kintzle et al., 2015). The study conducted by Himmelfarb, Yaeger and Mintz (2006) found that women with MST had a fourfold increase in odds of having PTSD and that 60% of their sample that had experienced MST had PTSD. This is thought to occur because of the military culture and the way the trauma is acknowledged if at all (Kintzle, 2015). The military is based on unit cohesion. It is based on the fact that you are part of a team and you are no longer an individual. When a sexual trauma occurs in the military it breaks down the unit cohesion especially if the perpetrator of the violence is in the same unit as the victim (Kintzle, 2015). The victim regularly has a hard time finding support and is often in fear of coming forward because of career consequences. They also may have to see the perpetrator on a regular basis (Kintzle et al., 2015; Yaeger, Himmelfarb, Cammack, & Mintz, 2006). Conard, Young, Hogan, and Armstrong (2014) found that 80-90% of MST goes unreported and victims often experience guilt, shame and non-trust. Kintzle et al., (2015) discusses how along with PTSD, victims of MST often develop multiple symptoms such as gastrointestinal problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, and eating orders to name a few. Campbell and Raja (2005) discuss in their article how female veterans often experience the actual assault and then secondary victimization by the system. Secondary victimization is defined by Campbell and Raja (2005) as “victim-blaming attitudes, behaviours and practices engaged in by community service providers which results in additional trauma for sexual assault survivors (p. 97).” This could include encouraging the victim not to report, refusing to take the report, being told that the issue wasn’t serious enough, and asking if the victim resisted the perpetrator. The study conducted by Campbell and Raja (2005) concluded that experiencing more secondary victimization of any type was strongly associated with PTSD symptomology. They also found that over 70% of the participants in their study had been discouraged from reporting the assault and 83% who did report their assault and suffered secondary victimization were reluctant to ask for further help from anyone. For years, the Canadian Military has engaged in secondary victimization practices which have ruined the careers of many soldiers (www.macleans.ca, 1998, 2014) leaving them suffering the symptoms of PTSD.
PTSD is characterized by negative alterations in cognition and mood and often causes the person affected to engage in coping strategies that are less than ideal (Vella, Milligan, & Bennett, 2013). Veterans with PTSD are also more likely to report multiple health problems because of their constant hypervigilance and high levels of anxiety (Vella, Milligan, & Bennett, 2013). Most veterans with PTSD have a high sense of disconnect with society and a high level of mistrust. Dr, John Whelan (2016) writes in his book on Canadian Military mental health that military people have several inconsistencies and contradictions that they must come to terms with to deal with their mental health. They must deal with the fact that they are taught to always put the unit and the well-being of others first, they are taught to hide weaknesses and work hard at overcoming them. Military people become attached to the institution. All their relationships are entwined in their unit. They are taught that the military is their family, their comrades are their brothers/sisters. When they are released they are suddenly on their own and without their family. This is what causes much disconnect (Whelan, 2016). This is often compounded by the difficulties they face trying to get medical help for conditions like PTSD which were a direct result of military service from institutions like Veterans Affairs Canada.
For a veteran with PTSD to heal they need to find value within themselves and they need to attach or reconnect to something. Kopacz and Rael (2016) speak about trauma and PTSD and how it is dehumanizing and a moral injury. They continue to say that the cost of a moral injury is psychological and spiritual. Essentially they are saying that a moral injury is an injury to your soul or spirit. Elder Albert Marshall (2017) stated that if physical damage or harm is done to you it is tolerable, however if your spirit is injured it will take a very long time to heal. This trusted Mi’kmaq Elder speaks of Two-Eyed seeing and using the benefits of both Indigenous ways of living and Eurocentric Knowledge to come to terms with what is happening in the world today. He is quoted in Marsh, Coholic, Cote-Meek and Najavits (2015) as saying that “Two-Eyed Seeing refers to seeing through one eye with all the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing and from the other eye with the strengths of Western Knowledge and ways of knowing, and to use these eyes together, (p. 10).” This paper will attempt to answer the question of whether Two-Eyed Seeing could be the answer to heal our wounded veterans with PTSD.
The literature review in this paper will focus on how nature and activities in nature have helped veterans with PTSD and their symptomology. Due to the limited number of articles on veterans with MST, this writer has read many articles on nature and combat veterans and has inferred that this would help veterans with MST as the symptomology of the issues are essentially the same, the triggers may just be different. The writer knows this from personal experience. The base of the paper will focus on how Indigenous ways of knowing nature can help people with PTSD and trauma heal. The writer conducted some interviews and placed a question with regards to nature online for military members and veterans with MST to comment and this will be discussed. The writer has made some profound discoveries while conducting this research and would ask that any readers keep an open mind and remember that some conclusions are the opinion of the researcher and her only.
A search was conducted on Scholar’s Portal Journals for articles discussing veterans and nature related activities. Another search was conducted regarding the benefits of being connected to nature. There is much research as this has become an intriguing topic in society today. Some relevant books on incorporating nature into healing were also reviewed.
Roszak, Gomes, and Kanner (1995) wrote the book Ecopsychology which refers to the fact that if we restore the Earth we can heal our minds. There are many good chapters in this book written about reconnecting with the Earth and how this brings about spirituality and healing in our lives. Western psychologists and psychiatrist are often obsessed with the physical, mental and emotional aspects of humanity and trying to heal those but most often the spiritual side is left out in treatment. While this is a mainly Eurocentric-idea based book, the writer included this as it shows the need for people in general to connect to something bigger than their selves to have a sense of who they are. In Conn (1998) the writer discusses the needs of the Earth and the needs of the human individual as being interdependent and interconnected. It is discussed how the psychological disconnection from nature is showing up as symptoms in psychotherapy practices across the world. Conn (1998) states that human health must include active participation with all living beings, not just humans. The definition of healthy that is used by this Conn (1998) is “to become who one really is, an authentic, unique, and connected being, exercising both assertive and integrative abilities, (p. 184).” This is the closest Eurocentric theory that the writer could find to Indigenous ways of knowing nature. The writer wanted to include this to show that individuals today are starting to pay attention to the Earth and the disastrous effects that have taken place over the last couple of decades.
While many articles deal with the health benefits of nature for people in general the writer’s focus is on using nature as a healing tool for veterans with PTSD. While using nature as a healing tool, there seems to be a sense of connection that has been missing for the individual. Poulsen, Stigsdotter, and Refshage (2015) conducted a literature review of nature-assisted therapies for veterans with PTSD. While conducting their research, they found it important to note that there were no negative results at all when looking at nature-assisted therapy for veterans. They looked at different variables and found that nature had the potential to be a therapeutic resource for these veterans that were facing so many challenges. When nature-assisted therapies are done within a group as in a wilderness adventure setting, the veteran regains a sense of connection by realizing that they can accomplish a task, no matter what it is. It was also found that being together with a group of like-minded people was very beneficial as veterans often feel distant and alone (Poulsen, Stigsdotter, & Refshage, 2015).
Vella, Milligan, and Bennett (2013) looked at veterans with PTSD participating in outdoor recreation programs and how well it predicted improved psychological well-being. It is acknowledged that conventional therapies are not working for these veterans and alternative therapies must be looked at. The authors looked at 74 veterans given the opportunity to go on a fly-fishing excursion. The results indicate that this experience of being in nature and learning to do something that requires attention and concentration left the veterans with an increased sense of psychological well-being. There were significant reductions in anxiety, somatic disorders and PTSD symptoms which continued at the six-week follow-up (Vella, Milligan, & Bennett, 2013). This was a pilot study but many benefits were found in the veterans who participated. In addition to a decrease in PTSD symptoms the veterans were found to have increased attentiveness, serenity. and self-assuredness following the outdoor recreation program (Vella, Milligan, & Bennett, 2013). This study also showed that the nature-based intervention provided a sense of distraction, reconnection and restoration which often helped veterans come back to a calm state of alertness (Vella, Milligan, & Bennett, 2013).
In a study done by Gelkopf, Hasson-Ohayon, Bikman, and Kravetz (2013) they looked at how a nature adventure rehabilitation program could benefit veterans with combat related PTSD from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). They found that while there were many viable treatments for PTSD, many veterans do not profit from these. Veterans participated in a twelve-month sailing program where they were placed in groups and conducted sailing activities. The veterans that participated in the program were compared to a group on a waiting list and it was found that they their PTSD symptomology was greatly reduced and noticeable to those closest to them. Gelkopf, Hasson-Ohayon, Bikman and Kravetz (2013) also found that the more the veterans felt that they had control over their illness the less symptoms of PTSD they had. This was thought to occur as this experience gave the veterans a sense of belonging and a sense of empathy from those around them. While the veterans still reported triggering behaviours, it was reported that the emotional outbursts surrounding these were more short-lived and manageable than had been previously. This study gave the veterans an outlet in nature that they had previously not had and it allowed them to change the perceived control over their illness.
In a paper written by Hawkins, Townsend and Garst (2016) they discuss nature-based recreational therapy for military service members and using a strengths-based approach. This paper found that most interventions that are used for PTSD symptoms are based on a person’s deficits and their limited functioning. By using nature-based interventions with veterans you are using their previous military assets as well as providing them with internal and external strengths. The restoration qualities of nature are found to reduce stress, arousal and anxiety (Hawkins, Townsend, & Garst, 2016). It was found that when veterans participate in an exclusive group and are surrounded by other veterans with the same problems they can find a sense of togetherness that they only previously had when they were serving in the Military. They conclude their paper saying that nature can be a practical rehabilitation therapy intervention, program and environment for veterans to heal but that it is important to use a strength based approach and not focusing on the deficits of the individual and what they cannot do (Hawkins, Townsend, & Garst, 2016).
The Sierra Club Military Families and Veterans Initiative conducted a report on exploring the benefits of outdoor experiences on veterans in 2013. This report suggests that women with PTSD who engaged in extended outdoor recreation found greater mental clarity, spiritual growth and a stronger sense of connection to others leaving more of a sense of “wholeness.” The authors found that outdoor recreation experiences for veterans leave them with greater feelings of social connectedness and more optimistic about life even a month after participating in the program. They also found that these experiences alter the way veterans look at their social and physical environments. Increases in positive feelings were found in the most seriously ill veterans participating in these programs (Duvall & Kaplan, 2013).
The literature suggests that nature is beneficial to veterans and that participating in nature-based therapies does improve the quality of life of veterans that feel disconnected from society. The writer believes nature gives a sense of attachment or belonging to something when the person feels like there is nothing else left. More research should be conducted into the benefits of nature-based programs however, this writer believes that by using nature and Two-Eyed seeing this can contribute to better well-being of veteran
There are many articles on using the Medicine Wheel for healing and there are many on using nature as a healing device. This writer is going to discuss how using both processes could help veterans that are dealing with PTSD and not finding relief from their symptoms in mainstream therapy. The writer will include anecdotes from veterans who have used nature as a healing tool and why. In this writer’s personal experience, she has found that a number of veterans are turning to Indigenous Healers and Elders to find the healing that they need.
In the movie Healing the Warriors Heart (2014) it speaks about Indigenous veterans coming back from overseas. It speaks about the injury to their soul and how it is important to have ceremony to overcome these experiences. It also speaks about how Indigenous veterans are honoured among their people and often given a medicine bag to carry with them at all times while they are away. Indigenous veterans are encouraged to tell their stories and purify themselves so that they do not isolate themselves and become sicker. The veteran that was followed in the movie was given an Eagle feather for his service to show that he was appreciated and to help him heal from his broken spirit. This writer can’t help but think that non-Indigenous soldiers have no ceremony at home, or people to even care that they are away. There is not a huge amount of community involved with non-Indigenous soldiers unless a life is taken by war or by something like suicide. One of the things the writer found most interesting in this movie was a quote from Sitting Bull. He stated that if our warriors are well, our nations will be well. If our warriors fall, our nations will fall. It is imperative that we take care of the men and women that are serving our Country so that our Country will be strong. When the Canadian government says they have no moral obligation to sick or wounded warriors that is a big blow to the psyche. The movie shows how in the United States they have started building healing gardens and sweat lodges for the veterans with PTSD. This was started by the Indigenous veterans; however more and more non-Indigenous veterans are finding it useful for their symptoms as well.
When a person enters the Military, they go through an acculturation process. This is described in Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma and PTSD by Kopacz and Rael (2016). This involves assimilation, separation, marginalization and integration. In the assimilation process the person goes to Basic Training and becomes like everyone else. They get their haircut and they are taught that they are no longer an individual, they are a part of a team. They become a part of their new culture, the Military. The individual is separated from those that they love as they are often posted far from their home and develop a new identity. Kopacz and Rael (2016) state that the marginalization process is the most difficult for a person because they are stuck in between cultures. They have rejected both their original culture and their new culture leading to feelings of anger, loss, grief and loneliness. This marginalization process is what is affecting veterans with PTSD. They no longer feel they are at home anywhere (Kopacz & Rael, 2016). After reading up on marginalization and how veterans are stuck in a place where they feel they don’t belong in between cultures the writer began to draw the conclusion that veterans are finding healing within Indigenous circles because Indigenous people are also very marginalized (Kirmayer, Simpson, & Cargo, 2003).
Kirmayer, Simpson, and Cargo (2003) concluded that current trauma therapy and theories are all related to the actual disorder of PTSD and it being a psychiatric problem. There needs to be more attention paid to the symptoms of the disorder such as attachment issues, trust issues, belief in a just world, a sense of connectedness to others and a stable personal and collective identity. Although their study looked at promoting culture, community and mental health with Canadian Aboriginal peoples, it offered some good insight into how Eurocentric attitudes are not healing people with PTSD (Kirmayer Simpson, & Cargo, 2003).
Kopacz and Rael (2016) discuss how using the medicine wheel is a movement away from using medicine as a pill and realizing you have the power within yourself to heal. As the writer has stated before many Indigenous Elders realize the symptoms of trauma are spiritual injuries and therefore balance needs to be restored to all four dimensions of a persons’ life (Marsh, Coholic, Cote-Meek, & Najavits, 2015). This includes the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of a persons’ life (Twigg & Hengen, 2009). Interestingly enough, Twigg and Hengen (2009) state that in order to heal and restore balance in your life you must transcend the ego instead of strengthening it. They speak of a program in Saskatoon called Building a Nation where people can go to learn the teachings of the Medicine Wheel. This program was originally designed for Indigenous people however more and more non-Indigenous people are turning to Indigenous ways of healing and realizing that their lives are unfulfilling because they are missing one of the four dimensions of the Medicine Wheel (Twigg & Hengen, 2009).
In The Wellness Wheel: An Aboriginal Contribution to Social Work (2006) the authors discuss how social workers can use the Medicine Wheel in therapy. It is said in the article:
In their fundamental nature, human beings share many similarities with regard
to the four components of the Medicine Wheel. Their basic needs are the same;
they feel similar emotions in similar situation; harmonious relationships, identity,
recognition and a sense of belonging are all individual aspirations in all cultures;
human beings of all backgrounds have capacity for creative, rational, logical and
intellectual functioning; all humans have choice of thought and attitudes when
confronted with moral and ethical issues; desires for the spiritual qualities of love,
justice, unity and peace and for general happiness are universal (Margot & Lauretta,
2006, p. 10.)”
The authors continue to discuss ways people can use the Medicine Wheel to come into balance and harmony in their own lives. It gives exercises and guiding questions that people can use to see where they are out of balance in their lives and where they can improve (Margot & Lauretta, 2006). This article shows how using the Medicine Wheel can promote healing in all dimensions of a person and how important it is to have holistic health. Imbalance in any one of the four aspects of the Medicine Wheel can cause sickness and discomfort. By using the Medicine Wheel and other Indigenous ways of healing the writer feels veterans can come to terms with the symptoms of PTSD and the feeling of loss of control over their lives.
The writer wanted to see how actual veterans felt about nature and their connection to it, what it meant to them. In a secret online group of MST survivors, a question was posed as to whether anyone had found nature to be healing for them and if so how? As these people asked not to be identified due to the nature of the issue the writer felt that it was important to state that many responses were that nature was the only place they found solace and could heal. Some stated that nature had returned their sense of spirituality which had been lost to them when they were victimized. In personal conversations with friends over the past few months the writer has found several individuals that have turned to Indigenous Elders for their healing. It was stated by a friend who asked not to be named that when she found a Cree Elder to confide in, her healing began and she could finally get over the years of pain she had felt. In a personal interview conducted with J. Pogue (2017) who has suffered from PTSD for several years for non-combat related issues the writer found that nature gave this individual a sense of peace, calm and a rush. He spoke of how he loves to watch the animals and how when you watch them you recall how life should be. The fact that animals just exist and are not rushed by a timeline is something that he wishes for humanity. J. Pogue (2017) feels that everything in life is inspired by nature, it is a very grounding centering experience which can bring you to present when you feel very overwhelmed. He is thankful for where he lives even though it is in the city as he has many animal visitors and often spends his mornings outside just observing. This helps to maintain his serenity in a world full of chaos.
In Eurocentric views of mental health there is always a neurobiological explanation for the person’s illness. Often the concepts of mind, body, emotion and spirit are left out along with a person’s desire for interconnectedness with family, land and community (Vukic, Gregory, Martin-Misener, Etowa, 2011). Indigenous people have a strong connection to their land, family and community. By engaging in their communities and always thinking of the welfare of the community it allows for healing (Vukic, Gregory, Martin-Misener, Etowa, 2011). The writer believes that if veterans could think of themselves as communities and begin to use Two-Eyed Seeing in their healing then things could start to change for them. Veterans often suffer because they feel misunderstood. They at one time were willing to give up their lives for their country, and then they find themselves unable to work due to PTSD symptoms and often turn to drugs or alcohol. By becoming communities that support each other and by starting grassroots initiatives to promote healing among the community veterans could come together and help each other. This paper has shown that nature is a very beneficial tool to use to reduce the symptomology of PTSD, and that by using the Medicine Wheel and other Indigenous ways of healing you can recover and become a whole person again.
This paper is limited in its scope as there are many Indigenous ways of healing such as smudging, prayer, ceremony, and sweat lodges that could have been discussed and shown how they could also benefit veterans with PTSD. The main focus of this paper is that nature and a return to spirituality to heal your broken soul is what is needed to feel that veterans are again a productive member of society. By blending Indigenous healing methods with Eurocentric healing methods and using Two-Eyed Seeing to focus on the whole person and not just the disease that was created because a person was traumatized, veterans could find a healing path and return from the fact that they feel they don’t belong anymore. This reconnection with nature is important as it provides a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself. With nature and its benefits often comes a return of self and a sense of attachment to something. It is this writer’s hope that Indigenous ways of healing will get the recognition they deserve in mainstream society as it seems that these ideals are helping our wounded veterans across North America with PTSD, no matter the cause, and are worth more investigation.
Campbell, R. & Raja, S. (2005). The Sexual Assault and Secondary Victimization of Female
Veterans: Help-Seeking Experiences With Military and Civilian Social Systems. Psychology
Of Women Quarterly 29, p. 97-106.
Conard, P., Young, C., Hogan, L., & Armstong, M. (2014). Encountering Women Veterans
With Military Sexual Trauma. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care 50. p, 280-286.
Conn, S. (1998). Living in the Earth: Ecopsychology, Health and Psychotherapy. The Humanistic
Psychologist Vol 26 (Nos 1-3) p. 179-198.
Duvall, J. & Caplan, R. (2013). Exploring the Benefits of Outdoor Experiences on Veterans.
I am on a journey to becoming a better speaker and getting more out there. I entered a contest and didn’t win but it inspired me to continue to become the best version of myself possible. Here is a video I did for the contest that I was most proud of, however, it was too long to submit https://youtu.be/zFA8mGlH3Lc
I was strong enough to survive my grandfather thinking I was an object for his pleasure. I was strong enough to survive my alcohol mother who eventually got sober. I was strong enough to survive losing my virginity being raped in sea cadets. I was strong enough to survive moving out on my own and still receive my high school diploma. I was strong enough to survive joining the Military, being charged for speaking out about being raped and losing my career. I was strong enough to survive 3 abusive husbands, the beatings that came with them, and countless horrible men who saw me as nothing more than a conquest. I was strong enough to survive raising my 2 Sons as well as some of their friends even though it cost me my sanity at times. I was strong enough to survive speaking out publicly about sexual abuse in the military and the aftermath that occurred at a time where it was unspoken of and you were supposed to just be quiet. I was strong enough to survive going to University full time while working full time and raising my boys. I was strong enough to survive keeping a roof over my families head no matter the cost to my Soul. I was strong enough to survive the many suicide attempts and my scars have become reminders that I have lived and are being replaced with beautiful tattoos. I was strong enough to survive leaving my home and the only place that ever felt safe to me and find a new family and place to belong. I was strong enough to survive the constant feelings of abandonment and betrayal and turn them into a purpose. I was strong enough to survive anything that was thrown at me and it has made me realize that no matter what may come I will always be strong enough to survive.
I manifested what I desired
most when I was a child. I fell in love
with the tale of Sleeping Beauty and the little Princess Aurora. I wanted to fall asleep and get awoken with
the kiss of a handsome Prince and live happily ever after. You see Aurora was also the Roman name of the
Goddess of the Dawn and this intrigued me like never before. I wanted to be her so badly. I can remember listening to the record on my
tiny record player and turning the pages in the book when the little bell went
off. I dreamed of this, I escaped to it.
Books became my go-to. I loved reading and I loved to write. I can
remember the librarian telling me that I should never judge a book by its cover
and she would read the stories I wrote to the class during library time. When
things got bad I could escape into a book, become the main character and use my
imagination. I loved myths and fairy tales
and saw them as real, I never thought someone would spend the time writing down
something that wasn’t true in the past.
I could tell the difference between fiction and non-fiction. I knew from a very young age that even those
fiction romance novels had some basis and came from somewhere.
I suffered several splits
in my personality due to trauma at various stages of my life and when I was 19
I suffered a catastrophic split that essentially put me to sleep
developmentally. A fracture in my psyche
basically kept me at the age of 19 and I was going through life, learning,
living, surviving but never mentally growing.
I was attaining knowledge but storing it for future reference. I was functioning but not at the level I
always wanted to. I wasn’t excelling, I
was not growing, I was stuck, and I knew it.
I was in a prison in my mind just waiting to break out. If that prison
wasn’t bad enough I put my mind into a state of solitary confinement to protect
what was left of my innocence and my inner child that always seemed to get
hurt. I allowed people to hurt me but constantly broke free of them, just not
myself. I could not open the door to
that cell because I was not ready. I had
to raise my children. They had become my purpose, but I didn’t have very many
tools in my toolbox and I did the best that I could with what I had. When they were young it was easy because I
loved to do things that kids liked to do.
I took them to baseball, I had them in Beavers and Cubs. They both played Lacrosse. We often went
fishing and I took them to family gatherings with my parents. I carried a huge guilt because I was in
school full-time learning to be a Registered Nurse and I was working full time
to support them because my pension from Veteran’s Affairs was not enough and at
this time they did not pay for education. After I finished my education because
I was a Nurse I often had to work nights, weekends, holidays and my boys paid
the price. Because I was busy trying to keep the roof over my son’s head and
provide for them they became more dependant on their social circle and I then
became a street mom, which I did not mind because I loved the company and it
was like I had my own little wolf pack and I was the Den Leader. I got denied my chance to be a leader in the
Military but here maybe I could mould some young minds. What I didn’t realize
is when my children were teenagers I was developmentally still a teenager, sort
of frozen in time. I became a friend to my children instead of
their mother and there were major respect issues. I look back and I had been taught to not
respect myself so how could I have ever taught my Son’s to respect me. I had no
self-worth, no self-esteem and didn’t think I was competent or capable due to my
conditioning from my family, my teachers, and society in general.
When my youngest Son turned
18 there was an actual physical separation between my Sons’ and I which I
needed. A break from the teenage world I had been submersed in and was
stuck. I moved to the Reserve to be with
what I thought was my Prince Charming, the man who was going to ride out of the
sunset and save me and essentially, he did, but not in true story book
fashion. You see I had failed to read
Blackbeard or maybe I did and just never thought it would happen to me (although
it already had twice). I started to finally settle and feel safe and reconnect
with my environment. I started to feel
at peace and come out of my cocoon or self-imposed prison just a little bit. I started in a controlled environment of
going back to University again. I
enrolled in Indigenous Studies and I started to see my children again but began
to establish boundaries which they are still learning to adjust to and I began
by aggressively setting them.
My moment of waking up did
not come from a kiss by my Prince, it was a blow to the head via cell
phone. It was a culmination of all my
abuse and it was like a white light surrounded me and woke me completely
up. I could see again and feel again,
and I knew what I wanted, what I needed and what I would accept. I just needed to learn how to communicate it
as I still had the social skills of a child.
I had been asleep, and the world had really changed. It was different, I
saw it in a different way. I could see what was real and what was fake and there
was validation in it. My good friend said she had heard what I was talking
about referenced as “sleepwalking” through life. I had essentially learned the skills to
survive and cope during crisis, but I had stored the knowledge necessary to
allow me to grow deep in my subconscious.
I was awake but sleeping, what a concept.
When all of this came into clarity for me I was sitting with my psychiatrist Dr. Thirlwell and her friend Celyne and we were talking about how positive thinking really does change things and if we think our lives are shit, they will be and that every single person has the ability to manifest what they desire most but most people are veiled to this. Asleep. I had the good fortune of being able to wake up and see clearly. I then realized that I had truly manifested what I most desired as a child, I became my own version of Sleeping Beauty. I had gone to sleep and raised my children while doing this and woke up at the same age as them mentally, emotionally and developmentally. I am physically older than them, their mother but my brain stayed stuck. My youngest son says he describes me to his friends as “An adult with a child-like mind.” I see this as a good thing, not a bad. He sees me and accepts me even with all the mistakes I made. He understands so that cannot mean that I did a horrible job raising him. I never wanted my children to end up like me, just like I never wanted to be my Mom but honestly if they have a little bit of me in them, I will be very proud. I do have values and I cannot change the past, all I can do now is lead by example and manifest beautiful things with words of gratitude and thankfulness. I can live my dreams, I can imagine things into existence. I can make something (me) out of nothing (what I thought I was) which I have been doing since I woke up.
Most people have heard the Bible story of Noah and the flood and how he and his wife, and their three sons gathered the animals 2 by 2 and saved them on the Ark he had been instructed to build. Noah saved mankind by keeping the animals safe and then his family repopulated the Earth after the waters subsided. Every culture has a flood story and because I know this I thought it would be pertinent to share my own Noah story. Its not quite the same as the flood story in the Bible and there is no real flood other than emotions and tears but there is a puppy involved so an animal is accounted for.
I moved to a new city because I was fleeing a domestic violence situation and was in fear. I knew very few people in this new city and felt like a kid in grade one at a new school and was extremely socially awkward. My PTSD and anxiety were on super high alert and I was in constant panic mode. I was jumpy, I was on edge, I was angry, I was aggressive, and I was sad because I knew I wasn’t myself. I was in a pain I had never been in physically and my brain was scrambled. I didn’t know if I was coming or going half of the time. My childhood friend who I trusted implicitly because of our pasts was very busy and knew someone that lived near the new building I lived in and asked him to befriend me. This kind Soul bore the name Noah. I had never met anyone named Noah and this young man lived up to his namesake. He was not the kind of person you would want to mess with, he looked kind of rough around the edges which I guess on the exterior makes him look unapproachable, but this kid had a heart of gold. He will tell you that he did nothing for me, but you know what he did, he listened. He let me vent and he acknowledged my feelings. He let me feel them. He didn’t tell me they were wrong. He often said, “I am sorry you feel that way Dawn, that must be hard.” I had never had anyone say anything other than feeling was wrong or that I wasn’t feeling what I was feeling. I questioned my own feelings thinking they were wrong because other people had not wanted to deal with them as they made them uncomfortable or they didn’t feel the same way. Just because you don’t feel the same way doesn’t mean you dismiss the way someone else feels. Noah made me feel like it was alright to feel, and I finally felt like I had a real friend. I had made a couple, but this was someone who took time to listen to me when I was sad and sometimes stopped everything to talk to me for a few minutes to calm me down and then would check on me as soon as he wasn’t busy.
I was not adjusting to my new life so well and it was taking a turn for the worse. I wanted all my pain to end and I wanted everything to be over. I had been abused, taken advantage of, lost almost everything and I did not want to live anymore. It was late at night and I had no where to go and I had my puppy, a beautiful female German Shepard named Dutchess Von Dee. I wanted to end it all and I called Noah. He had just gone to bed and had only been asleep for about 40 minutes. This guy lived a busy life and hardly did anything for himself including sleep. He tried to talk me down and into going back to my apartment, but I could not go back to my 11th floor apartment, I wanted to jump out the windows and there were 5 floor to ceiling door/windows just calling my name. I had already put several cuts in my wrist, but they were not deep, they just reminded me I was still alive, and this was all real. Noah brought me into where he was staying and listened to me ramble about not wanting to be here anymore. He knew I had an appointment with my therapist the next morning and if he could just get me through to that I would be okay. He called my childhood friend who could not do anything as he was busy with his family so Noah stayed with me until I had to go to my appointment. He made me go to sleep as he knew I had not had much and needed to drive an hour to my appointment. He made me feel safe. He made me feel important and he taught me a very important lesson that night. I didn’t want to do it anymore because I did not believe in myself. I did not think I was important. The lesson he drilled into my head that morning was that other people believed in me like him. Other people thought I was important. He instilled into me by making me repeat over and over
“Noah thinks I can.”
He said if I don’t think I can I must repeat “Noah thinks I can.” This was a bad ass dude and he believed in me. He knew I could accomplish it, even when I doubted myself. I had no faith in me, but Noah did. He could see me. Noah helped me with my puppy and helped me even when he didn’t have to. I drove all the way to my appointment with my therapist that day saying, “Noah thinks I can, Noah thinks I can,” He became my little train that could. I got there, and my therapist took over. I had never been so grateful that I had a friend who cared enough to forgo sleep and listen to me vent and cry to keep me alive. He let me start to get it out and it is still a work in progress.
I told Noah I would repay his kindness in someway and that I was forever in his debt. He was extremely chivalrous and said it was not necessary, but I never forget a good deed and my Soul was saved that day because he cared enough to save it. Life did not go so good for Noah because of a series of unfortunate circumstances but when I went to try to help (no one would listen to me as a Woman) I got to meet his family. I met his father and expressed my gratitude at what his Son had done to keep a Veteran alive. I also met his friend Joe who is also a caring and compassionate Soul. I keep doing what I can for Noah who just had a beautiful Son himself because I am a loyal and dedicated friend. I got to meet his wife and Son and even hold the beautiful little boy. Although I was rather disappointed he didn’t come out with a full beard. I don’t care what anyone says about Noah, the World is a better place with him because he cared enough to save a girl he barely knew because he knew of her. That deserves the utmost respect, which society does not see anymore. They see people’s wrong-doing, their mistakes and they play on those. They judge them on their pasts and assume they are the same people they were yesterday. I am never the same person I was the day before because I learn from everyone I meet in person or online, and I have met many people who woke up one morning and said, “Enough of the bullshit, I want to change.” It is called an epiphany and being real. Some refer to it as a Spiritual Awakening. It is also called dealing with your emotions.
So, my Noah didn’t save the whole world and all its animals from a flood, but he saved me from drowning in my own negativity and self-doubt by believing in me enough for both of us.
I spent a long time withdrawn from the World in a self-imposed prison of the mind due to my PTSD. I convinced myself that I was forsaken and that bad things happened because of me. I constantly picked up on the bad vibrations in the World and the negative energy people carried with them without even knowing. I had known for a very long time that I felt other peoples pain, sorrow, anger, fear and grief as well as their joy, happiness, elation and love. Because of my own negative mindset induced by various trauma and muliple episodes of re-victimization I failed to see the good right before my eyes and was caught in a cycle of blame, guilt, and self-pity.
I did not know about energy and how it flows all around us. This was not in my traditional upbringing or covered in any of my tradtional education, including my Bachelor of Science in Nursing. I always knew there was an outside force I did not comprehend and it affected me but without being able to put a name to it I could not understand it and I am the type of person that totally needs to know what I am dealing with so I can combat it or work with it.
I had a deep connection with nature when I was young and I loved it. I felt like Snow White and I could communicate with the forest and all of the animals. I saw things in the water that were not fish and because of my conditioning I was scared. No one understood what I was feeling or even believed me. When I was in Grade 3 I began to write stories. Every week I wrote a chapter about my friend Spooky the Ghost and our adventures. There was someone in my family home that I could feel but could not see. I knew he walked with me and did things with me and no one else could see him but I had no other words that Spooky the Ghost. Looking back now I find it ironic I called my friend Spooky but was not one bit afraid of him. There were certain places in my home that I could feel Spooky more than others. The basement was one of them. I should add that my Grandfather Dutch passed away in the driveway of my family home on 16 December 1970. I was born on 23 October 1972. My grandmother and parents would call me silly and shut me down quickly if i started to speak of him. I stopped feeling him but knew he was there, he didn`t make a real reappearance until I was 19 and got wrongfully punished in the Canadian Armed Forces. I knew he was in my room with me on my confinement to barracks but I could not put words to it until I was much older. I believe that is when I wrote my first letter to him, and when I began to put my thoughts to paper and process my feelings through a form of poetry. I was not educated in the art of poetry, only being taught things like Haiku in elementary school, and I do not recall having to write much of it in high school. I could put thoughts to paper like nothing else. My passion for writing that began in Grade 3 was reignited but sometimes I lost my passion because of my depression and anxiety and lack of belief in myself.
I wrote on and off over the years trying to process what was going on around me. I started a book that reached 660 pages before I quit writing in 2013 complete with documentation and pictures so it would be believed. For some reason I felt that I had to prove my life. When I moved out to Curve Lake First Nation Reserve #35 my connection with nature was re-established and I began to awaken again. My feelings began to flow on paper again. Good and bad and it all started to come out. Repressed pain and fear and love and all of the things I had bottled up for so long. Because I was living on a Reserve among Indigenous People I felt that I should take a course at school in Indigenous Studies and it was very eye opening for me. I actually went back to University after a 10 year abscence and sat in a class with a large group of individuals. A whole new perspective and take on life, through the eyes of a different Culture. I started to have a paradigm shift and see the World with different eyes. In my 2nd year I decided to take An Introduction to Indigenous Environmental Sciences and was introduced to Professor Dan Longboat, Director of the Indigenous Environmental Sciences program at Trent University and my life changed forever.
I had never had a teacher thank me for attending class and make me feel what he was teaching. At the beginning of the course Professor Longboat made a point of talking about energy and how we all have it. He spoke of rhythm of energy in nature and how it is always constant and flows evenly in a gentle balance of up and down curves when it is actually measured as generally people cannot see this. Some have been known to feel it but if you were not taught of this concept it can be rather frightening. He spoke of how monks in meditation produce this same energy rhythm but the majority of the populations energy was extremely chaotic and illustrated it with a very jagged up and down line with no ebb and flow. There were no curvy flows, no rhyme or reason. This concerned me greatly as Professor Longboat said this was the reason behind much sickness and stress and heart disease. However suddenly my mind blew wind open because i could put a name to what i felt from people. Energy. We all had it, everything that was living possessed it and it could be felt on personal objects. I now knew why I picked up on things that others did not because I could feel the energy that surrounded everything and I have to be honest it was scary. It was frightening yet exhilirating to finally after all of these years have a validation that it was real. I was not crazy, I now had answers to the questions I had had for so long.
When I began to be able to put to words what I could feel all around me because I finally understood it my writing changed as well and I could tune into emotions in others. It was the start of my awakening. I knew I was an Empath and I could claim it but I needed to learn how to harness it so I was not a conduit for others emotions. I needed to find a balance between when to subject myself to this and when not to because i was starting to also realize that isolating was wrong. I was not really living and I had to create a new mindset. I needed to create boundaries, wear my invisible shield and prepare for battle when leaving my home and face the World head on. I finally began to be me. I finally started to use to tools in my toolbox that had been there for so long and grow. I also realized that if i could feel the energy I could project it and if your happy, even if your faking it a little everyone else is happy and then all of a sudden you really are happy. Happiness is contagious and no one really likes a person who is down all of the time. An amazing thing started to happen to me thought because the more positive I was about things, when I started to see that all my mistakes were not really mistakes but lessons I needed to learn and I tried to find the light in situations that should be very dark my whole mind, body and spirit shifted. The black hole inside of me that fed off of the negative emotions and mindset of others started to question the realness of the situation. If i could feed off of negative emotions and stay negative because the energy was bad I would stay that way but when I shifted into positive I started to see the good in even horrible situations and I became grateful for every experience I have had no matter how it played out. I was now able to integrate what was positive energy and what was negative and as I am a slow processor it took me a while. I met many along the way that are teaching me new tools to use when I am getting into my negative mindset because I truly want to believe my dreams are possible, just like anybody else. My favourite tool lately came from a friend Chris Power from Power Transition Services
It was a meme that said to add the phrase -and it is okay- after everything so if I have a list of things to do and I only get one done, it is okay. This led me to start working on the fact that being so immersed in my negativity and trauma I had failed to see my successes and had not acknowledged them as I had become so hard on myself and used to what I thought was failure.
My discovery of energy and the way it changes everything as it is all around us was one of the most amazing realizations I have ever had. So if you do not like the negative vibes around you then change them up. Raise the vibrations in the room, put on a happy song, do a little dance, colour a picture, be happy. It ultimately is up to you, your choice. Stay stuck in the negative energy or evolve and raise your vibrations and live a little….
An excellent mental health course provided by a true leader. Warrior Suicide Prevention Training. It fills me with great joy to see others taking the initiative to help others heal so they don’t go through what they have gone through. Check it out. Any tool in your toolbox can help, and sometimes its good to have the tools to lend out to a friend in need. Knowledge is the true power and it is meant to be shared. Check out this Veteran’s program if you so choose. You won’t be disappointed, I can assure you. Any learning is good learning. It is also a go at your own pace course so I suggest you check it out.
You can also check out Mr. Todd Holmes Pathfinder Strategies facebook page at:
I strongly believe that the only way for us all to heal is to support one another in a truly magnificent stand to take back our lives. To live a life of agony and suffering is to be in your own created hell. Why not takes the steps to take your life back. Living really isn’t that bad. Feeling is real. Make a decision today. Do you want to be what everyone expects of you or do you want to be who you always wanted to do before life knocked you down a little. If anything, you may be able to offer someone assistance like I am sure someone has shown you at some point in your life.
There is nothing wrong with knowing you need help. There is not one thing to be ashamed of. If you do not want to be in the darkness anymore, find a light, plant a seed and watch it grow. Stop being like a flower that has been picked and be the beautiful flower that sprouts from a long winter and is more beautiful than it ever was before.