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Musical Selection:  Karen singing 

I feel privileged that you invited me here today to tell my story. I hope that what I have to say will have some meaning for you so that you may not have to take the same path yourselves! This is my truth as I see it. Others may have a different perspective. I have changed people’s names out of respect for their privacy.

I can honestly say that the vast majority of my earliest memories are good ones. There was always something fun happening – Christmas dinners at grandma’s house, family parties with cousins to play with, and lots of music and laughter. My dad was the life of the party – he was always horsing around doing something funny and all the kids loved him. He could play his mandolin and tell jokes all night. My family was musical, so my sister and I were encouraged from an early age to pick up an instrument and join in. We didn’t have a ton of money, but enough to have a little cottage on a lake with an old boat and a couple of snowmobiles. We kids made mud pies and played hide and seek and made forts in the woods, tied toboggans up behind the snowmobiles, skated on the lake, and had cookouts. While the adults partied, the kids got to run until we dropped. I remember falling asleep under a pile of coats at various hunt camps while the fiddles sawed away in the next room and the floor bounced with the stomping. What did we care if the neighbours thought we were hillbillies? It was fun! The troubling thing is that there are big chunks of time I can’t account for. I just don’t remember. And it’s not because I’m getting old! I feel like my mind has blocked out something very troubling.

During the week we had a pretty normal, quiet family life. Both my parents had good jobs and worked full-time. But on the weekends there were parties – parties at our house, parties at my cousins’ houses, parties at my parent’s friends’ houses, and always there was booze. One night my dad’s cousin got so drunk they had to tie him to the birch tree so he could stand up to play the fiddle. They had to carry the neighbour into his boat so his wife, who had been drinking herself, and had never driven a boat, could drive home to their cottage on an island across the lake. I remember several mornings getting up  to find dad asleep in the truck with his feet stuck out the window – he had had driven us home in the middle of the night but was too drunk to walk into the house and go to bed. Sometimes if he had been out by himself, we would find him in the morning halfway out the cottage road, passed out in the truck, blocking the way for any of the neighbours who might want to get in or out. It all seemed funny at the time, and I didn’t think it was out of the ordinary. It’s just the way it was for us.

There was also drama and tragedy – when I was 7 my cousin, Greg, whose cottage was next door, died in a boating accident. He and his buddy, Roy, from two doors down, had been playing chicken in his little boat at night with no lights. Roy sustained serious head injuries from which he never fully recovered. They didn’t find Greg’s body until several days later. The police said alcohol was involved. They were 16. One day my dad was racing his skidoo down the lake in icy conditions after a cookout where the adults had been drinking. He caught a piece of crust and rolled his sled end over end I don’t know how many times. He spent the next two weeks in bed. One spring day our close friend and neighbour put his snowmobile through the ice right in front of our house. Luckily, he got out. It seemed he was always having mishaps, and he was usually drunk. Then there was the day my dad nearly died when his chainsaw jumped out of the log he was cutting and slashed his throat, barely missing his jugular vein. He had been drinking.

As the years passed, there were increasingly more arguments and fights. I remember intervening one winter night during a particularly bad incident between mom and dad. He had his hands around her neck and had her backed into the tub. I thought he would kill her and the only way I could think to get him off her was to punch him in the balls. When he turned on me, I ran into the bush in my sock feet and once I knew I was safe I puked behind a tree. I remember being so scared I didn’t even notice how cold my feet were. I was 14. In another incident years later, mom had left dad to come and stay at my house but she decided to give him another chance. When we arrived at the cottage on Friday night, he was really drunk and started getting violent. We tried to leave, but by the time we got in the car, dad was standing in the middle of the only road out of the place with a gun firmly held across his chest, trying to stop me from driving away with mom. In that moment of terror I had to choose between running my father over with my car, or standing the chance of one or both of us getting shot. He made the decision for me; as he stepped around to my mother’s side of the car I gunned it and ducked, waiting for the shot. I remember the car screaming and red lining in first gear at 40 mph because it had a standard transmission and I was so scared I had forgotten to shift gears. The cops refused to go and arrest him that night because they said it was too dangerous. They confiscated his guns the next day. I had very disturbing violent nightmares for a long time after that in which I was bashing his head in with a rock. Even after all that, incredibly, mom went back to him. At the time I couldn’t understand why. The day my grandma died in 1988, he was at it again. This time the cops warned mom to get away. She showed up at my house. I had to lie about her whereabouts at the funeral to protect her safety.

THAT’S WHAT IT FINALLY TOOK TO BREAK OUT OF THE DENIAL AND REALIZE MY FATHER WAS AN ALCOHOLIC.

I was always pretty outgoing and I had friends, but I was not one of the popular girls in high school. I had skipped a grade so I was younger than my classmates and I was a “late bloomer” with a fall birthday. I turned 14 in the first semester of Grade 10, and I didn’t start to develop physically until well into my high school years. I was a really good student and I guess somewhere along the line I figured out that it was safer to get good marks and stay out of the way. I adopted the role of the super-responsible kid, perfectionistic, with a hyper-awareness of other’s feelings and needs, putting pressure on myself to overachieve, and somehow feeling like I was never good enough. I spent long hours in my bedroom doing assignments, but music was my life. I was in 3 bands and practiced sometimes 2 or 3 hours a night. I played several instruments, and I thought I was pretty good!

I started dating Frank at 17. I went to Ottawa to go to university and he came along to attend college there. He was smart and handsome, he came from a well-established, upstanding family, and it didn’t hurt that he had a nice car! His father was a well known and respected politician. WE WERE IN LOVE AND WE THOUGHT WE HAD THE WORLD BY THE TAIL. We got married when I was 19.

Looking back, I was interested in everything he did but he was NOT interested in the things that were important to me; we ate the foods that HE liked, we listened to the music that HE liked, we did the things that HE wanted to do. I had always wanted to travel, but he was afraid to fly, so we didn’t. At the time it seemed far easier to do things his way than to deal with the conflict that would be created by my asserting my needs or desires. You see, I had no idea what HEALTHY BOUNDARIES were. So, a little bit at a time, I sold out, and every time I did, I would get a little bit hurt and a little bit angry, and each time I gave away a little piece of myself. It happened so gradually, and over such a long period of time, that I hardly noticed it was happening. It’s like that story about the frog and the pot of water- if you drop a frog into a pot of hot water, he will jump out. He might get burned, but he will survive and probably stay away from the pot! But if you drop a frog into a pot of cold water and turn up the heat so gradually that he hardly notices the change, he will stay in the pot until he dies. Eventually we stopped hanging around with MY friends, I stopped playing music, I did almost all of the chores – piece by piece, without my realizing it, my identity became eroded and I seemed to disappear. If something went well, he took the credit for it, even if it was my doing. But, when something went wrong, it was ALWAYS my fault. He would twist stories around until it was so confusing I began to doubt my own memory. It was crazy making! He had expectations in the bedroom and I was made to feel it was MY shortcoming if I failed to meet them. I just kept trying to please him, but nothing ever seemed to be enough.

It wasn’t all bad. We had some fun times. We went snowmobiling in the winter and went to his family’s cottage in the summer. We visited regularly with both our families. We both had successful careers, mine in teaching and his in construction. We set goals, had a nice house, and were saving money for retirement. But in 1989 my world shifted, as if I was standing on a rug and someone pulled it out from under me. We had gone to his brother and sister-in-law’s house to give a birthday gift to our oldest niece, but instead of a celebration, there was a confrontation. Their daughters had just accused Frank of molesting them – the older one years before when she was little, before I even knew him. The younger one, who was by now 15, accused him molesting her just two years before IN OUR KITCHEN WHILE EVERYONE ELSE WAS JUST OUTSIDE, WITHIN SIGHT!!! It must have happened in a matter of seconds, a few minutes at the most! I remember thinking during the confrontation, “this happens in the movies – this doesn’t happen TO ME!” and realizing that my whole first 7 years of marriage were based on a lie. Here was the man I loved, admitting to molesting the older girl years before, but he never did admit to molesting the younger one. I can’t begin to describe the shock and confusion I felt! It was the first time I ever really thought about leaving him, but I was so CODEPENDENT by that time that I couldn’t imagine being on my own. My FEAR kept me trapped. For several months I had a hard time eating or sleeping, but eventually with some therapy I settled enough to decide to stay – we went on to have two great boys who were born in the early nineties, but it seemed like we were dancing around in a circle. Tension would build up, we would fight, then make up, and for a while things would seem to be OK, then tension would build again, over and over. And every time there was another fight, the issue of his molesting his nieces would come up – I could never get over that.

Little did I know it was going to get worse!

One day in the mid nineties, when having internet in the house was a relatively new thing, he asked me to look for a calculator in his brief case and in the bottom I found a picture of a naked little girl – Asian, maybe 10 or 12 yrs old –that he had printed off the computer. I was shocked and I confronted him. I thought about his nieces, and of course there was yet another fight. I destroyed the picture and he assured me that he had just been curious. He apologized and promised it had never happened before and it would never happen again. I was in DENIAL. I loved him. I wanted so desperately for everything to be OK. I stayed.

We were both workaholics. Things were getting so rotten between us that we both felt good when we worked. I had become a perfectionist control freak – because my relationship seemed like it was out of control. It takes a huge amount of energy to try and control everything in your life – especially when it is uncontrollable! To survive emotionally I stayed in my head and pushed down the feelings, at all cost. By that time, I was teaching full time, racing home every night with a briefcase full of lessons to plan and papers to mark in time to pick up the kids from daycare at 6 pm. I had two little boys under the age of 8 who were active with swimming lessons, soccer, Cub Scouts, etc. Frank was away a lot of the time working out of town, but when he wasn’t away, on weekends and evenings we would work on another new house for ourselves and move just about every year. We had a very good lifestyle in terms of material things, but I was miserable, exhausted, and empty inside. It seemed like every time we started fighting again, we would go and buy something new like a truck or a new snowmobile or a 4 wheeler, and for a little while it made us feel a bit better, but the feeling never lasted. I kept trying harder to make him happy but it was impossible, and I was so out of touch with myself that I had no idea what it would take to make me happy.

On Easter weekend in 2000 I had a very sudden life-threatening health crisis that ended up being the catalyst I needed to start making some positive changes in my life. Looking back, I realize that I was completely burned out. It was a miracle that I was alive; most people don’t survive the diagnosis I was given. I was never religious, but that night for the first time in my life I prayed and meant it. I said, “God, if you’re even there, apparently the way I have been directing my life up to this point in time has not been working too well. If I am meant to die here tonight, then my crying and fussing about it isn’t going to change anything, SOOOOOOOO here I am – you can take it from here, just please, if I am meant to live, show me what I am supposed to do!” I’m not suggesting you should believe what I believe; I am just saying that’s what I did, because that’s all I had left to do. After a week in intensive care, I went home to recuperate, but I had to stop working. It was the first time I really started to wonder why I was here on the planet. On the outside everything looked great – nice house, good career, two great kids – but there was nothing left inside. I felt like a completely vacant empty shell.  I started going back to therapy, but this time I was really ready to do the work and find out what was going on. One of the many valuable things I learned in therapy is that the difficulties that we face in our major relationships reflect back to us unresolved issues of our own. Over time and with help, I began to really look at things in a new perspective.

During this time, I discovered that our beloved babysitter/housekeeper had forged my signature on several cheques to the tune of almost $2000.00. She and her husband had been like adopted grandparents for our boys. I felt so betrayed! I also found out that Frank had been having an ongoing affair with one of my friends. Others in the community, including my best friend, knew about it but no one told me. I felt double betrayed! He showed me humility and convinced me of his sincerity when he apologized, and promised it had never happened before and it would never happen again. I was in DENIAL. I loved him. I wanted desperately for it to be OK. I stayed. And I got more counselling to try and help me deal with this latest crisis. Then, on the day the World Trade Centre was attacked, Sept 11, 2001, my own twin towers fell, so to speak. Our computer in our home office had broken and I had a technician come to the house to fix it. As I sat beside him, he opened files with dozens of pornographic pictures of children. I was mortified, shocked, and embarrassed to have such images in my home and furious that my little boys could have inadvertently opened one of those files. There was yet another fight, this time in which I threatened to get rid of the computer, and once again, Frank apologized and promised never to do it again. By now we both realized he had a problem. He also began to get therapy, which was enough to keep me hanging on. After all, I loved him and I wanted desperately for everything to be OK! In therapy, he began to analyze his sexual addiction and discovered that, although he could not remember anything, he had most likely been molested as a child. Now, realizing that I was married to a sex addict, and knowing that major relationships are reflective of my own issues, I began to look at my own childhood and suspect that I, too, had been molested. I had absolutely no memories of anything happening, but I also learned that as a coping mechanism, during traumatic incidents, the brain can literally block out all memory of the incidents. These are called REPRESSED memories. They help you to function on a day to day basis and go on with your life. The body remembers, though, and it stores unexpressed anger and grief in its cells. All kinds of studies have shown that there is a very real mind-body connection. When you accumulate years of toxic emotional stress your body responds in a very real way. If you don’t clear it, eventually it can lead to chronic illness or disease. When you clear that stress, your body is free to respond with good health and vitality. It’s like sweeping dirt under the carpet, or throwing your garbage into the basement – it keeps building up and building up until one day you get to a point where you just have to do some housecleaning. My body had told me the year before that it was time to do some housecleaning, but I still only partially listened. I was gradually working through my issues and becoming more aware, to be sure, but I was staying in a relationship that was becoming increasingly more toxic.

By then my father was a raging alcoholic – the town drunk who I kept at arm’s length. I felt guilty if I didn’t see him from time to time, but I felt shame and sadness when I did see him, because of the way he was living his life. My dad died of cancer in 2002 but something shifted between us in the last few weeks of his life. As he was coming to terms with the fact that he was dying I saw an authenticity in him I had never seen before. I stopped being quite so angry and start feeling some compassion for him. A few days before he died, I told him that I had forgiven him. He responded, “Well, wonders never cease”. The day he died, I sat by his bed and I held his hand as he passed. After he was gone I mourned the loss not so much of the man but of the relationship I always wished we could have had and now never would. Strangely, I feel closer to my father now than I ever did when he was alive.

I was still married, but our situation was becoming increasingly toxic. By now I had left my teaching career for good to work full time building big waterfront houses with Frank. I was in charge of site administration, hiring subcontractors, payroll and accounting, purchasing materials, AND I worked on site doing things like painting (sometimes on scaffolding or ladders 24 feet high), insulation, shovelling gravel, carrying lumber, picking up garbage, and helping the carpenters with framing. I enjoyed the physical work, and quite frankly, I enjoyed taking the men on the job by surprise with strength and ability that they did not expect to see in a woman.  Even though we were making far more money than I could ever have made teaching, Frank constantly belittled my contribution to our business and accused me more than once of being lazy and not wanting to work, because I had left my teaching career after that health crisis. Frank had stopped going to therapy, probably because he realized that once again, the latest crisis had been averted and I was back on the hook. I still loved him, but I suppose by this time I really had lost most of the respect I had had for him. I tried to see the hurt little boy and the sensitive man buried deep down inside all those layers of anger, and I waited for him to fulfill the potential that I saw in him. I would get glimpses of him every now and then when he had to show humility to avert another crisis. I knew he had an addiction, but by now I was so expert at covering up for him that I didn’t even realize that I was doing it. I understand now that what I was doing was ENABLING him to continue to act out his addiction. So why did I keep staying after all the crises and the grief? Maybe it was LOVE, but more likely it was FEAR and CODEPENDENCE. Living with “the devil you know” somehow seemed less frightening than stepping into the unknown. Even though I was doing most of the work to run the household, I couldn’t imagine being alone – I felt like I was only ½ of a circle – if you took away the other half I would be incomplete and unable to cope.

I had started to play music again. Just a little at first, but over time it became a bigger and bigger part of my life, because I realized that it was an important part of me that I had given up all those years before, and I wanted it back because it made me feel good. We started going to music festivals and despite the fact that we had a lot of fun camping with our new musical friends, Frank often made it clear that he didn’t like my playing music. You see, I was having fun and feeling good. It wasn’t for him or about him, and he was jealous. I often told him that I wished for his sake that he could find something in his life that he could feel as passionately about as I felt towards playing music, but he never really showed interest in anything outside his work. By the time I started a band and began to play semi-professionally, he would come to some festivals with me, but it was a favour to me that I could never really repay; he would make my life absolutely miserable, and often my band would have to rally around me when I would show up backstage before a show in tears. I would try to attend to his needs – did he have a drink? Was he hungry? Did he have someone to talk to? Was he happy? If he didn’t come, I found out later that he would say things to my children like “Your mother doesn’t want to be here with you. Her music is more important to her.” In 2006 he came to one of the larger festivals with me. I made especially sure to give him extra attention, as he often accused me of ignoring him when I was playing music. We had had a great day together, and ended the evening with a jam session with friends around a campfire. I had been super vigilant to see that he was having a good time. When it was time to go to bed, I put my instrument away and wondered why he hadn’t come into the trailer with me. I went back out to find him necking with a young woman half his age. I rubbed my eyes to make sure. I had had a few drinks over the course of the evening, but I was definitely not drunk. I locked myself in the trailer and started angrily packing up while he got a security guard to come and knock on the door and tell me I had been seeing things. We drove home in silence, and he slept in the spare bedroom that week, but I allowed him to come back because the next weekend we were expecting company and I still wasn’t ready for the truth to come out to our friends. You see, I was still trying to push down the feelings, smooth things over, and make everything appear normal when in fact we were in yet another crisis. I went back for more counselling to help me try and deal with this latest incident, but I was still enabling him to continue in his addiction.

By November 2007, 18 1/2 years after I had first seriously considered leaving, I had finally and truly had enough and was looking for a way out. Although he had never raised a hand to me, I was exhausted from the ongoing emotional abuse and drama, and I had long since lost my respect for Frank. I had threatened for years to leave and had never followed through, so why would he believe me now? But this time it was different. I had been faithful to Frank through all those years, but now I had met someone at a music conference in Nashville that I was very attracted to. I told Frank about it and he actually encouraged me to be with him, thinking it might be some kind of sexual game. But I was not playing any kind of game. I began talking to this man on the phone and I was falling head over heels in love. I told Frank up front that I intended to pursue my relationship with this man, and that I intended to leave – this time for real. That was when things began to get dangerous.

I was still living in the matrimonial home, and I had told my boys, teenagers of 15 and 13 by now, that I was planning on leaving, but that I was hoping to hold out until after Christmas. I couldn’t possibly tell them all the things that had led up to my decision – I felt they were too young to know about such adult problems, and I still wanted them to have some respect for their father even if he no longer had it from me. Of course, they were confused and angry with me. I had tried so hard all those years to cover up the problems between their father and me that they really hadn’t known how bad it was, but now that “the cat was out of the bag”, so to speak, it was impossible to hide the fighting and the arguments. It got so bad that a couple of weeks before Christmas, my younger son pulled me aside and said, “Mom, why don’t we just go?”, but I was determined to hang on until after Christmas, if at all possible. My older son decided to live with his dad, which broke my heart, because his dad really had not been there for them. He was away so much when they were growing up, and when he was home he was usually either too busy working, too angry, or too tired to interact with them. It was that heartbreak that inspired my very first song.

Musical Selection:  Karen singing

Things were escalating to the point where I was sleeping with my coat and boots and purse by my side because I feared that things might get really nasty and I would have to get out in the night. I locked the bedroom door because by this point I was afraid of Frank, and he would pick the lock just to show me that he could. I got my own cell phone and opened a new personal email account. He later admitted that he had been stalking me; I would come out of the grocery store or the bank and there he was, waiting. He was checking my odometer, obtaining my cell phone statements, and attempting to hack into my email account. He froze the bank accounts and cancelled the credit cards. He would tell me private information about the band’s business – it made everyone uncomfortable to the point that they considered calling the police. I started going to the local women’s shelter for counselling. They gave me strategies for staying safe, and information on community resources, but most importantly, they reassured me that I was not crazy! Then one night, while I slept, he broke into the bedroom and began to sexually assault me. He had imagined that I had been talking to this new man while he was out of town, which I wasn’t, but by the time he got home at 2 am he was beside himself with rage. He must have snapped out of his fury long enough to realize what was happening, because I was able to fight him off, but that was the last straw. On Boxing Day I drove away from my beautiful waterfront home to go and live in the basement of my mother’s house. And although I was an emotional wreck, I was finally free, and I never looked back.

Shortly after I left, Frank went into a residential treatment programme where he could get help with his sex addiction issues. I hope he benefited from his time there, but I suspect his motivation for going was to lure me back into the relationship as he had done so many times before. Within a few weeks of my leaving he was dating a woman from Oregon who he had met on an online dating site.

It’s funny how you learn how very little value your “stuff” has when you drive away from it in a situation like that. You think you are attached to your “stuff”, so you fight for it, and you mourn the loss of it, but in the end, it’s just “stuff”. By the time I got ½ of our “stuff” back in the settlement a year later, I didn’t even want it any more. I had something far more precious – PEACE. And I was finally starting to find MYSELF.

I want to make it clear that neither my dad nor my ex-husband were monsters! I loved them both. Dad was an easy going and fun-loving guy. He was the kind of guy who would help a stranger on the side of the road. And Frank had many good qualities, or I would never have married him! He was a good provider and a perfect choice for showing me what I needed to know about myself. And every time he put up a hurdle for me, I jumped higher. It made me stronger and more independent in the long run. The point is that ADDICTION MAKES GOOD PEOPLE DO BAD THINGS, and addiction and abuse are insidious; they creep up on you very slowly and quietly. You often don’t notice it’s happening until it’s too late. I have a friend who was a cop. She says, based on her observations, where domestic violence is concerned, escalation is inevitable. In other words, if he hit you once, it is very likely that he WILL hit you again, even if he’s really sorry and he says he won’t. There was one piece of advice she always gave to girls and women who were dealing domestic violence – “keep your girlfriends!” You need a support system and a sounding board. I wish I had known this.

I don’t any longer blame people for the things I have experienced – that would be staying stuck in victimhood. After all, how could my parents have possibly taught me about healthy boundaries when they didn’t have any themselves? Instead I prefer to think of life like a big theatre production – we all have our parts to play. We just don’t realize that we are in a play until we step back and take a look at the big picture. Our parents were also unconsciously playing their roles, and so were their parents, and so on and so on. Addiction and abuse don’t just start up out of the blue. More likely they are patterns of behaviour that have been handed down for many, many generations. If you look at it that way, there’s no one left to blame. The question is; what are YOU going to do about it? You can stay angry and play the martyr or the victim, but that just gives your power away. You can try to stay drunk or high, and make it seem to go away for a little while, but that’s all it is – a little while, then it comes back with a fury, and I don’t need to tell you the long term effect that will have on your life. CLEARLY IT DOESN’T WORK!  Both of those choices almost guarantee that you will pass the abuse on down to the next generation. Or, you can step up to the plate, as I have done, and begin to do the healing work necessary and make the changes that could potentially break the chain for future generations. It’s not easy – sometimes it hurts like HELL, and it can be downright ugly what you expose when you have an honest look inside. But I guarantee you it’ll be worth it!

My sister tried to cope by drowning her problems in alcohol and prescription pills. She has had ongoing health issues and she has struggled with addiction off and on for over 20 years. I learned that giving her money to help with the latest crisis only enabled her to continue drinking. NOT giving her money made me feel terribly guilty because she was suffering so much, and had very real problems. I love her because she is a gentle soul and she is my sister, but I still haven’t really figured out how to handle my relationship with her, so mostly I try to keep my distance, and that’s a real shame because we could have been such good friends! But I also try hard not to judge – it could’ve easily been me. It will be up to her to make the changes she needs to make to overcome her addiction and improve her life. I have told her that when she makes those changes, I will be there for her, but I also have to come to terms with the possibility that she may never make them.

My mom and I are now as close as we have ever been. I understand a whole lot better now what she went through and why she made the choices she did, because I ended up going through much the same thing.

As for the man I started dating, well, it’s been 4 years now, and we still love each other, but I think we both realize that our lives are going in different directions. I will always be grateful to him for helping me find the strength to leave an extremely toxic situation, and I will always cherish the time we had together, but I was not in an emotionally healthy place to begin a new relationship at the time. Was it what is called a “rebound relationship”? In retrospect, the answer is probably yes, although I did not see it at the time. No matter what the future does or does not hold for us, I’m OK, and I think that’s the main thing.

I have to take responsibility for the part I played in the drama of my life. I understand now that, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I contributed to my situation by NOT maintaining healthy boundaries; every time I gave in for the sake of not angering Frank, I gave him a little more power over me. He didn’t take it – I gave it away. And every time I covered up for him, I took away an opportunity for him to take responsibility for his own behaviour. When I began to understand this, the first person I had to forgive was myself! I couldn’t possibly know then what the consequences of my choices would eventually be. And for that matter, in retrospect, I couldn’t possibly expect to be able to make decisions at 19 that were still valid at 49. People change! When I learned to forgive myself, then by extension I realized I needed to forgive my parents – they didn’t know any better what they were doing than I did. They were just trying to figure it out and survive the best they could. How could I expect them to be perfect when I wasn’t perfect myself? My ancestors were too busy trying to put food on the table and keep the house warm – they did not live in a culture of growing self-awareness that we can choose to take advantage of today. After generations of addiction and abuse, I have the privilege and responsibility of attempting to break the chain. It’s like we’ve all been sleepwalking, but now it’s time to wake up!!!!

Abuse can happen to ANYONE. It crosses all boundaries – economic, religious, age, gender. I was a well educated person with a good career and decent financial resources and it still happened to me! Remember: violence can take many forms – it doesn’t have to be physical. Pain in and of itself is not a bad thing. It teaches us to pay attention. When you stub your toe, for example, you pay full attention to that part of you – you rub it, maybe get some ice, but you take care of it until the pain goes away. The same can be true of emotional pain – it’s there to tell us that we’ve been hurt, but we need to learn to pay attention to it and not just ignore it. Learning these skills doesn’t mean you won’t ever feel pain again – life happens! Sometimes people do things that hurt. It’s a process I expect to be working on for a long time. I didn’t learn these behaviours over night, and it may take a while to unlearn them. BUT I have learned to honour my feelings, to listen to the messages I get from my gut and my heart, not just the thoughts in my head.

I feel so fortunate and grateful – for the good things that have happened to me in my life, AND for the insights and the strength I have gained from the challenges I have had to overcome. I not only survived, but I developed a greater level of self-awareness, and I am thriving now more than ever before. The funny thing about forgiveness is that you might think it’s for the benefit of the person you are forgiving, and surely they DO benefit from it, but more importantly it benefits the person who is doing the forgiving. When you release all that anger and righteousness, it’s like a huge weight being lifted off your spirit, and for the first time, maybe ever, you are truly free to discover who you really are. That’s what I’m doing now. I have found my own personal way to do my spiritual housecleaning with a combination of exercise, spending time in nature, writing and performing music, counselling, reading spiritual and self-help books, and lots of introspection (some might call it prayer or meditation). Others will find different ways to do their personal work. I’m 49 years old now and I am just getting to know Karen, and I really like the person she is becoming. I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, but I have huge hope for my future! And because of the work I am doing, I have a great deal of hope that my children will not have to repeat the pattern.

My sincere wish for you is that you do whatever it takes to stay connected to your source, realize how beautiful and perfect you are, draw on your amazing inner strength, and discover and celebrate your wonderful gifts, and in doing so, show by example that others can too, no matter what blows life has dealt them.

 Musical Selection:  Karen singing