new beginnings.

It has certainly been awhile.

It’s not so much that I’ve forgotten about this blog – in fact it’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve just been finding it a little difficult to reconcile what I’ve written in the past with how I’m feeling lately. The two just don’t seem to agree, and that’s made it increasingly difficult to find something to write about.

You see, I was angry for a very long time. I was angry and sad and lost and confused. I had a lot to say and a lot of it was negative. I wrote about my beliefs, which I still have and hold dearly, but I often wrote about them in an angry, sad, lost, and confused way. I came here to vent and to grieve and to understand and to find connections when I felt alone. It’s not that I don’t need those things anymore, I think we all do at times, but I’m just not feeling the need to be so damned angry these days. In fact, I’m working really hard not to be.

Awhile ago I gave this blog new life by doing some book reviews. That was fun for awhile but I realized pretty quickly that it was becoming a lot of me telling you that I read a book and I liked it. I’m not going to stop talking about the books I read, but I am going to stop trying to review them. Instead, I’m going to talk about what I’ve read lately and how it made me feel. You know, a simple conversation sort of thing.

I’m going to breathe new life into this baby one more time. I am ready to talk about my life, and about me, in a new way. I’ve made huge strides in the last year in regards to becoming the person I want to be. I am healthier than I ever have been, and I’ve worked really hard to battle my demons. I’m not nearly finished with the work that must be done and that’s why I’ve come back to this blog.

I feel that I’ve learned a lot about myself, and the people around me, in the last year and I want to share that knowledge with you. I want to share what’s worked for me, how I’ve overcome some difficult moments, and what I’m doing now to improve. I’ll talk about my love of food and cooking, which might take a bit longer as I’m currently on day 2 of the Whole30 program (which I’m sure I’ll be telling you all about soon, as well).

Basically, I’m going to just talk. I hope you want to listen. And I hope you find something that works for you. I hope that maybe we can learn from each other, as well. And I hope that you’ll bear with me as I reorganize and reinvent this page.

And above all else, I want to thank you again for taking your time to be a part of my life, one post at a time.

sexual education.

Ontario’s government unveiled a new sexual education curriculum this past week. It is a more comprehensive, updated program that encompasses topics ranging from anatomy to STIs to consent to masturbation. It is designed to provide the information the previous curriculum seriously ignored and recognizes that the pre-internet curriculum simply doesn’t fit anymore.

As with many things relating to education there is controversy surrounding the new program. People are bound to get a little uptight and, in some cases, scared when it comes to speaking to our children about anything relating to sex and puberty. Every child is different, they develop and mature at various ages especially when it comes to their sexuality. It isn’t easy to provide an all-encompassing timeline for when is the most appropriate and beneficial time to speak to a child about their bodies and the changes they will go through.

The thing about it, however, is that it must be talked about. And it should be talked about before they happen. Informed decisions are mostly good decisions and in situations where someone is going to be making a choice that can very seriously affect who they are and, at times, the rest of their life, we need to provide them with the tools to make that decision responsibly. Many parents and non-parents alike have spoken out against the curriculum, saying it’s too much too soon and completely inappropriate for the children to learn. They want their children to be safe and protected.

What they don’t seem to understand is that to make sure your child is safe and protected, they need to know how to make choices that allow that to happen. You will not always be there and they certainly won’t tell you everything, like it or not. They need to be allowed to make knowledgeable choices for themselves.

Completely bewildering to me is that the most hotly debated issue in the entire curriculum is the inclusion of consent in grade five, or at the age of eleven. Naysayers seem to believe that teaching consent means teaching a child to say “yes” and this is completely false. It is teaching children that it is okay to say yes, and it’s okay to say no, but what’s more important is how to recognize what a proper “yes” looks and sounds like. These children will be texting and messaging online without your knowledge, they will have boyfriends and girlfriends who want to experiment, they will have hormones that they themselves don’t understand yet. They need to know how to responsibly and appropriately approach new, possibly sexual situations, how to recognize when something has been done that they didn’t consent to, and what forms of “no” there are (hint: it’s more than just simply saying the word). This is not something we should be disagreeing on. Our children need to know it’s okay to say no and to believe that their peers will know that it must be respected. It seems fairly simple.

Children should be learning the names of their genitals just as they learn what their arms are called. To ignore that part of their body, the part that in just a few short years will start doing some pretty baffling things, and to make them feel from a young age that it’s for some reason dirtier and not to be talked about is selling them short. They need to be comfortable naming those parts of their body just like any other part because it’s very possible that one day they’ll need to tell someone that something is happening with those parts, just as they would tell them that they broke their leg.

We need to stop believing that kids don’t have sexual urges. We need to stop thinking that if we don’t talk about their hormones and their urges, they simply won’t exist anymore. We certainly need to stop pretending that not giving children and teenagers an understanding of sex, STIs, masturbation, mental health, and safe practices is the best way to get them to not have sex ever. We have a better chance of having safe, healthy, happy, and even abstinent children if we give them the resources to understand their bodies and minds. Speaking from experience, being shown what your body goes through when it’s pregnant, when it has an abortion, when it has genital warts is far more powerful of a deterrent than putting the blinders on.

If you don’t want to talk to your children about sex, fine, at least let the schools do their job and teach them what they need to know to be prepared for life.

But still please try to talk to them about sex. It’s incredibly important.

trust.

I feel really late to the trust party. It is highly likely no one will understand what I mean by that so let me explain. I was under the impression for most of my adolescent and young adult life that I knew what healthy, trusting relationships looked like. I believed I had everything figured out – I knew how love, respect, and honesty manifested themselves in real life. It is a blessing and a curse in my life that I am incredibly stubborn, willfully blind to what others see. Sometimes it works out for me, my ability to carry on as if I know everything, but for the most part it would have done me a world of good to swallow my pride for a little bit.

This stubbornness has allowed many a disastrous relationship in my life to carry on for much longer than it should. I even refuse to listen to myself when that little voice in my head is telling me what I really, really need to hear. There is a small (but growing) rational voice in my brain that has always been there for me, saying things like, “This is really not a good idea” or “You really don’t want this” or “You’re better than what you’re doing right now”. By ignoring this voice of my own, and the voices of those around me, I have allowed myself to not only wallow in self-pity but also be taught that the strongest, toughest relationships are those that are fraught with drama and trust issues.

I’m not saying that I ever truly believed this was healthy. I knew that feeling constantly frustrated or upset with someone, feeling relieved when you or they went away so you didn’t have to see them, or always having a nagging lack of trust in them was not conducive to a truly beneficial relationship. But dear god I was good at ignoring it all.

I say this with as little intention to martyr myself as possible but in nearly every serious relationship I’ve had, romantic and friendly, I have had my trust in that person severely broken. I have made mistakes too, hurt them too, I know this. I am still learning of occurrences when someone I thought was worth my time, my love, and my trust was actually sculpting them into tiny sharp spears and hurling them at my back when I wasn’t looking. And you know what? There were a good few times I did the same thing back.

And there I was, thinking this was fine, this was cathartic, this was how grown-ups just deal, man. Well, isn’t that just a whole entire form of fucked up?

The most difficult thing for me to learn in my current relationship was how to trust. Sam has never, in any instance, given me a reason to believe I couldn’t trust him. He’s never not called when he’s going to be late, he’s never not shown up somewhere, and he’s always followed through on his word. He is the definition of reliable but I still couldn’t fully trust him. I still believed that one day, some day, he would leave. Every day he came home, proving me wrong.

It took me a long time to realize that the issues I was having had absolutely nothing to do with Sam. One day I sat down with a notebook and took stock of all of the things that I could remember someone else doing that had bruised my trust in them. And then I tried to think of how many of those things Sam had done as well.

None. Not a single one.

And can I even begin to explain how simultaneously enlightened and chagrined I felt when I realized that the reason my trust in him was taking so long to gain full strength was simple: it was me.

It’s not easy to let things go. I am an expert at holding things within my bubble, sculpting them into my own tiny sharp spears to stab myself with whenever I feel things to be too good. I am a glutton for punishment, craving drama to make my life feel important. I thought I needed those experiences, those awful moments in my life, to remind me every day of who I was. I didn’t realize that they might have changed me but they didn’t make me, and I was allowing them to make me weaker when they should have made me stronger. I thought the whole point of having bad past experiences was to dredge them up to make my life seem lived. Only recently am I discovering the beauty of a simple, easy existence and how deeply trusting, honest relationships factor in to that type of life.

I have spent the last year making myself better. At times that can be a long, arduous process. But I have started to rid my world of the people who didn’t fit into a healthy life, who never showed me that trust was something I could expect from them, or them from me. I have started to understand that being selfish, taking care of yourself, is the first step towards being selfless in your love with others, as backwards as it seems. And I’ve started to surround myself with people I can believe in, who I think truly want to know who I am, and who like me for being that person.

It may have taken too many years, but I think I’ve finally joined the trust party. I feel great.

self esteem and self love.

There have been plenty of times I’ve woken up, groggily walked myself to the bathroom and, upon first look in the mirror, thought, “I hate the way you look.” Granted, unless you are the star of a far-fetched rom-com with access to a makeup team and excellent lighting, no one really looks that great less than five minutes out of bed. Your hair is awful, your face is puffy and creased, and somehow your clothing has managed to turn itself completely backwards on your body. This is expected. My level of self-hate at times went far deeper than that, though, as I stood there and picked apart everything about my body, constantly reminding myself that there is no outfit or makeup choice that will make what I see better.

Everyone has their moments. Everyone has their insecurities. And some days you just wake up with a vengeance against yourself. But for me these days have been known to carry into the next day, then throughout the week, and sometimes into the better part of the month. I would turtle into myself, becoming quiet and self-conscious, confident only in the fact that everyone else saw how disgusting I was and was merely lying to me. And yes, more than once I have used the term “disgusting” to describe myself.

I could blame a lot of things for this warped self image. I could blame being pummeled throughout my formative teenage years by imagery of what society told me was perfection. I could blame the sexualized, dehumanized women that graced my magazines and television. I could think back to the moments where I would realize with shame that I would never be Britney Spears (too tall, too curvy, too uncoordinated) and I firmly believed that being a size six was shameful.

I could also blame every boy who ever made me feel less than, from the ones who cheated on me to the ones who outright told me they were embarrassed to fall for me (they never elaborated on this point but I can only assume it was because I was a) smart and b) not a size zero). I could blame them for my feelings of inadequacy and for never feeling like what I had to offer was enough.

Or I could blame myself. I’ve spent a lot of time blaming myself for a lot of things. Some of these were warranted, others were not. I am harder on myself than anyone else could be, possibly to shield myself from others, knowing that no matter what they do to me, it will never be as rough as what I could do. What I have never, ever blamed myself for, however, was how I felt about myself.

It is only recently that I have started to retrain my brain, to teach it to say positive things about myself. It is only recently that when I hear myself say, “You look awful, you are disgusting, you are fat, you are ugly”, I try to put a stop to it as quickly as possible. I allowed myself for years to tear me down, to make me believe that what I am is not enough and never will be. In all my talk about standing up for myself and being strong and independent, I never once stood up to my biggest bully: me.

I’ve started to show myself that self-love and acceptance are not just handed to you. I have to teach them to myself the way I would any other subject (and I was damn good in school so I have high hopes for my final results). Every day I am learning that when I see a woman who is thinner than I am, who I feel is more beautiful, it’s not her fault she is like that and I am not – she probably works out a lot more and likely has some genetics that I simply do not. Every day I am learning to look in the mirror and say something positive to myself even if it’s as simple as, “Your hair doesn’t look like a squirrel slept in it last night, good job, you!”

I still have moments of cripplingly low self-esteem. With every workout I do and every change I see happening to my body, I still look at myself and think I am not enough. I know that I am smart, I am funny, I am worth something, but I still have to spend a lot of time reminding myself of these things. I have told my boyfriend again and again that I wish I could see myself the way he sees me, or the way that anyone else sees me, but instead I have to learn to do it on my own.

Every day is a struggle for a lot of people, boys and girls, when it comes to self-worth. It is true that we are taught what we should be, shown what we should aspire to, and we feel like we have failed when we aren’t those things. I spent too much of my life feeling like I wasn’t good enough for reasons that never mattered to anyone else but me and I see that now.

We have to learn to be our biggest champions, our loudest cheerleaders. There is a lot of shit that we hear every day and our own voice will always drown it out. We have to make sure that voice is a positive one.

breakups: or what i learned when i repeatedly shattered my self image in the name of love.

A coworker recently inquired about what my worst breakup was. For some people this question is easy to answer: that one where someone cheated, that one where someone just left and never came back, that one that was a fight that lasted hours. For me, as it seems to be with most things in my life, the answer is a little more complicated. I have shared stories of breakups and past relationships with friends recently that I hadn’t realized were as ridiculous as they are until they stared at me with what can only be described as wide-eyed horror and disbelief.

I never considered any of my breakups particularly harrowing. There has never been a case of abuse and while some of the relationships ended due to not-so-great circumstances, we generally managed to stay friendly for a bit of time afterwards. I figured that they all went fairly smoothly in the way that any heartbreaking experience can go. But then I realized I have a tendency to downplay situations or glide on past them like a seasoned figure skater getting up from her failed triple axle and really started to think about it.

My first indication that my breakup life would be just as insane as my dating life should have been when thirteen year old, naive Caitlin was dumped on the phone by her grade seven boyfriend. Ah, the seriousness of the relationship is hard to describe in concrete terms but I can tell you right now: it was intense. We even held hands a couple times and he bought me a carnation at the preteen dance. Basically married. So you can only imagine my shock and horror when he decided we should no longer date because there were other girls he liked and he wanted to start his own gang of “bitches”. I’m not kidding. At this point in my life my feminist hat was nowhere in sight so I did not have the wherewithal or even a singular thought about how sexist and terrible that reasoning is. All I knew was that he wanted bitches but he didn’t want me to be one of them. I was heartbroken. So I did what any reasonable, self-sufficient young woman would do when she is holding up her end of a devastating phone conversation: put “Gone” by Nsync on in the background. Loudly. And sit next to the stereo so he knows. Funnily enough this tactic did not work, no pity was aroused and no sudden flood of happy memories were induced in him, causing him to run back to me and proclaim that I was the only bitch he wanted in his gang of bitches.

And thus my illustrious dating/breakup career began.

In high school I broke up with the same guy about 2846072458946 times. In all fairness it was closer to five or six but it felt like millions. We were the fatal attraction I had always thought meant perfection. He was the bad boy from a broken home and I was the high honour student with a happy family. He did drugs and I had no idea Sean Paul was singing about drugs until I was about seventeen. He kissed another girl at least twice and I felt like a bad boy from a broken home who does drugs is probably going to do these things once in awhile and I had to cut him some slack because who really taught him about respect, anyway? We shared too many breakups to recount them all here but there is one that sticks out in my mind as my favourite. We had decided to start seeing each other again when we were nearing nineteen (much too old for this high school shit now and so much more mature, we thought) but then my parents discovered his hash pipe that he had for some reason stashed in my car without my knowledge and I decided that was the last straw. I believe the break up went something like this: “I’m not going to keep covering for you and getting in trouble because of you. I forgave you for stealing my laptop but I’m not going to forgive you for this.”

Oh, right. He also at one point stole my laptop.

As I entered my twenties a new dating world approached me. I had broken up with someone just before I turned twenty, a long-term relationship that ended in a fiery crash not long after I had forgotten to wish him a happy birthday. We broke up over the phone but by now I had learned my lesson and had decided to keep the background music to a minimum. “Globes and Maps” by Something Corporate may or may not have been playing but very, very quietly and there’s very little chance he could have heard it so don’t you even start judging me now. Up until I turned twenty I thought dating meant being in a relationship. That’s what you did in your teen years – you liked someone so they became your boyfriend and that was the end of it.

All of a sudden I found myself in a world where people did not just want to be my boyfriend. Some of them even wanted to see other people while they were waiting to decide who they wanted their girlfriend to be. I was baffled. This bafflement led to my blurting out while I was on a date (I know now, with my great experience, that this is what we were on), “Are you, like, dating me or are we just, like, friends or like… what?” I said this forcefully, despite the timidity of the sentence structure, and he just kind of stared at me clearly preparing himself to tread lightly. In his defense, not five minutes before I had laughed so hard I spat food out so I think at this point he realized he was dealing with a special case. He informed me we were dating but he never thought of us as exclusive.

From that point forward I hated the word exclusive and its existence because no one wanted to attach it to me.

Except for the guy who had seized the opportunity of having a blank pin holding a note I wrote him to a cork board and strung a singular hair of mine over it. He also was the one who made us “Facebook official” the same day I told him I didn’t want to be “Facebook official”. He wanted to attach exclusivity to me a little too much.

Over the years I’ve had breakups occur for a myriad of reasons: infidelity, incompatibility, immaturity, incontinence. Just kidding on that last one (or am I?). Sometimes they have come crawling back, trying to regain my trust and attention with witty openers like, “Do you like comedy?” or “Hey u”. Usually these things haven’t worked unless they catch me at a moment of extreme weakness in which case I’m all, “Yes” and “Hey u 2″. What I’ve learned, though, is that no breakup is the “worst breakup” – they’re all bad in their own ways. Later on they may seem funny but in the moment they really, truly suck. And you may be mortified at the things you did before, during, or after they occur.

It’s okay in the end, though, because I’m proof that you can thoroughly smear your self-respect all over the damn place and someone will still eventually want to be exclusive with you in a good way. And that even the most socially awkward and insane girls can come out of their breakups a little bolder, a little wiser, and with a hell of a great playlist.

what did you expect?

I am possibly beating a dead horse here but I did happen to say only today that, “I love to poke the bear, push people’s buttons, and can’t let sleeping dogs lie.” And really I’ll beat this horse until it doesn’t feel necessary anymore.

This week has been strange. I’ve found myself checking Twitter feeds, newspapers, and blogs constantly, more than I have in awhile. Swallowed by the dialogue, the facts coming to light, I can’t seem to stop with the Jian Ghomeshi story.

Yesterday my boyfriend asked me why this story in particular was so interesting for me and, I think, it’s because it’s so close to home. Most of the stories I’ve followed that deal with sexual assault, rape culture, and victim blaming come from somewhere else and deal with people I don’t feel I know. That is not the case here. This time the story is not only coming from my country and from my city, it is dealing with someone that I and so many others thought they knew.

We couldn’t have even predicted how wrong we were.

I’ve come to expect the comments, the backlash, the victim blaming that occurs in stories like this. Every single article someone is asking why these girls didn’t go to the police, why they’ve waited years, blamed them for trying to get something out of this, and simply saying, “You went to a grown man’s house, what did you expect?”

What did they expect? Well, for one, no matter what community they are part of, BDSM or otherwise, they likely didn’t expect to be involved with any of those practises without their consent. They also probably didn’t expect to be hit in the head, forced to perform oral sex, or be aggressively and violently penetrated with that grown man’s fingers. They probably didn’t expect to cry or leave his house feeling grimy, blaming themselves more than you ever could.

I wrote a short essay a couple weeks ago for, oddly enough, the CBC’s writing contest about belonging. At the beginning I reference a time when someone I was seeing slapped me in the face while we were fooling around. I want to be clear that I do not even remotely believe that this situation was even close to what these nine women dealt with at Ghomeshi’s house, it was much less harrowing. But it was upsetting, I felt like shit, and not one part of me felt like I should tell anyone. I didn’t tell my best friend, I didn’t tell anyone for years. I didn’t tell anyone until I felt that I had gotten over it and it became an abstract, outside situation. I think of how those few moments felt and try to multiply them by a hundred in an attempt to understand how these women felt but still can’t fathom it.

What I do understand is that you feel like telling someone is uncomfortable, frightening, and like, if you do, it will prevent you from just getting over it. And you don’t want to answer questions like, “What did you expect?”

I have been proud of my city and country this week. I have watched people take the sides of the victim, I have seen petitions go up supporting the victims, I’ve watched the tsunami of support Ghomeshi had on Sunday subside with incredible force over the next couple of days. And now, today, the CBC has told us that the evidence Ghomeshi referenced of consensual acts is the very reason they made the decision to terminated him. They did this because they saw it as evidence of him causing physical injury to a woman and they would not stand behind that.

So yes, I am proud. And somehow, in all of this, I feel comforted to see people rallying around victims for once. But if you are one of the people asking what these women expected, assuming that they are telling their stories for personal gain, I want you to think long and hard about your values.

And I want you to ask yourself one thing: If your sister, daughter, mother, or female friend came to you and told you that they had been assaulted, what would you say? How would you feel?

That is how you should be reacting every time.

taking sides. part two.

Less than twenty four hours after I wrote a blog post about not taking sides, I’m going to take sides. I re-read my post and realized, with a small amount of horror, that some might view it as holding as possibility that I would side with an abuser. And that is so far from the truth. It was more of an attempt to get the people who were blindly siding with Jian Ghomeshi to stop, take a breather, and think for a second. But it didn’t totally come across that way and I apologize.

I am fully, truly, and with confidence taking the side of the women. I have eaten this story up, read articles, Twitter feeds, and blogs galore, trying to wrap my mind around where everyone’s opinion is at. I have always been interested in stories like this, regardless of who’s involved, more for the reaction of society than for the original actions of the accused. While the seriousness of allegations in cases like this cannot, and should not, be ignored – it is how the rest of us deem the situation that is nearly as equal to them in importance. This becomes even more true when one of the parties involved is well-known, much loved, and has built themselves on a persona completely opposite from what they have been accused of.

There were two posts that made me realize that I had to amend my post from yesterday: here and here. What they, and I, want to make clear is that what we believe we know about a person must be obliterated from our minds to objectively look at what is actually happening. In this case, Ghomeshi has been accused by not one but three women for physical and sexual abuse. I, along with many, had a hard time reconciling these accusations with the man I heard on the radio, the man who wrote the enjoyable 1982, the man who I assumed I knew despite not knowing him at all. But I cannot go on supporting someone or even remotely thinking he is innocent in this situation.

I referenced it briefly yesterday but I want to make something very clear: consent is not a one time deal. Consent is something that continues throughout your interaction, that can change at any time. If I say yes to something and then later said no, it not only should be, but must be, the latter statement that is respected. Especially in relations that are involving BDSM or any sort of rough sexual play this is crucial to understand. This is precisely why safe words, prior negotiation, and full understanding of your partner’s limits is of utmost importance.

And from the sounds of it, these three women agreed to these acts via text or email but reneged on that when things were rougher or not as desirable as they expected. This means there was no longer consent. This means that assault occurred.

Basically this is an apology and a final taking of sides. What Ghomeshi once was in my mind, he can never be again. And I hope, for once, that society will restore a little faith and not perpetuate the victim-blaming rape culture that has become all too prevalent especially in cases where celebrities are involved. We need to think about things rationally and understand that there are three women who have been violated, three women who were subjected to things they did not ask for, and that is what matters more than anything.