A woman overcomes her cocaine addiction and a past peppered with sexual violence through Amethyst Women’s Addiction Centre and goes on to found her own non-profit charity aimed at helping adults detect and prevent childhood sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation.
“We would just talk. We would just cry. We would just share.
“The moment you cross the threshold, it is like a warm and comforting hug. It is safe.”
On the outside, everything in Cynthia Bland’s life seemed great. She had a senior position in an Ottawa high tech company, a great husband and four wonderful children – two boys and twin girls. But after 15 years of being sober from a cocaine addiction, Bland felt like she wanted to use again. She was dealing with a difficult employer, her father – with whom she had hoped to rekindle a relationship – suddenly passed away, and she was ongoing some stress in her marriage.
“I had gone from being a really excellent performer at work to sliding down this path where I was really unhappy. I didn’t feel, like, things felt out of control. They just felt out of control,” says Bland.
Bland remembers feeling a lot of pressure and being confused about what was going on in her life. She just felt horrible, she says, and started feeling suicidal.
“I really felt like this was it, that I wanted to get high and then I wanted to just end my life because things just felt crazy,” she explains.
That’s when Bland decided she needed to get help, and turned to Amethyst Women’s Addiction. She says she was nervous about calling because she wasn’t “an active addict” and didn’t know if Amethyst would see her.
“I kind of felt like I shouldn’t really call, but, you know, I’m going to call because I’m so desperate,” she explains.
Although Bland was terrified to come to Amethyst, she said she felt relief when she first walked through the door. “The moment you cross the threshold, it is like a warm and comforting hug. It is safe,” she says.
She started seeing Rose McDade, one of Amethyst’s current substance use counsellors, and after a few months was referred to the Sexual Abuse Support Program. What happened there changed her life.
Cynthia’s Journey through the Sexual Abuse Support Program
When one of Amethyst Women’s Addiction Centre’s counsellors asked Cynthia Bland, “Have you been sexually abused as a child?”, it felt like everything came into place. It explained the anxiety, the depression, the panic attacks, the abusive relationships, the feelings of not belonging and the cocaine addiction.
“Why had nobody asked me that before?”, she muses. Although she had seen a psychologist and a psychiatrist for her anxiety and panic, it was the first time in 42 years she had revealed her past of sexual abuse.
“It was really hard. I mean, this was 42 years of a big secret. I went and told my mom, you know. I told my kids and I had to sit and tell my husband, who didn’t know. Nobody knew what had happened to me,” she says.
There are many reasons why Bland didn’t talk, or even think, about her childhood sexual abuse. She explains that as the abuse went on – from ages 5 to 7 by a trusted neighbour – threats and secrecy kept her from telling her parents. After it stopped – because she moved away – she didn’t have the words to express what was happening. And later on, she didn’t understand how her abuse affected her life. “I got hurt, but I guess my brain just kind of, like, put it somewhere else,” she says.
Amethyst’s Sexual Abuse Support Program was very helpful for Bland. She learned that she wasn’t alone, that others had gone through and felt just the way she did, and that she wasn’t “a weirdo”. She says being able to share her story with others was very powerful.
“We would just talk. We would just cry. We would just share. It was like this cathartic, oh my God, I’m not the only person,” she says.
Bland also learned to ground herself, to be gentle to herself and to practice self-care. When she graduated from the program, she was given a touchstone. It reminded her of the skills she had learned at Amethyst and helped her carry them forward in her life.
“I carried that with me so I understood what was happening. ‘Oh, I’m being triggered right now.’ So I could name it. And I could name it and I’d go, ‘Okay, I know what I need to do’, you know, put my feet on the ground and ‘I’m okay’,” she explains.
Moving On and Finding her Voice
Since then, Bland has founded the charitable organization Voice Found. It started off as a blog on which Bland would talk about her own story and evolved into a national charitable organization that provides education and prevention training and supports survivors of sex trafficking.
Although Bland hasn’t been at Amethyst in over 10 years, she has a daily reminder of it with her. The logo of her foundation has two colours, one of which is amethyst. She says this was a conscious decisions because, “I loved what it stood for and what it meant to me.”
“What I want to say about Amethyst is that, you know, Amethyst saved my life. And I will – I can say that,” says Bland.
Voice Found is a survivor-led national charity committed to the prevention of child sex abuse and commercial sexual exploitation. Through The Hope Found project we support persons who have been sex trafficked. In early 2018 we will be opening Canada’s first health clinic for those 13 years of age and older who are at risk of, who are experiencing or who have experienced human trafficking.