What It Really Takes to Live with Violence, and Forgive it Part II – Heidi MacDonald

It was not easy. It was brutally, achingly difficult. I had to cut ties from people who were not in my best interest. I also lost friends for a short time, who did not know or understand the full scope of what happened to me, until later.

There were countless nights that I was either crying to sleep, or having nightmares, or sometimes both. I lost a comfortable QA job with a software company somewhere in the mess of this Tall Badness of a relationship. That meant taking menial labor jobs, only given to high school dropouts. And I have a college education.

Talk about swallowing one’s pride in order to put some food in the cupboards.

I had to accept financial support from family members, which as much as I deeply appreciated it, it was also a brutal blow to the self-esteem at an all-time low in my life.

I had to struggle with the fact that I was psychologically damaged when I tried to date again, and found myself quite simply, scared as fuck and running for the door, whenever somebody tried to touch me.

I struggled with being angry that other people could easily date, enjoy intimacy, do the regular Tinder hook-ups, or Netflix & chill. I just simply couldn’t do it. This was a point where I had to give myself patience, and grant this same consideration to people who couldn’t figure out why I was not quite myself again. I can do it now, but I am understandably guarded.

I had to learn to like myself. It may sound simple, cheesy, perhaps even lame. But this? Damn, it was a difficult one. And it was anything BUT simple.

I had to recognize that if I liked myself, then I had to start making choices that were in my best interest. That meant honestly believing that I deserved high quality people who respected me, cared about me, and wouldn’t dream of hurting me, or playing selfish, cruel games.

If I kept on the current path thinking that I was an awful person, and didn’t like myself, well then…I was just going to keep making choices that allowed people to take advantage of me, prey upon this nagging need to prove myself worthy, to be loved and cared for.

Which path did I want to take? It may sound like a no-brainer, but making that decision to change, and then put it into action required serious mental reconditioning. I was not raised in an environment where positive, healthy love was in abundance. Far from it. So taking a different road, it was not without trial and error. I had moments where I would hit a wall, trust the wrong person, get depressed, and then try unsuccessfully to avoid life’s messiness.

But I had to get back into living, and keep trying. Fall down seven times, get up eight, right? As martial arts and self defense practitioners, we do not see a move only once, and we know it perfectly immediately, right? We learn and master it by repeating it. Over and over, until we get it flawless, until we get it right.

So that’s what I did to re-learn being human, with a normal level of self-worth again.

All of this lead me to consider whether forgiveness was possible. It sounds rather simple, doesn’t it? Kind of a sweet, saintly ideal.

Well, I discovered that it’s not a simple, sweet thing. It’s complicated, and it’s hard.  Some days are great, and I feel that “light as a feather” feeling.

Other days, I feel angry, indignant, outraged.

I learned that forgiveness does not have to equal forgetting what happened to me. That’s an impossibly tall order. It happened, and it changed me on a cellular level. But, I do have the choice to determine how I want it change me.

Not long ago, I was watching a clip of Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker talking at one of his seminars, to a guest in the audience. He spoke about blaming people for the bad shit that happens, but also blaming people for the good shit that happens. He openly acknowledged to the audience that he was physically abused by his mother. And yes, he blames her for the abuse. He didn’t skirt around that. But he also blames her for the wonderful marriage that he has. He loves and adores his wife, because he learned what the opposite of a healthy, loving relationship is.

And this, really spoke volumes to me. I can blame the person who hurt me for all the bad memories, and the psychological damage. But…I can also blame him for the fact that the bad events, and his behavior forced me to re-evaluate myself, and determine that I deserved better, and that it was time to make more conscientious choices.

It’s made me more patient with myself when I screw up, say or do the wrong things, and it’s made me more empathetic when I see people I also care about, making their own gaffes.

We’re human. We hurt ourselves, we hurt each other. Let’s not stay in neutral.

My bad experiences ended up helping others at surprising, unexpected moments. There were a few times over the past two years, when I found myself holding someone’s hand, and listening to the recounting of a horrifically damaging situation, that mirrored my own. I was able to relate, to have compassion. I may not have had that capacity if my personal Ground Zero hadn’t happened.

Funny how that works, kind of paying forward compassion.

Have I completely forgiven, or completely healed? Eh…Yes and No. I have good days and bad days, just like anyone else. The good thing is that the good days, far outnumber the bad nowadays.

I’m hoping that time and patience will take me the rest of the way.

If you are a self-defense or martial arts instructor, I hope that this helps you gain some understanding when teaching persons you recognize to have undergone some sort of trauma or violence. It really can happen to anyone, and the process of dealing with returning to a normal life, well….It doesn’t happen easily, just because you teach them how to get out of an armlock.

We can teach all the physical maneuvers and defenses we want, but we should also encompass a certain level of empathy and understanding into HOW we teach. Learning to live a life outside the training hall/dojo, it’s hard for your students. And it takes a lot of grit.

Don’t ever mistakenly think that you’re too mentally tough for this to possibly occur to you, or someone you love.

Don’t trip on your ego, your belt level, your certifications.

If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.


What It Really Takes to Live with Violence, and Forgive it Part I – Heidi MacDonald

What do you do when your worst fears are realized? When a scenario that you work on in your self defense training, actually comes to life? If you survive it, how do you process, get over it?

I wish that I could give you a simple, easy answer that could be of immediate benefit. I wish that somebody had been able to guide me, give me those answers…But it was kind of one of those things where you had to discover the answers for yourself, without anyone’s assistance.

Learn the Hard Way, 101.

I am the daughter of two insufferably, messed up human beings. My father had run-ins with the law and drugs, that resulted in a felony conviction with hard time to serve. My mother was a physically abusive person who also had issues with alcohol and drugs, that were never concealed very well. Long story short, I bore the brunt of her wicked short fuse for a good part of my life.

The end result was that I grew up and made choices in my romantic relationships, that were not always healthy or positive.

I chose one person who was emotionally unavailable with a heavy drinking problem, to boot. I stayed long past this particular relationship’s expiration date, because I thought I should prove myself worthy enough to love. I put this person on an incredibly high pedestal, and myself at the base, basically.

After exiting that, I then chose another person who caused a spectacular level of damage to my life, that I never thought was possible. He was charming and charismatic, but exhibited dangerous traits of narcissism and psychopathy. I didn’t quite understand until it was too late. Instead, I ignored it, and made excuses for his behavior, even as I was self-destructing under the weight of his demands. The end of the relationship was sexually violent and left me suicidal, cut off from friends and family.

 Why? Well, for one simple reason: I did not believe in my own worth as a person, as a woman, and in the face of doubt, I put myself through an endless cycle trying to please everyone.

See me, look at me. Tell me that I deserve to be loved

I hadn’t yet learned that I should not have to grovel for love and acceptance, and most certainly not from darkly flawed human beings who had nothing to offer but psychological mind screws and violence.

Do you find me weak so far reading this?

I am not a weak, simpering female. Once upon a time, I may have thought that of myself. But now? Far from it. Don’t fool yourself if you’re a male self-defense/martial arts instructor reading this, and think that what I discuss here, does not apply to you your teaching, or your life.

Quite the opposite. I am one of you.

I am a black belt, and a women’s self defense instructor. I’ve been on the path exploring how to prevent physical violence to myself and others for about 15 years.

I am roughly 120 pounds, and pride myself on being a scrappy groundfighter, despite my five feet, 4 inch height & size. The problem in my case, was that despite all of my training learning preventive techniques against violent action, I simply did not learn or understand how to defend myself against psychological games. How to spot predators of the intimate kind. And equally as important, if not more so – how to have confidence and value in who I am, as a person.

Do me a favor, and try not to immediately scoff & think,

“Pfff, this crap would never happen to me. I can spot psychos from a mile away. How stupid is she, an MA practitioner of all things, to get involved with someone like that?”

Because..he was one of us. A member of our world of Self Defense, Martial Arts practitioners.

The details of what happened, I don’t think are really important anymore. I’ve lived it, and re-lived it a million times in my head, spent time on both the shrink’s couch and did the pop psychology reading. Going back and recounting it, can sometimes put me in a dark place, that I’d rather not go back to.

What is important, is the process that came after.

Two years ago, I found myself at a very personal Ground Zero. I was pretty much broken in every way you can think of: emotionally, psychologically, physically, financially. And yes, there was a dance around the edge of suicide, too. Believe me when I tell you, that is a damn scary place to find yourself on.

Nobody ever thinks they could go that low, that dark, that far, until it actually happens.

At a point that is that void of hope, that desolate, one of two things can happen: You will either die, or you will rebuild. I like to think that the foundation of all my years of dojo training kept the will to live in me burning, because I chose the latter, to rebuild.

Women, Running and the Threat of Assault – Heidi MacDonald

So, who remembers this photograph?

The woman in the photo wearing bib number 261, is Kathrine Switzer, and she was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967. When this photograph was being taken, race official Jock Semple was attempting to physically remove her from the race. Women were just seen as simply “too fragile” to complete a full marathon.

It wasn’t until 1972 that women were officially invited to participate in the Boston Marathon. This was 49 years ago. So what’s changed since then?

Well, if we judge by a photograph, a lot. Check out the September 2016 cover of Runner’s World magazine:

Big difference in less than 50 years, no?

I ran a Google Search on Runner’s World magazine covers, and I was struck by how often a woman graced its cover.  Our buying power in the marketplace, especially with regards to sporting goods, has certainly exploded since that infamous photo of 1967’s Boston Marathon. Forbes has reported that women make up for 85% of consumer buying power in the US.


All of this sounds great, and it certainly can be used as a rallying cry of girl power. I, myself, am an avid runner. I ran my first marathon two years ago and earlier this year tried out a 50k race. There are pics on my FB page of me in Spartan races in Spandex, with smudges of dirt on my face, shoes caked in mud. Challenges that push me mentally and physically are a siren call to me wanting to test my true grit. Most people think I’m crazy to put myself through such an uncomfortable experience. I’m ok with people not understanding that.

But there is another side to running that women must grapple with – and that is our safety.

I’m often told by my adoptive mom, “you need to be careful when you go running alone!” To which of course, I roll my eyes and say, sure. My self defense and MA background is kind of forgotten in those conversations. But she does have valid reason to worry. And not only because of my gender. I am deaf with a cochlear implant. I sometimes go running in silence on the back country roads of northern Vermont and Quebec’s Eastern Townships. It’s peaceful, and it’s often the part of my day where I’m not getting pulled in a dozen different directions by my 3 jobs, my writing, my grad school applications, my races, and so on.

I go running alone because I usually don’t know anyone who’s willing to go running with me early in the morning. I can’t simply wait around to go run until I find someone who will go with me. To me, that’s a time-waster.  My life and my brain tend to run at warp speed. Only natural that my feet do too.

My mom has some basis to be concerned. Running in quiet – I am not going to hear a car come up behind me, slowing down, following me. If I trip and fall, there will not be a fellow runner to help me up. If i get injured on a run, I can’t call for help, as I don’t carry a cell phone. There are issues and prospective dangers for me, and it does cross my mind every time I lace up my beloved Asics Gel.

But I also have this irritating thought…”I never hear someone telling a man to be careful and safe when he goes out for a run…”

It’s true though, right? How often have you ever heard someone saying that to a guy?

The fact of the matter is that women are still seen as the more vulnerable population, even in this 21st century age of smartphones and never-ending Twitter tweets and Facebook selfie postings.

And the media likes to focus on those discrepancies, big time. Especially if they’re of a violent, sensational nature.

A few that stood out to me recently: This summer, Google employee, Vanessa Marcotte died this summer when she went out for a morning jog. She was found murdered in the woods, a half-mile from her home.


Another woman this summer was sexually assaulted and murdered not far from her home as well.


These women were beautiful, vivacious, and should not have met the ends of their lives in such violent manners.

There are a few other cases in the news that caught my attention while researching for this article, but the one case I kept thinking about, wasn’t a new case or murder, but a rather old one:

The Central Park Jogger.

I was very young when this was reported on the major news network, but I do remember the constant stream of Dan Rather’s voice and face on our small television set, ominous and frightening. I didn’t understand rape, or sexual violence at the time. But I understood that something very bad happened to a woman.

If you don’t remember the details, here they are: In April of 1989, a young woman who was later identified as Trisha Meili, was assaulted on her evening jog through New York City’s famed Central Park. The details of her assault are horrifying. She was raped, sodomized and beaten to near death. She was found naked, gagged and covered in dirt and blood. She was comatose for 12 days, and not expected to live, due to the extensive nature of her injuries and severe head trauma. However, she did. But she has no memory of the assault itself. Which may be a blessing.


Five men were convicted of the assault. Several years later, their convictions were vacated, when a serial rapist confessed to being the lone assailant, and DNA evidence confirmed his account.

As gruesome and heartbreaking as the cases I list above are, I have to ask:

Are female runners honestly a higher risk group for sexual assaults and murder, or is it just focused and more sensationalized by the media?

It could be both.

There’s not that much out there on statistics involving female runners and violence, and there should be. However, I did find this article from 2013, that asked the same questions currently percolating in my mind.


In 2012, there were 12,765 murders in the US. Only 2,834 were women. But…only 1,557 of those murders were committed by a stranger. So that means that the overwhelming number of murders, were committed by someone the murder victim knew personally. So that could be interpreted to mean that the random sexual assault and murders of female joggers is a rare occurrence, right?

Maybe not. These statistics are from four years ago. Have these numbers changed? Because I am noticing an increase of intense discussion and reporting on social media of sexual assault, like the Stanford rape case. I’m not certain if it’s because of the media’s laser-like focus on violence, or if it’s because women are choosing to no longer be quiet about traumatic events.

And in turn, this is challenging the conversations we’re having about sexual assault. About the root issues of power, control, ego, male privilege.

I feel like this is a conversation that got started in April 1989, but we have neglected to finish the conversation. 27 years have passed, and we are overdue to finish this conversation. Or at the very least, get even more vocal in the debate. The magazine covers of Runner’s world that depicts women in sleek sports bras and tight little shorts, promotes the idea of a world where women can run without fear of harm, of being free to show off her muscles and body. Honestly, if I dressed like that on one of my morning runs, I fear that I would be a target for catcalls and roving male eyes. Talk about uncomfortable. My skin crawls at the thought of such unwanted attention.

Yes, almost 50 years have passed since Kathrine Switzer’s famed run in the Boston marathon, and I do realize that the late 80’s was a different climate for women with regards to the Central Park Jogger case when compared to now, and the Stanford Brock Turner case.

But has it? A Canadian judge in 2014 while presiding over a rape case, scolded the victim in court and asked, “why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?”

I honestly want to know, what the hell, if anything, has changed? Have things improved for the better, or worse? And I want to see statistics that back it up, not just read heartbreaking stories of beautiful young women found mutilated and raped in woods near their homes. These women had families and left behind grief-stricken parents, spouses, partners, small children.

I don’t want these stories to make me pause while lacing up my shoes for a morning run, and wonder if that will ever be me. If somebody will one day find my body in a ditch on a back country road, and someone will call my father with the worst news of his life.

Just because I’m a woman running alone, and that makes me a vulnerable target.

I want answers and concrete statistics to tell me, do I have something to worry about? Or is the media just sensationalizing the few female runners who become both victims and headlines?

I don’t want my voice to be the lone voice in the sea, crying for answers, or demanding for changes to the gender perceptions that seem to be at the root cause of male privilege and violence. But I don’t want a discussion to escalate into the gender wars, though. I want a passionate, constructive discussion among those in the running community, as well as a push for new research to either support or dispute what we see, hear, and read in our daily news feed.

So tell me: Am I safe?