Notebook of horrors, notebook of hopes

She placed a large purple notebook on the table. She opened it in front of me.

“I call it my notebook of horrors…”

Amélie* is a Montrealer in her early forties. She is married and mother of a little girl. She has a successful career in the business world. She wrote to me after feeling challenged by my column on the #metooinceste movement in France, which had no equivalent in Quebec.

She knows about incest and its ravages, unfortunately.

“My father, whom I renamed the Monster with a capital M in the last year, a doctor by profession, raped me on more than one occasion before the age of 8. I also experienced around a hundred sexual assaults of various kinds from a very young age. The last attempt dates back to the age of 23, the age at which I drastically cut ties with the Monster. »


Amélie’s notebook of horrors

Amélie wanted to meet me to tell me her story. The one in his notebook of horrors. But above all the sequel, full of hope, which she now feels ready to write, thanks to the remarkable care she has received over the past year at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.

“It’s beyond all my expectations. I didn’t think it was possible. »

A year ago, the young mother was assailed by symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress. She had little hope of being able to overcome this terrible ordeal. She had to deal with dissociative amnesia. She recalled having suffered three serious episodes of physical and psychological violence. But her brain had encapsulated the sexual trauma she had also suffered from childhood. Until a pregnancy timidly brings memories to the surface.

Her first pregnancy follow-up appointment acts as a trigger. She doesn’t know the gynecologist, but that doesn’t worry her. She settles in for her gynecological exam. And then everything goes wrong.

“I’m no longer in the room. I don’t know where I am. The gynecologist speaks to my partner and I don’t know what I’m doing here. I completely freaked out. And I don’t understand what’s happening… The only serious memory I had was my father doing my first gynecological exam as a teenager. »

She says “serious,” but at the time she didn’t see it as an attack. “I understand today that it was one. »

Seven years of tortuous journey followed where Amélie consulted, fell and got up again. Until the day she felt like her brain was being held hostage, seven days a week, day and night, by invasive intrusive images, nightmares around the theme of sexuality… “It was really horrible. »

She, who has the profile of a top performer, doesn’t understand what’s happening to her. She finds herself on sick leave. She vomits every day after dropping her daughter off at daycare.

Nothing works anymore. My brain is completely highjacked by flashbacks of sexual trauma.


She tells herself that something must have happened. But she immediately puts the lid back on the pot and tries to resume her life, denial hanging over her shoulder.

One day, she collapsed in tears in her family doctor’s office.

” I can not stand it anymore. I can’t take the symptoms anymore. It’s unbearable. Several times a day. Every day. At night too. »

The doctor recommends that she consult a psychiatrist. This is how in March 2022, Amélie found herself at the Douglas Institute for a first evaluation. She hears for the first time in her life of so-called complex post-traumatic stress. We put him on a waiting list.

Six months later, when she learned that, despite all her warnings, it was a man, the psychiatrist Pierre Bleau, who was going to follow her up, she was furious.

“For my brain, male doctor = aggression. »

It is explained to him that there are no female psychiatrists available. She has no choice. Desperate, she tells herself that if it can improve her life by 1%, it will be better than nothing.

“I arrived at the Douglas like a scalded wild animal…”

One thing leading to another, a bond of trust is forged with the Dr Bleau and his team.

During his therapy with the Dr Bleau and a psychologist, Amélie becomes aware of the sexual trauma buried in her memory.

When it started coming out, it was like a volcano erupting.


Avid reader of The Press, she sees a page from the Marie-Vincent Foundation appear in the spring which lists all types of sexual assault. She realizes with horror that she has experienced almost all of them. This is where she begins to write her notebook of horrors.

“This notebook is intended to be a tool to help me accept the inconceivable, this layer of trauma that I find so difficult to accept,” she writes on the first page.

After months of therapy, with ups and downs, she relives rapes suffered as a child. It is confirmed to him that his brain cannot have invented such images. “It was the first time in my life that I believed I was myself. »

The history of residential schools brought another memory to mind during his therapy. She remembers that her father, who had attended a Catholic boarding school, took her, when she was a teenager, to see a priest’s grave and urinated on it. “He told me at the time that the priest had hit one of his colleagues with a Bible. » She realizes that it is very possible that he himself was attacked and that we are talking here about intergenerational trauma.

“It was a big shock to learn this while I was still digesting the rape that resurfaced. But at the same time, it’s as if I’ve discovered the prologue of my life. »

Today, Amélie feels neither victim nor even survivor, but very much alive. She reclaimed her own story.

I went from being completely overwhelmed by my symptoms to almost nothing. Of course, if I think about it, the pain will always be there. But there is hardly any more suffering.


Living with post-traumatic stress is like walking through a minefield, she explains. At any time, you can put your foot on a trigger and “fly” back into the air. “It’s hell on earth. »

Thanks to the support of the Douglas team, she was able to defuse these mines. She feels like she can start walking again without fear.

“My brain is now at peace…”

If she wanted to testify, it is both to salute the extraordinary work of the Douglas care team and to give a glimmer of hope to victims of incest who, like her, barely a year ago , believe they are alone in the world and are unaware that this type of recovery journey is possible.

“I would have loved to read such a testimony… We don’t talk about reconstruction enough. »

She now knows that you can put incest and hope in the same sentence. After two and a half hours of explaining to me why, she closed her notebook of horrors, looking serene.

She set off again under the snow with determined steps. Ready to write the second part of her life.

* First name assumed to protect the identity of the victim, for fear of potential collateral effects.

Get out of the war zone

After meeting Amélie, I spoke with the Dr Pierre Bleau, physician-psychiatrist at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute. She had informed him of her intention to testify in The Press. She asked him if he also agreed to talk to me.

The Dr Bleau is of course touched by Amélie’s kind words for the Douglas team. But he reminds us that the merit goes first and foremost to the patients themselves.

We are just people who climb mountains with patients. We have climbing techniques. But we are not the ones climbing the mountain.

The Dr Pierre Bleau, physician-psychiatrist at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute

When he meets a victim living with post-traumatic stress disorder, he often feels like he has arrived in a war zone. The person is at war with himself. “The idea is to get her out of there. »

Therapy to achieve this often involves awakening the compassion a person should have for the traumatized part of themselves. In a case of sexual violence suffered in childhood, it is a question of getting the adult part of the victim to take care of the injured child.

Once the victim manages to leave the war zone, can we speak of a truce or peace?

“We cannot forget. Our body does not forget. Our emotions do not forget”, recalls the Dr Bleau. Which is not to say that hopes for peace are impossible for a victim of incest. “If she remains vigilant whenever this part of her is suffering and she is able to take care of it, there is peace. »

Need help ?

Sexual violence helpline (24/7 helpline and reference)
1 888 933-9007 and chat (noon to midnight, 7 days a week)

Marie-Vincent Foundation


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