deb singh has been standing up for survivors of violence in Toronto for fifteen years through her work at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre / Multicultural Women Against Rape. Processing trauma is part of her every day, and here she shares how using cannabis with intention is not a crutch but an act of radical self-care.
Toronto Rape Crisis Centre
My name is deb singh: d-e-b-s-i-n-g-h, all lowercase. I am 39 years old. I am queer, a person of colour, working class, a settler. I am a mom. I have been working in gender-based violence for 20 years in the City of Toronto. I have sciatica, tons of back issues, and I smoke weed every day.
For me, wellness means having a body-mind-spirit connection. It’s basic, right? Drink your water every day. Sleep a third of your life. Try to move around. Have a community around you. Have the ability to eat green things every day. But sometimes the soul also needs to be fed a pint of ice cream. And sometimes self-care means separating yourself for actual, emphatic rejuvenation.
I’ve been a counsellor and activist for the last 12 years and I volunteered for three years before that. In a staff meeting, I realized that all of us either take some sort of sleeping pill or smoke weed before bed. There’s no balance when you’re doing anti-violence work on the front line.
We’re a community of survivors supporting survivors and we’re mostly queer, people of colour, the ones who are experiencing the highest levels of violence in Canada. We can’t be all freaking out so we need to do constant self and collective care in order to keep going. There’s no judgment involved. Violence never takes a vacation and we want to build resiliency within the community. Smoking weed to cope is not shutting down your mind. It’s like turning down one volume and turning up another. It’s about turning down the heavy parts of trauma. It’s not that the trauma is gone, but I can process it differently. Cannabis can help couch some of the big stuff that I carry with me in the work that I do every day.
Wellness is the mind-body connection. It is remembering to eat green things everyday...but sometimes the soul also needs to be fed a pint of ice cream. ”
I didn’t smoke a joint until I was 17 because I was a good Catholic school girl. Fast-forward to smoking for more than 22 years. I’m a high-energy, type-A person and I’m a super emotional Pisces so I think cannabis helps me chill out. More recently, it’s helped me with pain in my back and my sciatica.
But I don’t always feel like I can talk about using cannabis — I think it depends on the role I’m playing. I’m a professional gay. I’m a professional survivor. My name is in the news because of the centre. But when it comes to talking about cannabis, I want to protect the centre, the survivors and myself.
I’ve done about 20 different trainings for volunteers, and during the self-care module you share one thing you’re going to do to take care of yourself tonight. No one ever says, “Smoking weed.” They’ll say, “Oh, I’ll go for a run.” Let’s be real. But I wouldn’t say anything like, let’s go smoke a joint even though I literally cannot help people without smoking joints.
I would never be at the playground and say, “Oh yeah, I smoke weed.” But they all drink wine. As soon as I’m the brownest mom in the room who’s the activist, crazy feminist, forget it, I don’t want to add more shit on top of that!
I hope that stigma will change in time. I hope there will be a shift to letting people empower themselves. Everyone I know, we’re in our early 40s, late 30s, and we’ve been smoking weed for 20 years. They’re my contemporaries, artists, activists, people who work in non-profit, accountants, lawyers. Awesome fucking queer women of colour. These are the people I know who smoke dope everyday and it’s a part of the culture in which we live, whether or not we get to mention it. It’s actually a tool for bad-assed feminist people to empower their journeys.
Deb is doing important work at the TRCC/MWAR, a safe place for anyone who identifies as a survivor of violence, including trans people, non-binary folks, cisgender men and women, and youth. The centre celebrates freedom of choice, sexual freedom and the positive impact of building healthy communities. To learn more about this organization, or how you can support survivors and allies, visit: https://trccmwar.ca/.
Everyday, I support survivors of sexual violence. I love the work I do but self-care needs to be an integral component of my work, not just an afterthought. I can try and take care of myself but I also need supports to do it: structures in my life that help me take breaks and take care of myself. Luckily, I work in an amazing environment where counselors support other counselors to do self-care and collective care. In fact, I am writing this while on a mental health day at my job as a Counselor & Activist at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre Multicultural Women Against Rape (TRCCMWAR). Here are some things I do regularly to actively and intentionally engage in self-care.
Weed smoking and friend hangs
Smoking cannabis daily helps regulate my mood after hard days of holding space for survivors of sexual violence. I also have an amazing support network of friends, peers, and mentors who I can talk to and who support me and the work I do. I remind myself of what I am in control of. Cannabis and trusted friends help with self-regulation.
Writing and making art
I am very creative and I love to make things in my “me” time. I’m a mom, so I jump at opportunities to do fun things like science experiments and activities with my son. From giving people creative gifts to stints of creative writing, making things helps bring a kind of focus to my time off, and also releases those much loved endorphins!
It took me four years to really realize this (which just so happens to be the age of my son!), but nothing replaces sleep except for…sleep. I am not at my best without a good night’s rest, so while it’s tough to have less personal time in the evenings, I go to bed as early as possible. Feeling well-rested helps me to feel like myself, and helps me to be happier throughout the day.
Self-care is not easy and can be a loaded topic for many of us. But I like to think about it as building capacity — shedding the dead cells to allow for the generation of new ones. Despite the name, we shouldn’t try to go it alone: we all need support to make time and space to practice self-care in intentional and frequent ways. What are you going to do to intentionally take care of yourself today? The small things count too.