It’s an old meme that floats around saying “Everyone is dealing with something you know nothing about”. This was a central theme during our talk at Axia this month. How we treat others is ever more critical today and that is a great tie into our next story with a woman whose sole purpose is the empowerment of young women and girls.
We met Aime Hutton, founder of Inch By Inch Empowerment, through a mutual acquaintance. It was clear from the outset that Aime was a very powerful and resilient person. Being no stranger to struggling, Aime was born at 26 weeks gestation, making her a very VERY vulnerable preemie.
As her story will tell, having a strong will to live and overcome – coupled with the not inconsiderable medical technology of the day – led Aime out of a dire situation and through the many challenges that lay ahead.
We sat down with Aime in May of 2017 to talk about the issues of perseverance as well as self-preservation in the presence of bullies, learning difficulties, and the fear of emotional and psychological abuse.
James Higgins: So, the first question I want to ask you Who is Aime? What does she do, today?
Aime Hutton: That’s a loaded question
JH: Okay I guess, I guess it would be right, considering?
AH: Yeah. Who is Aime?
Well, the Aime sitting before you isn’t the Aime, you know, 40 years ago when I was born in 1976.
I was 1lbs 12 ounces. I was born at 26 weeks gestation and given 24 hours to live. The doctors literally pulled my father aside and said, do you have a name picked out? We have to baptize her now.
Then I overcame that. I was very outgoing until I had to repeat grade 3. That’s when all the bullying started. But you know in the 1980s you didn’t call it bullying
JH: We didn’t
AH: We called it, you know, “being teased” or “being picked on”. That’s just part of being a kid. That went on for 6 years from grade 3 to grade 8. During high school, the bullying stopped, yet I still had problems with my spelling and my reading and comprehension and stuff. I pulled through though and got my diploma.
I was struggling right from grade three. The academic people realized I had a problem with my spelling and my grammar and my mathematics. I always had problems with it, according to them. So, my self-esteem, my belief in myself was pretty low.
That’s the academic piece. Going forward into university I became involved in a relationship. I thought it was the one and it didn’t turn out that way. He was emotionally abusive, mentally controlling, and very possessive and then when I decided to end the relationship in between years one and year 2, he stalked me for three years.
JH: Oh No!
AH: So that’s my life up until coming out here in 2000. Today, I’ve overcome all of that even the academic piece, like, as I said the educators and the academic people said you’ll always be that C-student, not an A-student. In the core subjects especially.
I’ve now been published in four books, three of them were best sellers. Out of those four books, one of them was mine that I compiled. It is an anthology. So I compiled an anthology with my name on the cover and that made it to international best seller status in nine hours on Amazon.
JH: Oh nice!
AH: Yeah and a five out of five reader’s favourite star level. Reader’s Favourites is a pretty neat organization out of the states, and any author can submit their manuscript to and you get a free review. You can pay for a review that is quicker or you can do a free one. If you get a four out of five or a five out of five-star rating you can put it into the big competition and you could potentially come away with a bronze, silver or gold standing. I submitted the manuscript and I did not receive any recognition that way but just to be able to have that five-star rating was huge. Like, think like other Canadian authors, big names like Margaret Atwood. They have their books in that competition as well so little old me who was told would never write well to have this recognition, through Reader’s Favorite is huge.
JH: That’s major. Huge. That was Reader’s Favourite?
AH: Reader’s Favorite, yeah and it’s American so no U in “favourite”.
JH: Oh right, yeah. If I try to google it it’s not going to come up! So let’s look at Aime professionally. Professionally right now, you wear a couple hats there as well. Let’s talk about that.
AH: My most important work is with Inch By Inch Empowerment
JH: Inch By Inch Empowerment. That’s your company?
AH: Yes, it’s mine. I like to say “I help your daughter to believe in herself and find her inner confidence.” As one mom put it to me, she’s like, “Happy tears equals happy moms.”
JH: I love that. That’s the tagline?
AH: Yeah! It’s pretty cool because how it came about. I was working with a young girl for nine weeks and roughly at week five or six, so a little bit about halfway, the girl comes to me and she’s like I’m feeling more confident in the school, I can talk to people now. I almost started crying. And then the mom overheard it and she almost started crying too and she says “That’s *exactly* what I want for my daughter. That feeling of I know who I am, I’m happy in my skin, bring it on.”
JH: So, what I want to do is to lean on that note because your experience when you were younger was a big influence on that.
AH: It’s exactly that reason. I don’t want any girl to experience what I did for six years.
AH: I didn’t like being called a loser, called stupid, retarded, dumb, and so on.
JH: Net worth.
AH: There’s one memory that I had, that I shared recently in a blog.
AH: I was in grade seven, a grade seven/eight split, and it was gym time. We were changing for gym in the locker room and the grade eight girls came up to me and grabbed me by my bra strap and flung me around the locker room. I went flying into the lockers. They were laughing and laughing and I was crying until the teacher came in and asked What was going on. They said nothing, of course, and well I couldn’t say anything because I was a pile of tears. Their laughter stopped and from that time on, I changed in the bathroom stall, by myself. I didn’t want to be in the change room again.
JH: Yeah, well I couldn’t blame you.
JH: I was always terrified of the whole gym scene actually. I don’t know about you, you must have experienced the same thing but I don’t have any good experience of *any* gym teacher. Not one of them.
AH: Oh my gym teachers were my saving grace actually.
JH: Oh lucky you; but this, though, this was assault. I don’t know what else you want to call it.
AH: Yeah but that’s not what we called that.
JH: That was just kids being kids.
JH: If you don’t mind, I want to go back to when you were born for a moment. You were born prematurely. When you’re looking back on it, what does that make you feel like, what does that mean to you right now?
AH: The word that comes to me is resilience.
AH: It’s funny because people ask me, “Why are you here? How did you survive?” I literally almost don’t know how to answer them. It’s like I’m here because God, Spirit, Buddha, the Universe (whatever you want to call it) decided that. It was as if God said, “No you’re gonna live.” Thank goodness for the medical technology in 1976 – and the doctors and nurses – for saving my life. And then it’s partly for the resilience piece, the grit tenacity. Just keep going. Like my company’s name, Inch By Inch. Inch by inch I had to grow, and inch by inch I had to grow stronger, too, to be here today. Babies born in ‘76, at 26 weeks gestation, just like what I was, we were given zero to twenty-five percent chance of survival. Babies born today, at 26 weeks, they’re now given seventy-five to eighty-five percent chance of survival.
AH: I got invited up to the NICU here in Calgary at the Foothills Hospital and I actually met some preemies. I meet a 23 weeker. Like, that’s tiny, and those guys today, the 23 weekers, they’re the ones that are given the zero to twenty-five percent chance, today.
JH: To compare, how big is a baby at 23 weeks?
AH: My shoe isn’t that big. I’m a size 8. I was smaller than my shoe. I was smaller than a women’s size 8 shoe. I actually have a picture, of one of my dresses – my mom called it my “bigger dress”, like this wasn’t even my first dress. This was my bigger dress it was smaller than my shoe. I have a picture of it.
JH: Wow, so you got a picture of you
AH: The picture of my dress.
JH: Your dress.
AH: …and my shoe. To give a comparison. I was one pound and 12 ounces. Think of like a pound of butter and a bit, ha ha, and probably, it’s not much bigger than a pound of butter too,
JH: Well, that’s the size right?
AH: Yeah. The doctor said I would always be small and petite if I lived. My parents told me later that I actually walked late and I talked late, which is a common thing with premature babies that their body and their brain have to catch up with each other. So the doctors told my parents they need to put me into swimming lessons and to put me into dance classes because it would help with my strength and my coordination.
JH: Oh really?
AH: Yes. So they did and I actually excelled in swimming.
JH: So you were good at swimming before you were comfortable with walking.
AH: Probably, yeah I didn’t walk till I was two, so I was in the water before that.
JH: No kidding?
JH: So, I want to move on to the bullying. What did the bullying part look like? You just had the one story of it, but six years of it. What does that look like? What kind of effect does that have on you, looking back on it now and how you feel about it.
AH: Well I remember, I just wrote in my latest Blog about this topic, because my second year of grade three, like I was told I would have extra help and a different teacher appeared in the classroom and she goes “Can I see Aime?” and she brought me out and she took me to a different class for English. There weren’t that many kids in it, like maybe five kids if that.
AH: In this little class I was still learning English and I wasn’t doing what the rest of my classmates were doing. I was doing this other stuff to learn to catch up, to get help with my English comprehension, grammar, all those subjects. I can remember being teased and “Where’d you go?” and I’m like “I’m going for extra help,” and even then, in grade three, being called on that because I was going to a different class and getting extra help. I can remember being called out and remember those, the paper that had math questions on it and you had to do it by memory and answer
JH: I think so, was it something like Mad Minute?
AH: Yeah. Well, I was pulled out of class to do that. I could work my way through it.It was a subconscious feeling of feeling stupid. Like “Why am I struggling?” I remember being at home in tears because I didn’t understand, couldn’t get it. Like a spelling word for example or the math just wasn’t right.
But I also excelled in music. In grade seven, that’s when we got the instruments and I chose the clarinet, myself and a couple other students were pulled to be part of what’s called an Honour Band.
JH: Oh nice.
AH: Yeah. So we went, there was two or three of us, I knew the flautist – the girl playing the flute – for sure, and there was one other person I think, that got pulled and there were all the elementary schools that were brought together to the high school, to play and learn three or four pieces of music in four weeks. We got to learn and practice and we got to perform it. So that was kind of cool like the arts is kind of where I excelled, grew up in music. Not art or drama, but the music was where I excelled in.
JH: There are enough people that excel in drama these days.
AH: I know.
AH: I was music. Oh, that’s a fun memory, too, I’m glad you brought that up. So in grade seven, so the year that I got flung around by my bra strap we were in music and again seven/eight split so I’m with grade eights who had music for a year. I was on the clarinet and the music teacher pulled me up to the front of the room and she turned the mouthpiece of the clarinet around. She’s like “Aime, all you have to do is blow, like put air in it,” and she did the rest. She just played and played and played and even like, with the clarinet you have to break the register, you have to go into the high notes, and normally a grade seven student has lots of struggle, to get there, but she was able to crack into the upper register with no problem. With me just putting air into the clarinet.
So that’s when I kinda knew that music is my… another one of my outlets I guess.
JH: But it tells me that, from your experience, I mean working with other kids, do you find that that, it’s kind of a theme still? Like there are those other students there that are not going to get X thing – maths, reading, etc. – because it’s not what they’re wired to do, but throw them in this other thing like music and they are going to fly.
AH: Yes! And they excel. Totally. That’s why, with the programs that I do, I find they’re all experiential. Like it’s… example: What does brave mean to you? Let’s draw it. Let’s, you know, bring out the markers and make a mural of what it means to be brave. It’s different because It’s cool to see. The one girl I had last fall, week one and week two, I was dictating more what we had to do. Well, the direction of what we were doing and how we were going to do it. By the end, I said, “Okay here’s the four things that we have to do today, what order do you want to do them in?” She was able to lead the hour. Like she was able to say “Okay we’re going to do this, this, and this.” She was able to express that. Yeah, so it’s a beautiful process to see.
JH: And much more purpose, like “I know what I can get out of this and why ” and kinda just run with it. That’s beautiful.
AH: Yeah. It’s really cool.
JH: Yeah. So, I think we’ve actually covered a lot here, I really enjoyed that. So we’ve got that kind of, that picture of when you were young. So you come out of high school and you were still in Ontario. Which university did you go to just to note?
AH: Lakehead in Thunder Bay. The system in Ontario at that point was you that had to do six university level type credits in high school, to be accepted into university. Like they were called Ontario Academic Credits, and you had to have six of them, to graduate, to be accepted into university, depending on that average. Lakehead, for their Social Work program, I think their getting in rate was a seventy, seventy percent overall? I had a seventy-six overall, with my courses that I took. So I was granted in.
JH: Not bad!
AH: It was interesting too because year one and year two of social work at Lakehead is more general and then you have to reapply into the School of Social Work.
JH: Oh really?
AH: Yeah, and if you get in you’re in but if you didn’t you just transfer over to something else. That’s what happened to me. They said “Aime, you had a great interview, you had great references,” I think I even had to write something, those were all really good, it was my marks that killed me. I only had fifties and sixties in those courses. So I jumped over and did a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with an unofficial minor in Women’s Studies and a lot of the courses were actually very social work-like, like very similar.
AH: Like I think one of the courses I took was The Violence of Social Work Practice for Women’s Studies.
JH: That sounds pretty social worky-like. The words are in the title.
AH: Yeah, but I couldn’t get social work credits and I asked about it. I remember I asked about it and I’m like “Can you give me a Minor in Social Work?” And they’re like “No, you didn’t do a practicum.” I was “Alright then!”
JH: Why did you go there?
AH: So Lakehead was my first choice. The reason why is that they had an Emergency First Response Team. That I wanted to become a member of. It was on campus.
Remember when I said I excelled in swimming? Well, I made it all the way up to Bronze Cross. My Bronze Medallion and my Bronze Cross. I did my Lifeguarding Certification, my First Aid, and teaching swimming lessons. So all those courses, I did when I was sixteen.
So I was a lifeguard and all that stuff in high school and, thinking back to elementary, I remember I was excited I was going to go swimming that night. I’d mention that at the club and someone overheard me and said “Oh you mean your swimming lessons tonight? What level are you in? Orange?” Which at that point is the colour level of Bronze Cross.
AH: Orange was like, right near the bottom of the ladder we’ll call it, and I’m like “No, I’m actually in Bronze Cross.” Like I’m one away from doing my lifeguard. The kids were like, “Oh you’re not going to be a Lifeguard, you can’t do that,” Like teasing me because of that goal, that dream I had. I’m like, “No, I wanna be a lifeguard, I’m gonna go do it.”
So university, the Lakehead has the First Response Team. And I wanted on that team And wear their uniform is… think RCMP red. Like Canadian red jackets with reflector tape on it and the big star of life. That’s their logo, that’s their jacket. I wanted that jacket so bad.
So, the first year university I tried out I didn’t get in; the second year I tried out and I was accepted. So it was cool. So we were kinda like a roaming ambulance, without the ambulance.
AH: …and without the drugs. We could do everything else.
JH: Nothing’s perfect right? There’s always gotta be something.
AH: Yeah. So university, like there were some not good moments, um, but again what pulled me through was the friends I made.
JH: Oh absolutely
AH: Yeah, in the first year I had new friends, they sort of knew what was going on, but because I was in the relationship, they didn’t want to really say anything, or you know whatever. Like I remember the one night when we were outside the hallway, of the dorm, and my boyfriend, he only did this once, backed me up against the wall, put his hands towards to kiss me… but he slipped, and put his hands around my neck and squeezed, and I saw another friend pop her head out of her bedroom, and she mouthed the words at me “Are you okay?” And I just kind of nodded and I’m yeah I think I’m okay and I followed my boyfriend into his room.
JH: Really okay.
AH: Yeah. So they knew, they could see what was going on, but they didn’t really want to step in.
JH: Yeah it’s one of those things. I mean I can see a person being in that situation, it’s kind of like, “Oh man, should I stand up for her? But I don’t know all of a sudden… what if I lose her as a friend? What if I misread the situation?” I mean there are tough parts to that. It’s clear in hindsight. So, I’m going to ask if you want to embark on the relationship story and kind of give us an idea of what that was like if you are comfortable with it.
AH: I’m fine with it. It was like walking on eggshells, I was afraid to make him mad. I knew he had a temper. Once he and I were sitting on my bed, we were talking or something and then a dorm-mate came, knocked on my door, and he was “Hey we’re going to such and such a place, relax and get away from here.” It was exams and we were studying, my boyfriend didn’t know what we were talking about and he got so upset he got the lanyard around his neck and he took it off and he flung it at my friend. At our friend’s head, and luckily he has good reflex skills and he was able to step out of the way and grab it at the same time and tossed it, lightly tossed, it back onto the bed and he’s like “Don’t throw things at me, ever,” As if to say, like you have a temper and…
JH: Keep it in check.
AH: Yeah keep it in check.
JH: So I gather when you guys first met, together
AH: Oh it was fine!
JH: As it usually is right
JH: So was there a…
AH: Was there a moment?
JH: Yeah was there a moment? Signs that were, and I gather at one point you’re like “Oh man I’m into this now.”
AH: Yeah. It was the jealousy that I saw come up first and the little things. Little sayings. There was a group of us sitting in the common area watching Top Gun because that was one of the movies back then. For those who know the show, all I have to say is the beach volleyball scene. Where Tom Cruise and all the other guys are shirtless and playing volleyball on the beach. Well, we got to that scene and myself and the other girls were like, “AHHHH,” like we were quite happy. My boyfriend was like, “You don’t say that. You don’t do that,” like “You don’t say things like that when I’m around.” I’m like It’s Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer and whoever else was in that movie, like, YA. You don’t look like him at all!
AH: Yeah. So that was the one thing that I remember, and the other piece, he got angry at something, I forget what but how it ended up was, he didn’t want to hear about things I had done when I was in high school because he wasn’t with me at that time.
The Quick and Dirty Checklist
Aime put together a document of her own that she has given us the privilege of publishing for those interested in reading it. It’s a thorough list to show you things to look out for if you suspect your friend is in the middle of relationship violence.
JH: Oh, okay.
AH: It was exam time and we were studying. He came into my room for a study break and when I studied I used like classical music in the background to help me like focus and whatever. In high school, in concert band, we actually made a CD of music and it was sitting on top of the pile because that was the last one I was listening to. Well, my boyfriend, he took the CD and put it at the bottom of the pile and he’s like “I hate that CD.” I’m like, “That was the CD I had so much fun making, I have so many good memories from it, why don’t you- you hate it?” I was upset. He was like, “Yeah, I don’t want to hear anything you did when you were in high school because I wasn’t with you. So that was the possession that was starting to come out.
There was one night I was actually so scared of him that I slept on another friend’s floor. I had gone out to a movie and seen some other friends that day and I, you know, wanted to see my other friends.
AH: Like, “I just spent all afternoon with you. Like morning into dinner time,” and I wanted to see my other friends. I wanted to go see, you know the girls! I wanted to go see my friends.
AH: He did not want that. That’s again where I’m, “Okay, I’m scared.”
JH: This seems to be the relationship where he’s so insecure, he doesn’t just not want you to be around another member of the opposite sex, this is everyone!
JH: Definitely wanted to control every facet of your life.
JH: Clearly no self-esteem on his part either.
AH: No. He wanted to know, where I was going, who I was with, you know, what time I was going to be home. Like there was a time where, another memory, and I’ve shared all this publicly so it’s fine.
It was a Saturday morning and I was sleeping in and my phone rings. It was someone from St John’s Ambulance, Thunder Bay. A colleague couldn’t make it in. They ask “Aime, we need your help can you come and be a patient for us for the day because we’re short on people,” I said, “Yeah sure, no problem!” So put on my clothes and wash my face and lock the door and away I go.
On my door I had a Where am I?/Find Me Here door hanger, so you know so that if people had to find me, they knew. And it wasn’t just me who did it, lots of other people had that on their doors.
JH: Right. Okay
AH: So I put my sign to “off campus, back later” and I come skipping in the dorm around four o’clock and I my other friend sees me and he tells Derek (assumed name for boyfriend), “Aime’s home now you can stop worrying.”
I stopped cold turkey because I was so happy and excited and when I heard my other friend say that, the energy just drained out of me. Derek, shot out of his bedroom and he’s like “Where were you? Get in here!”
I reluctantly walked to his room, sat down on his bed, and said: “I was off campus.”
“Well I didn’t see you go to bed the night before, I didn’t see you wake up, and you leave. I thought you were dead in a ditch. I was phoning the hospitals. I was phoning the police station.”
JH: Ohh. okay, So at were we getting close to the final stretch? How much more did you put up with?
AH: Gettin’ there. Right towards the end of April that year, we went out for dinner. I brought a friend along. Derek wasn’t too happy but I did not feel safe being alone with him anymore. He’s like “You’re my girlfriend. I want to be with just you. You only have like twenty-four hours left with me and then I have to go home,”
Derek leaves the next day. I’m sitting on my bed, studying for another exam and a friend comes to check in on me and I said I felt fine but I felt weird too. Almost lost. I didn’t know who I was supposed to report to. Up until then, I was reporting to Derek.
My friend invited me out with friends and it was a feeling of being lost but also a feeling of being great that I didn’t have to report to anybody.
JH: So is this where he, he left the relationship had kind of severed and then the stalking started after that?
AH: Almost. He came to visit in the spring to my house but at that point, even my mom was saying she was worried about me. That was when the light bulb came on that I need to end this relationship.
We went to the Toronto Zoo. My sister gave me a button that was supposed to get us in for free but they didn’t accept it. We had to pay to get in, $14 or something like that, and my boyfriend said it was too much money. He was starting to make a scene and I gave in. “Okay, we won’t go.” I’m thinking “It’s $14. We came all the way down here to the zoo.”
After he left, I wrote him a letter saying I just wanted to be friends. I didn’t type it, I wrote it. He wrote back very upset. He called, he was crying, he said he still wants to be with me, he still thinks we have things to discuss.
In the beginning of year two, I see a couple of my friends and they’re telling me he said we still have things to discuss. We did not have anything to discuss! I do not want to be with him. I don’t want to be alone with him.
Then he would just appear from time to time. I went to a diner with one friend once and another friend came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders and scared me. I jumped and spun around and saw who it was and it was fine until I saw Derek. He had come in and had watched this whole interaction happen and he was just kind of staring at me. I was very uncomfortable. We just got our food and left.
I was invited over to our mutual friend’s house but I asked where Derek was and my friend said: “Oh he’s in his room, don’t worry about it.” Yet, after I got there, Derek came down the hall, in his boxer shorts, into the kitchen and was trying to like make me turn around and look at him. He was in the kitchen behind me, making all this noise and throwing the spaghetti around, and I literally shrunk. I didn’t turn around at all. After all that, he went back to his room and our mutual friend said Aime “We’ve never seen him do that. That’s weird.”
I didn’t go over much more after that.
While working with the first responder team during my third and fourth year, I would report in on the radio if I was going to go change out my battery and I would tell dispatch what route I would take. If I was working at night I would have the Walk Safe team with me always.
AH: One of the last incidents from University and Derek was a barbecue I was invited to. I knew Derek would be there so I declined. A little later I had a friend come to my dorm room with some dinner and she told me “It’s been three years, shouldn’t you be over it?”
I left Ontario for Calgary after university and I have since blocked Derek on Facebook from ever having the chance to reconnect with me. It was too hard. I will even block people who are friends with him. There are just too many triggers.
JH: Jeez. What an ordeal! So, what can you say to anyone else who has gone through – or is going through – that kind of relationship?
AH: Lean on your friends. That’s what got me through, to be honest. I had to make a whole new circle of friends but they were very supportive.
If you are a bystander or a friend and someone comes to you and says “Hey, I want to talk to you.” and discloses a situation, believe her and help however you can. Even if that’s going with them to the medical clinic, a counselor, or even if they choose to go to the police.
I never went to the police, I never reported it. I chose not to. Frankly, it was 20 years ago, and dating violence 20 years ago was really nothing, you didn’t hear about it.
JH: Right. Least of all when it was emotional violence and manipulation, because that just wasn’t a thing.
JH: So you two had a few mutual friends. Teens who date will have mutual friends. What can you say to someone who sees something wrong but still wants to be friends with the people he is concerned about?
AH: Observe. Watch closely. I wish, back in my first year, when my one friend mouthed the words “Are you okay?” that I had said no. Then it’s the whole bit about believing. I don’t like the word “victim” but it’s about believing the victim.
JH: Right. I suspect that observing, honestly observing, especially for younger people would be difficult because “Hey, he’s my friend,” but if you can intervene before it gets too far.
We know the statistics for relationship abuse and sexual abuse.
AH: One in three
JH: Exactly, one in three. So, when a girl comes to her friend and says this happened, it would be difficult not to think “Oh wait the boyfriend is our friend too, well he wouldn’t do that,” but the statistics do, in fact, say otherwise.
AH: When I work with older girls, like sixteen or seventeen-year-olds, I will go into relationship violence and boundaries, what love is and what love is not.
JH: With that in mind, are there any last pieces of advice you have for girls out there?
AH: Don’t give up. It will get better. Reach out for help. Keep talking until someone listens. What I like to say as well is “Inch by inch and step by step dreams and goals can come true. As long as you have your goal, you have a plan, keep going forward.”
JH: Thank you so much for talking with me Aime.
AH: You’re welcome. It as great!