If You Could Read My Mind

Last week, I spoke about people who raise the bar on you. I think of that as a kind of manipulative move. A means of control. I’ve had it done to me and you know that something just feels off.

It was a time when I was done with drama that tore me apart and I was ready for someone nice and boring. And by that I mean, dinner at home, no fireworks, no tears….nice. And I thought I had found myself a nice guy. He was a doctor from work. A bit older than me. Divorced. Soft-spoken. Needed help because he was losing his eyesight.

As I said, red flags aren’t always obvious. I took this guy home to dinner to meet my parents and they thought I’d hit the jackpot. My dad especially thought he’d never have to leave the house to go to an appointment ever again. And I liked to see my parents happy.

I’m not sure when the first flag rose. As many people know, with doctors and professional people and anyone we look up to, we see the success and that tends to outshine other sketchier stuff. We push that stuff aside and ignore it because the person is a pillar of the community. A star in the E.R. A brilliant eccentric.

I don’t tend to be high maintenance so when he said he only did pizza at home or home-made dinners and that eating in restaurants was for birthdays and special occasions, I figured he was old fashioned like my parents. He came from a lower middle class background. I never thought about money as an issue. He would tell me that he was a millionaire. But he had bought property, which I thought was a good investment. He had renters. He would talk about travelling with me, asking me if I had ever been to Europe or even Philadelphia and I’d say no and he’d say that I would love it.

But that would be the end of the discussion. I’d drop him at the bus station when he’d go to visit his aunt in Pennsylvania for the weekend. I’d bring him to the airport when he was going on a business trip. And I think the first sign that something was off was when he called me from California. He knows I love dogs and he told me about a dog parade that they had going on. He said that I would have loved it.

It was then I began to wonder. His trip was paid for. His hotel was paid for. All he would have had to do was get my ticket if he had wanted me to go along with him. Or he could have asked me to go and told me to pay my own way. But he didn’t. And he could have. By that time, I had travelled for work and I had brought a friend with me and nobody had a problem with it. My friend paid her own way and shared the room with me. He had to have known this. So what was going on here?

It’s funny how we really already know when something isn’t quite right. I would spend nights at his house now and then. But that meant that I had to be away from my own home and my dogs. I did try to bring my dogs to his house, but it was not a dog friendly place. Lots and lots of stairs. I had to take my dogs for a walk around a city block if they had to go outside. And he had a deck that was about three stories up outside his kitchen. My dogs did not understand that they could die by falling off of the deck. I just wasn’t comfortable at his place. And he would never stay at my house because my son was living with me at the time.

So the time came one night when I said, “Do you mind if I don’t stay tonight?” I had just wanted to spend a weekend night with my dogs at my own house. It didn’t go over well. He said nothing that night but soon afterwards, at one point in time when we were being affectionate….he got up and walked away and told me that there would be no more of “that” until I was ready to get serious.

And I guess that is what you might call raising the bar. Or some may call that an ultimatum.

I remember thinking to myself at the time….is he serious? It was at that point that I realized that he wasn’t happy with things the way they were or with who I was either and I knew that if he did that once he would do it again in order to have control. It would either be withholding sex with him or money or vacations or something else. Something would be taken away if he didn’t have things his way.

The same dynamic was in place when the priest told me that I had to give him oral sex at his desk. It was that today. And just when you would think my job would have been safe and he would have been happy, it would have been something else. Well, now you know I can tell your friends in Human Resources about what you did here so you had better do it for my friend here as well so I can watch. I am not saying this to be sarcastic or flippant. I am serious. I knew the bar would raise. And I knew that adding a second person was not out of the question with him. He had already told his fellow priest that I was “fun”.

Another form of manipulation that everyone has used at one time or another….is the ultimatum. Our parents have used it. We have used it with our kids. It usually works in those situations. But in adult to adult situations, it can be tricky. If you choose to use this maneuver, you better be ready to back it up.

I felt it was the right thing to do at one point to say to my ex-husband, we either need to go to counselling or we need to get a divorce. Looking back, it was probably the better thing to do instead of waffling in between. However, he refused counselling and didn’t want a divorce. That left me with having to carry out my “threat”. I didn’t want a divorce either. But I knew we couldn’t go on with the problems we had without some kind of change or compromise.

We don’t control much in this world. We certainly don’t normally have much control over what other people do. No matter how much I search for answers, I always tend to go back to the old “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”. That seems to cover just about anything.

But what goes on within that prayer? How do we change the things that we can when it comes to other people if we can’t force our will upon them and ultimatums can go awry?

The real answer is we don’t. The real answer is, we don’t change other people…..we change ourselves. Sorry.

We’ve always been taught that one day we will be loved. Someone will choose us. We send out our beacon of need and it is answered by the right person who spots it. Well, we know that many wrong people will spot that beacon as well. And we also know that when we give another person the power to determine our worth and our ability to be loved, we hover near treacherous waters. That life giving emotion can be given and taken away by someone else.

I have been guilty of playing dodge ball with my emotions in my life. Guilty of moving my life around to keep someone I love out of danger or helping someone or anticipating what someone else needs or wants or is trying to say in order to make things be “okay”. And I have ended up feeling powerless and ultimately useless and like a failure when that doesn’t work.

So I have tried to become powerful by bellowing out decrees and “I have had enough and you’d better listen” and people may look at you like you are crazy for a minute and a temporary change might ensue but you are still trying to change what you can’t….namely someone else or how someone else feels or what they think or what they choose to do.

Change and power only comes from within. You make the decision that is right for you and you go forward. You do things without trying to get a reaction from someone. You give a gift without expectation. You love fully someone who is deserving of your love without doing so in order to gain something.

But in the same vein, you become more responsible for what you expect from others. You may give a gift without expectation, but you only do so to those who will call to thank you for your gift. You love fully someone who is also your friend. Someone with whom you feel safe and who won’t leave you feeling used or discarded when you part.

It’s kind of being proactive in your own life. By expecting something, you are leaving the action up to someone else. If that person chooses not to give you the basic respect for your giving, then you are left feeling empty. By giving to someone who is willing to reciprocate in kind without hesitation….someone deserving of your giving…..you don’t have to give with the expectation that the act of your giving is going to produce the wanted response from anyone.

In other words, give a gift to someone who likes you with no expectation. Don’t give a gift to someone who does not like you with the expectation that they will like you because you gave them a gift.

It’s not always easy to tell if someone is safe to give to. Some people have no problem with this. Some of us, however…..especially those of us who did not learn what healthy love looked like or that we deserved to be loved….tend to accept questionable actions from others and not see the red flags until things get worse.

I like to say that the universe gives us a tap and if we don’t listen, we get the slap.

It’s okay to expect something. It’s not selfish to do so. In fact, you have to have expectations…..not for things but for actions from others.

I made the mistake with the doctor I was dating to think that I should wait for him to ask me to go to California. But why? Why didn’t I say that I would like to go along with him if that is what I wanted? Why did I end up politely waiting to be asked so he could then use that as a control device? And that is what he did. Because he always talked about taking trips like his married friends did.

He lived in fear. Fear of being used and deserted. And he was afraid he would not have anyone who would stick around to take care of him. So he ended up pushing away the person who was taking care of him….me….in order to try to control the situation and make me stay.

We both did our own dysfunctional dance. And in the end, we each left the dance floor and went home alone.

No funny stories this week. Please pray for my friend Lorena who lost her 34 year old daughter suddenly while she was travelling in a foreign country.

Be good…have a wonderful week….and don’t forget to take the poll.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Sometimes I think the answer to this question changes over time. What was great when you were 18 years old and single may not be so great when you are 23 and married with two kids and a house.

I’ve heard from people who have said they are still in a bad situation after 25 years or more. And the reason for staying in something that is not working can be as simple as it is easier to do so than to go through the unpleasantness of acknowledging that it isn’t working and have to feel vulnerable and alone.

When I worked at the Diocese, it was my job to help people get married. And I loved what I did. And time after time, I would see people with four and five marriages having to be cleared behind them and they were in a terrific rush to get the paperwork through so they could get married yet again that coming weekend. And of course, the ceremony itself had to be perfect. The church had to bless the union and doves had to be released in an outdoor setting…which required further approval from the bishop….not for the doves but for a non-church setting which would include a priest.

And being the one who had to do searches for hidden ceremonies and contact parishes where they used to live and whatnot, I one day asked the question that tripped off something in my priest/boss. I asked, “Why is it that people put so much effort into the wedding instead of the marriage?” He wanted to know why I was asking. Um. It’s what we do here.

And I would guess it’s because the marriage is the epitome of your love. The bigger the deal and the more detail going into the day, the greater is the love for the world to see. I remember going to a wedding ten years ago where it was totally over the top. Limos. Champagne at the door for all the guests. Open bar. Two main courses after table upon table of hors devours. That and then more and more courses being served at the table before the prime rib and lobster or whatever it was. And then the honeymoon in Mexico or wherever. I believe the total came to over $50,000. A wedding to remember.

Ten years later, they are going through a bitter divorce. Bitter. I’m talking about videos being sent of possessions being burned and worse. (Use your imagination on that one). Bad. Ugly.

I think the ideal situation would be to know when to call it quits, which sounds a whole lot easier than it is in reality.

We don’t always see the red flags. So I am here to share some of them for you. Some of these are personal. Some are from friends. Some are the ones we have always heard about. Here goes. Again, not telling anyone what to do. Not saying that the nicest person in the word won’t cross a line or two but some people show their colors in subtle ways while you are still in denial. Here are some red flags to look out for in friends, partners and family….

You are thrilled to see someone and they seem equally as thrilled to see you. But your encounters are sporadic and you find that you are the one giving and sacrificing and paying for the encounter while the other person is not around during those times when you actually need a friend…..they are only there for the fun times.

You are not enough as you are and they try to improve you. This is seen often and done in many ways, including making you feel bad about yourself. They could make you feel bad about your weight….not by saying you need to lose weight, but by going through your things and saying they needed to check your size to buy you something, basically violating personal space if they know this is a sensitive subject. Or I don’t mind at all if you smoke a cigarette outside of course not…I would never tell you what to do. It will be an underhanded dig… Oh, the lovely smell of smoke you leave when you pass by. They won’t tell you to change directly but they will make you feel bad about being yourself or not being what they want you to be.

Trying to get a commitment from you or trying to control you by withholding giving or sharing things with you or by being cold or distant or withholding affection.

Always showing up late for things after you have already paid by the time they get there. Never having money for anything and either manipulating you into paying for them or agreeing to help out and then suddenly not being able to. Especially horrendous when they are the ones suggesting dinners and activities that they know they will stick you with.

Being too rough sexually and hurting you. Being sexually selfish or making you feel inadequate for not pleasing them.

Getting caught in lies.

When you ask them why they love you and all they can come up with is what you have done for them or what you have given them and not about the beautiful soul that you are or asking what they can do to make you happy.

Giving you an STD and then saying that it wasn’t them….must have been you with someone else even though you know there was nobody else.

Coercing you into doing something and then telling everyone what you have done to shame you.

Creating an emergency that is not a real emergency in order to jeopardize your job by making you take time off or by taking up your time on the telephone.

Inciting others to physically attack you, harass you, or threaten your family.

Asking for your advice and then using what you said as a shield when they confront someone so it sounds like you are the person demanding answers instead of them.

Subtly manipulating drama and animosity between people to cause trouble.

Using children to have power in a situation or who believes the child belongs only to them like a possession.

Walking away from their young child or has given their child away because they don’t want to take care of them anymore.

Anytime you feel the need to fix something for someone and you are putting that need to care for that person before your own mental health and well-being.

Anytime you try to set up a boundary and someone tries to make you feel like you are a horrible person for asking for simple respect. And you feel that by asking for respect, you have somehow hurt this person.

Alienating you from your support system. Threatening you in any way. Financially or emotionally destroying you. Physically abusing you or your children or your pets. If they have the need to control everything that goes on. If they deliberately push you beyond your limits of physical or emotional comfort. If someone makes you feel like you are not enough or not as good as someone else. If they only care about working on things or changing in order to pull you back in once you’ve gotten the strength to leave.

Those are some red flags I have collected through the years from myself, from friends, from family and from things I have heard or read about. There’s more, of course. Feel free to share.

Nobody is perfect. But biting your fingernails or snoring or being introverted is not the same as being abusive and controlling or being with someone who may not really care about you as much as you do for them.

In my experience, when someone raises the bar and is basically saying you need to do something or be some way in order to please them….know that the bar is always going to go higher.

If you have tried to work things out with someone and it seems like they have heard what you have said but they just don’t give a damn about your feelings or working with you or trying to appear that they are even attempting to compromise….know that it is not going to change. You will either have to accept the situation or fight about it for the next 50 years. And it will still not change.

It’s normal to be attracted to other people when you are in a relationship for a long time. But if you find yourself getting emotionally attached to someone, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself why. Perhaps you have outgrown the relationship you are in. Or perhaps your relationship is not emotionally healthy for you. Again, just saying perhaps go back to the red flags and see if you have any going on. It’s better to figure that out before pulling someone else into the mix. But not judging. None of us are perfect.

I learned a long time ago that I am not perfect. Or more special than anyone else. But again, there is a difference between “not perfect” and “bad news”. Get to know red flags in both others and yourself. By that I mean, are you seeing an old pattern arise in yourself that brought you pain and suffering in the past? Are you writing a check to someone who you know is using you because they give you companionship in exchange? Are you afraid of the pain you will feel when you let go of someone? Are you telling yourself you are not as good as someone else? Are you trying to help someone or fix an unpleasant situation because that is what comes naturally to you but may end up biting you in the end?

Watch out for those flags. Pay attention. Learn to love yourself and then being alone means being with your best friend.

The poll is back…yippee!

Also, another mom story this week. I took my mom to the doctor. Doctor asked her “Any illicit drug use?” Mom can’t hear so she said “what?” Again the doctor said “Any illicit drug use?” Mom squinted to hear better. “what was that?” So I said….”Mom, do you have a drug dealer?” She heard that. She laughed and said “No.” Later we went to the pharmacy. I waited in the parking lot for her. Very small parking lot. Not a lot of room for maneuvering. When she got back in the car she told me she thought I had moved the car closer to the door. Seems she almost got into someone else’s car. Maybe it was her drug dealer?

Just another day in the life…have a good week.

Set Fire to the Rain

When I was a child, my grandmother used to say that my brother was a good boy but that I was “a rebel”.

I have felt horrible about this for many years. My grandmother passed away when I was six years old. In truth, I got bored and when I got bored, I got into trouble. There’s only so long that you can try to color within the lines before something else grabs your attention and it becomes a game to wait for your grandfather to take his eyes off you long enough to go to the bathroom so you can sneak next door to play with the kid over there.

I felt horrible about being a rebel. I wanted to be the good girl. Although being good seemed to be an awful lot like having no fun. And having no fun meant being bored. Endless loop. And there seemed to be an endless amount of time where I was meant to sit quietly while the grown-ups talked or played quietly with nothing to do and nobody my age to do it with but just behave so the grown-ups could talk and occasionally ask me how was school so I could smile and say “fine”. The rebel lay silent within.

Until the time came when I didn’t want to be good anymore. I didn’t want to be bad either. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be. We lived in a time where kids’ feelings didn’t matter much. You ate what was on your plate. You had to share the one phone in the house. Everybody else’s mother knew who you were and every adult had authority over you. I told my son once that I don’t think I learned how to lie until I was in my teens. There was no point. Everybody knew the truth anyway and it was stressful having to keep count of things for confession.

But that changed quickly once I got into high school. I’ve said before, my guidelines to my teens and boys was a antiquated Catholic guide to sin and my brother and my best friend telling all of us kids what sex was all about. But the thing is….nobody ever really tells you anything. You go in with the notion of “don’t do anything” and “everything is sinful” and that is what you have to work with. On the other hand, on one of my first high school dates, I was given a list from one to ten by my date and asked how far I had gotten. It was at that point I began to realize that there was a lot more to love than just heartache and sad songs. They wanted a score sheet. And your score determined if you were to be considered a prude or a slut. And this was important stuff. Nobody wanted to be either.

The thing is, on the one hand, you are told to do nothing. But nothing doesn’t make you very popular. And then you have an older brother who tells you what is “expected” of you. This is what guys expect. So as a young girl/woman, you learn that sex is something that has nothing to do with how you feel. It has everything to do with what is expected of you, what people know about you, what someone can say about you, what someone else wants, and what you can provide.

But nobody….not the church, not your school, not your parents, not the media who says you must be beautiful, not the guy you’re with who is not really thinking about your well being or happiness….nobody is there to tell you that it is okay for you to think or to feel or to like anything or even to feel good. Sex is something you give away to someone. It is something you do only to make others happy for doing or proud of you for not doing or to make grandkids. Your body is something that functions independently of you. It changes whether you are ready or not. You should not really acknowledge it or anything it does or feels because that is wrong.

And honestly, it was a really long time before I realized that I was supposed to expect something back. I mean, seriously…more than just….that was….nice. Because nobody really talked about women enjoying sex. Not really. Well, my friend did but I figured that was because she was perhaps slightly “nympho”, which I say lovingly but we still stuck people in categories. Another wonderful term for a woman. But true, right? Only “nymphos” actually like sex. Isn’t that what we all thought back in the day? Isn’t that still the joke today? And nobody wanted to have that label either. You could fool around but you were supposed to stay within the pre-set boundaries.

Now I’m not saying that I have just come out of the dark. I realize things have changed. But I am saying that we are still working on that old pat on the back for the son versus the whispers of “slut” behind the daughter’s back.

And why is this so important? Because one of the things that keeps us so ashamed of who we are and what we have done and what has been done to us is because we haven’t been told that we own our own bodies and we are allowed to enjoy sex without the fear of being excommunicated, beat up by insecure partners, killed by people trying to own and control us, maimed and disfigured so we don’t have any pleasure, feeling the need to have another person in your life in order to feel complete and whole, being afraid to say what we need or want, or slut-shamed and doubted when we have been violated.

That rebel inside of me was there when the priest told me to “get over it” and “just do it” and when he told me how shy the bishop was and how he got over it which seemed like a strange thing to say at the time and I swear I was two seconds away from telling him to ask the bishop to take care of him…..but I didn’t. Because that would have been disrespectful.

And what was it that he wanted? After all of the games and threats and angry outbursts? And why is it so damn hard to talk about? To actually say? It was not my fault. I am not the one who should be ashamed. It has taken me almost five years to say the words. He wanted a blow job. There, I said it. Lovely. Why was that so hard to say? Because he is a priest and you don’t say things like….I’m sorry father, but I will not be including literally sucking up to you in my “other duties as assigned”. It’s hard to say because for many people it is a trigger. It’s not just words. But words can be powerful and hold so many emotions.

It’s hard to say because sex is so personal. It is the loss of all boundaries. And it can feel loving, or it can feel like an obligation, or it can feel detrimental and destructive.

And there is the difference of choosing to give up boundaries for whatever reason, having boundaries removed without your consent, or feeling the need to relinquish boundaries, exposing the vulnerable self inside, upon demand or desperation.

But why does the actions of someone else make us feel so ashamed and afraid? Is it because we cannot determine the separation of boundaries because ours were taken from us?

I know that one survivor said that seeing a picture of her rapist priest awakened old feelings of the connection she felt they had shared. I don’t feel that personally when I see a picture of my old boss. I don’t feel any connection. What I do feel is fear and disgust. I know that I don’t want to see him in person because I don’t want that interaction. I feel strong right now and I’m just really beginning to be able to talk about the more difficult parts of what happened in a way that I don’t hate myself in doing so. I don’t want to backslide. It has nothing to do with him. He is insignificant. It is my feelings that are important.

Someone said to me….I doubt he read your book because he would be upset. I said that I believe he has read my book as I know that the bishop has a copy and he said that a copy would be put in his file and I know that the bishop would have discussed my coming forward with him so, yeah. What do I think he thinks? I think he’s thrilled. Someone wrote a book about him. Wow. That plus someone gave me one star with no review so that is a childish means of revenge. Narcissistic temper tantrum.

But enough about him. The abusers aren’t important, okay? I want to get back to being a bit of a rebel. Buried deep within my own need to please and to be a good girl, she still exists, this rebel. And I no longer believe that is a bad thing. I think perhaps my grandmother who came here to America alone at the age of 16 may have seen a spark in me that she acknowledged as a bit of strength.

And right now, that rebel wants to get angry and ask why it is that a victim has to be a virgin or has to be beaten or forcibly raped or in a state of immobility or dementia in order to be considered a legitimate victim of a sexual crime? Who decides these parameters? Why is it that a survivor can be seen as less credible if there are no visible signs of abuse? Why is it that a person is not free to explore their own feelings of sexuality without being labeled? Why do we allow the church to screw with our heads when it comes to living our lives? Why do they slap us down with feelings of righteousness and standards we can never meet? That they can never meet? Why do they send out a ripple of disdain throughout the congregation? Why are we still living in a society where men do not need to be responsible for their sexual actions but women are held responsible for what men do? Why does a woman have the responsibility but not the ownership or the power? Why do women have to defend their decisions and carry a symbol of purity or shame?

I know it is not just women who carry the shame of abuse. And I’m not going to say that it was any easier for me as a mom to talk to my sons about sex when they were teens. But I did give them condoms in their stockings at Christmas. When they were older teens. I know that may sound weird but we were just beginning to be able to treat AIDS at the end of the 80’s (I had worked in a hospital during that time) and my oldest son had a child with someone when he had just turned 16. I didn’t feel like I was saying “Go ahead”. It was more like I was saying “I love you, take care of yourself and others”.

But again, I’m still reminded of how people we worked with approached me to ask why Father Jade (again not his real name) was all of a sudden not going to a retreat and why something seemed a bit off with him. They were suspicious of me, but when asked if they had noticed anything unusual….the other priests said they had not noticed anything.

I think that in order for a change to begin, it really needs to begin within ourselves. As difficult as it may be, remember that if you had feelings for your abuser, it was because they showed you who you wanted to see and who they felt you needed and would respond to. That person never existed. And they never thought you were special in any way….spiritually or romantically…..and they don’t care what happened to you after you were discarded. So don’t be ashamed to admit that you believed they were good or that they cared.

Remember too that most narcissistic abusers pick intelligent, caring, attractive people. To be able to bring down someone who they see as actually better than themselves builds them up. So remember that they may have made you feel like you were worthless but, again, it is not their feelings that are important.

I’d love to see the day when women stop being labeled like they are going into egg cartons for purchase. And when women themselves don’t judge themselves or others as far as how worthy they are or how respected they should be.

But first of all, be proud of yourself. Don’t judge yourself. And don’t let anyone else judge you either. Be a bit of a rebel.

I’m having a bit of trouble with the survey this week….seems they’ve changed the format again so I have to figure that out. Maybe next week…..Take care all.

So instead of the survey, I will delight you with some trivia……this year so far, these are the top ten countries that visit this blog: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Japan, China, and France.

Just My Imagination

My priest boss told me that he liked that I could not see anything but goodness in others. My ex-husband once told me that the reason our marriage had problems was because I was “too nice”.

I think it’s safe to say that trusting someone has gotten us into some rough times. Not just with the abuser. If boundaries are foreign to you, trying to erect them can feel exhausting.

My ex-husband used to go out almost every night. For some reason, I thought that if we were living together, I would see more of him. Things do not change after you get married. I never told him that he could not go out. I felt that if I had to tell him to stay home with me, that it wasn’t going to be very sincere if he was sitting on the couch sulking.

And it’s funny. In “allowing” him his freedom, I never asked myself how I felt. Neighbors asked me. Seriously, they did. They didn’t want to pry but told me that I should not be alone as much as I was.

But here’s the thing about feeling….all I knew was that I did not want to force someone to be with me. I did not acknowledge out loud to myself that asking for attention meant that I would feel that I was walking on eggshells. Although I never demanded that he stay home with me, I did bring up the fact that I felt unhappy. And that was a big step. I have no idea why but I felt at the time like I could not survive without him. I spent weekends with our kids without him. It was like something was taken from me. I could not function without the other half of me.

And because of that, there was emotional abuse. But I didn’t know that it was abuse. Sex with him was not loving. I literally remember him hopping out of bed, throwing on his clothes, calling someone, and heading out the door while I had not yet moved to put my feet back on the floor. Or when he came home after drinking and not caring if I was awake yet or not and he would start without me. I kind of felt like his ski poles that he would take out of the closet when he needed them. A thing.

I did not know at the time that he was a reflection of how I felt about myself and how I felt I deserved to be treated.

In fact, it wasn’t until last week that I had a light bulb moment. He had removed his wedding ring, he said, because he didn’t want to get it caught on anything at work. He said he had put it on his dresser but it was gone. I searched everywhere for that ring but I could never find it. I asked if he wanted to get another one. He refused.

It wasn’t until this past week that I thought about that again and I thought….I bet he never lost it in the apartment. I bet he didn’t take it off in the apartment. I was pregnant at the time and he was out with his friends a lot and drinking a lot. It’s not that I’m looking for proof or that it matters now but it just kind of hit me that maybe the reason we never found the ring is because he had taken it off and left it somewhere else.

It doesn’t matter anymore and he and I get along fine now and the fact that after we split up he got a tick where no man wants to get a tick….that helped. I wish no harm on anyone, but that kind of did it for me. Any dark thoughts about the past were released. I laughed….maybe a bit more than was polite… and just thought….”Karma”.

What I discovered over time with this relationship and others in my family and whatnot is that you can love someone and still protect yourself emotionally. And I think that discovering that was a major emotional growth for me. My ex and I share memories and our grown kids and grandkids and such, and there is a kind of love there, but where I once thought….I love him, he is the father of my children, I can make this work, I have a responsibility blah blah blah…..and even my father telling me that God says blah blah blah about the woman and I should not leave, etc. The fact is, I realize that just because we get along great and care about each other does not mean we should ever live together.

Some people you are forced to spend time with. I cannot be in the same room with my brother without having all kinds of uncomfortable feelings and not wanting to be there. But I love him. But love does not mean trying to save him from himself. Because sometimes when you try to help people, you get pulled down as well. And I think when you realize this, it is growth as well.

It has been my pattern in life to help or take care of people who will often take advantage of the fact that I don’t enforce boundaries to their own end. And then things get out of control and trying to enforce anything becomes ugly and….well, you know….I am so mean and abusive and whatnot. So the boundaries become invisible and my personal space no-existent. And instead of pushing outward, I internalize. Until it gets to the point where I begin to feel I need help to keep balanced inside because the boundaries are now being violated inside of me.

I have been here. I call it the 35% dilemma. You know what I mean. If you took a piece of paper and wrote down all of the negatives about the relationship, you would see some pretty bad stuff. But, there is always that 35 percent that we are afraid to lose. And Heaven forbid you hurt someone by asking for something for yourself.

My ex used to say that if I was unhappy, that I should not let the door hit me on the ass on the way out. And that used to work at one time.

Perhaps we have all been in a situation where we are afraid to lose someone. You know….I have to tell you…..if part of the 35% that is good about not letting go is because being with them means you are not alone…..well….

It’s tough. I know. And there are people who mean well whose advice does not help when you are searching for answers. It’s not easy to find strength when you’ve forgotten who you are and your self worth. When all you know is what you have been surrounded by.

I saw a show this week about the brain and about how we can drive home on auto pilot while thinking about other things. But if we were driving in another country where we had to focus because we needed to drive in an unfamiliar setting and possibly on the other side of the road, we would not be able to let our mind wander freely. Having to totally focus for a long time can be exhausting. So I am thinking that continuously trying to deal with mentally defending ourselves against attack or trying to make major emotional decisions or having on-going grief or PTSD being our focus is probably also exhausting.

I’ve been there. I’ve been where that 35% seems so very important and I’ve been where I can’t see clearly enough through and issue for it to make sense. I’ve been where logic and emotion collide and pull you all which ways.

The only thing that has helped me is to let go of having to decide. To let go of the fear and the guilt and the memories and the score card of who did more for whom. Silence the inner screams that tell you that you are not good enough, strong enough or whatever enough or too this or that. Ignore all of that completely.

Emotions can backfire when what you feel can be used against you by another person. Someone who is trying to control you or manipulate you knows what buttons to push.

And you believe it because you are saying it to yourself.

I was so used to being told that I couldn’t do things or that I didn’t do things right that I believed it when I was told that if I tried to go away on my own, I would get lost. This was before GPS. Or back when you had to print out the directions and things on the directions didn’t exist anymore or never did.

He offered to drive me there, drive home, and then drive to pick me up at the end of the weekend. And it seems thoughtful and most people would think that was thoughtful. But it’s so damn easy to accept help when you’re trying your best not to need it. And it keeps you locked into needing that 35% when the other 65% could be horrendous.

The only thing that I have found is to just jump. Just keep moving forward.

And once you begin to move, you keep going and you don’t listen to well-meaning friends who want to help but don’t understand really.

Another thing is when you are moving forward, do it one step at a time. When things look overwhelming, it’s like trying to walk through a sandstorm. Nothing is clear. If you let fear speak to you, it can stop you in your tracks. If you let guilt speak to you, it can make you get caught up in endless loops of questions. Both will leave you lost in the storm and that can rob you of years of your life.

It took me years of anguish and all of the back and forth and feeling at times that I was trying to climb up a mountain mid-winter barefoot and I lived life with the brakes on so afraid to finally let go…..and when it finally happened and I got my divorce papers in the mail…the day went on as usual. And I felt like….all of that for what? Why did I try so hard?

Someone asked me this week how I can up with a blog every week. I have so much stuff in my head to get out that sometimes once a week doesn’t feel like enough.

I heard someone say….when someone smiled at me, I was good. A thousand people could smile at me and I would be a good person. But it only took a frown from one person for me to feel like I was bad again. That was good insight.

See, I never know where I am going to go with the blog as I write. It is just like I have ping pong balls stuck to me with Velcro and until I peel them off, they aren’t going to go anywhere.

And going back to the not pleasing everyone….I do read comments before they get posted. And I do edit comments for anything offensive, extremely personal, or any comment that seems to be targeting any individual in particular or asking people to take sides. That is playground bullying 101 and we don’t do that here.

Remember that we are all recovering from trauma. None of us are perfect. We are just doing our best to help each other. Leaders volunteer and give up their free time because they care. Doesn’t mean they are right all the time. Does mean if you have an issue with them, you don’t post it publicly. Please keep your differences private unless something is hurtful and needs to be reported. Even then, this is not the place to publicly draw sides.

Thanks and have a great week. Remember to take the poll.

What’s Going On?

Okay, I will say this and then we will move on. Bill Cosby. Yes, that. I want to say that I never met Bill Cosby and yet just seeing what went on last week where he was let out of jail on a technicality, and we saw that power and means can overthrow justice…it affected me. I had nightmares for two nights straight just reading about him. And I mean nightmares. One about my own predator and the other was so clear I don’t know where it came from.

In the dream, I was a young girl about the age of 13. Wanting to become a women and to look pretty but being afraid to do so because I feared it would bring me unwanted attention. That’s all I will say because it involved family and people I needed and violence and wanting to run away. And blood.

I’m not sure where it came from but I’m sure the dream was triggered by the Cosby release. So I can’t even begin to imagine how his actual victims feel.

All I will say, because it is terribly frustrating to see justice backslide, is that he was called out. His nefarious deeds were brought into the light. He will never be the same again. People will never see him the same way. And so, it was a small victory in a world where small victories come after great pain and struggle. But it was a victory at one point, never the less. Enough about that.

On a more positive note, after I brought forward some positive thoughts about myself last week, more began to follow. The reason I believe this happened, is because I lit up that roadway in my brain. My brain saw that I was seeking research on good things and so it gave me more. Our brains don’t ask questions. They give what they are asked to give without filtering.

That’s why it is important to do this….everyone…do this. This next week, I want everyone to write at least one thing each day that is good about you. Just do it. Get your brain running on a program to show you good things about yourself.

Why is it important? Well, for one thing, your body responds to what your brain is processing. Thoughts like “I hate myself and I want to die” send out signals that make your body sick. But telling yourself “You’ve got this” on your first day of a new job will get your brain working to pull up long forgotten files from the past where you did a good job.

I will tell you what is usually in the forefront of my mind. 1. I gained those two pounds back because I ate those French fries. 2. I wonder if eating this will raise my blood sugar. 3. I’m not in control of anything. 4. What did she mean by that? 5. It’s always something. 6. I’m saving those pants for when I lose weight. 7. I feel like I never get enough done. 8. I should be doing something productive. 9. I’m afraid. 10. I’m sad.

Okay, I know. Sounds like life, right? But if you were going to program a computer to do something, and you gave it those instructions, it would end up like the elevator in the book “The Restaurant at the end of the Universe”. In this science fiction book in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” trilogy, the elevators had issues. They had issues because they were existential elevators. They didn’t want to be told where to go. They wanted to take part in the decision.

Being elevators who would be considered successful if they went with the flow and didn’t question life, they instead became too inquisitive with their passengers and too dissatisfied with the boredom they had to put up with. Most of the elevators, therefore, sat depressed and unmoving, in the basement, refusing to move.

How far am I going to get from my own basement with thoughts that bring me down? These thoughts I listed above are really thoughts I get distracted with. I mean, how can I go on when I can’t fit into the new pants because I ate French fries that I am still beating myself up about and so there you go…..I am one weak, undisciplined delusional person who may as well just give up because it’s not getting any better from here.

Do you see why some loving self talk is important? It is. And the more you do it, the more good thoughts come your way.

For instance, many years ago, it only took me one glass of wine to get up in front of a packed bar on open mic night and read my poetry. I had met up with a doctor from work who considered himself a poet, and he told me that I really needed to work on my stuff, and that I wasn’t opening up to the real me….but still. I did it. Ironically, my poem was about trusting someone and being led blindfolded into the woods and left there. It was metaphoric for basically being gaslighted.

Of course, the doctor, who wrote that he strutted like a samurai into his kitchen in the morning knew good writing when he saw it. Hey, he wrote that, not me.

How many times in our lives do we get interviewed for jobs and are asked “What is your greatest strength?” Only to sit there with a blank mind trying to think of a line to come up with that will impress someone. “Tell me about yourself”. Huh? Um. I live in a house and I have kids and two dogs….that is not who you are.

Do we really know who we are?

I mean, we can do it the other way and say….I love to bake but I’m terrible at following recipes and one time I almost killed my friend because instead of using liquid coffee in a cookie mix, I used the grounds. Did I mention my friend has heart issues?

If you find a balance, you won’t feel like a failure. You will be able to laugh at yourself.

Watch what you say to yourself.

I also read this week about the importance of security in the first year of life. I had read something before, but there is something people suffer from called “Cold Mother Syndrome” where especially back in the day, it was felt that comforting a baby could spoil them. I remember my mom telling me that children just got fussy now and then and to let them be…..don’t pick them up. Let them self soothe. It didn’t feel right to let my son cry, but you figure that mom knows what she is talking about.

Now they are saying that babies who don’t get the love and comfort they seek when they are small can have psychological issues later on. Love and comfort means survival for babies. When we think we see a baby self soothing, they may be feeling that their world is in peril and their life is in jeopardy.

And long term effects? Will have to read more about this to see.

I also read that they are narrowing down physical traits of pedophiles. They have found some common traits and physical defects that are thought to happen during the second trimester of pregnancy due to alcohol intake or lack of good nutrition, causing those babies to be born with a predisposition for pedophilia. That is interesting as well.

Someone sent me an article about “Cognitive Empathy” and how abusers use that to gain control over you.

Picture yourself on a witness stand at a trial. A lawyer approaches you. They acknowledge your pain and they want to make you feel comfortable. They try to get into your head. They try to see things from your point of view. But unlike a good friend who will use empathy to comfort you, someone who uses cognitive empathy does so not because they care about you, but because they want to learn what buttons they can push to get a reaction. Or to harm you. Or to win their case. Or to lead a cult.

Interesting. Remember that abusers don’t care about your feelings unless it benefits them in some way.

Some things that have helped people this week are support groups such as Survivors of Incest, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Co-Dependent support groups, EMDR which is a non-drug treatment for depression and PTSD and journaling.

That is all for now. Remember to do as I say, not as I do. Take care of yourself. Speak kindly to yourself. Exercise. Get your rest. Eat some healthy stuff. And let go. Clear your mind. Breathe. Meditate. Read. Smile. Laugh. Love.

Also we have hit 100 postings here on this blog site. Again….I always welcome guest bloggers…

Tell Me Lies

When I was younger, I was called into the principal’s office. Not because I was in trouble. Although I couldn’t think of any positive reason why they were calling me to meet with the principal. But once in there, I was told that I was tied for the highest score in the city for the high school entrance exams. But you see, I was not/am not smart. My brother was/is smart.

When I met my future husband, my friend called me to tell me that she had two guys who wanted to go out with me and who did I want to go out with? But you see, I was not attractive.

I raised both my children to adulthood….and both were alive and dragged through high school kicking and screaming and anyway I could make it happen. Sitting on freezing cold bleachers, running to the store for medicine at 3am, bedtime stories, dinner when the smoke detector announced it was ready, breaking up fights when they punched each other at church, tantrums, missing kids, panic, and lots of love. Yet, I never thought I was a good mom.

At work, I organized events, trained employees, gained the respect of people who were notoriously difficult to work with for my empathic demeanor and ability to de-escalate situations, had people fight to keep me and one who asked if I would work with them, and was always the first one to volunteer to travel anywhere that was offered. I also programmed a fax machine and was responsible for making sure the nursing staff was paid correctly. Yet, I was never confident in myself.

I’ve been married and divorced. I’ve lived on my own. I’ve worked two jobs to pay my bills. I’ve hired people to do work for me. I’ve volunteered, I’ve been on a bowling team and have bowled badly, I have flown across the country by myself, gone on weekends of growth and inspiration alone, drove to D.C. and back, set up an office for an out of town company, have led groups and spoken to people about abuse, and have continued to take chances and meet new people. Yet there are times when I feel I’m not as good as other people. And there are times when I get very anxious.

But no matter how many notches on my lipstick case (although that may have a different meaning than the one I am trying to convey) all it takes is one doubt, one critical remark, one person who for some reason doesn’t like me….and nothing else matters. If you tell me that I can’t do it or that I’m not good enough….I will feel “found out”. I will drop to level zero all over again.

At the SNAP meeting this week, we discussed among other things….grooming. Specifically how grooming works, how it made us feel, and how it felt to be discarded and to realize that nothing that we saw happening was ever real.

The realization that we meant nothing after all. And how that realization can make people feel suicidal.

What makes grooming so potent that it can send someone into the pits of despair?

Well, first let’s take a look at the Catholic Church and its teachings. I remember learning as a child that God liked pain. The more pain you suffered, the more God liked it. This is the first time I have ever told anyone this….when I was a child and there was a drive for toys for the needy and we were encouraged to bring our old toys to drop off for the poor kids…..I gave away something that I actually cherished more than anything because I felt that if I sacrificed, God would know and He would be happy. God was always looking for proof like that.

If you did anything wrong, you could apologize to God but it didn’t really matter unless you asked the man in the booth for forgiveness because only he knew the secret code to God’s forgiveness. One Hail Mary. Four Our Fathers.

Don’t eat before communion. Don’t eat meat on Friday. Go to mass every Sunday and every first Friday and every day of Obligation. Memorize your prayers. Cover your head. Do what we tell you and what everyone else does. Don’t ask questions. It is because we say so.

Sex is for procreation. Don’t use birth control. Only do it if you are married. Only do it with the opposite sex. Don’t think about it. Don’t do it by yourself. Woman should follow the man’s lead and not have any experience beforehand. We don’t want any surprises. Make sure you get married in the church by a priest.

Oh, so you went and got a divorce, huh? You think the church is going to let you off that easily? Nope. You’re going to court, baby. A real Tribunal. You will be judged. Do the priests who have never been married think that you had basis for ending your to death do us part pact early? They want to know. And they want to know EVERYTHING. And then it will be recorded and maybe sent off to another judge and perhaps even to Rome if they just can’t make up their minds.

And if you think death will set you free, think again. Sacrament of the sick. My priest did that for me…..kept pushing my head down. Now that I think about that, I don’t think it was a holy gesture. And then we have Last Rites.

From the cradle to the grave, you belong to the Catholic Church. And I never thought about that as a bad thing before. It was comforting, to belong. To have someone else in charge of my soul. To keep me in line, if not just for show. No matter how much I sinned during the week, I could go back to the Lord on Sunday….or Saturday evening. And holidays.

So not only do we belong to the church, the church in a sense, owns our soul for life to insure that we go to Heaven when we die.

And in return for this service, we pay them. And when we die, we make sure they get a bonus so that we are sure we get recognition for this from God.

We are taught that we follow the church and do what they say without question. And we are bombarded with images of death and doom and torture and good people who died horrible deaths. And we are told that we should die for Christ and that we should suffer and give and not think of ourselves. We should be humble and kind and gentle. We should turn the other cheek and forgive.

Church did begin to get better in the 70’s when I remember going to a mass outside of church where someone played guitar (gasp) and they had a slide show of beautiful images of nature and wine in Dixie cups….much more sanitary…and actual bread to pass….not so sanitary but promoted a sense of actually and literally breaking bread together. That was I think the first time I ever felt a connection with God during mass. Because it had real music and beauty and connection.

But in general, we are not brought up with a positive association of God. He is a God of punishment and of cruelty. We are not supposed to be happy because if we get too happy, we can remind ourselves to slap ourselves back down and to think of the world’s suffering. And then we can tell ourselves we are not worthy.

So we have all of these holes or deficits in ourselves that we have never been taught to heal within ourselves. And if we come to church with our human frailties and needs, we are told not to think of anything sinful and be sure to give to those less fortunate. And be sure to pray the gay away.

Don’t think about who you are. Don’t be yourself. Don’t grow wild and free in a field in the sun. Don’t search for answers. Stay in your pot and don’t move. Don’t search for outside nutrition. Let us feed you so that you learn to depend upon us for all of your needs and feelings. If you are unhappy, that is God’s will. Accept it.

Okay, I’m not blaming God for this. Or Jesus either. I think things probably started out with good intentions. But human nature and power and greed and maybe a whole bunch of things along the way distorted the truth.

Or confused the intentions.

So back to grooming. When we are talking about how a priest grooms a potential victim, in a sense, that victim already belongs to the priest. We have been taught to look to the church for answers and to accept what we have been told.

So if for whatever reason, we as humans enter into an interaction of a more personal nature with a priest who is also a predator….or any narcissistic person who is looking to exploit someone…..we are going to have deficits…blind spots….holes in our souls. Reasons perhaps why we don’t love and accept ourselves. Insecurities. Co-dependencies. Needs for other people or substances to fill. And abusers look for those holes. It’s their way into our heads and our souls.

You don’t feel smart enough, attractive enough, or that you can ever live up to what people expect of you? It’s okay. I will shine my love upon you and I will heal you. You are the best. You are so smart. You take my breath away. I can’t talk to anyone but you. Believe in yourself.

And it feels right. It feels so right. You can feel yourself begin to heal from all of the old wounds your have been carrying. Someone understands. Someone values you. With their support, you can begin to feel strong. And you begin to believe and you attach yourself to this person with love and admiration, and you feel safe.

And you let your guard down. And if cracks begin to show, you explain them away or you don’t want to see them. And so you accept. And the abuser begins to push further the more you accept. And the closer you feel you become, the more the predator shifts reality. But all you want to see is that this person gets you….they value you….they bring warmth and unconditional love and they make you feel wanted and pretty much high on life and alive.

Like you feel when you are falling in love, or eating chocolate, or lighting up a smoke, or doing heroin or like when they give you whatever it is they give you before surgery that makes you feel like you love the world….you begin to crave this person because they light up your brain.

As a side note, I’d just like to recommend “You Light Up My Brain” as the title for a song. Just saying.

They have you hooked. And you are human. And people can’t seem to forgive themselves for this. For loving the abuser. For going back to see them again and again. For missing them. For feeling that they are in love. For “allowing” themselves to be kissed and for liking the attention. For the guilt that hangs over them for liking this. They confuse their feelings as being complicit. But you had no way of knowing that you were being groomed and that the person who you grew to care for did not really exist. You loved a person who was not real. You cared for someone whose lies you believed. You did not have the facts. And if you got hooked, remember that this person saw a hole….an emptiness that existed….and they took advantage of that.

I remember being so confused and having my feelings manipulated so much that I finally gave my abuser what he wanted….a reaction. Not the reaction he wanted but I did react. And my reaction got me blamed and it got me fired.

Because I made the mistake of thinking that some part of him could be reached logically or emotionally. And I didn’t realize the true extent of what was happening. And I made things too difficult. It was time for me to go.

And being discarded? Many people describe a sense of suicidal feelings. I could not eat. I could not sit down to watch tv. I couldn’t concentrate. Everything was so sudden after months of upheaval. I felt rage and because I didn’t know where to put that rage, I turned it inward. I failed.

Along the way, in his narcissistic tantrum, I had all of my perceived deficits hurled back at me. I felt unsteady. Work appeared on my desk that I had not seen before with a big note written in red that he had done this for me. He created dissension among the people he knew liked me. Could you please tell your co-worker not to do this? I am not comfortable with her. Will you do that for me?

There were remarks about supposing it was okay to have a fat friend and what did I know as I didn’t have his education and I could lose everything I cared about. He could do that. I didn’t know what he was capable of.

And so the thing you feared the most has happened. The truth is out. You have been exposed. You don’t see what this person is doing to manipulate you. You only see that you are undeserving of love….which is what you felt was the truth all along. And all of your fears of losing what is important to you become real.

They now control your feelings of self worth. And to feel good again, you will do anything to please them. To feel safe again, you hand over the rest of yourself.

That is coercive control. It is a real thing. And it is abuse. And once they take over control of your emotions and giving and taking away self esteem, when you are discarded, you feel lost and empty and unsure of who you are or what you feel. You only know that it was your fault. That is your reality. I was told that I was not allowed to be around priests anymore because I couldn’t be trusted. I was a danger to priests.

I had a SNAP leader laugh at that and tell me to have that put on a tee shirt.

In all seriousness, nobody deserves to treat you like this or make you feel like you want to die. I knew how I felt and I knew I needed to ride it out and talk to people and I did. I talked and I wrote until I felt I didn’t need to anymore. I was one step away from going to the hospital. But I didn’t want him to be able to say that was proof that I was crazy. And I didn’t have a plan….just an ungodly horrible blackness of emotion.

If you or anyone you love is feeling suicidal, please contact the suicide hotline. And don’t be afraid to talk about suicide. That can save a life. Ask someone….do you have thoughts of harming yourself or someone else? Do you have a plan in place….a way to do it, a time and or a place? Talking about suicide does not make someone suicidal. It can help tremendously.

And don’t feel stupid for calling or feel that you need to be on a ledge somewhere before you do. The majority of calls that came through the hotline when I was there were people just needing to talk things over. Some people called daily to get through their day when they were lonely.

Get help if you need it. The saddest call I ever received was that from a grandmother asking how to tell a grandchild that his mom had killed herself.

Don’t wait. Get help. There are all kinds of lies but the kind of lies that hurt the most are those we tell ourselves. It was my fault. I deserved that. I am worthless. Those are lies. Our blindspots. Make a habit of telling yourself good things about yourself. Fill in those holes with nutritious soil and let yourself bloom.

Oh Daddy

Happy Father’s Day to all. I know that this day means something different to everyone. My dad is deceased. I remember after my dad passed away and I was living alone next to an abandoned house and I had to call the police one night because someone was inside of the house next door.

I felt very vulnerable and I remember thinking that my dad was no longer around to protect me. And then I remember thinking that he couldn’t have protected me anyway as he had been sick and wasting away for the past year and using a walker to get around and couldn’t drive anywhere on his own.

But none of that mattered. Dad still cared very loudly over the phone. And he was still in control of a lot of things. And to me, he would always be the dad you didn’t want to get angry and have to come up the stairs at night if you didn’t quiet down and go to sleep.

And he was the father who came and got me from a party halfway across town when I missed my ride somehow….most likely having a serious dramatic issue with someone that warranted further private discussion in the bathroom….

He was there and he fixed stuff. That’s what he did. He had no idea how to have a relationship with a teenaged daughter but he did try to teach me how to golf at one point, saying I showed great promise.

He was a royal pain in the ass but I wasn’t easy either and neither was my brother….or my mom. So, anyway, I miss him.

You know, I sort of have an idea how my parents affected my future relationships in life. I do get it. Patterns. Moods. Personalities. Kids don’t know their parents are human really. Any kind of drift from perfection is not seen as being human but rather something we as kids caused.

I don’t think those we love are ever truly gone. I think their words live on inside of us forever. Good or bad.

But there was one influence from my father that I was confronted with that made me balk. That was when my therapist, right after my abuse from the priest who tried to threaten and manipulate me into having sex with him, asked me what was it about my obsession with priests. And was I searching for a father figure.

That kind of makes me want to throw up a little.

But was there a grain of truth to that that even the therapist was overlooking?

The whole sex with the priest thing…..even if you take away the coercion part and the narcissistic tantrums and the games and everything…..well, what made it different with him than with any other boss who may have tried to pull this?

I told a friend of mine that the whole thing felt, for lack of a better word, “icky”. In fact, “icky” pretty much is a good description of the whole ordeal.

Because what you associate with God and goodness and purity and safety….and no matter what you want to keep telling yourself that God is involved in this…He must be after all, right…..gets twisted into something more than ugly and more than what ugly would be with any other boss.

And as the feeling of “ick” coats the inside of your soul with sliminess, what you realize later on is that….yes….this was like rape but also, this was like incest.

At our SNAP meeting the other night, we were discussing this difference. Although there is an imbalance of power and I agree that a spiritual leader should not also be a sexual partner, there is also a vast difference between a lonely priest looking for companionship and love and a smug control freak using his position as a shield of innocence and turning the blame on his victim while using them like a coffee maker and tossing them out when done with them.

That is evil. And it is evil disguising themselves as purity. And that is dangerous.

Priests who are truly looking for love and companionship oftentimes will leave their vocation. Many have.

I don’t know if psychologically I saw this priest as a father figure. I don’t think so really. But like I said, I don’t know what is going on inside my subconscious mind. I only know that my dad never believed that priests should be called “father” as only God is the father. And when I think about it, the whole matter did feel somewhat incestuous.

And of course, celibacy was only imposed for the financial benefit of the church. And they really don’t like having to acknowledge children of priests, of which there are many. And mothers who had their children taken away.

There is an evil being allowed to grow under a cloak of goodness. It is hiding behind all of the tapestries and gold and incense. It is hiding around the corner from pamphlets and hymns and bake sales and bibles.

It has nothing to do with good old boys having a weak moment and needing to repent. It has nothing to do with the modesty of a woman’s hemline or about what any church law says about the age of consent.

It has to do with Narcissistic and emotionally unstable people being drawn to an occupation where they have access to children and vulnerable people. And when I say vulnerable people, I am talking about every person who feels the need for forgiveness or who is feeling lost and afraid or who need prayers badly for a sick child….or anyone crawling out of the darkness in search of God’s light and guidance.

And what they are met with feels welcoming and kind. And they feel a warmth and an acceptance. And they open themselves up to this person of God that they trust with all of their heart and soul.

But once they feel bonded and close to this Godlike human, they are betrayed and destroyed by having all of their weaknesses and guilts and self-hatred turned against them. Looking for salvation, they will be led to destruction. By the sick individual who has been allowed to be protected so they can go on to destroy more souls. Not in the name of God. In the name of money and wealth and power.

And instead of looking into the actual problem, people generally find it easier to blame the victim. Easier to get rid of a tenant who is complaining about living conditions than it is to tear down the apartment building itself. The building still stands and nobody is the wiser.

So though I don’t really feel like the priest was anything like a father figure to me, although the whole deal did smack of incest. For one I think the therapist was trying to pull a Freudian connection. Also I think that may be because we are taught that priests are asexual and holy and we don’t swear around them or treat them as we would a friend or neighbor. There is a reverence and respect and a fear of offending a priest. We go into our holy Catholic (or whatever) mode.

Basically we are raised to see these people as if they were a member of the family. We grow up learning that there is a time and a place for things. When we are in a professional setting, we act accordingly.

When we go to see a doctor, even if we have never met them before, we may be expected to disrobe for them. And we feel safe doing so because there are assumed boundaries in place. And if that doctor crossed those boundaries and acted inappropriately, he or she would most likely lose their license.

But not so with priests. If you say a priest has acted inappropriately, you are the one interrogated and made to feel like an opportunist.

My abuser told me that I would not be able to pay for my new car if he was not happy. It was a car and a job. It was traumatic. But what if it was someone who was not trying to pay for a car? What if next time it is someone who is trying to feed their child? For my child, I would put them first and do what I needed to do to keep my job. And this is exactly the kind of vulnerability they look for. Someone who is good and caring. Leverage to use against someone.

This subject matter can get very dark and depressing. And I hate to acknowledge or give any power to these people. I hope that in talking about these things, I can help to teach or to help victims understand they are not alone.

But I’d like to close with something a bit lighter. A funny story about my mom.

One night last week I was talking to my mom, an elderly woman who is still active and for the most part, able to take care of herself.

Mom tells me she has “everyday” toilet paper and “luxury” toilet paper. Remember, she grew up in the depression. She felt like opening her luxury toilet paper one day….maybe to “enjoy the go”. Anyway, the roll of toilet paper popped out of her hand and ended up in the toilet bowl.

I would have thrown it out at that point. Not my mom. She took the wet roll and put it in the microwave to dry it out. After a minute or so, she removed the roll and it was a bit dryer and very soft.

She was excited at her success and cleverness so she decided if a little time in the microwave was good….more time in the microwave would be even better.

So she popped the roll back into the microwave, hit some button, and continued on with probably five other things. When she turned to check on the toilet paper in the microwave, she noticed it had turned a shade of brown and was now emitting smoke.

At this point, I would have tossed it into the sink. Not my mom. She didn’t want the kitchen to smell like smoke. She grabbed the smoking roll and put it in the window on the porch so the smoke would go outside.

Again leaving the scene of the crime, she goes back into the kitchen. After a minute or two, she goes back to check on the toilet paper, which is now sitting on the window ledge of the porch…..in flames.

Luckily the house did not burn down and my mom is okay. I forgot to ask her what she finally ended up doing with the toilet paper that she had tried to save.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Have a great week, everyone.

Shake it Off

There is a saying that you are what you eat. I believe that to be true. Some people are sensitive to certain food groups. Some even to the point where consuming certain foods could put their life in danger. We may feel that we are our bodies and therefore we know them well, but do we really? Our bodies can be our friends or they can betray us.

Food, environment, emotions, age, physical activity, heredity and the thoughts we think….these can and do affect the bodies we are born with and can change them for better or for worse.

But just how important are thoughts and feelings when it comes to our health and well being? As children, we are taught the important of getting enough sleep and eating our fruits and vegetables ad brushing our teeth and getting enough exercise, as well as the importance of doing well in school and excelling….but that is only part of being healthy and successful in life.

The truth is, we take in more than just food and drink and oxygen. We interact with others….some of whom may not be so nice….and we process feelings and thoughts and emotions….and the only feedback we get as children or as adults….is how to act politely and appropriately. Nobody really taught us what to do with the leftover emotions. We just learned that it was wrong to lie or to hit someone or to be mean. We learned how to act in order to be loved or to survive as children. And that meant something different to each of us.

There are people who have been physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually abused as children who grow up to carry those scars within them. The body remembers and stores those thoughts and that energy and although some of the memories have been blocked from the conscious mind, those feelings get embedded into who we are.

I’ve always thought that the brain was fascinating. Do you know that it is said that when we access a memory, we aren’t really remembering the actual event but the last time we thought about that memory? And each time we access that memory, it gets a little bit more distorted and faded, like if an original print were to be reprinted many times, it would eventually end up a faded reproduction of the original print. Yet, the memory can still bring up strong emotion. And emotions however long buried, can resurface when something triggers them. We may not even be conscious of what is going on within ourselves. Emotions get triggered. The brain remembers. The body reacts.

It happened one time not so long ago that a middle aged couple in the area was asleep in their beds one night when they were attacked viciously by an intruder trying to kill them with an ax. Neither one of them died immediately. The wife actually survived the attack. The man, however, got up the next morning, despite being severely wounded, and began to get ready to go to work. Heavily bleeding and on the verge of death, he began to make his lunch and to put things in the dishwasher before he ended up finally collapsing and passing away. I doubt he was consciously aware of anything but he was going through a routine that he had done many times before just out of habit and brain memory. It’s morbid and fascinating at the same time.

Conscious memory may be faulty, as anyone who forgets why they walked into a room can testify. But cell memory? Unconscious thought? They are the Uber drivers in our lives and we are along for the ride.

I never had an extremely traumatic childhood memory. My parents were alive and nobody ever physically attacked me or neglected me. However, mixed in with the message to always behave correctly and to never lose control and to fear the fires of Hell should a bad thought even cross my mind, there was always high energy and drama amidst emotional neglect, betrayal and role model dysfunction.

Everyone….my father, my mother and my brother….everyone but me had an extremely high level of energy. My mother never stops moving and her mind is always on 50 different things at a time. And nothing has ever been right and needs to be done now or redone. If I didn’t complete something right away, I would go back and it would be done. She would redo things I had done. I couldn’t be babied….I had to take care of my own emotions, but I was also considered too young….for most of my life….to make any decisions on my own.

My dad, too, was always in a state of flux. Nobody ever spoke at dinner except my father, who would rant about the state of the world, neighbors, the bible, politics, whatever. I don’t think I consciously remembered eating dinner until I left home. My dad was either extremely up….making up silly songs and dances and teasing everyone with high energy….or very low yelling, and upset and totally unable to handle social functions beforehand. I know this now to be called anticipatory anxiety….we didn’t have a name for it then. But once around people and with drink in hand, he was loved by all for his social skills and sense of humor. Ironically, my dad would say that women were inferior because they could not handle their emotions. More mixed messages.

My brother was handsome and smart. Very smart. And I had to follow him in school. And I watched as we got to be teenagers and he was always drinking or getting caught doing something. And I was his protector and confidant. And in return, he would betray my trust in the worst ways possible. And I loved him fiercely but found that I could never be vulnerable or close to him. I could never save him. And I would need to protect my children from him.

My family told me that I was the quiet one, the calm one, and I was indeed many times the one who held it all together. I didn’t know then there was also a name for that in a family. Scapegoat. The one who has the emotion misdirected at them.

It’s called being an adult child of an alcoholic and supposedly there are more mental health issues with these adults than in the “general public”. All I do know is that for me, all of the energy that was stored inside…absorbed over the years, seemed to come at me whenever there was a conflict. Maybe as an adult without the rest of the bunch to be calm for, it all kind of let loose.

After I left my husband….the first time….the storm hit. Panic attacks, agoraphobia, inability to sleep followed by sleep paralysis when I finally did sleep.

And this frequently happens to children who have grown up in alcoholic homes, homes with incest, homes with mentally ill parents, homes with hypochondriac parents, or homes that are very strict or physically abusive.

Despite living in a state of self-imposed Hell, I didn’t miss work, I supported and fed and took care of my children, and I never drank or did drugs in order to cope. I’m not saying that to imply that I felt any stronger than anyone else or better than. I was just lucky enough not to fall into that trap. Maybe it was because I had seen what that could do. Maybe because I was already in therapy….basically the only one in my family to go….and I was able to get help there.

And I thank God that I did because I had no one. No emotional support or anyone who really understood. And it was not something you talked about. And I didn’t even know what was going on. What’s a panic attack? The thing is….I believe that so many people can identify with my family and with the stumbling blocks in my life.

What’s ironic is that my brother lost his children, called in to work frequently, and partied quite a bit. And caused tremendous upheaval in the family. And yet, he went to rehab for a month or so, did not work during that time, got everyone’s attention and support and that was okay. But I was chided for being too old to fall apart.

Another thing that was ironic is when I had treatment for cancer I remember seeing my mom crying when they took me to surgery. And I thought…..this is nothing. This is so simple. Why would she cry? The answer is because that’s the time she was raised in. You held a stiff upper lip until your body fell apart and then everyone cries and they cry again if you die. But no nonsense in between. Cut that crap out right now, sister.

After I got fired for not having sex with the priest (and that is the way I am going to phrase that from now on, thank you, M.) I ended up in the E.R., twice in six months. The first time for gastrointestinal issues and the second time because I thought I was having a heart attack and I still don’t know what happened except for working in the basement moving stuff for someone to move in and then sitting down to watch tv and having a pain climb up my back and into my chest like I was trying to pass a golf ball. It was not a blood clot, it was not a heart attack, but my markers were very high for a heart issue. So….stress I guess. I was working two jobs and trying to recover from what I thought happened to just me because I did something wrong.

So, yes, emotional stuff can come out in many ways. But I don’t regret anything at this point. I think healing is a lifelong journey. And I don’t apologize for seeming a bit angry. It is good to acknowledge a problem. Not to be a victim, not to carry around blame, but to know and to understand.

And they say you really begin to heal when you begin to help others. So, experience be damned. Here I am torn apart and pieced back together. In the company of other survivors.

Be good. Take the survey. Yes, I’m looking for advice. Asking for help. Another sign of strength, right? Have a great week.

Time in a Bottle

This past week, Pope Francis discussed harsher penalties for those priests and lay persons who groom and use pornography in order to sexually abuse children. He also expanded upon this to include those who abuse vulnerable adults. However, the term “vulnerable adult” has always tended to mean one who is physically or mentally incapable of resisting or giving consent due to disabilities. This has expanded from a basic definition of one who lacks any sort of reason.

The pope is also putting more pressure on bishops who hear about or discover abuse…..mainly to avoid criminal charges of those found guilty and to keep punishment within church walls. The recent scandal with Archbishop McCarrick has given incentive to this end.

The case with McCarrick brought to light coercive control and sexual abuse of seminarians. Due to this case and to growing unrest around the globe, Cardinal O’Malley insisted that the definition of the vulnerable adult be broadened to include those in a situation of power imbalance, where there has been abuse of those under someone’s authority, even if both of those individuals are adults.

Reactions to these potential changes are mixed. Some hail this as a move in the right direction. Others see it as nothing more than the church continuing to call the shots and an attempt to maintain cover-ups. I see it as both.

One change I did see after I spoke with the bishop is that the priest who abused me was moved from his own apartment to sharing a rectory with the bishop. While this may seem like a good thing, the rectory is adjacent to a grade school. And as we know….a predator is a predator. Prey is prey.

On another note, to anyone who was participating in the meeting yesterday, please know that we were cut off because of a sudden loss of power in the area.

We did discuss the use of the double entendre that predator priests seem to like to use. And the embarrassment it causes when a simple discussion turns awkward and sexual. And then the denial that follows. And in one case, someone was directed to forgive the perpetrator, but again, that just puts you up front and center and vulnerable when someone has no incentive to change their behavior.

Recommended book this week is “The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships” by Carnes and Phillips.

Someone this week said that they always know what is going on in my life because of my blog.

Well, this past weekend, I had one of those moments you want to freeze and hold on to. It was my grandson’s second birthday and we celebrated by bringing together a blended and extended family.

The party was held at my mother’s house and in attendance were my sons and my “adopted son”, and my grandson of course and his mom and her friend and my brother stopped by and the baby’s other grandmother….and my ex-husband and his girlfriend.

I told someone how nice it was to be able to share this birthday with my ex and to get along with him and his girlfriend and to have somewhat of a Kumbaya moment in time. It was like coming full circle. And it did not come without a price. Which made it all the more sweeter. I think some people will be able to relate.

I thought about what had to happen to make this moment possible. Choices and chance.

My mom was not supposed to make it past 1995. She is not supposed to be here. My brother is a walking miracle. I can barely remember a time when he wasn’t abusing his body.

My ex has been through a number of heart procedures but mainly, he is my ex and I have found that the further I am from him, the better we get along. I’m not trying to be funny. My mom actually said the other day what a nice guy he is. And she was “there” and knew how it was when I was with him. I never shared touching moments with him and our kids. He felt they were my responsibility and that they were basically nuisances that cost money. They both left home within a week or so of each other because they could not live with him and our life together began to crumble not long afterward.

He would threaten and push me to the point where he would leave before he would back down, and then go to his family or his friends and tell them how I threw him out and I’d get angry phone calls and people thinking I was horrible.

But the other day, we shared our grandson’s birthday and his girlfriend joked with me that if she ever tried to quit smoking while living with him, she’d have to kill him and it was funny and I could laugh at it because it wasn’t my problem anymore. And we were able to joke about how he got angry with me because my labor was taking too long and he hadn’t had anything to eat. But now he is a mellow guy who gardens and who while not having any interaction with his grandson, did buy him stuff and show up. And I think we are friends. And that was nice because at one time it wasn’t.

And my grandson? He was born to my son who didn’t want children because he was afraid he would not be a good father, and to a woman who had multiple miscarriages in the past with her ex-husband.

I knew her long before my son met her. She had been my supervisor and had trained me at the Suicide Hotline where I had volunteered. And although there are issues at times between us, and between her and my son, the fact that they came together brought my grandson into the world.

This was a rag-tag mishmash of people coming together for a joyous occasion. I can’t think of one person among all of us that I would consider “normal”. Not when the babysitter/friend compared being a baby and having all your needs met to being drunk. Huh? Only my mother cared what happened to me if I was drunk and that only happened when I was a teenager. I’ve been on my own since then.

But my point is, for one moment in time, things were perfect. For one moment. I guess that’s all we can ever count on. I mean, the next day my brother was hitting my mother up for money again, and everyone went back to keeping their issues hidden in their own homes. So the moment had passed. I guess that’s how it goes. Perfect pieces of happiness found within the rubble. Saving time in a bottle.

Have a good week. Find your bit of happiness. Be well.

Hot and Cold

The first thing I want to share this week is that we found out that my two year old grandson is autistic.

This is my youngest son’s only child and the news comes only two months after his best friend lost his 12 year old autistic son when he passed away in his sleep. I was over there the other night for the first time since we heard the news and you know how hard it sometimes is to have a toddler….now they have an autistic toddler….and they have a lot of tension already in their relationship as my son and the baby’s mom have discussed breaking up and it’s not a great situation so if anyone has any experience or knowledge they can share about the care of Autistic children, I’d appreciate it.

Another thing I ran across this week is from the Minnesota Supreme Court. They have ruled that a woman was not raped because she was voluntarily drunk when she met her attacker. This was a ruling released last Wednesday. To meet the definition of rape, according to a unanimous decision, the alcohol has to be administered to the person without that person’s agreement. Therefore, the alleged rapist cannot be charged with a felony because mental incapacitation is only relevant if a person got drunk involuntarily.

Yes, there are many cases of people being drugged without their knowledge, but this ruling is really walking a tight line. Especially since there are so many instances of rape on college campuses. At what point do you cross the line from a voluntary case of liquor reducing inhibitions to taking advantage of someone who is passed out or who is too inebriated to make a rational decision?

Young people especially, in my experience, are more likely to over-drink and not know when to stop. I know they exist, but you don’t hear as much about people in their 50’s getting together for the sole purpose of getting wasted every weekend. Younger people are also less likely to think anything bad is going to happen to them.

I’m using younger people as an example because I was young and stupid once. I remember when drinking meant drinking until you passed out or got sick. Takes awhile for you to learn how much fun that is not and that you can drink “politely”.

Of course, age doesn’t matter. Ruling that someone asked for it because they got drunk willingly is like saying a prostitute cannot be raped because they have sex for a living or that a person cannot be raped by their spouse because they are married. Each case is different and you can’t make a general ruling such as this court did. That is so damaging.

I also had the honor this week of reading a bit of a book that was written by a survivor before it will be published. It is excellent and when it is published, I will say more about it. Recommended book this week is, “Moral Injury and Beyond” by Renos Papadopoulos.

I also talked with someone for a long time about a long term relationship they have had and how it has impacted their life. It made me think more about trauma bonding.

When you think about why someone stays with a person who abuses them and why they don’t press charges against them, or why a person held hostage may bond with their captor, it may make you wonder what is wrong with that person.

I remember again years ago being in a bar with my friend when her abusive boyfriend who would beat her, walked in and gave us flowers and bought us all drinks. I left them there together and went home without taking the flower or drink the drink he’d bought me. My mom told me I had been rude to not drink the drink he had bought for me. I said I didn’t care.

It’s upsetting to see someone you love seduced back into Hell. It’s horrible to feel helpless. To see what is going on and to not be able to break that bond.

And yet, I’ve been there myself. I didn’t see it as clearly because sometimes I think it’s harder to see when there is no physical violence involved.

In trying to understand more about trauma bonding, I was reading a bit about the game of ping pong that gets people hooked. There are so many parts of this puzzle, of course, like past history and such, but I think it is put best by the person who said to me….”If you went on a first date with someone, and they punched you in the face, you would not go on a second date”. Most likely not.

But if you went out with a person and they asked you all about yourself and exuded love and a sense that you were the “bees knees”, and you developed a loving connection with that person, there would be a second date. And as each date progressed pleasantly, you would probably decided that this is a good person. You might imagine yourself having a future with this person. You begin to fill in the blanks with fantasy. This is probably normal stuff that people go through. Until it’s not.

Trauma bonding comes from hitting the highs of love and good feelings and happy endorphins having picnics and toasting marshmallows in your brain and then having those feelings removed suddenly. For whatever reason.

A fist to the head. A phone call that never comes. Being ignored. Having the person you love suddenly turn cold and reject you in some way. Boldly lying. Cheating. Stealing. Whatever it is, the behavior does not match the Heaven that once was your world.

I’m not talking about a normal healthy relationship here. I’m talking about being used by a narcissistic abuser. I’m talking about the deliberate love-bombing and withholding of love as reward and punishment that goes along with this relationship.

You feel hurt. Damaged. Devastated. But in your head, when the cold bucket of water hits the campfire and the endorphins are left with soggy marshmallows, they cry out for more dry firewood and a new bag of marshmallows while you’re at it. And they search for it in the last place where they got it. From the source that you are sure is really a great person.

So when the flowers and the apologies arrive, it is a relief for all. And it feels so good to once again feel the warmth of the fire that like being hooked on a drug, you begin a cycle of reward and withdrawal.

You would think common sense would prevail. It’s easy to judge from the outside. But rewards differ from person to person. Each person is drawn in by what they need. And each abuser knows how to give what is needed. And they also know what their victim fears losing. That is one of the things that gives the abuser their power.

It has been said that people gravitate towards pleasure but try to avoid pain. And of those two, the avoidance of pain is the biggest motivator.

So it would seem that losing the trauma bond is perceived as more painful than to actually continue within its grasp. Is that because the trauma bond destroys the sense of self and the person fears they cannot depend upon themselves alone?

In my first job interview after I was fired from the diocese, I was given the job and they told me that I was chosen out of a room full of other applicants. Yet, my first day on the job, as I drove to the office, I had to keep telling myself that I would be fine and that I knew what I was doing. I know that I was still suffering from PTSD.

You’re fired. You can’t be here. No, wait, you quit, remember? Yes, that’s what happened, we agreed you quit. Hurry up and fill out the paperwork for unemployment and start looking for work. I had no confidence. I was afraid of not doing things right. I’d never been fired before….and then told I left because I wanted to. So I didn’t know what to say to my new employers.

And yet, I felt the need to talk to him. Still. I was an emotional mess because of him but I hadn’t realized that yet. I thought he could provide me with answers. I didn’t understand how I could be discarded and replaced so easily. It hurt. I still had so much to learn. The first thing I learned was that I had already talked to him and had never gotten a straight answer. So many people need for the abuser to understand their pain. They go back to thinking about the love they were shown and think that would make a difference.

But it wouldn’t make any difference. The Narc has a heart of ice. That’s another hard lesson to learn after the discard.

It’s hard to judge someone else’s progress as well. My son will tell me he knows what is happening in his relationship. And then he will step right into the mix knowingly. I’ve realized that I can be here for him but I have to let go of trying to save him.

The survivor I spoke with at length told me that they had been in a long term relationship with someone who was potentially dangerous. But they told me things had changed because they themselves had changed. So the other person was no longer in charge. They felt they had more power. So they don’t feel the need to let go. Perhaps that is so. They said at one time they didn’t care how badly they were treated as long as they had this person in their life. They feel they have grown since then.

Hopefully we all grow from our pain. Before I got divorced, I used to write page after page of emails to my ex-husband, practically begging him to budge slightly. What I began to realize was that you can write an entire book using the same words over and over again. The order the words are in don’t change a thing when the person is not listening. And that’s all I had been doing. Same thing over and over expecting different results. So lost in the forest I could not see the trees.

Insanity. Basically we are all broken to some extent.

I don’t know what makes someone more susceptible to trauma bonding. What makes one person see the red flags and another person just see the good in someone and get sucked in? I do know that it is an unhealthy bond and one that can be incredibly painful to break. You can come out the other end broken.

Are we searching for the love we feel we weren’t given? Are we so used to drama that we don’t know what life is like without it? Are we so desperate to feel something that we will become dependent on someone else doling out the drug? To merely end up in a state of existence suffering the pain of withdrawal when it is not available?

Have we learned anything at all?

Yes, I think we have learned something very important. And that is that it is not the abuser or the abuse that made us strong. We were and are strong already.

We survived.