Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough

I had so many things in my head to talk about this week and now I can’t think of a single one.

I guess I could start off with something I ran across in a meeting. When we do our Zoom meetings, I think it is great that people add comments. The only comment I want to comment on is…..my feeling is that it is best not to put contact information out there for everyone during a meeting. Unless, that is, you are a member of SNAP. Otherwise, be cautious about sharing personal information or asking people to contact you, or for that matter, contacting people who you don’t know or have not met personally even if they sound like wonderful people…..or sharing personal information with them if they are not SNAP leaders.

Just saying….as always, please use caution. And I also ask that it is not done during one of my meetings as I am not vouching for anyone’s character by allowing them into the meeting. I do screen but that does not mean I do background checks.

As you know, most of us are healing…if not from priest abuse, then from something in our lives. I think we have to give ourselves credit for how far we have come. Sometimes I talk to people, and it reminds me of those priests of old who would beat themselves in order to be worthy. Like, I said something good about myself so I must now compensate by taking a cane to the kneecap to even things out.

Well, we were raised that way, were we not? Weren’t we taught to die for Jesus and that the meek would inherit the Earth and that we should honor the martyrs? I swear that I felt I could not like myself or anything about myself unless someone else gave me permission to do so.

I don’t feel that beating yourself up every time you have a human feeling helps you to heal. And I am not saying that concept is an easy thing to grasp. I think that there is so very much we need to unlearn. I see myself move forward and then I feel as stuck as I ever was.

I heard the words this week that so many of us fear the most. “I am getting older, and I am so afraid that I will grow old and die alone without ever being loved.”

And that hit me in the gut. Because underneath every other fear, that is the fear that sits at the bottom of the others…pushing the rest to the surface. I don’t want to die alone.

I read a couple of articles about the subject this week. With Thanksgiving, I read about someone who was dreading spending the day by themselves. Someone else had a wonderful answer to that.

Hey…no arguments at the dinner table. No hurt feelings if someone is not invited. No spending all day cooking for people…some of whom you may not really like. Break out your best China and candles. Make a pork roast in your microwave instead of a turkey? Why not? Treat yourself to the nicest, most delicious meal and listen to the music you like and watch what you want to on TV.

Another was a question to someone as to how it felt to be old and alone. The person said that they were over 90 years old, and they went out every day and saw people at the store or the hairdresser and had dinner at their son’s house once a week, and that they did what they wanted to and cherished their alone time. They said they would rather live alone in their small apartment than in a larger community setting.

I think we tend to confuse being alone with being unhappy. Or being older and being unhappy. We are more than likely going to die alone when we go. Perhaps we just hope that there is someone left to care about that when the time comes.

I had an aunt who passed away not very long ago. So many people at her house worrying about her will while she lay alone in her hospital bed. All of these people were around as long as she had money a big house and jewelry to be passed out or cruises to take. I did not see one of those people by her side while she lay dying and supposedly “out of it”.

I was there with her in her final hours. So was my cousin who moistened her dry lips. My mother came to see her to say good-bye. My friend was with me. We talked to her about her life and the people we knew and at one point, she was able to acknowledge that we loved her. We finally left her around 1:30 in the morning with the intent to return in a few hours, but she ended up passing away, alone a couple of hours later.

So, when it comes down to it, what does “dying alone” really mean? To be fair, my aunt was never alone while she was alive. She lived in her house with a nurse who came over 12 hours a day and a housecleaner and a relative who ended up moving in with her. But nobody thought about being at the hospital with her in her final hours because it was probably thought that she wouldn’t know the difference. Or some people can’t handle hospitals and death.

It is said that we don’t die alone anyway because someone from the other side comes to help us transition.

But maybe that is not really what we are afraid of. Maybe it’s not the dying part that gets us. Maybe it is the living part that hurts the most. Growing older and living alone.

Yes, maybe that’s what it really is. I get it. Seriously. When we are older, we are no longer considered physically beautiful. We aren’t as firm or as thin as we once were. We may develop illnesses. We may need assistance. We may start to become invisible to people who would rather not have to see us.

What happens if we start to love ourselves but nobody else is around to care? That is truly terrifying. And all too real.

Well, the thing is, we just don’t know, do we? We don’t know what is going to happen. Ever.

There is one thing I do believe, though. We really can’t focus on that fear. Because we don’t know. Because the future is a myth. A big wide-open concept that does not truly exist. Life only happens a day at a time. One day at a time. Those are such beautiful words to live by. Where have I heard them before?

I do believe in living today like we are going to live to be very old. That is, taking care of yourself as best as you can. Take care of yourself like you will live to be 100 but be prepared to die tomorrow. I’m telling myself that, you see. I just bought myself a book called “I’m Dead, Now What?” so I can fill it out for my family in case something unexpected does happen. But I am also trying to drink more water and eat less carbs (I said trying, not always succeeding) and there was a discussion at tonight’s meeting about “Trauma Informed, Gentle/Restorative Yoga” that I want to look into. I also meditate.

Another thing that I feel may be helpful is this….if you are afraid of being alone (not talking romantically or not involved with a partner) as you get older, start now to get involved with groups and friends. Well, Covid doesn’t help unfortunately…..but take walks, visit older relatives, get involved with hospice at a local hospital, or volunteer.

The more you connect, the more valued you will feel and the more you contribute, the less alone you will be. And the more you begin to care about others and their needs and their feelings, the less you may be concerned with your fears.

Hey, again, I don’t know everything. And one size does not fit all. But begin where you are.

Tonight, I had my usual conversation with my mother. She needs stuff from the store. Does not want to go to the store. Should really not go to the store. But needs groceries. I have stuff delivered to her for her dog on a regular basis, and when I ask, she tells me she doesn’t need anything…until she needs everything.

She says she needs to learn how to order things on-line herself. She says, “I am not stupid”. She’s not. I can’t win a game of cards with her. But when it comes to computer stuff with her, I want to pull out my hair.

Why? Because we go in circles. First, she tells me it is my fault that she does not know how to order on-line, because I never show her how. Then when I ask her if she want to try something “right now”, she looks at me (because we can video chat), and I swear to God, tonight she actually said, “You are not my mother”.

She wants to learn. She is not stupid. But she never wants to actually learn because she doesn’t want me to teach her anything. But it is my fault she does not know anything because I never teach her anything. And so, we go around and around… and I either order her food anyway or she sneaks out and does it herself.

Until the next time.

Why? Because we all tend to get overwhelmed when we are confused, or we are facing something unfamiliar and maybe a little scary. We tend to feel that we need to know everything in order to be comfortable trying anything new or making any kind of a move. And don’t get me wrong, we should know what we are doing before making a big move…but it is not necessary to start out knowing everything.

It’s okay for a surgeon to go to med school before they pick up a scalpel. For most people, the idea of performing surgery is terrifying if we know nothing about it. So, we don’t just assume we are stupid if we can’t just jump right in and know how to avoid cutting anything vital. We all need to start at the beginning and be patient.

It’s okay to not know everything right now. It’s okay to understand that things we don’t know about can be scary and overwhelming and that we may end up freezing in fear or moving too fast if we don’t take a breath and slow down and accept that we all had to learn about “A” before we could learn about “B” and that there was a time when “Z” seemed way beyond our reach or comprehension.

One day at a time. One thought to process to move another step.

This past week we lost Phil Saviano. If you don’t know who that is, watch the movie “Spotlight”. Thank you, Phil, for everything.

Everybody Plays the Fool

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving.

I spent my Thanksgiving with two people who up until ten years ago I had not spent any Thanksgivings with. It made me think about how time passes and how things change.

Thanksgiving was always a big deal to my father so I think we usually ate at home when I was a kid. Christmas, we went visiting but Thanksgiving my dad had to have his own turkey. It was sad to me that the last Thanksgiving of his life, in 2007, my dad could not enjoy his dinner. He was going through chemo at the time and so had no appetite and everything tasted like cardboard to him.

After he passed, the first Thanksgiving after his death, in 2008, we really didn’t have Thanksgiving. My mom spent the day volunteering at a homeless shelter and ironically, I spent the day in a similar fashion on the other end of the table, attending a dinner at a church with an AA meeting afterward with friends and family of the members. I being the girlfriend of a member.

Thanksgiving brings with it so many memories. As I said, I spent this year with people who are recently in my life….my friend and housemate and my cousin and other housemate. Neither one was in my life ten years ago. My friend I had just met for the first time about ten years ago, and my cousin is about 25 years younger than me….he is actually my cousin’s son….and he and I did not begin to get close until his mom…my cousin, also passed away in 2008 after my dad died. He moved away after that and came back into my life about 5 1/2 years ago.

My mom is getting too tired to have company at her house so my brother brought her over her dinner. We haven’t even had our usual after dinner Thanksgiving sandwiches as she has been complaining that she doesn’t like turkey and the weather is too cold and she has been tired lately so….

I’m also reminded of the time when I asked the priest I worked for if he would like to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. It sounded to me that he had no family left and we had always had priests visit and join us for dinner when I was growing up. I did not feel comfortable really ever around my boss but once again, I told myself that it was the Christian thing to do to ask him to join us. He declined, saying he had plenty of friends and he would not be alone. Which makes him saying he wanted to stay with me when he came up this way after he retired even more strange when he said it.

But thinking about that day when I asked Father if he wanted to join us for dinner, I was wondering at the time why it seemed so awkward an encounter. Despite the fact that he was not what I would call a real sociable guy, I felt strange asking him if he would like to come to my house. I am pretty sure now that the vibe I was picking up was due to the fact that his intentions towards me…unknown to me at the time…were not very priestly.

I read something this week about people with different attachment styles and how insecurity and lack of love, or abuse and neglect, in childhood can affect how one attaches to and interacts with a love interest as an adult.

I get this. Without proper security and self-esteem, navigating through the world of romantic love can be rather like trying to find your way through a maze blind-folded. Unsure if the next step you take will have the floor disappear beneath you or if you may blindly walk into something that will hurt like hell.

Now, this article that I read….from the internet and not from a Psychiatric journal….also said that some people with fearful attachment styles may navigate towards priests.

This is what I will say to that. First of all, none of the people I have ever spoken with, have said that they went looking for a thing with a priest. Most of the comments I have heard from people are things like, “He was not even my type”, “He was not attractive”, “He was supposed to be helping me with my marriage”, “My child was sick at the time”, “He was kind of strange”, “He was my mentor and like a father to me”, “I felt sorry for him”, “He had many physical ailments and I was helping him out”.

Nobody I’ve spoken with has said their involvement began because they thought it would be fun to flirt with a priest and see what happened. I do think, though, that because we believe that priests are safe with our secrets and are supposed to be “asexual”, that there may be a feeling of being comfortable in opening up to them and of feeling affection for them in a safe space which can be then taken advantage of. But that is not the same thing.

Another thing I have noticed this week of Thanksgiving is the sadness around this time of year and the feelings of loss this week can bring. The loss of family both alive and deceased can stir such feelings of depression and loneliness.

I know myself that I have gone through enough in my life to know that my mom feeling too tired to come over or to have company at her house may not be just a passing thing. There have been many people I have shared a Thanksgiving table with that are now just in my memory of the past. And although I wish everyone happiness, it is sometimes difficult for me to see posts on social media of people sharing their happiness. Their large families and all of their grandchildren at the table or their posts about their blissful relationships and how close they all are and where they are travelling, etc.

I’m happy for them, but it’s better for my own mental health and well-being if I don’t have to see it. I find it tends to remind me of what is lacking for me, and that is not what the holiday is about. And I know that I am not alone in feeling this way as many people who have gone through abusive relationships are estranged from family members or have lost loved ones way too soon.

In speaking with one such person this week, I said, “Count your blessings”. And by that, I didn’t mean to say that the person did not have the right to feel sad. Or that their loss was in any way their fault because it was not. Or that I was being preachy or saccharine or trying to get a job writing greeting cards.

Because I felt sad this Thanksgiving. It hurts to see people with their grandchildren when mine aren’t talking to me. It hurts to see the celebration of a new baby when I know that I will never see the newest grandchild in another state because the parents feel self-righteous and we are “toxic”. I’ve been through that more times with more kids. I think this one is the fifth child lost because the parents or new step-father felt threatened by the old family. Five. A niece. A nephew. And three grandchildren. And so, I understand the loss a grandparent can feel when they are not allowed to see their grandbabies.

My kids either ate with their father or the “other family” this Thanksgiving. I did hear from and get to bring sandwiches and pie to them. The rest of the older generation is gone and I am no longer married so there are no longer crowded tables laden with food in my life. So I get how people feel if they are heating up a turkey dinner for one from Swanson. I have done that myself at one point in time when snowed in alone at home during the holidays.

So, when I say, “Count your blessings”, I am being serious. Many times, in our life, we don’t have control over the cards that we have been dealt. It can seem like the Bluebird of Happiness has flown over our house and forgotten us. We can look at social media and compare our lives to those with tons of food and family and wealth and health and a life that appears to have suffered no hardships and we can feel that we got the fuzzy side of the lollipop, or we can turn off our computers if it bothers us, turn off the news if it depresses us, and if we need to, make a list of our blessings.

For me, my grandkids can choose to cut me out of their lives….but I know that I am a good person. I am someone who will always be here with love and no matter how far away they go, we will always be tied by our DNA. I feel blessed that they are happy and healthy and that their lives are okay.

For my mom, I am cherishing every moment and every memory and everything she has taught me to prepare for the day she will no longer be here.

For those who have passed away, I was blessed to have had most of them in my life.

I also feel blessed to understand what it feels like to know loss and loneliness and the comfort of friends and my home and my dogs. And I enjoy spending time alone with myself.

This person I spoke with this week who has suffered so very much is kind and beautiful and talented and has made a beautiful life for themselves.

And I told this person, just let your light shine. Don’t try to convince anyone else of your worth. Take care of yourself and send love to others. Continue to grow and to learn. And I don’t really need to tell this person that. Just reminding myself really.

Keep counting your blessings and be thankful for them.

I am thankful that I had a nice turkey that came out okay and that it took me an hour to toss together the rest of the dinner that would have taken my grandmother about three days. I am thankful that my ex-husband is doing okay and that both my oldest son and my youngest grandson do not have COVID as both were sick this past week and had to be tested.

I am thankful for my wonderful new therapist who didn’t interrupt me when I went off on a tangent for God knows how long because when I came up for air I said, “I’m sorry, what was the question?” And found I didn’t need to apologize. I’m thankful that my dog is okay as I thought he was dying last week but it was a neck sprain and he is doing better.

Did I mention I got a new microwave? Works so great. No guesswork.

But the thing I am most thankful for this week is that I finally, finally got a pair of shoes that I can wear. I am walking now, unassisted, by the way. But…the foot that had surgery has a mind of its own and swells up when it feels like it so I’ve been wearing slippers and shoes that don’t match. Found a pair of shoes on-line that have Velcro instead of laces.

Yes, I am very thankful. And there was pie. Two kinds of pie. Pie makes every day better. Yes, I said it.

Have a wonderful week everyone. Remember how wonderful you are and let me know if you had pie this week. Take the poll.

For the month of November, not including the United States, this blog was read in 14 countries.

Free Fallin’

Last week, I mentioned how difficult it was to separate from my ex-husband and how, even now, I have moments when I doubt myself over my past actions and the mistakes I made along the way.

I just wanted to add to that by saying that my relationship with my ex-husband was one of….I have to leave, I want to stay….and based on emotions and a need for myself to become less dependent on someone else. In fact, one of the biggest red flags for me in knowing I had to do something was the feeling of needing someone else to alleviate my fears.

I did not want to be in a relationship because being there meant that I felt safe despite the problems that I knew existed. I didn’t want someone else to have control over me or for me to allow someone to have control over me because it was easier than facing my fears and walking away on my own.

In the same way, I didn’t want to acknowledge the red flags. And yet, as much as the relationship would reach a point to where I thought I had to leave, as soon as I did leave, he would begin to try to pull me back in. And that was harder. Way worse. Because it was then like trying to escape from everything that I wanted him to be and everything I felt I needed.

And so when I did finally leave for the second and last time, pulling away felt like trying to learn to drive with a clutch. My movements were jerky and uncertain. There came a point where I knew I needed an ultimatum. And when I say “ultimatum”, let me say that this was not a popular choice with anyone. I said that I could not reconcile without couple’s therapy.

Now, he had already told me that he would never go back to therapy. And my son told me that I knew that he would not go back to therapy. And I tried to not make it sound like an angry ultimatum. but one that made sense. Because in reality, it was not my ex that I was issuing the ultimatum to…..it was to myself.

I needed an end to the craziness. An end to the confusion. An end to the “should I stay or should I go?” dilemma. And I didn’t expect miracles. I just expected something to be different from what we were doing. Something other than “I will try” which sounds great until you are in the middle of things with no other place to go and just depending upon someone else to work on their own issues with no incentive to do so.

Well, he refused. Not a big surprise. And I’d like to say that I was a tremendously strong person who immediately sought a divorce. Nope. What did I do? I bargained. I couldn’t face the results of my ultimatum. But I had painted myself into the corner deliberately so that I could not get out. Bargaining….getting down to please just go with me to counselling like twice a year or something….just to say we are working on things….did not work.

I had to face reality.

I eventually did initiate divorce proceedings. And everyone gets along now okay. But when I feel pulled back into my feelings, I need to realize that there was a reason that I did what I did. And that reason was I needed to stop making decisions based on emotion. Because I didn’t really trust my emotions.

I had to put up a wall….a boundary…..however flimsy it began…to emotionally separate myself from a confusing situation that pulled me in all directions.

I know this is a blog about abuse by priests. But abuse is abuse. And our ability to set boundaries or put our foot down and say “enough” whether to someone else or to ourselves when we don’t have the tools to process a healthy existence at the time, does not matter who we are interacting with or who is trying to manipulate or use us.

But with the priest, the difference is….he would be the one we would be telling this to and the one from whom we would be seeking help.

If there was a blessing for me being psychologically and emotionally abused by a priest, it would be that it put a name to things that happened to me in the past. And it helped me to see that I have to be careful to not let my wall down wherever I go.

And that in itself is difficult, isn’t it? That reaction to betrayal by someone we trusted by not allowing anyone to be close to us in order to protect ourselves is called a “Trauma Response”. That is just one of many trauma responses. And we can even feel conflicted by this….wanting to feel safe by avoiding closeness with others, but than not feeling safe being alone either.

My lack of trust and avoidance has mainly to do with the church. I don’t trust the motivations of those who seem to be kind or helpful. My feelings of distrust are raised whenever I hear someone speak of a good priest who tried to help them and I wonder what was the priest’s motivation behind doing the good deed. Especially if it has to do with a child or a vulnerable adult who is kind-hearted and trusting. I want to say, “please be careful who you trust”.

I am still working daily on becoming more aware of trying to fix things for people and things in general with people. I’m trying to let go of caring too much about what other people think. Like I said….my feeling is it may take a lifetime to change old patterns, but I feel that it all begins by becoming more aware of ourselves without judgment.

I have a friend who I have known since childhood. I reconnected with her after many years and since she had a child many years after I had my kids, we would often hang out at her house while her child was growing up and needed her there. I often would help out at parties she threw for her daughter and I’d play cards with her family….things like that.

One day she said she was going to have a couple of people we both knew from grade school over for lunch and did I want to join them. Having never been very close to the two friends and having not really seen them since grade school, I declined, saying no, that’s okay, they were more your friends and I haven’t seen them in years, or something like that. Never meant it to be something to hurt anyone’s feelings. Didn’t seem like my not being there was important to anyone.

I happened to see one of the friends on Facebook and thought maybe it was time to reconnect with an old classmate. I was ignored. Saw the same person at our reunion and they did not speak to me. It was obvious that our mutual friend had told them she had asked me and I said I was not interested in joining them.

Especially since said friend has not attempted to get together to do anything with me since this happened a couple of years back.

I never thought it was going to grow into anything. Thought she was just having lunch with some friends who I had never seen while I was hanging out at her house….or ever…since grade school. But I felt the need to fix things and make it right.

But my new non-fixer awareness said….”why?” How good of a friend is this to talk behind my back and not ever get back in touch with me? And I had attempted to be friends with and talk to her friend and my ex-classmate already to no avail. What did I attempt to fix? Do I tell her that I know what she did? Do I try to fix things with her two friends who by me not having lunch with them may have taken that very personally and want nothing more to do with me? Do I need this kind of drama in my life?

I realize I don’t need to fix this. I send my friend a Christmas card each year. We are friends on Facebook. I’m here if she wants to get together. I have already tried to invite her to something and she declined. Time to let the issue go, leave the door open, but not try to fix things or to get anyone to like me. Does it make me a less likeable person because someone else does not like me?

It sure feels that way. Even though I haven’t really known these people in many years and never see them and they have no affect upon my life. But it feels like a poppy seed stuck in between your teeth. Life can’t go on until that seed is unstuck. Must fix.

But that is how I feel. And I am aware of that. And I am aware that I don’t need to fix things for people. I can be continue to be friendly if I ever run across these people but I don’t need to be responsible for their thoughts and feelings or anyone else’s actions.

One last thing I want to talk about. Noticing the good things in our lives.

I woke up one morning last week to the sound of rain falling outside of my window. It was a dark morning and I didn’t have to get up for some time yet. My little dog was lying next to me with her head near my ear, softly snoring. That sound, along with the rain, was so very peaceful. And I wanted to bottle that moment in time. Because we know all too well that these moments of perfect peace don’t last. Life brings new changes every day. We need to hold onto those moments….to become aware of those moments….and all of the things that bring joy into our lives.

Life changes. Just found out today that someone who lived in my neighborhood when we were kids passed away from cancer. His mom is still alive. She used to let us pick her flowers to bring home to our moms when we were kids.

Blessings to all this week of Thanksgiving. My thoughts go out to anyone who feels alone or who is missing someone they love this holiday.

I Get Weak

This past week when my ex-husband was in the ICU, it brought up so many feelings from the past. Feelings and self-doubt. Did I do the right thing? I know it was not the easy thing for sure. Neither way was the easy way. But sometimes I wonder if things would have worked out better for the family if I had stayed in the relationship.

And with him being so sick (he is home now), it caused us to reach out to each other. We texted and we talked on the phone. And I felt a sense of anxiety at possibly losing a person I have a connection with as far as our children and grandchildren. We have a connection there that I will never share with anyone else. And that brought up memories of good times together and a bond that we will always share.

We met through a mutual friend when I was still in high school. He was 18 and I was 17 and he would come to my school at lunch time and me and some of my friends would hang out in his van and stay warm during lunch. That’s code for other stuff that I won’t get into. He knew everyone and when I was with him, I felt kind of important because then everyone knew who I was. His friends. People I would not normally know or hang out with if I did not know him. A very large group of friends. And he was cute and he was nice to everyone, and it was fun to be with him. And when it wasn’t….I made excuses….so I never noticed the cracks.

When I was 20 and he was 21, I got pregnant. We ended up having a baby, moving in together, and then getting married within a year. Because it was what you did. And for me, someone who wanted to get married and have children….the situation was rewarding. And I was happy. At first.

Now this is the part where I break down what happened, even though I did not know the terms for anything when I was younger.

They call it “Trauma Bonding”.

I loved being married to this man that I loved. I loved sharing my life and our child. I was getting positive reinforcement all over the place.

A lot of things happen in the beginning of a relationship. You have the wedding and the honeymoon and the gifts and the new life and new place and new experiences and friends getting married and showers and babies and you get to see your friends a lot still for awhile because you are still young and many of your friends are still single and they come over to hang out and there’s a lot of activity and things to distract you from each other.

And then along came baby number two for us and we began to look at houses. Oh, boy….more new and exciting things. More good brain chemicals being associated with my husband.

And it was at that points that the cracks really began to show…when I was in our house alone at night with our two babies while he went out almost every night….staying out very late.

I told myself that I enjoyed being at home and being a mother and he enjoyed being out and about with his friends and not feeling tied down. Because that is what you do when the cracks begin to show…..you justify the other person’s behavior. Because it was easier for me to justify him going out all of the time and working every Saturday all day as something he needed to do to be happy….than it was for me to confront him about being out a bit too much and me and the kids needing some attention as well.

Especially when doing so brought about anger and unpleasant words. Things were just easier when he was happy. That is what I told myself.

And in between these not so great days and moments….were anniversaries and parties with friends and holidays with the kids and nights where he was home and things were good hanging out together.

I always called it “percentage”. There was always that “percentage” that kept me there whenever I thought that things weren’t right and I acknowledged outright verbal and emotional abuse that was happening…..but I did not want to have an emotional confrontation and I was terrified because I had never lived on my own or taken care of anything on my own, and I had two children as well. So, I did what is known as “freezing”, or deciding to stay in a situation because leaving felt too difficult. Freezing can also mean staying in a situation because it seems like the right thing to do. “Right” sometimes meaning what is best for others or that it feels safer at the time to not make a move.

In a trauma bond between two people, there is sometimes a feeling of a power differential. Whenever I would speak up to my husband, he would threaten to leave or tell me to leave instead of listening to how I felt. And I didn’t want to be an obligation to someone. But the power he held….and this happens often…is that he took care of everything and he knew so many people to do things and for me, my world got smaller so that it became me and my kids and going to work and seeing my parents. I became more isolated but he did not.

A trauma bond relationship has cycles of abuse with intermitted reinforcement of rewards, and then when the partner is beginning to feel hope and renewed affection, there is punishment of some form. People who experienced this type of behavior in childhood…the ups and downs of emotional whiplash, are especially prone to relate to this kind of situation and it can feel familiar and in a weird way….just “the way things are”.

I loved my father very very much, but you just never knew what could set him off at times. Alcohol was predictable but other times, during vacation or an otherwise pleasant times, he could fly into a rage and all you could do was quietly wait it out and pretend it wasn’t happening.

Trauma bonds don’t just happen in romantic relationships. They happen in families as well. Anywhere where you go through cycles of reward and abuse and reward again. Anywhere there are feelings of fear, excitement (anytime adrenaline rises), or sexual feelings….these can create an entrapment where someone stays for what they perceive as something mostly good, or they make excuses because they fear leaving for one reason or another, or because they feel they can’t leave for whatever reason. Or because they have convinced themselves that the abusive person is really a good person at heart, or that life isn’t all happy times.

Another thing to know….we hear about the law of attraction and how we need to put out positive vibes and ask the universe for a good partner or for happiness or whatnot, but as long as we have not worked on our own trauma bonding issues, we unconsciously seek out our unhealed issues in others. Our subconscious seeks out what we believe to be true.

So you can give your order to the universe for a healthy relationship, but as long as we are blaming ourselves for past mistakes, failing to put up boundaries, not being able to see a person for anything other than how they once showed themselves to be even when they begin to change, not seriously believing you are good enough, being afraid to have an opinion, being afraid of alienating or losing people….not because you are rude but because you do what is comfortable to you and you listen to what is comfortable to you…..until you can do that…or at least begin to acknowledge and work on those things….you are going to keep attracting what is familiar to you.

And, after all, familiar is comfortable, right? It’s not easy. That is why, after all these years, I still carry guilt that I feel I must right and I still feel that I should be the one taking care of my sick ex-husband and that I would be there if I hadn’t left and all of those feelings come back. And I’m still trying to control….had I zigged instead of zagged, things would have turned out better. Like everything in life depended upon what I did. Nobody else carries any responsibility for themselves. It’s all on me.

And I need to remind myself, as we all do, that we cannot change anything in the past, and that we did what we needed to do or thought was right at the time with the information we had, and that guilt is a useless emotion that does nothing but destroy you. Make amends as best you can if you need to and forgive yourself.

When it gets tough or uncomfortable in your healing journey, remind yourself that it’s okay (again) to take care of yourself and to not fix things for everyone.

Trauma bonds can last for years. Old emotions can get triggered. You can find yourself getting pulled back in. You may find yourself blaming yourself for things in the past that you cannot change. You may find in healing that you have had faulty beliefs.

For today, it’s enough to be aware that “there’s a name for that”. Just become more aware. Have a great week.

Oh, ex-husband was very very sick. Does not know how he got sick. It was not Covid related. But he is home now and feeling very weak and needing a lot of rest.

Recovery always takes time and focus on taking care of oneself.

MacArthur Park

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard not to worry about the people I love. Even though I know logically it helps nothing, it’s hard not to worry. Do you agree?

I imagine it is a co-dependency thing born of an upbringing that may have included alcohol or parents who were controlling or overprotective or who worried a lot themselves. And it becomes ingrained. A habit. It becomes like a very worn out rabbit’s foot that we have to hold onto in order to ward off bad things from happening.

As children with little control over our world, worry was the only control we had over anything. And my guess is that as we grow, some of us develop into complete adults who have a “good sense” of worry, while others develop a more neurotic, co-dependent sense of attachment worry….where we have a difficult time separating ourselves from others and feel the need to fix and to care for them. In other words, we learn to enable.

In some families, especially in families where alcohol is a problem, the focus tends to be on the one using. So then, the focus tends to be reacting to the abuser. You grow up with this so there is no comparison, really as to what normal is. You learn not to let your emotions get too loud or troublesome and you learn to help fix things to help cover up the embarrassing behavior of the people that you love.

And then you may also run into the addict/abuser who seems to relish the attention they get from having a crisis and having the entire family focus on them. And no matter what is going on in your own life, you are expected to take care of them. Co-dependents tend to be self-sacrificing. That’s a trait that I would guess would come from years of having to put your own needs second to that of someone else for the good of the family….and as you would tend to see it as a child….your own survival.

So when you grow up on edge, waiting for the next shoe to drop, you can never really let down your guard and relax. And I believe that habit that has been learned carries on into adulthood. And because we already know that there is so little that we can control outside of ourselves, falling back into a state of worrying and trying to fix and putting our own needs last to help someone else is what we know.

We can try to fix or take care of our spouse or significant other. We may find ourselves in a situation where we are doing most of the giving or we are attracting partners who are more than willing to take from us. Or we may find ourselves with unhealthy partners who have addictions that we feel the need to cover for or make up for. It’s a position we feel comfortable in even though it may make us feel uncomfortable and resentful.

And we may find ourselves repeating family patterns of enabling our children. Constantly helping them out of problem situations. Always trying to protect them to the point of not allowing them to make and learn from their own mistakes. Continuously helping them out of situations that they repeat…trying to alleviate our own constant worry but actually keeping us connected in an endless loop that really benefits nobody because it allows dysfunctional behavior to continue.

It’s like buying someone a birthday cake and they forget it outside in the rain and so you buy them another cake because you don’t want their birthday ruined but then you eat the soggy cake yourself so it doesn’t go to waste.

Another problem with worry and enabling others besides it robbing you of your own happiness, is that the more you give of yourself, the more other people tend to take it for granted that you are going to take care of things and the more they take you for granted. And the less reason they have to make any changes in themselves. And although it feels so counter-intuitive to let go of someone….of taking care of them every time they need something because of their own issues….the more it drains you and the less love you feel. In fact, you can start to feel angry.

Anger…..we have always been taught to repress it. Tuck that away. That’s not nice to feel that way. You are not a nice person if you raise your voice or throw up a boundary or ask for what you deserve. You could lose people from your life. I know I have.

That is why I asked the question I did in today’s survey. Not to be personal because I know cheating is a very difficult topic. But because sometimes when people cannot find another way to express themselves and their frustrations in a relationship, they search for validation outside of the relationship.

It may be personal validation or it may be a way of getting back something of what they think they deserve when not getting that from someone they have constantly given to. A way of channeling their anger.

Unlearning co-dependent or enabling tendencies is not easy. But it can be done. Once again, listen to your feelings. I’m not saying that life will change overnight. I’m not saying life will be easy. I’m not even saying I’ve done this successfully myself. But I am saying, become aware of patterns that aren’t working or if you are giving too much trying to help and nothing seems to be helping or your efforts are being met with disrespect or anger if you begin to do something for yourself instead.

Another thing about co-dependent behavior…..it tends to attract unwanted personality types. Users, addicts, Narcissists….you get the idea.

Those of us who have been in relationships with these personality types know that they don’t always show their true colors right away. So those people who think we should know better or choose more wisely should know that abuse takes many forms and it can be hidden well behind pleasant masks. When problems do arise, usually the rest of the relationship is so nice that we make excuses for the person or tell ourselves that nobody is perfect. Or by that time, we are already in too deep.

It’s not easy to walk away from an otherwise nice relationship, whether it be romantic or friendship or family. What I have found is when there is a problem that does not seem like it is going to change, ask yourself if you can live with that because you most likely aren’t going to be able to change anything.

Can you live with a partner who doesn’t value family? Or someone who is constantly needing to borrow money or having you pick up the bill or pay for the things they want? Can you forgive someone who has lied to you or cheated on you? And I’m not saying if you cannot live without them. I’m saying, can you willingly live with their behavior?

Co-dependents tend to blame themselves for things other people do. Most likely because they feel responsible for the other person’s well being and happiness. They have also learned to “clean up” after others whether figuratively or literally. Enabling forms an attachment and it’s so hard to let go when you feel that someone you love may fall without you holding onto them.

Speaking about all of this, I just learned that my ex-husband is in ICU. Our kids are going to visit him today. I called my mother to tell her about this and she said….”What a shame…he is such a nice man.” And I feel so wrong reminding her of why I am not with him. Petty. But hearing her say that makes me feel like things were my fault and I know that makes no sense. I mean, it really doesn’t matter at this point. And I still care about him very much. I miss being married. It was so difficult for me to acknowledge the problems that I could not unsee. I am praying for his full recovery.

Worry. Attachment. Being afraid to let go of someone even if it’s only in our fearful thoughts. Too much of these negative or controlling thoughts and feelings distract us from our own growth and feelings and well-being. Be mindful this week of how much focus is put into things and people and situations that we have no control over. Things that we think we should be fixing somehow for people. Stay healthy.

Respect Yourself

Last week I wrote about fixing up your house a bit and making it stronger in case of a storm. By that, I meant that you are the house.

Someone mentioned in a comment that they could probably exercise more and eat less sugar. Well, yes, but why? If it is because you want to put more nutritious food into your body or prevent future illnesses and ensure continued health by doing so….okay. If you are doing it because you care about yourself. But if you are saying you should have healthier habits because that is what others expect of you or because you feel other people will judge how you look, or that you are not good enough as you are….then are you really making your house stronger…or are you just trying to put a pretty wreath on the door to make other people happy?

I think that life itself is strange in that we are born into a world where we feel the need to fit in. We do what we are told. We stifle our feelings. We work. We compare what we have and what we have accomplished with other people we know. All of our life is spent with a catcher’s mitt on our hands. All we end up knowing about ourselves is how well we were able to catch the balls that were thrown our way and how good we appear to look on the outside.

Our individuality is praised a bit more when we are children. We are asked what we want to be when we grow up. We play that we are heroes or villains or dancers or movie stars. Our work may get stars put on it and be put on the fridge for display.

But it seems that the older we get, the more we are encouraged to put away our dreams as they are deemed to be childish thoughts. And our choices become more limited and we tend to be squeezed into what is expected of us.

And in some ways, it may feel comforting to be told what to do. It can be overwhelming to have our live be open-ended and have to make big decisions. Or to feel alone in a big world unsure of which way to turn. It can feel comforting to do what we know. What we have seen our parents and friends do.

I just finished watching the series “Mad Men”, and what struck me….besides all of the drinking and smoking they did….was how limited the lives of the women were back in the 1960’s. Remember, it wasn’t until 50 years ago that women were getting credit on their own and if a woman got divorced, she could end up with nothing…..no home, no money….even no children.

I remember enjoying art and writing and psychology when I was younger. But I chose to take secretarial classes because nothing else seemed solid or like a real thing for me to do. And then in high school, the guidance counselor suggested I become a nun, which was the farthest thing from my mind at the time, and in college (for medical secretarial classes) I took a test which suggested that I should be a funeral director.

We may learn about who we are from what other people tell us. But not all of it is helpful. For instance when I was told I should be a nun or a funeral director, nobody really pulled it together for me at the time and suggested that there may be other professions that needed someone who was kind to others or who scored high in empathy on a test.

And it goes the other way as well. It doesn’t feel good at all when someone puts us down or they don’t like us. And unless we truly know who we are and like who we are, we may believe that other people know us better than we do ourselves. So the bad words stick and we end up believing them.

As we go along in life, if we pay attention, we can begin to learn about who we really are. What kinds of things interest us? What kind of personality traits bother us? Do we prefer the beach or the mountains? Do we feel the need to be in control of things all of the time? Are we able to relax? What kinds of things fascinate us? What would we like to learn? Where would we like to go? What makes us sad? What colors do we like? What food do we enjoy?

This is what I am talking about when I say to make your house stronger. I’m not saying do something to “improve” yourself. That would imply that you aren’t already perfect as you are. The thing is, you are perfect, you just don’t know it. And you are not going to know it by listening to what other people say about you. Because what other people say about you changes from day to day…..minute by minute. While you are working on the strength of the walls inside your house (your boundaries), consider also making your rooms to your liking. Use the colors you love. Listen to the music that brings you joy. Cultivate an aura of love within your own walls.

Add an addition to your house. I have started to paint, so I would need a studio. Something with lots of light and perhaps some classical music. I will say that when I compare myself to other, more talented people, I can’t really paint well. But the hell with saying that. Saying that you can’t do something only guarantees that you never will do that. I love to paint. It takes me away from myself. I paint differently than others, not better, not worse than. I have my own style.

I have a friend….a fellow survivor….who reminded me that we all have our strengths. She loves to talk to people and to network and to learn. I love to write and to organize things for people and to learn about behavior.

My friend sends me lots of articles about Narcissists and co-dependency. And I think I am learning. I listen to my son talk about his relationship and I hear him talk about the other person. It reminds me of what I used to do. What I still tend to do if I don’t think it out. The question always being….are we reacting to what others are doing? Are we trying to control what someone else is doing because it makes us uncomfortable? Are we owning our own feelings and actions?

One article I read said that when we are recovering…and that means healing from abuse….we should not jump into dating or seeking another relationship. I can understand that if you consider the red flags we are supposed to watch out for.

Instant love and attraction. Wanting to know everything about you. Wanting commitment right off the bat. Jealousy. We’ve heard these things before but when you are looking for a love connection, these things can feel like love.

Another thing….and this was important because I had never seen anyone talk about this before….was building a story in your head. And this is common. Think obsession. That is the extreme, but having someone smile and be kind and compliment you….and seem like they are interested in you and that they want more with you….but then they don’t seem to follow up….can be just what it seems to everyone else in the world….nothing. But in the meantime, you are already fantasizing about what your children will look like and your feelings for this person are growing.

When you have co-dependent issues, you need to actively work on your recovery. Or you can face a lifetime of self-inflicted pain. It takes work. Boundary work is important in recovery.

We discussed this a bit tonight at our meeting. Boundaries can be a foreign concept to some of us. One insight was that we need to learn that we aren’t responsible for someone else’s problems. That doesn’t mean we don’t care or can’t offer help. But it does mean that we aren’t responsible for fixing things for someone else. And that can be very difficult to learn. Especially when we have been taught we are responsible or we have been made to feel responsible since we were kids.

Another thing….it seems that we may have things we subconsciously revert to when stressed. We may find ourselves shopping more without being aware that it is related to not being able to control something going on in our family, for instance. We may find ourselves feeling worse when we thought we were doing better and not understand why. All I can say is that when I find this happening to me, I ask myself what it is I’m not looking at. What am I trying to repress?

We are perfect spiritual beings living in imperfect physical bodies and living in an imperfect world. Healing from trauma or co-dependency or anything for that matter is a slow life-long process of becoming aware of our thoughts and feelings.

Please don’t tell yourself that you can’t do something you may want to try. Please don’t tell yourself that you aren’t as good as someone else. An apple cannot be an orange. Listen to the tapes that play in your head. The ones you have played over and over and now believe are the truth about yourself. Pick them apart. Put new words in that are more positive. Begin to play more positive words in your head. It’s not easy, I know. Like I said, lifelong work ahead.

And remember that if you missed out on an opportunity to do something in your life, you still have time. Maybe you won’t be able to do exactly the same thing, but instead of thinking about what could have been, try thinking about what could be….

Sending socially distant hugs to all. Have a nice week. Be good to yourself. Trivia….top five countries reading this blog in November were: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Portugal. Blog most read was Guest blog #3.

Don’t Stop Believing

Does anything we do ever really matter in life?

Sometimes I wonder.

This past week we saw some guest blogs from survivors who wrote letters stating how they felt to those with some with the power to change things. Did it make a difference?

When we were young, we believed that good always triumphed and that God was always watching and that the grown ups were in charge and could handle anything fairly. Fair is what mattered back then. Fair still matters.

It can feel frustrating to put yourself out there and to speak from the heart only to get the feeling that it didn’t matter or change anything. It can feel like just one stone in a well. But I don’t believe that any action done with good intention does not have some kind of affect in this world. If not just being the inspiration for others to toss their stone into the well. Eventually if enough people believe in the power of good, change will begin to be noticed.

It can be hard to keep going at times. It can be easy to get discouraged. Sexual abuse….whether physical or psychological…is something people don’t want to discuss and it can feel isolating to be a survivor. And just saying that you were abused makes you appear different to some people. As Regina put it in her letter…..it is if we are wearing a scarlet letter on our chest.

Someone at last night’s meeting shared a couple of resources that I would like to pass along. Dr. David Pooler (David_Pooler@Baylor.edu) is interested in researching Clergy Perpetrated Sexual Abuse of Adults. Also, there are many blogs to read at “Awake Milwaukee” with survivor stories of clergy abuse and different insights to broaden horizons and perhaps contribute a story of your own. I’m not familiar with either Dr. Pooler or Awake Milwaukee, so as with anything, use caution before contacting anyone.

One of the things that came up this week is….what can we do with all of the anger and frustration we feel after being betrayed or discarded by someone we trusted? One person I spoke with is focusing on not being powerless again by going to law school and putting that energy into helping others.

And I thought that was a great idea. When we are at our lowest point and when our vulnerability and our weaknesses have been used against us, it is devastating. That is another thing people who have not been abused do not understand. That is, an abuser will pretend to be someone they are not in order to gain someone’s trust. They will get under someone’s skin and into their head with the sole purpose of destroying that person for sport. Just to get off on their own power. So they may help you crash and burn because you handed them the keys to your car so to speak.

And that makes it ten times worse. Because we trusted and we feel like we participated. We allowed ourselves to be open with someone we thought had our best interests at heart. We may have shared some very personal stuff. So when we hit that tree going 100 miles an hour when our emotional brakes have been cut, we are destroyed. Mortally wounded. Gutted without a stitch of armor left to protect us.

And these feelings can hit us at any point in our lives because life can be tough and pain and loss are a part of living.

But what makes us survivors is the fact that we keep getting up the next day and starting over. We go on. And the difference between existing and surviving may come down to our next step.

How do we choose to rebuild ourselves after a loss or rejection or when we find we need to restart our lives once again and we begin to question our self worth because of others?

I do think we need to grieve. But when we grieve, I think we also need to listen to the words we say to ourselves. Forget about the laws of attraction and being responsible for allowing other people to treat us a certain way. Let go of that. When you are hurting, be kind to yourself. Treat yourself as if you have been physically burned. Don’t use sandpaper on that wound. Begin within.

I think it also helps a bit if we stop putting other people on pedestals and realize that they don’t know any more than we do really and they are just as flawed and their actions are separate from who you are as a person.

What they did is on them. You were probably a good friend or trying to help someone or maybe you trusted them because you are a person people can trust. So go lightly on lumping their issues in with your own. We all have enough on our plate.

I like how the person I spoke with decided to strengthen their armor by increasing their knowledge of the legal profession. Even if they never finished law school, at least they are learning and will know more than they did before. And they are rebuilding their armor.

For me, I won’t lie….I can hit some low lows. I can feel depleted. But remember, you are never too old to change your life. It is never too late to learn something new. Instead of focusing on what you have lost, focus instead on something that will help you grow as a person.

Think of it as rebuilding a town after a tornado rips through it or a fire has decimated its buildings. It is not the fault of the buildings that were destroyed that they happened to be in the path of destruction. But they can be rebuilt as often as needed….perhaps with stronger materials or a better structure or in a similar but different spot.

Another thing I heard this week is someone being told by someone else that they should maintain their anger about what happened to them. To me, that sounds like the belief that if we find a sense of peace or if we let go, then we are letting someone get away with something.

I don’t know that I agree with that. People heal at their own pace. And it’s said that we don’t necessarily get over things, we just learn to live with the scar. And who is to say that someone who feels more at peace may at that point be able to accomplish something they could not have when they were in a state of raw emotion?

Nobody can say what someone else should be feeling.

Be good to yourselves and have a great week.

The top five most read blogs this month so far are: Guest blog #3, Guest blog #4, Always Something There to Remind Me, Guest blog #5, and Tainted Love.

Please remember to take this week’s survey.

Guest Blog #5

A few days ago, I read the Associated Press article by Nicole Winfield: “Vatican-backed sex abuse research institute expands mandate, The Catholic Church’s foremost research institute studying sexual abuse of minors is expanding its mandate to also include the sexual and spiritual abuse of adults”

Vatican-backed sex abuse research institute expands mandate – ABC News (go.com)

The article quoted Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, the head of the former Centre for Child Protection and a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Zollner is now president of the new: Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care. The Institute is taking over the child protection effort and expanding to study the abuse of adults and also spiritual abuse.

In the Associated Press interview, Zollner mentioned the Vatican’s definition of “vulnerable adult” and said that it was under discussion. My letter to Father Zollner was intended to primarily address this issue. I sent this email to the Institute at the Gregorian.

October 14, 2021

Hans Zollner SJ

IADC

CollegioBellarmino

Via del Seminario 120

00186 Roma

Dear Rev.Zollner,

I read the article yesterday about the new Anthropology Institute at Gregorian University. I am glad that you have expanded. The title of the article above gave me hope that you were now addressing the abuse of adults, also. Yet, when I read the AP article, I saw that you are speaking of seminarians, nuns, and “vulnerable” adults. I notice immediately the influence of the McCarrick case and of the work of Doris Wagner Reisinger. However, my heart sank when I read your statement on vulnerable adults.

I would like you to understand and those who study with you to understand that the focus should not be on whether the woman is “vulnerable” or not. The focus should be on the man. Many of the Protestant churches have such clear and modern abuse policies. The clergyman has a fiduciary responsibility. The focus should be on the man and what he may not do. The laws everywhere need to make it clear that a clergyperson may not violate the professional ethics of his office. The question of child abuse is clear because laws exist; before those laws the children were often blamed. We need laws that make it clear that abuse of adults is also criminal, unethical, as well as morally wrong.

That discussion on whether women are “vulnerable” or “temporarily vulnerable” is insulting to me, someone who has been raped by a priest. It should be a question of whether the priest is unprofessional, unethical, criminal, and dangerous. Put the focus on the man who commits the abuse and not on the woman who is the victim. And I say “victim” because the clergyman is always in a more powerful position and especially in the case of Catholic priests is not even supposed to be sexually active, so there is a huge violation of trust for him to sexually approach anyone.

In conclusion, I hope the Catholic Church at some point affirms the dignity of women and removes the “Scarlet Letter” that we survivors of clergy sexual abuseas adultshave been wearing forever.

I am going to send you a copy of my recently published book:

Amazon.com: Josh: My Story eBook : Wurst, Regina: Kindle Store

If those at the Institute want to understand the story of one woman who was assaulted by a priest, I hope they read my book.

Sincerely,

Regina Wurst

joshmystory@gmail.com

I received this timely reply from the Institute:


From: Institute of Anthropology Dignity and Care <iadc@unigre.it>
Date: Mon, Oct 18, 2021 at 12:35 AM
Subject: Re: for Rev. Zollner and IADC


Dear Mrs. Regina Wurst,


Fr. Zollner has received your email. At this point, it is difficult for him to reply in person because of the recent inauguration of the Institute and all what is connected to that.

We are very sorry if the interview has upset you. However, in the interview there was no special mention to women, but to vulnerable persons. And as the recent report on abuse committed in the Catholic Church in France has shown, the question is indeed not only whether a clergyman has abused, but also male or female laity in the church have been victims or perpetrators.


The article in AP could not reflect the whole conversation between Fr. Zollner and the journalists. In any case, there is an ongoing discussion on how to address this issue, also in different legal constituencies around the world.

There is no question that those who abuse sexually or in another way another person, be he or she, a minor or an adult, needs to be called by his or her name and must be prosecuted.

In this sense, we are looking forward to receiving your book. That will help us to deepen our understanding and inform our teaching.


Best regards,

Secretariat

Institute of Anthropology 

Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care

Pontifical Gregorian University
Tel.: +39 06 40048453

In reaction to this letter from IADC, I take issue with their view that the AP interview “upset me.”I agree that “in the interview there was no special mention to women, but to vulnerable persons.” Exactly. That was my point. I can only claim I was abused if they judge that I was “vulnerable.” That is contorted logic.

Their letter also emphasized that“the question is indeed not only whether a clergyman has abused, but also male or female laity.”Well, yes, laity have abused, but I specifically want to keep my focus on priests, clericalism, and misogyny in the Church, as well as the requirement of celibacy which seems to exacerbate the problem of clergy abuse in the Catholic Church. Certainly, my abuser objected to celibacy when he called it “cultural imperialism” and stated that he could do whatever he wanted. I won’t accept that these issues are obfuscated and diffused.

I read in another article, though, that the IADC was beginning to look at the abuse of women, and adult men. They have started with the abuse of nuns and seminarians, and we can help them widen their viewpoints with our input.

Guest Blog #4

 
October 18, 2021

Hans Zollner SJIADC
Collegio BellarminoVia del Seminario 12000186 Roma

Dear Rev. Hans Zollner,
Attached are two articles that address the topic of clergy sexual misconduct/abuse of adults. The first article is by the AP regarding the effect clergy misconduct and abuse had on my life and faith practice. It crushed me as it struck at the core of my being. 
Having served the sick as a Registered Nurse for forty-one years in the medical profession, the patients entrusted in our care are all considered vulnerable. We seek medical attention for physical ailments, mental health professionals for emotional distress impacting our mental health, and attend the place of worship for spiritual growth and healing. The pastor of my former parish often referenced the church as a “field hospital” for those seeking spiritual healing. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. 

It is necessary to address the whole patient. The emotional, spiritual and physical are interconnected. If one area is suffering soon the other two will follow. 
As professionals we are taught to cause no harm. There is an imbalance of power making true consent impossible. Mental health and medical professionals are trained to protect all ages as those who seek our care place their trust in us. Trust is implied by the shear nature of the vocations. So it is with clergy in the field hospital of the Catholic Church. Both a maternal aunt and cousin were nuns. My aunt served the needs of the clergy in her order based in Canada. I loved the church. It meant so much in my life. Even if I stepped away at times something always drew me back. It feels as if it is in my very DNA. 


Therefore, the point isn’t to distinguish the vulnerability of the adult but to place the focus of responsibility where it belongs which is squarely on the clergy as professionals both feeding the flock in its care as well as providing counseling when needed. Even if therapy is involved in a secular setting an adult will often seek a spiritual perspective. 
All who enter the church need to feel safe and protected from predators who wear sheep’s clothing. The degree of trust implied by celibate/chaste clergy increases the vulnerability of the adult who isn’t prepared to have to protect themselves from the very men who took vows of service to Christ and who are representing Christ to those under its roof and its service. 


There can be no consent between a priest and adult because of such a power imbalance. The one with the greatest power holds the greatest responsibility. In the wake of # metoo movement the topic of power imbalances with adults came into much attention. A movie producer and politician hold power over those who are looking to achieve careers or who are even awe struck. However, clergy represents the highest power there is; God. 


There is no age limit for vulnerability. We are all God’s children regardless of the age. Many factors influence vulnerability such as a history of highly adverse childhood events and the impact of life on its own merits throughout the life span. It is a well known fact that under emotional stress we regress to earlier ages. Adults abused as children can regress to the emotional ages of the childhood trauma and abuse. Trauma effects the brain. 


Although chronologically adults, the level of regression can place the adult at a much younger age with the lower part of the brain in control over higher reasoning. Even if the childhood was considered to be without unusual trauma life itself can deliver harsh blows. For instance, the loss of a spouse through death or divorce, loss of an adult child, the pain of parental estrangement, substance abuse issues, loss of health or employment are only a few events that create extreme vulnerability even if temporary. One does not need to have a caregiver making decisions for them or be rendered incapable of functioning normally to be considered vulnerable. Calling it an affair, a temporary lapse in the priest’s vows or “sin” misses the point and seeks to minimize the real issue at hand. It is an absolute act of emotional, physical and spiritual betrayal, violation, and abuse of spiritual power and authority often subconsciously translated into God being the perpetrator. Christ overturned the tables in the temple driving the money exchangers out with whips because it was abuse oi the place or worship. What would He think about the decades of abuse covered up under its roof of not only the most vulnerable of all which are the minor children but of adults who are also His children? Who will advocate on behalf of Christ by exposing what takes place in the darkness so it can be addressed in the light of day and brought to justice leading to corrective measures to protect all of us? Abuse is killing people and is implicated in addictions which is an epidemic greater than Covid. The Church can take center stage and address it under its roof setting an example for all. 


I speak from personal experience that it was a devastating experience. Reporting it was the right thing to do for the sake of the church, the priest who needed help, and to protect other possible victims from going through what I experienced. I was strongly encouraged to remain silent to protect the institution at the expense of the individual whom it serves. Yet, what happened to me as a result of reporting and going public compounded the trauma and pain. Love does not enable. Love dares to speak truth to power. Love dares to confront the wrong because to remain silent is to be complicit in works of evil. 


Evil does its work in the darkness and in silence. To speak truth brings light into the darkness which is what Christ did. It got Him killed. It almost killed me. It certainly caused my old life to fall and crumble away including needing to retire earlier from my career because its impact was the last straw in a life of nothing but abuse starting from early childhood. One can’t determine by outward appearances whether someone is hemorrhaging inside from wounds so deep that nothing works but God. God is what kept me alive while I wondered is I would ever heal through trauma informed therapy which is a slow and arduous process.  We can manage to function in our professions yet be utterly vulnerable relationally. 


The deepest fundamental need is to feel loved and valued. How many of us suffer from wounds because we were not loved or valued or could not feel it because of poor self worth? The predator is skilled at targeting the right prey through expert grooming. If an adult responds it does not imply consent. It is a natural human response. 

Sincerely,
Dorothy Small 

https://eprints.qut.edu.au/205923/8/Stephen%20Edward%20de%20Weger%20Thesis.pdf#page52

https://apimagesblog.com/sundays-after/2019/12/19/sundays-after-dorothy-small

Owner of a Lonely Heart

Well, this week I had another session with my new therapist. Somehow we ended up venturing into what happened with the priest.

So, if you remember, the last therapist asked me why I had a thing for priests and told me that I had pursued my boss. “But, but….” I said. “Oh, I know what he did,” she said, which made no sense to me.

I just want to point out here that not all therapists are good therapists. Not all therapists know everything just because they are therapists. This lady let her answering machine take calls while I was in her office and patients left messages while we sat there. She also had a patient come in to set up an appointment while I sat there in the middle of our time together and once someone brought her lunch during our session.

But I continued to go to her. Until the day when she scheduled me for an appointment on a holiday and the building was locked and I couldn’t get in. She called me to tell me that I had been a no-show. I said the door was locked and nobody was there. She said I should have called her to come down to let me in. It was at that point that I stopped going to her…..or anyone….until now. That was over four years ago.

So I was hesitant to talk about what had happened with me with this new therapist. I know a lot more now than I did back then. But still, I thought she might tell me that I was stupid or why didn’t I do anything?

So when she asked me why I thought it was my fault, at first I thought I had heard her incorrectly. I thought she asked me why I didn’t think it was my fault. But then I understood and I said…because I thought it was personal. I didn’t know at the time that it was a game. I thought that I was responsible for his feelings and for fixing things.

And she did ask me why I didn’t tell anyone what was going on. Because I was afraid of what he would do if I said something, I said. Because I didn’t want to create a scandal. I didn’t want unwelcome attention. And because I felt protective of him. He was a priest. I didn’t want to ruin him.

And it’s weird to say that I felt afraid and yet protective. But she understood. She said it was not weird at all. In fact, it was pretty normal to feel that way.

And then she asked me if I ever felt triggered by anything still.

No, I’m fine. Absolutely. I’m good. Totally. Fully healed. Ready to move on.

Not entirely true.

I heard this week that trauma and PTSD causes uncontrolled reactions. At first, I reacted by avoiding the 90th birthday party of my friend’s father. I had known him all my life. He taught me how to ride a two wheel bike when I was a kid. He was the caretaker of the seminary in the back of our house and my brother and I were friends with his kids and my parents were friends with him and his wife…and he had worked at the diocese in the copy room when I was there. I missed his birthday. Because I was afraid of who I would see at the party. I didn’t want to run into Father or anyone from H.R.

And when I had to get another job and I was working at the store and a woman from the diocese came in and saw me and asked me didn’t I used to work for the diocese and why did I leave…..because nobody ever chooses to leave. I panicked. All I knew was I had to keep the secret. Or else everyone would know how horrible I was.

But then she said….”We need to talk….I’ll be back”. But I never saw her again.

But that was then…I feel much more confident now. I have spoken to the bishop. I have told the bishop, who tried to downplay the abuse by asking me if this kind of thing hasn’t happened to me before….no…it has not. Not like this. Flirting, yes. Even things that crossed the line into inappropriate. But I have never felt threatened by anyone. I never lost my job because of it. This, I told the bishop, was like rape. Yes, I said that. I was being coerced and threatened into doing something that was degrading while being gaslighted and isolated.

So I’m stronger now. Triggered, she asked. Yes, I said. But not so much about what happened directly.

Maybe it’s not so much triggered, but I’ve changed a little. I can’t do games. I think I am more sensitive if something feels off. I still doubt myself first but I’m beginning to get a sense of believing I deserve more and knowing that it is up to someone else to fix themselves.

But last week, I started reading a book written by a survivor and it was difficult. I felt like she was writing my story. She’s a wonderful writer who goes into much detail and the way she wrote about trusting her therapist even though her inner voice fought back and how she silenced the inner voice thinking she was wrong because he knew what he was doing…..it hit me.

And the way she describes how when she cooperated with him, he would giggle and get almost giddy and she would accept that almost affectionately thinking how goofy he was….from the outside looking in, you can see the net closing in on her but she can’t. And why should she?

And the way he begins to make her feel special…..well, why shouldn’t he build a rapport with his client and make her feel comfortable? All simple gestures we should be able to trust with the people we put our trust in. And yet, I could feel the anxiety in the pit of my stomach as I read her words.

So, yes, I’m still affected by what happened to me and things still trigger an emotional response.

Another thing that I happened across this week that I want to make clear to anyone who has not been a victim of abuse by a religious person…. is that many of us have been thrown out of our churches or jobs or choirs or seminaries or schools. We did not have a choice but to leave. We became the villains in our stories by perpetrators who claimed they were victims. Or we were judged less than virtuous by those who once were our friends. We became not welcome where we once belonged.

It’s not that we are against the church or what it stands for. It’s that the church and it’s members have betrayed us and then failed to truly help us when we needed support. We were further victimized. And then we were told to be quiet and to get over it.

That’s why I feel it is so important for us as survivors to get together to help each other because nobody quite understands how good an abuser can be at not leaving a “fingerprint” and turning the tables on the victim. You get it when it has happened to you.

I hope that everyone reading this has been able to get whatever help they need with a good friend or a good therapist. Good therapists and proper treatment can help save lives. I’ve been patched back together more than once and I’m still going. One thing, one step, one day at a time. Take care of yourself first. It was not your fault. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Don’t worry about who likes you or doesn’t. Believe in yourself. Trust your instincts.

Have a good week. Stay safe and healthy.