Haven’t Got Time for the Pain

So I had this thought…..if you were to write your autobiography…but you could only fill the pages with the happy times in your life…..how long would your book be?

For this experiment, you would totally erase bad thoughts and feelings. All your days would be sunny….except when you preferred a rainy night or a cozy snow day with a mug of hot chocolate.

How would it make you feel?

One day I happened to think about a dog that I knew when I was a kid. My neighbors had gotten a new puppy and had taken me up on my offer to puppy sit after school until they got home. It was a great gig. When they got home, they would give me a snack and sometimes pay me.

As the dog grew older….and this was in the days before leash laws….he never forgot me. I remember getting off the bus from school at the corner of our street and walking down the road to my house. And every day….every day…without fail, this dog would greet me. He was a big gangling mutt of a dog and when he ran up to greet me, he would oh so gently, jump up and put his paws on each of my shoulders and his face would be touching mine. I loved that dog.

And sadly, all good things must come to an end. But what a good memory. And as I was remembering, it was like I was there again. I felt the same feelings of being there by thinking about and reliving that memory.

Did you ever have a wonderful dream? One where you hated to wake up and realize that it wasn’t real? Don’t you hate that when your alarm goes off and drags you back to reality? For a moment, you had something really good.

I’ve heard it said that people are wired to pursue pleasure and to avoid pain. And the strongest motivator of the two is the avoidance of pain. That makes a lot of sense in a world where nothing makes sense anymore.

A heroin addict will continuously seek the initial high they experienced the first time they used the drug. Which drive is stronger for them….the pursuit of that pleasure or the avoidance of the pain of withdrawal?

And sometimes relationships will seem to be a good thing at first but soon prove otherwise. And we get caught in between searching for crumbs of pleasure while avoiding the pain of all of the unpleasantness that comes from leaving that person. Being alone. Not belonging. Financial struggle. Fear of losing control. Fear of the unknown. Fear of abuse.

I noticed something within myself this week. Kind of an underlying anger. You know how it is when you have had a relationship for a long time with someone and you get triggered because of something that happens? It may seem like a little thing to someone on the outside, but for you, who have lived through so much of the same thing over and over, that little thing is like shorthand for a much bigger thing.

Case in point…my ex brother in law passed away suddenly this past week. I’ve known him since high school. He came to a party in my parents’ basement when we were about 18. He came home from the Navy for his father’s funeral when I was pregnant with my first child and said he would marry me if his brother didn’t. I still have stuff that he sent home to us when we got married and he was stationed in Italy.

Well, I’ve known the family for many years and so I know how the family functions with picking favorites and alienating people and not speaking to people and such. I’ve seen deliberate hurt flung at someone with intent to destroy. So when the obituary came out in the paper, I was sensitive to a couple of things.

Firstly, his “beloved” ex-wife was mentioned twice in the first paragraph. Then, his parents, siblings, and kids. My sons are his nephews. He was their uncle who they loved. One niece was mentioned by name…..his beloved niece…..and “others”. My kids were not given names.

I know….doesn’t seem like a big deal. But it’s my kids being called “others”.

Okay, so this is how wars start, right? Over little things like this. But what it did was remind me that as much as I sometimes crave being a part of and belonging to that family….I don’t miss that ignorance of placing some people up on pedestals and others having to accept their role as bit players. And not being allowed to acknowledge it.

Thoughts can bring about emotions, that’s for sure. Good memories can elicit good feelings. Bad memories of the past can trigger negative responses. And we are wired to avoid pain.

So as you can see from my reaction to the obituary, it was not just about one lone instance that brought about a reaction. It was as if my mind and my body had years of memory stored within and just one little match was enough to set the blaze.

I say to myself….I’m happy I have moved on, I am in a good place pretty much, I forgive, I forget, I meditate, I have grown spiritually.

And then one little thing and I feel unsteady. I feel….feelings. Messy feelings. Anger, anxiety, fear, resentment. Pain. Deep buried pain.

Why? I’m medicated. I’m not still married. I’m past years of an emotionally dysfunctional childhood. I’ve divorced my emotionally distant, controlling and abusive husband. My kids have left home. I got over that too. My son got married without my being there. My grown grandkids don’t talk to me. I’ve accepted that I can’t do anything more about that. My brother is still alive after years of substance abuse intermingled with bouts of intense drama. I’ve gotten past being fired from the diocese and having cancer. I should be feeling peaceful now.

So why can’t I feel like I can’t relax? Why am I tense and angry and fearful? Why do I feel so damaged?

Well, the answer is….because your body remembers everything. And because your body has been through everything you have been through…..all of the disappointment, anger, loneliness, fear, abuse, depression, illness, pain, anguish….all of the feelings we may have even tried to deny or suppress…..your body remembers and is ready to do battle to protect you.

So it shoots out adrenaline when something isn’t life threatening, and it subconsciously warns you of things that may be a good thing for you because it’s afraid it may be a bad thing. It’s so used to reacting and of existing in a world where it has to watch out around every corner that even when you are laying in a hammock on a breezy afternoon under the shade of a tree….it’s restless. It can’t shut off and relax. It’s learned that for every good thing, pain is not far behind.

So when I said before that the highlight of your life may be a good day for painting or the fact that you can button your jeans……it may be because you are living in a gray world. A world where the colors are muted and not bright. Because if the colors get too bright, it will scare the heck out of you. Because you can’t let yourself feel too much.

But, I read this week that we can try to rewire our brains. Remember how I said that I wondered how many pages our autobiography would contain if it only held the good memories within? Well, sometimes our brains get so scrambled from trauma…physical, or emotional….that we fail to recognize the brighter colors of our lives. Is our life story just about trauma? Have we not laughed, loved, enjoyed the taste of food, been loved by an animal, snuggled with a child, brought joy to someone, opened the windows on a Spring day, created something beautiful, enjoyed an activity?

It’s hard when you have been abused to tell yourself that you are okay and that you deserve good things and deserve to be happy. Hard but not impossible. Not impossible but it involves conscious effort. It involves conscious positive thinking to begin to rewire the brain and the body.

I’m willing to bet you have worked hard for most of your life in order to get what you need in order to survive in this world. Food, clothing, shelter….stuff like that. Now it’s time to try to do and think and experience happy thoughts and people and activities.

Never easy. But never impossible.

I will close with part of a poem I wrote eons ago:

If I wore rose colored glasses, and you wore a pair shaded blue, we might see the same things in different ways, each from our own point of hue.

Have a great week….hope you were able to participate in the SNAP conference a bit. Please take the poll.

Touched by the Sun

Last week’s poll showed that the thing that keeps most of us from telling our truth is the fear of public scrutiny.

I get that. I think most people get that. Think about what happens with kids on social media or anyone for that matter no matter how old when personal information or photos are exposed. You don’t want to be vulnerable again. You don’t want to be hurt again. The only control you have seems to be hiding and not going through all of that again on an even larger scale.

Since I’ve spoken with the bishop, I’ve been a bit paranoid. I get emails from people all of the time and occasionally things just don’t feel right for some reason and a spidey sense goes off. Such was the case where a gentleman wanted me to call him instead of email. When he got done telling me his story, he wanted to know something about me….how many kids did I have and was I planning to take legal action in my case. I felt vulnerable. I didn’t know this person. Yes, we are all connected in a sense and I don’t mind sharing if it helps other people, but to be directly asked by someone….I don’t know.

And it’s not about who is asking or the situation really….it is about a feeling. I’ve ignored or questioned feelings before. Not anymore. Well, I say that, but upbringing is hard to overcome. I was raised to be polite to everyone. And to smile. My mom tells me to smile even when I am video chatting with her.

Anyway, someone this week said that they didn’t think the priests actually knew what the outcome was for their victims. Perhaps if they could see the damage they have done, it would help open their eyes. Personally, I don’t think they care. And if they were shown the outcome, would somehow make it about themselves and their own “feelings”.

Have you ever lived with an alcoholic? Someone you know who has good in them somewhere, but as much as they seem to show remorse for something they’ve done and promise never to do such a thing again….do we really believe that will happen?

I think enablers do. I’m an enabler. I’m working on it. But I am.

But, perhaps it’s time to take a look at the fourth rule for dealing with a narcissist…and that is….

Don’t assume a narcissist cares.

And once again, I don’t diagnose people and I really don’t care whether or not someone is a textbook anything. I only know that when I look at these rules and apply them to my life, it makes sense in many cases, so….

Our “Narc” love bombs us. Praise, warmth, sensitivity, flirtation….making you feel warm and fuzzy and worthy of love…and we want to believe. I mean, we live in a gray world where the highlight of our day might be having good painting weather or being able to button our jeans. Or is that just me?

Anyway, although we say we don’t want drama in our lives, we do want that bit of color when it comes along. Doesn’t it feel good to be appreciated? To have a talent or your intelligence acknowledged? To have someone look into your eyes like you’re on a first date in high school again?

Pleasurable feelings that have been deeply buried because life sucks and I’ll never fall in love again….as someone else pointed out this week….we are pack animals. We are programmed to connect and to care and to touch and be touched by others.

And if we are “damaged” and unsure of what love is really supposed to look like, we can be tricked. Even when we think we know better. That is why older people are more vulnerable and are targeted by con artists….because they tend to be lonely.

I remember one night, sitting in a bar with a friend. I had a drink in front of me….the only one I planned to have as I was driving. She had been seeing a married man. A physically abusive married man to boot. She “knew better”, but was drawn to him for whatever reason. Usually they say it is because we fall in love in the beginning of the relationship, within the love bombing stage.

So this guy shows up. I am not thrilled as I know what he is and what he has done to my friend. But he brings all of us ladies a rose, and buys us a round of drinks. Okay, this guy I saw through….because I knew the backstory and because we were in a bar where you meet someone like this all the time. I didn’t touch the drink . I finished the one I had and left.

Again with my mom….when I told her what had happened, my mom told me I had been rude and since he had paid for the drink, I should have drunk it. My mom never hung out in bars without my dad. And she is….once again….a representative of a time…not so very long ago.

But back to “our Narc”. We’ve been love bombed by someone who has taken an oath to follow Jesus. Someone who knows the Ten Commandments and would not break them on purpose. Someone who can see into our soul and loves everyone as does God.

He’s not some guy in a bar. We know what that guy is after. This guy is pure. Sex for him only exists within a loving relationship…and marriage. There is no doubt that he cares.

Plus, I think that if we are damaged….and by that, I mean have had damage done to us and carried it with us….I think we tend to relate to the damage in others….or what we think we see.

Now, I’ve read that Narcissists are indeed very damaged people….and that they know how to put on a front very well. But I think we need to look at their damage as if it were ashes in the aftermath of a fire. There is nothing left inside. Nothing to give you. Nothing of substance exists within. They are empty and in need of taking from you. And take they will….until you feel like you are empty inside as well.

These are not just words on a page. There seem to be so many people in unbalanced or emotionally abusive relationships. Relationships that seemed so right at the beginning. Relationships that sometimes take many many years for people to figure out what is going on because they are too close to see the forest for the trees. Good people who empty people have sunk their hooks into and drain the life from. But I digress.

Logic can be an unwelcome intruder when it comes to having your love light lit and you feel passion stirring. But listen. We make mistakes and we always will. But value the love that you have to give. And try to bring more color into your life…not so easy right now….but try to bring the color to your life yourself. Enjoy being you.

Have a good week, and please take our poll.

Getting to Know You

Last week’s poll showed that the majority of people if they could, would go back to the year 1970 knowing what they know now. Wow, the mistakes I could have avoided if I could back.

This past week, I had an old acquaintance from high school post her support for Catholic priests on Facebook. Sometimes when I have posted things on Facebook…usually sharing a news article about the church….she has added words in support of priests to my post. This week, she posted something on her own saying how she supports priests and what good men they are.

I am not usually one to argue points with people, having found that most of the time, people who hold such staunch opinions are pretty closed-minded. But in this case, I said my piece. To her argument that priests are good men and that if anyone goes after them, they should also go after other religions and people, I said that abuse happens in all religions and wherever there is a chance for abuse of power. It also included abuse by nuns. I also said that there are support groups for different religions and that I speak to survivors of abuse all the time.

Her heated response to this was…and this is not a direct quote but rather an idea of what she said as she has since deleted her post….So what you are saying is that this can happen with anyone….even by the person who lives next door?

And that was followed by how she agreed that child abuse was never a good thing and that a nun she knew belonged in jail….although she didn’t specify why.

And this was followed by something that made no sense at all to me…..she said….Where were you when John Wayne Gacy was around?

I didn’t respond to that as I didn’t know what she wanted to me to do about John Wayne Gacy or how that had anything to do with survivors of clergy abuse, but it was clear that she feels strongly about priests being good men that are being unfairly targeted so…

What is sad is that I too felt that way….not that priests were being unfairly targeted…but that it wasn’t a big problem and that priests were basically good people. And feeling that way tends to allow predators to keep abusing. Because some people….I think many people…..feel that you just don’t go after priests because they do good work for God.

I told a friend of mine that I had spoken with the bishop and I have not heard a word back from her. She is the one who got me the job at the diocese. The reaction I get from people who have not been abused by a priest is that you keep quiet and you don’t speak up against the church.

And it seems like an impossible task….like throwing pebbles against a brick wall….trying to tell people what is going on and trying to seek justice….but I believe that each time you speak your truth, it is an intent, and an energy being sent out….and that is power. There is power in truth. You may not win your case, you may not see justice, you may not be believed, but I think you grow stronger within yourself.

And speaking of talking….I wanted to add here the third rule of dealing with a narcissist….and that is….TMI.

This is a tough one when it comes to clergy. When you have been raised Catholic….or any religion really….we look to our religious leaders for absolution and “spilling your guts” is all part of the plan. Seriously. Think about it.

From the time we are in first grade…six or seven years old…we are told to go tell a stranger in a dark booth what we have done wrong. And be honest now because God is watching and he knows all. I get the concept. We want to raise our kids to be accountable and to know right from wrong, but when you think about it….how vulnerable are you as a six year old going alone into a dark booth with a strange adult who you are told to trust unconditionally….with your “bad” thoughts and deeds?

And we continue to do this over our lives as our “bad” thoughts and deeds increase on the “sin” scale.

And having worked at the Tribunal, I saw people come talk to the priests and have to tell them personal details about their marriage so that canon law could determine whether the marriage was valid in the eyes of God. These people hear all of the details. Why? Because for some reason, we need approval from someone in order dissolve a marriage. We need the priest and the Roman Catholic court to tell us that it was okay and that we did the right thing. This marriage didn’t count. Your spouse did not fulfill God’s desire that you pro-create or did not fulfill their job as a spouse in some other ways and so God says that you were right and that you may now go on to marry in the church again.

And it is amazing how many people have their second or third church wedding before the ink is dry. So important is it that they can wear white or have grandma at the church.

It’s part of our upbringing that we fit into our role in the church. That we make our families happy and do things the “right” way. It brings order and security to our lives. Continuity and so many things our lives and the world are lacking. And so we open up. We confess. We have no boundaries when it comes to the clergy. There is no such thing as TMI (Too much information). Because we are encouraged to bare our souls.

We want to trust. There is a comfort in feeling that when you walk in the door of the church, the outside world disappears and you are in the presence of love. That when the priest dons his priestly garb, he is a professional who is held to a strict code of ethics. When we walk in that door feeling grief-stricken or suicidal, or in need of comfort and support and guidance, we should expect nothing else. What should not happen is that we find there someone who sees an opportunity to use that vulnerability against us and to further harm us.

So, while it is said that sharing too much information with a narcissist can be used against us in the long run, it goes against everything we have been taught to trust and believe.

It’s good to know because there are abusive narcissists everywhere in life and if you happen to be a kind, trusting, naive, open person, or someone who happens to appreciate someone who encourages you to open up and talk about yourself…..and who doesn’t like to talk about themselves….well, be aware that in all kinds of relationships, people can use your vulnerabilities against you. It’s a sad fact. And to me there is nothing sadder than the fact that you can’t always trust the people who you are supposed to be able to trust.

But also as they say “knowledge is power”. And so is truth.

Please take a moment to take our poll. And have a wonderful week.

Feelings

I got an email this past week from someone asking to join the Abused as Adults group and when I explained that it was for people who were abused at the age of 18 or older, the person’s response was something to the effect of….how can it happen to adults….they should know better.

I’d like to say that it was no big deal and that I handled the situation with grace and dignity, but my response was….no response. I couldn’t. Because the question was either ignorant or deliberately mean. And in either case, nothing I could say would matter. I can’t waste my energy where it doesn’t matter.

But it hit me….it did. Right in the middle of my chest where I thought my armor was. Obviously there was an opening in the armor I hadn’t noticed. Because it got inside of me and twisted itself up into a pretzel and squeezed itself into my soul.

It was a knee-jerk reaction. But again, I knew it was better for me to not answer this person as I was too emotional and I would have said something like….so what you are saying to me is that once you hit your 18th birthday, you are responsible for whatever someone does to you…is that right? So if you are raped, mugged, beaten, killed, conned, manipulated, cheated on, used, harassed, lied to, bullied…..whatever….that it is your fault. It wasn’t your fault yesterday, when you were still 17….but today now that you are 18, and from now on, it is.

With all the heightened emotions in the world right now, and with many of us being so isolated, it can make it all the more difficult to take a look inside of ourselves to see what is going on there. I know that for me, my sleep pattern has been thrown off and I feel like I am living with my foot on the brake trying to stop anything bad from happening.

Last week, when I had my Zoom meeting with the bishop, it felt difficult to sort out what was going on emotionally during the meeting.

One of the questions he asked me was what made me vulnerable. Someone asked me why the bishop was asking me these questions and why wasn’t I asking him questions. I think more accurately, the question should be….why wasn’t the bishop asking the priest these questions? What made him choose me? Why was I being asked why I thought he choose me?

Well, as I think about this….as the layers of the onion unfold and I go deeper into the depths, one of the things I think we may all be able to identify with is…..the body remembers. Or the brain. Or something. Again, I’m not an expert. Just a human who has lived a long time.

I do know that both on a personal level and a professional level, it was a whole lot better when my boss was pleased with me and not screaming or being hostile. That makes sense. So, as things began to change on his end and he began to interject increasing levels of uncomfortable with different emotions, I was still doing my best to please to keep him from screaming and from me feeling threatened.

He could have fired me at any minute at his whim. He didn’t need a reason. And it’s not just about the money. It’s about how that feels. It’s about having your layers stripped away to your core. It’s about having all the protective armor you have amassed over your lifetime stolen from you….about every self-help book and class you’ve ever taken erased from memory…..about your world imploding like you have feared it would ever since you can remember. It is about feeling powerless to stop that. It is the realization brought back that you are not enough….that love and approval is conditional and based on the mood of the person who is in charge.

Also, when I spoke to the bishop, as I said, I fell back into trust mode. Even as I heard him say that Jesus died on the cross for each of us and I felt like I didn’t need a homily or a reminder of how we are all human and that God loves all of us at that moment….because I felt that what he meant was that “he who is without sin” etc. and that this was not about a crime, but rather just a man who was human.

When asked about my faith in God, I did say that I have never lost faith. Not in God or in loving spirits or guides….but I have lost faith in the church. Totally. I didn’t get the chance to say that to the bishop, though. But I don’t trust the institution anymore. That is sad. No Santa. No Easter Bunny. Now to find out that the church is not real, either.

And I found that I still wanted to believe. I wanted to believe that the kindly gentleman sitting behind the desk on the Zoom call cared about me and about all of the souls in his care. I wanted to believe that he sincerely would listen to what I said and try to prevent this from happening to someone else at whatever means is at his disposal.

But as a wise person said to me this week….they are a business. They aren’t going to do anything that is not in their best interest. Maybe it does help a bit to know that there will be one child in this world who will not be raised in the Catholic Church because of this. One less innocent to harm. One less donation in the weekly collection box.

But I guess that really doesn’t matter to them as long as they can get money from the government.

But that is not what is important, really. Let them keep their money and their gold and their self-importance. To me, they are like an abusive ex and it is healthier for me to stay far away. I don’t need rituals and sacraments and threats of Hell in order for me to connect spiritually to a source of greater love.

And you know, I don’t want to be this person. Not really. I am not the person I set out to be in life. I never thought I would be talking against the church. I never thought I would be an outcast in so many areas of my life. I’ve never been a fighter. I never even swore until I got married and had kids. I didn’t. Then it just became a quicker, easier way to vent frustration. And it became easier and easier as time went on….

I also heard from someone who said that they had a very similar experience to the one I had and that it is difficult to explain getting pulled into the manipulation and feeling like you have to do something you don’t want to do.

It’s difficult to talk about. I get it. Especially harder when the people you love tell you to let it go and lawyers need proof and bishops sympathize but tend to try to normalize the event by equating the actions of the perpetrator with sin, and when people say you should have known better.

But that is exactly why it is important to talk about it. We need to normalize this type of abuse…this gaslighting and coercive control and manipulation and abuse of power….so that it is brought to the light and seen as the legitimate form of abuse that it is. This is important. Not just for adults who have been abused by clergy….but for adults in every relationship in their lives.

This kind of thing needs to be taught to children along with Math and Reading skills. The church should be leading the way in teaching this….not covering it up.

Please take a minute to answer this week’s poll. Have a great week.

This Song is Over

The results of last week’s poll is…most people miss travelling more than anything else because of the pandemic.

So the biggest news this past week is that I had a video conference with my bishop and his advocate. I asked a SNAP leader who does a lot of research and work with adult survivors of clergy abuse to attend the meeting with me. Thank you again to that person.

I was pretty nervous. This was a big deal. We all have the same story with different details. We have all suffered trauma to some degree, perhaps some more than others due to age, violence, or sensitivity. But we all experienced different tales of the same intent to cause harm.

Having come out of my abusive situation with people telling me that it was my fault, and already feeling degraded and self-destructive and not sure of what had just happened, and then retelling the story to professional people who were supposed to help me figure it out only to be blamed again (which did nothing to help me at all), I was not sure what to expect from the bishop.

I honestly got most of my understanding about what had happened through SNAP and other survivors. And that took time, and meetings and emails, and books and learning about the psychological impacts grooming and gaslighting can have on the victims of sexual predators.

I still struggle. I’m not there yet. Going to lawyers and having to retell everything to someone who wants evidence rather than a tale of psychological abuse on the word alone of one grown person against a priest sent me spiraling into feelings of worthlessness once again.

And I think that is what I was afraid of most of all. That I would come out of the meeting feeling like that again. But surprisingly, I did not.

If ever I felt vulnerable, it was at the moment that I began to tell my story to the bishop. By vulnerable….I mean, wanting that comfort and acknowledgment from someone. I didn’t realize that until after the meeting was over, but that is important for everyone to know because we are put back into a very vulnerable state with a person in front of us who may or may not be sincere. It is a moment of having to allow vulnerability and the unknown. And entrusting a very personal story to someone who looks very similar to the person who caused us harm.

So, for that reason alone, it is good to have a familiar face there with you for support.

I had procrastinated so badly on writing up my story that I only had half of it written down when it came time to the meeting. I also looked up some definitions and quotes from some psychologists and people who “know something” to back me up. I was glad that I did that because I found some interesting facts that helped to back up what I was saying.

Forgive me, but I don’t have a name to credit the following to:

The most common type of gaslighter–those who have a need to control others-manipulating and hurting others is intentional and give them a high and brings them pleasure.

And also: The silent treatment, or rages (or alternating between the two) are the main ways gaslighters use to punish their partners and gain control over them.

Gaslighting is more common than people think, mostly because the victim is unaware that it is happening.

That helped back me up because that is exactly what happened with me…back and forth screaming and ignoring me, affecting my emotions and my ability to do my work….and being pleasant when I caught on to the hints he was giving.

Everyone listened respectfully as I read what I had written and then continued to talk about my abuse by my boss.

The bishop was extremely kind and concerned, but he kind of threw me with a couple of his questions.

He said to me….”What do you think it was about you that made him choose you?” and “Certainly you have had such things happen to you at work before, haven’t you? Was this any different?”

I told him that I thought he choose me because he thought I was vulnerable because he said I was naive and that I only saw the good in people. And then I said that I had never felt so bounced around and confused and threatened and with anyone else I had ever worked with. And that is true….when it comes to inappropriate behavior by superiors at work. I have certainly been approached….as many woman and men have….unexpectedly kissed on the lips, ended up with a co-worker’s hand on my behind while in a crowded car searching for a seatbelt, and propositioned by a boss. But while that was inappropriate behavior, there was never a feeling of feeling trapped or fearful of losing my job or worse.

So I said….definitely no. I had never been treated like this by any other supervisor. And I told the bishop….and I hope I got my point across….that friendly flirtation between friends is one thing, but abusing power to in essence coercively rape someone, was entirely different. The sex act itself was a technicality. I told the bishop that now that he was aware of what I had said, that it would be up to him to be sure that this man was never put in the position of a predator’s buffet ever again…such as counseling people looking for guidance and comfort.

I ended the meeting asking for a couple of things…that this man not be allowed to work as a priest (he is retired but still works), that my statement be put into his record, that my H.R. record be changed to show that I did not choose to resign…that I was walked out the door under duress, and that if possible, I be granted some kind of compensation as I lost my job due to something I had not done.

The bishop checked to be sure I still had faith in God, told me his door was always open, and with that, ended the meeting. The advocate said that he would be talking to me soon or getting back to me. I didn’t know what that meant. I thought it was over. Done.

But my SNAP compadre who has been through this before told me that the bishop has to do an investigation and that he has to talk to the priest. She said that this complaint will also go into his record.

The bishop also said he has a copy of my book….not sure if he said he actually read it…and that it was in the file. He also has the first name of one of victim and the circumstances of how he knew the other woman who was “taking care of” him, and the bishop is aware that the priest was moved out of a rectory into an apartment across town by himself. So, what was up with that?

I don’t know what to expect. Revenge from the priest? Perhaps an actual investigation where something may turn up?

I don’t know what is going to happen from here. I do know that there will be a complaint filed against him if anyone else comes forward at some point. I do know I got to tell my truth.

And the priest will know…..that I have no anger towards him….that I wrote a book….met some great new people…have travelled…and am doing pretty well, thank you.

To quote Kelly Clarkson, “You thought you had the best of me, thought you had the last laugh, thought that everything good was gone, Think you left me broken down, think that I’d coming running back, Baby you don’t know me ’cause you’re dead wrong. What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger, Stand A Little Taller…..What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter…..You didn’t know that I’d come back…I’d come back swinging….you tried to break me”

Have a great week….please take the poll

Background Music

A lot of buttons are being pushed for me this week. First and most importantly, I guess, would be that I have a virtual meeting with the bishop coming up this Wednesday.

The fact that it is a virtual meeting is both good and not so good. I’m used to attending virtual SNAP meetings for one, and also, I don’t have to go into the diocese building after hours into the bishop’s suite to see him. I will be on home ground. I will be able to have notes in front of me and a strong drink if I so desire. And I can keep a bucket nearby in case I need that.

The not so good part is that I won’t be able to look around the room to be sure nobody else is there.

I don’t know who else has gone to see or talk with people at the diocese. I have to think about what I expect from the conversation if that is asked of me. I have to be ready also for the possibility of the Spanish Inquisition.

Victim shaming and blaming. Why did I do this? What didn’t I report that? What proof do I have? Do I realize how serious an accusation this is?

I think about my time spent in Human Resources and how anything that I said I was told would get back to the priest. And I thought about how he said he would kill me and how I could end up in the obituaries and how the social worker who worked with him ended up with his brains all over his car.

And how I was told that I was the danger. A dangerous woman. With the flash of an ankle, priests will be fainting in the pews in Rome. Who knows what else would happen if I stayed working in that diocese building? Total collapse of all of the bricks in the walls, most likely.

Yes, for sure, they were casting out sin and upholding purity when they walked me out of there and told me not to come back.

So, I am trying to take the time to get the facts together as I know them and I am going to expect that they will be asking me why I didn’t report him and why I seemed like I was going along with things.

Because, it took me so long not to feel like a very bad person.

Why? I am so ashamed and so embarrassed that I allowed myself to believe this man and that I made so many excuses for his behavior. And that I tried to protect him and to help him and that I thought that somehow, this whole thing was God’s plan because it was a priest and somehow maybe God was giving me an ultimate intimacy test or something. Help your fellow man. Be unselfish. No, that can’t be it….back and forth.

And I will tell you….I will tell you that supposedly he got many women to approach him and initiate sex with him. I don’t know how many, but I know he officiated at someone’s daughter’s wedding and then “got involved” with the mom. Don’t know any more details.

Knowing that I was not alone in being drawn in makes me feels somewhat better. Knowing that this has happened to many men and women makes it better because I felt I should have known better because I was not a child.

I was afraid. I was angry. I was physically exhausted. I was looking for my power in this situation with the priest. I felt that I was being coerced into being raped. I actually thought that to myself….I was being forced into performing a sexual act that I was not only extremely uncomfortable about…but I also felt that what he was doing to me was extremely degrading.

He had given me the choice of his office or my car. He said nobody goes to his apartment, and I was living with someone. Now, this was not a lover’s thing where it was that we are so hot for each other that we are going to find a bathroom stall or the back of a car or the corner of a building when nobody is around. This was a non-negotiable. And this was not romance.

So the night after he screamed at me to get out and I knew I would be fired if I didn’t comply, I sent him the email telling him that I would do what he wanted if he would meet me at a hotel.

It is because of this email that nobody will take my case. And it is because of this email that I was accused of being a danger to priests. And it is because of this email that I was fired, and almost ended up in psych lock up and ended up in the E.R. twice for physical ailments.

I realized after I had sent the email that I might be in more trouble with him than I had been before. I had told him that I was not going to be the only one taking a chance if he wanted what he wanted….because I could not just walk up to him and do it.

I thought in some way that I was taking my power back, but I only ended up thinking….what am I doing? This is just more humiliating. And again, I thought I could perhaps reason with him in some way to make this easier for me.

So, yes, I can be judged. You wanted this. What did you wear to work that turned Father on so much? You must have lingered in his office longer than you should have.

Basically…..what did I do and what didn’t I do? When the actual question should be….what did he do? What caused me to write this email? Why would they fired me and then tell me that I had chosen to resign? At the time, I thought they were just being kind. Now I feel they wanted to cover up their tracks.

So many layers of difficulty here. I was sinful for sending a “suggestive” email to a priest. I sexually harassed him. He could prosecute me. I must have been in love. He said that was a problem for him. I wish you could see his picture. You would laugh at the notion of women swooning for him.

In my own family I see the remnants of the old days affecting me. The days where what men do is excused (sorry guys…my family) and women are seen as having no say, no opinion, and no rights.

I was upset about family matters the last couple of weeks and was talking to my mom. And once again….this is a family thing but it does reflect the old believes…and beliefs that are still being clung to and affecting people today.

The topic was about grandchildren basically. In my family, besides me and my mother, it’s all guys. Cousin, brother, sons….guys. There is also alcoholism. That is something we call “relaxing with his friends”, or “he likes his beer”….never what it is. We don’t look it square in the eye. We make it prettier than it is.

My brother has three children by three different women. One child I knew for seven years before she was yanked out of our lives. The second one I got to see once or twice. By the third one, the relationship lasted until the child was about ten and he still sees her. That child has issues of her own.

Then we have my older son. Two children by two different women. My grandchildren. I had to take him to court in order to see my grand-daughter. The older one I got to see more often. Between the mother’s in all of these cases remarrying and wanting to cut ties and the fathers…issues….it has come down to the fact that my two grandchildren don’t talk to me and I have to accept that.

But something triggered an emotional reaction in me this weekend….as it does…it will flare up and the wound is opened, and then I go back to sleep with acceptance….but when I was talking to my mom about how I was upset, I felt that I was being blamed. And I also felt that I could not have an open conversation about it with son #1 because it was like walking on eggshells and I also…no matter what he has or has not done….do not want to hurt him….by basically pointing out the truth, really, but still

But I was raised this way, I realized. You do not poke the bear. You exist within chaos and it is your job to make sure that nobody has to talk about anything at the end of the day.

So, I hear my mother, as usual, tell me that everyone has problems, and that I should be happy for what I have, and that I have no idea what anyone else’s life is like and that the mother’s really gave my son a hard time seeing the kids and how about her? She has not seen her grandchildren. (Truth be told, she has at times refused invitations to see them and refused to go to court to get visitation)

So I said to my mom…..listen, I don’t need philosophy. I don’t need to hear you defend anyone else. I just need you to tell me that (what happened that day) must have hurt and that you are sorry that it happened to me because I am a good person and I don’t deserve that. I just need a verbal hug from my mom.

And my mom said….that’s up to you to do for yourself. And then she added….you are quite a hothead.

And it was in that moment that I realized basically that has been what I have been doing in my life. I have learned to live in chaotic situations with no emotional support, being told that I need to understand and excuse people who treat me badly. And to not acknowledge my feelings less I upset them.

And it is not my mom’s fault or anyone’s fault. it was the way I was raised and I didn’t know any better. And it was the way she was raised. And society and the church in many ways has supported a patriarchal system.

I remember growing up hearing that a woman should be a cook in the kitchen, a lady in the living room, and a whore in the bedroom.

My dad used to talk about how he had to hire woman for “men’s” jobs whether they were qualified or not.

My brother borrowed my parents’ car for a date one night. When my mom and I went to use the car, I saw something stuck to the passenger side door. It was a used condom. My parents said nothing. I came home after curfew. My father called me a slut.

I was told that the women was solely responsible for what happened between a man and a woman because a man “can’t help himself”.

I was watching “All in the Family”, a show that watching it now, shows a lot of what it was like in the 70’s….in one particular episode, Gloria laments to Mike that she fears if she gets a job, she won’t be able to keep the house for him as well as she should. This was less than 50 years ago.

I was also recently watching a show about serial killers. Well, predators, you know….and a specialist was saying that people are different now than they were 40 or 50 years ago. They are learning to be more cautious, less trusting and more vocal if something doesn’t feel right. So the thought is, that perhaps predators may find their work more difficult with that and with DNA evidence and people becoming more aware.

But we have a long way to go. A very long way. Kids have not stopped being abused at home. Abusive parents are still given custody. Incest still exists. Priests are still being moved around which now makes me suspicious.

Has our inner dialog changed much? Not as long as the public dialog is still saying that women aren’t supposed to enjoy sex, because if they do, then they must like rape….and if a woman enjoys attention, then she must then be responsible for letting a person with evil intentions get close to her.

And I hate making my mom the target here because she really is a lovely dog-loving, remarkable woman, but she has the beliefs with which she was raised.

She still does not believe that there is anything wrong going on inside the church….and is very concerned that with Covid, the church will run out of money.

She’s not alone in those beliefs. And she had not heard that the Catholic church was granted billions….yes, billions with a “B” dollars in Covid survival funds, before small businesses got their chance. I’m not political…just stating facts.

But anyway, my own inner dialog is what I need to rely on when I speak to the bishop this week. It is not a question about what I allowed or didn’t report or how I chose to handle the situation. I did not initiate the situation. I had no idea there was a situation other than a personal one, and really…what am I doing?

I. do. not. have. to. explain. myself.

I don’t. He knew exactly what he was doing…from the very beginning…to the day that I was fired….when like a mafia boss signaling it was time to make the hit….he emailed me saying he was getting into his car and was on his way back from the meeting he attended. Very strange email indeed. Until five minutes later when I got the call from H.R.

He knew what he was doing. And they probably already know about things he has done in the past. And they need to put this on record so it doesn’t get buried.

He’s the one who needs to be called out for his behavior and not allowed to continue to counsel people or work on the board of a college anymore.

My inner dialog…the background music of my life…..needs to be strong and supportive and filled with self love.

The results of last week’s poll said that most people thought that “maybe” a compliment sandwich would work with a difficult person. Please check below for this week’s poll and let your voice be heard.

Hold the Mayo

First a review of last week’s poll. What do most of you do to let go of worry? Most of you said you either pray or you talk to a friend or therapist. Curiously, nobody said they drink or smoke cigarettes. Just so you know, I can’t see who answers the poll or what anyone says….just the results. Okay, just saying….I don’t judge.

I want to talk about the second step I came across when dealing with a Narcissist. The Compliment Sandwich. Has anyone not heard of this?

Would you know if someone was doing this to you?

It goes like this…..I’ll pretend my mother is talking to me….”So you’ve been exercising more lately? That’s great! Cause you can really stand to lose some weight in your butt. Hey, I can see the difference already!

I don’t know. Would that really take away the sting or would all you hear is that your butt is fat?

I mean, Narcissists are supposedly intelligent people. Or they think they are. They are manipulative, that’s for sure. So wouldn’t they know manipulation when they saw it?

Seriously, though, if you are involved with a Narcissist….and I don’t even care if they are clinically a Narcissist….if someone is controlling and threatening and cold, and you have to deal with them…does it really matter? I guess feeding them a sandwich of this sort is better than nothing.

Although nothing is better than getting away from them altogether but sometimes that is not possible.

Since Narcs have fragile egos, I guess buttering up a direct hit to the ego may help. Although, is it really going to change anything? What is the point? I think this step really is when you have no other choice.

I believe though, it is part of setting boundaries. Such as….”I appreciate when you check my work for errors because it allows me to improve” Followed by “I’d rather go over the errors with you first before you bring it to the boss, though”. And finally, “I think people really value your opinion.”

Again, is that right? It’s a start. I mean, bullying in all forms seems to be rampant and worse than ever these days. And many times, people are afraid to help or to get involved which leaves people who are more sensitive or vulnerable on their own, feeling like they spitting into the wind when trying to defend themselves.

And when that fight or flight or freeze feeling kicks in, which are normal reactions to feeling threatened, we want to smack our offender, or run away and never come back, or have a total brain freeze where it seems like your mind has shut off and is failing to function. And none of that is going to help your case. And it’s so damn unfair and unjust. Where is Karma when you need it?

But if you are alone and stuck in a possibly dangerous situation…physical, emotional, psychological…or you have others to protect…and a sandwich is all you have in your arsenal….it may be better than nothing. It is a manipulative tactic. But when in Rome…..

Will it give you the courage to slip a bar of steel between two slices of Wonder Bread? Will it give you some kind of a boundary hidden between two sweet pieces of banana bread? Will it be enough to deplete some of the gaslighter’s gas?

Most importantly, will it buy you time and allow you to hold onto your sanity until you can break free from the abuse?

I don’t know. I’m just the messenger. I think perhaps it may help in less toxic relationships or perhaps before you are in way too deep.

In any case, be sure to use an attractive carb….nothing with too much fiber….think croissant….and hold the mayo….so your message comes across palatable yet firm in the middle.

Gallery

You Keep Me Hanging On

Many years ago, when I was a young mother of two toddlers, a woman I worked with was leaving to move to Florida. I asked her if there was any particular reason she wanted to move that far away. She said….yes….to get away from my children! Me with my adorable babies could not understand why anyone could think such a thing.

By the way, in last week’s poll, more people said that their children pushed their boundaries more than anyone else.

Just sayin’.

Twenty years later, I was at a workshop. One of the things we were discussing was control. Well, the workshop was basically about improving your life….what workshop isn’t, really? But the idea of control was brought up. A couple was challenging the teacher over the issue. I guess for them, they were searching for the meaning of life as it pertained to “fixing” their teen or somewhat grown child.

At the time, I myself was looking for the meaning of life. My two sons had both moved out of the house within the same month as one was on bad terms with his father and the other didn’t want to be the only one left in the house to have to deal with the issues. And for me, I was trying everything to fill the emptiness and trying to find meaning in my marriage and life with just my spouse.

I was heartbroken and trying to piece my life together and find out who I was. How was I now supposed to define myself now that both of my sons were out of the house?

The main thing that I learned is that when you worry about someone or something, you are trying to control that person or situation. The solution to this problem is to let go. That’s it. Simple. Right?

Words make everything sound so easy. If we could just be like characters in a book and just do what it says on the page, wouldn’t life be so much easier?

But this week, I’ve been stressed. Headaches, feeling nauseous, a bit shaky, resting heart rate is climbing. Because I’ve always been the one to internalize things whenever there has been a problem in the family. So what’s up?

My older son rents from me. His room-mate just moved out. He needs a new roof. He tells me that the problem is that I retired too early and that I need to put about 4% of the value of the house back into the house each year in updates and repairs. I just bought him a new refrigerator that is better than the one I have. I needed to quit my part time job at a medical office because they were double booking patients and had no protections in place or safety plans.

I also feel that my house-mate is too intrusive. He was arranging things in my room when I was out. We had an argument. It’s time he left. But he is sick and there is Covid. My younger son has a baby son and has to leave his girlfriend’s house because they are breaking up. He doesn’t want to leave his son. She wants to see other people. Or other person. They brought the baby to camp yesterday for a birthday gathering. No masks. Road in front of camp. Lake in back of camp. Curious one year old. My little buddy. He has my heart and I worry about him all of the time. How will his parent’s break up affect him? Will he be safe? Who is this new boyfriend who he will be spending time with? All of that.

Human relationships and expenses are stressful under the best of circumstances. But with everything else that is going on in the world right now….it can feel downright claustrophobic and problems that much more emotional.

So, according to the teacher at the class I went to, worrying is about trying to control something. We all know that we can worry ourselves literally into the ground and it’s not going to change anything.

I worry about my grown kids because heart disease runs in their father’s family…..their grandfather died suddenly two days before turning 46. Their father had his first heart attack while he was at work (luckily he was awake…his father never woke up) at the age of 43. My oldest son will be 42 next month. Neither of my kids see a doctor. I nag. It does no good. I worry. I do. I get scared. I want everyone to be okay.

But I can do nothing much except say how I feel. Sometimes that does not seem like much. Especially when it feels like nobody is going to listen.

My brother lives next door to my 92 year old mother. He never wears a mask when he goes to see her…which since he is working at home is a couple of times a day. But he goes out every day to the store.

My 92 year old mom who has hearing issues doesn’t lock her back door and has the TV blaring all day. At night she locks the door but leaves her basement windows open to air out the basement. She says nobody will fit through the window and her dog will bark and scare people away.

I feel like I am the one who worries about and takes care of everyone. And by doing so, it has brought everyone closer to me in my life….like my son renting from me….and my house-mate who I have allowed to push boundaries because I can’t stand to constantly have to push back or deal with the anger when he doesn’t get what he wants.

So here I am….in the middle. Where I have put myself. Because I’m so afraid of losing the people I love and there is nothing I can do.

When I think of worry being about control, I think about AA and controlling what we are able and letting go of what we cannot. So much truth goes back to that.

And that makes me think about alcoholism and narcissism and co-dependency and scapegoats and all those nice things. And drama. Let’s not forget drama.

When I think about how I have tried to help my family over the years, and how little I have actually been able to help or change anything, I see that in many ways, everyone has their own little drama playing out.

And when I worry about the people I love, I get pulled into their drama. They aren’t fixing anything. They aren’t going to the doctor or to therapy. I’m the one who’s had cancer and am on about four meds for anxiety and depression and social anxiety. I’m the one who’s gone to therapy to help quell the internal combustions that happen.

And that’s a pretty negative place to draw from when a friend or a survivor needs a shoulder to cry on or a sympathetic ear.

I’ve been burned out truthfully. Tonight I closed my door and laid down on my bed and covered myself up in a cocoon and thought about how peaceful a coma must feel.

I need to stop depleting myself by worrying. That is easier said than done. But, I have found that the best way to find yourself….is to lose yourself. I can’t lose myself too easily in a five room flat with a housemate, but I need to carve out space for me. I’m not saying that I overdo…..I’m saying that I overthink. And I over-worry.

I guess if you step back and look at things impartially, (Oh, God, I caaaaaaannnn’ttt) what I see is a lot of people not realizing that they are creating drama in their lives and (dammit) not listening to the voice of reason (Me, of course) and they are just going on making mistake after mistake (like I never have made a mistake or lapse in judgement)…..because unknowingly, that is all we know.

Seriously, if you have been raised with drama and dysfunction, that is the only way you know how to handle things. And I’m talking to myself here, too. What feels like losing someone….like giving up….like not loving them….is most likely co-dependency and enabling.

But I’m so close, I can’t see it.

Please take a moment to answer the poll. Thanks! And you can answer as many times as you’d like.

Borderline

This past week I was reading more about Narcissists and those they are attracted to. Narcissists, I read, are attracted to empathic people and people who are co-dependent.

I know that I am both of those things and I am willing to bet many people who have been abused as adults are one or both as well.

Ever since I was abused by the priest, I began searching for answers. Other than being weak or stupid, and him just being a plain evil person who trapped people and coerced them and confused them….I couldn’t come up with a “why?” other than the fact that this had happened to me and to a couple of other people, according to himself.

But slowly, I began to both understand that not only was this not about me having a personal relationship with a dickwad, but that in fact, there were dickwads worldwide wearing priest collars who did this. And that they then slink back into their caves and giggle like little hyenas because they got away with it. And then they feel very smug and superior like a narcissist does.

I’m not diagnosing anyone or saying that all priests are narcissistic, but I did read a long time ago that priests are at the top of the list of those with narcissistic and sociopathic behavior. This is known. I’m not saying anything new.

The more I have read about the “attraction” between narcissists and empathetic or co-dependent people, the more it makes sense…..not only why me and what happened with me and the priest….but why I have been attracting people into my life who have taken advantage of the caretaking vibes I send out. Or as a woman who gave me an astrology reading earlier this year said….I have the word “victim” written on my forehead and people looking for someone like that would be attracted to me.

So….I also read that one of the first ways to protect yourself against those who would abuse your good nature….such as sociopaths and narcissists….is to have firm borders.

But before we get to borders and boundaries, let me remind you that the reason Narcs are attracted to you/me/us, is because they are looking for a supply of something…validation, money, sex, or something else. All of that love bombing that feels like a gentle rain from Heaven to someone who has been abused or somehow starved for attention or love? It has nothing to do with you. Nothing. Other than you are being seen for what you are willing to provide. You could be anyone. So if you are feeling loved and special and willing to give your heart to someone who needs you….please, question things. And run away. I know that it’s not easy. I know that it feels like you are walking away from your own life source. I know you need to feel love and that connection with someone who understands you and who makes you feel special. But please, run.

I once knew a guy….he knew how to use the words. He was exciting. A little bit naughty. But he also seemed like a good guy. I thought he was just a flirt.

So I was at his place one afternoon, sitting there talking to him, and he said to me….”I have broken up more couples than I can count”. And he was proud of that fact. He was interested in the chase and the challenge and once he was successful in breaking up a couple….and we are talking his friends here….ah…that’s just good old Bob. He’d back away and distance himself from the woman and hang out with his friend whose woman he seduced away and take no responsibility for the pain or heartbreak he had caused anyone. Just a game to him. I’m thinking it was an ego thing with him…..just to know that he was capable of doing it.

Boundaries, boarders, whatever you want to call them, are difficult to people who help others.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you have a hard time saying no? Do you give in when someone becomes difficult? Do you volunteer to help out a lot? Are you the one who does the caretaking in your family? Do you give in to avoid an argument? Do you get anxious with conflict? Do you value being nice? Do you put other’s needs before your own? Do you feel a need to take care of other people?

If so, you are not alone. When I read that the co-dependent /narcissistic partnership happens often in marriages, and that the children raised within the family of this partnership often learn what they live and go on to recreate the same dynamic in their own adult relationships, it opened my eyes. I have wondered for years what it was that was creating so much dysfunction within my family. And within myself. I began to see why it was so very difficult to separate from my ex-husband and why my brother and my children follow along the same path, either picking someone abusive and controlling or having difficulties with alcoholism and insecurities and having difficulty being on their own.

Again, not being a therapist, I don’t have any answers. But I do know that knowing you have a problem is the first step in any problem.

Be aware. When someone seems to be love-bombing you, be aware. When you give in to avoid an argument because you are afraid of being alone. Be aware. If you feel guilty about not taking care of someone in your family, even if you know that means being put onto the front line of losing your own mental health and happiness, be aware.

Just become more aware of when you back off and allow someone to push you back, or whenever you do something that is not in your own best interest…..and I am not talking taking advantage of someone….you know the difference….I am talking about compromising your own physical health, money, happiness, mental health….or whatever it may be your are sacrificing….to allow someone else or a situation to push you over your borderline.

Just for this week….be aware of who pushes your boundaries and how you feel and react. Write it down. And if you have a minute, please take the poll.

Close to You

Ah, yes…..dating, romance, commitment, sex. Why does it look so easy for other people?

I was reading something this week….hypothetically…a woman (or man) walks into a room where there are 100 eligible people. Ninety-nine of these people are nice, emotionally healthy, self-supporting, sober, human beings. But this person picks the one that stands out to them. The one that resonates with them. The emotionally unhealthy, financially dependent, substance abuser. Does that sound familiar?

It does to me. I look back to high school and I see that I passed up a respectful, talented, kind person who took me out to dinners and movies for people with drinking problems or who were emotionally unavailable.

I see that now. Back then, I saw boring or exciting. I saw people whose shell I thought I could crack and people who I saw as needing saving. Needing me. I saw people who hurt me….people I pined over; I saw people whose affection I needed to pursue. If it didn’t hurt, I wasn’t love. I got that message from somewhere. I felt less-than so I gravitated towards people I felt would not expect a lot from a relationship. And drinking made what passed as getting close to someone much easier.

Fast forward many years later and I’m separated from my husband. For the first time in years, I’m out in the dating world. I’m thinking….I see where I made my mistakes. This time will be different.

I am going to find a nice man, I thought. I’m not going to go for excitement or for physical attraction. He just has to be a nice guy. It’s going to work this time. I can feel it. Now I know what I’m doing.

So I met a doctor at work. Older than me. Skinny. Not attractive. But he was respected where I worked. Had his own home. Had money. A good pick for my later years, I thought. I knew my parents would love him because he was a doctor, so that didn’t hurt either.

Well, things were fine until they weren’t. Slowly I began to see that while he was thrilled at being in a relationship, I needed to change to fit what he expected in a woman. He constantly talked about my weight and getting exercise and being healthy. At the time, I smoked. Not around him, but that didn’t matter. That needed to stop. Because he said so. Then his relatives showed up for Christmas. Did I mention he was Jewish? No reason for it to matter other than….I swear to God…his cousin brought up how she didn’t like to hang out with anyone who wasn’t Jewish. She really did. Also brought up with regularity was his ex-wife’s masters degree and how she had converted to Judaism during the course of their marriage.

But things really began to fall apart when I drove him to the airport for a work trip and then he called me from California and said that I should really be there because I would love it. Okay, this guy was a self-proclaimed millionaire. He only had to pay for my airfare if he wanted me to go with him. But that was not what was going on. One weekend, I just didn’t feel like spending the night. I paid for that the next time we began to get intimate. Yes, he actually told me….there will be no more of that…..until you show some enthusiasm for this relationship.

Okay, that was it for me. I know that people who hold up the bar for you to jump over, are trying to train you and each time you jump when they say jump, the bar goes a little bit higher.

What had gone wrong? I thought he was a nice guy. Instead, he was insecure and controlling.

The next guy I met I thought for sure was okay. He was a therapist. A veteran. He loved his daughter, who is such a sweetheart. He loved his dog. He said grace before meals. He like board games and watching movies. I’d bring my two dogs up and spend every weekend with him. He would get up early and walk the dogs when it was cold. Wow, I had met the man of my dreams.

Along the way, there were red flags. I pushed them aside because nobody is perfect, I’d say to myself.

Our first date, he asked me to meet me at a restaurant. I sat at a table and waited but he did not show up. Finally I ordered my meal and ate alone. Right after I had paid my bill and was finishing my soda, I get a phone call. He said….are you here? I’m so sorry…..work, traffic…blah blah blah. Oh, there you are….I’ll be right over. And he sat down, ordered himself a soda, and we talked like what had happened had not happened.

Until it happened again. He would ask to go to a family style restaurant and be detained so I would be sitting there alone waiting for an hour, expecting that the food would be paid for by the time he arrived to enjoy it. His lights were turned off and could I please help him out. He needed to get his daughter presents for Christmas, could I cover him until he got to an ATM? Once at the ATM, he found out he only had enough money to cover gas and dog food for the week.

Again, I kept telling myself…well, nobody is perfect….although I didn’t appreciate what was going on. So I tried to work on things with him. Whatever we do, whenever we spend money, he would cover a third and I would take care of two thirds. He worked two jobs and had child support payments. I kept telling myself that was the reason he was struggling.

But when he insisted that we go to a restaurant right after we had this discussion about payment….and he had picked the restaurant and a decently expensive dish….all of a sudden, I became the bad guy for asking for 1/3 of the cost.

That was it for me with him. I knew that if he wasn’t going to put effort into working with me, that money was not the issue and that nothing would ever change.

But what was wrong? Why was I picking dead end relationships? Was my judgement off? How was a person supposed to know what percentage of bad or incompatibility in a relationship was acceptable?

But nothing prepared me for what happened with the priest I worked for. I’m thinking that whatever was going wrong in previous relationships….whatever anyone picked up from on me as maybe being “moldable” or “able to be compliant” or “will pay all of my bills” was what drew the priest to me as well. Add to my niceness, naivety, stupidity….whatever you want to call it….there was always “but he’s a priest” and of course, there was the gaslighting as well that further added to the confusion.

And so that leaves me wondering if other people who have been abused as adults have experienced confusion as to what is acceptable in a relationship, or a hesitancy to confront unacceptable behavior until it piles up and becomes too much. I don’t remember going into the relationships I mentioned thinking about what I was going to get out of it as much as what I needed to do in order to make things work. How much I had to adjust to please the other person. And how little I asked. How much bad behavior I accepted or believed.

I have heard people abused as children talk about how that abuse has prevented a sense of normal to many of their romantic relationships.

But what do we, who have been abused as adults know about normal and actually good relationships? Is that one of the things that made us vulnerable?

I know that it made me vulnerable….that acceptance of behavior, that making of excuses, that meekness of being that is supposed to be valued as a Catholic, that putting someone else first, that not expecting for myself, that belief that no matter what, priests were safe.

I grew up in a time where Women’s Lib was an odd new thing. Marriage was still expected of you. You weren’t expected to have a “career”, except perhaps part time. The husband was still looked upon as the breadwinner and head of the house.

Things have changed but I think formative years live inside of you forever and it’s a constant emotional/logical battle as a grown-up. A priest’s word was never questioned. The pope was infallible. A good Catholic woman stayed married and did not seek a divorce or ever seek to date another man after that ring had been placed on her finger.

Women tempt men into sin. Men are not responsible for their actions. What did you expect you would deserve if you left your husband?

The emotional child who grew up listening to this is always there, and always wanting to come forward in emotional situations or when we feel vulnerable. Men will be men. You want to be in a relationship, you gotta accept that. (Apologies, guys)

Growing up and quieting that emotional child with logic and strength, and sometimes tears, they say is what growth is about.

But a priest can trigger that inner child. They have always been our leaders, the people we trust, and our safe haven. They are, in a sense, like our dads or a kindly uncle. Those priests who abuse seem to use the knowledge of our souls and vulnerabilities to break us down and whatever faults we see in them, we know we must trust and forgive. So the use of logic, which has helped us in other relationships when things didn’t feel right, is almost non-existent because this man is not a man. This man is of God.

I remember thinking at one point that perhaps God had sent me to help him through something. All the more believable because I wasn’t supposed to get the job but another woman had turned it down. It was fate. Had to be. God and gaslighting made me feel wrong for the logical thoughts I would think at times.

Now, I don’t blame God for what happened. But I blamed myself.