Just Not True

I want to talk about those people…..you know who they are…..those people who were our friends. The huggers. The people in the choir who we socialized with. The neighbors. The co-workers. spiritual supporters, family members and fellow church goers.

The people who suddenly seemed to turn against us.

As a survivor of a deliberate game of abuse, when you exit beaten down, emotionally crushed, confused, self-destructive, and dazed, it is not uncommon to find that people who were once close will begin to distance themselves from you. And if you are lucky, that is all they will do.

Many survivors find they are no longer welcome in what used to be sources of refuge and comfort. I spoke to a mother of a survivor this past week. Her son was abused as an adult while in seminary. After he went public with his accusations, she was no longer welcome in church. In fact, she was told to “get the F— out of here!”

Ah, yes….the righteous anger of the congregation. Nobody wants to be separated from the group and perhaps not be invited to brunch after church, so group mentality is the order of the day. Gossip. Condemnation. Hipocrisy.

But for this woman and her family, it did not stop there. The harassment from the church and its members got so bad, she and her family eventually moved to another state.

For another person who reached out for comfort to a kind clergy member when her daughter was sick in the hospital and ended up having that need and her trust shattered by a priest who took advantage of those emotions, this now very emotionally vulnerable woman sees people cross the street to avoid her and she feels ostracized by her church.

Another person I spoke with had been sexually assaulted while in seminary by someone who he thought was a friend and fellow seminarian. The two friends went out for dinner and drinks and to a movie together and then returned to the friend’s room where the rape took place. When this gentleman began to speak out about the assault that took place and how it affected his future spiritual path, the only thing that was focused upon was the fact that he happened to be gay. Therefore, how was it possible for a gay man to be raped?

The two had gone out together…essentially a date it was said….and he had been drinking and did go back to the friend’s room. What did he expect after all? He was asked if he had been attracted to his friend at all. What vibes was he putting out? What was he wearing? How much did he have to drink?

Wow. So it’s not rape if you went out together, had a few drinks, maybe were attracted to the person and went back to hang out at their place? So, if you do that, it’s okay for someone to do whatever they want to you, right? After all, all of the signals were there. I suppose it would also be okay for them to beat you with a broomstick too? Hey, you did walk into the place so you gave your consent to anything that might happen.

So a gay man can’t be raped by another man. Someone who speaks out about a priest deserves whatever they get. Having sex with a priest makes you a slut. Well, doesn’t that make it convenient for the perpetrator when their crimes are approved by society?

It is this blaming the victim and the “it could never happen to me” ideology that helps the narcissistic abuser be able to continue to abuse. It is the respect for the position of power and the wanting to identify with the person in power instead of the victim that makes us want to deny the abuse and push the victim aside and hope they stay silent so nobody has to be uncomfortable.

I wondered how my boss separated me from the pack. Because that is part of the game. And then I realized that he did it by pulling me in and making me feel that I was important to the office. You see, “that woman” drove him crazy. And Fr. so and so…well, good guy, but he could never run this place. And my co-worker…..he felt a little intimidated by her. He didn’t want to upset her by bringing up something unpleasant. Oh, would you help me? That would be great if you spoke to her for me. She wouldn’t get upset if it came from you.

See, I was important to him. I was the only one who wasn’t a bit crazy in the bunch. The only one he could really talk to. He had a heart condition, you know. He could go at any time. Of course I wanted to help him in any way that I could. And of course my co-worker got into a huff and got angry at me…the messenger…when I explained that somehow the wrong code was being entered in the mail machine and we were being incorrectly charged so please be careful.

Seeds of doubt were sown. He said he had sent Fr. S. a card with $5 in it that Fr. S. had never received. Usually the mail landed in the outbox unsealed. Whoever took the mail downstairs would seal all of the envelopes. So an unable to be proved seed of doubt was sown in the mind of Fr. S. against the honesty of the people doing the mail. That was really ironic as I held the key to the slush fund….money that came into the office when people paid their bills in cash. So it wasn’t the money that was the issue. It was raising doubt about someone’s word.

For David, a survivor of child sexual abuse by a priest, he found support and gestures of love and caring by parishioners of his church when he bravely spoke up during mass.

Here is David’s story in his own words which I share with his permission.

SUPER SUNDAY

By David Pietrasanta

Yes, today is Super Bowl Sunday and Baltimore held on to beat San Francisco 34-31.  However, today turned out to be Super Sunday for reasons that have nothing to do with football or sports at all.

At 9:58 am I decided to turn on my television and catch the morning 10:00 am news headlines.  The lead story caught my attention…… all of my attention.  This weekend at Masses in the Los Angeles area a letter from Archbishop Jose H. Gomez is to be read.  This letter is a half-hearted attempt to apologize to the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of many of our “trusted spiritual leaders”.  This letter is nothing more than a continuation of the “snow-job”, and cover-up by the hierarchy of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  “Cardinal Mahony has expressed his sorrow for his failure to fully protect young people entrusted to his care”.  As my mom would say, Cardinal “BALONEY”.  Cardinal Mahony did everything within his power to cover-up this growing sex abuse scandal, putting power, money, image, and reputation ahead of the welfare of every single victim abused in this church scandal.

So, I called my parents and asked them about this letter.  My dad said they heard it last night at Saturday evening Mass and it was a  “crock”.  So my curiosity got the best of me and I told my mom and dad that I was going to go to 11:00 am Mass this morning to hear for myself what this letter was all about.

When I arrived at church this morning I made a point of sitting right up front, two rows back from the altar.  I didn’t want to miss any part of this letter and the subsequent homily that followed. 

Father Jay read the letter to us, and then followed it up with his “message” for Super Sunday.  I was on edge waiting to hear how he was going to continue the “spin-parade” on this subject of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

As Father Jay was reading this letter I found myself agreeing with my mom and dad that this was a “crock”, and more of the same rhetoric we have been hearing and reading about for sometime now.

As soon as Father Jay finished reading Archbishop Gomez’s letter I put my hand up high and hard with conviction, as if I had the answer to the most complex questions about our universe.  Father Jay ignored me.  I was already in the mindset that I would not be silenced and turned away, so I kept my hand up and he continued to ignore me. 

Finally, as Father Jay was coming to a close I caught him in a moment of pause and asked, “Father Jay, why won’t you call on me”?

Father Jay was stunned and shocked right where he stood on the altar.  He looked at me as if to say, “Nobody has ever challenged me in my lifetime”.  So Father Jay responded to my question by saying, “I didn’t see you”.  Now what Father Jay doesn’t know about me is I know you can’t B.S. a B.S.er.  I told Father Jay my hand has been up most of the time he had been speaking.  Again, another pause, and I took full advantage of it.  I turned around to face all the parishioners and simply said, “On behalf of all the victims that have been abused, and I have been abused myself, I want to say that this apology is unacceptable”.  This was followed by complete silence.  Then it happened.  There was some clapping at the back of the church and continued forward for just a few seconds.  I said “thank you” and I sat down.  Father Jay did get the last word in by saying directly to me, how sorry he was for my pain. 

Mass continued and what followed next is something I will remember for the rest of my life.  This turned out to be a very significant day in my life.

As Mass continued I felt a tap on my shoulder.  A handicapped woman, walking with her cane, came up to me and said, “I am sorry for what you have had to go through and I appreciate what you just did”.  Now I was stunned.  A few seconds later another tap on my shoulder.  A woman with tears in her eyes said, “I am so sorry for what has happened to you”,…..… she couldn’t finish her sentence because she started to cry.  A few more seconds passed and still another woman came to me and expressed the same sorrow and said she hoped it didn’t ruin my faith.  I told her I have had a lot of help and I am able to separate the good from the ugly.

This happened several more times as Mass went on.  My heart filled with gratitude, that these people would reach out to me during Mass without any thought or care that Mass was continuing on while they approached me with their kind words.

Next was communion.  Since the parishioners come from the back of church first, up to the front rows last, a good number of them passed by me. I was stunned again.  At least 15 to 20 men and women had kind words for me and shook my hand.  Some of the comments that were directed toward me:  “It took a lot of courage for you to stand up for what you believe in during Mass.”  “I left the Church for seven years before I decided to come back and what you did today made it worth it. “ Mahony should be locked away in prison forever, God bless you.”  “I am so sorry for what you have been through, I can’t even imagine what your life has been like.”  There were more comments about me standing up for myself and more comments about my courage and bravery.  Again, my heart was overflowing with…. I guess I would call it love, because I was receiving so much love from people I have never met before in my life.

After communion a woman came into the second row and slid all the way down to where I was sitting and put her arm around me and told me she was moved by my courage to “tell it like it is” in front of so many people.  She was not the only one.  As soon as she left another woman slid down row number two and expressed with her tears how sorry she was that this had happened to me and was glad to hear that today I am helping others overcome their difficulties with this issue.

As Mass ended, Father Ernesto came down from the altar and shook my hand and said he was sorry for what happened to me.  I thanked him.

I anticipated there might be some people who wanted to talk to me after Mass so I waited until the last hymn was over and walked outside.

As I reached the patio area I could hear someone say, “Oh, there he is”.   I was at the patio area talking to parishioners from Mass for the next 40 minutes or so.

When that was over and the patio was clearing, Father Jay caught my eye and I went over to speak to him.  The first thing he says is “You know, I get so wrapped up in what I am doing up there I guess I just didn’t see your hand.” I wanted to say to him “Father Jay, you can’t B.B. a B.S.er” but I didn’t, and instead apologized for interrupting his Mass.

Father Jay repeated himself by saying how sorry he was for my pain and then asked me my name.  As soon as I said David Pietrasanta his head curls back and he holds his head in his hands and says, “Yes, right, I know you.”  I replied with pride, “And yes you know my parents also. My mom was the parish secretary here for many years and you know my dad from the finance council.”

At that point, I believe I could hear the voice inside Father Jay’s head, “This S.O.B. Pietrasanta family, what am I going to do with them? They are the only ones in this parish who keep pulling my covers and calling me to the front.”  You can count on it, Father Jay. 

In closing, there was one woman above all that really touched me by her words.  She came up to me after Mass, tears rolling down her face as she was crying, and said, “I want you to know you taught me a very valuable and important lesson today that I needed to see and hear.  That lesson is about courage and I really needed to see that today and I thank you so much for your endless amount of courage and the lesson I learned from you today.  Thank you.”

To Our Lady of Grace Parish, ( I did not send this to anyone at OLG), I just wanted to close my writing with this:

You have made me feel welcomed today with your love and kind words and you reinforced the fact that I do matter in this world and that I can make a positive difference in people’s lives today.  Thank you for making my Sunday a Super Sunday!

I will close with that. Have a happy and healthy and safe week.

How Did You Not Know

The abuse of one person affects many people. And very often, we are left not knowing what to do or how to help those who are being abused or those in abusive situations. Sometimes when all that can be done has been done, stepping away from the situation is the best course of action is the best you can do. I’m talking about after police have been notified and the situation is not improving.

Such was the case of a friend’s daughter eight years ago this week. Twenty six year old Lauren was living in New Orleans, hoping to soak up the ambience for her career as a writer. She and her room-mate worked as waitresses at a restaurant near their apartment. Lauren’s room-mate was having trouble with her ex-boyfriend, a very large angry man who would stand outside the restaurant and glare at the two young women while they worked. Occasionally there were verbal threats issued when they stepped outside for break or to go home.

After many calls to 911 which were not taken seriously by police, Lauren had decided that when she returned to New Orleans after spending Christmas and New Year’s with her family, she was going to find a new apartment and move out and leave this situation.

And so she did. She found another apartment and left work on the evening of January 12, 2013 planning to go home and finish packing for her move the next day. Her room-mate stayed behind at work and did not come home until several hours later.

Later on that evening, or in the early hours of the 13th, Lauren was caught off guard and surprised by her room-mate’s ex-boyfriend, who had broken into the apartment. Now like I said, he was a big man. Big and threatening and looking for trouble. Lauren, a tiny little thing. A couple of hours later, her room-mate came home to find that Lauren had been viciously beaten and killed….just hours before she was about to move out. She was killed by a person who she was not even involved with. Someone who broke in with the intent to kill someone and happened to find her there alone.

The ex boyfriend was caught and arrested and put in jail where he remains. But a murder conviction took time. It was said that he had limited mental capacity. He said that he had feared for his life. He finally was said to be competent to stand trial but took a plea deal and plead guilty to manslaughter. But that was of little comfort to Lauren’s friends and family. There is a little pocket park dedicated in her name in New Orleans. But again, what comfort is that to a grieving mother?

The police had been called just hours before the murder when the perpetrator threatened to kill his ex outside of the restaurant where she and Lauren worked. But nothing was done. He had prior drug convictions, a number of reports for help called in to the police. And time and time again, he was just taken away from the situation and released.

I know this is upsetting and for that I apologize, but things like this happen way too often. This young woman did not have to die. I knew her when she was a child. I knew her mom and her dad. They are good people. Good kind-hearted people.

I was recently watching the story of Rodney Alcala, aka the “Dating Game Killer”. He got away with murdering many women….and a 12 year old child….because he was attractive and intelligent and lured women with his offers to photograph them. When he was finally caught, hundreds of photos of women were found in a storage locker that belonged to him, along with trophies such as pieces of jewelry that belonged to his victims.

They kept letting him go. Kept giving him short sentences and letting him go for good behavior. As soon as he was let go, he would kill again. Granted, he was not in jail for murder, but even when the pieces were put together and had a witness from a victim who survived…they were able to claim he was wrongly convicted and retry him.

What’s wrong with this world where adults and children are treated as disposable objects to be used for lusts and desires instead of seeing them as people, and where the rights of criminals outweigh those of their victims?

So where am I going with this? Well, first, a failure of the justice system and the police when it comes to domestic issues and protection, and making it difficult to prosecute and to prove abuse where there are no black eyes or broken bones evident.

In the first case, even though the man who murdered Lauren had openly threatened to kill his girlfriend only hours before he killed Lauren, and it was not the first time police had to be called, because there was no physical evidence of abuse, he was able to walk free. In the second case, the case went back and forth and seemed as if the murderer could go free. It wasn’t until they introduced DNA matching with the victims and the items in the storage locker that they actually “had” Alcala where he could not proclaim his innocence.

We are talking about “regular guys” here. One who was involved in “just a domestic” call and the other who had a high I.Q. who knew his way around the law and who knew how to turn on the charm to manipulate people. It is estimated that Alcala killed over 100 women. What happens then when trying to report and prosecute a member of the respected clergy? It’s not easy. And change is slow in coming.

We think we can spot the “bad guys”. We think we are safe in our homes and that we know who we can trust when we speak to a stranger. Normally the average person isn’t fluent in psychology and adept at analyzing the motives behind a nice smile.

In a perfect world, the bad guys would wear costumes like they did on “Batman”. Even the bad guy’s henchmen wore matching outfits so you could tell they were the bad guys.

In real life, there is no way of knowing who the bad guys are. They may wear costumes….like policemen and doctors….and priests. Or they may be the cute person on the dating site. It’s scary to think you can’t trust anyone. And yet….it’s better that you don’t. Even if you know someone, if something feels off, listen to your radar. You may feel more sensitive and think you are getting false readings on people at times because you have been abused in the past. That is okay. You’re not perfect. Accept that and continue to listen to your own feelings.

Not that I like talking about negative things because this world is depressing enough as it is….but if something seems off….document it. Tell a friend. It may not feel like we can change the world, but that is not our job anyway. Our job is to change our own world…our own circle…our own story…..if we are able.

These days, I’m proud of myself if I know what day it is and I am able to get some exercise and meditate and remain calm.

Hope you are all able to do that as well. Stay safe and healthy. Take the weekly poll if you’d like. Have a good week.

,

I’m Not Ready to Make Nice

I once described the feeling of being betrayed by my boss the priest as if I was travelling at 90 miles per hour and hit a tree. There had been so much emotional turmoil and anxiety and confusion inside of me and once I was fired and sent home, it was a feeling that is hard to describe. Unless you have been betrayed. And we all have been betrayed at one point or another. But to be betrayed by an institution you should be able to depend upon for well being….that is a betrayal trauma.

I had no way to vent my feelings. And although the metaphor of the car I had been in had suddenly come to a complete halt, the feelings were still travelling at the speed they were used to. But suddenly, there was “no problem” to fixate the feelings upon. I was just supposed to go away neatly. People were uncomfortable talking to me about it and trying to find someone who could tell me that what had happened was anything but my fault was kind of hard to come by.

Even my best therapist, who kindly took my phone calls had to admit that it wasn’t the brightest idea for me to send the priest emails which he could use against me. Emails which made me look complicit.

Someone said to me recently that I was so much “more healed” if you will…more than they. But that’s not true really. Because life is continuously unfair and because being betrayed affects how you view your relationships and the risks you are willing to take and how you feel about yourself.

I saw a conversation thread on Facebook the other day. The topic was about the cult Nxvim. If you have never heard of this group, basically, there was a somewhat charismatic “leader” who ran a business and executive training workshop to help people with their careers and personal development. You can look into this more on your own, but it was like Charles Manson in the suburbs. I believe the workshops involved some mind play which posed as getting in touch with yourself but were really intent on breaking down the ego and getting people to think less for themselves and to not question anything that was going on because it was all “for the best”.

Not surprisingly, woman who had joined the workshop, seemed to end up in bed with the guy who was running the show, and he even had a number of “top ladies” recruiting other women to join. Once they were really brainwashed, some women even allowed themselves to be branded with a hot iron with a symbol containing initials of the leaders of the group. And some, I learned, became victims of sex-trafficking.

Well, these people on Facebook were discussing this group and how could anyone have fallen for that. They must have had very low self esteem, it was determined. That would never happen to me, others said.

That is what makes me angry. Not just that people betray people and use them and hurt them for their own gain, but it’s the judgmental folks who claim it could never happen to them and that these people must be of a lower stock of human beings to fall for this. Okay, there may be some pity, but there is also a definite separation and a feeling of “my group is better than your group” going on. We would never. And we all do that. And it is a very dangerous way of thinking. It could never happen to me.

We are all just one step away from something like that happening to us.

First, by saying you could never be duped and that nothing like that could happen to you….well, the truth is, anyone can be gaslighted and any of us could have their lives changed in a moment by someone we thought we knew.

I was talking to a group of survivors recently and the point was made….would you continue to date someone who punched you in the face on your first date? No, of course not. But there are times in our lives when we are more vulnerable. Perhaps our family has deserted us in some way or our spouse has cheated on us with our best friend…and then a person comes along and makes us feel good. The pain turns into joy in their presence. We feel special. And that feeling makes us want to block out anything that doesn’t seem to sync with that feeling.

Are you stupid for feeling that way? I just described what it is like for anyone who is falling in love and who has ever fallen in love. When you fall in love, that chemistry, those hormones, that joy being in their presence….that is normal. That is what is supposed to happen. But why do some of us seem to fail to see the red flags that may be glaringly obvious to other people?

I guess we all have ideas of what it means to have a good friend, a beloved family member, or a person we would want to spend our lives with. And if you are like me, you have been betrayed by all of these plus a priest. So, what is going on?

Well, I think that once we have allowed bad behavior of any kind either in the belief that everyone has issues or that nobody is perfect or we have to forgive in life, we have already gone off the right path. Honestly, whenever I have thought that about someone and put excusing them before how their actions made me feel, I’m already in trouble. But that is how I was raised. In my home and in my school and in my church. Forgive others. And the longer I live, the less inclined I am to believe that is the right course of action.

The thing is, just like being in that car going 90 miles per hour, if that tree ahead of us is the red flag, even when we are forced to face the truth, our emotions just can’t stop as easily. If you look upon the feelings you are feeling when you are in love or when you have a good friendship, you are being rewarded by being around those people. You are feeling the rush of endorphins in your brain. Just like when you get “likes” on your Facebook posts or someone tells you that your eyes are amazing or that your hair feels good as hell when they run their hands through it. It’s a drug. And we keep going back for more. And the more we identify that person with good feelings and rewards, the harder it is to back away and to realize that the rewards are conditional or mixed with pain, or confusing. We form a bond with that person. Again, I don’t know why perhaps you or I are more susceptible than someone else or even if we are so. I just know that being rewarded by attention from others feels good and having that taken away or needing to step away from that feels like a loss and it feels not so good.

And so I think that we sometimes bargain. Such as…

Since I have two children and a house with this man and I will be all alone if I tell him to leave, I will not ask him where he has been until 4am with his old friend who happens to a woman.

He seems like a nice man. Just because he was late for our first date and showed up after I paid the bill, well…it happens, right?

So he tells me we aren’t going to have sex anymore unless I make more of a commitment….we can still be friends, right?

He had to back away. He’s my ex-husband’s friend.

His motives are pure…he is a priest.

It’s okay that he hurt me. He was doing the right thing. I’m sure he loves me, but he couldn’t hurt his wife. I understand.

So he asked me in confidence what was going on so he could help me and advise me and then used what he knew to tell everyone we know…and everyone that I love….what I have done in my sex life at a very young an impressionable age….after basically pimping me out to his friends and telling me what was expected of me.

And

I’m sure she just forgot to invite me. She invited everyone else and we’ve been friends for over 30 years, but I’m sure she just forgot.

So here’s the thing. In most every case, above, there were other things to consider. So I believed. Family. Long friendship. Respect of the priesthood. Allowing other people to have “faults”. Forgiving. Weighing the issue against the loss of the person. Hurt. Feeling undeserving. Feeling like I existed in a world where I was just a reaction to other people’s actions. If they loved me, I was good. If they used me and threw me away, I was worthless. If they hurt me, I needed to forgive. If they rejected me, I needed to do everything I could until I found the right key to make them accept me.

I struggle with these feelings. I’m sure many people do. Even when logically you know the answer, emotions can take time catching up.

We can be blinded by what we think should be good. A priest for instance. A doctor. One of the people I spoke about was a respected doctor where I worked. We remained friends for awhile after our break up. But we weren’t really friends. Not really. If you are romantically involved with someone who is treating you in a way that would not be acceptable with a friend, then you really can’t be friends. I just got emails from him for a long time telling me what I was missing out on. Trips he was taking that I would have loved so he put it. Things like that.

Another woman in the survivor’s group said a similar thing….he was a doctor for Pete’s sake. A well respected intelligent man. And he was still abusive.

I don’t think I really “got it” until I found myself making excuses for someone who hurt me. And then I thought….how about how I feel? I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t want to hurt anyone. But I was hurt too. And he is not taking responsibility or acting in a mature way. Essentially, he is doing what is the least likely thing to hurt himself.

Please don’t say that I have it all together. My feelings never want to cooperate with my adult point of view. But when I realized that my forgiving meant that I was excusing someone’s behavior when they hurt me….basically telling them it was fine with me if they wiped the dog poo off their shoe on my front steps and walk away clean, I realized it was okay to get angry.

And I am. But it is now what you do with that anger that matters. Nothing is a waste of time if you learn a lesson. I think anger is good. And I think you have to feel anger before you can think of forgiving anyone. I think you have to allow yourself to scream “how dare you do this to me! You are a …….(you can come up with some really good words here) blankety blank blank” I think you have to have anger before you can heal. I don’t think that means that you do things you can’t take back to hurt someone in return. I do think you should get your anger out. Scream. Write. Do something very selfish for yourself. Take care of yourself….because you are not going to allow some blankety blank blank to take anything else away from you. Buy yourself flowers and chocolate. Know that whatever they do or think about you does not matter.

And…it’s not always easy to get people out of your life. In many ways, loss is always painful. Especially as you get older. It’s tough to continue to try to allow people to get close knowing they could hurt you. It is tough to even think about allowing emotions to surface. And it’s not always easy to completely let go of some people. Old time friends. Family members. people you still need to see socially or professionally. I have emotionally distanced myself from people such as those. I have found new friends while maintaining friendships that have warped over the years and are now less close and contact is less often. My family member I have lessened my involvement with his drama and his negativity. And I no longer confide anything in him as I know he will want to use that knowledge as a source of control.

So in closing, anger is necessary. You can understand the actions of others without excusing them if it ended up hurting you. You don’t have to forgive if forgiveness means you are basically saying it is okay for someone to treat you badly or if you aren’t acknowledging how you feel. Anger does not mean revenge. Sometimes it is enough to realize that this person was not adding to your life, but rather taking from you and that they are no longer doing that if they are gone from your life. Acknowledge and respect your own feelings. When all is said and done, you have to live with yourself. Learn to like yourself.

I wish for peace and health for everyone this year and just a reminder that our Abused as Adults meeting now meets weekly every Sunday evening 7pm to 9pm EST.

Tell Me What You Want, And I’ll Give You What You Need

Ah, the pursuit of happiness and perfection. You ever feel like you have never quite made it? Is there always something missing? Have you looked back over your life so far and you see nothing but unhappiness with a bleak future ahead? Does it feel like life is one big bowl of disappointments with a cherry on top of moments of loss and utter despair? Or do you ever look back and say….what happened to the good old days? Or do you look forward to the day when you will be able to retire or find your soul mate or win a legal battle?

Are you happy right now? No? What is it you are missing? And what do you do when you feel down in the dumps? Do you reach for a drink? Feel you need a cigarette? A bowl of ice cream? All three in no particular order? I’ve been there.

I look back at my teen-age years now thinking how great it was when life was simple and we had time to be self-absorbed. In truth, it wasn’t all great. I think the best part of that time was to be able to eat or drink whatever I wanted without many long lasting consequences. And even if life felt like it was falling apart around me, Mom still had dinner on the table and Dad still paid the bills. I had horrible acne, but I had a home. Emotionally life didn’t feel stable but I had opportunities that were there if I chose to take them. If I had seen them.

And then I think about how many people…not just women…aren’t really sure how to become adults on their own. That is a vulnerable period in life as well, when we begin to become adults and aren’t sure what “adulting” actually means. So many people who don’t even realize what it means to be co-dependent if they have even heard the term at that point, end up with pregnancies or marriages because it feels scary to take that jump into the abyss on your own. Many adults who have been abused by priests end up being abused at that point in their lives because it is an emotionally vulnerable time. We’re venturing away from the herd and beginning to find out who we are. If we have never really learned who we are other than being attached to other people’s needs or crisis, it can be really hard to judge our own value and who we are as individuals. And people who are just coming to terms with their own sexuality perhaps not being the same as how they saw their peers in high school, have that on their plate as well.

I didn’t mean to be a statistic. An unwed mother. I had no idea that instead of pulling things together, an unplanned baby would just end up highlighting things I didn’t yet understand. And that would bring years of struggling to pull away from more unhealthy attachments that got passed along to my children. And yet, even during those horrifically painful years of growth and panic attacks when trying to pull away from the unhealthy safe and familiar, there was good. As much as it may have been uncomfortable to be so tied to my parents’ rules and still needing their help, they were there for me and took care of my children. I could not have done that alone.

That and my own belief that I was not alone helped to get me through.

Whether or not you believe the following is up to you. One night, when I was giving a 3am bottle to my youngest son who would not sleep unless held, I was on the couch in the dark in the living room while my older son and husband slept in the bedrooms.

I was exhausted and fighting sleep. It was then that I felt a sensation. Like an electrical charge of some kind. I looked up to see a figure standing next to me. Just standing to the left of me, between the couch and the coffee table. The figure was completely white and shaped like a human. What I noticed was that he was a being of pure energy. I could actually see the energy within and around him.

As I held my son on my lap and I looked at this being to my left, I saw “him” reach out his right arm and hold out his hand to me. He stayed there like that. I thought…oh, I have to do the same. I looked down at my son and shifted my arms so that I held him against me with one arm. I looked back up to the figure standing there and I reached out to them with my other arm. At that moment, they just vanished.

The memory of that moment….that I was not alone….that someone cared….helped me through some tough times. That and the joyful moments with my kids…who I know needed me. It helped me through.

What I think is ironic is that one of the things I did when times really sucked is I started to write and to send things to magazines to be published. One of the largest markets out there was at the time anyway, the religious market. Religious stories as guidance for children. I did get three things published. And I was drawn to writing for the religious market. God, inspiration and His Holy Church. Yup. For children. I never told kids to go to church or said anything about priests, but it was more of a finding strength within.

Kind of ironic that I now write to connect with others who have gone through abuse by the church. I tell you that I believe that people are groomed by the church itself to be used and abused in the name of God. It’s just so totally sad and disgusting. People who innocently believe in giving and forgiving and that trusting that Godly people are good are the most vulnerable. Those that are the kindest and the most trusting.

And so I looked forward to retirement. I couldn’t wait to retire and to not have to hit that alarm button anymore five days a week.

Then the time came. But along with retirement came my part time job at the diocese which ended badly, a bout with cancer, and the challenges of growing older. So I sometimes look with fondness at the years when I could move freely, slept easily, did not have to handle bills and house repairs, had my future ahead of me, many romantic prospects, never gained weight, ate what I wanted, and had none of the pain that comes with time and the loss of loved ones and a younger physical body. And a time when I still believed that the church and the government had everything under control and cared about my well being.

It is easy to get depressed. Especially this year. It is easy to focus on how people have wronged us and what we don’t have. It’s easy to get angry that after all this B.S., we are still going to die. And to have the news tell us about death and man’s inhumanity towards man every day does not help. It’s understandable to want to give up or to feel sorry for ourselves or to feel hopeless and sad and say….why am I trying not to eat ice cream or why did I quit smoking? Why am I depriving myself of any joy when it could all end tomorrow?

I’ll tell you. I live with someone who watches the news a lot. And he is sick. And he has financial woes. And he gets upset easily. My brother gets upset with my elderly mother and yells at her. My mother gets emotional and there is not much I can do as I cannot really see her and it’s lonely around the holidays. I was texting an old friend yesterday who lives alone and has health issues. She is finding it really tough to quit smoking though she knows she should. And I just found out that I have some more health issues and need some tests.

We are a sad lot right now. But the title of this blog was “Tell me what you want, and I’ll give you what you need”. That is an old Doobie Brothers song. it means more to me today than when it came out in 1975.

To me it means that more than ever, it’s time to tune out the bad news and all of the things that we cannot control in our lives. All of the loss, the health issues, and all of the fun things we can’t do right now.

What is it that we need at this time? To me, that is peace and appreciating what we have. We will never be happy because we will never have everything we want. And we cannot control what other people feel or do. I’m not trying to preach because I am far from perfect. I have great pity parties. Those are the only parties I’m attending right now.

So I’m reminding myself as well as I’m saying this to everyone else. Take time to step away. Do the things that you enjoy and are able to do. I once had a 90 year old aunt who lived alone but I thought she had the best life. She owned her own home, had a dog, watched her soap opera, baked for other people, and loved to read every night. She also had a small, close group of family and friends. But she remained independent up until three months before she passed away when she had to leave her beloved home. She didn’t have a lot, but she loved what she had.

Seek the things that bring you joy. Don’t let this world overwhelm you. Don’t pressure yourself. Be thankful.

If you feel there is nothing to be thankful for….turn it around.

My mother was given six months to live 25 years ago. My brother attempted suicide and is still here. I had cancer and survived. My oldest son is seeing a doctor for his health. I can’t control his family history of early heart attacks, but I am thankful that he is taking care of things before he needs to. My youngest son graduated from college this year and has an 18 month old son. I never thought I’d see the day either one of those things was possible for him. I have contacted my brother’s estranged son and I get to text with him and see pictures of his children. I may have a heart issue, but it was noticed before it was too late.

And finally….this week, I noticed that my book got a rating of one star from someone who did not leave a review….just the one star. Well, Stephen King I am not but to me that means one thing…..I hit a nerve. Someone read the book and got upset. Want to take a guess as to who I think that someone is?

And that is how you flip a bad thing into a good thing.

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Take this week’s poll. Remember you can answer more than once.

Happy New Year. Hoping 2021 brings new hope to all.

Oh Holy Night

This is one of my favorite Christmas songs. It’s so pure and emotional and focuses on the true meaning of the celebration of Christmas.

I was thinking recently how Christmas is one of those days in your life where there is most likely a trail of memories that we can trace beginning with childhood all the way to where we are now.

Christmas at my grandparents’ house until they passed and then it was Christmas at my Aunt and Uncle’s house until my Uncle passed away. Then it became running between my parents’ house and my in-law’s house with our children. Christmas as a single mom, Christmas when the boys were teens, then Christmas when they were gone and came home for a visit, Christmas when they came back to live with their significant other, Christmas when they were gone again and it snowed so much and I spent the day alone with my dogs, Christmas movies and a TV dinner. First Christmas without my father. The last Christmas party at my Aunt’s before she passed away.

It can be emotional, this time of year. Because memories of Christmas past can be so triggering when it comes to loss and change and the comparison as to how things used to be and how they are now. Tables with empty chairs. Your mom’s good china. Aunt Eleanor’s recipe for fudge.

And this year…..this year so many people will be seeing the day come and go while they are alone and isolated. Too many families have lost loved ones and others have to tell their children that Santa had to lay off most of his elves due to Covid and they are praying that their stimulus payments will come in time for them to run out to the crowded stores in time to grab food and something for the kids so they won’t have to face harsh reality on a day that should be magical.

But thank God the church got their billions so they didn’t have to close their doors. And I wonder how many victims of the pandemic left money to the church in their will.

You know, my intent is not to manifest hatred towards anyone. And I know that life is unfair. But businesses are struggling. Families are struggling. And is beyond my comprehension that people have had to wait until a couple of days before Christmas to get enough to buy some groceries and maybe some warm clothes or a toy for their children while the church cries poor mouth so loud that nobody else can be heard….all the while priests can afford to own their own businesses and property and before Covid, could afford to rack up frequent flyer miles.

The thing is, a couple of year’s ago, I wouldn’t have complained about that. I would have thought that the church does good things and takes care of people and anyone in need can go to the church for help.

Not saying that to some extent that isn’t true, but I am saying that I personally would not send someone to a church to get help. And I am saying it seems that this country has some things backwards. And that the church does not need financial help from the government and that they should not have had their hands out before anyone else who needs it. People who work hard and who have to pay taxes.

Okay, but back to Christmas. According to last week’s poll, most people said they never think about going to mass or they don’t feel they need to attend mass on Christmas day in order to celebrate.

Personally, I try not to get my spiritual beliefs confused with priests or a nice building with high ceilings and stained glass. It can feel more isolating to not attend mass with friends and neighbors. And childhood memories revolved around church at Christmas. But when some have been hurt by the people and the rituals and what was once comforting and safe now causes panic attacks and depression, I don’t think that is a good place for a soul to seek guidance.

I had someone say that in AA, they are having a hard time dealing with the concept of a “higher power” because God has been so powerfully linked for so long with the church and its people. And when one of those people continues to show one face to the world and a very sinister face to those they abuse, that abuse is very powerful as well.

I don’t know if you will be alone this Christmas. I don’t know if you will be unable to see your loved ones. I don’t know if it will be a really tough day for you because you have lost loved ones or because you are out of work or because maybe you have to work double shifts at the hospital….or perhaps you or someone you know are sick right now.

I still believe in Christmas miracles. Because I still believe there is good in the world. And I still believe in prayer and spiritual intervention and pretty much everything I grew up learning to believe…..but I have removed myself from the belief of the physical manifestation of a higher power in a building on Earth. And that people within that building are good simply by being there.

This is going to be a tough Christmas in some ways for almost everyone. But as I discovered that day I sat alone in the snowstorm with my TV dinner and my dogs and cable TV….it’s only a day like any other day.

So whether or not you are alone, or have family with you, or if the day brings feelings of emotion and loss…..it’s just a day. Better days are coming.

The Story in Your Eyes

I had a woman at a meeting last week say that she didn’t want to bore the rest of us with her story by telling it over again. Sometimes I feel that way too. Why do we need to tell our story over and over again?

Well, we really don’t. We can say how we are feeling or what is going on in our lives as it relates to things. But you know, I find that every time I tell my story, it gets a little bit easier. And the more I learn from reading and from listening to others’ stories, the clearer my story becomes to me.

Until I found SNAP, it was very difficult to talk to anyone about what had happened. Even then, although you cannot compare your pain to someone else’s, I will never understand how anyone can breach the boundary of hurting an innocent…whether child or animal. And there seem to be more and more horrible stories these days about such abuse and torture.

It wasn’t until I found other people who had been abused as adults that I began to understand what had happened to me.

And it’s been a process. But every once in awhile, I will feel like I experience an insight that makes something clearer. I read something about how to realize you are involved with a Narcissist recently. And what stood out for me was how difficult it was to have a clear and honest conversation with someone with a NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder). They will deflect. They will deny. They will turn the blame on you. They will make you wonder if something actually happened or if you misinterpreted or imagined it. They will find your weaknesses and your flaws and the things you feel sensitive about and they will exploit them. They will make you feel unattractive, stupid, crazy, needy, guilty, wrong about everything, vulnerable, in danger, and completely at fault for everything. They will turn things around so that they are the victim.

They will turn others against you and they will have you protecting them. Is it any wonder you end up an emotional mess and feeling suicidal?

What I began to see…really began to see…was that I was never going to be able to communicate with my abuser. He was never going to see me as anything but someone to serve the needs he felt entitled to have served. Nothing was ever going to be fair. Nothing was ever going to be clear. As difficult as it was to even begin to speak to this man/priest/boss about the subject of his sexual expectations, my mind kept going into denial and I ended up feeling wrong about bringing up the subject. Especially when he said that I was making him feel uncomfortable. I felt horrified by that. I wanted to communicate, not to offend.

Again, I’m not a psychologist. I am just what I consider a kind and quiet person who was working for someone who I assumed was the same. And I felt like I had somehow gone through the looking glass and drank some bad tea.

And along with the denial comes trauma bonding….the use of sex and fear and gaslighting which creates a sort of love/protective bond between the abuser and their prey. This is what also happens in abusive relationships where someone just can’t seem to leave because they think there is love somehow going on. Love bombing in the beginning of grooming solidifies that thinking. There is the….if only I had….or if only I was…if only I hadn’t….feeling that you are the cause for the other person’s mood swings.

That is why it is important to talk about your story. And you don’t have to tell the complete story over and over again….but you can pick a point that you might find difficult…something that makes you feel particularly vulnerable….and begin to bring that out into the light.

It’s not mandatory to spill your guts to the world. But I will tell you a number of reasons that I think it is important to begin to try to talk about what happened to you.

Fear. You were conditioned to be afraid. You may have been threatened with harm to you or loved ones if you said anything. I can’t tell anyone what is best for them. But I do think that sometimes getting something you’ve held onto out to find that others understand can help.

Embarrassment. Sex…and I use that term because we are talking about body parts and functions…can be really difficult to talk about. It is an incredibly emotional subject that is not only physical but beliefs and desires and self esteem play an important part. When we talk about sex, we are literally exposing our inner selves. We are making ourselves feel very vulnerable. Even more so if we were put in a vulnerable or powerless situation. We would probably rather not think about it as doing so may unearth horribly powerful emotions we are not ready to handle.

I think about the other women who this “gentleman” had been “involved with” before he met me. The absolute terrifyingly degrading feelings they must have felt when they believed they were trapped and had to approach this person who had played with their mind to the extent that they had to allow themselves to feel like they were less than human and shut off their minds while they approached a grinning being of pure evil and submitted to him.

What people who have not been through this don’t understand is that this is rape. It may not physically be the act of rape per se, but it is coercive force and the destruction of a human being. This is not an act of love. This is not even a sexual act like if you were involved with someone and decided to initiate something. This was like being told to do the most humiliating thing you can think of. This was about dying inside emotionally.

So why talk about it? Why bring it up at all?

Blame and self hatred. I learned that I could not get an honest or respectful conversation out of my boss. I could not turn him in. I cared about him in some weird way. He would remind me that he was losing all hope and that he could die at any moment and how I turned him on just by being in the room. I felt complicit. I felt protective. I felt that I didn’t want anyone asking questions that I didn’t want to answer. I didn’t want to talk about it. Or really acknowledge it. I had also been told to be obedient. To not question. Questions only went in circles anyway.

For most of the time, I wasn’t really sure if he was harassing me or if I was imagining it. What if I did what I believe he is saying I’d better do? Will the world know what horrible person I am? Will he spring up from his chair in horror and disbelief and run right to H.R. and call the police? Or will one of his friends join us? Or maybe a room full of his friends. Once you begin to believe you’ve run out of dignity, you stop believing you have a right to ask for it.

By talking about what happened, by allowing the emotions to exist, by beginning to understand what actually happened, and by having your story accepted by others, I found at least, that I am becoming a little braver and a little less afraid to discuss what happened.

Here’s the thing. The church is a huge entity and fighting for justice can be difficult. I can’t even get a lawyer to take my case. I’m on my own. Because I thought I had feelings for my abuser. Because I initially protected him. Because I tried to reason with him instead of reporting him. So justice is not always going to happen.

People are many times judgmental. If you say that a priest abused you, especially as an adult, you can expect to be shunned, have people cross the street when they see you, not want to see you in church, think you have some kind of psychological disease that makes you go after priests, think you are weak or stupid or that you should have seen this coming…..”what did you expect…he was a priest”. And my favorite? The person who I thought was my friend who I had asked for help….said to me something like….”I’m kinda like that priest, y’know? But I mean, with me, you can say no”. Uh….what’s that now? I’m telling you about my abuse, you moron, not giving you my price range. That’s how I felt. Let down. Misunderstood. Betrayed by someone who I thought was a friend….again.

The only justice you may find in this world is the one you make for yourself. In the end, you are the one who has to find your way back. Despite the fact that evil will always exist and people are almost always going to be ignorant.

You need to begin to forgive yourself. That is more important than anything. More important than anything. Forget about what “they” are getting away with. Forget about the hurt that has been flung at you. I know. I know. Maybe forget isn’t the word I’m looking for. How about just forget about forgiving “them”. Focus on forgiving yourself. For being human. For trusting. For trying to survive a difficult situation that nobody else can understand. That is one reason I had said a couple of weeks back to rub lotion on yourself and to listen to music. That is why I ask in the polls what you enjoy doing.

We may not see justice in our lifetime. But it is not too late to find enjoyment in our lifetime. To understand it was not our fault. To let go of everything and anything that relates to self blame. Let it go. Forgive yourself. If you can’t talk about it until it begins to lose its power over you, than read and listen to others’ stories so that you see that your abuse did not happen because of some serious fault in your nature and that you are not a mistake who should just go away because you make people uncomfortable.

Sex, sin, guilt, fear……all strongly religiously emotional words. Words ingrained in us that we cannot seem to separate between good and evil and God. But the church is not God. Our all-loving source is that which we call God. Words can be used as chains to control the congregation.

Choose your own thoughts and words with love. Because you are enough.

Have a wonderful week, stay safe and healthy, please take this week’s poll. Abused as Adults virtual meeting is next Sunday at 7pm EST,

You Don’t Own Me

I would like to talk more about how adults should “know better” about getting sucked into being groomed and sexually harassed and abused.

We aren’t born adults any more than we start out in the middle of someone’s web of deception. We start out as children. As children, we need love, or at the very least, attention and care, in order to survive. If we don’t get that love, or if that love is linked with emotional or physical pain, that becomes our normal. We only see the world as it relates to ourselves, so the actions of others towards us begins to become how we see ourselves in our world. In other words, if our father has a really bad day at work and comes home in a foul mood, the once peaceful place where you live, and where as a child you cannot leave….becomes a place of unrest and of fear. And as a kid, you don’t understand “bad day at work”. You just get the feeling that things are out of control. And you can’t say anything, so that feeling just gets buried inside. And you keep that feeling there and you keep it under control. Because you begin to learn that feelings can be dangerous and that the expression of feelings is very scary.

I just need to say that my dad was a good man and I knew that he loved me, but he had some issues. I remember one day when I was a young child, I was very sick. My mom had me sleeping in their bed downstairs I guess so she could keep an eye on me and not have to run up and down the stairs.

I just remember feeling pretty bad. My dad came home from work and there was a conversation that began to escalate between my parents. I just remember it had to do with me being in their bed and my dad having to sleep in my bed for the night or something. For whatever reason, my father was furious about being put out of his room.

I remember feeling 100% responsible for my father’s anger. That on top of the fact that whenever I got sick as a kid, I was always told I got sick because of something I did or didn’t do, so I felt like I had brought on the mumps or whatever it was I had at the time.

So, don’t you know, the argument came into the bedroom right in front of me. All of a sudden, I remember my father slamming the closet door into the wall, leaving a gaping hole where the doorknob had pounded through the wallpaper into the drywall and beyond.

He made a joke about it later when he patched it up and fixed the hole. But to this day, you can see where I made my dad get angry because I got myself sick and he couldn’t sleep in his own bed. And so my parents weren’t happy together. I was a bad person.

We figure out who we are when we are kids. You also learn about sex before you know what sex is all about. You know that there are parts of you that you keep covered. You know you’re not supposed to comment about how other people look so you don’t hurt their feelings. You know there is something forbidden but highly curious about what other people are hiding and that you are not supposed to talk about it or draw pictures of what your three year old self thinks what a naked person looks like on your brother’s homework because then people know you have thoughts and that’s as bad as speaking about things.

And you know it feels “yucky” and it’s wrong when someone who is supposed to be watching you wants to see your personal areas when your mom and dad leave the house. Even though you want to have fun with them. That doesn’t feel like fun. It feels like something else. And you don’t say anything because you aren’t supposed to talk about it and it feels uncomfortable and that feeling is mixed with not wanting to disappoint someone and wanting to be liked and also having a boundary begin to grow thinner around your little kid self. And it affects you.

And you might be thinking that it was no big deal….just playing doctor. But it was because this person continued to influence me all throughout my life. And whenever I thought it was over, it was there again. When I was 28 years old, it was there again. It never stopped.

So when you are a kid and you are the caretaker and the peacemaker and the one who feels responsible, and the one who protects, you can get a strange view of who you are and where you fit in with other people.

And it becomes who you are and you don’t know that is what has happened. Because it is your normal. But then you wonder why the nice guy you started dating turns into a control freak or physically abusive.

I am not making excuses. I’m not. I truly did not understand why what felt like love turned into abuse. Or being what I thought was loving and supportive turned into being used for money.

So when you say an adult should “know better”, tell me when you think this comes about. Does it happen on your 18th birthday? Do you suddenly become wise at that point? Of course not. You go out into the world with the knowledge you have and the self confidence you amassed along the way.

Predators can tell. They test you. They have a game plan. You don’t know this. You think they are a good person. And when it’s a priest? Jackpot! This person is sincere. And it may seem awfully naive to think that looking from the outside. But is it really? Why are priests believed instead of their victims? Why when we report what a priest has done is it seen as attacking the church and God? Because we all believe that priests are Godly and sincere. They are the ones who keep us in line spiritually.

We don’t take cooking lessons from people who burn the roast…we take lessons from people who know what they are doing in the kitchen. So we feel safe in assuming that the people who are caring for our souls would not hurt us. Or else they would not be priests.

Because we have all been groomed to believe that.

But going back a moment to how our childhood experiences shape who we are and how a predator knows who to pick….when looking for an adult who is vulnerable, they hit pay dirt when they see the signs of someone who grew up with unsolid boundaries. My abuser smiled knowingly and said something out of the blue….as he always did….about child abuse or sexual abuse. Because they know the signs. They see clear as day when someone does not have a firm secure boundary.

It makes grooming easier when the boundaries have been twisted before. It makes it easier to confuse someone with a mixture of love and abuse when it already has been seen as normal with the people they have loved in the past. It makes it that much easier to twist the person into an emotional pretzel once again when they have worn down that path many times before.

So again, I am not on the couch blaming my actions on other people. But I am becoming aware of how other people’s actions helped to form mistaken belief systems inside of me. And I don’t feel differently. But I am beginning to see things differently. And that is not easy.

Because knowing and doing are two different things. Doing what you are not familiar with can be painful. And scary as hell. It feels counterintuitive. It feels like if you let go, the world will collapse around you.

It feels like if you stop trying….if you stop chasing…if you stop loving people who hurt you…if you stop hurting yourself…what will there be? Will we cease to exist? Will the world end?

Everyone please take care of yourselves. And take this week’s poll as well.

What About a Holiday?

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. I’m sure it was not like last year. But what it made me realize is that family is what is important and also that family can be extremely annoying and possibly cause nervous breakdowns. Still, they are family. But honestly, holidays can be stressful even without a pandemic.

So my Thanksgiving was quiet. But the food was nowhere as good as my mom’s. But it was peaceful. Sort of.

I had a couple of “firsts” this past week. It was my first time going to the emergency vet (with my mom’s dog) the night before Thanksgiving. He’s a sick pup. Still in the animal hospital slowly recovering. For two hours Wednesday night, my mom and I sat in the car, in the dark, in the rain, while we waited for someone to take the dog inside. Then we had the form. Then we waited for someone to come get the form. Then they told us to sit there until the vet checked him in…which if we had waited, would have taken another two hours.

We left. I told the vet assistant that I was going to get my mom home…she’s 93 for God’s sake….and that they could call her there.

It’s been a very emotional roller coaster the last couple of days and I have never prayed so much for a human being as I have for that dog’s recovery. He is my mom’s companion. Her world. In this crazy, pandemic don’t leave your house world. She is alone without him.

Then my friend’s father passed away. I have known the family since I can remember being alive and she is a good friend and I could not see her while she was up here from another state where she now lives and her dad was dying. I emailed her. Then I saw her in the crowd (outdoors with masks) at the graveside service. Was able to speak to her for a second.

There are many things horribly wrong right now. Too much suffering going on. But it’s tough when you know your mom is having her Thanksgiving dinner alone or you can’t properly comfort a good friend at a tough time. I know the reason for it and I am not going to complain because so many people have it worse. But by not having what you take for granted, it kind of makes you thankful for what you have always had and thought you always would have.

Things can feel really depressing right now, so it can be difficult at times to keep going and just doing the things that need to be done. I remember going to be evaluated for a college study of some sort years ago. I was interviewed and was then asked….”how long have you been depressed?” Huh? Depressed? Me? Hmmn. I’m not depressed. Well…maybe. I do cry a bit now and then. I do feel like everything is a chore. Not much brings me joy.

You can be depressed and not know it. So this is just a reminder….there are online services. National Suicide Prevention Hotline. It’s not just for when you are about to jump off the bridge. It can be for when you feel overwhelmed and find yourself crying or unable to sleep. There are also counsellors who are doing on-line work these days. So, please take care of yourselves.

Other feelings can sneak past as well. If you marry a narcissist, you may find that you aren’t the only one affected by the union. Your children will most likely carry on the unseen trait and be abused or abusive. Being able to talk to other survivors who have sailed in the same boat that I have, has opened my eyes. Doesn’t make me any smarter, but it does show me that other people out there have experienced similar things in their families and ask similar questions about life.

I see clearly my grown children and their patterns when it comes to picking romantic partners and what they consider “love” and “normal”. Hey, don’t look at me, I don’t know what’s normal either. All I know is that when I look back on my love life, the main common denominator is…me. And again, we don’t start out in the middle of the web, so….how do we trust ourselves to know what is really love and normal at the beginning of getting to know someone?

I keep telling my kids that if they want their lives to change, they need to change. Counselling can help. Sometimes it can. Sometimes friends can help even more by their knowledge and their example. But I have one son who doesn’t believe in abuse unless it’s physical. Perhaps that is just an easier way to not work on your problems. Because it is not easy. Way easier to blame someone else. And, the thing is, as one who has gotten caught in too many webs myself, I know that even when someone is emotionally and verbally abusive and abusing their power at your expense, there is that narcissistic/co-dependent dance that we do. And so we blame the other person because we can’t see where we end and they begin. Even when someone points it out to us. We have to see it ourselves. It’s sad. So sad. And so very hard to see past the web to realize it is not normal and that we can get out and be okay. It can take time.

This week, I spoke to a young woman who told me about a priest who was trying to groom her and her friend. I can’t get into the whole story, but when I look at that sentence, I see that these were young people who knew what was going on….and knew the name for it. And knew where to call to talk about it. I know that we all tend to get disappointed and disgusted with “the system” and how hard it is to get justice, but to me, this is huge. This is a start. Education. Coming forward may not bring justice to our stories, but it may help someone else. And that is what I told her as well. Did not tell her what to do, but told her that when someone makes a report, it helps others to come forward and do the same.

Last week, I spoke with a mom whose son had stayed silent about his abuse for years. He stayed silent until he saw SNAP survivors on the news talk about their abuse. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re doing nothing to change anything. That you are only talking about it. But these stories show that the work we are doing….everyone….all survivors….does make an impact and a difference in the world.

Four years ago, I had no idea what happened to me. I thought it only happened to me. I was ashamed. I did what I thought I had to do so I wouldn’t get a priest in trouble. It seemed to go against everything….and against God….to speak against a priest. And to speak against a priest who I thought had feelings for me…which must have been something I did….I felt all alone in the world.

I felt inside everything that society says on the outside when they victim shame someone. I was not a child. I should have known better.

And then, it took so very long before I believed that I belonged with other survivors. I learned about the term “grooming” and about cover ups within the diocese. I learned that adults are abused very often and that they are too ashamed to speak out.

And if this knowledge becomes more acceptable to adult victims of clergy abuse, perhaps we can heal more of those who are still out there living in the shadows and blaming themselves. Perhaps the time will come when there will be no more second guessing about whether or not it is right to make a report because we may get laughed at or told to come back when we’ve “got something better than that”.

Maybe with enough knowledge and seeing other people brave enough to talk about this issue….and believe me, it is terrifying to be threatened by the person who is abusing you and then to be torn apart by those who are supposed to help you. To be seen as someone who is trying to bring down the church. Maybe with enough knowledge and small victories…other survivors will begin to see that what happened to them has a name. And that it was not their fault.

Have a great week, please take the survey, and if you are an adult survivor of abuse by a priest or other religious person, remember we meet next Sunday at 7pm EST.

What a Fool Believes

I was watching some more Dr. Phil this past week about something called “Catfishing”. Catfishing is when someone presents themselves as something they are not in order to scam someone. Usually they are looking for money.

It seems impossibly absurd. How in the world could someone meet someone on-line and send them their life savings? Why would they do that? What could make them do that?

There are so many answers as to what could make a person vulnerable. Gullibility, greed, loneliness, isolation, fear, need, co-dependency, lack of confidence….these are some.

When someone gets into a relationship….and I use that term even though there is likely an imbalance of power as well as dysfunction…but when there is an interaction between two people which may be perceived as a relationship by one of the people…there is something that draws that person into the web.

Cult members, people in abusive relationships they can’t seem to escape, people abused by those in power over them, people in dead-end relationships with emotionally and physically unavailable people, and people who end up being conned all have things in common. They didn’t start out in the middle of the web.

I’ve read that everyone is susceptible to gaslighting and brainwashing. Everyone. That’s scary. So if you have a charming individual with an agenda and a trusting or lonely person in need of being attached to someone or in need of being needed by someone, or in need of belonging to something or a part of something, or a grieving person in need of comfort…the spinning of the web could begin without it being noticed.

No, these particular people are not being abused by clergy, but there is something similar going on here.

People who set out to con other people can’t have a sense of caring or at least see their victims as human beings who are being hurt. They want to gain something at that person’s expense. And they use emotional manipulation in order to get what they want.

They fish pretty much literally as most predators do. Cast the line and test the water and see who takes the bait. And they learn what to look for and what to say to pull someone further into their trap.

Much like a priestly predator, their true face is not shown to their victim. Usually images and pictures are stolen from accounts so that the person being targeted thinks they know who they are talking to. They begin to form a connection with their new friend, and slowly and patiently as they get to know the person’s weaknesses, the new friend will begin to turn things around and use what they know to become more than a friend. Soon there will be promises and talk of love. The person who is lonely and looking for a human connection or comfort or belonging will let down their guard…as one is supposed to when they are in love….and they will begin to let go of reason.

Even when a red flag pops up, it is ignored because only the good is seen. Excuses are made for things that are rather not seen and acknowledged or questioned. Many times, the con artist will use a belief in God as proof of their kindness and genuine feelings and ability to be trusted.

So convinced are people that this person is who they say they are and so willing they become to remain connected and loved, that they will make sacrifices and give to their beloved without question. They do not want to lose this person’s approval. They will turn against family or friends who try to get them to see what is going on. That is how convinced they are of the reality they have created with this imagined illusion of love. But in reality, they are caught in a web of deception.

I’ve heard a couple of times from people who don’t understand how adults can be abused. I got an email once that said “they should know better”. And another that said “it is probably easier for an adult to get over what happens to them”.

Like the people who are catfished, nobody is stupid here. Red flags are seen but gaslighted away so that self-doubt and a feeling that you are a bad person for questioning anything surfaces. The victim may have an altered version of what love should be or is used to accepting crumbs from the people they have been in relationships with. Crumbs are often accepted instead of the whole cookie because we don’t believe we deserve the whole cookie or that anyone else would think we were worth the whole cookie. That and crumbs are usually intense and intended to make a person forget anything that seems off. Crumbs keep people hanging onto dead end relationships. People don’t want to starve emotionally and they depend upon other people to feed them.

Emotional abuse and control and manipulation is not something that is solid. It waxes and wanes. If I’m losing you, I will be extra wonderful…I will “change”. And we accept that because we get used to the flow. We get used to the abuse until it becomes “normal”.

You don’t get it, we think. I know this person loves me. You just don’t understand. I need them. They need me.

So far into the web that we can’t see the spider guarding the exit. Or perhaps we do. Perhaps the mask has come off and it’s no longer a need for love but a need to live in the hell in which we are trapped.

Getting back to Dr. Phil, he told the victims of the scam artists that it was not their fault as they had done nothing wrong. They were vulnerable. They were hit up by predators.

And they needed to grieve and to let go because to them, the relationship was real. So they needed to grieve the loss of what they perceived as a real person in their life. I think we can relate to that.

There will always be people who will take advantage of other people for their own benefit…and there will always be people whose heart will unfold with their goodness when they believe someone who they have feelings for. Whether that person is someone unknown on a computer, a manipulative relative willing to do what they need for money, a person who misrepresents themselves to use someone, or a priest who gets off on coercive control being a part of their sexual satisfaction.

Good hearted adults, lonely adults, grieving adults….they are all vulnerable adults. And just like catfishing, when a priest uses his power to con someone emotionally to get something from them, it is a crime.

Be good, stay well and please take this week’s poll.

Sorry, Blame it on Me

No surprise that chocolate cake turned out to be the most popular choice in last week’s poll. Although there were many votes for other kinds of cakes. Guess we just love our cake.

This week, I want to talk about blame and the role it plays in abuse.

I remember growing up when my father would get a few drinks under his belt and he would lash out at my mother. She would remain quiet and let him yell, but he would still blame his actions on her.

We as kids would be told the story of how his father was a peaceful drunk, not hurting anyone in the world. But then his mother would let into him and she would keep at him until he blew up and got upset. My father would compare himself to his father and say that just like his dad, my mother was the match to his dynamite. It was all her fault that he couldn’t control himself.

And sexually, back then….I was taught that was the woman’s responsibility. Men were not responsible for their actions.

So when my ex-boyfriend threw me down in front of our high school and began to beat me over the head with a jean jacket that had about a hundred snaps on it….that was naturally my fault. As the priest who counselled my ex and me said….I had led him on…my ex-boyfriend, that is. Wasn’t his fault.

The further back in time you go, of course, the worse it was when it came to human rights. When I was in high school, I think we were on the cusp of change. We were taking the pill, whether or not the pope approved, people were living together more and more before they got married, and unlike our parents, women were now expected to work outside the home….baby or not. It was an uncomfortable growing phase for society. Around 1972, on an episode of “All in the Family”, Gloria talks to her husband, Mike, about working part time and still being able to keep a nice house for him. We had not yet entered into a phase where women were co-breadwinners.

Given the information we had about life and being a “grown up” in the 60’s and 70’s, when the 80’s hit and women had to work full time and juggle children and find decent people to watch your kids because Day Care and Family Leave didn’t exist as they do today, life was a shock. I remember my mom taking care of my kids and saying that I was “choosing a career over your kids”. But I didn’t have a “career”. I had a job to help pay bills.

Another thing that we started to see changing around that time was single parents. As if being a double parent wasn’t hard enough. But people no longer felt compelled to stay in a marriage until death. Abusive situations were beginning to be recognized. The term “marital rape” became known and questioned. Questions such as “how could a person be raped when marriage assumes consent?” came into being.

So much enlightenment for those of us who were raised with our mom as a housewife and dad as the breadwinner and basically an abuse of power being the norm in our household.

And the blame that the person leaving an unhealthy relationship would carry….not only from the spouse they were leaving, but also from their own parents and the spouses’ family.

The feeling of being alone and unsupported with no guidelines as to where to go next.

When society as a whole is used to placing blame on the victims and those without power, and automatically giving respect and honor to those who have the power, you end up with rampant abuse of children and adults made even more vulnerable when they have nowhere to turn but back to their abuser.

How many survivors of abuse have heard the words “Nobody will believe you”? Or have found that when they tried to tell someone what happened, were told it was their fault? It’s still happening today.

I have heard stories of children being abused by the priest who was the “family friend”, who when trying to tell their parents what was going on were punished and told to apologize to their abuser.

Or adults who were shamed and asked if they were aware of the seriousness of their statements against the clergy who were acting inappropriately.

We live in a world today where we have DNA matching. Yet, of all of the rapes that get reported….that get reported….there is still only a 3% conviction rate for offenders. There are stacks and stacks of rape kits awaiting processing and of those that get processed, more likely than not, there will not be a DNA match if the offender was someone the victim did not know.

So as we venture away from the “safety” of being a life-long couple….we become vulnerable adults. Living alone, on-line dating….just being single and attempting to look attractive or being interested in having a sex life, having a couple of drinks while out and about…..all these things can and are used as tools of blame against a victim.

Are things beginning to get better with the “Me Too” movement? In some ways, possibly. I think perhaps people are a little more willing to come forward, and are successful in cases where there are many complaints against one perpetrator.

But more and more of what I read about what goes on in this world, makes me see that sexual assault is in no way slowing down. And the extreme violence against the helpless makes me sick.

All of this does not help when the victim has been shamed and threatened into silence and is terrified to speak. They have to speak facing possible retaliation. They have to talk about personal things that have been done to them. And there is a reason why there is the saying “don’t shoot the messenger”.

This has nothing to do with anything, but years ago at work, I got an obscene advertisement sent to my mail. I worked for the government, so I reported the incident to our computer people. Our computer people instructed me to forward the obscene email to higher up computer people, which I did. Well, I guess nobody bothered to tell anyone what was going on, so when the higher up computer folks got the email I sent, it looked like I was some deviant employee who should be immediately fired. Luckily, things were straightened out.

My point being, sometimes when you try to do the right thing by speaking up, you can be perceived as the one causing the problem.

I know from experience that it’s difficult to “tell on” a priest. I hear a lot of stories where people have received dirty texts, or where the priest comes to their house, or calls them, or they are actually touched or raped. And despite single people seeming to be more vulnerable, this happens to married people as well.

It’s absolutely mortifying to tell someone that a priest is not acting right. For me, I had no revealing texts, and I was not touched or raped, I just had the way he was acting and the things he would say when nobody was around.

Looking back, as hindsight is 20/20, I guess I should have taken my chances, but that is not so simple as it sounds when you are in the middle of being gaslighted and you feel that everything that is happening is your fault. And the priest would just confirm that. You are unstable. Imagining things.

You would be blamed and the predator would laugh behind your back and go on to abuse another day. And that is what ended up happening to me anyway. And it was devastating.

But what is more devastating than anything is what happens inside of the victim. The self-blame.

I’ve heard so many times….”I was in my 50’s…I should have known better”, “I know it was probably because I was wearing jogging shorts at the time”, “I was so stupid, I thought it was a relationship”, “I didn’t want to lose his approval”.

I blamed myself. I was fired because I did not initiate sex with my boss…a priest. Because in some way I called him out on his behavior and made things difficult for him. So I was fired. And then further harassed and shamed by the head of Human Resources. And I blamed myself. Though I wasn’t quite sure for what. For not going along with what it seemed everyone wanted? Just do it and keep quiet? Don’t make waves? I hated myself. I wanted to die. I know that many people who have been victimized feel the same way. And because my abuser never touched me, I was confused as to if he had really done anything wrong.

My head did not clear for a very long time and it only happened after telling my story to other adults who had been abused. And still, there are parts where I blame myself. Times where I and people I listen to will try to explain why they allowed something. “I froze so I thought I allowed it, I didn’t know I had been raped.”

You know what? It’s not your fault. You were a victim of someone who deliberately picked you to be their target and they abused you and messed with your head. They abused their power and they knew the rules of the game and how it would end. You didn’t even know there was a game. You were just dumped when your use was exhausted.

It was not your fault. Before any of us are going to be able to begin to fight back, we have to believe that.

Have a good week. Please stay safe and healthy. Eat some cake. And take this week’s poll.