When I first joined SNAP, I felt like a fraud. Here were people who were raped when they were children trying to heal from horrific acts and bravely facing the church in a one-step forward, two-steps back struggle for justice and prevention. There’s not much worse than taking advantage and hurting the innocent and the helpless. Here I was, an adult who had been duped by a crazy priest who I thought had used his position to control his love life out of what I believed to be guilt and fear.
And I had cared for him. I had cared about his feelings. I had liked the positive attention when he was happy and I had said nothing when he was unhappy or in a rage. I had enabled his behavior. I was just as much at fault, I believed. It was a personal, isolated incident. How could I even compare myself to anyone who had no choice or was so small and innocent?
But I was so confused as to what had happened to me, and further emotionally wrecked by not being able to talk to him to understand anything (don’t know why I ever thought that would help), and by his ability to wash his hands of me and fill my position at work so quickly like I had never existed….that I began to acknowledge the fact that I was never special to him. And it was with that knowledge that I began to realize that it had all been a game. And then I began to wonder that if he had been so good at this game that he had fooled me….and at least one other person he had admitted to being “involved” with….could it be possible that he was not the only priest who knew the rules to this game?
Slowly, hesitatingly, I began to share some of my story with other survivors at my first annual SNAP gathering in Alexandria, VA. Having a glass of wine with a senior SNAP member one night at the conference, I felt so stupid and embarrassed but I told him the basics of what had happened to me.
“What an asshole!” was his take on the situation.
I was relieved that he was taking my side, but still….I’ve known many such people in my life so his description could have covered many and not just this priest and what he had done. I was still not totally convinced that I had been abused.
I became a SNAP leader, mainly because there was nobody in my area who answered the phone when I needed someone and I didn’t want that to happen to anyone else, and because I was also searching for someone else who understood what had happened to me. I listened to and totally empathized with people who came to my meetings with their stories of childhood abuse. But I still always wondered if it had been something I had done wrong or something inheritantly wrong with me that caused “my” priest to turn on me.
I knew they had to be out there somewhere…..other people who had been abused as adults. I told myself that this priest had an agenda, that he had known from the beginning where his game was headed. I later learned more about narcissistic abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, and priests abusing adult men and women.
Little by little, things began to come together. Attending a SNAP meeting last year, again in Alexandria, I happened to sit next to an adult survivor from California who actually won her case against her abuser. I also met a woman who did a breakout session on adult abuse at the conference. I was also chosen to lead a group of survivors abused as adults at my own breakout session. I met many wonderful people who “got it” and understood that although our stories may differ in details, the overall tales told were those of deliberate abuse….very similar to the head games experienced by those abused as children. Like those children, we too were abused by clergy.
But unlike the children, because we were abused as adults, we, and society, don’t always see it as abuse. It is often seen as consensual and we survivors feel that we are at fault because we were somehow involved with the “untouchables”….those who are above us. Like children of abuse, we too have to grapple with the issues of love versus sin that having the religious/sex line crossed brings about; bringing feelings of self-loathing and unworthiness and PTSD and doubt when attending church functions or seaking solice in prayer.
As our numbers grew, it made sense to get together on a regular basis to share our stories and our mutual support of one another. And so, our monthly virtual meeting for those abused as adults came into being.
There is a sense of healing you get from sharing your story with others and having other people understand that you are a human being and not a label put on you by the judgement of church employees and officials. You are not a sinner because you want love or because you have been hurt in the past and trusted that what a clergy member said was the truth. You are not stupid. We are supposed to be able to trust these people. For Heaven’s sake….who among us has ever taken our pocketbook with us when we go to communion? We leave it at our seats, right? Why? Anyone could walk out with it when left unattended like that. But we are in a church….a place of love and of trust. And so we leave our pocketbook at our seat and we go to communion. And we come back to our seats and the pocketbook is still there. Because when we walk into the house of God, and when we are among those who work for Him, we are supposed to be able to feel safe. And when the priest speaks, we take what he says into our souls, knowing he speaks God’s truth.
Since we have started the monthly video chat for those abused as adults, more and more people have come forward to tell their stories. I still have a very difficult time talking about my story because it is so ingrained in me that you are only a victim if you are beaten and physically held down and raped by a stranger. There is so much we have learned that needs to be unlearned. My abuser played many psychological games with me. He tried to lure me into corners where I would most likely make a move on my part. And as soon as I made a move, he could point out that I was the one at fault, I was unstable and pursuing him. I’ve been told by others how clever his game was. It was so clever, in fact, that I and others I worked with….and the therapist I was sent to….believed that I had been the one to initiate things….and he had simply been “tempted” and did the right thing by turning me in.
And I still feel the shame of not being smarter or stronger.
But that is something we all have in common. Like I said, the details may be different, but the main story is the same…..we were all abused as adults.
And coming together and sharing our stories at the monthly video chat meeting…..knowing we are not alone…..helps tremendously.
If you have been abused as an adult, by a priest or any religious leader or leader of an organization, please go to the SNAP website to see how to join the monthly video meetings.