I got an email this past week from someone asking to join the Abused as Adults group and when I explained that it was for people who were abused at the age of 18 or older, the person’s response was something to the effect of….how can it happen to adults….they should know better.
I’d like to say that it was no big deal and that I handled the situation with grace and dignity, but my response was….no response. I couldn’t. Because the question was either ignorant or deliberately mean. And in either case, nothing I could say would matter. I can’t waste my energy where it doesn’t matter.
But it hit me….it did. Right in the middle of my chest where I thought my armor was. Obviously there was an opening in the armor I hadn’t noticed. Because it got inside of me and twisted itself up into a pretzel and squeezed itself into my soul.
It was a knee-jerk reaction. But again, I knew it was better for me to not answer this person as I was too emotional and I would have said something like….so what you are saying to me is that once you hit your 18th birthday, you are responsible for whatever someone does to you…is that right? So if you are raped, mugged, beaten, killed, conned, manipulated, cheated on, used, harassed, lied to, bullied…..whatever….that it is your fault. It wasn’t your fault yesterday, when you were still 17….but today now that you are 18, and from now on, it is.
With all the heightened emotions in the world right now, and with many of us being so isolated, it can make it all the more difficult to take a look inside of ourselves to see what is going on there. I know that for me, my sleep pattern has been thrown off and I feel like I am living with my foot on the brake trying to stop anything bad from happening.
Last week, when I had my Zoom meeting with the bishop, it felt difficult to sort out what was going on emotionally during the meeting.
One of the questions he asked me was what made me vulnerable. Someone asked me why the bishop was asking me these questions and why wasn’t I asking him questions. I think more accurately, the question should be….why wasn’t the bishop asking the priest these questions? What made him choose me? Why was I being asked why I thought he choose me?
Well, as I think about this….as the layers of the onion unfold and I go deeper into the depths, one of the things I think we may all be able to identify with is…..the body remembers. Or the brain. Or something. Again, I’m not an expert. Just a human who has lived a long time.
I do know that both on a personal level and a professional level, it was a whole lot better when my boss was pleased with me and not screaming or being hostile. That makes sense. So, as things began to change on his end and he began to interject increasing levels of uncomfortable with different emotions, I was still doing my best to please to keep him from screaming and from me feeling threatened.
He could have fired me at any minute at his whim. He didn’t need a reason. And it’s not just about the money. It’s about how that feels. It’s about having your layers stripped away to your core. It’s about having all the protective armor you have amassed over your lifetime stolen from you….about every self-help book and class you’ve ever taken erased from memory…..about your world imploding like you have feared it would ever since you can remember. It is about feeling powerless to stop that. It is the realization brought back that you are not enough….that love and approval is conditional and based on the mood of the person who is in charge.
Also, when I spoke to the bishop, as I said, I fell back into trust mode. Even as I heard him say that Jesus died on the cross for each of us and I felt like I didn’t need a homily or a reminder of how we are all human and that God loves all of us at that moment….because I felt that what he meant was that “he who is without sin” etc. and that this was not about a crime, but rather just a man who was human.
When asked about my faith in God, I did say that I have never lost faith. Not in God or in loving spirits or guides….but I have lost faith in the church. Totally. I didn’t get the chance to say that to the bishop, though. But I don’t trust the institution anymore. That is sad. No Santa. No Easter Bunny. Now to find out that the church is not real, either.
And I found that I still wanted to believe. I wanted to believe that the kindly gentleman sitting behind the desk on the Zoom call cared about me and about all of the souls in his care. I wanted to believe that he sincerely would listen to what I said and try to prevent this from happening to someone else at whatever means is at his disposal.
But as a wise person said to me this week….they are a business. They aren’t going to do anything that is not in their best interest. Maybe it does help a bit to know that there will be one child in this world who will not be raised in the Catholic Church because of this. One less innocent to harm. One less donation in the weekly collection box.
But I guess that really doesn’t matter to them as long as they can get money from the government.
But that is not what is important, really. Let them keep their money and their gold and their self-importance. To me, they are like an abusive ex and it is healthier for me to stay far away. I don’t need rituals and sacraments and threats of Hell in order for me to connect spiritually to a source of greater love.
And you know, I don’t want to be this person. Not really. I am not the person I set out to be in life. I never thought I would be talking against the church. I never thought I would be an outcast in so many areas of my life. I’ve never been a fighter. I never even swore until I got married and had kids. I didn’t. Then it just became a quicker, easier way to vent frustration. And it became easier and easier as time went on….
I also heard from someone who said that they had a very similar experience to the one I had and that it is difficult to explain getting pulled into the manipulation and feeling like you have to do something you don’t want to do.
It’s difficult to talk about. I get it. Especially harder when the people you love tell you to let it go and lawyers need proof and bishops sympathize but tend to try to normalize the event by equating the actions of the perpetrator with sin, and when people say you should have known better.
But that is exactly why it is important to talk about it. We need to normalize this type of abuse…this gaslighting and coercive control and manipulation and abuse of power….so that it is brought to the light and seen as the legitimate form of abuse that it is. This is important. Not just for adults who have been abused by clergy….but for adults in every relationship in their lives.
This kind of thing needs to be taught to children along with Math and Reading skills. The church should be leading the way in teaching this….not covering it up.
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