One of the rules of SNAP is that we are not supposed to ask for or give advice. Yet many survivors have important questions and seek guidance and reassurance. The best way, of course, to learn and to share knowledge is to pass along our own experiences. That is encouraged in SNAP meetings. We express how we feel and what has worked for us and let others listen and take from that what makes sense to them and what will help them.
This is pretty much how most support groups and peer support groups work. And in life as well. As much as we may want answers to our problems in life, we don’t want anyone telling us what to do.
Once long ago, a friend asked me for advice about her new boyfriend. I simply said to her that it was probably best for her to ask him directly about what was bothering her. She did. But the way she did it was to say that I had told her to ask him about it. That made him angry. Why is she getting involved, he wanted to know. So then my friend told me that she was no longer allowed to discuss their relationship with me. Huh? What just happened?
It happens. People are afraid to be responsible for their own actions so they pick a fall guy. But that is also one of the reasons why we don’t tell people what to do.
One of the questions I was asked recently was should someone talk to the bishop if their abuser was going to be on the video call as well? When I said I could not really answer that question, the person got very upset with me and asked me what good was SNAP anyway then? I explained to the person that I could not answer for how they themselves felt or how doing so would affect them. My answer was that I know that it would not be a good thing for me so I would not do it. For them, they needed to understand how they felt about it. And it would also be good to question what they were expecting from the meeting. Were they expecting an apology or validation? Would they still be okay with the meeting if that did not happen? Everyone is different and everyone is responsible for what feels right for themselves. And in any situation in life, it is good to understand the possibilities of a situation and to know what your own expectations and vulnerabilities are.
Another question that has come up recently is continuing contact with an abuser or continuing to go to the same church. In my situation, what I know helped me to heal and to be able to see the situation more clearly, was the absolute no contact that I was basically forced into after I was fired from the diocese. My perspective over time began to change and bit by bit things began to get clearer.
As I began to gain distance…..which I in no way minimize as an easy task….I began to see the situation for what it was. It did not in any way help that I had been revictimized when seeking help and comfort from people who did not really understand what had happened. I did not really understand what had happened. That had to come first. And the only way I was able to truly understand was to gain distance and to process things myself. Because there will be people who will not understand who will blame you. Friends, loved ones. There are still some people in my life who I have not told about my abuse because they tend to be toxic at the best of times.
This trauma bond that has developed between you and your abuser can feel like coming off of heroin when you go no contact. My abuser had my co-worker call me to ask me a question after I was fired and then she asked me if I wanted to talk to him. It felt like high school. You wanna talk to him? Why? Does he want to talk to me? He’s standing right here in the room. I’m not allowed to talk to him. If he wants to talk to me, he can call me.
I thank God every day now that I was forced out of that situation and forced to never speak to him or see him again.
Another question….he seems to be targeting someone else. Should I tell them what he is like?
OMG did I want to do this. I watched as my job was opened and knew they were interviewing for my position. I felt so many emotions when I went on-line and saw a new name where mine used to be. I wanted to call her anonymously and warn her. But in the end, I did not. For one thing, I doubted he would be that stupid to repeat his actions so soon after what had happened. If anything, he would relish any kind of reaction from me. It would prove my instability to the world. I would not give that to him.
I have spoken to people who are still in the middle of abuse. They have not yet been discarded. I don’t know if anyone is ready to listen until they are. Again, can we really tell anyone what is right for them? Perhaps in this situation, the best defense is a good offense. Keep recognizing that this abuse exists and keep putting it out there. When it was happening to me and I went on-line to see if this kind of thing happened to anyone else, I didn’t find anything except for the lonely lives of priests and how priests sometimes harmlessly flirted. Would things have been different if I had found that this was a thing that happened often and that there were certain patterns to watch out for?
I can’t find a lawyer who will take my case. What should I do? One person recently said that she kept going even though it meant retelling her story over and over again. And that is not pleasant, as we all know. None of this is. But this person said….it’s my life. So she kept going until after about ten lawyers, she did find someone who would take her case. I say good for her. Really. I celebrate the strength of survivors. I personally found it mentally and physically retraumatizing to have a lawyer tell me that I was looking at a he said/she said situation. It opens the wound again and I beat myself up again.
When I screen people for the abused as adults group, I often hear….what difference does it make at what age I was abused? I think the reason people get upset when I ask questions is that they don’t understand what “Abused as an Adult” means for one. I get requests from everyone asking if they can join the group. Since SNAP has always been about the abuse of children, those who have been abused as children have never had to have any “screening” done before joining a SNAP group. So I believe that when I try to explain why I am asking for the age their abuse took place, they sometimes see that I am being totally insensitive. I think they see “Abused as an Adult” as being for adult survivors of childhood abuse, and that I am giving them a hard time. Some of these survivors end up getting quite angry about being turned away from a group. I believe the main reason for this is that being abused as an adult is not something that is widely known when it comes to priest abuse.
I hate to “reject” anyone looking for help. I always try to get people into the men’s group or the women’s group. While it is true that we are all survivors, I try to explain that the reason there is a separate group for those abused at the age of 18 and older is because these are the people who don’t feel they deserve to belong to a group in SNAP. It is a different feeling and a different need for a healing start point. I remember being at a SNAP meeting in Las Vegas a couple of years ago and I was the only person in the room that had been abused over the age of 18. I felt like a fraud. These people had been children. How could I ever compare to that?
But then I began to find other people. And as I began to find other people and I began to hear their stories, I began to become braver about talking about my story. I began to become less ashamed. I began to learn why people become victims and how they are humiliated into silence. That’s why it is important to have a separate group.
Should I go public with my story? Again, I always find that writing is good therapy for me. And someone else may find that to be true as well. I once wrote on a helium balloon “Fr. D. is a sexual predator” and then let the balloon drift away. That felt good. But again, before you write, ask yourself are you searching for revenge or are you trying to help others? Are you trying to tell an important story? Will it help you or someone else heal? Have you checked on the legal ramifications of using real names and locations? There are people in SNAP who can answer some of those questions regarding legal issues. Do you have experience talking with the press if that is your plan?
Is it okay to recommend books I have read that I have found helpful? Of course. It’s okay to share anything that has helped you. This past week at our meeting, someone said they found the book, “Prey Tell” helpful. Absolutely sharing what is helpful to you is what it is all about. As long as you don’t tell someone else….you know what you should do? I know….it is sooooo tempting to try to help fix someone else. But we can only fix ourselves if we can on this journey and share what kind of glue we used to help put ourselves back together.
Are there other adult men out there who have been abused? Yes. And unfortunately if that adult man happens to be gay, it is often not seen as abuse. But whether gay or straight, it happens more often than people think. Men are groomed and raped and they blame themselves and they many times bury their shame and are afraid to come forward. But yes, it happens to adult men too.
My abuser was not a priest, can I still attend the meeting? Yes. Abuse of power is found in any religion and not just with men. Abuse of power can be found outside of a religious setting as well. Any leader can abuse their power.
Is it okay if I am late getting into the meeting or if I have to cut out early? It’s fine. Just understand that if you feel the need to say anything, it is best to do so by messaging the group and not interrupting anyone who may be talking.
And finally, is it okay to answer the poll more than once if more than one answer applies to me? Yes, please do. And have a wonderful and safe week everyone.