It’s been quite a number of years now since my ex-husband and I woke up in one of the bedrooms of a rustic lake cabin that belonged to the parents of one of his friends. A lot of partying had gone on the night before. We were young then. I was 24 at the time and he was 25. These were his friends we had stayed with…mostly guys. One of my friends had come along because she like the guy who owned the cabin. There had been lots of beer and cigarettes and I’m sure there had been some pot…and porn. There were probably about ten of us there that night.
I think I had gone to bed soon after they broke out the porn so I was one of the first ones out of bed the next morning. The place was a mess. Ashtrays piled high. Beer cans and bottles littered every surface. Plates with old food stuck on them anywhere but in the sink. So I did what I was always programmed to do….start cleaning up. But it wasn’t long before one of our friends got up as well and told me to let it go and sit down with him to play a video game for just a bit. Sounded good to me, so I did.
We had not been playing for ten minutes when the rest of the crew decided to rise and shine. Though it was not late in the morning, for some reason, my ex had a bug in his bonnet….might have been because his mother was watching our kids and he got very anxious about things when it came to his mother….and he decided that now that he was up, it was time to get going. He pretty much demanded that I stop what I was doing immediately and hop to it.
Someone threw up a protest….may have been me….may have been his friend….I’m thinking it was his friend….just let us finish this game, we will be done soon.
Well, he (my ex) blew his stack. Remember now, he had just gotten out of bed pretty much and went from taking a slurp of black coffee to helping everyone pack up. Whether he was jealous that I was playing a game with his friend, or anxious that his mother would not want to watch the kids one minute later than planned, I’ll never know. He was pretty much always short on conversation and big on blame. All I know is that words came flying out of his mouth that pretty much stopped everyone in their tracks.
Pick this place up! Make the bed! You are f’ing lame!
I wanted to walk out and get into the car and drive home and leave him there. But for one thing, we were kind of out in the middle of I don’t know where and this was before GPS. And I knew getting him angrier wasn’t going to help anything. So I stopped playing the game and made our bed and continued to clean up after the party so the guys could finish their packing and go outside to hang out. I do remember hanging out and more people coming over so, I guess we did not leave right away.
But when we got home, I let him have it, right? No. Why? I think it was because I felt powerless. And because I felt like I had no power, I also had no boundaries. We were married. We had a house. We had two children. I understand how people get themselves locked into situations. You don’t see an escape. So you use every ounce of power you have to keep things running and keep everyone okay.
It would take another four years before I would leave and go back to my parents’ house. But there again lay another prison. With my parents’ issues and my brother’s problems and my kids just being kids and raising the noise and tension levels, it’s hard to change what you know. Chaos. Drama. Raised adrenaline and cortisol. I was working full time, coming home and trying to raise my kids while becoming a child once again in my mother’s house. Going to school at night when going to school meant actually going to the university and sitting in the library reading books and then coming home with my books tucked under one arm and a can of diet Pepsi in my other hand and being greeted at the door by my dad who disgustedly said, “Just like your brother, always a drink in your hand”.
Now, I’ve said my dad was a mean drunk. I don’t want to draw the wrong picture here. My dad was a force. Energy. Intelligence. He was a hard worker. He was very verbal. He and his dad built the house I grew up in. He worked his way up from lineman working nights at the dock to take classes in law and become the head of a major department in the telephone company. Back when there was only one telephone company. And he knew money. He didn’t spend it. But he knew how to invest it. He was one smart man. What was lacking in warmth was made up for in financial help if needed. He was never ever a fall down drunk. But the minute a drink was poured, my body would tense. I could feel the mood change and I think I’ve always carried that tenseness within me even when my dad was not around me drinking.
My father was fiercely religious but not above calling in to a Catholic radio show to argue to with the priest. He didn’t believe that any person was any better than anyone else. He didn’t believe we should be calling priests “father” as Jesus said that we should call no one else “father” but God. He loved to debate religion and politics. My dad was the absolute unquestioning head of the household and that was that.
My dad wasn’t alive when my abuse took place with the priest. I’m sure he would have been angry because he did love me, but I was also female, which in his eyes would have meant that it was my fault. I mean, he was never crazy about my husband at the time because he was always with his friends and wasn’t showing any ambition to take care of his family, but he still respected him as the head of household and daughter or not, my place was with him. For the most part. I guess until that is my dad tried to help set my ex up in business for himself and he turned him down. That and how he treated the kids made my dad lose respect for him.
Ever since I was fired from the diocese for “seducing a priest”, I have tried to figure out what it was really about me that made me so vulnerable. Was it my relationship with my mom? My dad’s drinking and control? My brother’s issues? My own eventual loss of a sense of having control and ultimate daily patching the cracks so they would not show to anyone else?
I mean, there’s a bunch of us who have been targeted and love bombed and who were gullible enough to believe these creeps because we all have a common thread that runs through our lives? What is it then?
And then I discovered what “it” was. What was the one commonality that we as adult victims of clergy abuse share? When I discovered our vulnerability, it terrified me. What makes us attractive to predators who join the church?
It’s our empathy. Our kindness. The fact that we care about other people. You know, all those things that the church tells us we should be. Loving one another. Forgiving. Being modest and obedient and respectful. Loving God and allowing ourselves to be His sheep. But mainly, it’s the light that shines within us that attracts them to us.
They without light….go steal someone else’s.
And you know what else? It’s easy to do. Get someone to trust you. A priest already has your trust.
And you know another thing that I read? It’s never…..NEVER….the fault of the victim. EVER. If you have been targeted and abused and your goodness has been taken advantage of….not your fault. Know what else? You are a good person. A GOOD PERSON. You are. Please repeat that many times.
And you know that ex-husband I spoke of earlier? That was many years ago and despite everything, I don’t think I ever stopped loving him. Still do. But there was a time when I knew things couldn’t keep going back and forth and I knew inside what was really important to him and I knew I couldn’t change that.
I tend to be a big sap but when I finally faced reality, for the first time, I took care of myself first. I didn’t hurt him. I took care of me. There’s a difference there as well. But after basically paying off his motor home and our son’s college tuition alone, I got a reimbursement from him and was able to buy him out of our home. I don’t take any joy in anyone being unhappy. But in that case, I simply stopped giving myself away.
And one thing I have learned over the years is that you can kill yourself trying to help others and do for others and keep everyone happy. And not one ounce of that matters once you put yourself first. Not one thing you did. As soon as you put up a boundary in front of yourself, people who are used to getting their way from you will be angry….furious even. And they will most likely leave your life.
Keep your light safe. Keep it lit and keep it away from those who would extinguish it.