When I was younger, I was called into the principal’s office. Not because I was in trouble. Although I couldn’t think of any positive reason why they were calling me to meet with the principal. But once in there, I was told that I was tied for the highest score in the city for the high school entrance exams. But you see, I was not/am not smart. My brother was/is smart.
When I met my future husband, my friend called me to tell me that she had two guys who wanted to go out with me and who did I want to go out with? But you see, I was not attractive.
I raised both my children to adulthood….and both were alive and dragged through high school kicking and screaming and anyway I could make it happen. Sitting on freezing cold bleachers, running to the store for medicine at 3am, bedtime stories, dinner when the smoke detector announced it was ready, breaking up fights when they punched each other at church, tantrums, missing kids, panic, and lots of love. Yet, I never thought I was a good mom.
At work, I organized events, trained employees, gained the respect of people who were notoriously difficult to work with for my empathic demeanor and ability to de-escalate situations, had people fight to keep me and one who asked if I would work with them, and was always the first one to volunteer to travel anywhere that was offered. I also programmed a fax machine and was responsible for making sure the nursing staff was paid correctly. Yet, I was never confident in myself.
I’ve been married and divorced. I’ve lived on my own. I’ve worked two jobs to pay my bills. I’ve hired people to do work for me. I’ve volunteered, I’ve been on a bowling team and have bowled badly, I have flown across the country by myself, gone on weekends of growth and inspiration alone, drove to D.C. and back, set up an office for an out of town company, have led groups and spoken to people about abuse, and have continued to take chances and meet new people. Yet there are times when I feel I’m not as good as other people. And there are times when I get very anxious.
But no matter how many notches on my lipstick case (although that may have a different meaning than the one I am trying to convey) all it takes is one doubt, one critical remark, one person who for some reason doesn’t like me….and nothing else matters. If you tell me that I can’t do it or that I’m not good enough….I will feel “found out”. I will drop to level zero all over again.
At the SNAP meeting this week, we discussed among other things….grooming. Specifically how grooming works, how it made us feel, and how it felt to be discarded and to realize that nothing that we saw happening was ever real.
The realization that we meant nothing after all. And how that realization can make people feel suicidal.
What makes grooming so potent that it can send someone into the pits of despair?
Well, first let’s take a look at the Catholic Church and its teachings. I remember learning as a child that God liked pain. The more pain you suffered, the more God liked it. This is the first time I have ever told anyone this….when I was a child and there was a drive for toys for the needy and we were encouraged to bring our old toys to drop off for the poor kids…..I gave away something that I actually cherished more than anything because I felt that if I sacrificed, God would know and He would be happy. God was always looking for proof like that.
If you did anything wrong, you could apologize to God but it didn’t really matter unless you asked the man in the booth for forgiveness because only he knew the secret code to God’s forgiveness. One Hail Mary. Four Our Fathers.
Don’t eat before communion. Don’t eat meat on Friday. Go to mass every Sunday and every first Friday and every day of Obligation. Memorize your prayers. Cover your head. Do what we tell you and what everyone else does. Don’t ask questions. It is because we say so.
Sex is for procreation. Don’t use birth control. Only do it if you are married. Only do it with the opposite sex. Don’t think about it. Don’t do it by yourself. Woman should follow the man’s lead and not have any experience beforehand. We don’t want any surprises. Make sure you get married in the church by a priest.
Oh, so you went and got a divorce, huh? You think the church is going to let you off that easily? Nope. You’re going to court, baby. A real Tribunal. You will be judged. Do the priests who have never been married think that you had basis for ending your to death do us part pact early? They want to know. And they want to know EVERYTHING. And then it will be recorded and maybe sent off to another judge and perhaps even to Rome if they just can’t make up their minds.
And if you think death will set you free, think again. Sacrament of the sick. My priest did that for me…..kept pushing my head down. Now that I think about that, I don’t think it was a holy gesture. And then we have Last Rites.
From the cradle to the grave, you belong to the Catholic Church. And I never thought about that as a bad thing before. It was comforting, to belong. To have someone else in charge of my soul. To keep me in line, if not just for show. No matter how much I sinned during the week, I could go back to the Lord on Sunday….or Saturday evening. And holidays.
So not only do we belong to the church, the church in a sense, owns our soul for life to insure that we go to Heaven when we die.
And in return for this service, we pay them. And when we die, we make sure they get a bonus so that we are sure we get recognition for this from God.
We are taught that we follow the church and do what they say without question. And we are bombarded with images of death and doom and torture and good people who died horrible deaths. And we are told that we should die for Christ and that we should suffer and give and not think of ourselves. We should be humble and kind and gentle. We should turn the other cheek and forgive.
Church did begin to get better in the 70’s when I remember going to a mass outside of church where someone played guitar (gasp) and they had a slide show of beautiful images of nature and wine in Dixie cups….much more sanitary…and actual bread to pass….not so sanitary but promoted a sense of actually and literally breaking bread together. That was I think the first time I ever felt a connection with God during mass. Because it had real music and beauty and connection.
But in general, we are not brought up with a positive association of God. He is a God of punishment and of cruelty. We are not supposed to be happy because if we get too happy, we can remind ourselves to slap ourselves back down and to think of the world’s suffering. And then we can tell ourselves we are not worthy.
So we have all of these holes or deficits in ourselves that we have never been taught to heal within ourselves. And if we come to church with our human frailties and needs, we are told not to think of anything sinful and be sure to give to those less fortunate. And be sure to pray the gay away.
Don’t think about who you are. Don’t be yourself. Don’t grow wild and free in a field in the sun. Don’t search for answers. Stay in your pot and don’t move. Don’t search for outside nutrition. Let us feed you so that you learn to depend upon us for all of your needs and feelings. If you are unhappy, that is God’s will. Accept it.
Okay, I’m not blaming God for this. Or Jesus either. I think things probably started out with good intentions. But human nature and power and greed and maybe a whole bunch of things along the way distorted the truth.
Or confused the intentions.
So back to grooming. When we are talking about how a priest grooms a potential victim, in a sense, that victim already belongs to the priest. We have been taught to look to the church for answers and to accept what we have been told.
So if for whatever reason, we as humans enter into an interaction of a more personal nature with a priest who is also a predator….or any narcissistic person who is looking to exploit someone…..we are going to have deficits…blind spots….holes in our souls. Reasons perhaps why we don’t love and accept ourselves. Insecurities. Co-dependencies. Needs for other people or substances to fill. And abusers look for those holes. It’s their way into our heads and our souls.
You don’t feel smart enough, attractive enough, or that you can ever live up to what people expect of you? It’s okay. I will shine my love upon you and I will heal you. You are the best. You are so smart. You take my breath away. I can’t talk to anyone but you. Believe in yourself.
And it feels right. It feels so right. You can feel yourself begin to heal from all of the old wounds your have been carrying. Someone understands. Someone values you. With their support, you can begin to feel strong. And you begin to believe and you attach yourself to this person with love and admiration, and you feel safe.
And you let your guard down. And if cracks begin to show, you explain them away or you don’t want to see them. And so you accept. And the abuser begins to push further the more you accept. And the closer you feel you become, the more the predator shifts reality. But all you want to see is that this person gets you….they value you….they bring warmth and unconditional love and they make you feel wanted and pretty much high on life and alive.
Like you feel when you are falling in love, or eating chocolate, or lighting up a smoke, or doing heroin or like when they give you whatever it is they give you before surgery that makes you feel like you love the world….you begin to crave this person because they light up your brain.
As a side note, I’d just like to recommend “You Light Up My Brain” as the title for a song. Just saying.
They have you hooked. And you are human. And people can’t seem to forgive themselves for this. For loving the abuser. For going back to see them again and again. For missing them. For feeling that they are in love. For “allowing” themselves to be kissed and for liking the attention. For the guilt that hangs over them for liking this. They confuse their feelings as being complicit. But you had no way of knowing that you were being groomed and that the person who you grew to care for did not really exist. You loved a person who was not real. You cared for someone whose lies you believed. You did not have the facts. And if you got hooked, remember that this person saw a hole….an emptiness that existed….and they took advantage of that.
I remember being so confused and having my feelings manipulated so much that I finally gave my abuser what he wanted….a reaction. Not the reaction he wanted but I did react. And my reaction got me blamed and it got me fired.
Because I made the mistake of thinking that some part of him could be reached logically or emotionally. And I didn’t realize the true extent of what was happening. And I made things too difficult. It was time for me to go.
And being discarded? Many people describe a sense of suicidal feelings. I could not eat. I could not sit down to watch tv. I couldn’t concentrate. Everything was so sudden after months of upheaval. I felt rage and because I didn’t know where to put that rage, I turned it inward. I failed.
Along the way, in his narcissistic tantrum, I had all of my perceived deficits hurled back at me. I felt unsteady. Work appeared on my desk that I had not seen before with a big note written in red that he had done this for me. He created dissension among the people he knew liked me. Could you please tell your co-worker not to do this? I am not comfortable with her. Will you do that for me?
There were remarks about supposing it was okay to have a fat friend and what did I know as I didn’t have his education and I could lose everything I cared about. He could do that. I didn’t know what he was capable of.
And so the thing you feared the most has happened. The truth is out. You have been exposed. You don’t see what this person is doing to manipulate you. You only see that you are undeserving of love….which is what you felt was the truth all along. And all of your fears of losing what is important to you become real.
They now control your feelings of self worth. And to feel good again, you will do anything to please them. To feel safe again, you hand over the rest of yourself.
That is coercive control. It is a real thing. And it is abuse. And once they take over control of your emotions and giving and taking away self esteem, when you are discarded, you feel lost and empty and unsure of who you are or what you feel. You only know that it was your fault. That is your reality. I was told that I was not allowed to be around priests anymore because I couldn’t be trusted. I was a danger to priests.
I had a SNAP leader laugh at that and tell me to have that put on a tee shirt.
In all seriousness, nobody deserves to treat you like this or make you feel like you want to die. I knew how I felt and I knew I needed to ride it out and talk to people and I did. I talked and I wrote until I felt I didn’t need to anymore. I was one step away from going to the hospital. But I didn’t want him to be able to say that was proof that I was crazy. And I didn’t have a plan….just an ungodly horrible blackness of emotion.
If you or anyone you love is feeling suicidal, please contact the suicide hotline. And don’t be afraid to talk about suicide. That can save a life. Ask someone….do you have thoughts of harming yourself or someone else? Do you have a plan in place….a way to do it, a time and or a place? Talking about suicide does not make someone suicidal. It can help tremendously.
And don’t feel stupid for calling or feel that you need to be on a ledge somewhere before you do. The majority of calls that came through the hotline when I was there were people just needing to talk things over. Some people called daily to get through their day when they were lonely.
Get help if you need it. The saddest call I ever received was that from a grandmother asking how to tell a grandchild that his mom had killed herself.
Don’t wait. Get help. There are all kinds of lies but the kind of lies that hurt the most are those we tell ourselves. It was my fault. I deserved that. I am worthless. Those are lies. Our blindspots. Make a habit of telling yourself good things about yourself. Fill in those holes with nutritious soil and let yourself bloom.