Well, this week I had another session with my new therapist. Somehow we ended up venturing into what happened with the priest.
So, if you remember, the last therapist asked me why I had a thing for priests and told me that I had pursued my boss. “But, but….” I said. “Oh, I know what he did,” she said, which made no sense to me.
I just want to point out here that not all therapists are good therapists. Not all therapists know everything just because they are therapists. This lady let her answering machine take calls while I was in her office and patients left messages while we sat there. She also had a patient come in to set up an appointment while I sat there in the middle of our time together and once someone brought her lunch during our session.
But I continued to go to her. Until the day when she scheduled me for an appointment on a holiday and the building was locked and I couldn’t get in. She called me to tell me that I had been a no-show. I said the door was locked and nobody was there. She said I should have called her to come down to let me in. It was at that point that I stopped going to her…..or anyone….until now. That was over four years ago.
So I was hesitant to talk about what had happened with me with this new therapist. I know a lot more now than I did back then. But still, I thought she might tell me that I was stupid or why didn’t I do anything?
So when she asked me why I thought it was my fault, at first I thought I had heard her incorrectly. I thought she asked me why I didn’t think it was my fault. But then I understood and I said…because I thought it was personal. I didn’t know at the time that it was a game. I thought that I was responsible for his feelings and for fixing things.
And she did ask me why I didn’t tell anyone what was going on. Because I was afraid of what he would do if I said something, I said. Because I didn’t want to create a scandal. I didn’t want unwelcome attention. And because I felt protective of him. He was a priest. I didn’t want to ruin him.
And it’s weird to say that I felt afraid and yet protective. But she understood. She said it was not weird at all. In fact, it was pretty normal to feel that way.
And then she asked me if I ever felt triggered by anything still.
No, I’m fine. Absolutely. I’m good. Totally. Fully healed. Ready to move on.
Not entirely true.
I heard this week that trauma and PTSD causes uncontrolled reactions. At first, I reacted by avoiding the 90th birthday party of my friend’s father. I had known him all my life. He taught me how to ride a two wheel bike when I was a kid. He was the caretaker of the seminary in the back of our house and my brother and I were friends with his kids and my parents were friends with him and his wife…and he had worked at the diocese in the copy room when I was there. I missed his birthday. Because I was afraid of who I would see at the party. I didn’t want to run into Father or anyone from H.R.
And when I had to get another job and I was working at the store and a woman from the diocese came in and saw me and asked me didn’t I used to work for the diocese and why did I leave…..because nobody ever chooses to leave. I panicked. All I knew was I had to keep the secret. Or else everyone would know how horrible I was.
But then she said….”We need to talk….I’ll be back”. But I never saw her again.
But that was then…I feel much more confident now. I have spoken to the bishop. I have told the bishop, who tried to downplay the abuse by asking me if this kind of thing hasn’t happened to me before….no…it has not. Not like this. Flirting, yes. Even things that crossed the line into inappropriate. But I have never felt threatened by anyone. I never lost my job because of it. This, I told the bishop, was like rape. Yes, I said that. I was being coerced and threatened into doing something that was degrading while being gaslighted and isolated.
So I’m stronger now. Triggered, she asked. Yes, I said. But not so much about what happened directly.
Maybe it’s not so much triggered, but I’ve changed a little. I can’t do games. I think I am more sensitive if something feels off. I still doubt myself first but I’m beginning to get a sense of believing I deserve more and knowing that it is up to someone else to fix themselves.
But last week, I started reading a book written by a survivor and it was difficult. I felt like she was writing my story. She’s a wonderful writer who goes into much detail and the way she wrote about trusting her therapist even though her inner voice fought back and how she silenced the inner voice thinking she was wrong because he knew what he was doing…..it hit me.
And the way she describes how when she cooperated with him, he would giggle and get almost giddy and she would accept that almost affectionately thinking how goofy he was….from the outside looking in, you can see the net closing in on her but she can’t. And why should she?
And the way he begins to make her feel special…..well, why shouldn’t he build a rapport with his client and make her feel comfortable? All simple gestures we should be able to trust with the people we put our trust in. And yet, I could feel the anxiety in the pit of my stomach as I read her words.
So, yes, I’m still affected by what happened to me and things still trigger an emotional response.
Another thing that I happened across this week that I want to make clear to anyone who has not been a victim of abuse by a religious person…. is that many of us have been thrown out of our churches or jobs or choirs or seminaries or schools. We did not have a choice but to leave. We became the villains in our stories by perpetrators who claimed they were victims. Or we were judged less than virtuous by those who once were our friends. We became not welcome where we once belonged.
It’s not that we are against the church or what it stands for. It’s that the church and it’s members have betrayed us and then failed to truly help us when we needed support. We were further victimized. And then we were told to be quiet and to get over it.
That’s why I feel it is so important for us as survivors to get together to help each other because nobody quite understands how good an abuser can be at not leaving a “fingerprint” and turning the tables on the victim. You get it when it has happened to you.
I hope that everyone reading this has been able to get whatever help they need with a good friend or a good therapist. Good therapists and proper treatment can help save lives. I’ve been patched back together more than once and I’m still going. One thing, one step, one day at a time. Take care of yourself first. It was not your fault. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Don’t worry about who likes you or doesn’t. Believe in yourself. Trust your instincts.
Have a good week. Stay safe and healthy.