The Question

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.

The Rose

When you grow up in a dysfunctional situation….and by that I mean one in which the concept of self and what it means to be loved and your worthiness for affection and attention…are not ideal to set you on the path towards a future of healthy adulthood…life can be confusing.

Now remember, I grew up in a time when most if not all women, were married and had the sole occupation of housewife. And, yes, that was what they were called. That is a pretty ancient term now, but when I was a kid, that was what I expected to happen to me when I grew up. I was preparing to be married and to have children.

I did have one role model of liberation. My father’s cousin lived next door to us. She had never married. She was a nurse. She owned a house. She was self-supporting. I didn’t think of her situation as odd. It just was. It was who she was. They had characters like her on TV. The librarian. The old aunt who had never married. Of course, men had what they called “bachelors”, or unmarried men who seemed to never get tied down by a woman. Their sexuality was never questioned. These people had simply never found the right person. It was a fate to be avoided at all costs. Or at least that is what we learned from TV and maybe the overheard whispering of adults.

I can’t speak for men, but for the women who grew up back in the day, we dreamed of our wedding one day. Pillow cases and half slips worn over our heads became bridal veils. Or somedays we used the same headwear to pretend we were nuns. Not a big job selection there. In any case, we knew what was expected of us. We were to find a man who would love us and who would pop the question so we could then select our detergents and make sure our coffee pleased our husbands.

I’m not kidding.

I remember anytime I told my parents that I had a boy who was a friend at school, it became a big deal. My dad would tease me and pretty much have me married off. I’m sure he would say he was not serious. but on some level, he was. The expectation was there.

And so I guess I began to look at boys in a different way. Almost as if they were the ultimate prize and not a person. And how to win said prize? When I was younger, of course, I thought that my prince would find me one day.

Does any of this sound familiar to anyone? Because we still hear about women fighting over men like possessions they have to have in order to survive. And those who are single….well, just look at the dating sites out there. People keep looking for “the one”.

We learn from storybooks and movies that there is a person out there who is just for us. We now hear people talk about twin flames. I’m not sure if that is a real thing or if that is more of a way to explain an obsession over someone. But we seem programmed to couple up and to not be alone. And the media, and our friends and family, tend to support this notion.

So back to excellent coffee. Yes, there were commercials that showed less than pleased husbands who live with their housewives who can’t make a decent cup. Shame. And her whites were not as white as they should be. Wrong detergent. Her glassware had spots. What was she thinking? And don’t forget she should look beautiful when he gets home from work. Catholic? Well, you owe him sex. And kids. And you better stay in shape because there’s that secretary in the office who he teases and perhaps pats on the rear…because nobody cared back then.

Perhaps like my dad, they will come home and share their sexual harassment with the family. “Nancy Jean the sex machine” was my dad’s secretary. And we laughed. Not sure how my mom, who was the ultimate perfect “housewife” felt about that. I don’t think she had the right to feel one way or another. And we as kids loved our mom but knew that she better not make dad mad because he was a mean drunk and when she “got him going” I was always terrified and ready to jump in to protect her if needed. I could not tune anything out. I was hypervigilant. I would sit on the stairs and listen to be sure it did not get out of control. I would sit there for as long as it took.

So armed with the knowledge I had acquired over the years, I had learned that I needed to prepare myself to be available to marry someone who chose me, be perfect, but overlook any and all of their faults including however they acted, whatever they said, whatever they chose to do, however they treated me, if they were verbally or even perhaps physically violent,…..all the while being tasked with holding it all together perfectly…..making sure to please husband (as I was responsible for his behavior) and in-laws and whoever else came to dinner.

Of course, to confuse matters, the first guy to come along was not there to propose. Neither were the next however many. But all you are told is “don’t”. Other than that, you are on your own.

Sex is such a secretive thing that nobody really discusses the “in between”. You’re told about strangers in trench coats offering you candy. You’re told not to go all the way before marriage. You’re told that one day you will fall in love and you will just know that person is the one who you have waited for.

They don’t tell you that someone you know who is not a potential marriage partner will want you to take off your clothes for them or that there are so many things along the way between holding hands and having sex. They don’t tell you that people can seem like “the one” and only be using that as a game. They don’t tell you that when you are with a guy and doing everything but and they decide they want the everything and you say no but they do it anyway that it is not the way people act when they love you even if it is an act people do when they are in love. They don’t tell you that you are not responsible for other people’s happiness, anger, and actions they choose.

I think what I am talking about is the confusion with boundaries. The way we learn what boundaries we have as we grow from children into adults. What boundaries are we entitled to? Are we not supposed to have any boundaries at all in order to be loved? If we push back, people we love could get mad and leave us.

How many of us who have been abused as adults grew up with an imbalanced sense of love, boundaries and respect? Or perhaps a misrepresented picture of what adult love should be?

When I was married, I remember knowing that my kids were learning from what they saw. Not only was it best for all of us at the time to get away from their father and my husband to do on our own…..to show them that we could survive as a family without the abusive member living with us….but I also felt I was showing them perhaps something my mother had not shown me….and that was it was okay to leave and that we could still survive.

It wasn’t until recently that I found the possible answer as to why that failed and what I had not shown them. And why, despite my attempt at shielding my kids from abuse did they still fall into the same patterns in their own lives?

I left. I slunk away without notice. My kids did not know anything was wrong between me and their father. I never pointed out to anyone when he was being abusive. When he pushed back my boundaries. Because I just kept things running in spite of his behavior. I kept running away. I ran away from their father. I kept them in the dark when their uncle was going through severe psychological issues. I shielded them and kept life normal. They never knew that I developed agoraphobia while raising them on my own. So just like me with my mother before me and her mother before her, my kids never learned how to set up boundaries. Because they never saw mine. They only saw the needs of others in the family that needed to be quieted and cared for so that things didn’t get out of control and unpleasant.

And ironically, my kids ended up seeing their father as being the victim. Not totally but that does play into what they perceive as normal in their relationships. And when I do try to set boundaries with people, people I have known….my kids included….tend to see me as mean and hurting someone…..and their dad as just a pain in the butt and me the one who did him wrong. And that does affect me.

I still suffer from all of these issues. It’s a process. And it’s still a process to show my kids the way. Even if they are grown. And it starts with the words….I allowed. Not “I caused” or “I was responsible for”, but what did I allow to happen because I have never learned how to love myself and to have that be enough. Because my boundaries change in order to risk not losing someone’s love. Because I am afraid. Because my mom is perfect and she didn’t live happily ever after so I don’t understand what I am supposed to accept from someone.

These are not supposed to be words of self blame. They are supposed to be words of empowerment. There is so little that we can control. But it is good to acknowledge what we have “allowed”. Because then we realize what we will not allow. For anyone. Under any circumstance. I think it may be the beginning of the making of our own protective boundaries. Predators test boundaries. And they will keep pushing past any boundaries that seem flexible. They will take advantage of our childhood dysfunctional ideals and play into them.

I tell you, I get tired of the way life can be. I get tired of being let down by people who I thought were decent. I get tired of waiting for that good man to find me and to find me worthy enough to bestow his love upon me. Yes, logically I know that I learned a lot of stuff I need to unlearn. Many of us do.

I think one of the worst things is to think you feel love and then to have it snatched away. Because it can make you feel….not like the other person has issues….but that you are unworthy.

How sad it is to live your life waiting to be worthy. Waiting for that trusted connection and true love that gives you the oxygen you feel you need to live and the happiness you have long sought. How good it feels to have bliss rain down into your parched soul. At last you are alive. You are worthy. You are loved because someone else says so.

It feels so wonderful…..until it doesn’t. And then you don’t know what to do because without that outward source of love, the sun no longer shines and the grass no longer grows and you feel like giving up because waiting for love to come into your life can make you feel so powerless over happiness. So you settle for someone instead who will define your boundaries for you. Because without someone else setting your boundaries, your anxieties don’t know where to end.

I don’t really have any answers. Well, perhaps I do but we all really have the answers to our questions in life. We don’t always want to hear the answers though.

The truth is being abused by a priest opened my eyes to the fact that evil can be anywhere and that I need to be on guard. Love is not a given, even when it seems like it should be the highest form of love. Seems like at that point the universe was telling me I wasn’t going to meet a good man at church….no matter what Dear Abby says. Lust and deception are there lurking under the veil of chastity.

We all want to be loved. We all want to be nourished and pampered and be that seed with the sun’s love, in the Spring….becomes the Rose…..but the reality may be we just have to “suck it up, buttercup”. That’s not such a bad thing. Not everyone can be a rose. There will always seem to be those people who have good fortune and a circle of love seeming to envelope them. Like hothouse roses. Let go of trying to be one. Let go of needing to be one. Just be you. Perfect as you are. Grow wild and free and unafraid of needing the care of others in order to thrive.

Guest Blog #2

Writer’s Block: Rattling the Cage

Shame and fear of retaliation keep feelings and memories incarcerated.

I’m normally a pretty fluid writer. Trying to write about this subject, however, is like trying to make an insect specimen board with live hornets. It’s frightening to approach, painful to touch, and almost everybody who cares and knows the story wishes I’d just forget about it all.

It’s hard for me to talk or write about it. I can’t even analyze why. There’s numbness and, where it’s not numb, there’s pain.

I grew up in a dysfunctional family situation. My father was a sex addict and my mom wasn’t equipped to set healthy boundaries with anybody, my father most especially. My dad violated my personal boundaries my whole life, physically and emotionally. My spiritual life didn’t interest him, so at least that part was somewhat safe from his invasions. Mom was emotionally absent most of the time, living in her own hell of PTSD from her childhood and current marriage situation. When I was ten, my parents divorced after having been separated for about a year. Mom left home and five of us were living alone with Dad. I was the second oldest child and the oldest girl.

During the divorce process, Mom moved all the way across the country. Forty years later she still lives there. She told me recently that Dad had threatened her, “If you ever leave me, I’ll tell everybody you’re crazy and teach the kids to hate you.” He succeeded. Just after the separation started, Dad managed to get a restraining order against Mom. That was the beginning. I was estranged from my mom well into my adulthood. Of the five children from my parents’ marriage, I am the only one who has a relationship with our mother. It’s a classic case of parental alienation syndrome.

Less than a month before my thirteenth birthday, my dad remarried. My stepmother perpetrated sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse on all five of us. She was much worse than Dad over all. A very needy person, she would cry and have temper tantrums if anyone made even a subtle gesture suggesting that she was responsible for her abusive behavior. Her life was, and I think probably still is, an eternal pity party. Dad was her loyal enabler. I don’t have relationships with them any more. I “divorced” them after work in therapy.

I married when I was 21. My marriage was abusive for the first fifteen years. My husband will concede to this fact. My husband was emotionally and verbally abusive toward me. Having been garnering strength from therapy and an association with the local women’s shelter, I was preparing to leave and divorce my husband when our seventh child was conceived. I feel strongly that a child needs attentive parenting at least the first three years of life, so the pregnancy put the brakes on my plans to leave. My husband and I had separate bedrooms for about a year during that time. When the new baby was about a year old, my husband was deployed for 12 months. During that time he dedicated himself to improving and saving our marriage. He read books and discussed them with me over the phone in frequent phone calls. He talked with the chaplain. After the deployment, he went into therapy. I was determined not to be the demise of our marriage, but I credit my husband’s effort with saving it. We still have occasional episodes, but things are very good now. We have both seen therapists.

I was raised in an environment that punished me for trying to set any kind of physical or emotional boundaries. I was punished and shamed for any effort at privacy or defending my personal space. In my thirties I learned that I had a right and responsibility to decide how I did or did not want to be touched or spoken to. I had a responsibility to honor and enforce the rules I set. Because setting and maintaining boundaries was programmed out of me from birth, I still cannot do it naturally. I have learned to be cognizant of the need for boundaries and, as a matter of intellectual discipline, I do my best to protect myself from intrusion by unhealthy and predatory people. I have gotten a lot better, but I have a long way to go. I honestly do not think I will ever master the concept. Much as I try, I think proficiency might one day be my greatest achievement. My skills are still very basic and I’m in awe of women in particular who have a strong sense of themselves and the self confidence to avoid being “pleasers.”

To admit and acknowledge my wounds and they role they play with my experience with a predator is painful and difficult. I am weak because of repeated, deep injury that was perpetrated against me my entire childhood and into my adulthood. It is not a “fault.” It’s a truth, a condition, an organic vulnerability that I cannot fix, even though the desire is there and I put every ounce of available effort into healing. I have consulted and paid experts to help me overcome my weaknesses. I read books, participate in online forums, skim websites, share in support groups, everything I can think of doing. I’m trying. I want to be well. It’s almost like giving someone an arm transplant. The transplanted arm can look normal, but the strength and familiarity of the limb, the fluency of motion, they’ll never be the same as someone who was born with a healthy arm. My ability to set boundaries will always be weak, but I’ll never give up trying to make it stronger.

This brings us to the point that is the most insidious in the priest-predator dynamic: blaming the victim. I believe that predator priests are most likely wounded much like me. I have compassion for that. Part of my compassionate disposition is my natural personality, and part of it is an inability to get angry for being abused. Turning the anger on myself was a survival skill. If I was angry at my abusers as a child, the abuse escalated. I think a lot of survivors, maybe all of them, are like me. It makes us vulnerable and predators sniff this out like a hungry shark smells blood.

I think the predator dynamic in people is just as natural as the predator-prey dynamic in wild animals. There are some fundamental differences, however, First, human beings, and educated Catholics (priests) in particular are not wild animals. We have the gift of reason. We have societal rules and religious institutions. Over all, I would say that our gift of reason and our propensity to build civilization are good qualities about being human.

Second, the Catholic Church has an essential mission: to spread the good news of the Gospel. It is ludicrous that I am feeling the need right now to enumerate what this mission means. Priests are trained to know what this means. They vow to undertake it.

Exploiting people is contrary to the gospel. Someone in a position of authority in the Church, a priest, who exploits people, especially by using the authority and esteem provided by his ordination, is a fraud. Even if he is a great preacher, he’s a fraud. Even if he boosts mass attendance, he’s a fraud. Even if he is attentive to social justice, he’s a fraud. Even if he marches in prolife events, he’s a fraud. Even if he’s “so sweet,” he’s a fraud. Even if he seems truly contrite when he’s caught, he’s a fraud. This applies especially to priests who perpetrate these misdeeds habitually. They’re frauds. Yes, the ordination is valid, but the authority, the freedom, and the esteem of the position are being thrown into Gehenna when they are given to priest frauds. No behavior of any victim influences or changes this fact.

In my case, I knew things were going in a scary and dangerous direction. I had to fight the inclination to freeze up and allow it. I battled against it. I was only capable of doing that because of the therapy I had gotten and the practice, which was guided by my therapist. Again, sharks smell blood. Someone like me is swimming in the sea with weeping wounds. I have plenty of practice.

When Church officials blame victims, which happens regularly, the Church is saying, “You’re broken and worthless. You deserved it. Your weakness is your own problem. The blame is yours, the priest made an excusable mistake. We have decided to let you die by exposure. The Romans had it right.”

That’s not Christian. It’s lazy and stupid and evil.

Predatory behavior is objectively disordered, unChristian, in many cases criminal, and it’s always, always wrong. Predator priests need to be punished and removed from ministry. Their presence in the Church as ministers contradicts the Church’s mission. Predator priests are destructive. They’re wolves in sheeps’ clothing.

Today I prayed along with Walking the Way of the Cross with Survivors from Awake Milwaukee, a support organization for survivors of abuse by priests. I cried with such bitter grief that I surprised myself. I was closed up in a room away from my husband who is still working from home due to the pandemic. I wore my earbuds so he couldn’t hear the recording, sobbing and sniffing as quietly as I could. It’s so difficult for him. He’s a victim too because he loves me, and he doesn’t know how to fix it for either of us. He’s a man. He wants to fix it.

https://seekingdaniel.wordpress.com/

Wicked Games

This past week, I stumbled across a movie called “Compliance”. It is a deeply disturbing film about how far someone will go to obey an authority figure. What makes it even more disturbing is that it is based on fact. You don’t know this until the end, however, when you find out that what happens in the movie has taken place over 70 times in 30 different states. For real.

Without giving away the entire plot, we the audience are given a front row seat to how human beings can be brainwashed into doing things to other human beings. Even when they have doubts. Even when what they are being asked to do seems questionable at best. When they are reassured that they must do what they are being told to do by a person they believe to be in authority, they comply.

Having myself been in a situation where I questioned what an authority figure was asking, I found this movie to be fascinating in that it shows a psychological profile of human nature and how easily we can be led to doubt ourselves when manipulated by someone who we believe is in charge of a situation and more knowledgeable than ourselves.

On the other hand, at the same time, the concept is terrifying.

The movie begins in a fast food restaurant. Here we have a very stressed manager who is trying to deal with a food shortage crisis and trying to keep the restaurant running smoothly without drawing the attention of the corporate manager. Anyone who has worked in the food business or in retail knows how stressful it can be to keep the customer happy while dancing through the corporate hoops and whims….usually for minimum wage pay.

So we are already looking at vulnerability here as most employees are just trying to get by without trouble and pay their rent. They may be trying to get through school or raise a family and they are used to not having much say about their job as they can easily be replaced. There is a definite lack of power in their situation.

When the already stressed out manager gets a phone call from someone claiming to be the police saying they are working with her manager on the other line regarding theft by one of the employees, she has no reason to doubt that the situation is real and that she better do as she is told.

Dissecting things further, when the manager expresses doubt that the employee would do such a thing, she is made to feel threatened and stupid and is told there is proof and then her intelligence and management skills are questioned as well.

Gaslighting. When she expresses doubt, the caller uses threats and undermining techniques. When she is “compliant”, her intelligence and her skills are praised and she is made to feel safe and in good standing with the police and her boss. And when she has questions, there is always an open-ended answer with no real details to placate her doubts.

As a viewer, we sit there saying to ourselves “No way this can happen in real life”. But as I said, it did. For real. Again and again.

We see the people in the movie push past their own sense of discomfort and loyalty to someone they know. Each time they pause to question the need for the action, they are blasted for being disobedient with the threat basically of “don’t make me….or management…come down there”, or praise such as “I truly appreciate your making my job easier for me. I can’t get there right now because I’m investigating her other activities”. The caller also shares personal info about their life and swaps stories with the manager, getting to know her as a person and making her feel like she is talking to another good person just doing a job.

It really hit home for me. Watching this movie made me say to myself….”Yes…that!” It made me feel like everyone who has ever been conned or coerced or has ever trusted the wrong person should see how easily someone who knows how to play people like a fiddle can pull a con.

Start out with something reasonable and believable. Push a little further. If there is resistance, pull back but make the person feel bad about their resistance and make them feel foolish and mean and stupid for resisting. Make them feel they are doing the right thing by complying.

And this caller pushes these people into doing degrading and illegal things in the name of the law. And although the victim in this situation pleads for someone to help her, it is not until a pair of fresh eyes sees the situation for what it is that the charade falls apart. Even the employees who work with the victim, who refuse to participate, stay working at their counter and do nothing to go against authority.

And after the fact, when being interviewed by an actual real detective, the victim is asked….”Why didn’t you just ever say no?” And the manager said she did what any other person in that situation would have done. Were you brainwashed, she is asked. She is unsure. She feels bad but feels that she was also a victim.

After watching this movie, I thought that maybe it would help someone who blamed themselves for falling for the manipulation of an evil person with an agenda to destroy. So they could stop blaming themselves. So they could see that they are human beings who were led down a garden path into a chamber of horrors. That we are just human beings who live in a world with other human beings and that we live in a world where we have to be compliant in order to peacefully exist. And that can be used against us.

If you do happen to watch this movie, be warned that it is upsetting to watch. There is also coerced sexual activity. Rape. Let’s call it what it is. Rape.

And there are permanent after effects of guilt and remorse that all involve must live with as there was more than one victim. And it happened. It happened many times.

And that, as we know, is flippin’ scary as Hell. It happens. And it is still happening.

Take care of yourselves. I wish we could protect everyone. But knowledge is power. Have a good week.

Head Games

Well, last week we found out that most people are somewhat happy. That’s good. This week we are polling people about their sense of paranoia.

We discussed this a bit in our weekly meeting and one person suggested using a site called “Delete Me” which is supposed to track and delete your information that is collected on-line. He said there is a fee of $129.00 a year for this service. I’m not recommending this site. As with any site, use caution. I just wanted to pass that information along to anyone who may be uncomfortable with the stuff that people can find on them.

Along the way, I have heard from people who have had to pull up roots because of their abuse by the church. And they don’t just fear the clergy. Some people have been harassed by fine church-going people in their neighborhood.

“Do it in the name of Heaven….you’ll be justified in the end” That’s a quote from a song from a long time ago called “One Tin Soldier”. Righteous people can be damn scary.

So….”Head Games”. Has anyone ever head of the term “negging”? It seems to play into a Narcissist’s handbook. It’s a way to devalue someone. It is a head game and you probably are familiar with it. Do you know how that person once loved you unconditionally and just made your whole being relax because you thought you found someone kind hearted? Do you remember how open and safe you felt? Then all of a sudden, you didn’t please them anymore. Right?

What was it that happened? I’m guessing that it was something said by this wonderful person that made you think you were less than worthy of their adoration. Here are some examples of “negging”. And make no mistake, it is done deliberately with the intent to manipulate.

“You look wonderful! Have you had work done?”

“Wow, that’s some haircut. Were you going for a younger look?”

“That’s great that you won that award. How many awards does your sister have now?”

“Lovely earrings. How smart to direct people’s attention away from your nose”

“I like that shirt but I gotta tell you that the color makes you look sickly”

Negging is a popular manipulative device used in bars to undercut someone’s self-esteem in order to create self-doubt and vulnerability. It’s also used when someone wants to put you down but doesn’t want to be direct about it. We’ve all probably done it. I’ve known passive aggressive people who do it. But where one person may be trying to find a way to say something tactfully or to be kind, there usually isn’t that kick in the gut at the end. That kick in the gut is what they really wanted to say. Because the intent is to undermine someone or to feel more powerful by bringing someone else down.

Negging is a form of emotional abuse. It’s first cousins with gaslighting. It’s intent is to create doubt in your self-esteem and decisions. When used by someone who you admire or love, or whose approval you crave….well, you see where I am going with this. It can be damaging.

Negging is destructive and abusive. There may be people who you talk with like that. Perhaps you just kid around. If it does not hurt you or anyone else, fine. But if someone plays word games like this…recognize that they have an issue. It is not your self-perceived imperfections sabotaging your happiness. It is someone being a jerk and you deserve to be treated better. That isn’t always easy to recognize for people struggling with low self-esteem. But be aware if it seems that your self-esteem seems dependent upon someone else’s words and opinions. (I say this to myself as well).

One of the things that is so scary about letting go of an abusive relationship or situation is that many times, there is not a reward for doing so. When you walk out on your parents, or your spouse or when you walk away from a child who treats you poorly, there is often a feeling of loss.

You have to start all over again. There is no guarantee that you won’t end up all alone. You’ve probably been told that nobody else would ever love you. You may have felt unlovable all of your life. You most likely aren’t starting from a place of strength. Whether you were financially dependent or emotionally dependent or terrified of being alone and feeling vulnerable and unprotected, tearing yourself away from someone who you may believe to be your strength or your source of love, can be terribly hard.

It’s so tempting to keep fighting. To keep trying. To not let go. It may seem wrong on such a deep level to be the one to terminate a marriage or a parent/child relationship. But sometimes the more you try, the more you just find you cannot win no matter what you do.

I went to a seminar once where we were given the example of giving someone money from your wallet and having that person ignore you and walk away. And the more they walk away, the more you chase them and try to give them the money. You throw the money at them. Money you will never get back. But you never get a response. They never turn around or acknowledge you. What then is the purpose of continuing to hand over money? You can keep trying to give them everything you have of value and it’s never going to change anything or change that person’s reaction or behavior. You can chase and yell and cry until you collapse, but why?

Does it matter who that person is? A son, a daughter, a mother, a father, a sibling…or someone who in your mind will bring you the happiness you need….

Letting go….letting them go….does not feel good at all. Walking away from something hopeless or abusive does not feel good although it really should because that would only be fair. But it doesn’t work like that. You can’t walk away just to try to get a reaction either. That’s not really walking away. But you know that. Truth is it hurts, and it’s scary and a lot of the time, it’s just not right and….just not fair. Because I’m willing to bet you’ve been chasing people and throwing everything you have at them many times to get that reaction that you want and that you need.

But it’s not just that, is it? If you let go, you have to face the pain, but mainly you have to face the emptiness that the illusion filled. The void that is left that you have to begin to fill on your own.

Bless the Beasts and the Children

Some of you already know that this past week I lost another one of my rescue dogs, Toby. Toby was 14 and I had him for a little bit over four years. He went to join his sister, Abby, who passed away on February 27th.

This past year, the virus has made our lives nuts. As we talk about opening up restaurants and bars to more people, things at the vet’s office haven’t made great progress.

There was a plumbing crisis here last week as well and the house was torn apart…literally…..Toby had an appointment coming up this Friday but he began not feeling well…he had a head cold like I’ve never seen in a dog before. And he was not eating well and he vomited a bit when he did eat. So I called his vet to get him in sooner and it was like 10am on Thursday and I was told “You know the rules…you have to call at 7:30am to see if we have an opening. Call back tomorrow”. So I waited. I did not think it was an emergency. I called Friday morning. No openings. Call back tomorrow. I called back Saturday morning when I got up at 8am. No….sorry. We had three openings at 7:30 that are gone now. Bye.

Sunday the vet was closed. I just didn’t want him to play the game of watch and wait all week to see if I could get him in sooner, so off we went to the emergency vet.

We got to the emergency vet around 3:30 in the afternoon. They are open 24/7. They took him in around 4pm. We had to stay in the car in the parking lot. We being myself, my friend, and Toby’s brother, Fritz, who we didn’t want to leave at home alone.

After two trips to Cumberland Farms to get a hamburger and snacks and water for Fritz and to use the bathroom, the vet finally called my cell phone at 11pm that night….7 hours after they had taken Toby in. Seven hours of sitting outside in the car in the parking lot, waiting.

It took two more hours…until 1am Monday morning, to be told that Toby was in a diabetic crisis. One that would mean at least 5 days in the puppy hospital and if he survived that…..the rest of his life closely guarded and twice daily insulin shots.

For me, the answer was clear. And if there is such a thing as a peaceful and happy passing, Toby was blessed. While sitting in the car, awaiting word on Toby from the doctor an hour before he was euthanized, the inside lights suddenly went on. Nobody had started the car or pressed any buttons. They just went on and almost as suddenly, died down into darkness once again. Abby had been put down in the back of the car three weeks before. My feeling was she was letting her presence be known. She was here and she was going to help her brother transition.

We sat in the “family room” and were able to bring Fritz in to say goodbye to his brother. Toby came in wrapped in a snuggly blanket. He looked tired but happy to see us. Fritz cleaned his face for him one last time. To be honest, I don’t know if that is done out of love, dominance, or just checking for leftover food. But it was touching to see.

The end came quickly and I imagine, peacefully. Toby left his Earthly family and I’m sure his sister, Abby, was there to hand him his wings as soon as he was free from his physical form.

Fritz is now never left at home alone. Until I can find a calm and sweet companion friend for him. In the meantime, one more dinner bowl has been taken out of commission.

We got home around 2:30 in the morning. If you’ve been paying attention (no points lost if you feel asleep in the middle of the story) that was 11 hours. 11 hours. 11 hours in the car for us. 11 hours in a cage for Toby perhaps thinking we left him there. It had happened before in his short life. Did they give him a drink? I know he had gotten sick again. We weren’t allowed inside to see him. Or to even use the bathroom.

I know things are crazy these days but I have been going to that vet for 27 years. We know our pets. We know when they are not feeling well. I decided it is time to find another vet.

We don’t know these days if there are extenuating circumstances when things like this happen. We really don’t. We want to give the benefit of the doubt. People are overworked. They have crazy rules in place they have to follow. I’ve never had to wait in a car to be seen if I’m not feeling well. I know there has been separation of family and loved ones this year because of the virus. But do we know….is this affecting veterinary offices and emergency vet clinics so that at one point in time, over 15 cars were waiting in the parking lot with us?

I called the trash collectors this week to have them pick up an old mattress. I did not get it out in time. They were here first thing this morning. I could not drag it out without help at that time. I asked them to please come back. I’m being charged for them just showing up this morning with their truck. There is no sob story that is going to change that extra charge I have to pay when they come back next week to get the mattress.

And just when you think the world is going mad, a sympathy card and a container of fresh chocolate chip cookies ends up on your doorstep from your neighbor. And your tenant brings home pizza for dinner so you don’t have to make dinner.

Not sure where I’m going with this. I’m rambling. One of the perks of growing older. I can ramble and not apologize for it. Ah, our pets. Toby is going to be coming home in a cherry wood box with room for his picture and a brass plaque on top with his name.

Not bad for a little dude who four years ago was homeless and growling at everyone in fear. He was loved. He was a bundle of love and excitement. Dinnertime nearly knocked his socks off every night. He’d nearly faint with anticipation. Later on, he would lay at my feet, belly up….ever the optimist that a belly rub would ensue. He was the smartest of the bunch. And the most polite. And even though he felt sick last week, he growled at the plumbers as they came through the house. I am sure he would have defended me to the death if the need arose.

We need less rules and more belly rubs in life. That might not be something you usually hear in a group for survivors of sexual abuse. That’s why pets and therapy animals can help with healing of trauma and abuse.

Thank God for the gift of their love.

Don’t Rain on My Parade

Last week’s post stirred up some comments that brought about some deep contemplation on my part. I hope it did for you as well.

At some point, we all have to decide if we are going to act on our abuse. It’s a personal decision and one that is not entered into lightly. Rape victims may decide to go to the hospital and report what happened. Once there, they must endure once again feeling vulnerable. There may be pictures taken of injuries. And to be sure, there will be collection of evidence, which means, once again, they will need to be exposed and prodded and have their intimate body parts treated as a crime scene and lab specimen. They will tell their story and be retraumatized in doing so. They will be questioned and they will question themselves.

And then they will have to go on with their lives, with 90% of perpetrators never being caught or convicted.

I do believe things are starting to change. But each time we move forward, it is like sticking a pin through the seal of a box when we are stuck inside looking for air. We move, but we don’t see a whole lot of improvement right away. People are successful, but their stories still seem to fit within the 10%. There are still so many people living in the darkness…not only of their own minds, but just not knowing that what happened to them was not their fault. Not knowing that SNAP helps people who have been abused as adults as well as those abused as children. We are just getting started.

We aren’t supposed to give each other advice, but being human, we want to help, so it happens. I was told that there are other victims. That if I choose to proceed with my case against the diocese and this priest, that it will help others come forward. It was suggested that I read more about the things that have happened with other priests and bishops that were evil and shocking. Someone said that bishops will go on protecting their priests and that priests will go on being predators.

And then one person said that I had already told my story. That I didn’t need to retell it again.

Well, these comments made me think…a lot. I feel angry and I want to scream from the rooftops that it is very likely that the priest you know and like could be a predator, a con artist, a narcissist, a sociopath, a rapist, and a thief. I would like to yell at the top of my lungs that what these people are doing by covering things up is wrong….and illegal.

I knew that what I did not want to do was to dig in and read more about what priests are up to. I have never cared if priests have sexual urges or if they like to dress up in drag and do the Charleston in their free time or if they identify as homosexual or heterosexual. I do care, however, if they pursue those urges however they’d like with whomever they’d like, using the fact that they are priests and in close proximity to vulnerable people, to use that power to hurt those people just because they can and because they can get away with it.

It’s the people that have been hurt, and their stories that I want to know about and hear.

And so I thought about these things and I thought about what I wanted and I thought about the likely outcome of things and I thought about the relief I felt when I was told that I had already told my story and that perhaps I had done all I could for the time being as far as that was concerned.

I could not “win” with the priest. I could not get a straight answer. And when I finally did get a straight answer, I found I had very little choice. And I was right. When I was finally in front of Human Resources, and already hoisted up upon the stake, they outright blamed me, would not hear any other side of things, and treated the priest as a victim. They tossed the logs and the kindling at my feet. When I was told that my words would not remain confidential, and when my therapist told me that women are usually the aggressors and that I must have been searching for my father’s love or something or other…..I was just stuck up on that stake, waiting for someone to light a match. It was pretty clear that nobody was going to help me down. Not even my co-worker who at first was upset that he was going to get away with it and later changed to “I want to keep my job”.

And then I looked at how things had gone over the past year. The victim’s advocate was very nice to me. But it took me following up to get a Zoom appointment with the bishop. The bishop tried to minimize what had happened with the priest by asking me if this had not happened anywhere else I had worked. It was like he was saying, wasn’t I just making a big deal out of a guy being a guy? And then not hearing a word for six months and having to make the follow up myself. I doubt I would have ever heard anything and I don’t doubt they just wanted me to go away quietly.

And you might say…well, all the more reason to plunge ahead. They want you to go away. Think of everyone you will help if you do this.

Ahhh…not so fast. I thought some more. You see, all my life I have tried to “do the right thing” even if it meant it was the more difficult thing. Well, okay, not always, but 90% for me was doing what I thought was right. Maybe 85%. But it’s up there. You get the picture.

I’m far from perfect, but I tried. I got pregnant and had my child. I kept my child. I raised my child. I felt we needed to get away from my parents so I married his father. That didn’t work. I still needed my parents. Still needed to have them in my life. It worked out for my children. Me emotionally….ah. I did appreciate them being there. I knew my husband was not good with the kids. I knew I had to get away. I got away. My brother had one crisis after another. I tried to help my brother. I really didn’t. I just got involved in something that dragged me down. I guess I helped my parents through that time. I protected my kids from all of it. We moved out of my parents’ house. I knew I needed to grow up…get independent. It was a struggle. I am co-dependent. Being on my own brought a torrent of neurosis to the surface that I could not push back down.

I had tried to help my kids but found I could not help myself. I became agoraphobic. After a few years, we returned to my husband. I felt I had gone as far as I could at the time. I tried to help my son and his girlfriend when she got pregnant when they were 16. I had a friend whose son got a girl pregnant. She refused to acknowledge the child because her son and his girlfriend were not married. So she chose to never meet her grandchild. I felt I could not do that. My son’s girlfriend lived in a very bad section of town and her mother was on disability for psychiatric issues. Her mom was very abusive towards her. I didn’t feel that I could let go. So I didn’t I gave them money and diapers and furniture. I babysat all weekend every weekend. We were in court so many times with them….and her friends who were harassing us.

Today I feel like nothing I did matters. Neither my friend nor I see our grandchildren. The difference was hers was by choice. As far as I know, she has no regrets and they never had a problem.

When our youngest son ran off at the age of 19 and married a women of 27 who had two children she did not have custody of and who did not hold a job for longer than a month at a time, I would drive to my son’s job every day and drop off lunch so I could be sure that he got something to eat. When I worked two jobs to make ends meet when I was on my own after leaving my husband (again), I would bring the leftover food from the second job to my son’s house after my shift to be sure he had enough to eat. He was skin and bones.

When they both moved in my house and rented my apartment, and it was apparent that she was being emotionally abusive, I had her leave and I paid for her to stay at a motel for six weeks and wrote letters for her to the Department of Mental Health to let them know of the situation so they could get housing for her. I visited her when she got her own place.

My son ended up getting into another relationship that was similar to the last but now there is a baby involved. Sometimes life puts up walls and says “enough”.

Sometimes life says “enough” when you get cancer and when your mom tells you for the millionth time that she thought your brother was doing better so she gave him some money and he blew it all on drugs and hookers, and now she is upset and needs to talk to me about it so now it upsets me and I realize my part is being the emotional sponge in the family.

Sometimes life tells you “enough” when you realize that your entire life has been spent trying to help or save people and you haven’t really helped or saved anyone. Because you’ve never had the chance to help or save yourself.

And when I look at this situation with the priest and the diocese, you know….it was about someone seeing that in me…..that I never learned how to take care of and save myself. And I asked myself what I thought my odds were of having a pleasant experience and a victorious outcome in this situation where so far, what I have experienced has been nothing but trickery, hostility, victim blaming, lawyers calling it he said/she said, a bishop who downplayed things which brought up feelings of disrespect towards women once again, then them waiting for me to go away and in order to go forward, I have to once again repeat the story that has been laughed at, disbelieved, downplayed, and me having to go unrepresented…alone….against a diocesan review board.

And for the first time in my life, hearing that, hey, you have already told your story. Again and again. They aren’t listening. They don’t want to hear. Do I want to further traumatize myself by putting myself out there once again so they can destroy me again? Do I want to try to help people who may not want to be helped? May not want to be found? And is this the way to do that? By giving them the match so they can finally burn me at the stake?

Okay, I am not saying that I’m giving up. I’m just wondering if this is the smart thing to do. At least right now. And I’m thinking it’s not. I’m thinking that it is time that I do what any sane person would do and avoid that flame. I’ve already been burned. Oh, and I did make a report to the Attorney General but nothing came of that. The bishop said he had heard of no complaints against the good father. So there’s that too.

And this is not the only way of helping others. By not getting a settlement, I don’t have to sign anything with the diocese. I can be free to let go of these toxic people while being able to help the people I care about by continuing to spread the word.

And you know, I’ve got to say, most importantly, I need to think about what is right for myself first. I think if someone came forward, I would be then willing to go with them do follow through on the legal battle. But until then, I think I have already fought a battle. Perhaps I have made only a tiny pinprick in the fight for saving survivors. But I tried. And I have fought many battles.

Perhaps the time has come for me to put down my sword and pick up my pen. Preferably on a beach somewhere under an umbrella. Drinking one of those drinks with its own little umbrella.

Stay safe and healthy and take this week’s poll.

The Long and Winding Road

Last year, I summoned up the strength to set up an appointment with the Victim’s Advocate at the Diocese. It was my first time back in the building since I had been fired three plus years before. I still carried memories of being escorted out of the building inside the pit of my stomach. I was afraid of running into someone I knew while walking into the main entrance (which is now securely locked with an inside glass door that requires admission from the front desk before being granted access). I was afraid that I might see someone in the elevator. I was afraid of the judgmental glares I might receive or of someone spotting me and calling the police. I was afraid of what the people I used to know who used to love me might have been told about me.

I felt the fear that many of those like me who have been abused by a priest or other predator as an adult, and who have been victim shamed, have felt.

But the meeting with the advocate went well. He agreed that it sounded very much like I had been harassed and acting as if I had been sexually harassed. I gave him a copy of my book. He asked if I would like to meet with the bishop. I agreed. I left feeling a bit stronger and more confident.

Then Covid hit and it took another six months to get a virtual appointment set up with the bishop. He very kindly listened to my side of the story. He asked me had I not ever had this happen in any other job? Basically minimizing the event. Or perhaps suggesting I had simply misjudged what was going on. I told him that nothing like this had ever happened before to the extent where I felt it had been deliberate and I felt threatened and I had lost my job because of it. He asked me if I still felt that my faith was intact. I told him that he now had information about this priest and it was up to his conscience as to how to utilize that information as this priest was still saying mass and acting in a counselling position.

I just want to mention here that someone who was trying to be helpful, mentioned I should try another church as the Catholic church was obviously having major issues. To that person I would like to say that what you need to understand is that first of all, this goes on in every religion for some reason. There are no “safe” religions. And also, when you have gone through the games and the cover-ups and the suggestions that perhaps you misunderstood or that you are a fragile being who fell in love with a priest and that is the entire story…now go say five Hail Mary’s and ask God for forgiveness….when you have been threatened and brainwashed and someone attempted to control and degrade you….the last thing you want or that you trust is a religious person…I don’t care who they are. It still opens up the wound once again of having been through the rabbit hole…the insanity….the emotional abuse….the being picked because of your trust and your faith and vulnerability and knowing that they have the goods to further destroy your life if you push back. They go back to using the same conditioning they have used your entire life. Using God as a manipulative tool.

The whole thing leaves you with an indescribable feeling of “ick”. Like you’ve been mind-raped.

Six month went by and nothing. As crazy as it sounds, I know that they spoke to the priest. I know because twice in one month, all of a sudden, my book got a rating of one star with no review. It brought down the rating of the book but there was no review so that I could report it as abuse. It was a typical reaction to what pretty much equals the actions of an angry child having a tantrum and lashing out. Fitting his M.O. of “You know it’s me and what I did but you can’t prove it” because his actions are like smoke in the wind. Leaving the victim with nothing solid and looking like they are crazy.

So, as you know from my posting the email I sent, I contacted the victim’s advocate. And I got a response. He apologized for not getting back to me sooner and asked if we could talk.

My feeling about victim’s advocates are now similar to how I feel about the press. Tread carefully. Watch what you say. They are not your “friend”. They are doing a job. I have also heard stories about counsellors the diocese will provide for you. Things are not necessarily confidential and cannot be assumed so.

He’s basically a go-between. He can give me/you advice on what to do and ask you what you want but he remains impartial. So when he and I were chatting, and he asked me where my mom lived, I did not give him any details. And that brought up old feelings of…why are you asking?

I found out that my talk with the bishop did nothing. The bishop most likely just had an informal meeting with the priest and informed him of the accusations against him and he most likely denied for the record and he was probably sent off with a suggestion to be more careful in the future. I don’t know. I do know that the bishop was not going to be whipping out his personal checkbook to compensate me or performing any kind of investigation into the matter.

I was told that if I chose to pursue compensation or any kind of investigation, that I would need to fill out a formal complaint which would then go to the Attorney General and the Diocesan Review Board. At that point, there would be an investigation done, with interviews with people involved and such. The victim’s advocate would not be by my side but would only be available to answer questions. I would need to either bring a friend, a therapist, or a lawyer with me.

So this is where it begins to get scary. I thought that I had done something by talking with the advocate or by meeting with the bishop. I thought it meant something at least. In order for anything to mean anything, I need to go further. I need to meet with the Diocesan board. Thank God I don’t need to see him. But remember if you will, that this priest has been on the board interviewing victims in this diocese. He has been sent to judge other cases in the country. He is a canon lawyer. He has papers published on the subject of priests being accused of misconduct. He has been on Tribunals and knows how to discredit victims of abuse. He knows how to initially put them at ease and seem like a friend. And although he would not be on this Diocesan board, tell me there are people on this board who have not had dinner with him or who think he is a great guy and important and beyond reproach.

Who am I? I am a woman who has no case once my emails are thrown in my face. The emails that no matter what I said to H.R., were constantly referenced. The emails which after I read them to my therapist had her turn on me and tell me that I was the aggressor in this situation, as “women often are”. The emails which had not one but two lawyers sadly tell me they believed me but really had no proof to go on except emails which could make me look compliant so that I can’t get a lawyer to represent me. Do I really want to put myself through that again? To be told by a supposedly impartial group that either they don’t believe me or that there is no proof? Do I think that the women from his past who actually initiated oral sex with him at his desk and who feel responsible and worthless want to come forward to back up my accusations?

Do I want to take that risk? Remember that according to the bishop’s statement, if someone accuses a priest and it is not found to be credible, they are able to release that person’s name to the press. I would need to go forward with the intent that all I was looking for was to bring this abuse to light. To bring attention to the accusation. To put all the details and the feelings outside of myself to be able to “do the right thing”.

I was also told that the priest could not be put on the bishop’s accountability list as that is just for those who have abused children. As I said to the advocate….who’s to say that he has not abused children? I know of one or two other women, but I know that there is never just one victim and in this case, probably not just two or three of us. Predators prey on those people who they can prey on. The easy targets. Those who will believe or not fight back or question. Or those who are going through a vulnerable time in their life. It is not about pedophilia. It is not about homosexuality. It is…..as most rapists, serial killers and thieves know….about opportunity and body language and vulnerability and those separated from the herd in some way.

It is about who is the available and easiest target who is less likely to cause trouble and fight back and who they feel they can get away with it with. And as one person put it….the predators go where the getting is good. Where they will be protected. Where they will have access to children and vulnerable adults who can be shamed and threatened into silence.

Justice is a long road. It’s not an easy journey. Sex crimes are I believe the least reported crimes, and the most misunderstood. Victim shaming and blaming is very prevalent in society. And so little is known about coercive control and gaslighting and trauma bonding. So much further to go. So many obstacles to overcome.

Spirit in the Sky


I am going to start off this week with an email that I sent to follow up with the Diocese. I had a face to face meeting with Mr. J., who is the go-between/screener for the bishop, and later on had a Zoom meeting with Mr. J., the bishop, and another SNAP member. Having had six months pass since that meeting, and having not heard a word about anything at all, I decided to follow up. Here is the email.

Hello again, Mr. J
It’s been awhile since my meeting with Bishop S. regarding the sexual harassment and abuse of power directed at me from Father James D. and I was wondering what if any actions were taken or if anything was uncovered during his investigation.
I know Bishop S. said that nobody had come forward to him about Father D, but was his background checked and also the reason why he was moved from his residence at a rectory to his own apartment?
Also, just to reiterate, while it is true that many people, women especially, find themselves on the receiving end of unwanted attention at work, never have I ever felt so uneasy, so threatened, so vulnerable, so alone, and so betrayed as I did with the incident with Father D. that caused me to lose my job in November of 2016.
Not only was it made clear to me that I would lose my job and perhaps more if I did not do what Father D. demanded, the workplace was hostile and his requests that I initiate sexual intimacy were both horrifying and demeaning.
In addition to the abuse I suffered at the hands of Father D., in what state is it legal for Human Resources to tell someone who is pleading with them not to say anything due to fear of retaliation that there will be no secrets and everything I said will be laid out in the open to someone who had told me that I could end up in the obituaries and that he was a dangerous man?
And how is it legal to fire someone and then turn around and tell them…”as we agreed, you resigned”?   If anything says “cover up”, it’s that. 
These things were done quickly while I was still in a state of shock and depression when I did not realize fully what had happened.  
Not only did Father D. sexually harass and threaten me, but he also lied and defamed my character to those in Human Resources and to my co-workers.
While I told Bishop S.that now that he was aware of the situation, the rest was on him and his conscience, I had asked for restitution and I believe that I am absolutely due compensation for losing my job, almost ending up in the E.R. for depression, then ending up in the E.R. twice in the six months following my unlawful termination.  
Yes, I sent emails to Father D., which is how everything was turned to blame me for everything.  (Which is a page right out of the Narcissist play book)  But I was doing the only thing I could think of doing at the time.   Being on the receiving end of gaslighting and trauma bonding with an abuser in power over you, emotionally traps you.   I thought about asking for a transfer to another department (which I had asked Joyce about when called to her office) but I was afraid of arousing suspicion and questions and his anger.   
Plus you begin to not trust your own judgement.   I was terrified to do anything.   I couldn’t talk to Father D. and get a straight answer from him.   It was all head games and talk about trapping his cat into domestication and I was always wrong or not doing what I should to please him.
It’s made me take a hard look at the Catholic church and I have lost all trust when it comes to priests and their teachings and motivations.
I understand you cannot tell me everything you know, Mr. J,  but I would appreciate an update on the situation.
Thank you
,

I don’t know, of course, what will become of this email. Either it will be ignored in the hope that I will just go away, or they will set up another meeting with the bishop…which I doubt, or they will throw a small sum of money at me, or they will ask if I want to go before a Tribunal….which at this point in time will most likely not convene.

Does it make me angry that they can get away with this? Of course it does. Do I think my effort was in vain if Fr. D. continues to be a priest and I don’t get any compensation? Will they have won? I’m not so sure about that. For one thing, Mr. J., the liaison, believed me. And just by the action of doing this….going to tell my story….a ripple effect went into motion.

The same is true for every blog written. And every time a survivor tells their story. Every time a secret is brought to light somewhere, the ripple continues. We cannot see where the ripple goes. But it is there. We never know who we may influence.

I got an email from someone with a news headline. I see the headlines. We all do. I personally don’t think that rehashing the news and the negativity it brings has a place when it comes to healing. And we are all healing.

And, oh boy, do we all have triggers. A warning, the following may be uncomfortable for some people.

This past week, I watched as my dog, who I love very much, got sicker and sicker. I took her to the vet when her pain medicine made her extremely constipated and she needed relief that I could not give her. More bloodwork determined that her kidney failure had advanced dramatically in the past 3 or 4 weeks. It was recommended that I get her Pepcid as she was passing blood (sorry), and Metamucil to keep her regular after they gave her an enema, and that I come in to pick up a week’s worth of injections to give her at home daily and another medicine to give her daily to bring down one of her electrolytes that was extremely high.

Yesterday I had to make the hard decision. She was refusing food and vomiting whatever she tried to eat. Although I would have given her my own kidney, I knew that keeping her alive each day would mean sticking her with a needle and forcing medicine down her throat and forcing her to drink.

As anyone who has loved and lost a pet knows, it is a very difficult decision to euthanize a pet. Luckily, I was able to get someone on the phone who advised me not to wait any longer and that they would send someone over in a couple of hours. My son helped me get her into the back of the car in her bed and she was aware….which as you know, makes you feel horrible….but she could only lift her head by then.

She was in her own bed surrounded by the people who loved her and who she loved. And yet, afterward, through my tears, I noticed that I was triggered into self-destructive thoughts. Not overwhelmingly so….but they were there. And I happened to wonder if those thoughts were now triggered when I felt loss. Was this now an automatic two-fer?

I believe in spirit communication and dreams and such. That in itself makes a person seem a bit crazy. I believe in what I cannot see. Hey, wait a minute….that seems familiar some how.

Anyway, there I was last night in my dream, angry and lashing out at everything that didn’t seem fair. Stupid stuff in the dream but it was a big deal at the time. I was feeling like I did not belong. So in the dream, I decided to run away. The hell with it, I thought, I just don’t care what happens to me. I just have to get away.

It was then (in my dream) that I saw the dog. It was running towards me. I realized that wherever I went, the dog was going to follow, so I had to take care where I went so I could take care of the dog and it wouldn’t get hurt. I bent down and the dog happily ran into my arms. I hugged the dog tightly and felt all of the pain go away.

I kid you not. True. I know my little girl is happy now and that she thanked me and told me she loved me and that she is well and that I need to be also.

Do you believe that my dog actually came to me in my dream? It doesn’t really matter now if anyone else believes that, does it? It was helpful to me. A thought I choose to embrace has helped me with my loss.

What does losing a dog have to do with anything having to do with priests and abuse and the whole sad state of the world you may ask?

Perhaps nothing at all. Perhaps everything.

Please remember to take this week’s poll. If you would like to do a guest blog, please let me know. No meeting tonight. See you all next week.

Guest Blog #1

The following was sent to me by a survivor who wanted to tell their story. I must warn you that it is upsetting and may trigger some unpleasant emotions.

I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

The line before the confessional shortens person by person and I feel my body grow heavy. I watch the door close behind them, watch it open when they emerge. Some radiate grace. Some sniffle or wipe their eyes. Some almost don’t touch the ground; they float over to the statue of Our Lady, eyes cast blissfully upward or reverently downward. Another penitent rises to enter the reconciliation room. My breath halts. My stomach seizes.

I can’t go in there.

This is not just the anxious reluctance to say my sins out loud. This is – primal. I am not an adult, not a middle-aged woman with a PhD and a named professorship, not a hard-working mother of two young children; I am a trapped animal. A cow fighting the yoke that pulls it to inexorable slaughter. My heart begins to hammer in my ribcage, my eyes well, my throat closes. I realize I am biting the insides of my cheeks to keep my teeth from chattering. I look at my hands; they tremble. My knees quake as I try to breathe deeply and still my whole body. I know this. I have done at least one lifetime’s worth of work to overcome this panic, this lizard-brain instinct. Run, my proto-brain is urging me. Get out go now go NOW.

I try to listen to the other voice, the voice of reason. The one that can calm a sobbing child, write a book, finish a grant application, shepherd students through their PhD exams. The voice that can talk a stressed husband down from the ledge of COVID-induced paranoia when it turns out we need to rip up the entire kitchen and have unknown workers maskless in our home and we have less than 24 hours to pack everything away.

You won’t see the priest; he’s behind his screen. It’s Father Andrew, or Father Ryan, or Father Paul. He would not hurt you. Not ever never not once. You know him; you know this. Evidence over emotion. Has any of them ever pushed you against the wall, slammed his forearm against your throat, bruised your clavicle/bicep/thigh? He has not. Evidence, ma fille. Because this isn’t him. And he is not everywhere. He is not every priest.

But when the last person before me exits the confessional I find my lizard-brain is more powerful than my logic. I can’t stand up. I gesture to the person behind me. “You can go on ahead,” I whisper-choke. “I’m not ready.” Sorry. Sorry sorry sorry.

The flip side of evidence is past evidence. I knew him, too. I knew he would never hurt me. I felt such kinship with him, such a soul-deep bond. And then in one afternoon he undid everything I knew – and when he left me, rushing off to Vespers, he left a lizard. I was on my knees on the cold stone floor. I was unable to think. To move. To fight. Unable to formulate any thought other than – move one hand forward. Crawl that way. Get out.

It takes twelve more minutes. I sit in my chair midway between the door to the sacrament and the earnest penitents who will never understand. One by one I gesture them forward. Between my chair and that door handle stretches a hallway at least fifteen years long, and I can’t walk it. When there is no one left in line to wave forward, I rise from my folding metal chair and back away from the nave, making the sign of the Cross and asking Jesus to forgive me. Forgive my weakness.

He wins again. He wins, almost every time.

*

Do the specifics matter? I was 35, a divorced convert living abroad. He was a Benedictine monk/priest, a fellow expat. We had been corresponding by letter for 2 years; I came to visit the foundation monastery where he had been sent. He was unhappy there, I knew from his letters. He felt so alone. Isolated from his community and from God.

He told me: “God spoke to me. I was 16, and fearing the consequences of sin, and I went out running at night and God came to me. He held me there, in the dark, in the fields. And I knew there was no mortal sin for me. I knew everything was forgiven.”

He says this and then flattens my hand with his against the table. Lifts my hand and traces scar after scar. “Promise me you won’t do this anymore,” he says. Eyes full of tears. “You can’t – don’t – harm yourself. You are not the voice of the people who have harmed you. Be better than them. Do it for me. Please.” A tear spills. He kisses my wrist. I shiver.

“That was too much I’m sorry,” he says and drops my wrist but not my hand, his face panicked and pathetic and flustered. I have to reassure him. No no I say. I was just startled.

I’m just so lonely he says and pulls my hand toward him again. Red alarm bells ring powerfully at the back of my mind but I don’t know what to do about them. I am still trying to work out what to do when he asks can I – can I give you a hug?

I say yes. It is my undoing.

I don’t know how long it takes. I stand and raise my arms to hug him; his hands grip my shoulders; he wants to kiss me (can’t we – can’t we just) but I lower my head to keep his mouth from mine. But he is strong and I am trapped. All I can do is head-butt his collarbone. I find I cannot say no. I can’t say anything at all, only hide. I am at his mercy and totally exposed.

And to counter my frozen refusal he has hands. Fingers like vise clamps. Biceps strong enough to manoeuvre my body backwards, crash me into a table piled neatly with books then a wall with a tall shelf. The base of my skull smashes into the shelf: stars. It doesn’t matter. His body presses mine into the wall into the shelf into – nothingness. I feel him all over me. I can’t fight. So I give up. Slide down the wall.

Just do it, I say in a gasp. Just please.

He is horrified. Aghast. Oh my god are you ok I didn’t hurt you are you hurt? I didn’t – please talk to me are you ok. What have I done I didn’t do anything are you hurt I didn’t hurt you

I can’t speak. I feel dulled and distant. The world is very far away. He stands across the room pleading with me. I am not capable of speech. I am a heap on the floor, arms wrapped around my knees. Head buzzing with pain a thousand miles wide but I can’t really feel it, I can’t focus, my eyes swim with the rich colors of southern France and I make a mantra of them: écarlate, aubergine, colza, sauge, lavende. I am no longer human. I am just this drone reciting exotic colors silently while he whisperbegs then shouts.

TALK. TO. ME.

I can’t. I can’t. My lips part but I have no sound. And this angers him. And he comes back.

*

I’ve lived it a hundred times. A thousand. A hundred thousand. How many hours are there in the days between then and now? I never blocked the memory. I never knew what to call it. It was a hug. It became something else. A hug with an erection (I am a weak, weak man please pray for me) and muscles and rage and resentment. Desperation too. And this bleak lostness that seeped in through my skin, pore by pore, in indigo-violet stains the shape of fingerprints.

I’ve felt sorry for him. I’ve wept. I’ve ranted. I’ve found the perfect rebuttal, rejection, comeback, karate chop … usually at 3 am. Five, ten, fourteen years too late. I’ve medicated. I’ve stared down the bottom of too many bottles. I’ve traced cartography across the surface of my skin, as if I could remap my life into countries where our paths never cross. But I trace with exacto knives, and turn my body into a never-ending hatch-cross of intersections. My veins sing his name, his need. Some days I know it wasn’t my fault.

Some days I still feel guilty. As if it is that August night all over again and I have driven away from a world I understood. Baffled by the nausea that overtakes me half an hour from his monastery, the vesperal chant still ringing in my memory. Panicky as I steer quickly off the road, throw myself out the car door in the middle of a deserted rural highway, and vomit over and over. As if I am still, always, arriving back in Lyon and parking my rental car and stumbling down a dark path to the door of my friends’ house, hearing them ask how my weekend was in the southwest, forcing a smile and lying: I’m tired – then inventing a family emergency so I can get out. I call the airline. I do not break down when the agent asks the reason for my ticket change. I do not sob through my halting words. I get the earlier ticket and rip the old one up. Then pack.

Back in Boston I stand before the mirror in my room, pull a T-shirt over my head and touch each bruise in turn. The shape of his hands, gripping my shoulders and arms, my ribcage, my hips. Steering me, smashing me against the wall over and over until I stop fighting.

Above the bruises, I don’t recognize the woman in the mirror. She is broken. Her eyes have darkened. A shroud hangs behind her smile. I hate her. I hate you, I whisper. And punch her down into nothing. I refuse to be that person.

It happened an ocean a continent a lifetime away. I fled and left it there. It has no place in my Cambridge apartment. I do not allow it in the tiny living room or the claw-footed bathtub with whimsically painted toenails. When I sit on the little deck above the garage downstairs, I do not clutch at my mysteriously aching throat, do not feel the rough fabric of his black habit against my neck or his forearm choking off my scream.

I join a church choir and sing with a group of middle-aged men who also love Gregorian chant. I think they are bemused by me, but they accept and welcome me, we get each other’s liturgy-nerd jokes about preface tonalities and the priest’s woeful Latin. Most of them carry wounds of one sort or another and half of them are gay. I fit right in. We cover our Sunday clothes with albs, white square-necked smocks; my hands disappear inside the belled sleeves. Richard (Uptight Richard, not Hippie Richard) begins each Latin Mass with the Gregorian Ave Maria and, from my spot at the back of the choir loft, invisible, I hum along.

One Sunday a woman from the congregation asks what I am doing there. This is my parish, I tell her. I’m here for Mass. She tsks. I feel the warning buzz in the back of my brain, his voice telling me this is not your place. The woman admonishes me – women do not belong in the chant choir – and stalks off. So maybe … maybe I am not a woman? I’m childless and divorced and likely to stay that way. I’m a tattooed traditionalist. I’m too afraid to date anyone longer than 5 minutes; eventually I stop trying. I don’t fit into any neat little Catholic boxes. Oh and I was sexually assaulted by a monk during confession … Quiet. That door slams closed and my whole skeleton shudders. I am not woman enough, or I am too much fallen woman. I don’t tell anyone anything. I can’t.

I develop anxiety I do not acknowledge. The palm of my right hand itches without etiology or explanation. Day, night, I have to wrench my left fingernails off my right palm; still they leave long red welts. Sometimes I run the pad of my thumb against my bottom teeth, when fingernails prove insufficient. Scratching the palm brings painful satisfaction that lifts and dissolves the moment I stop scratching.

And I stop going to confession. His hand flat against my lower back, the warm pressure. The furtive grasp before he offered to hear my confession. I was on my knees when he grabbed my hair. Alone in the empty wing where the monastery bookshop sat in burnished summer lull, lazy buzzing of golden bees and the small bells chiming non-liturgical hours. I confessed I had slipped backward and cut myself, back in Cambridge before I boarded the flight, and his fingers walked up and down the roadmap of my arm before he kissed it. Tears, tenderness. Then shock.

At 38 I rediscover an eating disorder I thought I had resolved two decades earlier. Weight falls off my body until the skirt I wore my first day of teaching is twice my width. I run 8-9 miles every day, around the lakes until the weather turns cold, then on a treadmill in the campus gym. In January I go back outside, running hard as I can, gasping, and when I trip on a root I fly across the sidewalk and hit a bench. Other runners stop and help me up. I straggle home and run the hottest shower I can, strip down and stare in the mirror. My body is unfamiliar, like an adolescent boy’s. The only familiar things are these bruises on my torso. When I step into the scalding shower I wash him away again, again, knowing I can never scrub him off. The bruise still hurts. Poke it to be sure. It still hurts.

I go to counselor after counselor and do not talk about him because – how?? A monk gave me a hug and now I am a mess. Yes I am eating (some; and forcing myself to throw it all up after). No I am not cutting. Instead I take up with a lover. It turns out he is married and lying, but by the time I discover this I am pregnant. I’m going to tell her about the baby, and it will probably end my marriage, he says, his voice grim and resentful. Instead his wife telephones me, white-hot livid, saying they will adopt the baby and I should go far away because he is not your man. You have no place in my home. At twelve weeks I feel a stabbing pain in my abdomen. The baby passes in the night, falls with a heavy plop into my toilet; I fish her out with a spoon and put her in the freezer. I bury her beneath the tree at the center of my backyard and bleed for three weeks.

Maybe I am not a woman. My body cannot do the one thing that sets women apart. I cannot keep a baby alive inside my womb. I am devastated. The lover … His wife is right. I have no place in her home. Or in my own. Or anywhere really. I will never be from here.

Years and travels and losses and blessings. My Dad, my cat, a dear friend. I stop running. I read Eat, Pray, Love and decide to do more of all of those. I board planes to Korea, Italy, Israel, Bali, Cambodia. Moscow, Singapore, Morocco, Portugal. I fall in love and give birth to two beautiful impossible miracle boys. They are my poems. The sorrow lifts from my eyes. One day I find I have gained eighty pounds. I still feel fifteen inside my skin, and don’t entirely understand when I got to be this old.

Out of the blue one morning I open my email and there he is. Like a bold slash across my inbox, stark and black, his name staining every message around it. I don’t even look at the other subject lines; I can’t see them. I cannot fathom that he has found my address. Written to me. On the computer. My mind stops processing information and suddenly I am convinced he has died and someone at the monastery is writing to tell me. Maybe they have found his stash of my letters. Maybe they know … they know.

He writes again and again. Eleven emails in eight days, each more peremptory than the last. TALK. TO. ME. The last is just a series of punctuation faces going from elated (:-D) to furious (>:-X). At the bottom he has attached a scan of one of my old letters. A card sent just after I flew back to Boston, in the summer of 2005.

I am back in the land of so much noise everywhere, everyone talking all the time. (Yelling. Walkie-talkies beeping loudly in the streets, their robot cues pinging off the concrete high-rises of Downtown Crossing.) I went back to Holy Trinity last Sunday but couldn’t talk about my time in France. (What a blessing, such a beautiful country, maybe one day we can set up a group and you can be our guide, I want to see the lavender fields…) There is just always so much going on here. So many events and activities and lectures and soirées and business meetings. And I want to say something – but I have no voice. (Forearm slams across my throat. Cut my tongue out so I can only weave my story into silk. Overtake me with blinding light and turn me into a bird.) I sometimes feel I could scream. But instead, I just go silent. Can you understand? (I know you have passions you cannot express. Ideas nobody else agrees with. A longing to be elsewhere, somebody else, in a life that slipped past you somehow. I get it and I am stony with grief and cannot condemn you, even now.) So I keep silence like a prayer. Like a gemstone. I cherish it. (Read: I will never tell.)

His last email arrives on Mother’s Day, a hammer hurled across the sky. It spurs me to action: call the Abbey, call a lawyer, send a cease and desist letter. I do, and even fly to France to meet with the Abbot and make an official – albeit late – report. I tell myself not to expect resolution, but I still want resolution. The silence afterward ticks onward, louder than a bomb. 

My heart has not slowed since then. My right palm has a permanent raw patch where I scratch at it even in my sleep. I have seen psychologists and psychiatrists and priests and lawyers and massage therapists and trauma counselors and a shaman – I have taken thirteen anxiolytics and nine anti-depressants and medications for phantom aches and weight loss and panic attacks and mystery nausea and compulsions – and still, still, he lives behind my eyes, his fingerprints dark on my skin, as if his whorls could pull the blood up from my veins and match its tint. My throat is raw from vomiting his pain. My pain. It is the same pain. I look in the mirror and the woman he ravaged still sinks to the floor, dazed and dumb and numb with terror. It is impossible – he has denied it, will go to his deathbed denying it – and the only truth.

I sometimes think he will show up at my door. I sometimes think I have made the whole thing up. I sometimes think I forgive him. I sometimes think of ending my life. I think sometimes he will burn me to the bone, until all remains of me is a whisper of prayer. And when I try to pray it is a whisper, Father forgive me, and I sometimes think no one ever hears it at all.

– by rosemary, Baton Rouge, 19 Feb 2021