Oh Daddy

Happy Father’s Day to all. I know that this day means something different to everyone. My dad is deceased. I remember after my dad passed away and I was living alone next to an abandoned house and I had to call the police one night because someone was inside of the house next door.

I felt very vulnerable and I remember thinking that my dad was no longer around to protect me. And then I remember thinking that he couldn’t have protected me anyway as he had been sick and wasting away for the past year and using a walker to get around and couldn’t drive anywhere on his own.

But none of that mattered. Dad still cared very loudly over the phone. And he was still in control of a lot of things. And to me, he would always be the dad you didn’t want to get angry and have to come up the stairs at night if you didn’t quiet down and go to sleep.

And he was the father who came and got me from a party halfway across town when I missed my ride somehow….most likely having a serious dramatic issue with someone that warranted further private discussion in the bathroom….

He was there and he fixed stuff. That’s what he did. He had no idea how to have a relationship with a teenaged daughter but he did try to teach me how to golf at one point, saying I showed great promise.

He was a royal pain in the ass but I wasn’t easy either and neither was my brother….or my mom. So, anyway, I miss him.

You know, I sort of have an idea how my parents affected my future relationships in life. I do get it. Patterns. Moods. Personalities. Kids don’t know their parents are human really. Any kind of drift from perfection is not seen as being human but rather something we as kids caused.

I don’t think those we love are ever truly gone. I think their words live on inside of us forever. Good or bad.

But there was one influence from my father that I was confronted with that made me balk. That was when my therapist, right after my abuse from the priest who tried to threaten and manipulate me into having sex with him, asked me what was it about my obsession with priests. And was I searching for a father figure.

That kind of makes me want to throw up a little.

But was there a grain of truth to that that even the therapist was overlooking?

The whole sex with the priest thing…..even if you take away the coercion part and the narcissistic tantrums and the games and everything…..well, what made it different with him than with any other boss who may have tried to pull this?

I told a friend of mine that the whole thing felt, for lack of a better word, “icky”. In fact, “icky” pretty much is a good description of the whole ordeal.

Because what you associate with God and goodness and purity and safety….and no matter what you want to keep telling yourself that God is involved in this…He must be after all, right…..gets twisted into something more than ugly and more than what ugly would be with any other boss.

And as the feeling of “ick” coats the inside of your soul with sliminess, what you realize later on is that….yes….this was like rape but also, this was like incest.

At our SNAP meeting the other night, we were discussing this difference. Although there is an imbalance of power and I agree that a spiritual leader should not also be a sexual partner, there is also a vast difference between a lonely priest looking for companionship and love and a smug control freak using his position as a shield of innocence and turning the blame on his victim while using them like a coffee maker and tossing them out when done with them.

That is evil. And it is evil disguising themselves as purity. And that is dangerous.

Priests who are truly looking for love and companionship oftentimes will leave their vocation. Many have.

I don’t know if psychologically I saw this priest as a father figure. I don’t think so really. But like I said, I don’t know what is going on inside my subconscious mind. I only know that my dad never believed that priests should be called “father” as only God is the father. And when I think about it, the whole matter did feel somewhat incestuous.

And of course, celibacy was only imposed for the financial benefit of the church. And they really don’t like having to acknowledge children of priests, of which there are many. And mothers who had their children taken away.

There is an evil being allowed to grow under a cloak of goodness. It is hiding behind all of the tapestries and gold and incense. It is hiding around the corner from pamphlets and hymns and bake sales and bibles.

It has nothing to do with good old boys having a weak moment and needing to repent. It has nothing to do with the modesty of a woman’s hemline or about what any church law says about the age of consent.

It has to do with Narcissistic and emotionally unstable people being drawn to an occupation where they have access to children and vulnerable people. And when I say vulnerable people, I am talking about every person who feels the need for forgiveness or who is feeling lost and afraid or who need prayers badly for a sick child….or anyone crawling out of the darkness in search of God’s light and guidance.

And what they are met with feels welcoming and kind. And they feel a warmth and an acceptance. And they open themselves up to this person of God that they trust with all of their heart and soul.

But once they feel bonded and close to this Godlike human, they are betrayed and destroyed by having all of their weaknesses and guilts and self-hatred turned against them. Looking for salvation, they will be led to destruction. By the sick individual who has been allowed to be protected so they can go on to destroy more souls. Not in the name of God. In the name of money and wealth and power.

And instead of looking into the actual problem, people generally find it easier to blame the victim. Easier to get rid of a tenant who is complaining about living conditions than it is to tear down the apartment building itself. The building still stands and nobody is the wiser.

So though I don’t really feel like the priest was anything like a father figure to me, although the whole deal did smack of incest. For one I think the therapist was trying to pull a Freudian connection. Also I think that may be because we are taught that priests are asexual and holy and we don’t swear around them or treat them as we would a friend or neighbor. There is a reverence and respect and a fear of offending a priest. We go into our holy Catholic (or whatever) mode.

Basically we are raised to see these people as if they were a member of the family. We grow up learning that there is a time and a place for things. When we are in a professional setting, we act accordingly.

When we go to see a doctor, even if we have never met them before, we may be expected to disrobe for them. And we feel safe doing so because there are assumed boundaries in place. And if that doctor crossed those boundaries and acted inappropriately, he or she would most likely lose their license.

But not so with priests. If you say a priest has acted inappropriately, you are the one interrogated and made to feel like an opportunist.

My abuser told me that I would not be able to pay for my new car if he was not happy. It was a car and a job. It was traumatic. But what if it was someone who was not trying to pay for a car? What if next time it is someone who is trying to feed their child? For my child, I would put them first and do what I needed to do to keep my job. And this is exactly the kind of vulnerability they look for. Someone who is good and caring. Leverage to use against someone.

This subject matter can get very dark and depressing. And I hate to acknowledge or give any power to these people. I hope that in talking about these things, I can help to teach or to help victims understand they are not alone.

But I’d like to close with something a bit lighter. A funny story about my mom.

One night last week I was talking to my mom, an elderly woman who is still active and for the most part, able to take care of herself.

Mom tells me she has “everyday” toilet paper and “luxury” toilet paper. Remember, she grew up in the depression. She felt like opening her luxury toilet paper one day….maybe to “enjoy the go”. Anyway, the roll of toilet paper popped out of her hand and ended up in the toilet bowl.

I would have thrown it out at that point. Not my mom. She took the wet roll and put it in the microwave to dry it out. After a minute or so, she removed the roll and it was a bit dryer and very soft.

She was excited at her success and cleverness so she decided if a little time in the microwave was good….more time in the microwave would be even better.

So she popped the roll back into the microwave, hit some button, and continued on with probably five other things. When she turned to check on the toilet paper in the microwave, she noticed it had turned a shade of brown and was now emitting smoke.

At this point, I would have tossed it into the sink. Not my mom. She didn’t want the kitchen to smell like smoke. She grabbed the smoking roll and put it in the window on the porch so the smoke would go outside.

Again leaving the scene of the crime, she goes back into the kitchen. After a minute or two, she goes back to check on the toilet paper, which is now sitting on the window ledge of the porch…..in flames.

Luckily the house did not burn down and my mom is okay. I forgot to ask her what she finally ended up doing with the toilet paper that she had tried to save.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Have a great week, everyone.

Shake it Off

There is a saying that you are what you eat. I believe that to be true. Some people are sensitive to certain food groups. Some even to the point where consuming certain foods could put their life in danger. We may feel that we are our bodies and therefore we know them well, but do we really? Our bodies can be our friends or they can betray us.

Food, environment, emotions, age, physical activity, heredity and the thoughts we think….these can and do affect the bodies we are born with and can change them for better or for worse.

But just how important are thoughts and feelings when it comes to our health and well being? As children, we are taught the important of getting enough sleep and eating our fruits and vegetables ad brushing our teeth and getting enough exercise, as well as the importance of doing well in school and excelling….but that is only part of being healthy and successful in life.

The truth is, we take in more than just food and drink and oxygen. We interact with others….some of whom may not be so nice….and we process feelings and thoughts and emotions….and the only feedback we get as children or as adults….is how to act politely and appropriately. Nobody really taught us what to do with the leftover emotions. We just learned that it was wrong to lie or to hit someone or to be mean. We learned how to act in order to be loved or to survive as children. And that meant something different to each of us.

There are people who have been physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually abused as children who grow up to carry those scars within them. The body remembers and stores those thoughts and that energy and although some of the memories have been blocked from the conscious mind, those feelings get embedded into who we are.

I’ve always thought that the brain was fascinating. Do you know that it is said that when we access a memory, we aren’t really remembering the actual event but the last time we thought about that memory? And each time we access that memory, it gets a little bit more distorted and faded, like if an original print were to be reprinted many times, it would eventually end up a faded reproduction of the original print. Yet, the memory can still bring up strong emotion. And emotions however long buried, can resurface when something triggers them. We may not even be conscious of what is going on within ourselves. Emotions get triggered. The brain remembers. The body reacts.

It happened one time not so long ago that a middle aged couple in the area was asleep in their beds one night when they were attacked viciously by an intruder trying to kill them with an ax. Neither one of them died immediately. The wife actually survived the attack. The man, however, got up the next morning, despite being severely wounded, and began to get ready to go to work. Heavily bleeding and on the verge of death, he began to make his lunch and to put things in the dishwasher before he ended up finally collapsing and passing away. I doubt he was consciously aware of anything but he was going through a routine that he had done many times before just out of habit and brain memory. It’s morbid and fascinating at the same time.

Conscious memory may be faulty, as anyone who forgets why they walked into a room can testify. But cell memory? Unconscious thought? They are the Uber drivers in our lives and we are along for the ride.

I never had an extremely traumatic childhood memory. My parents were alive and nobody ever physically attacked me or neglected me. However, mixed in with the message to always behave correctly and to never lose control and to fear the fires of Hell should a bad thought even cross my mind, there was always high energy and drama amidst emotional neglect, betrayal and role model dysfunction.

Everyone….my father, my mother and my brother….everyone but me had an extremely high level of energy. My mother never stops moving and her mind is always on 50 different things at a time. And nothing has ever been right and needs to be done now or redone. If I didn’t complete something right away, I would go back and it would be done. She would redo things I had done. I couldn’t be babied….I had to take care of my own emotions, but I was also considered too young….for most of my life….to make any decisions on my own.

My dad, too, was always in a state of flux. Nobody ever spoke at dinner except my father, who would rant about the state of the world, neighbors, the bible, politics, whatever. I don’t think I consciously remembered eating dinner until I left home. My dad was either extremely up….making up silly songs and dances and teasing everyone with high energy….or very low yelling, and upset and totally unable to handle social functions beforehand. I know this now to be called anticipatory anxiety….we didn’t have a name for it then. But once around people and with drink in hand, he was loved by all for his social skills and sense of humor. Ironically, my dad would say that women were inferior because they could not handle their emotions. More mixed messages.

My brother was handsome and smart. Very smart. And I had to follow him in school. And I watched as we got to be teenagers and he was always drinking or getting caught doing something. And I was his protector and confidant. And in return, he would betray my trust in the worst ways possible. And I loved him fiercely but found that I could never be vulnerable or close to him. I could never save him. And I would need to protect my children from him.

My family told me that I was the quiet one, the calm one, and I was indeed many times the one who held it all together. I didn’t know then there was also a name for that in a family. Scapegoat. The one who has the emotion misdirected at them.

It’s called being an adult child of an alcoholic and supposedly there are more mental health issues with these adults than in the “general public”. All I do know is that for me, all of the energy that was stored inside…absorbed over the years, seemed to come at me whenever there was a conflict. Maybe as an adult without the rest of the bunch to be calm for, it all kind of let loose.

After I left my husband….the first time….the storm hit. Panic attacks, agoraphobia, inability to sleep followed by sleep paralysis when I finally did sleep.

And this frequently happens to children who have grown up in alcoholic homes, homes with incest, homes with mentally ill parents, homes with hypochondriac parents, or homes that are very strict or physically abusive.

Despite living in a state of self-imposed Hell, I didn’t miss work, I supported and fed and took care of my children, and I never drank or did drugs in order to cope. I’m not saying that to imply that I felt any stronger than anyone else or better than. I was just lucky enough not to fall into that trap. Maybe it was because I had seen what that could do. Maybe because I was already in therapy….basically the only one in my family to go….and I was able to get help there.

And I thank God that I did because I had no one. No emotional support or anyone who really understood. And it was not something you talked about. And I didn’t even know what was going on. What’s a panic attack? The thing is….I believe that so many people can identify with my family and with the stumbling blocks in my life.

What’s ironic is that my brother lost his children, called in to work frequently, and partied quite a bit. And caused tremendous upheaval in the family. And yet, he went to rehab for a month or so, did not work during that time, got everyone’s attention and support and that was okay. But I was chided for being too old to fall apart.

Another thing that was ironic is when I had treatment for cancer I remember seeing my mom crying when they took me to surgery. And I thought…..this is nothing. This is so simple. Why would she cry? The answer is because that’s the time she was raised in. You held a stiff upper lip until your body fell apart and then everyone cries and they cry again if you die. But no nonsense in between. Cut that crap out right now, sister.

After I got fired for not having sex with the priest (and that is the way I am going to phrase that from now on, thank you, M.) I ended up in the E.R., twice in six months. The first time for gastrointestinal issues and the second time because I thought I was having a heart attack and I still don’t know what happened except for working in the basement moving stuff for someone to move in and then sitting down to watch tv and having a pain climb up my back and into my chest like I was trying to pass a golf ball. It was not a blood clot, it was not a heart attack, but my markers were very high for a heart issue. So….stress I guess. I was working two jobs and trying to recover from what I thought happened to just me because I did something wrong.

So, yes, emotional stuff can come out in many ways. But I don’t regret anything at this point. I think healing is a lifelong journey. And I don’t apologize for seeming a bit angry. It is good to acknowledge a problem. Not to be a victim, not to carry around blame, but to know and to understand.

And they say you really begin to heal when you begin to help others. So, experience be damned. Here I am torn apart and pieced back together. In the company of other survivors.

Be good. Take the survey. Yes, I’m looking for advice. Asking for help. Another sign of strength, right? Have a great week.

Hot and Cold

The first thing I want to share this week is that we found out that my two year old grandson is autistic.

This is my youngest son’s only child and the news comes only two months after his best friend lost his 12 year old autistic son when he passed away in his sleep. I was over there the other night for the first time since we heard the news and you know how hard it sometimes is to have a toddler….now they have an autistic toddler….and they have a lot of tension already in their relationship as my son and the baby’s mom have discussed breaking up and it’s not a great situation so if anyone has any experience or knowledge they can share about the care of Autistic children, I’d appreciate it.

Another thing I ran across this week is from the Minnesota Supreme Court. They have ruled that a woman was not raped because she was voluntarily drunk when she met her attacker. This was a ruling released last Wednesday. To meet the definition of rape, according to a unanimous decision, the alcohol has to be administered to the person without that person’s agreement. Therefore, the alleged rapist cannot be charged with a felony because mental incapacitation is only relevant if a person got drunk involuntarily.

Yes, there are many cases of people being drugged without their knowledge, but this ruling is really walking a tight line. Especially since there are so many instances of rape on college campuses. At what point do you cross the line from a voluntary case of liquor reducing inhibitions to taking advantage of someone who is passed out or who is too inebriated to make a rational decision?

Young people especially, in my experience, are more likely to over-drink and not know when to stop. I know they exist, but you don’t hear as much about people in their 50’s getting together for the sole purpose of getting wasted every weekend. Younger people are also less likely to think anything bad is going to happen to them.

I’m using younger people as an example because I was young and stupid once. I remember when drinking meant drinking until you passed out or got sick. Takes awhile for you to learn how much fun that is not and that you can drink “politely”.

Of course, age doesn’t matter. Ruling that someone asked for it because they got drunk willingly is like saying a prostitute cannot be raped because they have sex for a living or that a person cannot be raped by their spouse because they are married. Each case is different and you can’t make a general ruling such as this court did. That is so damaging.

I also had the honor this week of reading a bit of a book that was written by a survivor before it will be published. It is excellent and when it is published, I will say more about it. Recommended book this week is, “Moral Injury and Beyond” by Renos Papadopoulos.

I also talked with someone for a long time about a long term relationship they have had and how it has impacted their life. It made me think more about trauma bonding.

When you think about why someone stays with a person who abuses them and why they don’t press charges against them, or why a person held hostage may bond with their captor, it may make you wonder what is wrong with that person.

I remember again years ago being in a bar with my friend when her abusive boyfriend who would beat her, walked in and gave us flowers and bought us all drinks. I left them there together and went home without taking the flower or drink the drink he’d bought me. My mom told me I had been rude to not drink the drink he had bought for me. I said I didn’t care.

It’s upsetting to see someone you love seduced back into Hell. It’s horrible to feel helpless. To see what is going on and to not be able to break that bond.

And yet, I’ve been there myself. I didn’t see it as clearly because sometimes I think it’s harder to see when there is no physical violence involved.

In trying to understand more about trauma bonding, I was reading a bit about the game of ping pong that gets people hooked. There are so many parts of this puzzle, of course, like past history and such, but I think it is put best by the person who said to me….”If you went on a first date with someone, and they punched you in the face, you would not go on a second date”. Most likely not.

But if you went out with a person and they asked you all about yourself and exuded love and a sense that you were the “bees knees”, and you developed a loving connection with that person, there would be a second date. And as each date progressed pleasantly, you would probably decided that this is a good person. You might imagine yourself having a future with this person. You begin to fill in the blanks with fantasy. This is probably normal stuff that people go through. Until it’s not.

Trauma bonding comes from hitting the highs of love and good feelings and happy endorphins having picnics and toasting marshmallows in your brain and then having those feelings removed suddenly. For whatever reason.

A fist to the head. A phone call that never comes. Being ignored. Having the person you love suddenly turn cold and reject you in some way. Boldly lying. Cheating. Stealing. Whatever it is, the behavior does not match the Heaven that once was your world.

I’m not talking about a normal healthy relationship here. I’m talking about being used by a narcissistic abuser. I’m talking about the deliberate love-bombing and withholding of love as reward and punishment that goes along with this relationship.

You feel hurt. Damaged. Devastated. But in your head, when the cold bucket of water hits the campfire and the endorphins are left with soggy marshmallows, they cry out for more dry firewood and a new bag of marshmallows while you’re at it. And they search for it in the last place where they got it. From the source that you are sure is really a great person.

So when the flowers and the apologies arrive, it is a relief for all. And it feels so good to once again feel the warmth of the fire that like being hooked on a drug, you begin a cycle of reward and withdrawal.

You would think common sense would prevail. It’s easy to judge from the outside. But rewards differ from person to person. Each person is drawn in by what they need. And each abuser knows how to give what is needed. And they also know what their victim fears losing. That is one of the things that gives the abuser their power.

It has been said that people gravitate towards pleasure but try to avoid pain. And of those two, the avoidance of pain is the biggest motivator.

So it would seem that losing the trauma bond is perceived as more painful than to actually continue within its grasp. Is that because the trauma bond destroys the sense of self and the person fears they cannot depend upon themselves alone?

In my first job interview after I was fired from the diocese, I was given the job and they told me that I was chosen out of a room full of other applicants. Yet, my first day on the job, as I drove to the office, I had to keep telling myself that I would be fine and that I knew what I was doing. I know that I was still suffering from PTSD.

You’re fired. You can’t be here. No, wait, you quit, remember? Yes, that’s what happened, we agreed you quit. Hurry up and fill out the paperwork for unemployment and start looking for work. I had no confidence. I was afraid of not doing things right. I’d never been fired before….and then told I left because I wanted to. So I didn’t know what to say to my new employers.

And yet, I felt the need to talk to him. Still. I was an emotional mess because of him but I hadn’t realized that yet. I thought he could provide me with answers. I didn’t understand how I could be discarded and replaced so easily. It hurt. I still had so much to learn. The first thing I learned was that I had already talked to him and had never gotten a straight answer. So many people need for the abuser to understand their pain. They go back to thinking about the love they were shown and think that would make a difference.

But it wouldn’t make any difference. The Narc has a heart of ice. That’s another hard lesson to learn after the discard.

It’s hard to judge someone else’s progress as well. My son will tell me he knows what is happening in his relationship. And then he will step right into the mix knowingly. I’ve realized that I can be here for him but I have to let go of trying to save him.

The survivor I spoke with at length told me that they had been in a long term relationship with someone who was potentially dangerous. But they told me things had changed because they themselves had changed. So the other person was no longer in charge. They felt they had more power. So they don’t feel the need to let go. Perhaps that is so. They said at one time they didn’t care how badly they were treated as long as they had this person in their life. They feel they have grown since then.

Hopefully we all grow from our pain. Before I got divorced, I used to write page after page of emails to my ex-husband, practically begging him to budge slightly. What I began to realize was that you can write an entire book using the same words over and over again. The order the words are in don’t change a thing when the person is not listening. And that’s all I had been doing. Same thing over and over expecting different results. So lost in the forest I could not see the trees.

Insanity. Basically we are all broken to some extent.

I don’t know what makes someone more susceptible to trauma bonding. What makes one person see the red flags and another person just see the good in someone and get sucked in? I do know that it is an unhealthy bond and one that can be incredibly painful to break. You can come out the other end broken.

Are we searching for the love we feel we weren’t given? Are we so used to drama that we don’t know what life is like without it? Are we so desperate to feel something that we will become dependent on someone else doling out the drug? To merely end up in a state of existence suffering the pain of withdrawal when it is not available?

Have we learned anything at all?

Yes, I think we have learned something very important. And that is that it is not the abuser or the abuse that made us strong. We were and are strong already.

We survived.

Mama Mia

Sometimes I hate what I do.

I mean, I like the people but I hate the subject matter.

This past week, I went to a political rally outside the capital building aimed at the passage of a bill to assist those Abused as Adults. It was an emotional gathering. I was the only SNAP person there, and it was kinda funny because I introduced myself to one of the speakers and she said, “I know who you are. I’m on your mailing list.”

So that night, I was talking to my mom on the phone and when she asked me what I did that day, against my better judgement, I told her. She was very concerned that someone there knew who I was. Because as she said, in her day, these things just happened and nobody talked about them.

And once again, she pointed out that because I was not raped, I was not really abused. This is a reminder that we are just beginning to enlighten people and change the view society holds on what abuse is. And trying to change a long-held belief is not always possible.

And although I knew that it was best to let it go, it made me feel so incredibly alone and it made me doubt myself. I mean, there is always the emotional side to everything. That side that says “don’t make waves”, “pretend you don’t see anything”, “just be a good girl, not a rebel”.

But there are two sides to this coin. I don’t want to upset my mom. And the child inside wants to make her happy. But there also comes a time in our lives when we realize that in some sense we are alone and that our thoughts and decisions may come at a price. They may separate us from the pack. It’s a vulnerable feeling but the truth can sometimes be a lonely thing.

There’s that thing about abuse, you see. It can’t always be seen. It’s not about how hard you fought or how many bruises you have. Sometimes it is. But the abuse of power does not always come with a fist at the other end.

Besides opening my eyes to what goes on behind the veil and what the church doesn’t want you to know, my experience with the priest taught me so many things about myself and my own ongoing struggle to search for a sense of balance and my attempt at staying afloat in my life.

And my initial beliefs that I should not make waves, pretend I didn’t see what was happening and to try to be invisible and to please everyone and not speak up….those beliefs weren’t working for me anymore.

But I sit here, ready to burst, because I don’t know how to fix things.

Except to talk about them. Acknowledge them. You, you there reading this….you are vulnerable. I know you don’t believe me. You are too smart. Too worldly. Too street-wise. You’ve got things under control.

It’s there. The invisible cloak that envelopes us with a false sense of security. We don’t see it but we can feel it. Something is off.

At our meeting tonight, I shared that one of the reasons I wasn’t able to see what was happening with the priest was my own distrust in my gut feelings and judgement. I tend to tell myself that I should not feel anything unpleasant. And if I do, it is not because of someone else, but because of my own shortcomings. I “should” always feel calm and pleasant. I “should” always feel in control.

So if someone is being a total ass or crossing over my boundaries….and what are boundaries…..I am the one who tries to fix and make pleasant and not let anything get out of control. It’s my go-to move. Narcissists love it.

And we learn this stuff and we continue to teach this stuff. Don’t speak. Don’t show emotion. You don’t get to have any emotions. You are responsible for others’ behavior. So stuff it down any way you can.

We also talked a little bit tonight about how evil can disguise itself as good. I went back to the cat story my priest told me and everyone. What a good man. So patient. He just sat and watched the feral cat every day for months. Little by little he drew her in and got her to trust him. Until the day came when she stepped foot into his apartment and the door slammed behind her. Trapping her. Well, that was the version I got. Other people just got that he was patient and kind to animals. I got the evil version. Come to my place and my cat will kill you.

But what gets me most about non-physical violence is that people will call these predators brilliant. They know the play book. There are actually books that discuss their secret codes. They have the advantage. They leave their victims feeling the need to forgive them and to turn the other cheek. Survivors struggle with this concept alone for years.

What gets me is that they can actually break people to the point where someone will feel they have no choice but to degrade themselves in the hope that the torture will stop. But instead it just intensifies. The bar gets raised higher while the victim’s self esteem plummets and their depression and desire for self harm increases. Because I only knew one priest. And he had other victims. And probably still does. He is out there deliberately destroying people. And he is only one of many.

Sometimes I do really hate what I do. I hate it. It was bad enough to live through it. And sometimes, truthfully, it gets to be too much sometimes. Sometimes it feels like there is too much evil and too little we can do about it.

But you know what? There’s also a lot of concrete in this world. And dandelions push their way through. They do what seems to be impossible because they are resilient. Be the dandelion.

Have a good week….don’t forget to take the poll.

Brian Toale11:59 AM (5 hours ago)
to Brian

Hello all –

We’ve picked up a bunch of new sponsors on the ASA and really want to continue that momentum into the final couple of weeks of session. Please follow @SafeHorizon and @JessSchafroth on twitter. Many coalition members also frequently post about the ASA. Please also follow @Alisonturkos @agrenell @MHoechstetter @ModelAllianceNY @Michael Polenberg @NYSPACL

We need to amplify the ASA as much as possible and continue to push for additional co-sponsors and a floor vote.

The Daily News editorialized in favor of the ASA today.
https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-edit-what-survivors-deserve-20210524-3zdkxz644jdptip55blbiguedm-story.html

We still need survivor testimonials; one-to-two page stories to share with members. This is the NUMBER ONE thing we’ve been asked for and we don’t have very many to share. Please send asap so we can distribute!!! We can share with name or without names. These stories are so important, and that personalization is what is so difficult about doing this advocacy remotely. Members need something tangible. The CVA was about policy and it was also about Bridie and Tom and Amelia and Brian, etc. Let us help tell your story and the story of your clients.

Thank you so much!!!! We have a lot of momentum with us. Let’s kick it up even more for the final few weeks.  

Jessica Schafroth

Vice President

Have You Seen Me Lately

Before I begin, I want to share that in Albany, NY, there is a bill gaining momentum in the state legislature aimed at making it easier for adult survivors of sexual assault and abuse to file lawsuits. This bill comes about due to society beginning to recognize sexual abuse and the abuse of power.

This is huge. Things are beginning to happen. Can you imagine what would happen if people began coming forward? Just the recognition alone.

I heard Governor Cuomo, who is under scrutiny at this time for abuse of power and sexual harassment, say that making someone uncomfortable is not sexual harassment…..that is just how the person feels and has nothing to do with the actions of the alleged harasser. It’s just that you can’t take a joke. Loosen up a bit.

I read once that sexual harassment can deeply affect a person and create PTSD.

What does PTSD feel like? How does it manifest itself? Once I went camping. I had to get to a telephone quickly to call my son. My friend lent me her bike. I hadn’t been on a bike in years. I am short. She is tall. The bike was too big for me. I still tried to ride it. I ended up going face first into the blacktop on the road. I broke my wrist and my front teeth.

I went to the dentist and got my teeth fixed. I went to the ortho guys and got my arm splinted up and in no time at all, you couldn’t tell that anything had happened to me.

On the outside.

On the inside, though…..my brain thought it still needed to protect me. Night after night I would dream that something was coming at me and was going to hit me. Night after night I would wake up suddenly in a panic. I no longer feared the accident as much as I began to fear the dream it seemed that I could no longer control.

Then one night, when the dream came, I told myself within the dream that I was dreaming. Don’t ask me how. But on that night, when something came flying at my face, I was able to catch it before it hit me.

The dreams ended then as quickly as they had started. Had I resolved some issue? I don’t remember. I was just glad it was over. It had been exhausting waking up gasping like someone had just punched me.

So PTSD can linger. It can be triggered. When asked if I wanted to see my predator priest face to face I said no. Because it’s not just the words or what eventually happened that can send me hurling backward. It’s how it made me feel about myself.

I was talking to some adult survivors at our weekly meeting and we had a nice talk about so many feelings we had in common.

When someone compliments you, it makes you feel good. A kiss can flood your brain with endorphins. But when you have a voice inside that tells you that you shouldn’t be feeling good or that you shouldn’t stick around for the kiss, there is no reward. No immediate payoff. It kinda sucks. Nobody wants to feel like they are missing out on a reward.

So I hear people say, “I shouldn’t have done that. I don’t know why I did that. It was wrong.” Don’t “should” on yourself. Stop it. We are human. We are programmed to want to be rewarded.

Well, you can’t move forward by kicking yourself over and over for something you can’t change. You can destroy yourself in doing that, though.

Someone asked me tonight how it feels to go to mass and to see “my” priest. I explained that I don’t. He only said mass at the diocesan building where I worked. I was fired. I was escorted from the building. I assume that means I’m not welcome to go visit. I was told never to contact him. That was the best thing that could ever have happened. I hear so many people still stuck with mixed emotions because of close proximity to the church or going to mass and seeing their abuser.

Along with not blaming yourself, get far away from the situation. No contact. You cannot get back at or even with your abuser. Trying to hurt them back in any way is most likely going to end up causing you harm. I’m not saying to let it go. I’m saying to get away from them. Put distance between you and them

We’ve talked about Narcissistic abuse and maybe a little about co-dependency. We have discussed power and the draw that it holds. But there is something we really haven’t talked about. And you may not like it.

It kind of goes like this….don’t depend upon someone else to love you. They have their own issues. I have some close friends. One I can tell almost anything to. The other one is fun to hang out with but it doesn’t get much deeper than that and I’ve accepted that because the friendship is important and I know she has emotional limits.

For some of us, especially those of us who hate conflict, the appeal of love-bombing and the all-loving acceptance and handing over the reigns to someone else and just going along with it….is like a little bubble of heaven. Just stick me to someone else and we will never have any problems because I will never say anything and I will just iron and make cheesecake.

Trust me, this does not work. But it does feel promising. And it really really really seems like the right thing to do when you feel the need to walk on eggshells around someone. And we all know that someone. Somewhere.

Woman have been raised generally to smile and to say we are fine. We are afraid of being a bitch. We accept behavior that makes us feel uncomfortable because we don’t want to cause trouble for anyone. And we don’t want to make things more uncomfortable.

We mistake expressing feelings for being an unpleasant person. We try to take care of someone else. We try to control relationships. We are afraid of losing someone. Or of losing people we love. Or losing our job. So we say nothing.

And when you are talking about a predator who targets vulnerabilities, it is never the victim’s fault.

And I never feel that we should blame ourselves. Guilt and shame and self-blame are destructive and do nothing good. We all need to relearn the bad habits we have been taught.

It’s not easy to express feelings. It can be scary. It’s something that I will be learning how to do for the rest of my life. Because you always run the risk of failure. Hurt. Pain. Rejection. The end of a relationship. But unless you are willing to let go of someone who is not good for you, and to accept being alone fully, you will always look to someone else for your source. And that makes you vulnerable to abuse.

In all fairness, it can be dangerous in this world of ours to openly speak your mind. But I’m not advocating slugging anyone. Pay attention to your feelings. Respect your feelings. Express feelings without attacking anyone.

Governor Cuomo says that he is not responsible for how his actions are perceived by another. Okay, but who’s going to tell the governor not to touch them? When someone has the power, there is a power differential. When you are dealing with a person who can use their power to hurt you if they don’t get the response they feel entitled to, trust me, it can be like the devastation of a tornado and you are disposable. So you smile and say that you are fine.

Practice self-forgiveness and self-advocating. Allow your feelings. Let go. Move forward. Be not afraid.

Have a wonderful and safe week.

The Circle Game

First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to all. I am very fortunate to have my mom still around and one of my sons dropped off flowers and I heard from my other two as well. I kind of adopted an adult relative so I consider him a son too as he has no other family. I even heard from my ex-husband which I thought was nice and what I think all fathers of children should do for those children’s mothers….as it shows respect. In a perfect world, anyway. I wonder what he wants….

You know, we have survived the abuse of a trusted religious leader and the fallout abuse from those who helped with the coverup of the crime. I say “survived” meaning if you are reading this, you are alive. So what now?

Who comes into your inner circle on a daily basis? So many people who have been abused by clergy have known abuse their whole lives. Some go on to become abusers themselves. Others never learn how to survive in this world. We are all broken in some way.

As I said last time, we tend to not see people as they are but as we are. As we try to get along with others and understand who they are and what we have in common, we may make assumptions to streamline the process. First impressions. We see someone through our own colored glasses.

Sometimes we may assume that we have something in common with a person because we have gone through similar experiences or because we like the same things but then find that is where the similarity ends.

Within my own family there are stark differences. If you are an artist who grows up in a family that values money and ambition over everything else, you may end up not valuing yourself for who you are or downplaying the importance of what you enjoy. Or you may find that trying to talk to a family member is like talking to someone from another planet. There is just no common ground for understanding each other and you see things in totally different ways.

You may think that as survivors, we all share the same mindset. In truth, some of us have healed more than others. Our religious views, though perhaps similar, can greatly affect our healing process. Our different upbringing and past experiences may be different as well.

Some people turn to mood altering substances. That too, can affect healing. I once read that if someone uses a mood altering substance to get them through a tough time, that they never really process those emotions and they get stuck. I don’t know. I have lived on the outside of that issue. Or should I say the perimeter.

And living on the perimeter tends to make you feel angry and resentful. And you stop trying to find common ground.

But when you are working with a survivor who has substance abuse issues, you have to let your own past experience go and be non-judgmental. And you need to try to relate. That’s easier to do when you are not personally involved with a person.

The reason I bring that up is because we all have sub-sections in our lives. Areas that don’t match others. And when we can’t relate to someone else’s struggle, we can sometimes become judgmental. We as survivors can relate to being judged and found morally bankrupt by others.

It’s not always easy to accept someone else’s imperfections and not reject the entire person. And it’s not always easy to understand something we have not been through.

But every once in awhile the lines get crossed and we can see. Just like being on the receiving end of abuse from the priest and the system in place for coverup at the diocese allowed me to see the corruption within the priesthood, something that once happened to my younger son allowed me a glimpse into how I live in a world of white privilege.

When my son was a teenager, he was hanging out with a group of his friends from high school and he asked one of them who had a car to take him to his job at Wendy’s so he could pick up his paycheck. Of the probably five guys in the car, my son was the only white kid.

The Wendy’s where my son worked was located outside of the main city limits. So….different police unit. A police unit that obviously found a car full of black teenage guys pulling into a Wendy’s parking lot suspicious for some reason.

As my son’s friend parked the car, they all saw a police car had pulled in behind them. These guys were not just about keeping an eye on things. They had their guns drawn. At my son and his friends.

At my son and his friends.

At MY SON.

They were told to get out of the car and asked what their business was. In a Wendy’s parking lot. Seriously.

How easy it would be to say this was somebody else’s problem had my son not had a gun pointed at him. Teenagers. Mouthy. Stupid. Teenage boys. This could have gone so very wrong. I imagine they must have been terrified. I didn’t hear about this until years later.

That’s scary stuff. And that’s why when we find we can’t relate to someone who doesn’t entirely “fit” into our circle for one reason or another because we don’t have the same issues, it’s important to respect their struggle.

We can’t like everyone. We don’t have to even. But when it comes to SNAP groups and life in general, even if we can’t relate or if we can’t find anything in common or if you feel someone causes their own problems or you wouldn’t want to be someone’s friend, everyone has a backstory and everyone faces their own heartaches and challenges.

I know that acceptance is kind of confusing when we are trying to set up boundaries. And I’m not suggesting a blanket “love everyone” mindset. You don’t have to give a second thought to anyone who treats you with disrespect. But I am suggesting that rarely is something totally somebody else’s problem. We all live in this world and we are all connected in some way.

Put up your boundaries for people and things that would harm you. But keep your mind open to people and things who seem different from yourself as you may have more in common than you think.

Diamonds and Rust

I have heard it said that until you learn a lesson, it will keep repeating.

Let me be clear, I’m not blaming anyone for what was done to them. What I am saying is….do you ever ask yourself why a certain something always seems to happen to you?

I have also heard that if you don’t love yourself, you will keep attracting people around you who don’t love you either. And I am pretty sure that knowing that and doing something about it are two different things.

For instance, I know the thoughts I have that get me into trouble. They come automatically and because they are presented to my conscious mind from somewhere deep within, I’m thinking these thoughts reflect the truth. So then feeling gets involved. Especially if I try to ignore thought. Feeling keeps poking thought into action. Thought might say…it didn’t work last time. But feeling will answer….yes, but this is different.

I also heard the saying that we don’t see people as they are. We see people as we are.

So when that priest or whoever seems to care about us, or when it becomes a game of puzzles that we are supposed to solve and that makes you feel so connected a secret that only the two of you share, endorphins may start to fire off and emotion wants more of that.

And emotion may want to silence thought or convince thought that it’s confused because thought can block fantasy who has now danced into the picture to fill in the gaps and emotion loves fantasy.

Ego wants to take center stage now because it’s heard that someone wants to know all about the self and it’s thrilled. Especially if it hasn’t put on its tap shoes and put on a show for anyone in a long time because of loneliness. Loneliness has put ego on the shelf where it has grown dusty and covered in rust.

Endorphins, connection, emotion, fantasy, ego and loneliness. They get strummed like strings on a guitar by a master player. Thought and its friend, logic can yell all they want, and are sometimes heard over the noise of the party. But if question comes along, it will be met at the door by the bouncers…..blame and gaslighting.

We get played and we feel the fool. And then we are afraid because somehow we didn’t protect ourselves. We believed. We needed that love-bombing. We must be so weak and pathetic.

We are victims and we feel as stupid and vulnerable as we did when we were four years old and wanted to hang out with our big brother and his friends and they made you do something stupid because you didn’t know any better.

And like that child who trusted because they wanted to belong and to be liked, we were deliberately tricked into thinking that we weren’t enough. That in order to be good enough to keep receiving praise and acceptance, we had to be somehow better than we were and if we had someone telling us that we weren’t worth it…someone who once told us down to our soul that we were better than we believed ourselves to be….then we will do anything to prove that we are worthy.

Anyway, that’s how at the age of 3 or 4, I ended up with my underwear around my ankles in the middle of a circle of older boys snickering and basically doing what they called “playing doctor” in order to join their club and get to hang out with them.

Anyway, I had been triggered like that before and since. And I have discovered that my thoughts have a very interesting conversation with my emotions. It goes something like this:

Did that person mean something by that? I think they may have. (Women are especially good at this unspoken game) Well it certainly sounded like they were flirting. You know, word play. Oh, that is clever. I like clever. I think I’m supposed to do something. Am I supposed to do something? What am I supposed to do? What if I don’t do anything and they stop giving me attention? I don’t want that to happen. I like feeling special. I am special, right? I mean, they think so, right? Didn’t they kind of say that? Oh, I’m so stupid. Why would they like me? Wait, look at the way they just looked at me. They do like me. What do I do now? I mean, what if I do something and they think I’m inappropriate? Or worse yet, I get rejected? Oh, I’m stupid, stupid, stupid. I don’t even know what real love is supposed to look like. Other people are better at this. They seem to know what they are doing. Maybe they just need a sign from me that I like them too. Oh, look, it worked. They winked and then they walked out the door. That means they like me, right? Oh, I can’t wait until we can get together and tell each other how we feel.

Alright that was embarrassing. But when thoughts bump into emotion, things can get a little crazy. This isn’t just about romantic relationships…this can be for friendship, family….whatever. When I look at all the self talk above, I can summarize it a bit.

I may not have a great track record and I don’t know what someone else is thinking or feeling. If they throw out crumbs…like a wink here or….well, you know….and we eagerly catch them for fear of losing the crumbs, it’s not a good situation. Also, if we should begin to make excuses for when the crumbs are constant but there’s not a cookie in sight, that is not a good situation. And if you should feel the need to be a caretaker or to save someone or if you are doing 90% of anything to keep it alive…..that is not a good situation.

I know that might sound obvious, but that is where I have gotten hung up in the past. And I am sure many other people can relate as well.

It can also be found under constructing boundaries and putting your own needs before the needs of someone else. Isn’t that selfish, you ask? Oh, how Catholic of you, I answer. No. it’s necessary. That is where you start.

Again, we all don’t have emotional abuse or alcoholism or incest or mental illness in our backgrounds. But we can all get misled and mistake drama for love. And we can get hooked on drama. And crumbs. And it’s damn hard to stop once you start. Once you start saving someone or taking care of them before yourself. Or having fantasy fill in the details that someone needs saving or is having emotional issues. Or reasons why they can’t love you back fully so you need to pick up the yoke and start pulling to show just how strong your love is.

Love is not about handing someone else the controls.

This Little Light of Mine

It’s been quite a number of years now since my ex-husband and I woke up in one of the bedrooms of a rustic lake cabin that belonged to the parents of one of his friends. A lot of partying had gone on the night before. We were young then. I was 24 at the time and he was 25. These were his friends we had stayed with…mostly guys. One of my friends had come along because she like the guy who owned the cabin. There had been lots of beer and cigarettes and I’m sure there had been some pot…and porn. There were probably about ten of us there that night.

I think I had gone to bed soon after they broke out the porn so I was one of the first ones out of bed the next morning. The place was a mess. Ashtrays piled high. Beer cans and bottles littered every surface. Plates with old food stuck on them anywhere but in the sink. So I did what I was always programmed to do….start cleaning up. But it wasn’t long before one of our friends got up as well and told me to let it go and sit down with him to play a video game for just a bit. Sounded good to me, so I did.

We had not been playing for ten minutes when the rest of the crew decided to rise and shine. Though it was not late in the morning, for some reason, my ex had a bug in his bonnet….might have been because his mother was watching our kids and he got very anxious about things when it came to his mother….and he decided that now that he was up, it was time to get going. He pretty much demanded that I stop what I was doing immediately and hop to it.

Someone threw up a protest….may have been me….may have been his friend….I’m thinking it was his friend….just let us finish this game, we will be done soon.

Well, he (my ex) blew his stack. Remember now, he had just gotten out of bed pretty much and went from taking a slurp of black coffee to helping everyone pack up. Whether he was jealous that I was playing a game with his friend, or anxious that his mother would not want to watch the kids one minute later than planned, I’ll never know. He was pretty much always short on conversation and big on blame. All I know is that words came flying out of his mouth that pretty much stopped everyone in their tracks.

Pick this place up! Make the bed! You are f’ing lame!

I wanted to walk out and get into the car and drive home and leave him there. But for one thing, we were kind of out in the middle of I don’t know where and this was before GPS. And I knew getting him angrier wasn’t going to help anything. So I stopped playing the game and made our bed and continued to clean up after the party so the guys could finish their packing and go outside to hang out. I do remember hanging out and more people coming over so, I guess we did not leave right away.

But when we got home, I let him have it, right? No. Why? I think it was because I felt powerless. And because I felt like I had no power, I also had no boundaries. We were married. We had a house. We had two children. I understand how people get themselves locked into situations. You don’t see an escape. So you use every ounce of power you have to keep things running and keep everyone okay.

It would take another four years before I would leave and go back to my parents’ house. But there again lay another prison. With my parents’ issues and my brother’s problems and my kids just being kids and raising the noise and tension levels, it’s hard to change what you know. Chaos. Drama. Raised adrenaline and cortisol. I was working full time, coming home and trying to raise my kids while becoming a child once again in my mother’s house. Going to school at night when going to school meant actually going to the university and sitting in the library reading books and then coming home with my books tucked under one arm and a can of diet Pepsi in my other hand and being greeted at the door by my dad who disgustedly said, “Just like your brother, always a drink in your hand”.

Now, I’ve said my dad was a mean drunk. I don’t want to draw the wrong picture here. My dad was a force. Energy. Intelligence. He was a hard worker. He was very verbal. He and his dad built the house I grew up in. He worked his way up from lineman working nights at the dock to take classes in law and become the head of a major department in the telephone company. Back when there was only one telephone company. And he knew money. He didn’t spend it. But he knew how to invest it. He was one smart man. What was lacking in warmth was made up for in financial help if needed. He was never ever a fall down drunk. But the minute a drink was poured, my body would tense. I could feel the mood change and I think I’ve always carried that tenseness within me even when my dad was not around me drinking.

My father was fiercely religious but not above calling in to a Catholic radio show to argue to with the priest. He didn’t believe that any person was any better than anyone else. He didn’t believe we should be calling priests “father” as Jesus said that we should call no one else “father” but God. He loved to debate religion and politics. My dad was the absolute unquestioning head of the household and that was that.

My dad wasn’t alive when my abuse took place with the priest. I’m sure he would have been angry because he did love me, but I was also female, which in his eyes would have meant that it was my fault. I mean, he was never crazy about my husband at the time because he was always with his friends and wasn’t showing any ambition to take care of his family, but he still respected him as the head of household and daughter or not, my place was with him. For the most part. I guess until that is my dad tried to help set my ex up in business for himself and he turned him down. That and how he treated the kids made my dad lose respect for him.

Ever since I was fired from the diocese for “seducing a priest”, I have tried to figure out what it was really about me that made me so vulnerable. Was it my relationship with my mom? My dad’s drinking and control? My brother’s issues? My own eventual loss of a sense of having control and ultimate daily patching the cracks so they would not show to anyone else?

I mean, there’s a bunch of us who have been targeted and love bombed and who were gullible enough to believe these creeps because we all have a common thread that runs through our lives? What is it then?

And then I discovered what “it” was. What was the one commonality that we as adult victims of clergy abuse share? When I discovered our vulnerability, it terrified me. What makes us attractive to predators who join the church?

It’s our empathy. Our kindness. The fact that we care about other people. You know, all those things that the church tells us we should be. Loving one another. Forgiving. Being modest and obedient and respectful. Loving God and allowing ourselves to be His sheep. But mainly, it’s the light that shines within us that attracts them to us.

They without light….go steal someone else’s.

And you know what else? It’s easy to do. Get someone to trust you. A priest already has your trust.

And you know another thing that I read? It’s never…..NEVER….the fault of the victim. EVER. If you have been targeted and abused and your goodness has been taken advantage of….not your fault. Know what else? You are a good person. A GOOD PERSON. You are. Please repeat that many times.

And you know that ex-husband I spoke of earlier? That was many years ago and despite everything, I don’t think I ever stopped loving him. Still do. But there was a time when I knew things couldn’t keep going back and forth and I knew inside what was really important to him and I knew I couldn’t change that.

I tend to be a big sap but when I finally faced reality, for the first time, I took care of myself first. I didn’t hurt him. I took care of me. There’s a difference there as well. But after basically paying off his motor home and our son’s college tuition alone, I got a reimbursement from him and was able to buy him out of our home. I don’t take any joy in anyone being unhappy. But in that case, I simply stopped giving myself away.

And one thing I have learned over the years is that you can kill yourself trying to help others and do for others and keep everyone happy. And not one ounce of that matters once you put yourself first. Not one thing you did. As soon as you put up a boundary in front of yourself, people who are used to getting their way from you will be angry….furious even. And they will most likely leave your life.

Keep your light safe. Keep it lit and keep it away from those who would extinguish it.

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.