What About a Holiday?

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. I’m sure it was not like last year. But what it made me realize is that family is what is important and also that family can be extremely annoying and possibly cause nervous breakdowns. Still, they are family. But honestly, holidays can be stressful even without a pandemic.

So my Thanksgiving was quiet. But the food was nowhere as good as my mom’s. But it was peaceful. Sort of.

I had a couple of “firsts” this past week. It was my first time going to the emergency vet (with my mom’s dog) the night before Thanksgiving. He’s a sick pup. Still in the animal hospital slowly recovering. For two hours Wednesday night, my mom and I sat in the car, in the dark, in the rain, while we waited for someone to take the dog inside. Then we had the form. Then we waited for someone to come get the form. Then they told us to sit there until the vet checked him in…which if we had waited, would have taken another two hours.

We left. I told the vet assistant that I was going to get my mom home…she’s 93 for God’s sake….and that they could call her there.

It’s been a very emotional roller coaster the last couple of days and I have never prayed so much for a human being as I have for that dog’s recovery. He is my mom’s companion. Her world. In this crazy, pandemic don’t leave your house world. She is alone without him.

Then my friend’s father passed away. I have known the family since I can remember being alive and she is a good friend and I could not see her while she was up here from another state where she now lives and her dad was dying. I emailed her. Then I saw her in the crowd (outdoors with masks) at the graveside service. Was able to speak to her for a second.

There are many things horribly wrong right now. Too much suffering going on. But it’s tough when you know your mom is having her Thanksgiving dinner alone or you can’t properly comfort a good friend at a tough time. I know the reason for it and I am not going to complain because so many people have it worse. But by not having what you take for granted, it kind of makes you thankful for what you have always had and thought you always would have.

Things can feel really depressing right now, so it can be difficult at times to keep going and just doing the things that need to be done. I remember going to be evaluated for a college study of some sort years ago. I was interviewed and was then asked….”how long have you been depressed?” Huh? Depressed? Me? Hmmn. I’m not depressed. Well…maybe. I do cry a bit now and then. I do feel like everything is a chore. Not much brings me joy.

You can be depressed and not know it. So this is just a reminder….there are online services. National Suicide Prevention Hotline. It’s not just for when you are about to jump off the bridge. It can be for when you feel overwhelmed and find yourself crying or unable to sleep. There are also counsellors who are doing on-line work these days. So, please take care of yourselves.

Other feelings can sneak past as well. If you marry a narcissist, you may find that you aren’t the only one affected by the union. Your children will most likely carry on the unseen trait and be abused or abusive. Being able to talk to other survivors who have sailed in the same boat that I have, has opened my eyes. Doesn’t make me any smarter, but it does show me that other people out there have experienced similar things in their families and ask similar questions about life.

I see clearly my grown children and their patterns when it comes to picking romantic partners and what they consider “love” and “normal”. Hey, don’t look at me, I don’t know what’s normal either. All I know is that when I look back on my love life, the main common denominator is…me. And again, we don’t start out in the middle of the web, so….how do we trust ourselves to know what is really love and normal at the beginning of getting to know someone?

I keep telling my kids that if they want their lives to change, they need to change. Counselling can help. Sometimes it can. Sometimes friends can help even more by their knowledge and their example. But I have one son who doesn’t believe in abuse unless it’s physical. Perhaps that is just an easier way to not work on your problems. Because it is not easy. Way easier to blame someone else. And, the thing is, as one who has gotten caught in too many webs myself, I know that even when someone is emotionally and verbally abusive and abusing their power at your expense, there is that narcissistic/co-dependent dance that we do. And so we blame the other person because we can’t see where we end and they begin. Even when someone points it out to us. We have to see it ourselves. It’s sad. So sad. And so very hard to see past the web to realize it is not normal and that we can get out and be okay. It can take time.

This week, I spoke to a young woman who told me about a priest who was trying to groom her and her friend. I can’t get into the whole story, but when I look at that sentence, I see that these were young people who knew what was going on….and knew the name for it. And knew where to call to talk about it. I know that we all tend to get disappointed and disgusted with “the system” and how hard it is to get justice, but to me, this is huge. This is a start. Education. Coming forward may not bring justice to our stories, but it may help someone else. And that is what I told her as well. Did not tell her what to do, but told her that when someone makes a report, it helps others to come forward and do the same.

Last week, I spoke with a mom whose son had stayed silent about his abuse for years. He stayed silent until he saw SNAP survivors on the news talk about their abuse. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re doing nothing to change anything. That you are only talking about it. But these stories show that the work we are doing….everyone….all survivors….does make an impact and a difference in the world.

Four years ago, I had no idea what happened to me. I thought it only happened to me. I was ashamed. I did what I thought I had to do so I wouldn’t get a priest in trouble. It seemed to go against everything….and against God….to speak against a priest. And to speak against a priest who I thought had feelings for me…which must have been something I did….I felt all alone in the world.

I felt inside everything that society says on the outside when they victim shame someone. I was not a child. I should have known better.

And then, it took so very long before I believed that I belonged with other survivors. I learned about the term “grooming” and about cover ups within the diocese. I learned that adults are abused very often and that they are too ashamed to speak out.

And if this knowledge becomes more acceptable to adult victims of clergy abuse, perhaps we can heal more of those who are still out there living in the shadows and blaming themselves. Perhaps the time will come when there will be no more second guessing about whether or not it is right to make a report because we may get laughed at or told to come back when we’ve “got something better than that”.

Maybe with enough knowledge and seeing other people brave enough to talk about this issue….and believe me, it is terrifying to be threatened by the person who is abusing you and then to be torn apart by those who are supposed to help you. To be seen as someone who is trying to bring down the church. Maybe with enough knowledge and small victories…other survivors will begin to see that what happened to them has a name. And that it was not their fault.

Have a great week, please take the survey, and if you are an adult survivor of abuse by a priest or other religious person, remember we meet next Sunday at 7pm EST.

Feelings

I got an email this past week from someone asking to join the Abused as Adults group and when I explained that it was for people who were abused at the age of 18 or older, the person’s response was something to the effect of….how can it happen to adults….they should know better.

I’d like to say that it was no big deal and that I handled the situation with grace and dignity, but my response was….no response. I couldn’t. Because the question was either ignorant or deliberately mean. And in either case, nothing I could say would matter. I can’t waste my energy where it doesn’t matter.

But it hit me….it did. Right in the middle of my chest where I thought my armor was. Obviously there was an opening in the armor I hadn’t noticed. Because it got inside of me and twisted itself up into a pretzel and squeezed itself into my soul.

It was a knee-jerk reaction. But again, I knew it was better for me to not answer this person as I was too emotional and I would have said something like….so what you are saying to me is that once you hit your 18th birthday, you are responsible for whatever someone does to you…is that right? So if you are raped, mugged, beaten, killed, conned, manipulated, cheated on, used, harassed, lied to, bullied…..whatever….that it is your fault. It wasn’t your fault yesterday, when you were still 17….but today now that you are 18, and from now on, it is.

With all the heightened emotions in the world right now, and with many of us being so isolated, it can make it all the more difficult to take a look inside of ourselves to see what is going on there. I know that for me, my sleep pattern has been thrown off and I feel like I am living with my foot on the brake trying to stop anything bad from happening.

Last week, when I had my Zoom meeting with the bishop, it felt difficult to sort out what was going on emotionally during the meeting.

One of the questions he asked me was what made me vulnerable. Someone asked me why the bishop was asking me these questions and why wasn’t I asking him questions. I think more accurately, the question should be….why wasn’t the bishop asking the priest these questions? What made him choose me? Why was I being asked why I thought he choose me?

Well, as I think about this….as the layers of the onion unfold and I go deeper into the depths, one of the things I think we may all be able to identify with is…..the body remembers. Or the brain. Or something. Again, I’m not an expert. Just a human who has lived a long time.

I do know that both on a personal level and a professional level, it was a whole lot better when my boss was pleased with me and not screaming or being hostile. That makes sense. So, as things began to change on his end and he began to interject increasing levels of uncomfortable with different emotions, I was still doing my best to please to keep him from screaming and from me feeling threatened.

He could have fired me at any minute at his whim. He didn’t need a reason. And it’s not just about the money. It’s about how that feels. It’s about having your layers stripped away to your core. It’s about having all the protective armor you have amassed over your lifetime stolen from you….about every self-help book and class you’ve ever taken erased from memory…..about your world imploding like you have feared it would ever since you can remember. It is about feeling powerless to stop that. It is the realization brought back that you are not enough….that love and approval is conditional and based on the mood of the person who is in charge.

Also, when I spoke to the bishop, as I said, I fell back into trust mode. Even as I heard him say that Jesus died on the cross for each of us and I felt like I didn’t need a homily or a reminder of how we are all human and that God loves all of us at that moment….because I felt that what he meant was that “he who is without sin” etc. and that this was not about a crime, but rather just a man who was human.

When asked about my faith in God, I did say that I have never lost faith. Not in God or in loving spirits or guides….but I have lost faith in the church. Totally. I didn’t get the chance to say that to the bishop, though. But I don’t trust the institution anymore. That is sad. No Santa. No Easter Bunny. Now to find out that the church is not real, either.

And I found that I still wanted to believe. I wanted to believe that the kindly gentleman sitting behind the desk on the Zoom call cared about me and about all of the souls in his care. I wanted to believe that he sincerely would listen to what I said and try to prevent this from happening to someone else at whatever means is at his disposal.

But as a wise person said to me this week….they are a business. They aren’t going to do anything that is not in their best interest. Maybe it does help a bit to know that there will be one child in this world who will not be raised in the Catholic Church because of this. One less innocent to harm. One less donation in the weekly collection box.

But I guess that really doesn’t matter to them as long as they can get money from the government.

But that is not what is important, really. Let them keep their money and their gold and their self-importance. To me, they are like an abusive ex and it is healthier for me to stay far away. I don’t need rituals and sacraments and threats of Hell in order for me to connect spiritually to a source of greater love.

And you know, I don’t want to be this person. Not really. I am not the person I set out to be in life. I never thought I would be talking against the church. I never thought I would be an outcast in so many areas of my life. I’ve never been a fighter. I never even swore until I got married and had kids. I didn’t. Then it just became a quicker, easier way to vent frustration. And it became easier and easier as time went on….

I also heard from someone who said that they had a very similar experience to the one I had and that it is difficult to explain getting pulled into the manipulation and feeling like you have to do something you don’t want to do.

It’s difficult to talk about. I get it. Especially harder when the people you love tell you to let it go and lawyers need proof and bishops sympathize but tend to try to normalize the event by equating the actions of the perpetrator with sin, and when people say you should have known better.

But that is exactly why it is important to talk about it. We need to normalize this type of abuse…this gaslighting and coercive control and manipulation and abuse of power….so that it is brought to the light and seen as the legitimate form of abuse that it is. This is important. Not just for adults who have been abused by clergy….but for adults in every relationship in their lives.

This kind of thing needs to be taught to children along with Math and Reading skills. The church should be leading the way in teaching this….not covering it up.

Please take a minute to answer this week’s poll. Have a great week.

Close to You

Ah, yes…..dating, romance, commitment, sex. Why does it look so easy for other people?

I was reading something this week….hypothetically…a woman (or man) walks into a room where there are 100 eligible people. Ninety-nine of these people are nice, emotionally healthy, self-supporting, sober, human beings. But this person picks the one that stands out to them. The one that resonates with them. The emotionally unhealthy, financially dependent, substance abuser. Does that sound familiar?

It does to me. I look back to high school and I see that I passed up a respectful, talented, kind person who took me out to dinners and movies for people with drinking problems or who were emotionally unavailable.

I see that now. Back then, I saw boring or exciting. I saw people whose shell I thought I could crack and people who I saw as needing saving. Needing me. I saw people who hurt me….people I pined over; I saw people whose affection I needed to pursue. If it didn’t hurt, I wasn’t love. I got that message from somewhere. I felt less-than so I gravitated towards people I felt would not expect a lot from a relationship. And drinking made what passed as getting close to someone much easier.

Fast forward many years later and I’m separated from my husband. For the first time in years, I’m out in the dating world. I’m thinking….I see where I made my mistakes. This time will be different.

I am going to find a nice man, I thought. I’m not going to go for excitement or for physical attraction. He just has to be a nice guy. It’s going to work this time. I can feel it. Now I know what I’m doing.

So I met a doctor at work. Older than me. Skinny. Not attractive. But he was respected where I worked. Had his own home. Had money. A good pick for my later years, I thought. I knew my parents would love him because he was a doctor, so that didn’t hurt either.

Well, things were fine until they weren’t. Slowly I began to see that while he was thrilled at being in a relationship, I needed to change to fit what he expected in a woman. He constantly talked about my weight and getting exercise and being healthy. At the time, I smoked. Not around him, but that didn’t matter. That needed to stop. Because he said so. Then his relatives showed up for Christmas. Did I mention he was Jewish? No reason for it to matter other than….I swear to God…his cousin brought up how she didn’t like to hang out with anyone who wasn’t Jewish. She really did. Also brought up with regularity was his ex-wife’s masters degree and how she had converted to Judaism during the course of their marriage.

But things really began to fall apart when I drove him to the airport for a work trip and then he called me from California and said that I should really be there because I would love it. Okay, this guy was a self-proclaimed millionaire. He only had to pay for my airfare if he wanted me to go with him. But that was not what was going on. One weekend, I just didn’t feel like spending the night. I paid for that the next time we began to get intimate. Yes, he actually told me….there will be no more of that…..until you show some enthusiasm for this relationship.

Okay, that was it for me. I know that people who hold up the bar for you to jump over, are trying to train you and each time you jump when they say jump, the bar goes a little bit higher.

What had gone wrong? I thought he was a nice guy. Instead, he was insecure and controlling.

The next guy I met I thought for sure was okay. He was a therapist. A veteran. He loved his daughter, who is such a sweetheart. He loved his dog. He said grace before meals. He like board games and watching movies. I’d bring my two dogs up and spend every weekend with him. He would get up early and walk the dogs when it was cold. Wow, I had met the man of my dreams.

Along the way, there were red flags. I pushed them aside because nobody is perfect, I’d say to myself.

Our first date, he asked me to meet me at a restaurant. I sat at a table and waited but he did not show up. Finally I ordered my meal and ate alone. Right after I had paid my bill and was finishing my soda, I get a phone call. He said….are you here? I’m so sorry…..work, traffic…blah blah blah. Oh, there you are….I’ll be right over. And he sat down, ordered himself a soda, and we talked like what had happened had not happened.

Until it happened again. He would ask to go to a family style restaurant and be detained so I would be sitting there alone waiting for an hour, expecting that the food would be paid for by the time he arrived to enjoy it. His lights were turned off and could I please help him out. He needed to get his daughter presents for Christmas, could I cover him until he got to an ATM? Once at the ATM, he found out he only had enough money to cover gas and dog food for the week.

Again, I kept telling myself…well, nobody is perfect….although I didn’t appreciate what was going on. So I tried to work on things with him. Whatever we do, whenever we spend money, he would cover a third and I would take care of two thirds. He worked two jobs and had child support payments. I kept telling myself that was the reason he was struggling.

But when he insisted that we go to a restaurant right after we had this discussion about payment….and he had picked the restaurant and a decently expensive dish….all of a sudden, I became the bad guy for asking for 1/3 of the cost.

That was it for me with him. I knew that if he wasn’t going to put effort into working with me, that money was not the issue and that nothing would ever change.

But what was wrong? Why was I picking dead end relationships? Was my judgement off? How was a person supposed to know what percentage of bad or incompatibility in a relationship was acceptable?

But nothing prepared me for what happened with the priest I worked for. I’m thinking that whatever was going wrong in previous relationships….whatever anyone picked up from on me as maybe being “moldable” or “able to be compliant” or “will pay all of my bills” was what drew the priest to me as well. Add to my niceness, naivety, stupidity….whatever you want to call it….there was always “but he’s a priest” and of course, there was the gaslighting as well that further added to the confusion.

And so that leaves me wondering if other people who have been abused as adults have experienced confusion as to what is acceptable in a relationship, or a hesitancy to confront unacceptable behavior until it piles up and becomes too much. I don’t remember going into the relationships I mentioned thinking about what I was going to get out of it as much as what I needed to do in order to make things work. How much I had to adjust to please the other person. And how little I asked. How much bad behavior I accepted or believed.

I have heard people abused as children talk about how that abuse has prevented a sense of normal to many of their romantic relationships.

But what do we, who have been abused as adults know about normal and actually good relationships? Is that one of the things that made us vulnerable?

I know that it made me vulnerable….that acceptance of behavior, that making of excuses, that meekness of being that is supposed to be valued as a Catholic, that putting someone else first, that not expecting for myself, that belief that no matter what, priests were safe.

I grew up in a time where Women’s Lib was an odd new thing. Marriage was still expected of you. You weren’t expected to have a “career”, except perhaps part time. The husband was still looked upon as the breadwinner and head of the house.

Things have changed but I think formative years live inside of you forever and it’s a constant emotional/logical battle as a grown-up. A priest’s word was never questioned. The pope was infallible. A good Catholic woman stayed married and did not seek a divorce or ever seek to date another man after that ring had been placed on her finger.

Women tempt men into sin. Men are not responsible for their actions. What did you expect you would deserve if you left your husband?

The emotional child who grew up listening to this is always there, and always wanting to come forward in emotional situations or when we feel vulnerable. Men will be men. You want to be in a relationship, you gotta accept that. (Apologies, guys)

Growing up and quieting that emotional child with logic and strength, and sometimes tears, they say is what growth is about.

But a priest can trigger that inner child. They have always been our leaders, the people we trust, and our safe haven. They are, in a sense, like our dads or a kindly uncle. Those priests who abuse seem to use the knowledge of our souls and vulnerabilities to break us down and whatever faults we see in them, we know we must trust and forgive. So the use of logic, which has helped us in other relationships when things didn’t feel right, is almost non-existent because this man is not a man. This man is of God.

I remember thinking at one point that perhaps God had sent me to help him through something. All the more believable because I wasn’t supposed to get the job but another woman had turned it down. It was fate. Had to be. God and gaslighting made me feel wrong for the logical thoughts I would think at times.

Now, I don’t blame God for what happened. But I blamed myself.

 

Live and Learn

Healing has been a long journey. A life-long journey really. As I came out of the gaslight fog that I experienced with Father Jade (not real name…just initials), I had this painful, bright light shining in my eyes. It was shining directly on me and my flaws.

I still know that he initiated a game…..and one that he knew would end in my destruction one way or another. And he knew he had the advantage of being my boss and of being a priest in his “home court” where he would most likely be backed or believed…..or covered for. He also knew that the more attractive the job became to me by receiving more money and hours and leave time and by acting like the best boss in the world when it came to doling out rewards, the harder it would be for me to leave. Also by hiring a person I knew to work with me…someone who I admired…..and the nicer it became to work there and the happier I felt….the more he had to take from me.

But once again, why did he choose me and is there something about me that I could have changed so that I was less vulnerable to his trap?

I’m not one to challenge authority. And I’m not sure that doing so in this case would have helped much. Once he began to play his game, to challenge him or question him only raised anger and retribution. It may have helped to have said to him…”I am feeling very uncomfortable when you sit there and stare at me”. But perhaps not. In this case, though, am I trying to see if I would change the outcome? Perhaps I never had control over that. Perhaps I may have had to accept the unfair fact that he had the power to go to H.R. at any time and tell them that I was not working out. The fact that I knew it was unfair and why I was being let go would not have mattered at that point either as I would have known why I was being let go and I think I still would have felt that it was my fault for having been “insubordinate”. Perhaps the only control I had in that situation was acknowledging my own feelings and voicing them.

The fact that voicing my feelings may have had repercussions was something I could not control as I had no control over keeping my job in this situation. The only control I did have was saying how I felt…which I did not. At the time, I was not feeling in imminent danger of losing my job. It was more of a choice of not saying anything because as uncomfortable as it may have been to have my boss sit there and stare at me at my desk, saying anything at the time felt more uncomfortable for many reasons. Many layers.

Those layers included: questioning authority, acknowledging sexual feelings in a priest, risking an angry outburst, talking about feelings…which is a difficult thing to do for many people, fear of breaking the comfort bubble of denial, and perhaps fear of losing what I thought was his way of showing his affection or attraction. All of that plus it just feels really uncomfortable and wrong to talk to a priest about his own sexual feelings. The polite thing to do seems to be to ignore it.

Another thing that I tend to do is try to fix things for people. In my family, I have always been the go-between and the protector. When a family member was in the Emergency Room for a psychiatric evaluation, I was the one his friends contacted. I was the one the friends called to ask for advice when help was needed. I was the one who had to have my ex take our kids out of the house so I could break the news to other family members as to what was going on. But even simple things….family asks me about other family members instead of asking them directly so as not to “bother” them. I believe that when the priest showed anger and then switched back to “love”, I felt the need to do whatever was needed in order to fix things so that nothing got out of hand. I was used to being the responsible one.

I also tend to be a caregiver and take care of others before myself. I am living now with someone who I broke up with in 2014 because he is sick and cannot afford to move out. Obviously I have some boundary issues.

I also bought a two family house so my youngest son would have a place to live. When I couldn’t sell my other house, my oldest son and his friend moved in and I now get occasional rent payments.

I also have three rescue dogs over the age of ten. Okay the dogs I should keep.

But my point is, I tend to be a caretaker and I am not bragging. Care taking is not being “nice”. Care taking has got to be some kind of need to be needed issue.

And in looking at the issues above, the term that comes to mind is “Adult Child of an Alcoholic”. Because needing to fix and control and caring for and all of that is not healthy behavior. Not even just psychologically but what it does to you physically and spiritually.

This does in no way excuse what the priest did or what the Diocese further did to me. But it does show a vulnerability to a predator looking for someone to abuse.

What I have learned from the experience I had while working for the Diocese and being sexually harassed by Father Jade was that you can’t let your guard down and that you always have to be the one to protect yourself.

You need to love yourself. What you went through you went through because you are a good caring Christian person and that was used against you by those who taught you to be that way in the first place. So stop blaming yourself.

Don’t be afraid to lose the love and approval of others. Because if you need to compromise yourself in any way in order to keep that love and approval, that relationship is not worth it. You are better off alone. You know why? Because you are special and you need to get to nurture yourself and not expect anyone to love you more than you love yourself.

My first job after I was fired from the Diocese was (and still is) a part time job I found managing a medical office. At a time when my self confidence was at an all time low, I was picked out of 200 applicants for this job. I was so afraid they would find out I was fired. (Excuse me….I was told that I resigned….that was the word used) I had never been let go from a job and never under such humiliating circumstances.

On my way to work that first day, I told myself “You got this”. I have that friendly care taking thing going for me. I have worked in an office. My boss lives in another city and I am basically my own boss. I am willing to work hard and am reliable. It was a bittersweet victory. But life went on and so did I.

Trauma Response

Psychological abuse can be confusing. I am not a psychologist but through life experience I know about pushing unpleasant experiences inside and acting as if nothing happened so that the world does not know any secrets. I also know about feeling responsible for holding everything and everyone together so that things do not escalate and nobody gets hurt.

So when I write, I am writing from my own experience as it relates to the world. I have had people question my ability to have an opinion as I do not have a degree. One of these people was my ex-boss, the priest. He seemed to pride himself on his knowledge and superiority and therefore, if I expressed an opinion or a feeling, it was quickly squashed as rubbish as I did not have a psychological degree and so therefore everything I thought or felt had to be faulty. But it was just one of many maneuvers abusers use to undermine the victim from finding their own truth in a situation.

And when I would confront him about saying something that was disrespectful such as the fact that he would never take advice from a secretary….he would then deny ever saying such a thing.

And that is how things went with my boss….first there was such admiration and praise for my work, then the admiration became a little bolder and a bit flirty, then a bit naughty, then an all encompassing beaming love, followed by rejection, confusion, insults, anger, back to naughty and flirty, then denial, then anger again, then bolder statements and threats, apologies, promises of love, abuse of power, blatant demands and then total rejection. During that time, I was absorbing everything.

I grew up absorbing everything in my family. I didn’t react….I didn’t interfere….I just did as I was told so that I was not the cause of anything getting out of hand. I could not be the cause of any trouble as I had to make sure everyone else was okay. I was responsible for everyone’s feelings.

And so that response to feeling an outside instability put me back into a familiar mode of feeling responsible and absorbing all of the emotion and not causing any trouble to escalate. The familiar response to trauma. Be good. Go along. Do what you are told. Then nobody gets hurt and everything stays a secret.

Understand please that I believe there is a difference between blaming your parents and your upbringing for all of your problems and kind of handing off any of your responsibilities for your actions, and being responsible enough to try to understand how your upbringing brought you to your beliefs so that you can learn about how you are apt to fall into certain behavior patterns so you can do something about changing your patterns.

Because I believe that being the target of a predator priest opened my eyes to my own vulnerabilities for being targeted. I had said that doing what my boss wanted would have prevented many horrible things from happening. But I also knew that by doing what he wanted, I would be in a more precarious position of giving him more ammunition against me with more things that could cause me shame if it went public, as well as my constantly having to be catching onto his guessing games and being under pressure to get things right…and putting that before my own sense of self-respect. Things could also have escalated to more than one priest as this has been known to happen and my boss did tell his fellow priest that I was “fun”.

Once blackmail had set in, any number of things could have happened for my boss’ amusement and his delight at belittling me. I mean, anything. That’s scary. And I knew that. But being the people-pleaser that I had learned to be, I didn’t want to lose his approval of me. It was not just about losing my job. It was about losing what I had perceived as love and friendship and of being important to someone. And let us not forget those very strong and convincing brain chemicals that surge through our skulls when our love lights are shaken awake from their slumber and it just feels good to be alive. It feels horrible to have your heart broken….and to be deprived of the dopamine. I’m pretty sure that’s why after one particularly rough day at the office, I came home and poured myself a glass of wine and dug out the pack containing four cigarettes I had hidden away for about a year and a half since my cancer surgery…….because I needed to replace my low feelings with something that would give me a hit of a high once again…..and quickly. From one unhealthy habit to another.

Since I am not a psychologist, I will have to steal information from another source.

From 1994, The Present State of Sexual Harassment Law: Perpetuating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Sexually Harassed Women from Jennifer L. Vinciguerra…

It is said in this report that sexual harassment can cause PTSD, and that forcing a woman to explain her actions in reaction to sexual harassment can do further harm emotionally. It is also said within that a woman’s emotional reaction to sexual harassment can be similar to that of having been raped.

It is…and this is me saying this….a loss of power. It is being programmed to please and having it feel horrible wrong to do so.

I have worked for many years and during that time, I like many women, have experienced sexual advances in the workplace. I once had a drunk male employee call me from home to ask me out when I was about three months pregnant. I did tell H.R. about that and they told him not to do it again and he didn’t hold it against me.

Then there was the plumber that nobody wanted to call whenever there was an issue because he made us all feel really uncomfortable. I don’t even think sexual harassment was a thing when this happened as the man ended up passing away when I was 21 but up until that point, he would be all…honey, sweetie, let me give you a kiss…blah blah blah. I did tell my boss about him and I said I felt really uncomfortable around him. I was told to grow a thicker skin because that was just how he was and I should get used to it. But I was pretty young at the time and I didn’t appreciate some old guy grabbing me and slobbering on me.

I’ve had my butt groped, got a tongue in my ear, got a kiss full on the mouth from a supervisor when I was alone in the office with him, and was told by a co-worker that he wanted to make love to me. I also had a boss who used to make a big deal out of adjusting his pants and his belt and fly while standing in front of my desk and talking to me.

I didn’t report any of these things. I didn’t feel the need to write about any of these things. Because nobody told me that I had to do anything. There may have been an attempt or move or suggestion made, but nobody ever told me that if I wanted to pay my bills, feed my kids, or stay out of the obituaries, that I had better reciprocate. I was free to either slap their face and walk away or say nothing, or take them up on their offer. I did not feel trapped. And it was not done by someone I thought of as maybe I would a member of the family like you do with a priest.

I did react to the sexual harassment. The thing is, everything is not black and white. I was never comfortable around my boss, but I did not mind the flirtations and the jokes about getting me to marry him. At first I thought things were harmless. There was no physical contact and once I left the office, no other kind of contact. So at first, it was mainly what was happening in my head that caused the torture. The back and forth of the emotions and wondering what was going on and where it was leading….and the fact that I had developed feelings for a priest.

In fact, it was more like he was dangling the hint of something wonderful in front of me….only to snatch it away as punishment for not understanding. But done like a game….a cruel game…but one which made me feel somehow bound to him and protective of him.

So I was not being physically pinned up against the wall or beaten, but psychologically, I lived in fear of the loving approval being withdrawn and of being shunned and rejected by him. I felt this even after I was fired….the feeling of being punished by being banished by him and replaced by someone else. Seriously…..I felt jealous of being replaced by someone not because they got my job but because I was personally cast out and rejected. Later on when I began to heal and I began to realize what had happened, it became about the job and what had happened to me. But it scares me how he was able to get inside of my head like that.

Talking to other men and woman who have been abused as adults, I know that how I felt is understood. Some say that their priest was the love of their life. Some woman have given years of their life to these manipulative men.

But because I was not kicking and screaming and yelling “no!” and running to H.R., but rather because I tried to tell myself that I was the one being unreasonable and because he used the fact that I did not do what he said but sent him an email trying to reason with him and twisting it to say that I was the instigator…..well, I felt it was my fault what had happened. I felt stupid and dazed and nobody saw what had happened as something he did to me and so I believed that.

But in reality, what it was….was psychological and emotional abuse as well as sexual harassment…..and what I was experiencing…was a trauma response to his actions.

The Wolf in Priest’s Clothes

So, the tendency when you or anyone is around a priest is to respect the boundary of the collar. Father may play basketball with the kids and maybe be even really cool and have a beer at a picnic, but you might find that dad doesn’t swear when his team doesn’t make a touchdown and long ago packed away holy items may make a reappearance before Father comes to visit. Wherever a priest goes….so does church. And where there is church, there is church behavior.

We all know logically that there is a man underneath the priestly garb. But as long as the collar is there, we address him as “Father” or “Reverend” and he is automatically elevated to the status of teacher, judge, grantor, chosen one, most holy, deliverer of penance, and one bestowed of power beyond that of the average man. And as much as we tell ourselves that he is just a man like everyone else, we have been trained to react differently to a priest. Automatic respect, turn the other cheek and do your penance is ingrained when around a man of the cloth. There is a wall there that logic can’t cross. We know there is a man under there somewhere, but one that is different and one at whom we don’t want to look at too closely or personally.

I’ve always thought of priests as asexual or married to God, with a shield around them that anything sexual bounces off. As far as their personal life outside the public eye, I figured they read the bible, prayed, went to mass, discussed God with other priests, watched G rated movies and family shows, and probably collected stamps or photographed nature. Maybe they honed up on their singing skills. That would be in between writing sermons, visiting the sick and elderly and saying mass, of course.

Like I said, we don’t want to look to close. If there is sex going on, they are probably masturbating or perhaps they have a more personal relationship with another priest. Maybe they have a secret girlfriend. Some cause for gossip but out of respect, it is not recognized publicly. Or perhaps we don’t want to acknowledge anything that may alter our perfect image of a pure priest.

In any case, the average parishioner’s knowledge and curiosity about the existence of a priest’s sex life tends to end at the door of the rectory. Don’t want to know and don’t want to talk about it.

Unfortunately some people do get to see what goes on behind that door. I say “unfortunately” because what is found on the other side can be creepy, dishonest, illegal, disrespectful, hurtful and downright horrifying. And since people who go beyond that door only know that priests equal love and Jesus, they may go there innocently and without fear….as a sheep would follow a wolf who appeared to be the shepherd.

On the contrary, they expect to be treated with love and kindness. They expect to be recognized for the beauty that lies within their souls. They expect to be held warmly within the walls of what is the heart of the church.

But for many people…..most I think, what they find on the other side is the reality of what is the sex life of a priest. Much of it is mucked up with confusion and blame, but the reality is not a love affair. It’s finding out you are one of many people being used and strung along, or being taken advantage of at a vulnerable time in your life, or raped, or coerced into being at his beck and call for him or perhaps for him and his friends like a prostitute. This is sometimes accomplished with threats and the use of power, control and blackmail.

It’s not as romantic as they would like you to believe when the door has closed behind you and you are being enticed to go further.

But you see, it’s not just cut and dried either. Predator priests can be skilled manipulators. And it takes time….sometimes a long time…..for an adult victim to understand that they most likely are not the priest’s “first” and are only special in what they can do for him, not for who they are.

It can be extremely difficult to realize you have gone behind the door where few fear to tread, only to realize that there will be no love or comfort found here. To put it bluntly, you are simply a hand job or an orifice. And once you begin to see things for what they really are, that you are an unpaid sex worker, do not expect a sincere apology from anyone.

Expect to be shunned and ignored and not believed. Because nobody really wants to hear about it and nobody wants their perfect version of reality tarnished. Basically, you are seen as the person who is at fault. Because it’s easier that way. Less messy. Less changes have to be made. Nobody likes change. Stick with the majority. It’s only sex. Just a little sin. Wink, wink. So he was getting a piece of ass….who was he hurting? He’s a man after all. Women are the temptresses. Victim shaming still alive and unwell. The victim is victimized once again.

The priest can hide behind his vows and, of course, sin. Temptation. It’s weakness, not a crime. He’s certainly not a dangerous narcissistic psychopath who should not be around unsuspecting and trusting children and adults. Because, God help us if he is and and we prefer not to speak up but instead allow this wolf to continue to disguise himself and hurt others. God help us if we choose to look the other way because it feels less messy.

Finding your way through gaslight

I recently talked to a woman who is right now in the middle of what I call “the game”. It was difficult for me to listen to her because I saw a lot of myself in her and I didn’t like to see that side of me so clearly. It hurts. It is very painful. It’s hard for me to bite my tongue and let her talk through things.

She is in denial. And she is going through a maze of thoughts and feelings. She cannot see what is going on.

I had people question me how I had still had feelings….or rather thought I had feelings, for someone when they were abusive. For me, it was as if someone was trying to tell me that grass was never green and the sky was never blue. It just took a long long time to be able to process that information.

During the time that I was going through my abusive relationship with my boss, the Reverend Father, I thought I knew what was going on…at first.

I did my research…on-line. Being a priest gets lonely. They perform a wedding and see a loving couple and extended family and a joyful occasion…..and they leave and go home alone to a quiet and empty place they call home. It is not uncommon for a priest to have a girlfriend, I read, especially as they near retirement and face spending the rest of their lives on their porch with a single rocking chair. They may flirt harmlessly. A clever little line here or there all in good fun with the housekeeper or the woman who sings in church on Sunday.

It was this logic that gave me feelings of sympathy and understanding of my boss as a man and not just a priest.

So when his behavior became slightly risque and he joked about me needing to do more than buy him fancy post it notes to butter him up, I laughed. And most importantly, when he was joking around, he was not yelling at me…..so I felt both safe with his behavior and secure in my job. And that felt good.

With grooming, behavior that can create discomfort is increased or mixed with other behaviors that cause pleasure. Mixed in with the insistence of walking behind me up the stairs, or of watching me walk down the hallway, was also a bit of what seemed like adolescent nervousness which I thought was cute in a way. I brushed off my warning bells by telling myself he was just inexperienced and I had to be kind to him so as not to hurt him.

And the more I accepted the behavior as it increased and laughed or joked with him despite pushing aside the things he did that made me uncomfortable, the more complicit I became in our little secret. He had picked me. I was his special friend that he trusted. And giving my loyalty to protect him meant even more because he was a priest. Not only because he was a human being….I thought…showing feelings….and who could blame him for that, right? But because betraying him in any way was betraying God.

Oh, come on…..you know that I’m right. We all know that priests are not God…..but they work for Him. He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good…..and He’ll know if you betray one of His own.

Well, that’s about as far as most people get. Acknowledging that priests are people too. Cool Father Joe plays basketball with the kids and has a beer with the dads afterward. Well, you know he must have, you know, those feelings….but we don’t discuss things like sex or swear in front of him. He’s not THAT human, after all. Oh, is it his birthday, make sure you get him the birthday card with the nun on it….I’m sure he will love that…..

So most people…..including most people who are groomed, acknowledge somewhat that priests are human beings with human feelings…..they just don’t want to be around if any of those feelings go off. Or be responsible for setting those feelings off.

Oh…unless God says it’s okay. That’s a big loophole, you see. Sometimes God sends the priest messages that they should spend extra time with people or, you know….things done under the religious tent make it okay to, you know, hug or be alone with a person so they can save their soul and such.

And if the priest himself does not say that, the victim begins to rationalize that it must be okay with God. The woman I spoke to said her priest got a message from God to help her. I myself questioned why God had given me this person in my path and was sex somehow what God wanted? Was I supposed to be learning something about love with this man or helping him not feel alone or allowing myself to be more vulnerable?

But you see, before these questions arose, just when things were going well and life was good and I got a raise and more hours and could earn leave and was really enjoying my job and getting along with my boss…..the lights started to go dim.

Just like with this other woman who is being bombarded with questions about sin and who is to blame in her situation, my situation went from heavy flirtation and teasing about a party on his day off to screaming at me, and I was asked if I was unable to comprehend a simple office game, and he could never understand where I was getting my ideas or how could I even mouth the words that made him feel so uncomfortable? And I began to doubt everything. I mean everything. I would stop all contact except what was needed from him in order to do my job and find that when I tried to ignore him, he would be in my face, seeking attention and validation. If he did not get what he needed, he would begin to threaten me in subtle underhanded ways. He would begin to act unusual so that co-workers would notice and they would come to me and ask why he seemed to be changing when it came to his faith. I would get emails and bible references about sinful women in the bible tempting men to do bad things from his other priest friends.

If I said I felt threatened, he would tell me I was not allowed to ever talk about his behavior and that I must be obedient. So I’m thinking he’s quirky and what the heck we only work together. Total denial. If someone had told me he was dangerous, or to run as far and as fast as I could…..I wouldn’t have believed that a priest could be dangerous….the word was quirky folks…..I could handle this…..

I have to say here…..please people, priest or not…..if you feel you need to fix things for someone or you find yourself making excuses for their behavior….for whatever reason….or the big one…..you feel you need to talk things out so you can understand because not knowing is driving you crazy…..or if you say things are bad but it cannot be the other person…..I don’t care if you share an appendage at that point in time……this is not a good situation and the answer is not going to be something you want to hear…..that is, if you ever get an answer. Walk away. Don’t try to help or fix or rationalize.

When you’ve gone passed the grooming and the denial and you have reached the stage where they are flat out denying what they said and all you know that seems right and makes sense is doing whatever it takes to keep the person happy….which could change daily…..so that there is a semblence of peace in your existence…….know that you are now trying to read the rules by gaslight…..and that is impossible.

You are now getting into very dangerous territory…….and the most dangerous part about this territory is that you feel responsible for being there because your head is now in a smoke filled haze of words that surround you but can dissipate as soon as the next breeze comes through.

You are not weak. You are not stupid. You are probably a very decent person. But you have been brainwashed by a very effective technique called gaslighting.

Mind Rape

Many years ago, a close relative was going through a very horrible summer. On that particular night, I went to visit him because he had been released from the hospital and going through a breakup with his physically abusive girlfriend. I went to keep him company and make him dinner. I wanted to be sure his girlfriend and his friends who wanted to give him some substance therapy stayed away. And I wanted to be sure that he was going to be able to make it through to the next morning on his own when I left.

You know, they say that if you are ever in a plane crash that you should make sure you put your oxygen mask on first. It’s difficult to see someone you love….or anyone for that matter, struggling. But before you offer them your hand, you have to make sure that you have something solid to hold onto first so that you are not pulled down with them.

My relative’s friend stopped by, seemingly concerned about him, and offered to help me get some groceries at the store and help me make dinner. Dinner never happened that night.

It seemed that my kin was more interested in finding his girlfriend and wanted to go out to look for her. And his friend….seemed he cared so much about him that he wanted me too to be able to experience some of his substance therapy so I could see how wonderful it could be. I told him I wasn’t interested. To me it seemed like trying out butter basted, three-cheese, egg-topped, fried anything just to find out you loved it and had to have it every day thereafter so that you could end up blowing out your waistline and your arteries. Why would I want to know that I liked anything that would cause my ultimate destruction when I saw what it had done to the people I loved? I’m not being judgmental here….I have my own struggles and addictions and just felt it was better not to add any more problems to my life.

So the three of us went out looking for the female half of this unhealthy addictive relationship and we all ended up in a bar up the street. Remember now, I was still there to protect my family member and keep him out of harm’s way.

There I was, a 28 year old mother of two walking into this bar with two guys who were not exactly looking out for my best interest. Not to mention now that I think of it one of them was most likely a drug dealer, and the other was searching for a woman who had recently stabbed him in the heat of an argument. These were my male escorts walking into the place.

My relative takes off and leaves me to go look for his girlfriend. I am now worried about him. I notice there is a group of people gathered in a room so I go to see if he had gone in there.

I step into the room and look around, noticing as I did so that there were probably a good 50 people in the room all sitting around drinking…..and I was the only female.

Just as I was taking this all in, one of the guys, noticeably slurring his words, yells out to all of the other men in the room…..”Hey, the stripper’s here!” which was met by some cheers and a bit of encouragement for me to begin my act.

Okay, this was in an unfamiliar bar and definitely not a country club or a place with any kind of security. I pretty much had no protection for myself. I froze. I was terrified. Didn’t matter that I wasn’t being paid for a gig if any one of those men in that room decided it didn’t matter to them if I was there professionally or not.

I remember getting back out to the bar somehow and thinking it would be safer to wait out there. Not really. I sat down and ordered a drink and the bartender told me to be sure to watch the movie playing on the tv over the bar. It was a porno flick. At that point I thought it may be safer for me to go back out into the night and find my way back to my car alone.

The point I am making is that nothing physically happened to me that night. I ended up making it back home safely. (I was separated from my husband at the time and staying at my parents’ house). But the feelings I felt were very real. I felt that whatever boundaries I had that kept me safe were being taken away by the people around me that night. Nobody had done anything illegal. Yet, I had felt unsafe and my mind had reacted as if the threat had been real.

The feeling I felt that night was similar to the feeling of terror I felt when faced with the realization that I was trapped in a dangerous situation with my boss. When people say that I was not really abused because I was not physically raped by my boss, I disagree. It felt like rape to me. He was forcing himself upon me. I remember thinking that basically telling someone they had to perform a sexual act or else they could end up in the obituaries……that was coercion….that was terrifying….that was stripping away a person’s boundaries. And that was rape. Maybe not in a physical sense. But my mind still suffered the trauma of feeling violated and my power was taken from me.

Rape is not always a physical act that occurs by a stranger in a dark alleyway. It is not always male/female. And the force and trauma involved is not always obvious.

And until and unless it has happened to you, the sexual abuse of adult by anyone they know through coercive control and manipulation, especially by a priest, cannot be truly understood by friends, family, lay people, or law enforcement. At least not yet. I am hoping that in time the abuse of adults by priests will begin to be seen as the crime that it is and that the blame will stop being pointed at the victims.

Getting out of my own way

The other night, I participated in a group video conference with a group of other survivors of clergy abuse. During this conference, one of the members told of how she had been abused by a priest at a young age. Whenever I hear stories like this, it makes me want to cry. And it makes me feel like a phony.

What these children went through is unimaginable. I won’t even go there as to how someone could hurt innocents. They do. And it doesn’t end with the physical abuse. Their sense of trust and getting close to others and relationships and God and life has been forever violated.

And so I felt…..I don’t belong here. I can’t even begin to compare my experiences to theirs.

Somehow the fact that I am a survivor of abuse as an adult was brought up and one of the women asked what that was about and how old a person would have to be to be considered abused as an adult. “That’s not a part of SNAP, is it?” she asked. I said that yes, it was. Although at that moment, I felt very much an outsider.

I thought about the exchange later on that evening and those old feelings of doubt and anger at myself and a bit of “who do I think I am” and even a bit of pity bringing a bottle to the party began to emerge. And I thought….I shouldn’t be doing this. I am not worthy.

But then another little voice….most likely the angel on my other shoulder….began to get a little huffy. “Are you done?” the angel asked. “Because when you are done making this all about yourself perhaps you might want to consider that tonight the fact the adults get abused as well was mentioned at the meeting. And also that group is a part of SNAP.”

The angel adjusted its halo. “Last time I checked, that’s what really was important here. Whether or not you are worthy of spreading the word has nothing to do with anything. It’s inconsequential. And kinda narcissistic. So get over yourself. Get out of your own way!”

Yes, adults are abused by priests….and by others as well but for now….priests. And yes, ASAP (Adults Sexually Abused by Priests) is a part of SNAP. Some priests are not good people. They are predators. And if I can cheat one priest out of blackmailing someone into sexual slavery because the rules to the playbook become published, than damn hell yes, the priest is the one who will be going down…..not his victim.

The Dysfunctional Dance

Have you ever danced with dysfunction? Mamboed with a manipulator? Did the two-step with a twisted mind?

It may have started out fun. There you were with your two left feet being dragged onto the dance floor…maybe feeling a little uncomfortable but telling yourself you would follow their lead? You wanted to belong. Didn’t want to end up being the wallflower that sat alone and unloved. Told yourself to open up to new experiences, let go, have some fun. Push past the discomfort. Ignore those feelings.

Every time you manged not to step on your partner’s feet, you won their praise and began to feel pretty good about the whole thing. Soon your confidence began to grow. This wasn’t so bad after all. You even bought yourself a new pair of shoes which drew more praise from your dance partner.

Soon little endorphins began to tap dance within brain. For every step your partner took, you followed, keeping up with their beat.

Sometimes the two of you would dance to a new song…just to try something new. A hand would be placed on your hip. Who are you to say anything, you with your two left feet? Where would you be without your partner? Sitting alone against the wall, that’s where. You want to end up back there? Didn’t think so. A hand on the hip doesn’t seem so bad. It’s all part of the dance, after all.

You are only dancing, right? I mean everyone dances. Why shouldn’t you put your hand on your partner’s hip as well? Seems only right seeing as if they hadn’t taken the time out of their busy schedule when they could be dancing with someone who really knows what they are doing….you want to learn how to do this or not you worthless two left footed thing? You think new shoes make a difference? You think anyone else is going to want to dance with a moron like you?

My dance partner must know what they are talking about, after all, I know nothing about this dance and they are so very experienced. They can get a much better dancer and I’m just being silly. It’s just touching after all. People touch when they dance, right?

You notice that you are getting further and further away from the others on the dance floor. You understand it is because you are inexperienced and you don’t want to bump into anyone or cause any trouble. And it pleases your partner. And that makes you feel good, right?

Dancing is hot work and clothes get in the way, you are told. At least if you want to learn how to express yourself fully. You have the soul of an artist and you are told that they want to help you realize your full potential. Hmmn. Well I thought you were different. Special. Guess I was wrong. Oh, please, no, no….I want to be special. I want to learn. I want to belong. I don’t want to be an outcast.

It’s expression. It’s only art. It’s not at all anything dirty. My partner is so good to teach me so much. I just have to get over these pesky feelings of my inhibitions. Just get over it, I’m told. My partner knows what he is doing. When they are not happy, nothing is right. It’s up to me to keep them happy. I have been told not to make them unhappy.

Soon you are in a room alone with them. The music has stopped. You see the truth in their eyes but it is too late. You have chosen to go into this room. You have chosen to remove your clothes. You have chosen to touch them. I don’t understand. I was just dancing. I was only dancing. You said it was right.

Your endorphins have now shuffled off to Buffalo and are being replaced at an alarming speed by adrenaline. You freeze. Unable to move anywhere.

And they tell you…..you cannot leave this room….if you do….nobody will believe anything that a clumsy, pathetic wall-flower….and a naked one at that….has to say.

I am, after all…..the master of the dysfunctional dance…..people revere me and bow when they see me. You…..are a fool. You are disposable. And if you leave this room….I will destroy you.

And then the people outside of this room will destroy you. And you will want to destroy yourself.

Because you know you wanted this. Why else would you have ended up here like this?

Then they turn on you. You know what….get out of here. You are making me very uncomfortable and I don’t know what you are talking about. Why would I have asked you to dance? You must be delusional. I’m too good for you. This is ridiculous……I’m calling security. I have a whole staff here that will back me up and protect me from crazy people like you…..

The Dysfunctional Dance…..aka Dancing with the Devil in black.