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.

Time in a Bottle

This past week, Pope Francis discussed harsher penalties for those priests and lay persons who groom and use pornography in order to sexually abuse children. He also expanded upon this to include those who abuse vulnerable adults. However, the term “vulnerable adult” has always tended to mean one who is physically or mentally incapable of resisting or giving consent due to disabilities. This has expanded from a basic definition of one who lacks any sort of reason.

The pope is also putting more pressure on bishops who hear about or discover abuse…..mainly to avoid criminal charges of those found guilty and to keep punishment within church walls. The recent scandal with Archbishop McCarrick has given incentive to this end.

The case with McCarrick brought to light coercive control and sexual abuse of seminarians. Due to this case and to growing unrest around the globe, Cardinal O’Malley insisted that the definition of the vulnerable adult be broadened to include those in a situation of power imbalance, where there has been abuse of those under someone’s authority, even if both of those individuals are adults.

Reactions to these potential changes are mixed. Some hail this as a move in the right direction. Others see it as nothing more than the church continuing to call the shots and an attempt to maintain cover-ups. I see it as both.

One change I did see after I spoke with the bishop is that the priest who abused me was moved from his own apartment to sharing a rectory with the bishop. While this may seem like a good thing, the rectory is adjacent to a grade school. And as we know….a predator is a predator. Prey is prey.

On another note, to anyone who was participating in the meeting yesterday, please know that we were cut off because of a sudden loss of power in the area.

We did discuss the use of the double entendre that predator priests seem to like to use. And the embarrassment it causes when a simple discussion turns awkward and sexual. And then the denial that follows. And in one case, someone was directed to forgive the perpetrator, but again, that just puts you up front and center and vulnerable when someone has no incentive to change their behavior.

Recommended book this week is “The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships” by Carnes and Phillips.

Someone this week said that they always know what is going on in my life because of my blog.

Well, this past weekend, I had one of those moments you want to freeze and hold on to. It was my grandson’s second birthday and we celebrated by bringing together a blended and extended family.

The party was held at my mother’s house and in attendance were my sons and my “adopted son”, and my grandson of course and his mom and her friend and my brother stopped by and the baby’s other grandmother….and my ex-husband and his girlfriend.

I told someone how nice it was to be able to share this birthday with my ex and to get along with him and his girlfriend and to have somewhat of a Kumbaya moment in time. It was like coming full circle. And it did not come without a price. Which made it all the more sweeter. I think some people will be able to relate.

I thought about what had to happen to make this moment possible. Choices and chance.

My mom was not supposed to make it past 1995. She is not supposed to be here. My brother is a walking miracle. I can barely remember a time when he wasn’t abusing his body.

My ex has been through a number of heart procedures but mainly, he is my ex and I have found that the further I am from him, the better we get along. I’m not trying to be funny. My mom actually said the other day what a nice guy he is. And she was “there” and knew how it was when I was with him. I never shared touching moments with him and our kids. He felt they were my responsibility and that they were basically nuisances that cost money. They both left home within a week or so of each other because they could not live with him and our life together began to crumble not long afterward.

He would threaten and push me to the point where he would leave before he would back down, and then go to his family or his friends and tell them how I threw him out and I’d get angry phone calls and people thinking I was horrible.

But the other day, we shared our grandson’s birthday and his girlfriend joked with me that if she ever tried to quit smoking while living with him, she’d have to kill him and it was funny and I could laugh at it because it wasn’t my problem anymore. And we were able to joke about how he got angry with me because my labor was taking too long and he hadn’t had anything to eat. But now he is a mellow guy who gardens and who while not having any interaction with his grandson, did buy him stuff and show up. And I think we are friends. And that was nice because at one time it wasn’t.

And my grandson? He was born to my son who didn’t want children because he was afraid he would not be a good father, and to a woman who had multiple miscarriages in the past with her ex-husband.

I knew her long before my son met her. She had been my supervisor and had trained me at the Suicide Hotline where I had volunteered. And although there are issues at times between us, and between her and my son, the fact that they came together brought my grandson into the world.

This was a rag-tag mishmash of people coming together for a joyous occasion. I can’t think of one person among all of us that I would consider “normal”. Not when the babysitter/friend compared being a baby and having all your needs met to being drunk. Huh? Only my mother cared what happened to me if I was drunk and that only happened when I was a teenager. I’ve been on my own since then.

But my point is, for one moment in time, things were perfect. For one moment. I guess that’s all we can ever count on. I mean, the next day my brother was hitting my mother up for money again, and everyone went back to keeping their issues hidden in their own homes. So the moment had passed. I guess that’s how it goes. Perfect pieces of happiness found within the rubble. Saving time in a bottle.

Have a good week. Find your bit of happiness. Be well.

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

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.

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.