Listen to Your Heart

Last week I watched the documentary “We Were Children” about two survivors of a residence/school for Canadian Indian children, run by the Catholic Church. This was a government and church sanctioned program which ran for over 100 years until the late 20th century.

Their aim was to basically “pray the savage” out of indigenous people by taking them away from their families at a very young age and forcing them to speak an unfamiliar language and eat poor-quality food and basically putting them into a very vulnerable position. Sexual abuse of these children was an unwritten course on the curriculum. At one point a nun does step in to stop the priests and help the children and the survivor is told not to worry anymore because the priest that hurt him will be sent away to another school.

You have to ask yourself what kind of people would do this to children. But then again, whenever we tend to see groups of people following rules and being led by those they admire or perhaps fear due to their own feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, and when it becomes easier to think it is someone else’s problem or that someone else will take care of the issue or the people in charge will surely do something if it gets out of hand…nothing changes.

And yet, as bad as we hear about these things coming to light about children who have been abused, I read this week that about 95% of abuse by clergy is directed towards adult women.

The reason it’s important to say that is not because statistics matter in regard to how badly anyone was abused or how physically and psychologically scarring the abuse was to any person who experienced it, but rather the statistics show something that would surprise most people. It surely surprised me. Like most everyone else, I thought that abuse was horrible, but the occurrences were isolated and taken care of and basically happened to altar boys or a boy that a priest “took under his wing”.

And we would see things like that happening back in the day. Nobody really talked about being gay openly really, I think until the 80’s when AIDS really brought people’s lives out into the open whether they wanted it to happen or not. So, I think many things were not really understood if it didn’t happen to apply to you.

I think the very fact that the percentage is so high when it comes to the abuse of adult women is a good thing for people to know. I certainly did not know. It sounds naive now, but I knew that people looked away at what we saw as consensual affairs between priests and adult women, but I had no idea that priests were capable of such mind play and abuse of power, not to mention threats of violence.

A couple of years ago, I was interviewed by a local TV station when I sent an email into a reporter who had interviewed a survivor of childhood abuse by a local priest. I sent the email to show my support for the survivor. The reporter and the TV crew came to my house and were very interested in what I had to say about my support for the survivors in the area. They asked me if I was a survivor as well. I said no comment as far as that went. I was afraid to say anything about what had happened to me. No, I was pretty terrified of the repercussions.

What I did say to the reporter was that I would be glad to talk about the abuse of adults by clergy. But they were not interested.

It was brought up recently about taking that extra step and pushing forward and talking to news people and telling our stories. I do want to say that as SNAP leaders, we were told not to think of reporters as our friends, but as people doing their jobs to get a story. They can be kind and supportive and sometimes that can be used as a way of getting you to say something you normally wouldn’t say to the world.

I spoke to a reporter from Buffalo once and he was calling me all day long asking questions and telling me he was under a deadline, and he seemed like a real “nice guy”. But I became uncomfortable when he tried to put words in my mouth. And if you are a person who is accommodating and find yourself wanting to be helpful to someone who is trying to get his article in under the deadline because his boss is on his back, you may end up with your words twisted around so that he prints that you praised the bishop when what you actually said when pushed into it was an agreement with something positive the reporter stated about the bishop. Like would I say that the bishop appeared to be trying to help survivors. To which I said…would I say that…yes or no? I guess I would say that it appears he is trying to help.

That’s not the same as praising someone, but that was the headline they went with. And some SNAP members were angry with me for saying I was in support of the church. Which I really didn’t offer up but I had no proof either way of what the bishop’s intent was, so I went with what I thought things appeared to be. I focused throughout the day on transparency and the importance of the job he had ahead of him in cleaning up after the last bishop, but the multiple phone calls from the reporter with follow up questions must have been a ruse leading to the main thing he was after….the headline in support of the bishop or a headline that would stir emotions.

People who wonder why it’s so difficult to speak up after abuse don’t always realize the layers of issues one faces once they become brave enough to speak up. The intimidation of victims when they are most vulnerable after the abuse is immoral and frankly disgusting and inhumane.

One method I recently heard about to help those who suffer from PTSD is called “Assault Compassion Meditation”. I just heard about this, so I don’t know much about it. I suggest looking it up for more information. From what I have gathered, it is healing meditation focusing on healing the inner hurt by giving yourself loving thoughts, as well as sending love outward to let go of negative feelings that are holding you back from being at peace.

Another problem I find is common among those who are healing from an abusive past history is…loneliness and the feeling of loss. It’s like we have been shattered into pieces and along the way, we have tried to fit other shattered people’s pieces into ourselves in order to feel complete. But that has not worked. And we feel that we are left picking up our own pieces and putting them back together again. And we all have difficult days. Sometimes there are feelings of abandonment and loss of people who either passed away or physically left us through rejection or because we had to leave them in order to be safe.

What I have realized in my life is that I had what I needed physically growing up. And I know that I was and have been loved. But the problem is…I was never taught what love was and how to express love in a healthy way. Perhaps things weren’t as pitiful as that sounds, but just maybe this insight means that I have grown a bit emotionally. Not grown all the way up…nope. Still emotionally immature. But I never knew how to put into words what the problem was.

And when I see that clearly, I can kind of understand why I have difficulty loving myself and allowing myself to be close to others.

I do not in any way mean this to be disrespectful of my family. My mom is 94 and can run laps around me. My dad built our house with his father. He also worked his way up in business by taking classes and taking chances when they came along. My family was witty, and talented, and they made sure everything, and everyone was cared for. Brilliant, beautiful, hard-working, clean, Godly, active…good people.

But they had issues. And I always felt that “they had issues”. I didn’t have issues. And when you are the person who takes care of keeping the issues under control for everyone, you don’t see your own issues. You aren’t allowed to have any issues. You even resent having your issues pointed out to you.

Love in my family meant that you had to work and keep moving. You could not expect privacy. Everything you did was watched and managed. Everything you ate was commented on. Because they cared about you. You are grilled about your life and have one thing relentlessly focused upon until it is done to somebody else’s satisfaction. And then it’s something else. Hugging and loving words are meant for babies. You don’t want to baby your kids and have them grow up weak. Don’t let your emotions make someone else unhappy. If you don’t like something, lie and pretend that you do like it, so you won’t hurt anyone. If you have gotten sick, you did something to make yourself that way.

Again, not as bad as it sounds, because I knew I was loved, but I also see how I grew up confused about that emotion.

Regina Wurst does a good job of describing her childhood in her book, “Josh” which I am reading right now. Very interesting book, by the way. It shows what it is like to be loved and yet kind of emotionally orphaned by overwhelmed parents with problems of their own. Or in my case, by parents who never knew how to solve the problems they were not aware they had.

Knowing that in some way, you were loved and had a “normal childhood”, and you were taught how to read and to write and to swim and to ride a bike…. but, you were never really taught by example, what healthy love looked like or that you were loveable simply for being you…you can kind of understand how you may not have found healthy love as an adult.

And while on that healing journey, there will be moments of stillness that may feel unbearable at times. It may feel unnatural. Natural and normal and comforting may feel like what you have known in the past that felt like love, but when you reached out to try to hang on, your hands went right through the illusion of what never existed in the first place.

Have a great week, everyone!

Faith

Being abused by clergy leaves a mark on your soul. By that I mean there is usually a spiritual scar. Many survivors are cradle Catholics and have grown up celebrating the sacraments and the Holy Days and Sunday mass and first Fridays. Many have said that, like myself and my brother, they played going to mass and being a priest like any other type of pretend of something that influenced us when we were young. I was in the choir, worked in the Sacristy making sure all was in order for mass, and went to Catholic school from kindergarten through college.

We learned that we were not supposed to lie, or to kill our brothers. Brothers were off limits from harm, no matter how much of a jerk they could be. We learned how to treat others as we would be treated. And we learned to follow Jesus and we learned that He was our friend.

And throughout my life, whenever I hit the tough spots, I always felt that God or Jesus or someone else who was in charge who cared about me, understood what was going on and was always with me. And that being forgave me even when I could not forgive myself. And when life did not make sense, I just knew that there was a plan from the being in the sky.

And just as that being in the sky was solid and reliable, so was His church on Earth and the infallible people who would always be there in our hour of need. Or at least on Sundays and Holidays. And in the hospital. And at funerals. And weddings. Things like that. Dependable.

When the whole world falls down around you, the church stands strong, and the people inside offer you comfort. Reliable. Stable.

Until they are not. The people I mean. Reliable and stable and kind and comforting. When you see the other side, they don’t want anyone else to see. The side that has nothing to do with them being a human being with human needs or loneliness or love or oops, sorry, I had a moment of horniness. My bad.

I’m talking about the side that has to do with…I can do whatever I want and get away with it. And I am entitled to have anything that I want. The side that works unsupervised by the outside world with the most vulnerable people on the planet. I’m talking about a job that a budding sexual predator could get where their potential victims would come to them to be raped and discarded and end up feeling like they defiled the perpetrator instead of the other way around. Hard to prosecute sexual crimes. Even harder when a priest is involved, and society does not understand the crime. Or that there even was a crime.

So, when you are left discarded and feeling like you have done something terribly wrong, even when you have not, and you feel afraid or ashamed or too angry to walk into a church, and nothing in the bible or anything that you have been taught seems to hold true anymore because all those who preached the truth turned out to be liars, what then?

What do you believe? Where do you turn for comfort?

I was lucky. Looking back, I consider myself to have been very lucky. When I was going through the sexual harassment, and living in denial that I was being harassed, and trying to find a way out of the web in which I found myself caught, I prayed. I prayed because that is what I was always taught to do when I felt distressed. I prayed to God to just please take this all away from me. I can’t do this. Do you want me to do this? You must want me to do something here because this is a priest, after all. What am I supposed to do?

It may sound insane to someone to think that sexual harassment can be mistaken for some kind of calling from God. That you are in that situation because God needed you to be there.

Well, you know, it turns out that going through this experience pulled me away from my religion and my church. But not away from what I perceive as my higher power. And you know, I don’t really care who that is or what their name is. And that is hard for me to say as a Catholic. But for me, I had to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.

When I look back at that horrible experience, I remember the day I was fired and I was being walked out the door, and I said to my former lunch buddy who worked in HR who had to do the walking, (which made things more humiliating) I said…I prayed for an end to this…and as bad as this is…my prayer was answered.

And I also think I was there for a reason, but the reason was not to the extra duties as assigned by my boss. As things worked out, I don’t think my boss ever planned on me writing a book about the ordeal or writing a blog that was read by other survivors, or that one day there would be a weekly meeting that those who have been abused as adults can attend so they can learn that it was not their fault and, yes, it was abuse.

I mentioned once that I used to write for the “other side”. I wanted to write inspirational stories and poems and such. One piece I wrote was about faith. My feeling was that we are brought up and told what to believe. We are told what is right and what is wrong. We as a community all agree on the same points and the same God and the same principals. We grow up and we find that there are other people who go to different churches and who may have different beliefs. But, kind of like rooting for the home team, we generally keep the same faith all of our lives and believe what we have been brought up to believe.

But what exactly is all of that reading and memorizing and chanting and incense and time spent on our knees for? Are we trying to impress someone? Is God impressed? Is someone keeping score? Does any of this help when it really matters? I mean, when it really matters, and nothing is making sense and you feel like your life is over and you want to dieare we supposed to hope that God likes us enough to take pity on us and that He forgives us for not going to church for the past 25 years?

Is that kind of thinking helpful? Guilt and self-hate and sin and a vengeful God? And judgmental clergy.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying there is no God or that praying doesn’t bring peace or that nothing is real and that everything is a lie.

What I am saying is that I have faith. I have always had faith and I always will have faith. But there is nobody that is going to give me that faith and nobody that is going to take it away. And I don’t need anyone’s blessings.

In the story I wrote, I said that having faith is like being a tiny piece of cork in a raging sea. You get tossed around, dragged under, thrown into unfamiliar territory, but you will go where you are meant to go, end up where you are meant to end up, and you will always pop up to the surface after the storm passes.

That to me is faith. It has nothing to do with pews and vestments and obligations. It has to do with a belief that you are connected to something more powerful than yourself. That belief is what brings me peace and that belief is what carries me through dark moments in my life. And that is universal no matter what faith you have grown up to believe.

On another note, I heard someone say that they forgave their abuser. This person went on to say that in order to heal, we all have to forgive our abuser. I totally disagree.

I don’t think we have to even think about our abuser. I think we need to forgive ourselves and focus on ourselves and going forward. Forgiveness to me is another way of saying…I go through my day without thinking about you. Also, I don’t wish you harm, but I do wish that you do not harm anyone else. And if that means that I need to press charges or tell people what you did, then that is what I will do, with the intent to stop abuse.

Someone else said that support groups are okay, but that instead of just talking about things, we should be getting together to do something.

I both agree and disagree. Support groups are for talking. And for supporting each other. A support group is really not the place to tell anyone they need to be doing more than they are. Some people are doing all they can just by showing up. So, I disagree that we should be organizing anything or doing anything but talking in our support group.

But, I have spoken to people who seem to not quite fit into support mode because they have gotten to a place where they want to be more active and perhaps speak to others who share their passion and their drive. These people are survivors as well but are looking for others to whom they can relate. They are ready to go to protests or talk to the press or spread the word to the world. There is a real need for people such as these. So, I agree as this person pointed out that we as survivors do have power.

And now, just for fun. Stats for the month of January. There were 211 visitors to this blog in January. Most read post was “All I Have to Give”. Top five countries who visited this site (after U.S.) were: United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, China and Malaysia.

Poll results showed that, 1. Most people were asleep by midnight on New Year’s Eve, 2. Most people have been affected by Covid in some way, 3. From the start of their grooming to the end or discard, most people said the time was between 3 to 5 years total, and finally, 4. Most people who know about the Abused as Adults meeting find the time and day it is held okay for them

Have a great week everyone!

It Wasn’t Me

This past week, I watched either 20/20 or Dateline about a woman who was raped in her own bed while her husband was out of town and her children were in the house. Even more unnerving was that although someone had cut the phone wires, there was no sign of a break in, and the doors had been locked.

It took 11 years for them to find a DNA match for the person who committed the crime. In the meantime, the victim was re-victimized by the police and by the community. Much of the reason for this is because she didn’t “act like a victim”.

Her children had slept through everything. That was because she was afraid they would wake up, and she thought her attacker had a gun, so she stayed quiet throughout the attack. She had not wanted her children to witness anything or to be victimized themselves.

The fact that there was no sign of a break in raised suspicion. It appeared that she was just covering for an affair that had been discovered. (so people said) And the fact that she did not call her husband right away raised eyebrows. Why hadn’t she? Because he was at a wedding and had to drive back the next day and she didn’t want to upset him before he got home when there was nothing he could do.

She was harassed by the police and almost arrested for filing a false claim. Even when another detective took over the case and admitted that the crime scene and follow up had been totally botched by the first crew, and even when another complaint in town years later prompted a request for DNA evidence that ended up a match for her case, there was still doubt about her story. Why? Because the man was a respected member of the community, a close family friend who happened to know her husband was out of town that night, and people just could not believe he would do such a thing.

So, it seemed all the more obvious to people that the victim had cried rape when it had been consensual. She still couldn’t catch a break.

Finally, this guy was caught trying to drag a teenage girl into his van at a high school parking lot and prosecuted for that. But the statute of limitations was up, and the first victim could not charge him with rape. They ended up charging him with kidnapping.

What was even more chilling was, this man had been a friend of her husband since kindergarten, and the families had gotten together since the rape to picnic together. It goes to show what many survivors know…it is far too common for a victim’s story to not be believed if the perpetrator is someone who is well known or respected, and because of that fact, many more people are hurt before anything is done. Also, the wolf can be someone that you know and don’t suspect.

Also, this week, someone posted on Facebook that they had seen the documentary, “The Keepers”, and how powerful it was and how sad. They went on to say how they don’t trust the church and how they have heard stories about people who were abused when they were younger. Others commented along the same lines, saying how bad this area is and how they still believe in God, but not the church. Maybe it’s time for some more documentaries to raise awareness of the abuse targeted towards adults.

Someone suggested to me that predator priests may be finding it harder to look for children to take advantage of due to more awareness. They said that perhaps if that pool was drying up in a sense, those same predators may go seeking vulnerable adults.

I’m not sure about that. I know it has always made me feel sick to think about the things my abuser said to me and how it made me feel. This past week, I was speaking to my therapist, and I told her that after the discard/firing, I felt such a strong surge of emotion that I didn’t know what to do with. So, I paced and chained smoked (after having quit due to cancer) and talked to anyone who would listen, and played and replayed uplifting music, and wrote and wrote and wrote until I wrote a book. I could not eat, sleep, sit still enough to watch any TV, or stop thinking about what had happened. But, I said, I am older. I drew on my experience of past heartaches and horrible things, and I knew that with time this too would pass. At least the initial traumatic feelings would pass.

And, yes, I was able to successfully quit smoking again. It’s now been almost four years since I quit. My drugs of choice now are chocolate and caffeine. With an occasional martini.

A child doesn’t have experience to draw from. And it makes me sick to think of evil people hurting children. But my abuser seemed to choose adult women. Would he, or had he ever, taken advantage of any other age or sex due to availability and vulnerability of the situation? I don’t know. Would he cross over if he saw the opportunity? I don’t know.

From what I understand, pedophilia is a dysfunction on its own. Within that group, I have read that there are “exclusive pedophiles” and “non-exclusive pedophiles”. The first group is only sexually attracted to children. And within that group, some prefer boys, and some prefer girls and there are also age preferences as well. A “non-exclusive pedophile” is attracted to both children of certain sex and ages and adults as well. For instance, there may be an attraction to adult women but only those who resemble children in height and weight and demeanor. And for others, it all depends on what strikes their fancy.

So, I would assume that if a predator clergy person was on the hunt for potential prey, that they would stick to who they are most attracted to and the plan that usually worked for them before.

But we are also talking about the priesthood here. The brotherhood. Behind the wall. Kind of like living the life of a rockstar. We don’t really know what they do behind closed doors either…but we have heard rumors. And we know they live in a world apart from ours. Or perhaps the life of a priest can be compared to prison life. Separated from the rest of the world, experiencing sexual urges, and taking whatever is available.

But then there is another thing to consider. Location. Where are the pedophile nuns and priests mainly found? Most likely they can be found where there are children. In schools and camps and wherever a child is vulnerable and needs a friend. Not all children have parents who they feel they can report to if an adult crosses the line with them. In some cases, sexual abuse may even be happening at home.

Another way of finding a child to groom and abuse? By grooming the parents of the victim. I heard this week of instances where the mothers were emotionally groomed and used in order to gain access to her children.

But where are those priests who are looking to groom adults? Where are they choosing to work? My boss was the head of the Tribunal. What did he do? He talked to men and women about their failed marriages. He asked them personal details about their sex lives.

Boy, what a way to get a foot in the door.

He is also on the board at a local college. Not sure how hands on he is there or what interactions he has with students. But he may act as a counsellor of sorts to young women there.

And he also acts as a counsellor for those who are struggling to get back on their feet. The counselling center is next door to the home for unwed mothers. The building in which I used to work used to be a Center for Children and the building next door was a maternity hospital. There was a tunnel in between the two buildings. Babies who were born and taken from their mothers for adoption would be brought through the tunnel into the other building.

When I was first out of school when I was young, I used to work in an office in that building for the social services department where they worked with troubled children and their families. Some of the children lived in the building.

So, I guess what I am saying is there is no shortage of vulnerable people in the world for whatever reason. And clergy people are supposed to be there for spiritual guidance and comfort and to offer food and shelter and counselling to those who come to them for help. That makes them vulnerable. The vulnerable come to the predators. That is the whole nature of the way we view the church and why we need the church. Because we are all vulnerable at some point in our lives.

I don’t know who any priest prefers to abuse. And I cannot guess if any one of them would choose to molest an adult due to lack of available children, but I do think that you are more likely to find pedophiles around places with children like schools and those who prefer adults in places where adults will be like colleges and in positions where they will be counselling fragile souls. That just makes sense.

Everyone please have a happy and healthy week. Look for the blessings in your life…because they are there. Look for the good in yourself. Remember to be good to yourself. Don’t wait for other people to be good to you. And, please take this week’s poll.

Steal My Sunshine

The first thing I would like to share this week is that we had a leaders’ meeting this past week, and at that meeting, it was proposed that SNAP put together a deposition template from past court proceedings in order that those who are going into court to testify can have something to use as a guideline.

While it is still in the talking stage right now, I think it would be a wonderful means of support for survivors heading to court to face their abusers. It can be difficult to know just what to say or how to put into words what happened. To be able to have some kind of guideline when you are feeling so vulnerable and alone can be a great comfort. More on this as information becomes available.

As long as we are talking about going to court, I watched a documentary this week on women who have been sent to prison for murdering their abusive husbands.

So, what does this have to do with survivors of clergy abuse?

Well, I have often said that details may be different in each case, but the stories and how the abuse comes about are similar. Whether the abuse is by a priest or a therapist, or a teacher, or a spouse, there are similarities in how the relationships begin, progress, and continue to exist if they do not come to an end in some way.

In these cases, they all involved women, but we know that abuse happens to men as well. The thing that I found the most interesting…and disturbing…about these cases, is that time and time again, the women were advised by their lawyers not to bring up anything about the abuse they suffered at the hands of their husbands. The reason for this is it was felt that it showed motive.

We have heard about victim blaming. I’d like to think that times are beginning to change, but I know we still have a long way to go as far as abuse is concerned. For instance, we still tend to ask, “Why didn’t she leave?” instead of asking “If he thought she was that horrible, why didn’t he leave?” or “Why did he beat her or abuse her?”

We are still putting all of the responsibility on the victim. And the victim? One woman said that she had the kids packed up and ready to leave and her husband came home and put a stop to it. She said that he told her she was not leaving and then he locked her in the basement for a week without food or water.

Another woman ran away to another man only to have her husband find her. Her boyfriend ended up shooting the husband and she was charged as an accomplice.

And we have seen that sometimes victims are just too terrified to call the police or they have no means of supporting themselves or a way of escaping the situation. Or their self-esteem has plummeted, and they believe they are worthless. Or they feel that they cannot survive without their partner.

I have mentioned before that I have spoken to survivors who are not sure if what they have been through is abuse. And I get it because I have been there. It sounds kind of crazy explaining what happened to someone who hasn’t been through it. Because as I once said to my own abuser, his words were like smoke in the wind.

How do you explain to someone that a priest was looking at you while consecrating the Host? That he did not take his eyes off of you. That you felt too uncomfortable to go to mass after that because of the way it made you feel. And that you wondered how he could sincerely be a man of God if he used the most sacred part of the mass to stare at you. It sounds like you’re nuts.

And how do you explain defending the actions of your abuser or saying the words, “I think I’m in love with him,” knowing it’s crazy but perhaps the flood of emotion that is felt beats feeling flat and emotionless and alone in the world. Or perhaps you grew up loving and defending an abusive parent who your whole life depended upon.

In any case, any abusive relationship can be complicated. Mental illness and substance abuse can add fuel to an already stoked fire. And sometimes children can be used as pawns in sick adult games.

And then there may come a time when it may come down to kill your abuser or be killed. Or it may feel like there is no other means of escape. Or maybe after years of madness, a person just snaps. And it may be hard for a jury to understand the situation the abused spouse was living in at the time the crime was committed. But in the documentary I watched, these women went to jail for many, many years. And finally, when someone cared enough to try to fight for them and put the abuse on the table as a defense for the murders, I believe it was only one woman out of eight that was granted parole after serving about 30 years behind bars.

My point is that society has tended to blame the victim when it comes to abuse. In certain cases, such as in a marriage…or when it comes to people we tend to hold in high esteem such as priests, society gets uncomfortable and would rather choose to look the other way. And we as a society want to find fault with the victim, because in doing so, we can separate ourselves from that person and such horrible things won’t happen to us.

I feel that it is only in looking at what makes us uncomfortable and facing the truth that we are able to learn. And since abuse is so prevalent in families and at school and at work and in personal relationships, and because each generation that does not learn how to prevent abuse ends up spreading it to their children and their children’s children…it hurts too many people and becomes everyone’s problem.

There are so many misconceptions and misunderstandings as to what abuse actually is and how it happens that still lingers in my own family.

As I have mentioned before, I was attacked at high school by someone I had just broken up with. He threw me to the ground outside of school and whipped a jean jacket with dozens of hard snaps on it over my head again and again. People watched and did nothing.

Years went by and this same person, now a grown man, contacts me via Facebook and asks me to meet him for a drink. I never replied. I just let it go. I figured by saying nothing, it would not spark any anger on his part.

My mom, however, asked me why I didn’t go meet him. After all, it was just a drink…just getting together again after all these years…and what happened took place in high school. He has probably changed since then.

I wasn’t willing to find out.

Kids need to learn more of this kind of thing at school. Red flags in relationships. Reporting stuff. We know it is never too early for kids to know how to protect themselves. We need to stop normalizing or minimizing abuse. Or worse yet, holding the victim accountable for the actions of the abuser.

Thank you for reading. Have a great week. I ended up re-injuring the foot I had surgery on when a heavy medicine cabinet decided to fall off the bathroom wall and I was left hanging onto it while it was still attached by wires to the wall. Pulled or tore a tendon in the ankle. Cabinet got fixed. I’m still mending. Please remember to take this week’s poll. Thanks!

All I Have to Give

For most of my life, I have been on the “other side” of the Catholic church. I saw what everyone else sees. What everyone else has grown to accept.

When my grooming first began and I wondered if what was happening was outside the realm of “normal”, I did some research on-line and I found that being a priest is a lonely life and that some priests will connect with some women just to harmlessly flirt. You have that unspoken wall there between you, so you figure if it makes someone happy and it makes the workplace more pleasant, what is the harm in getting a little attention and laughing off some risqué innuendoes? It almost seems like the Christian thing to do. Don’t make a big deal of it and don’t get anyone into trouble.

That is our pre-abuse mindset more than likely. And when the priest tosses in bits about his life, and you feel you have been drawn into his confidence, it feels wrong to betray him in any way.

With that life story, there will likely be stories that will pull at your heart. He’s lost all of his family, or he’s got some heart issues and has to be careful of having too much stress in his life, or he lost his best friend in a tragic accident when he was younger. Plus, you admire the work he does. And so, you share a bit about yourself as well and you begin to feel that the two of you have a spiritual friendship. He offers some fatherly advice and tells you good things about yourself. He appreciates you. You feel safe and this is the man you know and care about as a friend.

This is how you feel and what you believe before the abuse…no… this is how you feel and what you believe him to be…before the discard.

I was reading recently about some comments on an article about priests in this area made by survivors. It was on-line and the survivors were pointing out how abuse was allowed to continue and how the bishop knew about this and covered it up and participated in abuse himself. They were pretty much pointing out the truth of the matter.

In the article being commented upon, the bishop was being interviewed about his part in the church scandals. His response was that at no point in time had he ever abused anyone. And you have to ask yourself, does he really believe that?

He just might. They say that power can corrupt. What about when you have power and the ability to do just about anything you want and get away with it? What if you also throw in a little bit of entitled Narcissism into the mix? That can be a recipe for someone possibly believing that they are entitled to what they want. Throw in bending the curve and making everything “just a sin” akin to gluttony like eating some candy out of the food pantry, and it doesn’t seem wrong at all. Abuse? No, that is a horrid word. They were willing. The flesh was weak, that is all.

What struck me was a comment from a woman who could have been me before the abuse/discard. She worked for the diocese for years. She loved her job.

She pretty much told the survivors to “leave the man alone”. He has done such good things, she said. She goes on to say… I have worked with priests and nuns for years, and, okay, maybe there are some personality disorders among them…but that is only due to alcohol and loneliness.

She admits there are personality disorders. But because they are priests and nuns…they are not labeled as abusive or in need of psychiatric treatment or even perhaps in need of an AA meeting…because they are priests, and they keep their issues all within their own walls. And because they are priests, their loneliness is somehow special, and their oddities are still seen as because of the holy life they lead.

There are millions of lonely people in the world who do not take their situation out on anyone else. But a priest is lonely due to his calling to God. So, we excuse whatever they do because, after all, look at how they are expected to live. So, we as a congregation have learned to enable their behavior.

On Facebook, whenever I would post anything having to do with a priest being called out for sexual abuse, I would have one friend who always felt the need to defend priests in general. I knew without a doubt that as soon as I posted something, she would post a comment about how most priests are wonderful and how she personally knew many priests who did good for mankind, etc.

And I felt like nobody wants to be put in the position to go up against the Catholic church or to speak against them. We grew up thinking and believing the same things you are thinking and feeling. But listen to me, will you please? Will you please listen to what is going on and not try to immediately shut me up? Will you at least open your mind to the possibility that there is a huge part of the church that nobody is privy to? That you have no idea what you are a party to covering up when you try to quiet someone who is trying to tell you what is going on?

It is weird and confusing and let me tell you, sometimes it takes an awful lot to be able to come to the conclusion that what happened to you was abuse. Your boundaries have been torn asunder and you wonder about your own gullibility and judgment of people. You aren’t even sure about what happened. This is a good man, right? How could he possibly have abused me? Yet, when the truth finally hits, it’s like blinders have come off of your eyes.

But just when you “get it”, your friends and co-workers and fellow congregants still have your old mindset and will try to convince you that it was just one bad apple and after all, you know…he’s just a man and there is that celibacy thing. Or they may think it is a homosexual thing and you know, they just can’t help it with all those men.

For the record, as I’ve said before, I don’t care if priests have sex with other priests as long as it is consensual. And if a heterosexual priest actually falls in love with a woman and wants to marry her and leave the priesthood? That is okay with me too. The thing that is questionable about celibacy is first of all, why is the church still requiring this of its priests if not just for the money and property they want to hang onto, and secondly, does this particular requirement attract men with personality disorders going into the job?

That is a question that is being raised today after years of abuse is being brought to light more and more. Historically, it may have been an occupation that brought pride to a family of faith to have a son join the seminary. How many joined because it was expected of them? How many joined to avoid the draft? How many joined because it was seen as being a male dominated society that excluded woman in its ranks? How many then found that it wasn’t the life they wanted but that they could not back out without disappointing their family?

You know, I use the term “Narcissist”, but in doing so, I am not trying to diagnose anyone. When I first learned about what the heck had happened to me and why, it helped to put labels on the people and the reasons. To me, it really doesn’t matter if the priest I worked for goes into a psychiatrist and comes out with a clinical diagnosis of Narcissist. It was Narcissistic abuse. It was the abuse that came from someone who had the power and who felt entitled to abuse his power and who was not the person I thought he was.

It can be confusing when you are caught in the middle. I am thankful now that I was discarded even though it was extremely painful at the time. I am glad that I was not able to have contact, even though I wanted to ask him what had happened so much. I know he would not give me a straight answer as he never did, but I still needed answers. For people who are caught in the middle of abusive relationships, it can be difficult to extract themselves from the situation and difficult for them to see things for the way they really are.

Someone I know described it as an alcoholic who is still in denial. I know such an alcoholic. Hits rock bottom, quits drinking, goes to AA, turns life around, does well, think he can have one beer while watching the game because he can handle it….and then the cycle starts again.

Anything or anyone who lights up the endorphins in our brain can be an addiction to us. I think I am becoming addicted to buying things and having them delivered. It gives me a little high to see a package on the front steps. It’s painful to have to pay the bill afterward, but then I get to buy more.

It’s difficult enough to see there is a problem and to give up something or someone that we get hits of high feelings from. It can be so easy to rationalize and to say that we can handle a situation or that a person is not that bad. Even good people, with good intentions, can create problems in our lives and be bad for us.

It’s not always easy to see things and people for what and who they really are. And it’s not always easy to pull away from anything that makes us feel good sometimes, even if in between the good feelings it is ruining our life or creating difficulty or unrest or ill health. And it’s not always easy to know where to start if you do see a problem.

But as with everything in life, realizing there is a problem, is the beginning. For me, I find that meditation is helpful to gain clarity. It doesn’t solve the problems, but I feel that meditating helps me to feel less scattered and emotional.

Have a great week, everyone. Stay safe and healthy. We have some people quarantining due to Covid in the family. I do hope that we see the end of this pandemic in 2022.

Change The World

Happy New Year Everyone

A topic of discussion this past week was…where would we be if we had not found SNAP?

I had to think for a moment as to where I was emotionally five years ago. I was blaming myself for sure. I couldn’t find any reason not to blame myself. At my boss’ most unpleasant times and most threatening behavior, I was making excuses for him. He was angry and fearful and questioning his celibacy and his feelings of sexuality and attraction and love…or so I thought. And I needed to help him.

Part of the reason I needed to help Father Jade (not his real name but rather made up from his first and last initials), was because I sensed a tsunami of emotion inside of him. And I feared all of that energy turning against me. But as a woman within the walls of the Catholic church…literally…I knew that I would be held responsible for his impure thoughts and reactions.

Part of me also feared an eruption of emotion causing questions at the office…and it already had. My “training” along with the praise and the love which was the grooming, consisted of me learning that my actions or lack of actions created different reactions in my boss. So that I began to feel that my actions were responsible and not him.

I knew my job was in jeopardy, and perhaps my life, or the life of those I cared about. I was never sure how huge or powerful that tsunami was capable of becoming.

I certainly believe that he wanted to rip away my confidence to the point where I would do whatever he wanted in order to avoid catastrophe. And when it was “over,” of course, it was not over. I came out of it feeling lower than dirt and I also had to deal with the fact that I had sent him two emails trying to reason with him without sounding threatening to him and of course, that left a trail of evidence against me just enough where he could say he felt unsafe and was the victim.

So, in addition to feeling devasted for losing my job, confused as to what had just happened, shamed by Human Resources for being unsafe around priests, and afraid that he might still come after me and nobody would believe me, I also felt that I did not deserve to be in the world around good people.

But something inside me still felt that this was utter nonsense. This couldn’t possibly have been something that only happened to me.

So, I began to search on-line, and I found SNAP. And once I found SNAP, I began to search for a story that was similar to mine. But I could find none.

I was told that what happened was not my fault, but I was still not convinced because I still had not found anyone else who had been abused by Fr. Jade, or had lost their job, or was abused in my area as an adult. I couldn’t find another “me”.

But in finding SNAP when I did, I began to question whether or not things were my fault. And that took a long time to get over. I still have not found another person abused in my area as an adult by Fr. Jade, or anyone who shares my exact same story, but I have found many, many adults with stories of their own in diocese all over the country…and all over the world.

And in getting to know these other survivors and hearing their stories, I found that I was able to begin to talk about my story and open up more and more and even get to the parts of which I was most ashamed and felt nobody else would understand. I found understanding.

I learned about gaslighting and grooming and Narcissists and enablers and Stockholm syndrome and how sexual harassment is really a big deal emotionally. I learned about church coverups and how widespread abuse is and how adults are abused as much as, or even more than children by church leaders.

I’ve also learned a lot about myself and what made him target me and what made me more vulnerable. And I’ve learned a bit about making myself less vulnerable to predators.

I think eventually I would have moved on past what happened. But without SNAP, I would not have been told when I needed to hear it most that what happened was not my fault. Without SNAP, I would not have been able to walk into a room full of survivors and began to understand the number of people affected by the abuse that has gone on within the church. Without SNAP, I would not have found a supportive community of people who get what I say without judgment and who get it because they too have been there.

With SNAP, I feel that I have not only begun to heal from the abuse, but that I have also grown as a person because of the support that I have received.

I truly am thankful that this group is there to help pick up the pieces left behind. SNAP has helped me and thousands like me find their voice. And I believe that is where healing truly begins.

I was watching a documentary this week that said how we are all connected energetically and what one person does can have a ripple effect onto others. But before we give our power away by focusing on what others have done to us or how bad the world can be, it is said that our power to change things in the world lies in our thoughts, our intentions, our actions, and in what we create.

We have the power to send light out into the world by creating calm and loving thoughts and images in our heads and on paper or in creative mediums.

We also find peace in being true to ourselves and finding our own voice despite what the world may do. Here’s hoping to a wonderful New Year for everyone.

Till I Gain Control Again

We all have our own Christmas/holiday traditions and memories that our unique to our own families.

When I was a kid, Christmas Eve was also my father’s birthday, so we would have cake after dinner, and he would open up his birthday gifts. Then after dinner, I would do a Christmas gift exchange with my relatives who lived next door and across the street. Usually, it was liquor and something for the dogs. Or some kind of food item. I liked that part because we got to open those gifts on Christmas Eve, and usually we got a big gift box of cheese and crackers and candy from my father’s sister. This was back in the day when the pizza people wouldn’t even deliver to our house because we were so far outside of the city, so anything that was a snack out of the ordinary was considered special. Plus, we got to have soda with it as well.

So special was this gift to me, that when I first met my soon to be husband’s mother and we had our first gift exchange…well, guess what I got her? Who doesn’t like cheese? Well, his mother, from the look of disappointment on her face. That was one of the first of many life lessons for me. Life as I had always known it, would never be the same.

I have always loved buying gifts for people at Christmas. But, once a gift is given, it is up to the recipient as to what to do with it. Or even if they will acknowledge it.

As I shared in our group meeting, I ordered and sent cookies to two people I knew and got very different reactions. One person was pleasantly surprised and was happy to be remembered. They said they were enjoying the cookies. The other? Not a word. None.

True, once the gift has been given, we have no control over what happens. But we do have control over who gets cookies sent to them next year. Some kind of acknowledgement is nice. Even just to know they got them.

We talked a bit tonight about the holidays and about families and dysfunction and avoidance of certain family members.

I was very hurt this past week. I’m trying to do something to help my eldest son. It’s a big something financially. The thing is, like giving a gift, if you choose to help someone, there shouldn’t be any strings attached. However, my son usually works every Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday but this year, he has both holidays off. He spent Thanksgiving with his dad and his father’s family. He told me outright this week when he stopped by to drop off his rent that he will be off for Christmas, but that I should not expect to see him.

My first reaction, instead of saying something to him, was to reach out to a friend to say……”why me?” Because family does not just say one thing when they speak. Family lives in a hall of mirrors, where words hide in corners and come out after many years and bring their friends with them, magnified and multiplied and bouncing off surfaces over and over again.

“Who was always there for you?” I wanted to ask. Who held you when you cried? Who took care of you when you were sick? Who was home every night with you? Who went to school meetings and to court when your friends were jerks and who got the DNA test when you were 16 years old and had a child? Who took care of your child every weekend? Who drove your child back and forth and had to deal with the lunatic other grandmother who was trying to get kids to beat you up at school?

Who has been paying for repairs for the house you have been living in and who has been charging you only half of what I owe each month so you can have what you need?

And as I told my friend this, how unfair it all was that my son does not see me as the “fun” parent, or the parent he wants to “hang” with, I had to ask myself…well, then, this is nothing new, is it? He has always gotten what he has needed from me. It was his father that he craved the closeness with.

So, now like his dad, he tosses out verbal abuse and rudeness like turkeys from a helicopter on Thanksgiving. With pretty much the same effect. (Not everyone will get that reference)

There was a time when I felt trapped in abuse. I left my ex-husband to get away from what was going on, only to go back to the life I had been trying to escape by moving out and getting married.

And I didn’t understand why this kept happening to me.

And as I told my friend about how hurt I felt that my son did not want to come to see me….and his brother and his baby nephew…on Christmas…after all I had done for him…the answer was pretty clear.

Why am I still giving him so much? What am I not taking care of myself? He is a grown man. And my kid or not, he is not appreciating what I am doing for him enough to treat me with the respect I deserve as his mom.

I read something that a survivor sent me this week. It was about the responsibility we carry as victims when it comes to being abused.

“Responsibility” does not mean “fault”. And it sure as heck does not feel like we are able to do anything about the abuse we get when it happens. I don’t feel like I can do much more than tell my son that he has hurt my feelings when he does not seem to care how I feel. And that doesn’t seem very powerful.

What I am going to say next is not going to be very popular. When we are involved in a dysfunctional dance, we are still dancing even if someone else is leading. Why do I do so much for my son? Because I love him, obviously. But if I am being honest, it’s also because I want him to need me or I want to still be needed. Otherwise, I would not continue to be over-supportive. In some way, I am asking him to love me, instead of taking care of myself first.

Someone said to me, “I think I have a right to be mean after all I’ve been through.” Well, I think we have a right to be angry, and to express our anger, but I don’t think we have a right to be mean to anyone.

But there is that line that we have to learn about when we have been abused and unhealthy for so long. I understand. I used to think being assertive meant that I should say anything without caring how someone else felt. It’s not. But it’s a learning process.

I can still love my son without over-giving. I can pull back my support if I choose to do so without being mean. I can still be fair and treat him as I would anyone else who takes what I give and then does not speak to me lovingly.

Someone mentioned that being alone for the holidays is nicer and more peaceful than being with toxic family members. Perhaps I need to look at it that way as well. Toxic people will tend to leave your life as you grow less tolerant of their behavior and begin to take care of yourself. Instead of feeling a loss with my son this Christmas, perhaps I should look at it as I would rather not have you here if you are going to upset me.

It sounds sad, as family and the holidays just seem to go together. But sadder still is feeling the need to grab onto someone’s pant leg as they kick you away.

Healing and growing is a constant thing. We can go from feeling like we are at a “10” one moment and then go to “0” when something triggers us, and emotions take over. But from what I read, it is far better to focus on our own growth and what needs to change within us, than it is to only see what someone has done to us and to feel the need for revenge in order to feel whole.

Very often, it said, getting justice is not as satisfying as we think it is going to be. And by the way, seeking justice is always up to the individual. It is not mandatory and certainly not something that needs to be done if it is going to retraumatize someone. But abusers are out there, not just in the church. And being a nice person or doing nice things does not guarantee good things will be done in return to you. Sometimes people will take you for granted or will take advantage of you. Sometimes we need to learn that it is okay to get angry enough to stop being so nice to people who will not return your kindness.

So, during this week of giving, make sure to give enough to yourself. Make yourself a priority in this season of love.

Merry Christmas to all!

Everybody Hurts

I’m going to start by heading back for a minute to the fear of growing old alone with nobody in your life who truly loves you or never having found “true love”.

For someone who is alone not out of choice but because they fear intimacy or because they have a wonderful heart and nobody recognizes that and appreciates it, or because they have been hurt too many times and fear trying again….it can be a very painful and lonely thing.

And very often, they are alone not because they have not tried to find love or because they have not wanted love, but because old wounds or unhelpful thought patterns and past abuse may have left them blind to their own value.

Comparing themselves unfairly to others, reliving sad thoughts in their heads, fear of being judged, fear of rejection…all can bring out insecurities which then in turn make the person appear to be unengaging and antisocial, which then can push people further away.

I read something this week that asked you to name something that happened to you yesterday. Then the same article asked that you name something that did not happen yesterday. The point being, it is easier to name something that did happen than something that did not happen.

Then I read that if you go back to your childhood, it is very easy to see what happened to you when you were small, but not so very easy to name what did not happen to you as a child. Because it never happened.

The suggestion was that many of us who are now grown and having issues with expressing our feelings or sharing our feelings or having dysfunctional feelings, may be traced back to what did not happen to us. We did not get to discuss how we felt or have our feelings respected or perhaps we lived in a house where feelings were best kept to ourselves, or nobody ever asked us if we were okay emotionally when we were sad. Maybe even we were taught not to be too happy or to search out joy. Maybe we never learned who we were outside of who other people told us we were and we never questioned that because we were never taught to ask ourselves really who we were or how things made us feel.

That is a thought to perhaps think about when you are listening to what your inner voices tell you and how they make you feel.

I have learned one thing in the past couple of years and that is that telling yourself that you are afraid of never being loved or being alone is not a good mantra to live your life around. Not only does it make you feel depressed, but predators see it in you. My feeling is, be aware of your thoughts and feelings and instead of seeing them as “facts”, try instead to see them as “triggers”.

Such as, because you know you wear your heart on your sleeve, try to avoid situations or sights or people who will trigger your raw feelings. Things such as romance movies, social media, certain friends or TV shows…most have an unrealistic view of love and can make a relationship seem unattainable.

I’ve also come to believe that people for the most part are more alike than not. I believe that even people who we see as living a charmed life have hurt at some point in time. As we get older, we lose more and more people that we know. Unless we are in group therapy with someone, we don’t know the losses they have suffered or the abuse they have gone through.

I think that the majority of people you see every day have suffered in some way. I also know that everyone you know and everyone you meet has an ego. Especially as we get older, we get more isolated and we may no longer have the unconditional love some of us got from relatives and old friends when we were younger.

In other words, as we get older, we may need to become our own source of love. Because the truth is we may never find love again, or true love…ever. It’s sad but it’s true. But it’s also true that this is true for everyone. We are not alone in feeling this way. I think pretty much everyone is afraid. And many, many people are lonely. When we begin to see the world in that way, we can begin to recognize how special we can be to others. Because we know how they feel.

Pretty much everyone appreciates kindness or a compliment. To someone, it may be the bright spot in their day. And yet, we can be so afraid to speak to anyone because they may think we are weird or something. So what? If someone thinks you are weird or does not appreciate you….it is their loss. Or perhaps they are not someone you want to know or spend time with.

There will always be people you won’t want to interact with or you will need to be careful of. Kind does not ever need to mean easy. Beware of people who are too willing to fill the emptiness in your heart. Respect your own need to heal and to protect yourself.

Another thing I read was sent to me by a friend. It’s about how different parts of your brain can affect your memories of things and keep you hooked on things in the past.

I’m not a scientist, but what I got out of what I read is that the Limbic system consists of the Amygdala, the Hippocampus, and the Thalamus and Hypothalamus. Each of these parts works together in processing emotions, memory and smooth body functions such as sleep, alertness, hunger and fatigue.

When you are in love, the Amygdala (in charge of fear and sensing danger) can shut down completely, which is why you can become blind to red flags. When you have been through an abusive relationship, the memory and emotional processing part…the Hippocampus, may literally begin to associate certain things with love and relationships. And of course, being in love or being heart broken, can both affect how you eat or sleep and your sense of focus and alertness.

When you have been dumped, or when you leave a relationship, the Amygdala can sense danger and fear. And you can believe what it is telling you. You are going to die out here all alone. Go back. Get to safety. Lions eat people who are not with a pack. You are vulnerable.

The Amygdala is only trying to help, and it is reacting to what it believes will help to keep you alive. But it is reacting to a primitive need for fear. Still, it is really easy to believe your own brain and the inner thoughts it sends you.

But much of this can explain why some people keep going back to abusive partners or back into what is familiar to them. It can also explain why you fear being alone and feel vulnerable without a “pack”.

It may just be your Amygdala that is responsible for your fears of never finding love and the despair that is felt with that thought. And who knows what memories the helpful Hippocampus is holding onto. Some emotional memories, such as trauma, can get caught up with survival fears, linking memories and smells and triggering painful stuff in the name of helping us survive. Like avoiding the lion who will eat us.

So, the moral of this may be that the brain tries to help us, but instead by doing so, may keep us from interacting as it does not know where the “lion” is hiding.

And it’s not easy to over-ride the brain. It’s an on-going process this thing called healing.

I will close this week by including a video clip of some very beautiful and brave adult survivors of clergy abuse. Have a great week. Please remember to take the poll.

Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough

I had so many things in my head to talk about this week and now I can’t think of a single one.

I guess I could start off with something I ran across in a meeting. When we do our Zoom meetings, I think it is great that people add comments. The only comment I want to comment on is…..my feeling is that it is best not to put contact information out there for everyone during a meeting. Unless, that is, you are a member of SNAP. Otherwise, be cautious about sharing personal information or asking people to contact you, or for that matter, contacting people who you don’t know or have not met personally even if they sound like wonderful people…..or sharing personal information with them if they are not SNAP leaders.

Just saying….as always, please use caution. And I also ask that it is not done during one of my meetings as I am not vouching for anyone’s character by allowing them into the meeting. I do screen but that does not mean I do background checks.

As you know, most of us are healing…if not from priest abuse, then from something in our lives. I think we have to give ourselves credit for how far we have come. Sometimes I talk to people, and it reminds me of those priests of old who would beat themselves in order to be worthy. Like, I said something good about myself so I must now compensate by taking a cane to the kneecap to even things out.

Well, we were raised that way, were we not? Weren’t we taught to die for Jesus and that the meek would inherit the Earth and that we should honor the martyrs? I swear that I felt I could not like myself or anything about myself unless someone else gave me permission to do so.

I don’t feel that beating yourself up every time you have a human feeling helps you to heal. And I am not saying that concept is an easy thing to grasp. I think that there is so very much we need to unlearn. I see myself move forward and then I feel as stuck as I ever was.

I heard the words this week that so many of us fear the most. “I am getting older, and I am so afraid that I will grow old and die alone without ever being loved.”

And that hit me in the gut. Because underneath every other fear, that is the fear that sits at the bottom of the others…pushing the rest to the surface. I don’t want to die alone.

I read a couple of articles about the subject this week. With Thanksgiving, I read about someone who was dreading spending the day by themselves. Someone else had a wonderful answer to that.

Hey…no arguments at the dinner table. No hurt feelings if someone is not invited. No spending all day cooking for people…some of whom you may not really like. Break out your best China and candles. Make a pork roast in your microwave instead of a turkey? Why not? Treat yourself to the nicest, most delicious meal and listen to the music you like and watch what you want to on TV.

Another was a question to someone as to how it felt to be old and alone. The person said that they were over 90 years old, and they went out every day and saw people at the store or the hairdresser and had dinner at their son’s house once a week, and that they did what they wanted to and cherished their alone time. They said they would rather live alone in their small apartment than in a larger community setting.

I think we tend to confuse being alone with being unhappy. Or being older and being unhappy. We are more than likely going to die alone when we go. Perhaps we just hope that there is someone left to care about that when the time comes.

I had an aunt who passed away not very long ago. So many people at her house worrying about her will while she lay alone in her hospital bed. All of these people were around as long as she had money a big house and jewelry to be passed out or cruises to take. I did not see one of those people by her side while she lay dying and supposedly “out of it”.

I was there with her in her final hours. So was my cousin who moistened her dry lips. My mother came to see her to say good-bye. My friend was with me. We talked to her about her life and the people we knew and at one point, she was able to acknowledge that we loved her. We finally left her around 1:30 in the morning with the intent to return in a few hours, but she ended up passing away, alone a couple of hours later.

So, when it comes down to it, what does “dying alone” really mean? To be fair, my aunt was never alone while she was alive. She lived in her house with a nurse who came over 12 hours a day and a housecleaner and a relative who ended up moving in with her. But nobody thought about being at the hospital with her in her final hours because it was probably thought that she wouldn’t know the difference. Or some people can’t handle hospitals and death.

It is said that we don’t die alone anyway because someone from the other side comes to help us transition.

But maybe that is not really what we are afraid of. Maybe it’s not the dying part that gets us. Maybe it is the living part that hurts the most. Growing older and living alone.

Yes, maybe that’s what it really is. I get it. Seriously. When we are older, we are no longer considered physically beautiful. We aren’t as firm or as thin as we once were. We may develop illnesses. We may need assistance. We may start to become invisible to people who would rather not have to see us.

What happens if we start to love ourselves but nobody else is around to care? That is truly terrifying. And all too real.

Well, the thing is, we just don’t know, do we? We don’t know what is going to happen. Ever.

There is one thing I do believe, though. We really can’t focus on that fear. Because we don’t know. Because the future is a myth. A big wide-open concept that does not truly exist. Life only happens a day at a time. One day at a time. Those are such beautiful words to live by. Where have I heard them before?

I do believe in living today like we are going to live to be very old. That is, taking care of yourself as best as you can. Take care of yourself like you will live to be 100 but be prepared to die tomorrow. I’m telling myself that, you see. I just bought myself a book called “I’m Dead, Now What?” so I can fill it out for my family in case something unexpected does happen. But I am also trying to drink more water and eat less carbs (I said trying, not always succeeding) and there was a discussion at tonight’s meeting about “Trauma Informed, Gentle/Restorative Yoga” that I want to look into. I also meditate.

Another thing that I feel may be helpful is this….if you are afraid of being alone (not talking romantically or not involved with a partner) as you get older, start now to get involved with groups and friends. Well, Covid doesn’t help unfortunately…..but take walks, visit older relatives, get involved with hospice at a local hospital, or volunteer.

The more you connect, the more valued you will feel and the more you contribute, the less alone you will be. And the more you begin to care about others and their needs and their feelings, the less you may be concerned with your fears.

Hey, again, I don’t know everything. And one size does not fit all. But begin where you are.

Tonight, I had my usual conversation with my mother. She needs stuff from the store. Does not want to go to the store. Should really not go to the store. But needs groceries. I have stuff delivered to her for her dog on a regular basis, and when I ask, she tells me she doesn’t need anything…until she needs everything.

She says she needs to learn how to order things on-line herself. She says, “I am not stupid”. She’s not. I can’t win a game of cards with her. But when it comes to computer stuff with her, I want to pull out my hair.

Why? Because we go in circles. First, she tells me it is my fault that she does not know how to order on-line, because I never show her how. Then when I ask her if she want to try something “right now”, she looks at me (because we can video chat), and I swear to God, tonight she actually said, “You are not my mother”.

She wants to learn. She is not stupid. But she never wants to actually learn because she doesn’t want me to teach her anything. But it is my fault she does not know anything because I never teach her anything. And so, we go around and around… and I either order her food anyway or she sneaks out and does it herself.

Until the next time.

Why? Because we all tend to get overwhelmed when we are confused, or we are facing something unfamiliar and maybe a little scary. We tend to feel that we need to know everything in order to be comfortable trying anything new or making any kind of a move. And don’t get me wrong, we should know what we are doing before making a big move…but it is not necessary to start out knowing everything.

It’s okay for a surgeon to go to med school before they pick up a scalpel. For most people, the idea of performing surgery is terrifying if we know nothing about it. So, we don’t just assume we are stupid if we can’t just jump right in and know how to avoid cutting anything vital. We all need to start at the beginning and be patient.

It’s okay to not know everything right now. It’s okay to understand that things we don’t know about can be scary and overwhelming and that we may end up freezing in fear or moving too fast if we don’t take a breath and slow down and accept that we all had to learn about “A” before we could learn about “B” and that there was a time when “Z” seemed way beyond our reach or comprehension.

One day at a time. One thought to process to move another step.

This past week we lost Phil Saviano. If you don’t know who that is, watch the movie “Spotlight”. Thank you, Phil, for everything.

Everybody Plays the Fool

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving.

I spent my Thanksgiving with two people who up until ten years ago I had not spent any Thanksgivings with. It made me think about how time passes and how things change.

Thanksgiving was always a big deal to my father so I think we usually ate at home when I was a kid. Christmas, we went visiting but Thanksgiving my dad had to have his own turkey. It was sad to me that the last Thanksgiving of his life, in 2007, my dad could not enjoy his dinner. He was going through chemo at the time and so had no appetite and everything tasted like cardboard to him.

After he passed, the first Thanksgiving after his death, in 2008, we really didn’t have Thanksgiving. My mom spent the day volunteering at a homeless shelter and ironically, I spent the day in a similar fashion on the other end of the table, attending a dinner at a church with an AA meeting afterward with friends and family of the members. I being the girlfriend of a member.

Thanksgiving brings with it so many memories. As I said, I spent this year with people who are recently in my life….my friend and housemate and my cousin and other housemate. Neither one was in my life ten years ago. My friend I had just met for the first time about ten years ago, and my cousin is about 25 years younger than me….he is actually my cousin’s son….and he and I did not begin to get close until his mom…my cousin, also passed away in 2008 after my dad died. He moved away after that and came back into my life about 5 1/2 years ago.

My mom is getting too tired to have company at her house so my brother brought her over her dinner. We haven’t even had our usual after dinner Thanksgiving sandwiches as she has been complaining that she doesn’t like turkey and the weather is too cold and she has been tired lately so….

I’m also reminded of the time when I asked the priest I worked for if he would like to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. It sounded to me that he had no family left and we had always had priests visit and join us for dinner when I was growing up. I did not feel comfortable really ever around my boss but once again, I told myself that it was the Christian thing to do to ask him to join us. He declined, saying he had plenty of friends and he would not be alone. Which makes him saying he wanted to stay with me when he came up this way after he retired even more strange when he said it.

But thinking about that day when I asked Father if he wanted to join us for dinner, I was wondering at the time why it seemed so awkward an encounter. Despite the fact that he was not what I would call a real sociable guy, I felt strange asking him if he would like to come to my house. I am pretty sure now that the vibe I was picking up was due to the fact that his intentions towards me…unknown to me at the time…were not very priestly.

I read something this week about people with different attachment styles and how insecurity and lack of love, or abuse and neglect, in childhood can affect how one attaches to and interacts with a love interest as an adult.

I get this. Without proper security and self-esteem, navigating through the world of romantic love can be rather like trying to find your way through a maze blind-folded. Unsure if the next step you take will have the floor disappear beneath you or if you may blindly walk into something that will hurt like hell.

Now, this article that I read….from the internet and not from a Psychiatric journal….also said that some people with fearful attachment styles may navigate towards priests.

This is what I will say to that. First of all, none of the people I have ever spoken with, have said that they went looking for a thing with a priest. Most of the comments I have heard from people are things like, “He was not even my type”, “He was not attractive”, “He was supposed to be helping me with my marriage”, “My child was sick at the time”, “He was kind of strange”, “He was my mentor and like a father to me”, “I felt sorry for him”, “He had many physical ailments and I was helping him out”.

Nobody I’ve spoken with has said their involvement began because they thought it would be fun to flirt with a priest and see what happened. I do think, though, that because we believe that priests are safe with our secrets and are supposed to be “asexual”, that there may be a feeling of being comfortable in opening up to them and of feeling affection for them in a safe space which can be then taken advantage of. But that is not the same thing.

Another thing I have noticed this week of Thanksgiving is the sadness around this time of year and the feelings of loss this week can bring. The loss of family both alive and deceased can stir such feelings of depression and loneliness.

I know myself that I have gone through enough in my life to know that my mom feeling too tired to come over or to have company at her house may not be just a passing thing. There have been many people I have shared a Thanksgiving table with that are now just in my memory of the past. And although I wish everyone happiness, it is sometimes difficult for me to see posts on social media of people sharing their happiness. Their large families and all of their grandchildren at the table or their posts about their blissful relationships and how close they all are and where they are travelling, etc.

I’m happy for them, but it’s better for my own mental health and well-being if I don’t have to see it. I find it tends to remind me of what is lacking for me, and that is not what the holiday is about. And I know that I am not alone in feeling this way as many people who have gone through abusive relationships are estranged from family members or have lost loved ones way too soon.

In speaking with one such person this week, I said, “Count your blessings”. And by that, I didn’t mean to say that the person did not have the right to feel sad. Or that their loss was in any way their fault because it was not. Or that I was being preachy or saccharine or trying to get a job writing greeting cards.

Because I felt sad this Thanksgiving. It hurts to see people with their grandchildren when mine aren’t talking to me. It hurts to see the celebration of a new baby when I know that I will never see the newest grandchild in another state because the parents feel self-righteous and we are “toxic”. I’ve been through that more times with more kids. I think this one is the fifth child lost because the parents or new step-father felt threatened by the old family. Five. A niece. A nephew. And three grandchildren. And so, I understand the loss a grandparent can feel when they are not allowed to see their grandbabies.

My kids either ate with their father or the “other family” this Thanksgiving. I did hear from and get to bring sandwiches and pie to them. The rest of the older generation is gone and I am no longer married so there are no longer crowded tables laden with food in my life. So I get how people feel if they are heating up a turkey dinner for one from Swanson. I have done that myself at one point in time when snowed in alone at home during the holidays.

So, when I say, “Count your blessings”, I am being serious. Many times, in our life, we don’t have control over the cards that we have been dealt. It can seem like the Bluebird of Happiness has flown over our house and forgotten us. We can look at social media and compare our lives to those with tons of food and family and wealth and health and a life that appears to have suffered no hardships and we can feel that we got the fuzzy side of the lollipop, or we can turn off our computers if it bothers us, turn off the news if it depresses us, and if we need to, make a list of our blessings.

For me, my grandkids can choose to cut me out of their lives….but I know that I am a good person. I am someone who will always be here with love and no matter how far away they go, we will always be tied by our DNA. I feel blessed that they are happy and healthy and that their lives are okay.

For my mom, I am cherishing every moment and every memory and everything she has taught me to prepare for the day she will no longer be here.

For those who have passed away, I was blessed to have had most of them in my life.

I also feel blessed to understand what it feels like to know loss and loneliness and the comfort of friends and my home and my dogs. And I enjoy spending time alone with myself.

This person I spoke with this week who has suffered so very much is kind and beautiful and talented and has made a beautiful life for themselves.

And I told this person, just let your light shine. Don’t try to convince anyone else of your worth. Take care of yourself and send love to others. Continue to grow and to learn. And I don’t really need to tell this person that. Just reminding myself really.

Keep counting your blessings and be thankful for them.

I am thankful that I had a nice turkey that came out okay and that it took me an hour to toss together the rest of the dinner that would have taken my grandmother about three days. I am thankful that my ex-husband is doing okay and that both my oldest son and my youngest grandson do not have COVID as both were sick this past week and had to be tested.

I am thankful for my wonderful new therapist who didn’t interrupt me when I went off on a tangent for God knows how long because when I came up for air I said, “I’m sorry, what was the question?” And found I didn’t need to apologize. I’m thankful that my dog is okay as I thought he was dying last week but it was a neck sprain and he is doing better.

Did I mention I got a new microwave? Works so great. No guesswork.

But the thing I am most thankful for this week is that I finally, finally got a pair of shoes that I can wear. I am walking now, unassisted, by the way. But…the foot that had surgery has a mind of its own and swells up when it feels like it so I’ve been wearing slippers and shoes that don’t match. Found a pair of shoes on-line that have Velcro instead of laces.

Yes, I am very thankful. And there was pie. Two kinds of pie. Pie makes every day better. Yes, I said it.

Have a wonderful week everyone. Remember how wonderful you are and let me know if you had pie this week. Take the poll.

For the month of November, not including the United States, this blog was read in 14 countries.