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.

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.

Free Fallin’

Last week, I mentioned how difficult it was to separate from my ex-husband and how, even now, I have moments when I doubt myself over my past actions and the mistakes I made along the way.

I just wanted to add to that by saying that my relationship with my ex-husband was one of….I have to leave, I want to stay….and based on emotions and a need for myself to become less dependent on someone else. In fact, one of the biggest red flags for me in knowing I had to do something was the feeling of needing someone else to alleviate my fears.

I did not want to be in a relationship because being there meant that I felt safe despite the problems that I knew existed. I didn’t want someone else to have control over me or for me to allow someone to have control over me because it was easier than facing my fears and walking away on my own.

In the same way, I didn’t want to acknowledge the red flags. And yet, as much as the relationship would reach a point to where I thought I had to leave, as soon as I did leave, he would begin to try to pull me back in. And that was harder. Way worse. Because it was then like trying to escape from everything that I wanted him to be and everything I felt I needed.

And so when I did finally leave for the second and last time, pulling away felt like trying to learn to drive with a clutch. My movements were jerky and uncertain. There came a point where I knew I needed an ultimatum. And when I say “ultimatum”, let me say that this was not a popular choice with anyone. I said that I could not reconcile without couple’s therapy.

Now, he had already told me that he would never go back to therapy. And my son told me that I knew that he would not go back to therapy. And I tried to not make it sound like an angry ultimatum. but one that made sense. Because in reality, it was not my ex that I was issuing the ultimatum to…..it was to myself.

I needed an end to the craziness. An end to the confusion. An end to the “should I stay or should I go?” dilemma. And I didn’t expect miracles. I just expected something to be different from what we were doing. Something other than “I will try” which sounds great until you are in the middle of things with no other place to go and just depending upon someone else to work on their own issues with no incentive to do so.

Well, he refused. Not a big surprise. And I’d like to say that I was a tremendously strong person who immediately sought a divorce. Nope. What did I do? I bargained. I couldn’t face the results of my ultimatum. But I had painted myself into the corner deliberately so that I could not get out. Bargaining….getting down to please just go with me to counselling like twice a year or something….just to say we are working on things….did not work.

I had to face reality.

I eventually did initiate divorce proceedings. And everyone gets along now okay. But when I feel pulled back into my feelings, I need to realize that there was a reason that I did what I did. And that reason was I needed to stop making decisions based on emotion. Because I didn’t really trust my emotions.

I had to put up a wall….a boundary…..however flimsy it began…to emotionally separate myself from a confusing situation that pulled me in all directions.

I know this is a blog about abuse by priests. But abuse is abuse. And our ability to set boundaries or put our foot down and say “enough” whether to someone else or to ourselves when we don’t have the tools to process a healthy existence at the time, does not matter who we are interacting with or who is trying to manipulate or use us.

But with the priest, the difference is….he would be the one we would be telling this to and the one from whom we would be seeking help.

If there was a blessing for me being psychologically and emotionally abused by a priest, it would be that it put a name to things that happened to me in the past. And it helped me to see that I have to be careful to not let my wall down wherever I go.

And that in itself is difficult, isn’t it? That reaction to betrayal by someone we trusted by not allowing anyone to be close to us in order to protect ourselves is called a “Trauma Response”. That is just one of many trauma responses. And we can even feel conflicted by this….wanting to feel safe by avoiding closeness with others, but than not feeling safe being alone either.

My lack of trust and avoidance has mainly to do with the church. I don’t trust the motivations of those who seem to be kind or helpful. My feelings of distrust are raised whenever I hear someone speak of a good priest who tried to help them and I wonder what was the priest’s motivation behind doing the good deed. Especially if it has to do with a child or a vulnerable adult who is kind-hearted and trusting. I want to say, “please be careful who you trust”.

I am still working daily on becoming more aware of trying to fix things for people and things in general with people. I’m trying to let go of caring too much about what other people think. Like I said….my feeling is it may take a lifetime to change old patterns, but I feel that it all begins by becoming more aware of ourselves without judgment.

I have a friend who I have known since childhood. I reconnected with her after many years and since she had a child many years after I had my kids, we would often hang out at her house while her child was growing up and needed her there. I often would help out at parties she threw for her daughter and I’d play cards with her family….things like that.

One day she said she was going to have a couple of people we both knew from grade school over for lunch and did I want to join them. Having never been very close to the two friends and having not really seen them since grade school, I declined, saying no, that’s okay, they were more your friends and I haven’t seen them in years, or something like that. Never meant it to be something to hurt anyone’s feelings. Didn’t seem like my not being there was important to anyone.

I happened to see one of the friends on Facebook and thought maybe it was time to reconnect with an old classmate. I was ignored. Saw the same person at our reunion and they did not speak to me. It was obvious that our mutual friend had told them she had asked me and I said I was not interested in joining them.

Especially since said friend has not attempted to get together to do anything with me since this happened a couple of years back.

I never thought it was going to grow into anything. Thought she was just having lunch with some friends who I had never seen while I was hanging out at her house….or ever…since grade school. But I felt the need to fix things and make it right.

But my new non-fixer awareness said….”why?” How good of a friend is this to talk behind my back and not ever get back in touch with me? And I had attempted to be friends with and talk to her friend and my ex-classmate already to no avail. What did I attempt to fix? Do I tell her that I know what she did? Do I try to fix things with her two friends who by me not having lunch with them may have taken that very personally and want nothing more to do with me? Do I need this kind of drama in my life?

I realize I don’t need to fix this. I send my friend a Christmas card each year. We are friends on Facebook. I’m here if she wants to get together. I have already tried to invite her to something and she declined. Time to let the issue go, leave the door open, but not try to fix things or to get anyone to like me. Does it make me a less likeable person because someone else does not like me?

It sure feels that way. Even though I haven’t really known these people in many years and never see them and they have no affect upon my life. But it feels like a poppy seed stuck in between your teeth. Life can’t go on until that seed is unstuck. Must fix.

But that is how I feel. And I am aware of that. And I am aware that I don’t need to fix things for people. I can be continue to be friendly if I ever run across these people but I don’t need to be responsible for their thoughts and feelings or anyone else’s actions.

One last thing I want to talk about. Noticing the good things in our lives.

I woke up one morning last week to the sound of rain falling outside of my window. It was a dark morning and I didn’t have to get up for some time yet. My little dog was lying next to me with her head near my ear, softly snoring. That sound, along with the rain, was so very peaceful. And I wanted to bottle that moment in time. Because we know all too well that these moments of perfect peace don’t last. Life brings new changes every day. We need to hold onto those moments….to become aware of those moments….and all of the things that bring joy into our lives.

Life changes. Just found out today that someone who lived in my neighborhood when we were kids passed away from cancer. His mom is still alive. She used to let us pick her flowers to bring home to our moms when we were kids.

Blessings to all this week of Thanksgiving. My thoughts go out to anyone who feels alone or who is missing someone they love this holiday.

I Get Weak

This past week when my ex-husband was in the ICU, it brought up so many feelings from the past. Feelings and self-doubt. Did I do the right thing? I know it was not the easy thing for sure. Neither way was the easy way. But sometimes I wonder if things would have worked out better for the family if I had stayed in the relationship.

And with him being so sick (he is home now), it caused us to reach out to each other. We texted and we talked on the phone. And I felt a sense of anxiety at possibly losing a person I have a connection with as far as our children and grandchildren. We have a connection there that I will never share with anyone else. And that brought up memories of good times together and a bond that we will always share.

We met through a mutual friend when I was still in high school. He was 18 and I was 17 and he would come to my school at lunch time and me and some of my friends would hang out in his van and stay warm during lunch. That’s code for other stuff that I won’t get into. He knew everyone and when I was with him, I felt kind of important because then everyone knew who I was. His friends. People I would not normally know or hang out with if I did not know him. A very large group of friends. And he was cute and he was nice to everyone, and it was fun to be with him. And when it wasn’t….I made excuses….so I never noticed the cracks.

When I was 20 and he was 21, I got pregnant. We ended up having a baby, moving in together, and then getting married within a year. Because it was what you did. And for me, someone who wanted to get married and have children….the situation was rewarding. And I was happy. At first.

Now this is the part where I break down what happened, even though I did not know the terms for anything when I was younger.

They call it “Trauma Bonding”.

I loved being married to this man that I loved. I loved sharing my life and our child. I was getting positive reinforcement all over the place.

A lot of things happen in the beginning of a relationship. You have the wedding and the honeymoon and the gifts and the new life and new place and new experiences and friends getting married and showers and babies and you get to see your friends a lot still for awhile because you are still young and many of your friends are still single and they come over to hang out and there’s a lot of activity and things to distract you from each other.

And then along came baby number two for us and we began to look at houses. Oh, boy….more new and exciting things. More good brain chemicals being associated with my husband.

And it was at that points that the cracks really began to show…when I was in our house alone at night with our two babies while he went out almost every night….staying out very late.

I told myself that I enjoyed being at home and being a mother and he enjoyed being out and about with his friends and not feeling tied down. Because that is what you do when the cracks begin to show…..you justify the other person’s behavior. Because it was easier for me to justify him going out all of the time and working every Saturday all day as something he needed to do to be happy….than it was for me to confront him about being out a bit too much and me and the kids needing some attention as well.

Especially when doing so brought about anger and unpleasant words. Things were just easier when he was happy. That is what I told myself.

And in between these not so great days and moments….were anniversaries and parties with friends and holidays with the kids and nights where he was home and things were good hanging out together.

I always called it “percentage”. There was always that “percentage” that kept me there whenever I thought that things weren’t right and I acknowledged outright verbal and emotional abuse that was happening…..but I did not want to have an emotional confrontation and I was terrified because I had never lived on my own or taken care of anything on my own, and I had two children as well. So, I did what is known as “freezing”, or deciding to stay in a situation because leaving felt too difficult. Freezing can also mean staying in a situation because it seems like the right thing to do. “Right” sometimes meaning what is best for others or that it feels safer at the time to not make a move.

In a trauma bond between two people, there is sometimes a feeling of a power differential. Whenever I would speak up to my husband, he would threaten to leave or tell me to leave instead of listening to how I felt. And I didn’t want to be an obligation to someone. But the power he held….and this happens often…is that he took care of everything and he knew so many people to do things and for me, my world got smaller so that it became me and my kids and going to work and seeing my parents. I became more isolated but he did not.

A trauma bond relationship has cycles of abuse with intermitted reinforcement of rewards, and then when the partner is beginning to feel hope and renewed affection, there is punishment of some form. People who experienced this type of behavior in childhood…the ups and downs of emotional whiplash, are especially prone to relate to this kind of situation and it can feel familiar and in a weird way….just “the way things are”.

I loved my father very very much, but you just never knew what could set him off at times. Alcohol was predictable but other times, during vacation or an otherwise pleasant times, he could fly into a rage and all you could do was quietly wait it out and pretend it wasn’t happening.

Trauma bonds don’t just happen in romantic relationships. They happen in families as well. Anywhere where you go through cycles of reward and abuse and reward again. Anywhere there are feelings of fear, excitement (anytime adrenaline rises), or sexual feelings….these can create an entrapment where someone stays for what they perceive as something mostly good, or they make excuses because they fear leaving for one reason or another, or because they feel they can’t leave for whatever reason. Or because they have convinced themselves that the abusive person is really a good person at heart, or that life isn’t all happy times.

Another thing to know….we hear about the law of attraction and how we need to put out positive vibes and ask the universe for a good partner or for happiness or whatnot, but as long as we have not worked on our own trauma bonding issues, we unconsciously seek out our unhealed issues in others. Our subconscious seeks out what we believe to be true.

So you can give your order to the universe for a healthy relationship, but as long as we are blaming ourselves for past mistakes, failing to put up boundaries, not being able to see a person for anything other than how they once showed themselves to be even when they begin to change, not seriously believing you are good enough, being afraid to have an opinion, being afraid of alienating or losing people….not because you are rude but because you do what is comfortable to you and you listen to what is comfortable to you…..until you can do that…or at least begin to acknowledge and work on those things….you are going to keep attracting what is familiar to you.

And, after all, familiar is comfortable, right? It’s not easy. That is why, after all these years, I still carry guilt that I feel I must right and I still feel that I should be the one taking care of my sick ex-husband and that I would be there if I hadn’t left and all of those feelings come back. And I’m still trying to control….had I zigged instead of zagged, things would have turned out better. Like everything in life depended upon what I did. Nobody else carries any responsibility for themselves. It’s all on me.

And I need to remind myself, as we all do, that we cannot change anything in the past, and that we did what we needed to do or thought was right at the time with the information we had, and that guilt is a useless emotion that does nothing but destroy you. Make amends as best you can if you need to and forgive yourself.

When it gets tough or uncomfortable in your healing journey, remind yourself that it’s okay (again) to take care of yourself and to not fix things for everyone.

Trauma bonds can last for years. Old emotions can get triggered. You can find yourself getting pulled back in. You may find yourself blaming yourself for things in the past that you cannot change. You may find in healing that you have had faulty beliefs.

For today, it’s enough to be aware that “there’s a name for that”. Just become more aware. Have a great week.

Oh, ex-husband was very very sick. Does not know how he got sick. It was not Covid related. But he is home now and feeling very weak and needing a lot of rest.

Recovery always takes time and focus on taking care of oneself.

MacArthur Park

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard not to worry about the people I love. Even though I know logically it helps nothing, it’s hard not to worry. Do you agree?

I imagine it is a co-dependency thing born of an upbringing that may have included alcohol or parents who were controlling or overprotective or who worried a lot themselves. And it becomes ingrained. A habit. It becomes like a very worn out rabbit’s foot that we have to hold onto in order to ward off bad things from happening.

As children with little control over our world, worry was the only control we had over anything. And my guess is that as we grow, some of us develop into complete adults who have a “good sense” of worry, while others develop a more neurotic, co-dependent sense of attachment worry….where we have a difficult time separating ourselves from others and feel the need to fix and to care for them. In other words, we learn to enable.

In some families, especially in families where alcohol is a problem, the focus tends to be on the one using. So then, the focus tends to be reacting to the abuser. You grow up with this so there is no comparison, really as to what normal is. You learn not to let your emotions get too loud or troublesome and you learn to help fix things to help cover up the embarrassing behavior of the people that you love.

And then you may also run into the addict/abuser who seems to relish the attention they get from having a crisis and having the entire family focus on them. And no matter what is going on in your own life, you are expected to take care of them. Co-dependents tend to be self-sacrificing. That’s a trait that I would guess would come from years of having to put your own needs second to that of someone else for the good of the family….and as you would tend to see it as a child….your own survival.

So when you grow up on edge, waiting for the next shoe to drop, you can never really let down your guard and relax. And I believe that habit that has been learned carries on into adulthood. And because we already know that there is so little that we can control outside of ourselves, falling back into a state of worrying and trying to fix and putting our own needs last to help someone else is what we know.

We can try to fix or take care of our spouse or significant other. We may find ourselves in a situation where we are doing most of the giving or we are attracting partners who are more than willing to take from us. Or we may find ourselves with unhealthy partners who have addictions that we feel the need to cover for or make up for. It’s a position we feel comfortable in even though it may make us feel uncomfortable and resentful.

And we may find ourselves repeating family patterns of enabling our children. Constantly helping them out of problem situations. Always trying to protect them to the point of not allowing them to make and learn from their own mistakes. Continuously helping them out of situations that they repeat…trying to alleviate our own constant worry but actually keeping us connected in an endless loop that really benefits nobody because it allows dysfunctional behavior to continue.

It’s like buying someone a birthday cake and they forget it outside in the rain and so you buy them another cake because you don’t want their birthday ruined but then you eat the soggy cake yourself so it doesn’t go to waste.

Another problem with worry and enabling others besides it robbing you of your own happiness, is that the more you give of yourself, the more other people tend to take it for granted that you are going to take care of things and the more they take you for granted. And the less reason they have to make any changes in themselves. And although it feels so counter-intuitive to let go of someone….of taking care of them every time they need something because of their own issues….the more it drains you and the less love you feel. In fact, you can start to feel angry.

Anger…..we have always been taught to repress it. Tuck that away. That’s not nice to feel that way. You are not a nice person if you raise your voice or throw up a boundary or ask for what you deserve. You could lose people from your life. I know I have.

That is why I asked the question I did in today’s survey. Not to be personal because I know cheating is a very difficult topic. But because sometimes when people cannot find another way to express themselves and their frustrations in a relationship, they search for validation outside of the relationship.

It may be personal validation or it may be a way of getting back something of what they think they deserve when not getting that from someone they have constantly given to. A way of channeling their anger.

Unlearning co-dependent or enabling tendencies is not easy. But it can be done. Once again, listen to your feelings. I’m not saying that life will change overnight. I’m not saying life will be easy. I’m not even saying I’ve done this successfully myself. But I am saying, become aware of patterns that aren’t working or if you are giving too much trying to help and nothing seems to be helping or your efforts are being met with disrespect or anger if you begin to do something for yourself instead.

Another thing about co-dependent behavior…..it tends to attract unwanted personality types. Users, addicts, Narcissists….you get the idea.

Those of us who have been in relationships with these personality types know that they don’t always show their true colors right away. So those people who think we should know better or choose more wisely should know that abuse takes many forms and it can be hidden well behind pleasant masks. When problems do arise, usually the rest of the relationship is so nice that we make excuses for the person or tell ourselves that nobody is perfect. Or by that time, we are already in too deep.

It’s not easy to walk away from an otherwise nice relationship, whether it be romantic or friendship or family. What I have found is when there is a problem that does not seem like it is going to change, ask yourself if you can live with that because you most likely aren’t going to be able to change anything.

Can you live with a partner who doesn’t value family? Or someone who is constantly needing to borrow money or having you pick up the bill or pay for the things they want? Can you forgive someone who has lied to you or cheated on you? And I’m not saying if you cannot live without them. I’m saying, can you willingly live with their behavior?

Co-dependents tend to blame themselves for things other people do. Most likely because they feel responsible for the other person’s well being and happiness. They have also learned to “clean up” after others whether figuratively or literally. Enabling forms an attachment and it’s so hard to let go when you feel that someone you love may fall without you holding onto them.

Speaking about all of this, I just learned that my ex-husband is in ICU. Our kids are going to visit him today. I called my mother to tell her about this and she said….”What a shame…he is such a nice man.” And I feel so wrong reminding her of why I am not with him. Petty. But hearing her say that makes me feel like things were my fault and I know that makes no sense. I mean, it really doesn’t matter at this point. And I still care about him very much. I miss being married. It was so difficult for me to acknowledge the problems that I could not unsee. I am praying for his full recovery.

Worry. Attachment. Being afraid to let go of someone even if it’s only in our fearful thoughts. Too much of these negative or controlling thoughts and feelings distract us from our own growth and feelings and well-being. Be mindful this week of how much focus is put into things and people and situations that we have no control over. Things that we think we should be fixing somehow for people. Stay healthy.

Don’t Stop Believing

Does anything we do ever really matter in life?

Sometimes I wonder.

This past week we saw some guest blogs from survivors who wrote letters stating how they felt to those with some with the power to change things. Did it make a difference?

When we were young, we believed that good always triumphed and that God was always watching and that the grown ups were in charge and could handle anything fairly. Fair is what mattered back then. Fair still matters.

It can feel frustrating to put yourself out there and to speak from the heart only to get the feeling that it didn’t matter or change anything. It can feel like just one stone in a well. But I don’t believe that any action done with good intention does not have some kind of affect in this world. If not just being the inspiration for others to toss their stone into the well. Eventually if enough people believe in the power of good, change will begin to be noticed.

It can be hard to keep going at times. It can be easy to get discouraged. Sexual abuse….whether physical or psychological…is something people don’t want to discuss and it can feel isolating to be a survivor. And just saying that you were abused makes you appear different to some people. As Regina put it in her letter…..it is if we are wearing a scarlet letter on our chest.

Someone at last night’s meeting shared a couple of resources that I would like to pass along. Dr. David Pooler (David_Pooler@Baylor.edu) is interested in researching Clergy Perpetrated Sexual Abuse of Adults. Also, there are many blogs to read at “Awake Milwaukee” with survivor stories of clergy abuse and different insights to broaden horizons and perhaps contribute a story of your own. I’m not familiar with either Dr. Pooler or Awake Milwaukee, so as with anything, use caution before contacting anyone.

One of the things that came up this week is….what can we do with all of the anger and frustration we feel after being betrayed or discarded by someone we trusted? One person I spoke with is focusing on not being powerless again by going to law school and putting that energy into helping others.

And I thought that was a great idea. When we are at our lowest point and when our vulnerability and our weaknesses have been used against us, it is devastating. That is another thing people who have not been abused do not understand. That is, an abuser will pretend to be someone they are not in order to gain someone’s trust. They will get under someone’s skin and into their head with the sole purpose of destroying that person for sport. Just to get off on their own power. So they may help you crash and burn because you handed them the keys to your car so to speak.

And that makes it ten times worse. Because we trusted and we feel like we participated. We allowed ourselves to be open with someone we thought had our best interests at heart. We may have shared some very personal stuff. So when we hit that tree going 100 miles an hour when our emotional brakes have been cut, we are destroyed. Mortally wounded. Gutted without a stitch of armor left to protect us.

And these feelings can hit us at any point in our lives because life can be tough and pain and loss are a part of living.

But what makes us survivors is the fact that we keep getting up the next day and starting over. We go on. And the difference between existing and surviving may come down to our next step.

How do we choose to rebuild ourselves after a loss or rejection or when we find we need to restart our lives once again and we begin to question our self worth because of others?

I do think we need to grieve. But when we grieve, I think we also need to listen to the words we say to ourselves. Forget about the laws of attraction and being responsible for allowing other people to treat us a certain way. Let go of that. When you are hurting, be kind to yourself. Treat yourself as if you have been physically burned. Don’t use sandpaper on that wound. Begin within.

I think it also helps a bit if we stop putting other people on pedestals and realize that they don’t know any more than we do really and they are just as flawed and their actions are separate from who you are as a person.

What they did is on them. You were probably a good friend or trying to help someone or maybe you trusted them because you are a person people can trust. So go lightly on lumping their issues in with your own. We all have enough on our plate.

I like how the person I spoke with decided to strengthen their armor by increasing their knowledge of the legal profession. Even if they never finished law school, at least they are learning and will know more than they did before. And they are rebuilding their armor.

For me, I won’t lie….I can hit some low lows. I can feel depleted. But remember, you are never too old to change your life. It is never too late to learn something new. Instead of focusing on what you have lost, focus instead on something that will help you grow as a person.

Think of it as rebuilding a town after a tornado rips through it or a fire has decimated its buildings. It is not the fault of the buildings that were destroyed that they happened to be in the path of destruction. But they can be rebuilt as often as needed….perhaps with stronger materials or a better structure or in a similar but different spot.

Another thing I heard this week is someone being told by someone else that they should maintain their anger about what happened to them. To me, that sounds like the belief that if we find a sense of peace or if we let go, then we are letting someone get away with something.

I don’t know that I agree with that. People heal at their own pace. And it’s said that we don’t necessarily get over things, we just learn to live with the scar. And who is to say that someone who feels more at peace may at that point be able to accomplish something they could not have when they were in a state of raw emotion?

Nobody can say what someone else should be feeling.

Be good to yourselves and have a great week.

The top five most read blogs this month so far are: Guest blog #3, Guest blog #4, Always Something There to Remind Me, Guest blog #5, and Tainted Love.

Please remember to take this week’s survey.