Helpless

I read something this week about a woman who says she was raped by her husband on their wedding night. She was a virgin and was saving herself for marriage. However, on the day of her wedding, she was sick. She was actually running a fever, and it was all she could do to get through the day. That night, all she wanted to do was get out of her gown and sleep. She explained to her husband that she was not feeling well, and wanted to put off their first sexual encounter until she was feeling better.

Instead, he told her that he had waited long enough and that she was now his wife, and that sex was an expected part of marriage. So, he flipped her onto her back, got on top of her, and had sex with his sick wife who begged, “please, no”. She went on to say that sex within the marriage never got any better after that night. It was always expected, and it was never pleasurable for her. Her husband criticized her sexual performance and basically everything about her as a woman. And she believed that it was all her fault.

Eventually he left her for another woman. It was at that point, after he left, that she began to see how she had been abused.

This story probably sounds familiar to many people. We probably also felt that something was off but that it was our fault. We were there. We were making out. Maybe drinking. Maybe without prior consent, someone just decided that they were going to have sex with you, so they did.

Or maybe you felt obligated to keep a partner happy because if you didn’t, your life would not be very pleasant, so you just had sex to keep from being made to feel like a horrible human being, or because not having sex meant sending someone into a rage against you and you had children and needed to keep things happy for everyone.

Except for yourself.

The woman in the story who was sick on her wedding night and asked her new husband if they could please wait until the next day when she felt better, was forced to have sex against her will by an abusive partner. He felt impatient and entitled and his needs were all that mattered. He forced her to have sex. That is marital rape.

I knew a woman who was in an abusive relationship. She was abused in every way possible. Her daughter told someone that her stepfather had raped her mother. I was not there, so I assume that for the daughter to say that she was raped, it probably happened after he pushed her around a bit and there was most likely an escalation of anger that was witnessed beforehand. I knew both the woman and her husband well enough to have heard stories that he was not such a great guy. He was psychologically abusive to the teenage daughter as well. I heard about how he would go into the laundry and take out soiled underwear when the girl had her period and hang them out on the line with the intent to embarrass her.

When someone is in an abusive relationship, they may realize that things aren’t how they should be, but they may fall into a pattern of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness happens in trauma bonding. It can happen when one partner has more financial power or more physical power or is able to psychologically intimidate and manipulate someone.

It can happen when life is unsteady and when the emotional climate can change suddenly, depending upon the mental state of the person who needs to have control. Children can develop this emotional state if they are raised in a situation where they are made to feel inept or never good enough, or if they witness abuse in the family.

When someone feels that things are hopeless or that there is nothing they have the power to change in their situation, or that they lack the tools to better their life, they can be experiencing a sense of learned helplessness. They have learned that they have no power and no voice and no choice in life. They end up learning to please others to keep life in balance.

It is said that feeling this way is one of the main reasons for depression. I think that is understandable.

The woman who I once knew who was in the abusive relationship ended up leaving…or perhaps she was forced to leave…a house she owned, leaving her child behind. By this time, she was already drinking heavily. She had no job and no way of supporting herself. At one point, she ended up living with someone in an apartment above a bar.

Could she have turned her life around? People in worse situations than her have done so. But she had learned that she was worthless and now she was very vulnerable. Family would not take her in because of her drinking. She saw no way out. She lived that way for years until she ended up in the hospital and at that time, did end up giving up the bottle and reconciling with family because she needed to stay with family in order to recuperate.

These psychological issues which can affect, and even ruin lives are often seen as the fault of the person who needs the most help. When these things happen within a relationship with a Narcissist, there is a double whammy. Support systems are cut off. Lies are told about the victim. Money can be cut off. The victim is blamed by those who believe the Narcissist’s charm and twisted version of the truth.

It’s a dark road of self-blame and depression with the whole world seemingly all too willing to mirror the disgust the victim sees in themself.

But this is something that many of us already know all too well. Because we have lived through it, in our lives and in the one place we thought we were safe…our church. And then when we go to seek help, we can’t find it. Because we were caught in something that we didn’t see at the time. So, we did stupid things. We cared. We made excuses for the person. We didn’t report what was going on. We let it continue. We knew that it was in our best interest to keep quiet.

But it wasn’t love that we felt for our Narcissistic abuser. And I call them that because it’s true. Our abuser felt they were entitled to abuse us. They were above the law. They felt smarter than us. They knew how to play the game so that they could make us lick their boots and have us thinking it was our idea. They could make everyone think that it was our idea. They could hold our jobs, our reputation, our feeling of safety, and our need for love, approval and belonging over our heads. They could terrorize us into behaving how they wanted us to behave. They could withhold their approval, or work benefits, or a status we enjoyed within the church community. They held the power. We learned helplessness because we had no power.

But, like some instances of rape, it can be hard to prove abuse legally sometimes when the victim appeared to have willingly participated in the crime. Or if they defended their abuser. Or if they continued to be in contact with the abuser. Or if they married their abuser.

And having to go through the humiliation of telling a legal person what you went through, only to have them tell you that you don’t have a case and that the person is going to get away with what they did…that can rip open the wound all over again as if it just happened to you.

Know that this does happen. Have a trusted friend help you through the legal process or help you get out of an abusive situation. And if you are alone with nowhere to turn, call a suicide hotline or other support hotline in your area for help. You don’t have to be actively suicidal to call the suicide hotline. If you are depressed, it can help greatly to talk to someone who will just listen. And it’s free. Or join a SNAP support group.

One of the most important things you can gain from reaching out for help is learning that having your soul trampled on by someone who does not have a soul, is not your fault. No matter how much abuse you put up with or how many “stupid” things you did and mistakes that you made because you couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

The next Abused as Adults on-line meeting will be held the first Sunday of July from 4pm to 6pm EST.

Be good to yourself. Be kind and gentle to yourself first and foremost. And have a great week.

Victim of Love

Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all. These holidays can bring about love and memories and the pain of loss or what may have been…or what never was. It’s a difficult day for sure for anyone who has lost their mom or for a mom who has lost a child. And it can magnify the relationship with your mom ten-fold on such a day.

My brother gave our mom a box of chocolates and a box of chocolate covered strawberries for Mother’s Day. He gave those to her on Friday. I was over there on Sunday. “Where is the chocolate?” I asked. “Gone,” she told me.

Gone? May or may not have been the truth. My mother watches my weight so she may have hidden stuff. But she told me that she went through the box of candy piece by piece and opened each one to see what was inside, eating the ones she wanted and tossing the rest…which I guess was most of the box. And, knowing my mom, she removed the chocolate off of the strawberries. She offered me some plain strawberries in a bowl.

I got my mom a heated back massager because she loves the heated seats in my car and said they felt so good after working in the yard. She tried it but said it was too rough…after all, she has no fat on her back…the implication was clear. It went back in the box. She will be giving it to my brother. I already have one. My back being fat enough to take it.

At this point in our lives, my mom makes me laugh. She told me a story about how as a teen, she was smoking in her room and her mother opened the door…the room full of smoke…and when asked if she had been smoking, she denied it. That made me laugh and feel closer to her. I still hide how much soda I drink, or I will sneak a cookie when I am around her. And she still keeps shoving fruit in my face when I am sitting at her table, but at this point, she has grown tired, and I have been able to step back and appreciate the amazing person that she is. As she has gotten older, there are things I have begun to help her with a bit more and our roles have begun to change a bit.

Perhaps one of the reasons I have been able to emotionally distance myself as far as getting annoyed with my mother is because she is getting older, and I know that our time together is growing shorter. Perhaps part of it has to do with the whole world around us is changing and I want to hold onto the past for as long as possible. Perhaps it is because as I am getting older, I realize how precious unconditional love is, and how rare. But perhaps, also, as I have gotten older and have gone through tough times like a rock through a tumbler, I have come out the other end a bit stronger and more self-reliant.

Yes, I am still reading the same book. I don’t know how many weeks this is right now. But it has long chapters and there is a lot of info to digest. The author, Mark Manson, writes something so eloquent in his book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck”, that I would like to share it here, in its entirety. It basically describes what he calls, “the yin and yang of any toxic relationship”.

Entitled people who blame others for their own emotions and actions do so because they believe that if they constantly paint themselves as victims, eventually someone will come along and save them, and they will receive the love they’ve always wanted.”

He goes on to say, ” Entitled people who take the blame for other people’s emotions and actions do so because they believe that if they “fix” their partner and save him or her, they will receive the love and appreciation they’ve always wanted.”

Wow.

I do see myself in those descriptions. However, there was a time when I would not have seen it so clearly. When we are young, or still very attached to someone else like our parents, or a spouse who perhaps we have married at a very young age, before we have had the time to know who we are on our own, it is so easy to feel that we are the victim. And perhaps in some cases we are. Many times, we may be the victim, in fact. But oftentimes, those who are abused, feel connected to their abuser. As if they are one.

He hit me but I didn’t shut up when he warned me to. If I leave, I will be alone. Nobody else will want me. I’m terrified. I don’t know how to cook, drive, balance my own checkbook, I have no friends of my own, I’ll have to go back to work, I have to do their laundry/dishes, etc. because their place is a mess, and they shouldn’t be living like that…

Anytime and in any situation where you feel you need to save someone or fix someone, or you feel the need to be saved from a situation by someone (which puts you in a position of vulnerability), there is a bit of co-dependency. In fact, what we are saying when we feel the need to nurture a grown person in such a way that becomes unhealthy to both people, is that we aren’t going to let that person take responsibility for themselves. We are also saying that we are not going to have a life other than taking care of that other person.

Why do we do this? Probably because we have learned where we fit in as far as what we were valued for when we were young. There are those who are in some way irresponsible, and there are those who must take up the slack and be the responsible ones so that life goes on smoothly. We witness this in the relationships of the adults that we know and love. In some way we may know that it isn’t the way the rest of the world operates, but we know our place and we know “our people”. We recognize the other piece of our puzzle when we meet them. We connect ourselves to them but then we blame them for either not appreciating us, or not changing their ways and fixing themselves.

We are a complicated people. We surely are that.

One of the things that seems unfair to me and that has bugged me throughout the years is that I’ve tried. I’ve really tried so hard. I’ve gone to therapy. I’ve done all the work for my entire family and then some. I’ve left relationships that didn’t work out or seemed unhealthy. I made sure my son got a DNA test on a baby born when he was in high school. I’ve been to court for custody and harassment and eviction and child support. I’ve lived on my own for many years. I’ve made friends with neighbors who have helped me out. I’ve made new friends on my own. Travelled on my own. Hired lawyers and real estate brokers and repair people. Worked two jobs. Called the police for drug dealers and homeless people living in a vacant house next door and for loud parties held by college students. I sat with someone who was overdosing while the neighbors called for an ambulance. I have worked at being independent. I have worked at making myself stronger.

And I thought at the end of all of this, at some point, there would be a reward. What reward, you ask? Well, to receive the love and appreciation that I’ve always wanted, I answer. Are we sensing a pattern here?

I still want the codependent’s dream. Just to stop trying so hard. Just to love and to be loved. And yet, the traumas I have gone through make me fearful of just being me with someone else just being themselves. Nobody saving anybody or having to offer anybody anything other than me. How can I possibly do that when I don’t know how?

Recently, as I have mentioned, my mother has needed more help with things, and I’m coming face to face with signs that are telling me that somewhere up ahead everything is just going to come to a complete halt, and I will have to process that. And I feel like there is this emotional exchange that should be going on between us. We do say “I love you” and we keep in touch daily and I go over to see her a couple of times a week. But I feel like there is a tsunami of emotions behind a brick wall. I function stoically and remind her to keep her doors locked and drive her places and make sure her finances are safe and sound.

And I wonder why I feel like I am detaching from the mother ship and turning off switches and locking down hatches and shutting down emotions. And I wonder sometimes if I will know when it is the last time we will speak. Does anyone ever?

But as I wonder what is wrong with me and why I feel so very flat emotionally, I realize that is how I was raised. Emotion comes out as control in our family. As in “I love you so I will tell you what I think is best for you.” There is never anyone saying things like, “Honey, I love you so much. I will miss you when you are gone.”

Come to think of it, what I just described was expressing emotion openly. Emotion has to come out in some way. Good or bad, emotion is either going to tear us up inside physically or emotionally or come out when someone finally snaps and does something violent, or it can become a phobia, or an obsessive-compulsive behavior, or it can be thrown into work or alcohol or something, but emotions have to go someplace. And behaviors are learned.

Perhaps codependency is one of those ways we learn to channel feelings. We can’t say how we feel and still feel safe doing so. But if we try to fix things or we take care of people, maybe they will love us or not go away.

I should really read more about codependency. But it may take awhile. I still have to finish this book I’m reading. Have a good week.

I Made it Through the Rain

I read something last week that said that if life was happy all of the time without any problems, we really wouldn’t be as happy as we think. True happiness, it is said, comes from solving problems. And problems are a constant in life.

Unhappiness arises from not doing anything. To let fear hold you back. To get caught up with issues you cannot control. I think we all know too well the sources of unhappiness.

The thing I hear so often from people is something to the extent that they are limited in what they can do about something because of someone else.

To once again use my mom as an example…she used to complain that my father never wanted to do anything or go anywhere. That and he never wanted to have company. Oh, the friends and relatives they could have over if only my father was okay with it. But he was so difficult, see.

Then my dad passed away. At the age of 80, my mother had two men who wanted to date her. I really liked one of them. But the first guy was seeing someone else and didn’t want to get serious. She didn’t want someone seeing someone else. The other guy wanted to get serious. He seemed like a nice guy. He had known my father. She found fault with him. It kind of just ended when he found someone else. She did continue to go to the gym or see friends for lunch. But she has little interest in travel or having get togethers She actually became less active after my dad passed away. I’m thinking she just needed a distraction from the marriage more than anything else. So, in reality, it wasn’t really my father, but my mother’s need to get out and get away from him and have a life separate from him. It was about what she needed at that time. When he was gone, she became more content as she grew comfortable being alone.

My point is, sometimes we point the finger at other people when we are afraid to look at the real issues inside of ourselves. And we are never really sure about what we need as long as we keep seeing only what we aren’t getting from someone else and putting that expectation to complete you onto them.

I only wish solving problems was as easy as this article made it seem. Wouldn’t that be great? I don’t want to smoke anymore. Bam. First try. Done. I don’t like my job, my spouse, my apartment, my weight, my drinking, etc. Done. So simple. I think the message here though, is we all have to start somewhere. And maybe the first step is to recognize there is a problem.

I was having another boundary conversation this week with my therapist and some of us know that boundaries can be difficult to maintain. Holding them up can feel like it’s killing us at times, and that may be because it is.

I’m a compulsive list maker. It doesn’t mean I’m a compulsive doer. I just feel more orderly if I see what I need to do written out. Then I can begin to procrastinate. I’m like that in life a bit, too. When something becomes uncomfortable and a border is crossed, say…when my son’s girlfriend used to dump dishes still loaded with food into my sink and then fill up the sink with water so that it became a gross cold stew of garbage…I first asked her nicely to please clean the dishes off first. Didn’t work.

The list…the precursor to the ultimatum. I got tired of asking her nicely over and over again to please not do the same things. She did not listen. I made a list of house expectations, so I didn’t have to keep nagging. No help. Why? Because unless it is painful for someone, nothing is going to change. I could have told her to clean out the sink. But have you ever known someone to make things worse, so you just do it yourself? Right. Plumbing issue? She didn’t work. Money would come out of my son’s pocket. And he would have given until he had nothing left in order to take care of her.

But that is another issue. My feeling has always been that if you aren’t getting respect by speaking softly, then you need to make sure you follow up. If you have to keep repeating yourself, you may want to rethink the situation. Work. Home. Wherever. It also means…if someone will not do something for you out of respect, but will only do it for their own good, asking them nicely is not a big enough boundary. And yet it should be. But also, like dealing with children, speaking softly and firmly may not be enough if they feel they can push back and get away with it without repercussion.

There has to be some kind of firm follow through, so they know you mean it. And, in this case with my son’s girlfriend, the right and only way to go about doing that would be to say…here are the rules, I won’t nag you about them, but I expect you to follow them, or you will need to leave.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and I allowed this situation to go on far too long, so I didn’t solve the problem right away…instead I complained about her behavior in frustration.

When I was talking to my therapist about this relationship, she asked me why I wanted to keep my son’s girlfriend around. Here’s the thing. It would be painful for me to get rid of her. Isn’t that ironic? But true. Because another truth? We tend to repeat mistakes that we don’t work on changing.

Why would I allow someone to live with me when they did not keep a job, stole my pain meds after surgery, almost killed my two puppies because she was careless about leaving meds and stuff around, was obviously not good for my son, was manipulative, ordered stuff in my name, lied, and caused drama?

Guilt for one. I felt it was my fault that he ended up with her because I had to choose between him, and his father and they fought all the time, and he took off and blamed me and things weren’t good for him, and I felt like I had let him down. He was 18 at the time but when I ended up leaving his father eventually, it was so good to have my son back and be able to help. So, I put up with whatever to do so. And he wanted to take care of her. Plus, she was fun to hang out with. If you didn’t work and could be a kid at 28…yes, she was older than my son and had two children she left living with other people…and people paid for your lunch or your drink…you’d be fun too. And going through eviction and having to wait for her to leave and having to live with her…painful again.

So, the point here is not poor me…although that is how we are raised…how I was raisedto honor the martyr. So many of us got that message, I think. But my point is…and Buddha didn’t say this one…paraphrasing…when we are so busy looking at the dandruff on someone’s shoulder that we don’t even notice the bird poop on our own head. Said I was paraphrasing. I don’t worry about God getting upset.

Again, what are the patterns within us that allow us to ignore red flags and accept behavior that pushes past our boundaries and allows people to kick us in the teeth? Because I have a pattern. And it comes back to bite me. Often.

I was also reading about some relationship red flags to look out for that I will share. 1. Do you always initiate contact? 2. Is there a sense of weirdness about them doing anything for you? Like they have to be asked or they make excuses or back out of things? 3. When a person won’t give you clear answers, they are setting you up deliberately to misunderstand using hints or suggestions. 4. Is there a lot of drama involved? 5. Do your needs matter, or do you have to go out of your way to meet their needs? 6. Are there extreme mood swings? 7. Are they jealous if you say something nice about someone else? 8. Are they moving too fast (needy) or too slow and sporadically (may not be into you). Thank you, Quora for this.

Another good read suggestion this week and one that I receive weekly in my inbox is CoDA weekly. It features short stories or letters from people recovering from Co-dependency. They take submissions from people. To subscribe, go to https://codependents.org/cgi:bin/dada/mail.cgi/list/connections/

So, right now, I am reading, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” A Counterintuitive approach to living a good life by Mark Manson.

One of the things the author discusses in this book is the insanity of romantic love. He gives a run down on the story of Romeo and Juliet which is so totally romantic, right? He says that Shakespeare never meant it to be taken as a romantic play. It was supposed to show how idiotic love can be. Not until recently was romantic love given as much importance as we see today. Mr. Manson states that kind of foolishness was tossed out of young people’s heads, and they were steered toward wise choices…who could support them and give them children? Who had the most sheep or farmland?

I can’t say that I think that is the best way to pick a mate, but I can see romance becoming different in the future. Totally computerized. You get your match…sight unseen. Married at first site. Then like with a driver’s license, at the end of seven years or thereabouts, you get to choose to stay or leave. If nobody can stand living with you, you will be sent an A.I. companion to help you out in your old age and to keep you company. No expectations and no other choices. Make it work. Arranged marriage.

That’s not the only subject he talks about. But the book is very popular. I bought it for my son…who didn’t read it.

So, to review this week, pay attention to what triggers you. Everything. Not just about obvious trauma. I want to know…well, I want you to look at…where you are not putting yourself first and why. I want you to look at things that kind of bother you that you are glossing over because of the big picture.

Are you getting compliments, companionship, security, and a feeling of safety, in exchange for living life in a prison of your own making? How are you stopping yourself from solving your own problems? Are you getting in your own way? Do you really know what it is you want or what you need? Are you just afraid of change? Do you fear being alone?

Another very important reminder that I read today…don’t look for love from other people. What you will find is another empty soul looking for what you can offer them. They cannot fill the emptiness within you. Nor can you do that for them. Most people have needs to be met and are looking for the person who can best meet them. That even goes for…and sometimes especially goes for…those to whom you are the closest. Your family, friends, and loved ones. If you find that you are always complaining about a situation, it may be time for you to ask yourself why you are not taking steps to change things if you are able.

I’m not suggesting building walls around your heart or not accepting people’s faults, but rather to watch how you feel around someone or if you have to accommodate too much or you are around them for what may seem the right reason for them but is ultimately not the right reason for you. Become more aware of your own intuition. Trust it. Have a great week.

Clarity

Just to comment on this week’s poll, I have always gone to see psychics, much to my father’s displeasure and warnings of God’s pending wrath. So, it’s funny to me that now whenever I go for a reading, it’s my father that always shows up. Once, I went to see a medium with my niece and I did not tell the woman that we were related. She told me that my dad was there with me during my reading…and you, know, of course there is not proof since I could not see him. But then, my niece had her reading and the medium said that my father stuck around for that reading as well.

I know we discuss many sensitive issues in this blog, and I realize that we all have different beliefs. But that is okay. I will throw things out about myself, and my hope is that if anyone does not agree with me, that they will not find anything I say offensive. Like I have said before…that is what faith is for…not about whether you are right, or I am right…but it’s if what you believe brings you peace of mind and helps you in your life. That’s what I feel matters most of all.

For instance, have you ever known someone who you didn’t find attractive who had all the confidence in the world? They were comfortable in their own skin and genuinely liked who they were? Or maybe you heard about a supermodel who was absolutely gorgeous who had anorexia because she never believed herself to be good enough, or thin enough. In each case, it was the belief they held in their minds that made that created their reality.

And this may have affected your belief that all it takes to be happy is to be beautiful. And we have all heard of people who can take this belief to what we see as extreme. But their belief is as real to them as your beliefs are to you.

In the past couple of years, we have seen many people disagree strongly over their beliefs in both politics and health care. Who is right? Is there anyone who is “kinda right? more than somebody else? Is the world just out of control? Are too many people expressing their beliefs, with the feeling that everyone should feel the way they feel and believe things as only they see it?

I think I write because it gives me freedom. Growing up, I never had a voice. And opinions, if they differed from the rest of the family, basically sent my father into his room, slamming the door behind him, and sulking. My mother would get hurt. Nobody wants to hurt their mother. To my brother, I was stupid if he disagreed.

But I never had much of an opinion. My family is blessed with a huge amount of energy. Loud voices, control, opinions about religion and politics to the point where there were always discussions at the kitchen table between my dad and a buddy over a bottle of wine or glasses of scotch and soda on the rocks. Sometimes there were cigars. As the afternoon or the evening wore on, the more the alcohol was consumed, the louder the opinions got.

Most dinners in my lifetime growing up, my dad had a drink or two in him, and would be ranting loudly about something or other. I remember just eating and never saying a word. When I grew up and went back to have dinner with my parents, it was still the same. My dad didn’t drink like he used to, but he was still loud and animated. I swear to you, I would leave there and not have any memory of what I had just eaten for dinner.

My dad was very philosophical. It’s just that our discussions always went something like this: Dad: I’m afraid to fly. I had to fly once when I was in the Navy. It was a horrible experience Me: But it’s really a very safe way to travel Dad: If your plane crashes, you’re dead Me: If your plane crashes and you’re dead, then it was your time, and you would’ve died anyway, even if you were home Dad: But what if it wasn’t my time? What if it was the time of the guy in the seat next to me and I die because I was sitting next to him? Me: Huh?

Our beliefs can keep us from doing things. For instance, the belief that one person cannot make a difference may prevent us from speaking up when it matters to us. The belief that we have to make someone do what we believe they must do can end up frustrating both people. Those are tough when it comes to things and people we care about.

Because I am a very slow reader, I am still reading Regina Wurst’s book. What struck me recently while reading this is how very different the two of us were at one point. She was the oldest in her family and had to be very responsible. She had strong beliefs and she acted on them by getting involved and volunteering and going to great lengths to stand up for that which she believed.

I was the youngest in my family and just did what I was told and rebelled in stupid teenage ways by smoking and drinking too much and skipping school and basically pushing limits while still under the protection of my family.

And while both Regina and I were both unwed mothers about the same time, while I was living at home, having my mom feed me things like liver and walking two miles a night so I wouldn’t gain weight, Regina was moving to another state while pregnant and living alone where she knew hardly anyone and being responsible for herself and an infant like the warrior that she was.

Meanwhile, I was making plans to move in with my baby’s father because I wanted to be an adult…but I didn’t want to do it alone. It took me many years to grow up and live on my own and to begin to find a voice.

You know, we kind of grow up in a bubble. Not all of us, of course, but we only know what we are told and what we are exposed to until we become adults. Until the age of 14, my life was mainly within a mile or so of my house for the most part. I went to an all-white Catholic school. Except for two young girls who I believe were from Jamaica who joined our school for about a year back when I was probably in third or fourth grade. They were both younger than me, so I didn’t know them.

I knew almost everyone on our street and that didn’t change too much. We lived outside the city, so we didn’t even have streetlights or pizza delivery for many years. We went to church. We were surrounded by adults at school, at home, and in the neighborhood, because back then, you respected all the adults, and they could yell at you if they wanted…or they could call your parents because they knew who you were.

I had relatives who lived next door and across the street. And my mom worked at the seminary in back of us. And believe it or not, I still managed to have a party when I was 17 and my parents went away on vacation. I got caught. But it was worth it. Again, I didn’t realize how good I had it compared to other people.

But we bring what we know into adulthood. Along the way, we rebel and may try out other things, but our core beliefs are rooted in what we have learned as far as our place in this world, our self-worth, what is right and what is wrong, how to relate to other people, and most importantly, if we have been successful in becoming adults and being comfortable with ourselves and living in the world.

Not everyone can say that. And yet, despite Regina having a different family life and a different personality and beliefs and experiences than I had, we have both ended up meeting each other somewhere down the road because we share a similar experience. Not the same experience…a similar experience.

And what strikes me about this is…all these different people…men and women…people who I have met since working with SNAP…all different personalities and beliefs and stories. And they were all groomed or taken advantage of in some way when they felt they would be safe. Adult men assaulted and ashamed. Adult women emotionally abused to the point where they are destroyed. Lives upended. Belief systems torn to shreds.

Some people desperately try to hang on to all that they have grown up to believe. They seek the truth within the bible while forsaking the church’s leaders. They cling to the faith they have known to get them through. And some people reject it all and want to begin to look for their own truth, afraid of believing anything anyone ever tells them again. But through all of our differences, we have all found a source of support and understanding with each other.

Stats for February: 1. Top post: In My Head, 2. Top countries (after USA) to read blog in February: United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Malaysia, 3. Number of followers: 63, 4. Answers to polls: Most people watch documentaries occasionally if they seem interesting. People are split on Cancel Culture, some feeling that it is taken too far when it comes to freedom of speech and art, others feeling that it’s about time people became more aware and sensitive. Most people have been diagnosed with depression more than any other mental health issue. And, finally, most people said that it took them quite a while to process their abuse and to understand what had happened to them.

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.

Live and Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trauma Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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