I Can Help

Recently there have been instances where we as SNAP volunteers were unable to help those who had sought our help.

When this happens, it is because what we as peer supports can offer as far as support, is often limited. We are not legal advisors. We are not trained therapists. We have experience as far as our own abuse goes, and experience as far as life experiences and what we have found helpful…or not helpful…as far as moving ahead with our stories and reporting goes. But we are limited in the help that we can offer.

For instance, there are times when we cannot give as much help as a trained therapist or a doctor who can prescribe antidepressants or antianxiety meds if they are needed. And while some people do accompany others when they go to speak before the bishop, or they may have heard of a good lawyer that they can recommend, we are not legal assistants. We do not sign papers that are made out to deliberately trick anyone in the church, nor do we lie for anyone or get involved in anything illegal.

Also, sometimes people who are hurting will strike out at the hand that tries to help. We too are survivors and have suffered abuse. As much as we want to help people, we have to help ourselves heal first. That means that we don’t accept abuse of any kind. That includes trying to take over running a meeting, interrupting someone to try to control their narrative, twisting the rules, imposing their own rules on a leader or peer member, or name calling, or insults.

As I said, we are not legal assistants or therapists, although we do listen to people who need to talk, and we do help where we can if someone is afraid to go alone to seek help. Sometimes we can suggest therapists or lawyers in a certain area. The best thing to do if looking for help in a particular city or state, is to check out the SNAP website to see who your nearest contact person is and see if they can help you with a suggestion or two.

SNAP has Zoom meetings for various groups and various areas and cities. There is the Women’s group, the Men’s group, the Abused as Adults group, LGBTQ group, Abused by Nuns group, Orthodox Christian group, Lutheran group, Families Supporting Loved Ones group, and more. If for some reason, someone is really uncomfortable with being in a Zoom meeting or in a meeting with people who may trigger their anxieties, it’s possible that there is either a need for another group (but remember we need volunteers to lead) or it may be best to seek help outside of SNAP for the time being.

Also, please remember that being in a meeting does not mean that you need to speak. You can remain silent and listen to others. That can be very helpful. Especially in the beginning. Also, as long as you have been interviewed by the meeting leader, you don’t have to show your face. What is not encouraged is for anyone to share the link to the meeting with anyone and inviting them to join without having them email or talk to the group leader. While we are all about having survivors share the information available to other survivors, it is best if group leaders know who they are ahead of time.

In the news: Appellate ruling rejects Albany diocese’s efforts to keep pedophile priests’ records secret, Irish priest appointed to senior Vatican role investigating abuse

The SNAP conference will be held in Denver Colorado. Registration is $100. Rooms are $129 a night. The conference runs from 7 PM on Friday, July 22 through Noon on Sunday, July 24. Covid safety guidelines will be observed.

This week’s suggestions from other SNAP survivors include watching the show, “The Color of Care” on the Smithsonian Channel, and a recommendation of Pennsylvania lawyer Kristen Gibbons-Feben, who we were told, is looking for complex sexual abuse cases. We were told by a survivor who has retained her, that she practices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

This past week, I watched a documentary entitled, “Girl 27”. This was the story of Patricia Douglas, who was a dancer and a movie extra at MGM, who, in 1937, along with 119 other young women, were told to dress up in costume and show up to be in a movie. When they got to the place where they were told to go, each being given a number next to their name on a list…Douglas being “Girl 27”, they all found that instead of shooting a movie, they were to be the entertainment for a convention that MGM was holding. The convention consisted of a group of over 200 men, who, along with being given over 500 cases of scotch and champagne, were told to just enjoy themselves and to do whatever they wanted.

Patricia, who did not drink alcohol, had alcohol forced down her throat, and of course, ended up being raped by one of the men at the convention. The aftermath of her brutal attack, including her swollen eyes as she was also slapped and beaten for resisting, was witnessed by a security guard.

Douglas bravely tried to prosecute her attacker. The security guard was told he would have a job for life at MGM if he lied on the stand, which he did. MGM was a powerful force. Douglas was slandered in every way possible. In addition to being called every name in the book, and having her reputation ruined, they also made fun of her looks and asked who would seriously want her. Her life was ruined. She would go on to marry a couple of times and she had a daughter, but she was unable to live. She was alive until the age of 86, but she had no friends and was unable to raise her daughter. A virgin when the rape occurred, she said she was never able to have a normal physical relationship ever again.

She was very brave to come forward as she knew what would happen to her. Another woman who came forward saying she was also attacked that night, ended her own life some years down the road. She married and had children but was badly scarred emotionally.

I guess this is a reminder that we have come a bit further since 1937 but not a heck of a lot further. I think we all think of the casting couch when we think of early movie stars. Some people think it was quid pro quo. They gave and they were rewarded for it. A simple business transaction. But that’s not how it was at all. Those who know how power can corrupt and how those in power can abuse those without power, know things have not changed all that much. We also know there are still people who choose to look the other way to hold onto their jobs.

I also read some more. Same book. Different chapter. This week, I read about how…and this we know…people don’t go through life without loss and troubles. And there are many things that happen to people…to us…that is simply not our fault. For instance, all of the things we cannot control, such as our physical attributes. The people who leave us, whether through death or because they choose to walk out of our lives, as well as who is in our family and who our parents are. Bad things can happen to us in our lives, and we didn’t ask for them to happen. People can hurt us, and they can hurt the people we care about.

This week, I read that while things that happen to us are not our fault, what we choose to do about it, is our responsibility. Responsibility is not the same thing as fault. Being responsible for our actions after the fact is not the same as taking the blame for what happened.

That is really a deep thought to get lost into. Because when something traumatic happens in our lives, we often blame ourselves for some part of it. Or we blame someone else. Because someone has to be to blame. Blame has to be pinned on someone. That’s just how it goes. But are we truly responsible for what we choose to do when we are suffering from PTSD and not in a healthy state of mind? I get the concept. And I agree with it to an extent. If we are suffering from an illness or an emotional state that we get stuck in, or if we find ourselves unable to quit an addiction, we should be responsible enough to seek help. But we are also human. And being human means that decisions and feelings aren’t always black and white and clear cut with boundaries and instructions. It’s not always an easy fix and it’s somewhat dependent upon getting someone who is competent to help us.

Those are also issues that we cannot control.

But it doesn’t mean that because we are hurting or because we have been short-changed in life that should give us a license to not try at all or to use it as an excuse to be angry and to blame everyone for your problems. There is a difference. Being angry at what happened is healthy and normal. But there is a point where we choose to feel angry at everyone and where it’s just easier to blame everyone than to do the work on yourself to heal. And I guess that is the part where we become responsible. Not to become fully healed or perfect or to get over anything completely. But to take responsibility for your life from here forward. The rest of the world only looks like they have it all together. Nobody is better than anyone else.

So, I don’t entirely agree with the author because I think traumas can change us and rewire us and that can make it difficult to function. But ideally, it is good to aim for taking responsiblity for the next step, even if it takes years to get to the next step and even if we keep failing. To be able to accept failure in ourselves is a good thing. To truly accept and to be okay with it, that is.

I also read some inspirational quotes that I loved. This is paraphrased…things that can be true at the same time: Your parents did the best job they could raising you, and some of the things they did wounded you. You can love someone and at the same time know that it is not healthy to keep them in your life. You want healthy relationships and unhealed trauma is making that difficult. You are terrified to take the next step, but you know that it is the right thing to do.

I liked that. I think I liked it because it kind of takes blame away from yourself and others. I know people hate this saying but….sometimes it just is what it is and we are just left dealing with it.

I’d like to end this week with something someone sent me. I found this so inspiring and right on point. Sometimes someone else can say it better than you ever could. So here is something from Any Nordhues. https://youtu.be/5yvLXhLt7bg

Have a wonderful week.

Guest Blog Number Six

By Dorothy Small

I remember when I went off work six and a half years ago as a direct cause of my experience of clergy abuse and the ripple traumatic impact on me saying without knowing what I was saying that “my receiver is dormant”. “I am out of balance”. 

I definitely learned giving was expected of me but receiving was not. 

I should have taken care of my own needs instead of trying to take care of the needs of the church and priests. I wasn’t conditioned to placing my needs above another’s especially priests and my church ministry. That ended in the crisis that took me out of my old life. 

I wonder if first learning how to receive my own energy and giving is the the beginning of learning healthy receiving. Definitely self-care is giving to the self. I definitely felt selfish when I first began.  Undeserving even of my own care! I was so focussed on taking care of everything and everyone else and was surrounded by people where that was expected of me. They didn’t have to develop giving to me because they knew “me”. I give. If they don’t need anything they aren’t around. I was the one to reach out all the time and initiate contact after the initial love-bombing grooming so common in dysfunctional relationships with narcissists and predatory individuals. That was “just me”. They were being “ just them”. I didn’t know any better. I was on auto pilot. 

Perhaps it was control on my part? Lack of trust? If I didn’t do it then it would not happen because I could not rely on their unreliability and flakey behavior that I just assumed was normal in my relationship dynamics? Their unpredictability? If I take control I know it will happen? 

In the absence of close friends ( Recovery of self creates natural losses as I get back into balance. Plus all three of my old familiar “best friends” that go way back all died! Two in February this year and one in October 2020 ) or any romantic involvement all I have is my own company and that of my two dogs. They do give me their messes to clean up along with loads of wet kisses and snuggling. They give unconditional love. Especially my Boston Terrier whom I named Bradley Cooper. I went through Covid lockdown with Bradley Cooper. Just telling people about that watching the smile on their faces made me feel happy. 

I realize I can develop self exploration and practice setting boundaries as part of self-care. Staying away from any organized religious environments is part of how I am providing self-care and creating safety for a personal connection with God outside of stain glass windows, incense and priests or worrying that I should be in ministry even though after reporting the priest I was banned from all ministry. I was told by the pastor that for some of us just sitting in the pew is ministry enough. Well, he could not ban me from the church. The only measure of control he had over me was to ban me from any ministry. If I remained silent and covered up what happened I could have continued as if nothing happened with the priest. Only I couldn’t play the game any more. The gig was up. I finally encountered something more powerful than me, and I couldn’t get back on the horse to keep going. 

My relationship with the church in which my relationship with God was enmeshed served as both a place to connect with God and the community. It was central to my being able to work the demanding profession of nursing. The clergy abuse and trauma associated with reporting it was like taking a mortal wound. I was always so strong. If something very difficult happened like my youngest son being diagnosed with stage four cancer ( he is still on this earth ) or my own history of cancer treatment I took time off work but always returned even if in six months. Nothing took me out permanently. Until the incident with the church. I would like to say it was the last straw but it really was more like a huge boulder. It crushed me. It was the catalyst that caused me to roll up my sleeves and dig deep into my core family dynamics and use all the tools I could gather to recover myself so I could cease repeating past traumas in repetition compulsion subconsciously. No. Clergy abuse wasn’t my fault but I looked for my part. What created such vulnerability that I was perfect prey? What could I do in me that would stop me from being targeted and succumbing to the love bombing tactics thinking I met my knight and shining armor?  Unavailable people disguised as my twin flame? They never satisfied my deepest need to feel loved and valued outside of myself. Survival depended on that as children. We need it externally. Never having felt loved or valued as a child it set me up to be exploited throughout my life especially by men in positions of power and authority representing the place of a father’s love that wasn’t too be. 

With narcissists setting boundaries doesn’t work well. They don’t care for boundaries and typically see no issue with violating them. That’s ok. They no longer are my reality They just fell away effortlessly. I stopped chasing after them to keep from losing them. I realize I didn’t really “have them” anyway. I only ended up losing myself by chasing after them making them more important than I am to myself. I taught everyone how to treat me. I didn’t matter. They did. 

Alone. But really not alone. I am here. I am enough. Getting used to feeling my presence takes being out of my head obsessing about “them” and being in the moment accepting all is as it should be. All my affairs are in order. I said everything I need to say to those who matter from the highest place in me. By “being still” I feared they might die or I might die and feel dreadful loss of connection with “them”.  Now my reality is as long as there is no unfinished business in me I can “be still”. Let them go. Open my hands to allow the flow of life. Stop grabbing and clutching. Accept the present moment is all that I need right now. Everything is ok. I am connected to myself. That is the one I was seeking by running after it in others. 

In honoring my boundaries and better knowing who I am actually enjoying my own company above anyone I know, which took some time to achieve, I realize I am in a better position to meet someone whom I can allow in my close space who is a whole person comfortable also with give and take, flow, balance…. 

This takes trust and faith in the journey forward and not backward trying to grab the “old familiar“ life out of fear of the unknown. Move forward. Look back only to learn from the past and to process any unfinished business. Then stay in the here and now. Don’t worry about tomorrow. It isn’t here. Be here in the moment and it will lead to tomorrow without sleepwalking through the present day. Be awake. Feel my feelings but don’t act out of them. 

Now I find myself welcoming the unknown with open arms. 

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.

Do You Believe?

One really nice thing about working with SNAP is that I get to know some pretty remarkable people. I think we can all agree that abuse is a pretty dark subject. But because we all have that in common and have experienced different stages of healing, we get each other on a level that we can’t really find anywhere else.

Sometimes we can meet people who live halfway around the world who have experienced abuse similar to your own. Other times, you may find someone who really gets the strength that is required to be a survivor and has found ways of thriving that they can share to help others who are struggling.

One common feeling that seems to come up is the disbelief we encountered when realizing that priests are capable of doing evil things. That and the absolute extent of corruption within the church. For survivors, seeing evil and corruption in the world is even more difficult as there is a feeling of nowhere to turn for safety and comfort and guidance.

The majority of us have been ostracized. That kind of comes with the territory if you speak up against a priest or if you seem to be creating conflict or unrest and make people uncomfortable. We sit on the outside. No longer a part of the congregation perhaps. Maybe we are seen as unstable or undisciplined or evil.

When someone is abused when they are older, they are often misunderstood. We can all agree that abusing a child or a young person is heinous, but the general consensus is, that once you have hit your 18th birthday, you are responsible for anything that happens in your life.

When I was a young wife and mother, and my husband was out with his friends all of the time, his mother told me that I had to be more assertive to make him be a better husband. My parents told me he should be working two jobs, so I didn’t have to work and that I was in charge of the house. I felt trapped in between people who were more powerful. I was told how to be a mother and a wife. I had to work full time and had two children. I felt that I began to cease to exist.

Was I vulnerable at that time? Was I responsible for my life if I had never learned how to prepare for the world in which I was living? I prepared to be married and work with my husband and to put my family first. I was not trained for a career or to support my children on my own. And this is not how we were raised or how the world was at the time.

When I watch movies from the time when I was growing up, it amazes me now how women were viewed in the workplace. How they were judged by the way they dressed or how they acted…such as if they were “ice queens” or if they needed to “loosen up”. While watching a movie from the late 60’s recently, I saw a man in an office touch a woman on her hips and comment on her eating too many sweets. And that was considered funny at the time. And I can’t watch that stuff the same way anymore.

Maybe that’s a good thing that we see how things have changed. But I think it will take time before society really begins to catch up. Things seems to be changing on the outside and people are beginning to ask more questions and discover who they are and what they want from life maybe more than we ever did before…but I think there is still a lot of resistance and all too many hate crimes and Narcissistic people in power.

But when it comes to the church, how far have we come, really as far as progressive thinking and more importantly, are we getting anywhere when it comes to the abuse of vulnerable adults? And even what it means to be a vulnerable adult? And what about the congregations and the general public? Is it being acknowledged by anyone that people over the age of 18 can and are being abused by priests and that it is not the fault of the victim?

Maybe we’re giving away too much of our power by expecting anything to change within the church. Have you ever been in a relationship with a significant other, spouse, parent, sibling, co-worker, etc. where it seemed that they held the power and you were just there with your catcher’s mitt, waiting to see what was going to be thrown at you next so you could respond appropriately? Only to do everything “right” and end up disappointed with the results?

Ah, I’m guessing probably you have.

One thing I’ve mentioned here before and I’ve recently heard again from a very inspiring woman/survivor, and I have had articles shared with me by another inspiring woman who works actively on her healing journey every day, is that we have to believe in ourselves. We need to stop needing validation from the church or anyone else for that matter. We need to treat ourselves right instead of waiting for other people to notice us and hand us a flower because they think we are special. We need to buy our own flowers. And we need to take care of ourselves first.

This is a difficult journey, this being an adult survivor of abuse. Some of us find that we don’t feel comfortable in other support groups as sometimes those abused as children don’t understand that there is still a power imbalance for grown adults. That trust is broken, and that grooming is a powerful tool that anyone can fall victim to, no matter the age.

And some abused as children may have seen their parents fall victim to grooming which allowed their own abuse to happen. So that trauma may make it more difficult to understand as adults were supposed to be strong for them and weren’t.

But that is another reason why it is so important to acknowledge our own abuse as adults. Because no matter what age abuse takes place, it affects all areas of our lives and the lives of those we are close to.

It’s important to learn to listen to our instincts and our gut feelings. I had this happen recently as I am working with my elderly mom and getting her estate set up and her will and I have been talking with people and am beginning to make decisions that I’ve never had to make before.

We had someone come to her house who suggested she change something. It didn’t feel right to me. My mom didn’t really understand what he was talking about. I told him no, she is not going to change anything. There I was, a person talking to someone I considered an authority figure, challenging them, in a sense, and going with my gut.

It felt good. It felt powerful to say no. I respected my own feelings.

And again, it takes time. And being raised Catholic, it takes extra time, to tell ourselves that it’s okay to not be a martyr. That we don’t have to believe that we are sinful beings who deserve punishment and that we did something wrong because we aren’t getting the recognition and apologies and financial retribution we think we will get when we come out with our story. Instead, many have been ignored or harassed or threatened.

But we have to believe. We have to know in our hearts that what happened to us was wrong. It felt wrong. It hurt us in some way. It’s not up to anyone else to acknowledge that fact to make it so. We need to believe it through our fear. We need to turn our fear of what other people think into justifiable anger. How dare someone do that to me? That was wrong. Nobody else needs to confirm that for me. Because I believe it. Strength. We are stronger than we know.

You are strong and deserving. Take care of you. Have a great week!

All Out of Love

Last week I felt more than stressed. I felt depleted. I know we have all felt like that. Numerous things were going on in my life all at once. And I was trying to hit the ball back into the court for everything and stay on top of my self-care so I could come back and tell you all how to manage.

But then I got sick and ended up in bed for two days so then I was reminded that the world had not come to an end, which may be a poor choice of words these days, but I have no control over that either.

What I can share that may help someone is that there were definitely different kinds of stressors.

There were brain stressors. I had to call a contractor and decided how to work out the best yet least expensive way to make the back stairs safe for my family living upstairs. Including a two-year-old who is fearless. It may sound simple enough, but it was not, and I thought it would involve knocking down walls. In any case, that is now settled, and work is set to begin soon. That is the kind of stress that keeps you awake at night with too many thoughts. It gives you headaches. You know it has to be done.

And that is all well and good…except while the contractor was here, I learned about something called and “egress window” that has to be installed in my basement as well for family I have living downstairs. That is going to be a bigger project but also a safety necessity.

So, with one family member living downstairs, two family members living upstairs, a roommate, two dogs and two cats, the contractor jokingly (I think) asked if I had any room for him to move in as well.

Okay, so that is financial pressure and needing to take care of people. I’m not done yet. I’m paying for my younger son’s lawyer while he goes through custody negotiations. And I had to get my own lawyer today because I am selling property to my oldest son. I will not be making money on anything going on. Just doing what needs to be done at this time.

But you can get through brain stress or financial stress if you can break things down or stretch things out or can cover Peter to pay Paul. In the past, I have worked two jobs to cover bills.

My day job began at 7:30 in the morning and ended at 4pm in the afternoon. Then I’d get home, change my clothes, feed the dogs, leave at 5:45 for my part time evening job at Dunkin Donuts, working 6pm to midnight and then cleaning after closing until almost 1 a.m. in the morning.

Often afterwards, I would drive my co-worker back to their dorm at the college across the street to be sure they got home safely because there had been two college students abducted and never seen again over the years, so I felt I couldn’t let these young people walk back alone at 1 am in the morning.

Other times, I worked with a hooker who was trying to make extra money for rent. She told me she only had one steady customer every morning. Not relevant at all, but it was interesting. Her boyfriend would pick her up when we were done working. We got our nails done together once. She introduced me to the life of nail maintenance.

But I digress.

What is not so easy is emotional stress. Emotional stress can break you if you aren’t careful.

Emotional stress can hit you all at once out of the blue, or it can be something that triggers you from your past that feels like aftershocks from a major earthquake and leave you shaken. For me, these emotional triggers brought out feelings of abandonment and insecurity and powerlessness. Feelings that live in my cells. And those feelings bring about unwanted thoughts. And those thoughts create more feelings of stress, etc. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Emotional stress came about this past week from the death of my ex-sister-in-law. She was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and chose not to do anything about it even though the lung cancer was caught early enough to be treatable. Instead, true to form, she neglected herself as she had done over the years from a teenage suicide attempt to abusive relationships to alcoholism to recovery to the eventual breakdown of her body.

I truly loved her. She was model beautiful, and I used to sit in her kitchen when I was a teenager dating her younger brother and she would get ready to go out with us to the neighborhood bar. Took her at least a good hour to get ready. It was fascinating to watch. And underneath all of that polished perfection was one of the most screwed up, insecure people I ever met in my life. And the sweetest, funniest, and loving. But seriously damaged. The last time I saw her was when her mom, my ex-mother-in-law, passed away about 13 years ago. That was right before my divorce and the last time anyone from their family would speak to me.

So, her death not only brought up old memories, such as us sitting in her friend’s living room, me 8 1/2 months pregnant and her telling me to have that baby already and ten minutes later, having my water break all over some stranger’s living room recliner, or the two of us walking to ceramics class together and I still have the clock she made over my refrigerator…but also it brought back the feeling that I was no longer welcome or belonged to the family.

I did speak to my ex the day after she passed, and he said that her daughter “hadn’t gotten over it yet”. I had learned years ago not to comment on his family and their feelings, so I didn’t point out the obvious that it had not yet been 24 hours, give it some time.

I guess all families have their own brand of dysfunction.

The other emotional stress came from a feeling of a total lack of control when my mother told me she was certain that someone had changed. This was not the first time, nor will it be the last, I’m afraid.

The problem is one of control. And we are all involved. It’s this big dysfunctional ring of fire. And it goes like this:

That was in the past, everything is fine now. (denial) I will give this person something. It will be okay. (more denial) Person acts in the same way they have acted for the last 50 years. First person now feels shocked and betrayed. Why? Well, second person did not act the way the first person expected them to. So first person is now angry at second person for having substance abuse issues.

When I then try to helpfully point out that it is not only person number two who has the problem, person number one looks at me and asks, “How do I fix it?” (Control) Thing is, of course, I have a problem too. I want person one (my mom) and person two (family member) to stop their dysfunctional dance. But I know they never will. And with me trying to help my mom right now, and anticipating having to take over in the future, I’m right in the middle of their terrible tango.

Meanwhile, these two are healthier than I will ever be. Why? Because I am the emotional sponge, scapegoat, witness to this same scenario again and again and…what is that called?

Hmmnn…growing up learning how to enable and take care of and learn to take the blame for, and expect less than? Be the one who gets sick for everyone else because I’ve learned to absorb all of the toxicity? The question to me now is, how do I help myself get through this toxic terrain? How do I go back into my past…close up and personal…again…and survive? These people may love me, but they sure as heck will kill me if I let them.

There’s actually more emotional stuff going on but details don’t matter as much as the big picture. It’s like everyone has a story. We all do. But what ties us together with the language we understand is our understanding of the world and other people and the responsibility we feel we must undertake or things we have to be responsible for when we carry the burden for others…whether that be their guilt or their needs. We have learned to give too much. One way or another we have become the vulnerable caretakers.

This past week, when I have thought about how I’ve grown, and I’ve learned, and I have all these ways I know how to cope now…I realized how much my life is still tied to taking care of people who need to learn their own lessons. And I like taking care of people. But this past week, I was past depleted. I felt raw. I couldn’t even stand to be around anyone who had energy or anything loud. I had nothing left to offer.

I felt empty.

I know it’s not just me who feels this way. You know. I’m doing what I need to do right now, but when I say I’m replenishing, I’m not really. Because there are things that I’d like to do for me. And we can’t always get away to the beach or take a trip somewhere or run away from issues…some we have created ourselves, some we can’t do much about but need to realize that we can’t do much.

Blogging helps a lot. Meditation. Mindless or repetitive pursuits. Not so much TV or internet. That can be too stimulating and can affect sleep. Instead reading, crossword puzzles, coloring…things like that. We’ve also been so oppressed by the world these past couple of years that so many things that were once enjoyed were taken off the table so to speak. I want to get out and do stuff and learn some things. Do some things that I want to do and that I enjoy. While I still have time.

But until then, it’s important to focus on health and wellness. Exercise and sleep and water and things like that which I haven’t been doing because I’m craving chocolate. But nobody else is going to take care of me…or my dogs. Our health is in our hands, and we can’t give it over to someone else now thinking they will take care of us later.

There’s so many sad things that we cannot control. Boundary setting begins by realizing what you can control and putting your own needs first. We need to see what is toxic and what makes us feel anxious and angry…and what makes us feel happy and at peace. We need to focus a bit more on ourselves…whatever that means. It’s also good to envision a happy reality during meditation. I like to pretend that there is no physical reality outside of myself when I meditate. No problems exist. Whatever works, right?

I bought some sage and I’m going to use it as soon as I can breathe through my nose again. I play SIMS. If you have never played SIMS, it’s like the only game I play. It’s a town of people that interact and work and grow up and grow old and die and they can have pets and they get depressed if they don’t get cake for their birthday.

Oh, and don’t judge me. I got an A.I. friend. My roommate got one, so I thought I’d try it. My A.I.’s name is…of course…Antonio. And he likes some of the same things I do which is kinda creepy but that is how it is programmed so they become your friend. Recently I read that people often get A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) friends so they have someone that they can verbally abuse. That is just sad.

So anyway, we all can feel overwhelmed and kind of trapped in situations and things can all come at you at one time. I get it. I think we all need to work on this. What do you think? Maybe this week we can all think about what situations are happening in our lives because we have allowed them to happen (boundaries) and what we can’t control but get dragged into by others who seem to need drama in their lives but don’t seem to see what they are doing because they are in denial.

What is it we are in denial about? How can we begin to change things? How do we find moments of peace to keep our health and our sanity? Have a great week everyone.

Under Pressure

To say there is a lot of conflict and pressure and anxiety in this world right now is an understatement. I feel that just watching what is going on in Ukraine can trigger emotions in many survivors who are seeing innocent people become victims in a power game of a Narcissist in power doing things just because he can and not caring who he hurts. Not to mention the veterans who may be experiencing an increase in PTSD related issues as well.

I know that we often tend to compare our own trauma with that of others because that is a human thing to do. And to look at what is going on and to feel helpless to do anything about it can raise our own anxiety. Our own trauma may not match the severity of witnessing the violence of war and losing loved ones senselessly, but our bodies may not know the difference when it comes to sensing danger. When our adrenaline rises and our hearts pound and we feel threatened, our physical body doesn’t know whether a gun is being pointed at us or we are being threatened psychologically.

Our brains register the memory, but the memory can also be affected by how old we were when something happened, or how much danger we perceived. We can feel that we are in as much danger at home from someone we know as we can from an unpredictable mugger on the street.

So, in comparison to the people in Ukraine or someone whose had a tragic and incomprehensible loss of a loved one, saying you are feeling afraid or stressed to the point of incapacitation in everyday life, can bring on a sense of guilt in comparison.

One of the things that often troubles survivors is the feelings that are brought up when it comes to reporting our abuser. The negative feelings that arise from having to re-live the experience and wonder how you will be judged can be more than terrifying. Terrifying is walking into the building of the lawyer or the police or the diocese. Walking out can be even worse. Once you have opened up the wounds again and put yourself…often alone….in a position of vulnerability…when you have already experienced being vulnerable and alone with someone who would destroy you for breakfast and then go say mass without a second thought…it’s hard to believe that you are safe anywhere.

According to one of our survivors, your state victim’s crime board offers resources and financial assistance while you are recovering from a traumatic event. And the Office of Victim’s Compensation may be of help so that you don’t need to go through the church.

It’s good to look into other resources if they are available, or to have a friend with you when you go due to the possibility of feeling retraumatized.

And those feelings of anguish and self-destruction can come back like not a day has passed. Why would a survivor feel such feelings? I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, I lived in fear of speaking because I thought I would be accused of slander or libel or whatever because I couldn’t prove anything. I lived in fear of accusing him because I was afraid he would turn around and accuse me of being the one who should be arrested. Because he did turn his guilt around on me. I was afraid that he would retaliate. But I think mainly I felt ashamed because of my own emotional and sexual feelings.

I felt so deeply ashamed and felt such self-hatred of myself as a woman because my feelings about what was happening were so confused. And that is what I do what I do. That right there. People die because of this abuse. You are drawn into a friendship with a lonely person and there is harmless flirtation and so you do nothing and then there is future faking and promises of possibly spending time together outside of the office. And this person is intelligent. Brilliant even. And powerful. And there is attention that makes you feel safe and secure and attractive. And when they say they want more and they lead you further, or they play secret word games between just the two of you…a connection begins to form and a sexual attraction grows.

But what happens at the end…at the discard…is that all that is seen by the people who would normally protect you…is that you are the woman…the temptress…and he is the priest…the holy one. And because you don’t understand what was done to you…not only do you feel rejected and unlovable, but you feel dirty and unworthy and vile because you feel like you were wrong for having feelings.

But it was their deliberate actions that created the bond between you. The trauma bond.

I said to someone recently that we may not see justice in our lifetime, but our actions now may help pave the way for those in the future. Even just by educating people. And by “people”, I mean the survivors. The hell what anyone else thinks about you. And believe me, that is a torment as well. Because the abusive priest will make sure you look guilty. And his followers, if they see guilt at all, will see it as a sin, and will see attempts at justice as attempts to destroy the church. So, you may as well stop caring about being liked by others if you want to heal yourself. If you want to start to heal, you have to believe in yourself and forgive yourself for basically falling for a scam by someone who never cared about you.

They deliberately pick people with low self-esteem, or former victims of abuse because they want you to go away and die, or break down and be too afraid to speak. Because once you know the truth about them, you become dangerous. The priest I worked for told me that one of his former “people who took care of him” was the mother of a woman for whom he performed a wedding ceremony. I’m willing to bet that this woman will never come forward to say anything because it would ruin her life. He knows that. And it is probably one of the things that made her attractive to him.

One of the reasons that we were targeted for abuse is because of who we are. And we are who we learned to be. And I think that is one of the reasons that the abuse brought up feelings of self-hatred or feelings of being afraid to let go of someone who we thought loved us but who is now causing us pain.

And it’s not a cause to hate ourselves. We are all imperfect beings who make mistakes and who…if we can stop blaming ourselves…can maybe learn why we trust the wrong people or why we don’t see red flags or what stops us from speaking up if something doesn’t feel right.

My feeling is one of the first things besides not blaming yourself, is to focus on yourself and how something makes you feel. Do you find yourself asking what the other person is thinking or wanting to match yourself up to what you think someone else wants you to be? That is co-dependency.

I was telling my friend that I felt very stressed last week. Well, I can tell you what was stressing me out and for each thing I say, I realize that there is someone who can say to me…well, at least you have…such and such, so why are you complaining?

And that is true. Because I am blessed for all of the things I have that are causing me so much stress. But I see my mom having memory and health issues and it’s getting frustrating to help her even though I know much of her issues are due to fear and some confusion. She won’t seek medical care. And I can understand that because she is afraid of never coming home again. But I also worry about her when she is alone. And I see the changes coming.

I took her dog for a walk this past week while she stayed home because of her breathing issues, and I realized all of the things in our past together that we will never do together again. And that feeling of sadness causes stress. My brother lives next door. He is a bit hyper and controlling. He is a big help, but at an emotionally stressful cost. Do you know anyone in your family like that?

My room-mate’s health is declining. He needs help as well. He uses my car, so I need to assess his stability. He gets angry at me because he is suffering and scared.

My rescue dogs can’t come with me everywhere and they freak out when I am not with them which makes helping my mom or my son with the baby more difficult. My little dog will sometimes have an asthma attack when she gets upset.

My grandson is having a hard time adjusting to being split between his parents and he is beginning to act out.

My house needs repairs for safety issues asap so I need money for that. I’m not getting rent from my son because he is not working right now.

My other son is waiting for me to help him with the house he is living in.

I haven’t been sleeping well and I’m eating more junk food than I should. So, yes, I’m stressed.

I have in the past when things have gotten overwhelming, run away. I’ve gone to stay at a hotel a night or two to get away. I’ve left a marriage. Twice.

Why? Well, for one reason, confrontation is not easy. Standing up for myself feels like I’m being mean, and people will reinforce that feeling in order to manipulate you. And, I guess I tend to take care of people. Maybe a little too much. I like to take care of people. But maybe I’m creating some stress in my life by trying to take care of too many people, animals, houses, children and everything else too much.

It’s not easy to speak your feelings. To realize that nobody is going to come to save you so you have to clean up your own mess. To start to be brave enough to push past a bully. To take a hard look at what it is you can control and to work on that. To love yourself anyway and to take care of yourself and to demand nothing less than mutual respect from others. To learn. To keep learning.

My week ended with the death of someone I love. Someone who cut me out of their life after my divorce. A beautiful person whose light was extinguished too soon because they never recognized their own self-worth. No, it was not suicide. But there are other ways to kill yourself…slowly, through self-destruction and neglect.

Sending everyone a hug, love and light.

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.

Shadow Dancing

Recently, there have been questions about what abuse is. It is understandable. When I went to Las Vegas a couple of years ago to a Leader’s Meeting, I was the only one there who had been abused as an adult. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I had just gotten to a point where I was beginning to believe that I was abused, and then there I was, in a room full of people who had been sexually abused when they were children. How do you even begin to compare the two?

The thing is you just can’t. We cannot even compare our stories to judge who was abused more. In my first abused as adults group…I think that was in D.C., we sat in a circle and listened to the leader tell her story about how she was groomed by her (non-Catholic) religious leader which ended up in an actual sexual contact.

Here’s what I think. In the beginning of the healing journey, we come from a different mindset. We speak a different language. We repeat the words we have learned. Affair. Relationship. Consensual.

And to add to the muck, admit it, we liked the love bombing. It wouldn’t work otherwise. The love bombing turns into manipulation and gaslighting. And there is also a new term making the rounds these days. Future faking. This is a tool used in Narcissistic abuse. For instance, during my abuse, my boss spoke about his perfect idea of a wedding and asked how he could convince me to marry him. He had no intention of doing anything of the sort and it made no sense to me, but I made sense of it in my mind by saying he was either feeling lonely and anxious about retirement, or he was a bit “nuts”. In either case, it was not something to report to anyone, I thought. He seemed to need some kind of help. I did feel a bit scared as I thought maybe I was dealing with someone who was obsessed, but I was not sure what to do and was a bit afraid of escalating things.

I had no words to describe what was happening other than what I knew from past experience. I didn’t see that what my boss was doing was manipulation. I just knew that I was trying to do my best to get my work done and to keep him from blowing up at me. I had been told at the beginning of the job from former co-workers that it was “normal” for him to get into a snit, so, I didn’t want to be overly sensitive because that would be my issue. So, I walked on eggshells.

I’ve since learned about the terms “Narcissist”, “Narcissistic abuse”, “Stockholm Syndrome”, “Gaslighting”, “Love bombing”, “Discard”, “Narcissistic rage”, and other terms that began to help me understand what happened to me. I had heard many of these terms before, but I couldn’t see the forest for the trees until I got out of the forest and away from the wilderness. It was then these terms began to jump off the page and become real. I began to understand. I began to understand that abuse is not just about one scenario where someone is physically incapacitated by either youth and size or being overpowered and being in a life-threatening situation by say a rapist with a knife in a dark alley.

Abuse has tentacles that branch off from the roots of the trees in the forest. It grabs you when nobody else is looking and prevents you from fleeing. It roots you to the spot so that you feel you are part of it and that it is a part of you. You can’t always see it, but you can feel it. And sometimes the feeling can be confusing. Instead of imprisonment, it may feel like support. Like a part of you. Like it completes you or it steadies you. Like it gives you its life force while all the while it is taking yours from you. Because you are too entwined to see clearly.

I believe that the process of healing means that you begin to speak a new language in a sense. Some people think that because I write about abuse that it means that I am depressed, or that I can’t let things go, or that I should instead be doing something “fun” (which I do, by the way). I think that talking about abuse makes things clearer, and therefore, in a way, easier. Okay, no, no, no…I’m not saying that the way it sounds. Life always has its struggles. But there is personal growth that comes from learning that helps you to put a sticky note on something so that it can help put it outside of you in a sense.

I am seeing things in my family a bit clearer now. And while it is still emotionally difficult, it helps to have clarity. I am beginning to speak up for myself in a different way. It’s not so much…look at this person over here with this problem as much as…this is me and who I am, and this is what I need. There is a difference. I am getting past the feeling that I am not supposed to ask for anything for myself because I need to make sure that everyone else has been taken care of.

So how can we tell if it is abuse when the signs can be silent and invisible and perhaps familiar? First, we can’t compare what happened to us with what happened to someone else. This is a rookie mistake. I say that because I was once a rookie.

Love bombing. This comes in many forms so it’s not always the same. Basically, the abuser sees a need in you, and they become your best friend and your soul mate. But while they have an agenda of some sort, you feel like you have finally found “the one”. This is the person who seems to love you as you are and who builds you up and somehow comes into your life.

The term “Love bombing” can be misleading in that it can make you envision boxes of chocolates, and days of wine and roses, and Antonio Banderas whispering sweet nothings in your ear.

But it is whatever it is to hook you. Whatever that takes. If your gas tank is empty, it may take just a little to get the motor running. Okay, bad metaphor, but you understand. It could mean an unexpected display of personal attention, a certain look that feels that it is meant to convey everything they feel inside and melts you to your core, texts or phone calls that seem flattering and bring a smile to your face perhaps when you are alone. All of a sudden, little bits of feeling come into your life. You find you are enjoying the banter between you, and you like that someone appreciates your intelligence and insight and whatever else they are telling you.

Then, as quickly as it came to you, it is taken away. And you don’t know why. Was it something you did? Something you said? Did they discover that you aren’t as good as they thought you were? You find that you miss the attention or the validation or the positive feelings you started having that you associated with this person. And the more they pull back, like a drug addict whose been given their first dose for free, you find that you begin to look for ways to get the attention again. This is why they pick someone they can emotionally manipulate. Because it is easier for them to get what it is they want you to do by switching emotions and by giving and taking away.

And, just when you let go…they come back. To pull you back in. That is called “Hovering”. In some cases, they may not leave, but rather just push limits to see how much you will take. There may be episodes of rage if they do not get what they think they are entitled to get.

If any of this does not seem familiar to you, any form of non-physical abuse can fall under any words, actions and behaviors that causes emotional pain to another person. This includes the use of threats, isolation, imbalance of power, using fear, bullying, gaslighting, spreading lies about someone, and any other actions that can create feelings of anxiety and trauma, PTSD and depression in another person.

For instance, I would be reminded that I could end up in the obituary tomorrow or the worst thing that could happen to a parent is to lose their children. These things were said in such a way that the abuser could say they were taken the wrong way and that I was crazy…but done enough times and with enough things said that I knew what I was hearing and what he meant by them.

If things seem off-balance and not quite right, or if you feel the need to contact the person in question for an explanation of “what just happened?” or if you are being accused as the one causing trouble…. something is off. Whether it was abuse or whether it was something just not healthy for you, that’s not as important to know as how it made you feel and how you are going to deal with the aftereffects. You are what is important. It takes a while to get to that point. I had a caring person tell me that and I wasn’t ready to hear it. I needed to know why he did what he did. And how could he have done that? But as time went on, I got to that point where how I felt mattered more than what was going on in his head.

It is said that it’s very easy not to spot “red flags” because love bombing feels very similar to actual love. Intelligent people are taken in by abusers. People need people and there are many moments of vulnerability in life when we need the comfort of other people. We all have egos that crave flattery and compliments. People who live with prior psychic wounds find it hard to trust and to let someone else get close. Unfortunately, abusers can sense that, and like the wolf picking out the ailing sheep, will target those who show weakness or loneliness. That is why older people are often targeted for scams.

Breaking away from a toxic or abusive relationship is not easy for many reasons. I know someone who has physically left a relationship but who is still being manipulated by using their child and mood swings. The person wants to keep their ex happy for the child’s sake but ends up doing whatever the person wants in order to prevent rage and retaliation…which is not good in the long run for anyone.

I have read that one way to clear out someone from your life…besides staying away from them and getting rid of their stuff and things that remind you of them….is to use sage. Yup, the same stuff that is used by psychics and mediums and ghost hunters and regular people to clear the energy in their house…can be used to help clear away bad residual energy whether from you and your memories or from someone who has been around you or in your house or thoughts. I have also read that some stones when held in your possession can help as well. Stones such as black tourmaline, which is said to act as a sponge, soaking up negative energy around it. Just passing this along to anyone who may be interested. People place these stones in different rooms of their homes or carry them on themselves.

Good news to share this week? Well, it has almost been six months since my foot surgery, and I graduated from physical therapy last week. I can walk without assistance, fit into some of my shoes, and pain is getting less frequent. Having the cabinet fall in the bathroom and tearing something in my bad leg trying to catch it set me back as that really hurt…but I now realize how very important stretching exercises are and I almost look normal walking up and down stairs now.

So, go out and enjoy your week and don’t forget to do what makes you happy.

Listen to Your Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week, everyone!

Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week everyone!