Close to You

Ah, yes…..dating, romance, commitment, sex. Why does it look so easy for other people?

I was reading something this week….hypothetically…a woman (or man) walks into a room where there are 100 eligible people. Ninety-nine of these people are nice, emotionally healthy, self-supporting, sober, human beings. But this person picks the one that stands out to them. The one that resonates with them. The emotionally unhealthy, financially dependent, substance abuser. Does that sound familiar?

It does to me. I look back to high school and I see that I passed up a respectful, talented, kind person who took me out to dinners and movies for people with drinking problems or who were emotionally unavailable.

I see that now. Back then, I saw boring or exciting. I saw people whose shell I thought I could crack and people who I saw as needing saving. Needing me. I saw people who hurt me….people I pined over; I saw people whose affection I needed to pursue. If it didn’t hurt, I wasn’t love. I got that message from somewhere. I felt less-than so I gravitated towards people I felt would not expect a lot from a relationship. And drinking made what passed as getting close to someone much easier.

Fast forward many years later and I’m separated from my husband. For the first time in years, I’m out in the dating world. I’m thinking….I see where I made my mistakes. This time will be different.

I am going to find a nice man, I thought. I’m not going to go for excitement or for physical attraction. He just has to be a nice guy. It’s going to work this time. I can feel it. Now I know what I’m doing.

So I met a doctor at work. Older than me. Skinny. Not attractive. But he was respected where I worked. Had his own home. Had money. A good pick for my later years, I thought. I knew my parents would love him because he was a doctor, so that didn’t hurt either.

Well, things were fine until they weren’t. Slowly I began to see that while he was thrilled at being in a relationship, I needed to change to fit what he expected in a woman. He constantly talked about my weight and getting exercise and being healthy. At the time, I smoked. Not around him, but that didn’t matter. That needed to stop. Because he said so. Then his relatives showed up for Christmas. Did I mention he was Jewish? No reason for it to matter other than….I swear to God…his cousin brought up how she didn’t like to hang out with anyone who wasn’t Jewish. She really did. Also brought up with regularity was his ex-wife’s masters degree and how she had converted to Judaism during the course of their marriage.

But things really began to fall apart when I drove him to the airport for a work trip and then he called me from California and said that I should really be there because I would love it. Okay, this guy was a self-proclaimed millionaire. He only had to pay for my airfare if he wanted me to go with him. But that was not what was going on. One weekend, I just didn’t feel like spending the night. I paid for that the next time we began to get intimate. Yes, he actually told me….there will be no more of that…..until you show some enthusiasm for this relationship.

Okay, that was it for me. I know that people who hold up the bar for you to jump over, are trying to train you and each time you jump when they say jump, the bar goes a little bit higher.

What had gone wrong? I thought he was a nice guy. Instead, he was insecure and controlling.

The next guy I met I thought for sure was okay. He was a therapist. A veteran. He loved his daughter, who is such a sweetheart. He loved his dog. He said grace before meals. He like board games and watching movies. I’d bring my two dogs up and spend every weekend with him. He would get up early and walk the dogs when it was cold. Wow, I had met the man of my dreams.

Along the way, there were red flags. I pushed them aside because nobody is perfect, I’d say to myself.

Our first date, he asked me to meet me at a restaurant. I sat at a table and waited but he did not show up. Finally I ordered my meal and ate alone. Right after I had paid my bill and was finishing my soda, I get a phone call. He said….are you here? I’m so sorry…..work, traffic…blah blah blah. Oh, there you are….I’ll be right over. And he sat down, ordered himself a soda, and we talked like what had happened had not happened.

Until it happened again. He would ask to go to a family style restaurant and be detained so I would be sitting there alone waiting for an hour, expecting that the food would be paid for by the time he arrived to enjoy it. His lights were turned off and could I please help him out. He needed to get his daughter presents for Christmas, could I cover him until he got to an ATM? Once at the ATM, he found out he only had enough money to cover gas and dog food for the week.

Again, I kept telling myself…well, nobody is perfect….although I didn’t appreciate what was going on. So I tried to work on things with him. Whatever we do, whenever we spend money, he would cover a third and I would take care of two thirds. He worked two jobs and had child support payments. I kept telling myself that was the reason he was struggling.

But when he insisted that we go to a restaurant right after we had this discussion about payment….and he had picked the restaurant and a decently expensive dish….all of a sudden, I became the bad guy for asking for 1/3 of the cost.

That was it for me with him. I knew that if he wasn’t going to put effort into working with me, that money was not the issue and that nothing would ever change.

But what was wrong? Why was I picking dead end relationships? Was my judgement off? How was a person supposed to know what percentage of bad or incompatibility in a relationship was acceptable?

But nothing prepared me for what happened with the priest I worked for. I’m thinking that whatever was going wrong in previous relationships….whatever anyone picked up from on me as maybe being “moldable” or “able to be compliant” or “will pay all of my bills” was what drew the priest to me as well. Add to my niceness, naivety, stupidity….whatever you want to call it….there was always “but he’s a priest” and of course, there was the gaslighting as well that further added to the confusion.

And so that leaves me wondering if other people who have been abused as adults have experienced confusion as to what is acceptable in a relationship, or a hesitancy to confront unacceptable behavior until it piles up and becomes too much. I don’t remember going into the relationships I mentioned thinking about what I was going to get out of it as much as what I needed to do in order to make things work. How much I had to adjust to please the other person. And how little I asked. How much bad behavior I accepted or believed.

I have heard people abused as children talk about how that abuse has prevented a sense of normal to many of their romantic relationships.

But what do we, who have been abused as adults know about normal and actually good relationships? Is that one of the things that made us vulnerable?

I know that it made me vulnerable….that acceptance of behavior, that making of excuses, that meekness of being that is supposed to be valued as a Catholic, that putting someone else first, that not expecting for myself, that belief that no matter what, priests were safe.

I grew up in a time where Women’s Lib was an odd new thing. Marriage was still expected of you. You weren’t expected to have a “career”, except perhaps part time. The husband was still looked upon as the breadwinner and head of the house.

Things have changed but I think formative years live inside of you forever and it’s a constant emotional/logical battle as a grown-up. A priest’s word was never questioned. The pope was infallible. A good Catholic woman stayed married and did not seek a divorce or ever seek to date another man after that ring had been placed on her finger.

Women tempt men into sin. Men are not responsible for their actions. What did you expect you would deserve if you left your husband?

The emotional child who grew up listening to this is always there, and always wanting to come forward in emotional situations or when we feel vulnerable. Men will be men. You want to be in a relationship, you gotta accept that. (Apologies, guys)

Growing up and quieting that emotional child with logic and strength, and sometimes tears, they say is what growth is about.

But a priest can trigger that inner child. They have always been our leaders, the people we trust, and our safe haven. They are, in a sense, like our dads or a kindly uncle. Those priests who abuse seem to use the knowledge of our souls and vulnerabilities to break us down and whatever faults we see in them, we know we must trust and forgive. So the use of logic, which has helped us in other relationships when things didn’t feel right, is almost non-existent because this man is not a man. This man is of God.

I remember thinking at one point that perhaps God had sent me to help him through something. All the more believable because I wasn’t supposed to get the job but another woman had turned it down. It was fate. Had to be. God and gaslighting made me feel wrong for the logical thoughts I would think at times.

Now, I don’t blame God for what happened. But I blamed myself.

 

Live and Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trauma Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wolf in Priest’s Clothes

So, the tendency when you or anyone is around a priest is to respect the boundary of the collar. Father may play basketball with the kids and maybe be even really cool and have a beer at a picnic, but you might find that dad doesn’t swear when his team doesn’t make a touchdown and long ago packed away holy items may make a reappearance before Father comes to visit. Wherever a priest goes….so does church. And where there is church, there is church behavior.

We all know logically that there is a man underneath the priestly garb. But as long as the collar is there, we address him as “Father” or “Reverend” and he is automatically elevated to the status of teacher, judge, grantor, chosen one, most holy, deliverer of penance, and one bestowed of power beyond that of the average man. And as much as we tell ourselves that he is just a man like everyone else, we have been trained to react differently to a priest. Automatic respect, turn the other cheek and do your penance is ingrained when around a man of the cloth. There is a wall there that logic can’t cross. We know there is a man under there somewhere, but one that is different and one at whom we don’t want to look at too closely or personally.

I’ve always thought of priests as asexual or married to God, with a shield around them that anything sexual bounces off. As far as their personal life outside the public eye, I figured they read the bible, prayed, went to mass, discussed God with other priests, watched G rated movies and family shows, and probably collected stamps or photographed nature. Maybe they honed up on their singing skills. That would be in between writing sermons, visiting the sick and elderly and saying mass, of course.

Like I said, we don’t want to look to close. If there is sex going on, they are probably masturbating or perhaps they have a more personal relationship with another priest. Maybe they have a secret girlfriend. Some cause for gossip but out of respect, it is not recognized publicly. Or perhaps we don’t want to acknowledge anything that may alter our perfect image of a pure priest.

In any case, the average parishioner’s knowledge and curiosity about the existence of a priest’s sex life tends to end at the door of the rectory. Don’t want to know and don’t want to talk about it.

Unfortunately some people do get to see what goes on behind that door. I say “unfortunately” because what is found on the other side can be creepy, dishonest, illegal, disrespectful, hurtful and downright horrifying. And since people who go beyond that door only know that priests equal love and Jesus, they may go there innocently and without fear….as a sheep would follow a wolf who appeared to be the shepherd.

On the contrary, they expect to be treated with love and kindness. They expect to be recognized for the beauty that lies within their souls. They expect to be held warmly within the walls of what is the heart of the church.

But for many people…..most I think, what they find on the other side is the reality of what is the sex life of a priest. Much of it is mucked up with confusion and blame, but the reality is not a love affair. It’s finding out you are one of many people being used and strung along, or being taken advantage of at a vulnerable time in your life, or raped, or coerced into being at his beck and call for him or perhaps for him and his friends like a prostitute. This is sometimes accomplished with threats and the use of power, control and blackmail.

It’s not as romantic as they would like you to believe when the door has closed behind you and you are being enticed to go further.

But you see, it’s not just cut and dried either. Predator priests can be skilled manipulators. And it takes time….sometimes a long time…..for an adult victim to understand that they most likely are not the priest’s “first” and are only special in what they can do for him, not for who they are.

It can be extremely difficult to realize you have gone behind the door where few fear to tread, only to realize that there will be no love or comfort found here. To put it bluntly, you are simply a hand job or an orifice. And once you begin to see things for what they really are, that you are an unpaid sex worker, do not expect a sincere apology from anyone.

Expect to be shunned and ignored and not believed. Because nobody really wants to hear about it and nobody wants their perfect version of reality tarnished. Basically, you are seen as the person who is at fault. Because it’s easier that way. Less messy. Less changes have to be made. Nobody likes change. Stick with the majority. It’s only sex. Just a little sin. Wink, wink. So he was getting a piece of ass….who was he hurting? He’s a man after all. Women are the temptresses. Victim shaming still alive and unwell. The victim is victimized once again.

The priest can hide behind his vows and, of course, sin. Temptation. It’s weakness, not a crime. He’s certainly not a dangerous narcissistic psychopath who should not be around unsuspecting and trusting children and adults. Because, God help us if he is and and we prefer not to speak up but instead allow this wolf to continue to disguise himself and hurt others. God help us if we choose to look the other way because it feels less messy.

Finding your way through gaslight

I recently talked to a woman who is right now in the middle of what I call “the game”. It was difficult for me to listen to her because I saw a lot of myself in her and I didn’t like to see that side of me so clearly. It hurts. It is very painful. It’s hard for me to bite my tongue and let her talk through things.

She is in denial. And she is going through a maze of thoughts and feelings. She cannot see what is going on.

I had people question me how I had still had feelings….or rather thought I had feelings, for someone when they were abusive. For me, it was as if someone was trying to tell me that grass was never green and the sky was never blue. It just took a long long time to be able to process that information.

During the time that I was going through my abusive relationship with my boss, the Reverend Father, I thought I knew what was going on…at first.

I did my research…on-line. Being a priest gets lonely. They perform a wedding and see a loving couple and extended family and a joyful occasion…..and they leave and go home alone to a quiet and empty place they call home. It is not uncommon for a priest to have a girlfriend, I read, especially as they near retirement and face spending the rest of their lives on their porch with a single rocking chair. They may flirt harmlessly. A clever little line here or there all in good fun with the housekeeper or the woman who sings in church on Sunday.

It was this logic that gave me feelings of sympathy and understanding of my boss as a man and not just a priest.

So when his behavior became slightly risque and he joked about me needing to do more than buy him fancy post it notes to butter him up, I laughed. And most importantly, when he was joking around, he was not yelling at me…..so I felt both safe with his behavior and secure in my job. And that felt good.

With grooming, behavior that can create discomfort is increased or mixed with other behaviors that cause pleasure. Mixed in with the insistence of walking behind me up the stairs, or of watching me walk down the hallway, was also a bit of what seemed like adolescent nervousness which I thought was cute in a way. I brushed off my warning bells by telling myself he was just inexperienced and I had to be kind to him so as not to hurt him.

And the more I accepted the behavior as it increased and laughed or joked with him despite pushing aside the things he did that made me uncomfortable, the more complicit I became in our little secret. He had picked me. I was his special friend that he trusted. And giving my loyalty to protect him meant even more because he was a priest. Not only because he was a human being….I thought…showing feelings….and who could blame him for that, right? But because betraying him in any way was betraying God.

Oh, come on…..you know that I’m right. We all know that priests are not God…..but they work for Him. He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good…..and He’ll know if you betray one of His own.

Well, that’s about as far as most people get. Acknowledging that priests are people too. Cool Father Joe plays basketball with the kids and has a beer with the dads afterward. Well, you know he must have, you know, those feelings….but we don’t discuss things like sex or swear in front of him. He’s not THAT human, after all. Oh, is it his birthday, make sure you get him the birthday card with the nun on it….I’m sure he will love that…..

So most people…..including most people who are groomed, acknowledge somewhat that priests are human beings with human feelings…..they just don’t want to be around if any of those feelings go off. Or be responsible for setting those feelings off.

Oh…unless God says it’s okay. That’s a big loophole, you see. Sometimes God sends the priest messages that they should spend extra time with people or, you know….things done under the religious tent make it okay to, you know, hug or be alone with a person so they can save their soul and such.

And if the priest himself does not say that, the victim begins to rationalize that it must be okay with God. The woman I spoke to said her priest got a message from God to help her. I myself questioned why God had given me this person in my path and was sex somehow what God wanted? Was I supposed to be learning something about love with this man or helping him not feel alone or allowing myself to be more vulnerable?

But you see, before these questions arose, just when things were going well and life was good and I got a raise and more hours and could earn leave and was really enjoying my job and getting along with my boss…..the lights started to go dim.

Just like with this other woman who is being bombarded with questions about sin and who is to blame in her situation, my situation went from heavy flirtation and teasing about a party on his day off to screaming at me, and I was asked if I was unable to comprehend a simple office game, and he could never understand where I was getting my ideas or how could I even mouth the words that made him feel so uncomfortable? And I began to doubt everything. I mean everything. I would stop all contact except what was needed from him in order to do my job and find that when I tried to ignore him, he would be in my face, seeking attention and validation. If he did not get what he needed, he would begin to threaten me in subtle underhanded ways. He would begin to act unusual so that co-workers would notice and they would come to me and ask why he seemed to be changing when it came to his faith. I would get emails and bible references about sinful women in the bible tempting men to do bad things from his other priest friends.

If I said I felt threatened, he would tell me I was not allowed to ever talk about his behavior and that I must be obedient. So I’m thinking he’s quirky and what the heck we only work together. Total denial. If someone had told me he was dangerous, or to run as far and as fast as I could…..I wouldn’t have believed that a priest could be dangerous….the word was quirky folks…..I could handle this…..

I have to say here…..please people, priest or not…..if you feel you need to fix things for someone or you find yourself making excuses for their behavior….for whatever reason….or the big one…..you feel you need to talk things out so you can understand because not knowing is driving you crazy…..or if you say things are bad but it cannot be the other person…..I don’t care if you share an appendage at that point in time……this is not a good situation and the answer is not going to be something you want to hear…..that is, if you ever get an answer. Walk away. Don’t try to help or fix or rationalize.

When you’ve gone passed the grooming and the denial and you have reached the stage where they are flat out denying what they said and all you know that seems right and makes sense is doing whatever it takes to keep the person happy….which could change daily…..so that there is a semblence of peace in your existence…….know that you are now trying to read the rules by gaslight…..and that is impossible.

You are now getting into very dangerous territory…….and the most dangerous part about this territory is that you feel responsible for being there because your head is now in a smoke filled haze of words that surround you but can dissipate as soon as the next breeze comes through.

You are not weak. You are not stupid. You are probably a very decent person. But you have been brainwashed by a very effective technique called gaslighting.

Mind Rape

Many years ago, a close relative was going through a very horrible summer. On that particular night, I went to visit him because he had been released from the hospital and going through a breakup with his physically abusive girlfriend. I went to keep him company and make him dinner. I wanted to be sure his girlfriend and his friends who wanted to give him some substance therapy stayed away. And I wanted to be sure that he was going to be able to make it through to the next morning on his own when I left.

You know, they say that if you are ever in a plane crash that you should make sure you put your oxygen mask on first. It’s difficult to see someone you love….or anyone for that matter, struggling. But before you offer them your hand, you have to make sure that you have something solid to hold onto first so that you are not pulled down with them.

My relative’s friend stopped by, seemingly concerned about him, and offered to help me get some groceries at the store and help me make dinner. Dinner never happened that night.

It seemed that my kin was more interested in finding his girlfriend and wanted to go out to look for her. And his friend….seemed he cared so much about him that he wanted me too to be able to experience some of his substance therapy so I could see how wonderful it could be. I told him I wasn’t interested. To me it seemed like trying out butter basted, three-cheese, egg-topped, fried anything just to find out you loved it and had to have it every day thereafter so that you could end up blowing out your waistline and your arteries. Why would I want to know that I liked anything that would cause my ultimate destruction when I saw what it had done to the people I loved? I’m not being judgmental here….I have my own struggles and addictions and just felt it was better not to add any more problems to my life.

So the three of us went out looking for the female half of this unhealthy addictive relationship and we all ended up in a bar up the street. Remember now, I was still there to protect my family member and keep him out of harm’s way.

There I was, a 28 year old mother of two walking into this bar with two guys who were not exactly looking out for my best interest. Not to mention now that I think of it one of them was most likely a drug dealer, and the other was searching for a woman who had recently stabbed him in the heat of an argument. These were my male escorts walking into the place.

My relative takes off and leaves me to go look for his girlfriend. I am now worried about him. I notice there is a group of people gathered in a room so I go to see if he had gone in there.

I step into the room and look around, noticing as I did so that there were probably a good 50 people in the room all sitting around drinking…..and I was the only female.

Just as I was taking this all in, one of the guys, noticeably slurring his words, yells out to all of the other men in the room…..”Hey, the stripper’s here!” which was met by some cheers and a bit of encouragement for me to begin my act.

Okay, this was in an unfamiliar bar and definitely not a country club or a place with any kind of security. I pretty much had no protection for myself. I froze. I was terrified. Didn’t matter that I wasn’t being paid for a gig if any one of those men in that room decided it didn’t matter to them if I was there professionally or not.

I remember getting back out to the bar somehow and thinking it would be safer to wait out there. Not really. I sat down and ordered a drink and the bartender told me to be sure to watch the movie playing on the tv over the bar. It was a porno flick. At that point I thought it may be safer for me to go back out into the night and find my way back to my car alone.

The point I am making is that nothing physically happened to me that night. I ended up making it back home safely. (I was separated from my husband at the time and staying at my parents’ house). But the feelings I felt were very real. I felt that whatever boundaries I had that kept me safe were being taken away by the people around me that night. Nobody had done anything illegal. Yet, I had felt unsafe and my mind had reacted as if the threat had been real.

The feeling I felt that night was similar to the feeling of terror I felt when faced with the realization that I was trapped in a dangerous situation with my boss. When people say that I was not really abused because I was not physically raped by my boss, I disagree. It felt like rape to me. He was forcing himself upon me. I remember thinking that basically telling someone they had to perform a sexual act or else they could end up in the obituaries……that was coercion….that was terrifying….that was stripping away a person’s boundaries. And that was rape. Maybe not in a physical sense. But my mind still suffered the trauma of feeling violated and my power was taken from me.

Rape is not always a physical act that occurs by a stranger in a dark alleyway. It is not always male/female. And the force and trauma involved is not always obvious.

And until and unless it has happened to you, the sexual abuse of adult by anyone they know through coercive control and manipulation, especially by a priest, cannot be truly understood by friends, family, lay people, or law enforcement. At least not yet. I am hoping that in time the abuse of adults by priests will begin to be seen as the crime that it is and that the blame will stop being pointed at the victims.

Getting out of my own way

The other night, I participated in a group video conference with a group of other survivors of clergy abuse. During this conference, one of the members told of how she had been abused by a priest at a young age. Whenever I hear stories like this, it makes me want to cry. And it makes me feel like a phony.

What these children went through is unimaginable. I won’t even go there as to how someone could hurt innocents. They do. And it doesn’t end with the physical abuse. Their sense of trust and getting close to others and relationships and God and life has been forever violated.

And so I felt…..I don’t belong here. I can’t even begin to compare my experiences to theirs.

Somehow the fact that I am a survivor of abuse as an adult was brought up and one of the women asked what that was about and how old a person would have to be to be considered abused as an adult. “That’s not a part of SNAP, is it?” she asked. I said that yes, it was. Although at that moment, I felt very much an outsider.

I thought about the exchange later on that evening and those old feelings of doubt and anger at myself and a bit of “who do I think I am” and even a bit of pity bringing a bottle to the party began to emerge. And I thought….I shouldn’t be doing this. I am not worthy.

But then another little voice….most likely the angel on my other shoulder….began to get a little huffy. “Are you done?” the angel asked. “Because when you are done making this all about yourself perhaps you might want to consider that tonight the fact the adults get abused as well was mentioned at the meeting. And also that group is a part of SNAP.”

The angel adjusted its halo. “Last time I checked, that’s what really was important here. Whether or not you are worthy of spreading the word has nothing to do with anything. It’s inconsequential. And kinda narcissistic. So get over yourself. Get out of your own way!”

Yes, adults are abused by priests….and by others as well but for now….priests. And yes, ASAP (Adults Sexually Abused by Priests) is a part of SNAP. Some priests are not good people. They are predators. And if I can cheat one priest out of blackmailing someone into sexual slavery because the rules to the playbook become published, than damn hell yes, the priest is the one who will be going down…..not his victim.

The Dysfunctional Dance

Have you ever danced with dysfunction? Mamboed with a manipulator? Did the two-step with a twisted mind?

It may have started out fun. There you were with your two left feet being dragged onto the dance floor…maybe feeling a little uncomfortable but telling yourself you would follow their lead? You wanted to belong. Didn’t want to end up being the wallflower that sat alone and unloved. Told yourself to open up to new experiences, let go, have some fun. Push past the discomfort. Ignore those feelings.

Every time you manged not to step on your partner’s feet, you won their praise and began to feel pretty good about the whole thing. Soon your confidence began to grow. This wasn’t so bad after all. You even bought yourself a new pair of shoes which drew more praise from your dance partner.

Soon little endorphins began to tap dance within brain. For every step your partner took, you followed, keeping up with their beat.

Sometimes the two of you would dance to a new song…just to try something new. A hand would be placed on your hip. Who are you to say anything, you with your two left feet? Where would you be without your partner? Sitting alone against the wall, that’s where. You want to end up back there? Didn’t think so. A hand on the hip doesn’t seem so bad. It’s all part of the dance, after all.

You are only dancing, right? I mean everyone dances. Why shouldn’t you put your hand on your partner’s hip as well? Seems only right seeing as if they hadn’t taken the time out of their busy schedule when they could be dancing with someone who really knows what they are doing….you want to learn how to do this or not you worthless two left footed thing? You think new shoes make a difference? You think anyone else is going to want to dance with a moron like you?

My dance partner must know what they are talking about, after all, I know nothing about this dance and they are so very experienced. They can get a much better dancer and I’m just being silly. It’s just touching after all. People touch when they dance, right?

You notice that you are getting further and further away from the others on the dance floor. You understand it is because you are inexperienced and you don’t want to bump into anyone or cause any trouble. And it pleases your partner. And that makes you feel good, right?

Dancing is hot work and clothes get in the way, you are told. At least if you want to learn how to express yourself fully. You have the soul of an artist and you are told that they want to help you realize your full potential. Hmmn. Well I thought you were different. Special. Guess I was wrong. Oh, please, no, no….I want to be special. I want to learn. I want to belong. I don’t want to be an outcast.

It’s expression. It’s only art. It’s not at all anything dirty. My partner is so good to teach me so much. I just have to get over these pesky feelings of my inhibitions. Just get over it, I’m told. My partner knows what he is doing. When they are not happy, nothing is right. It’s up to me to keep them happy. I have been told not to make them unhappy.

Soon you are in a room alone with them. The music has stopped. You see the truth in their eyes but it is too late. You have chosen to go into this room. You have chosen to remove your clothes. You have chosen to touch them. I don’t understand. I was just dancing. I was only dancing. You said it was right.

Your endorphins have now shuffled off to Buffalo and are being replaced at an alarming speed by adrenaline. You freeze. Unable to move anywhere.

And they tell you…..you cannot leave this room….if you do….nobody will believe anything that a clumsy, pathetic wall-flower….and a naked one at that….has to say.

I am, after all…..the master of the dysfunctional dance…..people revere me and bow when they see me. You…..are a fool. You are disposable. And if you leave this room….I will destroy you.

And then the people outside of this room will destroy you. And you will want to destroy yourself.

Because you know you wanted this. Why else would you have ended up here like this?

Then they turn on you. You know what….get out of here. You are making me very uncomfortable and I don’t know what you are talking about. Why would I have asked you to dance? You must be delusional. I’m too good for you. This is ridiculous……I’m calling security. I have a whole staff here that will back me up and protect me from crazy people like you…..

The Dysfunctional Dance…..aka Dancing with the Devil in black.

Why Me?

I cannot begin to tell you I understand why a person wants to deliberately hurt another human being just because they can. I am not saying that we are not capable of doing harm or of losing control and snapping, but to hurt another human just for the sport of it…..for the shear pleasure of causing pain….I don’t understand it.

But I’m not going to talk about those people right now. I’m going to talk about why we were targeted by those people. I know that there are to put it nicely, unpleasant people in this world. You don’t have to look very hard to find them. We kind of grow to expect that in life.

But a lot of us were raised to go to church each Sunday….or Saturday…and get a heaping helping of soul cleansing forgiveness, love for our fellow man, and hope for a better tomorrow.

There we find that the person who just stole the spot you were waiting for in the parking lot will smile gently and take your hand and wish you “peace”. You are in a safe environment. Love and incense permeate the air. You leave with love in your heart as you walk the extra block in the rain to your car and forgive the jerk who took your spot. Your heart is open. God and all of His representatives know that your heart is pure and you are good. You turn the other cheek.

People act differently in church and around priests. I’m not saying that in itself is a bad thing. People should be able to feel safe in church and around priests. We know we should. So we do. We automatically drop our guard. We know that nothing bad is going to happen to us in a place of God and of love and around God’s people who we trust our secrets with.

I used to work at the Tribunal Office. Catholics go there after they have been divorced in order to divulge all of the very intimate details of their married life….including everything that happened in the bedroom….to the priests who work there in order that those priests may determine whether or not the marriage was valid in the eyes of God and the Canon Law of the church. How vulnerable is that? When was the last time you told your best friend everything that went on in your bedroom? I cannot even imagine talking to a priest about that.

My point is that we have grown up trusting priests and we have been more vulnerable with them than perhaps anyone else. The last time I went to confession….many years ago….I found myself face to face with the priest. I was so uncomfortable, I never went back.

But if everyone is trustful around priests, what makes it so that only certain people are targeted for abuse?

I’ve heard from many people that when it has to do with the abuse of children, not always, but many times, there was some hardship like divorce or the death of a parent or a particular vulnerability such as a preteen struggling with sexual identity. In any case, one thing is common….the abuser, the predator, wants their victim to be an easy mark. Unfortunately, the innocence and trusting nature of children makes them easy targets.

For adults, I think it would be safe to say that predators are looking for the same thing in their prey. A vulnerability of some sort, such as a parent going through the illness of a child and needing support and comfort, or a young gay man beginning to discover his sexuality for the first time by himself in the world as an adult perhaps not really quite sure yet how to set boundaries with new male relationships.

For me I believe it was my non-confrontational demeanor with my supervisor. That and the fact that we were pretty much isolated in our suite of offices due to the nature of secrecy needed for our clients and the fact that we did not have a large staff. This left me alone with my boss one day a week. I had friends in other offices but we worked part time different days and for two days a week I was the only support staff in our office.

I also discovered later on that priests have an awful lot of power when it comes to jobs and money and giving and taking away when you work for them.

With my boss, territory was determined. I was not even allowed to close a door to another unused office in order to keep my office a bit warmer in the wintertime…unless I had permission. This was not said to me directly ahead of time, but rather after I did so and was at my desk and all hell broke loose when my boss had to enter the file room office for something and the door was closed. He totally flew off the handle that this change was made without his prior knowledge or approval. I remember him screaming about it and demanding to know why the door had been closed and I don’t remember if I said anything or not but in any case, I don’t like trying to reason with people when they are being unreasonable and he was in charge so…..I tried my best to look like I was not affected in the least by his tirade as I sat there. But….I saw him look at me. I remember that. I just had the feeling he was gauging my reaction. Looking for any kind of reaction. Perhaps my silence was enough of an encouragement for him as he seemed to enjoy jumping out of nowhere at me and catching me off-guard. He would often show up at my desk and demand to see statistics or some such thing when I was in the middle of doing something else. And he would remind me that he had the right to go anywhere and see anything in his office area at any time without question.

It was unnerving and felt sometimes like trying to hold onto a sailboat in a storm.

Never once did I say, “Come back when I’m not busy”. I stopped what I was doing and did what I was told.

That is one of the reasons I believe I was targeted.

Adults Sexually Abused by Priests

Hi….

Let me introduce myself. I am a person who was sexually abused by a priest as an adult. I was old enough to “know better” as far as how the birds and the bees operate. But naive enough to not know that I was caught within a game.

As a result of my experience, I felt shamed, confused, outcast, stupid, betrayed and helpless. And I thought I was alone in my experience. I felt it was my fault.

I wanted to start this blog because I want to reach those people who are still too scared or ashamed to acknowledge what happened to them, or are unaware they were abused. That is not so very uncommon when you are abused as an adult.

I want to tear down the walls and let light into the shadows. I want to expose the predators….not publicly by name…..but by their actions so they will be known by what they do. I want to cut through the myths and empower those who have had their power taken from them by the very people they trusted to protect them.

There is much to learn and the journey has just begun. Stay tuned for more…..

Adults are victims too….