Steal My Sunshine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wasn’t willing to find out.

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

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

Free Fallin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had to face reality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Get Weak

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

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

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

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

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

They call it “Trauma Bonding”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.