Someone Else’s Problem

This past week, I learned that a priest I knew as a child….one that may have come to my house for dinner….was on the credibly accused list. My mother worked for the diocese for about twelve years and so in addition to having a seminary in back of my house, and growing up with the caretaker’s children, these priests and nuns and seminarians would often be in our living room and in our pool.

So when I told my mom about this particular priest being accused of abusing children, she asked me if he was still alive. I looked him up and found that he had passed away about 5 years ago.

Now, my mom is 92 and is living with the world we are all living in at this time. She cannot stand being told to stay at home or have someone else do her shopping. She doesn’t know if this virus will go away in her lifetime. And due to sometimes violent protests in the city, I told her that her favorite deli shop is off limits. And now she is learning things about people she once knew and admired. Her world is changing and out of control in many ways.

So I take this into account when she learned that the priest she knew, who is now being charged with child sexual abuse, is deceased.

Her response was, “How can he defend himself if he is dead?”

I would like to add here that I used to work for the diocese as well and one of the priests who I worked with stormed out one day and refused to come back (he was already retired) due to the fact that deceased priests were being charged with crimes.

My response to my mother….who I feel most likely unfortunately represents many peoplewas…so, he can’t defend himself…you mean like the children he abused were not able to defend themselves?

That upset her even more. I don’t tell my mother much about what I do with SNAP. She and I were both raised in families where you did not poke the bear. Where even silence and compliance meant that you were in danger of having your drunk husband punch you if he felt provoked.

She comes from a time when sexual harassment was pretty much expected. And violence was dealt with within the family and not spoken of. Your problems were your problems and your neighbor’s problems were their problems.

I saw those times too….I was on the cusp of change. I remember my father complaining because he had to hire women to do men’s jobs. I remember the conversation at the dinner table about women taking the jobs away from men who had to support their families. I remember too, my father’s nickname for his secretary that was perfectly okay to say at the time and everyone laughed….but would certainly get him fired today.

I also remember going to work when I was 20 years old and dreading calling for a plumber because it meant that Louie would be coming up to the ward with his team and that meant getting kissed and hugged and having to listen to him talk and feeling very uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, I told my boss and asked if there was anything that could be said or done to put a stop to Louie’s actions. My boss…a woman…told me basically to suck it up. That’s just the way he is, she said. Deal with it.

So even though the “Me Too” movement is here, it is going to take time for the world to catch up. Many of us were raised that things were okay and that we should say nothing.

So, my mother being upset that this priest she once knew was being accused, seen in that light, is understandable. Not saying right…saying she is stuck in a place where her opinion most likely will not change. So with that in mind, and with everything else going on in the world, when she told me it was not her problem….I hate to say it, but it still set me off.

Her point of view, and again, it was once my point of view as well….is that these are isolated cases and that they are being taken care of so all is right with the world and it doesn’t affect me so why should I change anything?

And I agree that we can’t carry the weight of the entire world….it is just too much. But, is it true that just because nobody in the church has abused you, that sexual abuse is not your problem and does not affect you?

It’s probably true that we tend to lump people in groups and if you do not feel you are a part of that group, then it is “their problem”. And if we do not identify with “them”, then “they” become less human to us. Less relatable.

My mother went on to say that a lot of these people coming forward are probably lying anyway. Well, we know this is not true. We know that it is very difficult to speak out. It is very brave to speak out. We know that for any survivor of sexual violence, abuse, harassment…whatever…that there is a fear sometimes of not being believed, of facing our abuser, of being told we are lying, and of having our past dragged out for all to see. Victim shaming.

So how can we convince someone like my mom, who has been abused herself in her own life, that this abuse does exist and that it does affect her and is her problem?

We know that children who have been abused by clergy often cannot speak to their own parents or family about what has happened. We know that if they speak out, often they are not believed or are told they are wrong and disrespectful, or lying.

These children struggle throughout their lives. This is not just something that happens in a vacuum. These children end up with psychiatric problems and addiction problems. They go on to interact with society. They marry. They have children. They bring their problems with them. Sometimes, they can’t hold a job. Sometimes they break the law out of anger or desperation. Do we still think this does not affect any of us?

Perhaps instead we should look at the enablers. Should enablers be held accountable for the actions of those they enable? Would that make things more of their problem instead of someone else’s?

Everything we do has a ripple effect. We may not feel that we are being directly affected by what we hear or see happening to other people in the world. We may feel that it is not our problem because we are not in their situation. We may feel overwhelmed by the world’s problems. Perhaps we may feel that there is nothing we can do. Maybe we think that there is no problem and that people are just out for the money. Or that people are just out to destroy the church and are working for the devil.

Well, we know what we know from our own experiences. Perhaps we feel that we are not affected….that it is not our problem. Until it does and it is.

We may not be able to convince everyone that the priest I was talking about who has been accused of abuse is not being unfairly accused by those out to take advantage…and therefore the victim in this case, as some people will never understand or want to understand. It’s unpleasant. People want to avoid unpleasant things. And they may never see the connection between leaving money to the church in their will and a drunk driver killing someone some day because it may never occur to them that they may be misinformed and that ignorance may feel good today but will ultimately feed the monster who is destroying those they claim to defend.

We can’t change some people’s minds. That is one of those walls in life we hit our heads against. That means either get a concussion or change directions.

I’m not going to upset my mom by arguing with her. It’s pointless. She knows my story and feels that the priest I knew was crazy and I should avoid poking that bear. I should not try to change the world. I should take care of myself. And I don’t want my mom to have to worry about anything other than her garden, really. She is not going to change.

But change is coming. Little changes like one leaf blowing in the wind. I look at how far we have come in the last 40 years and what was once acceptable behavior at work is no longer tolerated. I see that and I am encouraged. There are books to read….give them out as Christmas gifts to people in your life who are doubtful. There are meetings to attend. Attend these meetings when you feel that nobody understands. Keep moving forward. Get educated about things yourself. Agree to disagree with people.

And when the world and people seem overwhelming, back away, meditate, get centered….and focus on your truth. You matter. Your story matters. It was not your fault. It does not matter if there are people who will not agree with you. The world is changing. Be a part of that change.

Standupspeakup.org.

Whatever Gets You Through the Night

Last week, I read something another survivor posted on Facebook. It was truly sad. This person was searching for answers. Why me? What have I done? I have always been good and people have been horrible and have hurt me. Why does God allow this? What is wrong with Him anyway?

Basically things to that effect.

And reading what she wrote hit me in so many different directions. Part of me wanted to say….”It’s not so bad, don’t be so glum….the sun is shining and you’ve got your health….and you know, your face is going to freeze that way and nobody is going to want to play with you.”

Or something to that effect.

And by the way, kidding aside, those are like the worst things you can say to someone who is upset, depressed, distraught, or grieving. You may want to help and lift up their spirits, but what ends up happening is they end up feeling like you aren’t taking them seriously and you just don’t understand. Instead of feeling comforted, they will feel more isolated.

I worked for two years as a suicide hotline volunteer. They always taught us to steer towards the pain. Ask questions that show you are really hearing what they are saying. For instance, instead of saying “Aw, it’s not that bad”, or “You must have misunderstood”, try instead saying, “You must have felt so hurt when they said that. I’m sure you were trying your best. I’m so sorry that happened and I can understand why that would upset you.”

It sounds counter productive, but encouraging them to talk about what is bothering them is more helpful than trying to cheer them out of their funk.

In the same way, if you think someone may be suicidal, or if someone talks about wanting to harm themselves, we learned that it is more effective to keep them talking about their feelings and if they have a plan or a time set in their minds as to when they want to hurt themselves or take their life.

It is called “getting through the moment”. Sometimes a person just feels better talking about what is bothering them to someone who will listen. They have gotten past that point where they want to harm themselves and have decided instead to listen to some music to lift their spirits. Other times it was all about talking to them and getting their name and address so you could help save a life that was in the balance.

Let’s face it. Life can be hard. And hearing that the sun will come out tomorrow doesn’t help much when you are feeling so much rage and helplessness and despair that you just want it to stop. Now.

I have been to that point. The feelings don’t get any better as I’ve grown older, but the experience of having lived through….well…shit….and come out of it eventually does help somewhat.

But how do you get yourself through the moment? We have them. Moments of anguish and moments of self hatred. Moments of hatred towards someone else that you just legally cannot express. Loss. Grief.

I’m not suggesting that we can get past or get over everything. But there are times when thoughts and feelings can…through our own thoughts or through something outside of ourselves that we cannot control…..make us reach a tipping point and the day to day activities of life and things that usually make us happy seem to hold no meaning. When you are engulfed.

I bet you think I’m going to suggest you do something healthy like (shudder) exercise or something equally good for you.

No….I want you to do whatever it takes to get you over the hump. I want you to eat a roll of cookie dough…..or roll it up into little balls that you can throw….hard…against the wall. I want you to go for a walk with the intention of never coming back home. Just walk for a good ten miles. I want you to scream into your pillow. Beat your pillow. Cry. Feel. Turn on some music really loud. Call whoever will listen to you. Write.

I don’t want to suggest anything really reckless or dangerous….and I won’t. I picked up a pack of cigarettes when distraught and it took almost two years to quit again. I’ve gotten drunk. I’ve had risky sex. Luckily I don’t do drugs. But there are quick fixes we reach for that may not be good for us, but may help to bring on some endorphines to get rid of the pain, if only for a moment.

I’m not going to suggest anything risky. But whatever you do to feel better….whether searching for the bottom of a tub of chocolate ice cream or climbing under a blanket and re-binging the entire series of Game of Thrones…..whatever it is you have to do to hang on until tomorrow, or the next day….don’t hate yourself for it.

Then you are going to keep circling the drain.

When I read the survivor’s post on Facebook. I felt many things. I felt like saying….I get it. It makes me so angry when life isn’t fair and people have to be jerks for no other reason than just to be mean to people.

I’ve gone through times in my life when I have seriously wondered why I was here. Was I a mistake? Why did other people who were good people die and I was still here? Still here and still making mistakes. Still thinking I found love and finding another person who wanted to control me, or wanted me to help them financially, or they were just playing a game because they enjoyed hurting me.

I’m sick of learning these stupid lessons. I’m sick of life being so hard.

My Dad used to say that people aren’t against you…..they are just for themselves.

It’s stuff like that you have to read and ponder. Pondering the good stuff helps a bit. Music has always been healing for me as well. And writing. I can’t keep thoughts in my head. Getting them out helps me a lot so they don’t get all crowded up inside there forming a compost pile of crap that wants to eat all of my functioning brain bits.

And once you are past the moment…..a moment you are going to forgive yourself for…..because you are……because you are a loving spiritual being under all those layers of lies you believe…..get help. From a group, from medicine, from therapy….from art and nature and animals and…yes, I will say it….sunshine.

Because there will be many moments. Because life can really suck sometimes. And there is so little we have control over. And the news is really depressing.

But when you crawl out of your Cheetos coma and into a nice hot shower, don’t have regrets. You survived. You are a warrior. You did it. You got past your moment.

Now scrape that cookie dough off the wall, and start again.

The Times Are They A Changing?

I got an email tonight from someone who sent me a link to what appears to be a new policy going into effect from the Roman Catholic Church released to the public via the Diocese of Buffalo. This new policy has to do with handling accusations of abuse of adults by clergy. I have included the entire link at the bottom, but to give you an idea of what it says, here is one of the leading sentences:

Receiving less attention, but also reprehensible and far more pervasive, is sexual misconduct directed toward adults.  An adult is anyone 18 years of age or older.  This abuse of power and authority, in various forms, often victimizes adults when they are most vulnerable and seeking spiritual comfort and counsel.

My initial reaction reading this policy was one of excitement. I had gone to see the Victim’s Assistance Coordinator back in February in order to get a meeting with the bishop in the diocese where my abuse took place. We actually had a meeting in place….set in April…and then….Corona Virus struck, the meeting was canceled, and I have not heard back about setting up another meeting as of yet.

As I said….my initial reaction was that I was thrilled. OMG, I thought….they are going to educate their staff about the abuse of adults. They are saying that it is never the fault of the adult as there is an imbalance of power when it comes to a priest and an employee or congregate. It further went on to say that if a report is made of and accusation of misconduct by a priest, they will get right on it and have an investigation. Once the investigation is complete…..along with looking into past allegations of abuse and interviews with people who are potential witnesses to any wrong-doings, the sun will come out and all will rejoice in the fact that the Catholic Church has turned over a new leaf. After almost 2,000 years of being unable to put a stop to rampant abuse…finally…..we have a policy! A policy! We are saved!

A policy which says it is never the fault of the person who is not a priest. Not even if the “relationship” is “consensual”. The priest must have boundaries and so is the responsible party. And if it can be proved that there was coercion or threats or “unwanted” touching or anything where everyone knows what was going down because the priest grabbed you in the hallway in front of 50 witnesses and planted a big wet one on your kisser while you screamed, “No, stop!” well, he will be in a lot of trouble. They may have to send him to counseling. It sounds good. It sounds wonderful. It sounds as if someone studied Canon Law and perhaps read a book or two and they are seeing the next wave of things to come and want to have something in place before it shows up at their doorstep.

I know that I sound like an Eeyore in the face of this wondrous event. But I’ve heard what I’ve heard from people and I’ve seen what I’ve seen myself and I don’t think leopards change their spots that fast.

I’m thinking….hmmn….so what does this mean in my case? Will they call me in under the guise of a meeting and throw me a surprise party and hug me and apologize and give me my job back? Most importantly….will there be cake?

Will the predator priest who used his position as my boss and the power of being able to get rid of me if he got angry be prevented from ever using his collar to wield spiritual and emotional control over another human being?

I hate to be so negative. I do. I want to believe. But I would rather be negative and be pleasantly surprised than be hopeful and be taken in again.

Witnesses. Let me see. Will they go back to Father Matone who when questioned before said he had seen nothing? Or how about my co-worker, Annette, who once asked why they had not interviewed her as I had told her I knew that I was going to be fired three months before it happened? Would she speak up? Or have they silenced her? Last thing I knew, she said she wanted to keep her job and also said something about my side of things that I needed to take responsibility for. I haven’t heard a word from her in over three years. Would she speak up against her (now retired) boss?

Would the woman in H.R. who screamed at me and told me that nothing I told her was confidential and that he would get a full report on what I said….and that I was a danger to priests…..would she change her tune and say….oh, yes…sorry about that….there was no policy in place at that time. I seriously doubt it.

Did I report him? No. Did I tell him that I wasn’t comfortable with his suggestion? Yes. Were there witnesses to that? No. Of course not. Did I try to put a stop to it? No. What did I do? I emailed him. Emails that he used to fired me saying that I was the one making suggestions. He was innocent. Well, in the policy, that is against the rules. What was this poor priest to do, after all? The woman sent me emails.

I want to say here that the emotional turmoil and struggle I went through with the stupid emails I sent to that man was extreme. He used emotions to control me. Outbursts, then silence and refusals to even look at me. Tension and hostility. Threats. Then he would sympathize and tell me he had put me through too much. Then more screaming. Then the other priests seeming to think I was responsible for the changes in him. And H.R. asking me strange questions.

And I would have rather died than did what he told me I had to do. To me, it felt like rape.But who would see things that way? Nobody believed me when I said that I felt I was doing what I had to do by telling him that I would not be the only one taking a risk. By taking the only power play I had left and telling him that if he wanted this, he would have to meet me outside of the office…not behind his desk and not in the back seat of my car.

But by me saying that…..and by him running to H.R. in panic mode and saying that they had to do what must be done….tell me they would not say that the priest and H.R. did the right thing. That the priest is on record stopping things just as he should have.

And then…..the best part of the policy? If it has been determined by whoever is judging this that the accusation was unfounded, the priest’s good name would be cleared….in the media….in all forms of media. Now tell me that I should be feeling optimistic about this policy and that this is a brand new day and that finally the church cares about its victims.

Tell me that isn’t an intimidating thought.

https://www.buffalodiocese.org/adult-sexual-misconduct-policy-and-procedures?platform=hootsuite

Teach Your Children

We know that children are usually abused by their parents or by authority figures, including priests. We know that sometimes this abuse is sexual in nature. We know that perpetrators target those who are most vulnerable or easier to manipulate or are going through an emotional crisis or in need of comfort and support. And we know the damage that this abuse does to someone for the rest of their life.

But is there still more to learn? And does sexual abuse in childhood make a person more vulnerable to sexual predators in adulthood?

One thing I was curious about when it comes to sexual abuse of children, is this: is there a point where something is considered “okay”? By that I mean, do we really have zero tolerance when it comes to sexual abuse with children? Is there such a thing as “gateway abuse”….or innocent play that could leave children more vulnerable to more serious abuse? And are things better today with children now that we should be more enlightened about what is going on?

One thing I came across while doing some research was something called “Child on Child” sexual abuse. This is probably the least reported kind of abuse and one that may be the least understood.

When does it cross the line from normal childhood curiosity to coercion or taking advantage of a more vulnerable innocent? It may be more common an occurrence than adults believe. Who among us has ever faced any form of initiation when wanting to join a secret club as a child which may have included a dare of some sort involving kissing, showing their underwear, or removing clothing?

Or how about while at summer camp? Has anyone ever been teased or harrassed about their body while changing into or out of a bathing suit?

The pressure to fit in and be accepted and to not be teased is probably at its height when we are children. And we all know that bullying is unfortunately rampant among children and teens.

As hurtful as these things may be to children, there are instances where abuse is done deliberately where one child….usually older, tries to coerce or manipulate another child into some sort of sexual play which brings satisfaction of some sort to the initiator. The abuser may not be seeking to hurt the other child, but rather to use them for their own sexual arousal, and may initiate the behavior on an impulse during regular play. Mostly if not always, there are no adults present when this happens.

When this type of abuse happens between siblings, it is called “inter-sibling abuse”. Usually the child initiating the actions has been exposed to some kind of sexual abuse themselves…..whether that be having someone show them pornography, having an older child or an adult abuse them sexually in some way, or having been introduced to sex in another innappropriate way.

In any case, when someone experiences this type of abuse as a child, it can affect them when they are adults. It can affect their relationship with that sibling, and it can affect their memory of what happened with the child from the neighborhood or the babysitter or the friend of a sibling…..whomever the abuser was. It can create similar feelings of guilt and responsibility and can affect self-esteem….as does abuse from an adult.

Clearly the act of bullying or the use of force or coercion does not belong in any relationship….especially when it involves children. And this is different from innocent curiosity and healthy sense of learning and self-awareness.

I hope people are becoming more aware now about respecting the feeling and boundaries of children. We as adults are hopefully becoming more aware of not forcing children into kissing someone or hugging them or even telling them to smile or to not feel negative feelings. Hopefully we are learning to teach children how to handle their own feelings while it is still okay to feel them.

Is this awareness helping kids to be safer from sexual predators? While parents are more aware of the dangers the world faces when it comes to their children, kids are more isolated than they used to be as more activities tend to be indoor-related. Add to that, gone are the days when the whole family was expected to sit down to mom or dad’s home-made dinner at the table. People are busier and schedules are booked and fast food and different dinner times are more prevalent. Also, kids have access from a young age to social media.

So while the number of priests in the world are declining, the ways to access and groom young children and teens is increasing. Vulnerability may actually be increasing along with knowledge of the dangers in the world.

Religious and social leaders may have access to children through their email if they are linked through school activities and extra-curicular sports and such.

Such was the case of one priest who was defrocked for sending emails of an inappropriate nature to a teen age girl who he had met during church or school functions. The girl did report him, so perhaps knowledge and cultural changes are helping prevent some abuse.

This is a dangerous world….especially for kids who find themselves alone more often than in the past. Knowledge may be growing…..but the ways for predators to strike are growing as well.

Familial abuse gets handed down from one generation to the next. Children are in the hands of other adults….sometimes as soon as they are born….for much of their day. Parents are over-worked and stressed. Broken families and single parents are more prevalent. And sexual abuse is taking new and more horrifying paths with access to the internet and social media. Bullying and abuse of power is seen in the leaders we turn to for help. And sometimes the abuse can remain invisible and unspoken.

And the results can be devastating and permanent. Teach your children that they can talk to you about anything. Don’t shame them or accuse them of lying. Listen to them. And hug them often.

…He’s My Brother

I wanted to mention after thinking about my post, that my brother has never once in his life, shown an ounce of violent behavior towards anyone else. Usually with him, it has always been the other way around. He is the one these days who helps everyone in the neighborhood and because he has such a good heart, his lapses in judgement are overlooked.

That’s not to say he is a joy to be around or that he has any good judgement. But I’m thinking that way back when, he more than likely was not holding anyone hostage. I think that was how the girlfriend’s friends reported it to police. There was an abundance of drama that summer

More than likely, since they were at someone else’s apartment, they may have been there to purchase some coke and since he did not own a gun himself, perhaps there was a gun in the apartment and he was more than likely talking about doing himself in.

I hadn’t thought about that night in detail in quite awhile, but seeing it from a distance, that is more likely the scenario, since it was the girlfriend’s friend who said what was going on and she was not in the apartment.

Someone said to me that I was most likely the scapegoat in a dysfunctional family and that she too had that role. She said she needed to learn to distance herself for her own good.

I did learn that lesson during that summer….after trying to help and protect and be there because that is what you do for someone you love…..I finally…..around 6am one morning, left my brother’s apartment after a full night of an emotional “intervention” that went nowhere with a crowd of his friends. He walked me to the door and I realized it was no longer my place to be there when he said something very emotionally damaging to me before saying perhaps he would go kill himself.

I realized at that point that I needed to take care of my children and myself. I realized he was a grown man who was choosing to make his life crazy and that I needed to choose to step away from the whole thing and not put myself in peril as well as my kids needed me.

I see my brother as a psychologically unhealthy person who chooses to self-medicate. I can’t say, however, that I would never try to help him again. Sometimes it takes a lot of walking into those walls before we learn the lesson. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to learn to separate the love for the abuser and the love for yourself.

And I did call him an abuser. Is he evil, my brother? It is so difficult to make that call. People who have been abused by family members can still love that family member. I feel emotionally betrayed by my brother. I loved him and he took advantage of that love. I don’t think it was to consciously hurt me. I believe it was more of an insatiable need within himself that lead him to hurt and betray me throughout our lives. I now just love him from afar. I also think that substance abuse can change brain chemistry and also bring out darker emotions that have been submerged. I do think it is behind much of the abuse that happens within families.

While talking with someone recently who had been sexually abused by a father figure when she was a child, she told me that even as bad as her situation was, she was still attached to her abuser because as a child, she needed love and care and nurturing. And she admits that she still does. We all do. However, how in the world do you go about looking for a healthy relationship and one that will not cause you pain, when that is all you have known?

I read something recently that said that we attract those people who are on the same vibrational level that we are. So if we need someone to love us and to heal us and reassure us, they too will most likely be somewhat broken themselves and be looking for someone who will give them the same. So it’s kind of like two empty vessels seeking something from the other that neither one has.

Then again, this person is trying to raise her vibration. She is seeking guidance and asking questions. She is seeking to learn and to heal herself, as many of us are. As another survivor said….we can relate to things that have happened to us.

My story may not have the same details as your story, but the scars we have carried with us from our youth have come from similar circumstances and family dynamics and dysfunctions.

Many of us have been thrown into adulthood not ready to be adults emotionally. As a result, many of us have had to go through many hardships and more abuse along the way and we’ve made many mistakes in order to grow and to learn.

And most importantly…..we have survived.

He Ain’t Heavy….

Last week, people logged in from ten countries. I hope you are finding this blog helpful and/or entertaining and insightful.

Also, please remember that I am just a person who only knows what I know from my own experiences and from talking to others about their stories. If I talk about my own stories, it is because I think that someone else may be able to relate. If I talk about others, I will not reveal their names.

I think in some way, we can all relate on some level to everyone’s stories.

And when I talk about my family and my experiences, I don’t do so with the thought that they are horrible people. I think most parents aren’t perfect and are just trying their best and not deliberately trying to hurt their children. And I don’t think people are monsters because they are just doing the best with what they know or are sorry for their screw ups. Unhealthy, yes. Realizing that they are or were unhealthy and how it affected us….that is what is important.

Of course there are real monsters. Those are the people who hurt deliberately. The people who know they are hurting someone who is vulnerable because they abuse their own power over that person for their own twisted view of pleasure and selfishness. Or because doing so makes them feel like they have control and are powerful. These are people who just don’t care who they hurt. People who allow this to continue. People who lie and who cover up.

But sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between the two. Especially when time spent before you were an adult gave you an upside down picture of what love and your place in this world is supposed to be. Or perhaps recognizing when the line was crossed into the world of monsters by a loved one.

I was just discussing this with another survivor. Back in the day, as a child, I remember standing at my parents’ bedroom door, screaming and crying and pleading for my father to stop hitting my brother with a belt. That was what was done then for punishment. I also remember my parents threatening to call someone to come take my brother away if he did or didn’t do whatever. Psychological threats of abandonment.

For me being the youngest and a girl, I didn’t get the same punishments as my brother. Ironically, I was the braver of the two of us. When I threatened to run away, I grabbed my stuffed dog….the only item I could not live without….and headed out the door to go live with my friend. When my brother wanted to run away, he asked me if I would go with him for support.

So the roles were somehow always reversed for my brother and I. I had to follow him in school and be told that I didn’t measure up to him academically. He leaned on me….and always has….in some ways leading me into unhealthy and life threatening situations.

I have loved my brother without question. But doing so has not always been in my best interest. But no matter what has happened, I have never been allowed to not speak to him, back away from him, not forgive him, or not be one to hold the family together for my parents sake….for everyone’s sake….and to be held accountable for whatever happened.

I don’t like talking about this. We all have things we don’t like to talk about or think about. I was raised to not talk about things. It didn’t exist if it was not spoken about. It was my job to fix and to take care of. Not to feel or to discuss.

One night when I was 28 years old and had recently left my ex-husband the first time…I was living upstairs in my parents’ house with my children. That summer in particular had been a nightmare. My brother’s addiction issues had escalated and his girlfriend at the time was good at stirring things up even more. They would both drink and get into fights and she would leave and end up with someone else and he would get jealous and do more drugs and on and on.

This one night, I got a phone call. It was from my brother’s girlfriend’s friend. She was very upset. Somehow my brother got ahold of a gun….not just any gun….some kind of assault weapon. And it seems he was holding his girlfriend hostage in someone’s apartment.

So….as I sat there in my parents’ house, with my children, the friend of the girlfriend, who I had gotten to know over the summer from Hell….was asking me what we should do.

I didn’t know. In my family, we never “did” anything. My mother actually said to me once that we don’t call the police in our neighborhood. So my initial reaction was that I was incapable of doing anything.

I knew that one or both of them could be drunk or high or arguing and that now we were adding a weapon into the picture. Also, I knew that my brother had already tried to kill himself once in the past couple of weeks.

I didn’t know what to do, but I knew that I was the person who had to do something. I got the address from the friend and I called the police. I was told that the police were already at the scene. Nobody would tell me if anyone was alive or dead or somewhere in between.

I called my husband. I told him that it was an emergency but I couldn’t talk about it. I said please come take the kids out of here. Now. While I waited for him to come, I called the Suicide Hotline to see if they could offer any advice as to how to deal with the situation.

Once the children were safely out of the house, my parents were wondering what was going on so once again I had to tell them heartbreaking news. All I wanted to do was protect them as well. But I had to tell them what was going on.

What happened next was I guess what usually happens in these situations. It became my fault. Well, sort of. My parents could not deal with things so they yelled at me for not telling them immediately.

But that was the part I played and I knew that.

The police had told me that someone had been brought to the hospital. So my parents and I headed there.

There was my brother in the E.R., in restraints, his toenails painted a cheerful color, and his girlfriend standing nearby. He was agitated, but otherwise okay. My parents and I stood there nervously and we heard that no charges would be pressed….however it would be on the local news…with video…and in the newspaper. My father tried to get them to not run the story. But it was a big news story that night so he had no luck.

In the end, as we stood there and watched, my brother and his girlfriend shared a romantic kiss and all was well in their world. Just another regular night for them.

Addiction can ruin many lives. And I guess it’s hard to say where addiction gets its start. But in families, everyone tends to get into their holding patterns in order to keep things together and not have anything go too far off of the deep end.

And the more you go through scenarios such as this…..where the boundaries keep getting pushed further and further and then go back to a state of normalcy if you want to call it that, the more we accept our assigned role and the more we begin to accept. The further we allow our boundaries of acceptance to be pushed.

And the more you take and accept from someone you love, the more your own sense of the reality of love gets turned around…..as well as your own part in life and your role in the world.

You may begin to believe that love hurts and that you are supposed to give until you are depleted. You may begin to believe that you are not supposed to be on the receiving end of kindness. And like a ripple in the water, this energy being sent out touches those around you. It goes on to affect your children and then their children.

It so happens that my brother was the victim of sexual abuse when he was 13. I didn’t know about that until years later. The abuse was not done by a priest but he was working in a summer job at the seminary when it happened. He was abused by his supervisor who worked at the seminary.

Nothing happened to this man and it makes me wonder whatever happened to him and where he went after the seminary closed its doors. I have heard that there was a custodian at a grade school in the years that followed who abused many boys. Makes me wonder if it was the same guy.

Another thing about the abuse with my brother….he tends to excuse the abuse because he was 13 years old and understood what was happening. He excuses the abuse because it was pleasurable. He excuses the abuse because we were never taught to contradict an adult who was in charge. I say he excuses the abuse….but it is more that he does not totally acknowledge what happened as abuse because he was not raped. And perhaps because he is bi-sexual.

So, yes, what happens to us when we are younger does affect us as adults. Because we were trying to process what happened to us then with limited experience and the fact that simply being children made us vulnerable and not always able to stop lines from being crossed….and most of the time having to accept crossed boundaries from those whose approval we needed in order to survive.

Are times changing because society and the way we raise our children is changing? More on that next time.

Pretty Tulips Sunbathe Daily

This past week I got a text from a survivor about 3am asking me to please call. I have texted and spoken with this person on a number of occasions and I know the story and it is not pretty.

When I saw the text the next morning and contacted this person, they apologized for “bothering” me and said they had had a bad nightmare which felt very real. They asked if this was normal and if it happens to other people. Did it ever happen to me?

Again, I’m not a therapist, but knowing the history in this case, I suggested that it may be PTSD and asked if they were being seen by someone who they could talk to about what was going on. They said they have been treated for this condition (PTSD) for awhile, but needed reassurance that they were not “crazy”. Did this happen to everyone?

I said that they had been through a lot and that I felt that perhaps the extent of suffering correlated to the trauma experienced by someone. That would make sense to me. And most likely too, how that person was able to process and handle that trauma….or even if they had buried emotions in order to function day to day.

The survivor thanked me and I am sure I will hear from them again when the fear becomes overwhelming and they need reassurance.

Dreams seem to be one way we process our thoughts and fears. I sometimes have vivid dreams, and I have recurring dreams, but nothing as frightening as what this person is experiencing.

But PTSD can show up uninvited at any time. I was relaxing and watching “Downton Abbey” this week, and one of the main characters said “Try not to miss me” to someone. It was a man saying it to a romantic interest. And it took me right back to when I worked at the Diocese and my boss would say that to me before he left. I don’t consciously think about him often, but there it was, just under the surface. And if he shows up in my dreams, he is always in the next room or in another part of a building…..not seen, but just lurking around.

I don’t think of myself as having PTSD. But perhaps we all do in some way. It is said that our bodies hold memories and that our brain forgets nothing. Smells can trigger memories and we most likely all get deja va. It may depend upon the strength of the trigger or the memory…..but perhaps nothing we’ve experienced is ever truly gone from our memory….whether physical, emotional, or mental.

For Christmas this past year, my friend and I got my mother one of those Legacy box things where you pick out three VCR tapes from years past and send them in to be kept forever on disc.

When the first batch came back, we were showing her how to put them in her computer in order to watch them. Watching them, it was like no time at all had passed. There were my relatives at the table for Thanksgiving. People who have been gone over 20 years there like yesterday. Hearing their voices again….well, I don’t need to tell anyone how that felt.

But then there was another clip…..one of my parents having lunch with my dad’s sister and his elderly cousin. The only one still living is my mom. This had to be back in the early 90’s as my dad was still getting around well and his cousin passed away in 1997.

But as I watched, instead of feeling warm fuzzies, I began to grow tense and my breath became shallow. It was not a conscious reaction. My body was just reacting to the scene in front of me. It was my dad. The way he was talking. I knew the tone of his voice and exactly what it meant. He was drinking. And I could even tell that it seemed as if he was on his second drink. I mean, I knew. How did I know that? This was 25 years ago and I hadn’t been there and yet, my body was telling me to be on guard as if my life was being threatened at this moment.

I said last week that after my son was born, I felt I needed to get out of the house. I remember one night in particular when I knew I could not keep my son there.

When my dad drank, he was never physically violent. But from as far back as I can remember, he would yell and be scary and say the worst things to my mother.

As I grew older, I began to realize the pattern….didn’t make it any less pleasant, but I knew that my dad would huff and puff and then in about an hour, peter down and shut himself in his room away from everyone. Still unpleasant. Still palpable tension in the house. Still afraid to make a noise or do anything to make him come back out of the room, but things settled down to where they once again were not so scary.

So….as I grew older, I felt the same feelings as I had as a child, but was able to understand the risks.

However, one night, while my baby slept in the next room, my father went into one of his tirades against my mother. This night, he began to throw things out of their closet, all the while saying that he had a gun somewhere he had hidden in the back. This was a new one, and I wasn’t quite sure if he actually had a gun or not. All the time he was throwing things out of his closet, his voice became growling and threatening and it was as if someone else was inside of him.

He was talking about killing my mother when he found the gun.

Of course, this time, like all of the others, it was just talk and he ended up throwing his stuff back into the closet and went to bed. But it was upsetting and something I did not want my son having to live with as I had as a child.

My parents ended up taking care of my boys when I went to work and they were actually very good with them and my boys were very close to them.

As far as I know, an episode such as that only happened once in front of my children as I walked in on my dad watching tv with my boys and threatening to chop up my mother with an ax.

I looked him in the eye and I told him I never wanted to hear him talk that way in front of my kids ever again and I took my kids and left.

I know that he realized what he had done. For a good week, I would not go into the house and my mother handed me the children at the front door. He did end up apologizing….and to my knowledge never again did anything like that in front of my kids. To me, yes….but not in front of them.

But to this day, when my father has been gone twelve years. When I love him and I miss him and when I thought how wonderful it would be to be able to see him and to hear his voice once again…..all the love in the my heart could not stop my body from automatically responding with the fear of the child who did not understand what was happening.

No amount of reasoning could change the emotional and physical response I felt that day watching my dad on that video. Everything….of all those feelings returned. The feelings of hypervigilance, the wanting to pretend it wasn’t really happening so that nobody else would know and it would be a family secret, the feelings that were never discussed, and being told that it was nothing and that I was making a big deal out of nothing.

Our bodies and our minds remember. And we may go on and be fine and we may push our untidy feelings that cause problems under the rug as we may have been trained to do. And we may have learned not to respect our own feelings or that our feelings are wrong and that having them is what makes problems with other people. And perhaps we can function that way very nicely for some time.

That is until something triggers a memory, or for some reason we find we cannot stop shaking and don’t feel safe going outside anymore, or nightmares make it impossible to feel safe enough to go to sleep, or we feel vulnerable and avoid getting close to others, or something else.

Sometimes it’s very clear what is going on. You wake up in sweat after dreaming that a group of priests are trying to kill you.

And sometimes you don’t realize it exists until something triggers a memory and your physical and emotional reaction alerts you to something you never knew still affected you.

No, my friend, you are not crazy.

Poor Pitiful Me

Someone just asked me about something I posted recently and I just wanted to clear it up. What goes on in my brain and what comes out on paper are sometimes two different things. Hey, I know what I’m trying to say.

This person asked me about when I said that I felt that I was being told that I had asked for my abuse. Let me explain. Nobody asks for abuse. What I meant was that I was one day feeling sorry for myself. I’m a good person. Why does bad stuff happen to me?

Occasionally, call it intuition, spirit guidance, hearing voices….whatever you want….something will come to me that I didn’t initiate. So it happened this one day that I was asking the universe or whoever was listening….”why?”. Was I so very bad in a past life or something?

And the answer came to me….”You asked for this.” Not “You asked for it” or “You deserved the abuse” or “You are a terrible person so therefore, just take your medicine”. No….”You asked for this”. And all at once, it was like I understood. It was like I knew when I came into this life what was going to happen and still signed on the dotted line before I put on my little infant parachute and took the plunge. I knew….but I forgot. I needed to be reminded.

What that did for me is it made things a bit less personal. Things were not happening to me because I deserved it or because I was a bad person…..but because I knew before I came into this world that there were certain lessons I needed to learn or to help others learn.

It is a belief that has helped me. Is it true? Who can say? But it helps.

And I was talking to this same person about the walls in our life…those things we have no control over…those forks in the road…those things we cannot change that push us into taking another direction.

Those times we don’t understand loss or heartache or the “things that make us stronger”. Those times we just know that a wall has been constructed and we need to walk the other way.

I told this person how I felt I did not ask for much in life. I only wanted to get married, have a couple of children, love and support my family and grow older with grandchildren at my knee asking for advice while I doled out chocolate chip cookies.

I didn’t care if we were rich or if my husband looked like Brad Pitt or George Clooney or if he worked with his hands and made a hard living and came home to a loving family….didn’t matter. Love was all that mattered.

But I got pregnant one night while dating a guy who I was crazy about, but who had serious settling down issues. I was 20 years old and I needed to get out of my parent’s house but I was not mature or experienced enough to do it on my own. And so I married the guy with serious settling down issues, thinking that being in the same house, and having a son of his own, would somehow make it happen.

You probably know where this is going.

In a couple of years, I ended up with two children, a house….everything I thought “adulting” looked like….with zero emotional support. And with zero emotional support, it is hard to give children everything they need in order to grow into healthy adults. I was not a healthy adult. My husband was not a healthy adult. Our families did not contain many healthy adults…..although my children were loved by their grandparents, where they did get much of the stability they needed in their life, thank God.

But my husband told me outright that we were not a team and he went out almost every night with his friends. He was also not fond of children and had little patience for them. He did not do adulting well. Life insurance? Why should you be able to take a trip to a beach with your new boyfriend after I die? That was what I was married to….and clung to….because I was so afraid to let go.

Fast forward years later and our 15 year old son and his girlfriend are pregnant. Her mother is on disability for mental issues. Her mom slaps her pregnant daughter for shoplifting. We are harassed for money…..Grandma liked the horses. She also got her daughter’s friends to bully my son in school when she didn’t get what she wanted.

My grandson would come to visit with his mom and I would have to clean the mold off of the nipples on his bottles. I would explain to the young mother that this was harmful to the child and that she needed to clean things for him.

Six years later, another baby comes along….this time with a girl who got pregnant the weekend she and my son met. He would go visit her and she would not come out of her room to talk with him. When he refused to marry her, she married someone else, when my granddaughter was two months old.

I had left my husband by this time and my son moved in with him. So if I wanted to see my grandchildren, I had to go to my almost ex husband’s house to see them.

Awkward.

These two grandchildren are now grown and despite my going to court for visitation awhile back and getting to see them now and then for breakfast someplace two or three times a years, at this point, neither of them have any contact with me or their father.

So obviously, life did not go the way I had thought it would. Walls popped up all around. And I’m not telling you this for sympathy. It just is what it is. My grandchildren may or may not come back into my life but there is not much I can do at this point.

My point is….we tend to be unhappy when things are not the way we think they should be in life. And whether or not I knew this was going to happen before I was born….I can’t prove that and it doesn’t change anything.

But what it does do for me is change the way I look at things. If these things have happened to me not because I am a bad person or because I deserve it….perhaps there is another reason. I don’t know that reason. But I can choose to feel sorry for myself. Or not.

My son….the one who is the father to these kids…lives with a friend of his in a house I own. They pay me rent and I take care of repairs. Well, his refrigerator quit on him. He and his father and myself went to Lowe’s a couple of weeks ago to pick up a new fridge. I was buying….they were transporting and installing.

While waiting for the salesperson,, I began talking with a gentleman who was also waiting. I mentioned to him that I liked his face mask…looked comfortable. We began a conversation. In the middle of the conversation, my ex-husband pulls me away and tells me not to talk to people.

I’m not bashing my ex here….what I realized is that my life has changed so much in the years since I was married and told what to do and what to accept. And since then, I talk to people all of the time. It’s what I do for SNAP. But if I had remained married…and trying desperately to make my life fit my fantasy of what it should be….for better or for worse, I would not have taken the road I did that led to this point.

Walls happen for a reason. And it sucks. It’s painful. It’s really, really painful. Walls make you want to give up. They make you want to crawl under the covers and cry and never get up again.

And I don’t know if we know the paths our lives will take before we get here….and I’m not saying it may make it any easier for someone if they knew that they did. Me personally, I want to smack myself for not asking for….demanding….what I knew I would want….but….by saying “I asked for this”….I mean that for me at least, it helped me to stand back and distance myself…..and to somewhat take back some control.

Maybe I can’t move past the walls….but that doesn’t mean I need to beat my head against them either. I can see the wall….perhaps draw a flower on it and wish it well….and choose to take the new path.

Stuff the Magic Dragon

There’s a lot out there that you can read about Narcissists. I recently read something about introverted narcissists and their traits. It’s hard to pinpoint who is what as we are all probably bits of this and that and the difference is when someone tends to have a great deal of narcissistic traits so that they stand out.

In my own family I wonder about the undiagnosed mental illnesses going on. Having the stress of being quarantined added onto an already underlying issue may amp things up quite a bit in all families.

I’ve read too many sad stories lately about abuse seeming to escalate due to the lockdown. Frustration and anger being taken out too often on helpless children and animals. It is beyond sad and more often than not I can’t even read past the headline. The sadness in the world can be overwhelming.

When things happen beyond our control, it can make you feel out of control inside as well. I always compared times of no control to beating the dust out of a rug on the clothesline and seeing all of the dust particles flying around willy nilly with no place to call home. That’s how life can feel sometimes. Like everything around you is taking off and it’s all you can do just to hang on and let it happen until things settle down.

It’s good to be able to put things down on paper and to be able to say that someone is drinking because they are an alcoholic and they have an addictive personality because they didn’t get the love and approval they needed when they were young. It’s good to understand what you are dealing with. But it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change how it makes you feel to love that person or to fear that person or to feel hatred or to have to understand that you simply do not have any control over what someone else chooses to do or how they choose to act.

Due to the coronavirus, for maybe the first time in my life, I have been able to take care of my mother. To be able to do something for her. She lives alone and is not comfortable using the computer. So I have been doing her shopping for her. And I call her and I check on her and I talk to her dog over the phone and I have tried to teach her how to use the computer and to write things down to remember. And it feels good to be able to help her. She is stubbornly independent. And I worry about her “going rogue” because she insists on not depending upon others and the lady across the street orders her own groceries. But after her telling me that she had to enter her social security number numerous times trying to enter Google…..but then was not sure what she entered, I worry. I do. I worry that she is going to get into something she doesn’t understand and not ask questions before proceeding.

And although these times may exacerbate what was already there lying underneath the surface, I realize that I have often felt emotionally pummeled in my life trying to take care of people and not being able to. Or being punished for trying to.

And it’s difficult to pin down emotional give and take between people sometimes. Especially if you are not allowed to have feelings. The line begins to blur between their issues and yours.

So it begins not to matter if someone is bi-polar or alcoholic or has no sexual boundaries or thinks it’s okay that you go out with someone who beat you up in high school because they’ve probably “changed”. Get over yourself, don’t take things so seriously, you slut, tell me all your secrets so I can tell everyone else, I will leave you if you don’t do what I say…..but I was never “violated”. And your feelings crawl quietly into a corner because having them seems to make things worse.

That’s what’s really important to me. Not what someone else’s issues are, but that I am able to acknowledge that my feelings are okay. That I can determine my own reality and what I feel is right for me. That despite feeling emotionally pummeled by others, I can separate my feelings and my reality so that I don’t begin to accept other people’s feelings and what they say and do and allow it to overpower my own judgement and self-respect.

Because predators look for people who look for validation from others. People who think that being “good” means to stuff their own feelings down so that they can catch all of the dust as it flies off of the beaten blanket before things spin too far out of control. Stuff down your own feelings while holding onto everyone else’s until the only feelings you recognize as your own are….fear, self-loathing, and anxiety.

HOME AGAIN

I read something last week from a reader who said that the abuse we have been through in our lives and the subsequent pain, isolation, loneliness and emotional fallout we experienced as a result of that has given us in a sense, more strength or experience than perhaps the average person going through this lockdown due to the Corona virus. And that experience may allow us to be able to help others having a difficult time right now.

That’s an interesting thought. Another way of thinking about it is, in a sense, the world as a whole is being forced to experience the loneliness and isolation from others that many who have been abused have felt. And there is a collective consciousness of “we are all in this together”, kind of like when we attend a local SNAP meeting or on an even bigger scale when we attend the annual SNAP meeting. We don’t feel like we are the only ones feeling the way we do. We enter the meeting with a part of our outter core shed and a bit of vulnerability showing so that we feel an emotional closeness.

So, yes, I believe that the world is kind of connected in our mass isolation. And for those of us who have felt alone and separated from the world at some point in our lives, we can probably understand better than many people how some of those in isolation at this time may not be handling this well emotionally. And we care. Because we don’t want anyone else to feel the depths of darkness that can creep in under the door when for whatever reason we are alone with nothing but our thoughts. Some people have nothing but the TV for company and that can be pretty depressing these days.

My friend and I were out in the car the other day when I had to run an errand. (with masks and gloves, of course) Standing on the corner by a busy intersection was a woman holding a sign. I couldn’t read the sign. It was a brisk, windy day and she had a scarf over her mouth and a hood from her jacket covering her head. On her hands, she wore winter gloves. This was nothing new. We have all seen people standing with signs asking for money or have been approached for money in order to “get home”, which seems like a popular ploy in larger cities. I, like most people who don’t want to fall for scams, don’t hand out our money.

But there was something about this woman that made me want to help her. I told my friend that and he said…no, don’t open the window and give her any money. And indeed these days, it is a risk to open your window for someone. Maybe someone who just wants a bottle of vodka.

I panhandled myself when I was a teenager needing change for something forbidden and thinking that any unknown adult was fair game to help as long as my parents didn’t find out. Well, I asked for a dime to make a phone call back when 40 cents would buy a pack of cigarettes….but I digress. Please don’t judge. I was 15 with a teenager’s brain.

But I just knew I needed to help this woman. She could be a mom out of work and needing to feed her kids. You know, she could even be a hooker falling on hard times due to the virus needing a place to sleep. Does it matter? We are all human beings just hanging on these days. So I opened my window and she ran over and grabbed money from my glove to hers and I truly hope I helped someone a little.

Maybe it is because we have all been there….where we needed help and someone helped us. And the world has slowed down enough so that when we do see each other, we see a connection to each other we didn’t see before. We all…all of us…have something in common.

But….we do still need to be careful. Always be careful. As victims of clergy abuse, we saw good in someone because that is what they wanted us to see. So, don’t let your compassion blind you to anyone who is willing to take advantage of that. Unfortunately, true colors are being shown at this time by many people. The good want to help. The not so good want to take advantage of the good.

My creative home ventures this week included painting my kitchen and making salmon bisque…..which is easy and inexpensive. Canned salmon, canned tomatoes, flour, milk, butter….anyone else try anything new?

I also read an article on how to marry yourself. That’s right. Basically it was about how to put yourself first and not think of it as being selfish or narcissistic. And to not look for your happiness from someone else. This is a good time to think about what is right in your life and what is not working. We all need people but not at the expense of our mental, physical or financial health. And despite being kind-hearted, we can only do so much for other people.

Okay, people…stay well and try to be good to yourself. Don’t forget, next Sunday is the meeting for those Abused as Adults. 7pm-9pm E.S.T.