What Were You Wearing?

I was about 28 years old and separated from my husband. We had two children…boys….age 7 and 5. I struggled with the fact that I wanted my boys to have quality time with their father, and the fact that their father was not always safety conscious when it came to the kids.

So, one Sunday when it was his turn to take the kids, my ex decided he was going to take them fishing at a local spot. I thought it might be a good idea to go and check on them. So, I did and when it seemed that things looked okay as far as using kid’s fishing poles and and that they weren’t going out in anyone’s boat without life jackets as had happened before…I felt it was okay to leave them be and I said I would see them later at the house…and I left.

While on the way walking back to my car, I had the feeling that I was being followed. I turned around and saw that there were two elderly gentlemen walking in back of me. I thought nothing more of it until I reached my car and saw that the two men were still behind me and as I was searching for my key in my pocketbook, they approached.

I don’t remember who spoke first or how the conversation started, but the gist of the whole deal was I was being asked very politely if I would perhaps mind performing specific sexual acts on both men….for the sum of $5.

To give you an idea, at this point in time, a pack of cigarettes cost about $5. I didn’t negotiate, but I assumed from what they were saying that they were asking for a 2 for 1 sale.

I remember being in shock. Not scared. Just shocked. And not even so much shocked at being approached and being mistaken for a hooker. I was shocked that I was being approached being mistaken for a 2 for 1 five dollar hooker.

I don’t get angry often. I don’t. Not all out I don’t care what I am saying angry from the gut type of angry. I did then.

I didn’t get angry that they approached me. I supposed I should have been scared…maybe if I hadn’t been in an open place around people during the daytime I would have been…but I didn’t even think about that. I was too busy being angry that they dare thought they could approach me thinking that I looked like I would go for that. I was like so angry I could barely spit out my words.

“Five dollars?” I said. “Five dollars?! Are you kidding me!! Five dollars??”

The two men looked at each other and then looked back at me. Obviously thinking that we were negotiating, the spokesman of the two then said….”Okay, $10?”

I just remember getting in my car and driving away.

The next week at work, I was having lunch with a male friend and I told him what had happened. I had not really thought that much about it. But then my male co-worker asked me a question that kind of took me back. He didn’t ask if I was shaken up by the event or if I had reported the men to the police.

Instead he said to me…..”What were your wearing?”

I hadn’t thought about it. “Mom clothes, I guess,” was my answer. And then I thought about it. “Well, okay, I was wearing shorts….and a shear top. Nothing sexy. It was a mom top for summer. But I guess you could see my bra through it.”

“Ah, well there you go.”

“Huh? What? Really? You think so?” I’m sure I just kind of stared and blinked my eyes dumbly, like as a man he must know what he was talking about.

“Well, y’know, a young woman walking alone in a park area wearing something…..” What? Summery? “…suggestive like that. I mean, you can’t blame them, for thinking what they thought, now can you?”

Was he serious? He was. How could I not have seen that was what I was doing? I think I went home and threw away that top. Which was a plain cotton top. I swear. It now became something I should never wear again.

What had happened during that conversation with my male co-worker was called “victim blaming” or “victim shaming”. And this is something that happens a lot more often than it should. Although I did not feel like I was in danger at the time, the fact of the matter was that I was followed back to my car when I was alone….by two men who were in whatever way for whatever reason….targeting me and basically stalking me and following me with the intent of both of them having sex with me. And I don’t think that was because of what I was wearing. I think it was because I was alone and therefore seen as less of a threat.

We as women tend to learn that we are responsible for the actions of men. I think I’ve written here about how a boyfriend I had once punched me in the head and threw me down outside of school to beat me with a jean jacket….and how the priest we had to meet with told my parents that his actions were my fault.

It’s a stigma that is ingrained in society. A man sows his wild oats. A woman is a slut. And I am in no way trying to be for one group of people and against another. It just tends to go this way. Men get abused as well. Abuse know no gender. But generally speaking, women have had to struggle to like themselves and to respect themselves as people and not just as having their value be a reflection of the approval of men.

I have had the honor of speaking with many women who have been abused as adults by priests and clergy. These are intelligent, loving and caring women who have not only been used by powerful men with an agenda similar to wolves on the prowl, but have then had to shoulder the responsibility of the actions of another person.

Just as I was once asked, “How do you think Father felt when he read your email?” And just as I was shamed into thinking that somehow I had once again misunderstood his intentions and had done something horribly wrong and sinful….and I was the one who was 100% wrong while he was the one who was 100% innocent and wronged….the truth being that I was gas-lighted and manipulated by a narcissist sitting in a position of power….so did many other woman find themselves thrown aside in shame as the one who had been responsible. Discredited simply for being a woman, their only crime was attempting to speak the truth.

I’ve heard it said that women are generally looking for love and closeness in a relationship. That is why the love bombing that the narcissistic predator uses on their victim clouds their perspective.

Many survivors of adult abuse have told me that they were not even attracted to the priest who seduced them. That was true in my case as well. He was not my type, they tell me. But yet, for some reason, I felt that he was the love of my life. I have also heard it said that women tend to fall in love through their ears more than through their eyes. The predator has learned through trial and error and honing his skills what words work the best. Skilled manipulators know how to use words to capture the hearts of the lonely and the vulnerable. They know how to twist those words to get their victim to do as they want.

When a woman realizes that she has fallen victim to such a scam, it is heartbreaking, and yet the perpetrator knows exactly how to walk away clean and lay all of the blame onto the soul he has just crushed. And much of the reason they can get away with this as priests is because the very culture of the priesthood is about temptation and women tempting the man. Very little is shown or taught about the upstanding woman who fell for the charms of a man and was still seen as the victim in that case. What do you think would happen if someone seduced a nun? Do you think she would be allowed to stay in the convent if she were no longer a virgin when she was supposed to be faithful to God?

But by saying these words, and by simply pointing out that there exists a double standard by which women are basically held responsible for all sexual thoughts and actions of men, it makes me sound angry. I remember growing up hearing men in my family say that women who wanted the same jobs as men and who were pro women’s lib, etc., were angry and hateful and couldn’t get a man. Oh, and of course….they needed to get laid. That would set their heads straight.

Of course that would then make them a slut, and of course your know that does not make them marriage material so….

I will tell you though, what I want. And what most likely every other woman who has been abused as an adult would say she wants as well. And that would be to make people aware of this antiquated system that has been drilled into our heads by the very people who used that system against us….the priests who have taught us since we were children that it is wrong to be female. And if we are female, it is wrong that we feel pleasure or that we want to feel love. Because filling our heads with that nonsense is totally used against us when the guilt threatens to kill us because we enjoyed having another human being treat us as if we were special. Because every way we have of reacting is wrong and is sinful. Against man or against God. Because we have not been programmed to be human beings.

Instead, we have been programmed to blame ourselves for how we look, how we feel, and what we wear.

The Phantom in the Mist

When I was a teenager, I was in love with a guy. He was a musician. Okay…eye roll. Long hair. Drank a lot. A lot. A group of brothers in the neighborhood had built a cabin…two story…with heat….in the woods behind their house, and we would all go there to…do what teenagers do when parents aren’t around.

I thought he was so much fun. And clever. He was three years older than I was so he could go out to the bars. I was still too young. But I grew up believing that the man led the way and the woman followed, and that stuck with me when it came to any romantic encounter. So I felt lucky to be his cabin hook-up partner and actually looked forward with anticipation to whenever he might possibly be there and I would get to be with him again. Ah, sweet love.

The problem is….I was 15 and I had a curfew. But whenever he was around, I didn’t want to go home. My stupid parents. What did they know? I would push the limit. The other problem was…..if I pushed the limit too far and got home too late….I would get grounded. But it was for love. And love, as far as poetry and movies and love songs say….involve tossing all caution to the wind if you are truly committed. So being grounded did not stop my feelings. Like someone given a jail sentence, I awaited my release and the time when I could once again be with the man of my dreams.

And my love? What was he doing while I sat in solitary awaiting my next moment of ecstasy in his presence? He was hitting the bars and getting drunk, of course. And in my 15 year old, inexperienced mind, I blamed that on the fact that I was not yet old enough to go out with him.

It began to slowly dawn on me that during my time of forced good-behavior, while I sat home and remained faithful to only him, I never saw or heard from him. He did not seem to pine for me or mourn for my absence.

It took awhile. I have to admit that when I realize the truth of the matter in a given situation, that does not necessarily mean that my heart immediately jumps on board.

There are, however, a few moments of my life that I look back on with pride. Moments when I surprised myself. When I stepped out of the box for a moment and risked it all…for myself. There was one night when I was hanging out with my friends at the cabin and he did not show up until about ten minutes before I had to leave for my curfew. When he saw me….I was upstairs about ready to climb down and he was downstairs getting ready to come up….he seemed genuinely happy to see me and asked me not to go. I have to say….I wanted to stay. But something made me say no that night. Perhaps it was because I told him that I had to be home for curfew and he smiled at me and told me to forget my curfew. And I remember thinking…you aren’t the one who will get grounded and you won’t be there if I do get grounded. So I told him….see you next time. There was no next time. That would be the last time I would see him at the cabin.

I have never forgotten that night long ago. And I have never regretted making that decision to go home.

This was not a post about priests and abuse but I think that the propensity for being abused has seeds that are sown young with faulty beliefs about what love really means. And when you are 15, self-respect brings about pictures of yourself in a rocking chair knitting socks for your cats when you are old. Self-respect means not having any fun or letting go or getting any attention from the one you seek it from. And I don’t even know if I consciously was thinking about self-respect at the time. And I don’t know if I would have made the same decision if I had known that I would never be given another chance again to be with that person.

Because I think I would have thought that I could somehow hold onto him had I stayed. Again thinking that my actions would have some kind of difference. That perhaps this time would be the time that would make him think about calling me instead of just being glad to see me when he happened to run into me.

Once again, this may be my story but it’s not about me. Abuse gets its roots into you and you don’t even realize that you are out the looking for a dance partner who will deliberately step on your toes if you let them. And you will let them because you have learned that is what you do if you want love. Period. And it’s sad. And you pass it on to your children the way you pass along your hazel eyes or your love of pizza.

If you are wondering whatever happened to the one that got away…..he got someone pregnant, got married….and was then caught in bed with someone else.

I titled this entry “The Phantom in the Mist” because that was the term I used back then when writing poetry about relationships I had that seemed to exist but yet had no substance and I wasn’t sure what exactly I was trying to hold onto because nothing was really solid. Yet try I did. Because that is what you do. You give 110% percent of the relationship to hold it together. Even if it was holding together empty air. That was my definition of love. That is what I saw my mom do. That is what I see I have passed down as well.

This was not about priests….but it was about the culture of vulnerability and how the seeds get sown.

We Won't Get Used Again

It feels good to get attention. Flirting feels good. The need to receive love and kindness are built into our basic needs as human beings from the time we are born. So to be receptive to these feelings is not only normal but pushing away the source of these feelings can be difficult and can feel stressful.

I learned much about myself through my experience with the priest. I said that I felt like a spotlight had been shining on me like in an interrogation room. What was wrong with me to let this happen and how can I stop this from happening again?

When inter-acting with a “regular” person, I have often found myself placing blame on the other person when things don’t go smoothly. I don’t look at my own issues because they are being so unreasonable or hurtful or they have huge issues. Not my fault. I tried. I did my part. But with the priest being so….Godly…it turned much of the questioning back on myself.

A friend once told me that when you make a mistake, it is like walking down the street and falling into an open hole. Didn’t see it. Couldn’t help myself.

Walk down that same street a second time and you might trip over the same hole but not fall quite so far in.

Third time? I see that hole. I am choosing to trip over it. Can’t help it. It is just the way I am. Damn hole in the road. Couldn’t it see me coming? My knees are skinned but it took a little less time to recover.

Same road again? I see that stupid hole. It’s familiar. I don’t want to get hurt again but avoiding it is painful too because it means I have to go around it and I’ve never done that before. I’m being pulled towards the hole. But I see it….and I try….and I make it past.

The same way as if I were walking down that street, I now see the hole. I see it. And I want to jump in thinking it won’t hurt this time. I don’t want to avoid it. It means that I won’t get attention. It may mean that I have to provide my own approval. I don’t know how. I need the love. I will jump into the hole for the love. It’s too lonely on the outside. I don’t want to be strong. Nobody loves a strong woman. It’s not feminine to be strong. Damn, where are these ideas coming from? I can’t live without…..

Wait….who was there when I fell into the hole before? Anyone? What love pulled me back out? Who saved me? The object of my affection? No…they were long gone.

Because that love never existed. It was only an illusion created out of need.

I tell myself that love never works out for me. I tell myself that I just must be unlovable. Unworthy. I belong at the bottom of a hole.

Even the man who works for God couldn’t love me.

Wait….go back. Who got me out of that hole? When all hope was gone and I could look up and see the rest of the world passing by. And those who would reach down a hand to help could not touch my my hand as I reached up in despair.

Who saved me? How did I get out of there? I did. I pulled myself up. I kept pulling myself up.

But I thought I needed a man to do that for me? How did I manage to do that? Did I break a nail? How was I able to climb in my heals? I bet I got a run in my stocking. I must look a mess. Who could love me like this?

But does someone else’s approval really matter if the lack of it is only going to send you back down the hole again struggling to climb back out?

It feels good to get approval. To feel someone’s love. But how can you trust that feeling coming at you from outside of yourself and not hang onto it like your existence depends upon it so that if it should disappear you will crumble into a heap?

How can you walk down the street…despite your broken heal and the run in your stocking….and not fall back into the hole if someone should not approve of you? How can you stand up strong against the wind that threatens to push you back down when you are depending upon fair weather and warmth and not your own two feet to keep you standing?

Where do you begin? How do you begin to trust others again?

By making them earn your trust.

I felt something was wrong in my gut with the priest. But I kept pushing the feeling away. I read something since then that makes so much sense.

Basically, write down what is going on.

That’s it. Write down the facts. And then read them every day that you interact with someone. It may sound like a lot of work, but remember the saying that actions speak louder than words? Facts can break through illusion. Do you find yourself making excuses for someone’s behavior? Do you feel that they need you? That you need to help them? Or that you need them?

Have they swept you off your feet and made you feel like the most special person on the face of the planet? Do they then disappear or leave you wondering and full of questions? Does it seem to good to be true? It could be what is known as love-bombing. The terminology does not matter. What does matter is if words are not followed by deeds that match the words and you find yourself twisting yourself into a pretzel in order to make reality fit their behavior…..you may be looking at someone you don’t want to invest your heart, your soul, or your bank account in.

Writing down the facts and reading them daily….even if you don’t like what you see…will at least help to keep you with a healthy sense of suspicion.

You don’t need to share this with anyone. This is for your eyes only. And even if you still choose to put yourself out there and take all the risks for someone anyway….still look at the facts every day if you aren’t sure. Not to beat yourself over the head or blame yourself. Don’t do that. Other people are more than willing to do that for you.

It’s just a step towards learning to love yourself enough to stay above ground. You keep working at it. Because one day you are going to stand and face that wind and your cape is going to be flapping in the breeze behind you. Even with that run in your stocking.

Because strength and imperfection is beautiful. And nobody is going to be able to push you down again. Even if the heel of your shoe is broken. Being a little unbalanced ain’t so bad.

Live and Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Helped Me

What helped me survive the initial shock and betrayal that happened at the hands of my priest?

It helped that I had life experience for one. I had been through terrible things before and I knew that life eventually goes on. But it was getting to that point that was difficult.

I guess I can say it was lucky for me that I had experience working two years at a suicide hotline. I’ve had training on how to help people talk themselves through the moment. One minute at a time is how it works sometimes. And I have to say honestly that I was at that point.

I was so consumed by what had just happened….by being fired for basically being a “danger to priests” when I was the one who had been in danger….I could not function. I simply could not. Food did not exist. I could not concentrate long enough to watch anything on TV and have it register. I was basically a zombie bent on self-destruction.

The first thing that helped me get through this time was the support of a wonderful therapist and group of good friends that let me talk and cry. It was a loss and I was feeling grief and shock. Talking and trying to make sense of the situation was my lifeline.

The second thing that helped with the initial healing was writing. I wrote emails to friends and I wrote and wrote and wrote to myself and wrote letters I never sent to the priest and to H.R. and to God and to anyone else I thought might be remotely involved. I had to purge. I had to get this energy out of me before it ate me from the inside out.

The next thing that helped was Facebook and emails. Forwarding inspirational messages and quotes from great people and such…..thoughts on survival from those who had been through trauma and recovery and had lived to tell the tale after being abused and making mistakes and trusting assholes and hating themselves and all of that. That helped.

Music was next. As loud as I could take it. Music blasting through my headphones. My favorite song was “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson. Didn’t matter what the song itself was about. The chorus was empowering. That and the sentence….”You thought you had the best of me…..thought you had the last laugh….thought that everything good was gone.” And….”Never thought that I’d come back, I’d come back swinging…” It gave me the strength when I had to fake the strength. It made me feel so much better. It pummeled the dark monster inside back into a corner. If not just temporarily.

As I began to be able to focus, I did watch a bit of comedy TV. That was another thing I did to help get through the rough first days. I made sure not to be hard on myself as far as doing anything on my “to do” list or being a responsible adult. Now was not the time. I was as sick as if I had the flu. I hid under a blanket and watched junk TV and ate comfort food. It helped.

As the days wore on and I was able to focus a bit of my attention elsewhere and I began to realize I was still alive and things were not going to unwind, what helped me next was having something to focus on that required using my brain. For me, it was signing up for a craft fair. I am not particularly crafty so this took up most of my brain power to accomplish. I went to the craft store and picked out fabric and trim to make some scarves and things for my craft table. I really felt a sense of empowerment and a sense of moving out of the fog as it were, when I began to use a creative side of my brain. It was something I still had control over. It was something nobody else could touch. It was pleasant. It helped.

As time wore on, I was able to do research on survivors of sexual abuse by priests. I discovered that I was not alone. I discovered that more often than not, priests who abuse have patterns of grooming with the intent to lure their victims into a false state of security before they abuse them. From that point, I learned about SNAP…The Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests. And from there, my healing continued.

I am not going to say I am completely healed, but I have come so far from where I was three years ago when I was blaming myself and in such pain and confusion.

I have posted some of the things I did that helped me get through the moment….which then turned into hours then days then weeks and on and on. I’m sure that other people have things they did that helped them heal. It is so important that victims of abuse know they are not alone. That by itself can help in the healing tremendously. That and knowing that it was not your fault.

If I can help anyone get through their own process of healing, everything I went through is worth it.

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.

Peeling back the Layers

First I want to say that in no way do I think the right thing to do is to have a sexual relationship with anyone because they are blackmailing you. In my last blog, I said that at one point I felt that it all would have been easier if I had gone along with things and not “made my boss angry”. But believe me, it would not have been easier. More on that next time. This time I wanted to talk about the obstacles that those abused by clergy face once the abuse is over. And by “abuse” I mean, the actual face to face sexual abuse with the clergy person.

As I have said, I was abused as an adult. And I have felt that there are obvious differences between my abuse and those who have had to face the horror of sexual abuse as children. But there are similarities as well.

It may seem mind boggling, but the fact is, children have been raped….many by more than one priest….sometimes for many years….and coming forward and getting justice via compensation and putting the perpetrator behind bars….is not that easy. You would think it would be. Seems like we hear all the time about people coming forward and accusing priests of doing nasty deeds and churches going bankrupt due to all of the allegations and those couple of pervy priests are taken away in handcuffs and the problem is solved. Right? Because nobody would allow such a thing to go on if they knew it was happening….right? And surely those who were suspected of harming children would not be allowed to roam freely among the righteous priests….so what’s the problem and why do we have to keep hearing about this anyway? Where are all these people coming from and why are they coming forward years after the fact and they must be just after money or taking advantage of the church. Right?

I may sometimes sound like I am repeating myself but I think there are so many layers when it comes to abuse by priests. And I am saying priests but I mean all clergy and religious representatives.

The thing is, even if you think you know why or how this happens, you may only be looking under one layer. I used to think that, sure, sexual abuse happened but it happened to other people. Like rape only happens to woman walking alone at night dressed suggestively and who are pulled into a dark alley by strangers. That kind of “other people” kind of thing. No gray area. There were just either priests who were turned on by boys or priests who were so repressed sexually that it just kind of spilled out into an act of need and relief and then penance. Or perhaps there were secret girlfriends. I’ve spoken before about how nobody really wants to look too closely at the sex lives of priests. Kind of like nobody wants to see their Uncle George naked or imagine that their parents ever had sex. Kind of feels incestuously icky.

So let’s go there. Let’s talk about sex and the single priest. There, I said it. What are the obstacles to be faced that make it harder to get the justice and respect for survivors of abuse?

Where do I even begin? I guess we begin with the obvious….you can argue logic all day and say that you know that a priest is just a man and blah blah blah, but the truth is, if you have been raised Catholic, logic only goes so deep. Emotion goes to the bone and beyond. Emotion goes deeper than logic. The church and priests represent all that is good. They are the ones you turn to when life goes off the deep end. That is their job and more importantly, they work for and represent God.

I can pretty much stop right there with that statement….emotion goes deeper than logic….especially when religion is woven into the tapestry of your life since birth and priests and religious leaders seems to carry the emotional power of granting salvation or damnation. You can say….shucks, they are just men but those men carry a power of casting mesmerizing spells over many people…..including their victims. Especially their victims.

I’ve said that I used to work in the Tribunal Office. I used to process dispensations that allowed people of different faiths to get married in the church. And I used to process what is called a “Lack of Form” which allowed people who had married before but not by a priest, to be excused from that marriage so they could now be married in the church.

You might not think it’s such a big deal, but boy is that white wedding in the church and walking down the aisle a big deal to people….sometimes numerous times…..so much so that although they may only see the inside of a church on Christmas, they will spill out all kinds of personal details to priests just so they can book a church for their next nuptials as soon as possible.

That’s the emotional control the church has over people. Baptize your baby so he/she won’t go to Hell. Book the church for the fairy tale wedding. Be sure to leave a good chunk of your money to the church when you die to ensure you will go right to Heaven. The more money you have, the less time you have to spend in Purgatory.

Another emotional hold the church has over people is the sense of belonging to and being supported by, family and friends. To belong to the church is to have people know your face and your name and to belong to a sense of community from birth until death. If your name is on the parish registry, you will belong to the group. The rules of the group are love and forgiveness. Any talk of anything outside of the rules is cause for disdain and rejection from members in the group. So you wear your Easter hat and keep your game face on. And you bury anything unpleasant so that it does not show on the surface.

Last time I mentioned my mother and her reaction when I told her what had happened to me. I would say that my mom, represents a different age and time. I mean so much has changed since I have been on this Earth as far as women’s rights and such. Go back thirty years further and you reach an age where women were expected to get married and take care of the house and their family. If they wanted money, they got an allowance from their husband, who determined what the money situation would be and if the wife could get anything for herself. If the wife did work outside the home, the money she made was called “pin money”. Her money was used for extra things like holiday shopping. It was hardly enough money for a woman to use to support herself or her children or to receive her own retirement income of any substance. This was all within the last 100 years. Women basically were raised to go from father to husband…at the alter….with the priest’s approval.

So my mom has quite a different view of the world. To her….to both of my parents, I learned that men were supposed to chase after women. And that if women were fools enough to get caught, that was totally on them. Logically priests being men, that would include them as well….throw in the fact that emotionally they sit on a high tower of virtue and that sex is a man’s right and a woman’s problem…well..old fashioned as it may seem….again, we can talk about how enlightened we are but what we learned at our mother’s knee is what is deeply ingrained in us…and what we pass along to our children.

So my mom said that my boss had some mental issues and just let it go and don’t stir things up and have him come after you….but she is still giving money to the church when she passes away because….it is not to the “church” per se, but to our parish…..and that priest is a good guy.

My mom is used to men having the power and woman having jobs to bring in money that is just used to buy something pretty and not to pay bills or feed the kids….or dogs in my case…and a bad priest just happens like anywhere else. It’s like Monica Lewinsky, my mom said….which made no sense to me except for the oral sex reference meaning the type of sex that was being requested. He is a sick priest….just one in a barrel of saints. Let other people take care of themselves if they have a problem with a priest. That is how my mom’s generation sees the issue. To my mom, sexual harassment is a quid pro quo and rape is something that is done in an alley by a stranger if a woman is out alone walking at night wearing something provocative.

I don’t fault my mom for her views. As I said, much has changed in my world since I was young, but it does show part of what the problem is when a victim tries to tell others that something is not right.

What people listening to victims of abuse may not understand is….the very trust they put to the clergy….the very belief…..or want of a belief…that sin or crime cannot exists without instantaneous purification and forgiveness once the blessing and entrance into priesthood has occurred….that is the very trust and want of belief that makes potential victims vulnerable….be they 10 years old or 80.

Times are changing slowly and painfully. The trauma of sexual abuse of children by priests has so many layers of evil that infiltrates the mind and the bodies of innocents who are painfully introduced to sex confusing it with an act of love and of God by a trusted and powerful adult. Painful memories are sometimes blocked out. Children who have tried to tell ended up punished and ostracized by their families and their church. I cannot begin to imagine what that does to a person at such a tender age. I cannot imagine a child going through what I as an adult went through….the pain and confusion and the fear and the feeling of being trapped…..and then not believed.

More and more people are speaking out about childhood abuse at the hands of priests. And the church is beginning to have to answer for cover ups and moving abusers so that they can continue to abuse other unsuspecting children. These people need and deserve love and support and the deserve to be listened to and believed. Because as children they did not have that chance.

As an adult who was abused and then abused again by ignorance…mine as well as others, I think we need to come together and support one another….but I also think that we need to support those abused as children and their movement towards justice and visibility as we break through old barriers and prejudices that have held onto our emotions for so long. Because we all face similar hurdles and our abusers used similar techniques and they all used their positions to commit heinous acts of inhumanity against the very people that have been taught since birth to obey without question.

We have to stop teaching our children that it is noble to suffer and to love thy neighbor and to turn the other cheek and that the pope is infallible and that priests have super human powers without also teaching them more about how to say no and to listen to their own feelings.

Teach the children, educate adults and heal the wounded. Oh, and the ignorant? Report them when it is appropriate to do so because they are hurting instead of educating and healing.