…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.

Give Me Shelter

I’m not going to lie. Quarantine is beginning to get to me. I consider myself lucky, though. If I look back over my life, now is probably the best time for this to happen. To be stuck inside, that is. I have no pressing things to get done at work, I am not a teenager wanting to escape being stuck with my parents, nor do I have teenagers blasting music and giving me sullen looks in passing. I have really no place I need to be and time to do the things I always said I’d do when I got the time.

Instead I find that I’m watching too much tv and moving slowly on my to-do list. Having trouble sleeping and then sleeping too much. Worrying about my mom who is by herself and unable to figure out her computer. Worrying about my little grandson who is too young to know that things are different outside of his little world. Worrying about my brother who is eating, drinking and smoking too much while he works from home. And worried about my grown sons who I have no control about taking care of at this point in their lives.

And it seems that life always comes back to changing what you can change and accepting the rest. And so I bring my mother food and call to make sure she is okay, and I keep in touch with my kids and I get them thermometers and stuff like that because they never think they will get sick, and I try to text and email and call friends when I can.

And I think about how this is affecting people who have been abused by priests. I wonder how they may be handling the isolation. Does it feel like a safe cocoon being home? Does it make feelings of being trapped arise and feel claustrophobic? Are they stuck in quarantine with and abusive person?

I do think about that. Who is everyone stuck with right now? Are they all alone? Or are they stuck with an alcoholic parent or partner….or perhaps struggling to remain sober themselves?

It kind of brings back some memories of childhood. The cheese stands alone. Musical chairs….sorry, you’re on your own. Pick a partner to Do-Si-Do and….FREEZE….suddenly life has stopped and wherever you are, there you will be and no takesy backsies for infinity and beyond.

Is it too naïve of me to hope that social distancing means that there is no more abuse happening between priests and adults and children because the churches are (mostly) closed? I truly hope so, but I am not naïve enough to believe that somewhere out there a priest is weighing the odds to see if they are in his favor when a family member is lost and comfort is needed, or someone is lonely, or there is a child receptive to love-bombing at this time.

But I am hoping that abuse from priests has dropped significantly at this time. I also hope that those who find themselves alone or stuck with a psychologically unhealthy person, or unable to leave a small apartment with kids who are getting on each other’s nerves….I hope they make it through each day….one at a time. And for those who were just hanging on before this happened and are now left alone with their thoughts….try to find one thing each day that brings you a little happiness. Or at least a break from your own thoughts.

I’ve said how I began to look towards spirituality for comfort, and everyone has their own beliefs and that is fine. I do think everyone has that voice inside their head….that running narrative throughout life….perhaps a bit of intuition or that conscience….whatever you want to call it. I believe in spirit guides myself.

There was a moment a couple of years ago, after my abuse when I found myself at a point of…..why do I even try? Why do these things happen to me? I don’t hurt anyone. And as I sat there, an answer came to me clearly as if it swept in through the window with the breeze.

“You asked for this”, it said.

I thought about that for a moment. “Sounds like something I would do,” I thought. First one to put my hand up in class. All full of ideas to save the world before I was born. It did put things in a different light for me. Kind of made me feel more in control and blaming others less. Made things less personal and more of a mission to change what I could.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t. We’ve all been through a lot in life. We search for answers. Then we get shut off from a source we believe has the answers. But we’re not, not really.

This is a really difficult time. And it is okay to stay in your pajamas and eat out the ice cream container and binge watch “Mr. Robot” (which is what I am watching now). It’s okay to cry, to grieve, to be afraid and to feel lonely.

Personally, I’d be fine if I could just visit family and a couple of friends here and there. And if someone said…..not to worry, all will be well, things will get better….we’ll come out of this in three months right as rain.

How is everyone doing? What are you doing to get through this right now? What are you watching on TV? Have your learned to knit? Bake? Began to draw again? Pulled out the puzzles and the board games?

Are you getting through one day at a time, or are you barely hanging on? Wishing everyone comfort and protection.

When The Shark Bites

When you have been abused by someone, there is a good chance that you won’t be believed. Unless you have a broken jaw or get a rape test done, someone who turns from Dr. Jeckell to Mr. Hyde once the door is closed behind you, may have the rest of the world fooled.

Case in point, I don’t know if it was a coincidence or not, but moments before I was called down to Human Resources to be fired….excuse me….before I chose to leave as it says on record….a woman called the office and asked to speak to my boss. When I said that he was away for the day as he had suddenly gone on a retreat, she went on and on about what a wonderful man he was and how much he had done for her family.

What I went through as many survivors have as well, is that I was gaslighted by a highly manipulative man who knew how to play the game, who to pick to play with, and all of the rules. He also knew the end result. I did not know any of these things. I thought I had a nice job with a good boss with whom I had become increasingly uncomfortable working. To the rest of the world, though, he was Father Jade, the quiet and unassuming gentleman priest who would seem about as much as a casanova as Mother Theresa would seem a good time girl.

What comes to mind when you think about “The Cosby Show”. It was a great show, wasn’t it? I loved Bill Cosby. I thought he was intelligent and straight to the point. I thought he was a wonderful family man and gifted comedian. But to some unfortunate women, he was a despicable monster. So who was the real Bill Cosby?

We need to have leaders and people we admire. We need to believe that there is goodness shining underneath all of the crud that seems to cover this world in the news. We need to feel that despite everything, all is well. There are those who are in control that are looking out for our best interest.

When first accusations come out against those we admire, our first feeling is usually that of disbelief. Someone is just trying to score a settlement. Evil is trying to bring down an icon of goodness. We turn angry eyes on those who would dare say such things. How dare they try to drag this person’s name through the mud? After all….you who without sin, throw the first stone.

I totally get this. I too am one of those people who, like a child, wants to cover my ears and scream “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah…..I can’t hear you!” I don’t want my picture of reality changed. And anyways, it doesn’t affect me, so why can’t I look the other way?

So who is the real person behind the dual mask of good and evil? That is a question not only to ask of people in power but also those within our own lives.

We don’t want to give up things we hold onto. Some people have had precious things snatched away without choice. Those are the people who have been bitten by the shark. Those who have been bitten know the truth behind the mask. But even many of those people are unwilling or unable to call a shark a shark. They question themselves. They are afraid of the shark. They are afraid to stand before those that the shark chose not to bite and try to convince them that he/she is dangerous. Because they have not seen that side of them.

Whether you have been drugged and raped by a celebrity, have seen the dark unknown side of a priest, or are threatened daily in your own home by everyone’s best friend, you know the shark for who they are.

They are a shark through and through. Just because they have chosen to attack you and not someone else does not make them less of a danger. It just makes them a predator who as my boss once told me, “I pick my people very carefully”.

Unfortunately that wipes out all the good they seem to do. Because when you destroy one person or 50 people, you cannot truly do good. You can appear to do good to cover yourself and to trick people.

My boss had his fans, it would seem. And I thought he was a bit strange, but all in all a good boss. And it was weighing the odds in his favor that helped him in his attempt to destroy me. As he once told me “I like how you only see the good in people.” And I forgave and made excuses for him when I felt uncomfortable…..instead of respecting my own feelings.

But I am not saying that I was at fault for his behavior. I am saying that when someone hurts you….physically, sexually, emotionally, financially….it does not matter if they once seemed to love you and made you feel special and it does not matter how much good work they do with other people. The bite always outweighs the flood of endorphins, the gifts, the love-bombing and the reality they plant in your head.

A person who deliberately hurts someone for their own sense of power or enjoyment is a shark. Period. Even if he has not bitten you.

Religion, Beliefs, Faith, Spirituality, Yada Yada Yada

Recently I heard someone discuss about how his abuse did not prevent him from maintaining his strong faith in the Lord and his belief that not all priests are bad and that forgiveness is the key to peace.

I think everyone has a different viewpoint on how they feel about the church and its teachings and those that it employs. I for one grew up with the church literally in my back yard and without question believed what I was told. I believed in human nature, but viewed those who wore black vestments with reverential awe.

As I grew older, my belief system changed as did my life. Yet, as I made decisions, I based things on whether or not God would be pleased or if He would understand. And as life went on, and I began to come to what I would call my own relationship with a higher power, I indeed felt that I was not alone and could totally identify at times with the song, “Jesus Take the Wheel”.

I did, however, begin to question the rules. My oldest son was over a year old when I took him to get baptized. When I called to set up the baptism, I was firmly chastised by the priest who read me the riot act as to how dare I endanger my son’s soul by waiting so long….was I planning to raise him Catholic….did I even go to church….did I even care?

Ironically, I’m not sure if it was that priest, but one of the priests in that church is now in prison for child rape. And that man did baptize my youngest son.

In any case, as life went on, I began to question many things about my religion. Not my faith…..as I considered that a separate thing. Religion….that is a building, traditions, a congregation, prayers, songs, rules, priests, rabbis, etc.

Faith is the belief that there is a higher power. It is the belief that you are connected to that higher power. It is the belief in the power of prayer and intent and of something solid to hang onto when the ground is crumbling beneath you. It is my belief that we as humans need that feeling that we aren’t going through life without an invisible best friend or guide or savior.

But beliefs can also get complicated when buildings, traditions, people, rules and spiritual leaders become attached as one without question to our faith.

When you have been betrayed by your religion….that is, the physical manifestations of your faith….through sexual abuse and lies and cover-ups, it’s hard to know where to draw the line and find comfort. What do you hang onto when everything that has been a sure thing and something you can hang onto is now something that creates feelings of unworthiness and not belonging and physical issues like nausea and panic attacks?

For me, I have a serious trust issue when it comes to the church. Once I lived through seeing what a priest was allowed to do to a person and get away with, and then learned how widespread abuse is….I heard tonight four women for every child by a priest….I cannot go into the church and look at things the same way I used to. I question everything.

Are they visiting older folks out of sheer goodness or do they want to remind them to put the church in their will? Are the sacraments there to bless and guide us or to control us with fear of damnation if we don’t do as we are told? Is that priest molesting those children? The woman in the office? The man playing the music at mass? These thoughts go through my head now.

I guess it has helped that I always thought of myself a spiritual more than religious. I could never quote a bible verse by number, felt that it was nobody’s business but my own if I wanted to give my heart to Jesus, and once stirred up a prayer group by questioning why they thought that homosexuality was a sin if God created a person to be that way. Was it not more of a sin not to be as God created you to be?

So, being a bit of a rebel anyway, it is probably not surprising to note that one of the ways I found best for me in my search for healing is spirituality and searching for the soul’s truth. I have for many years been involved in Qi gong for balancing energy and also Tai Chi as well. Lately, I have gotten into meditation and connecting to spirit guides as well as Reiki…..the laying of hands.

This has helped me I think gain some wisdom and peace from the inside. This does not mean I am in any way healed. I have moments. Very dark moments aimed at myself. Those moments may always be there. But I do believe that meditation has helped to lessen some of the negative vibrations that have stuck to me like goose feathers on molasses throughout my life.

This is my spirituality. My Yada Yada Yada. My getting away from rules imposed upon me by men of questionable integrity and the belief that a building makes all who walk in there pure of heart. This is me getting back to my source, my light and my soul.

And the thought of needing to forgive becomes unnecessary and unimportant because my abuser is insignificant and not at all in control of my soul and its journey. His power is not given to him by God or any higher being. His is just an illusion of importance and power that vanishes like the Emperor’s New Clothes when the light of truth shines upon him.

The idea of forgiveness, for me, feels like an added weight on people who are already weighed down so much they are struggling to get up without another “should” placed upon their back. For me, I don’t think about my abuser as a person who needs my forgiveness. I look at the situation as one that needs to have a sufficient amount of anger behind it to fight against the injustice. That to me is more important. Self care and anger at a situation, not a person. Forgiveness is a religious concept and is something you are told you must do. I’m not a religious person anymore. I take away my spiritual beliefs and hopefully a healthier look at reality.

Just For Men

It’s difficult for an adult to admit that they have been conned. We know not to give out our personal information on the phone or worry about scams that we have heard of….such as the grandchild who calls out of the blue and needs money because they’ve been in an accident. People who are generous, kind-hearted, and honest tend to be more naïve when it comes to someone trying to pull something over on them because they themselves would not do that to someone.

But even those people who have been able to avoid the scam artists and gold diggers of the world, tend to let their guard down when it comes to men of the cloth.

Many women have seen guys they know fall for the “wrong” woman….or man. We can see for miles how the relationship is going to turn out. We can see our friend or loved one taking a nose dive into heartache…to fight for someone who does not care for them….to end up being a shell of who they were when it ends. Most of these passionate highs and lows come from intense physical attraction and perhaps a hidden message inside of themselves that they don’t deserve to be treated decently. But almost everyone has had such a relationship at one time or another.

People may outgrow the need to consciously search for an emotionally “dangerous” relationship. But few of us with egos don’t appreciate a bit of flattery. And few of us who are human actually want to push away love and companionship.

I say “want to” because some of us are too afraid not to push back when someone tries to get too close. Perhaps we’ve been burned by the flame one too many times or had our good nature taken for granted too often to take a risk of being conned once again.

So here we are people…..careful with our hearts and yet still needing closeness.

It doesn’t matter how old we are. There is still a vulnerable child inside who wants that attention from Mom or Dad or the acceptance of friends. But the world at times, can be a cold and lonely place, and we always have to keep up our guard. Except when we feel we don’t. When we feel safe.

A priest feels safe. They care. They are learned and sometimes interesting. They are the best of all worlds. They don’t need anything from you. They have a job, a home, a family of sorts, hobbies….we assume…and sometimes interesting hobbies, and most have travelled around the country or the world. And they are interested in you. Generally. It’s their job. All you need to offer in return for their friendship is an occasional home-cooked meal or a beer while watching the game, or just respect upon meeting them on the street.

We are spiritual beings, we are physical beings, we need closeness, connections to other humans, acceptance, love and we need to feel safe. And what feels safer than connecting with a priest? That is, until it doesn’t feel safe. And by the time that we begin to question the relationship, it is already too late to trust our own opinion. All we know is the ups and downs of the roller coaster ride we don’t remember agreeing to get on.

We all know this story too well. I’ve discussed many aspects of being an adult abused by a priest. It’s horrible. You feel conned. You thought they could be trusted and that you were their friend. It’s devastating. What you thought was something spiritual and personal all of a sudden has left you alone in the spotlight with accusing eyes upon you as you suffer in isolation.

It’s bad. It is. It changes a person. It changes your world and your view of many things. And as hard as it is to get through this…to heal…..it can be so very hard to talk about it. That is why we have support groups for survivors.

Once a month, there has been an on-going support group for Adults Sexually Abused by Priests (ASAP SNAP). In addition to “regular” support meetings, it was felt that it would be beneficial for those abused as adults….who have gone through that particular trauma…to meet together.

Now that group is expanding and branching off to form a “sub-group” just for men. Because it is tough for people to discuss their stories in front of other people and it’s felt that perhaps male survivors may feel a bit more comfortable talking in an all-male group.

So, starting in April, the Men’s ASAP SNAP Community will have its first meeting. The meeting will be held on the second Saturday of the month from 1pm to 3pm E.S.T. Please check with SNAP to gain access to this meeting.