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.

Solicitation is Nothing New

I’m currently reading, “Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse”. It is an eye-opening history of priests and sex in the Catholic Church.

One of the things that I surely never really used to give much thought to is that the church has tried to control the problem of priests and their sexual urges and actions for as long as the church has been around.

But what most struck a cord with me is the solicitation for sex by the priest in the confessional. This has been called “spiritual incest” as the request was made by a “spiritual father” towards a “spiritual child”….a priest acting as a spiritual leader and one who had control over the situation, which created an imbalance of power.

The setting may be different, but the spiritual abuse of power is something to which many if not all of us, can relate.

It is said that when a person goes to confession, it is the priest who holds the power of absolution. You can be as sincerely sorry as can be about grabbing those handful of grapes at the supermarket without paying for them…..but you will still be in danger of not making it into Heaven unless you tell of your transgression to a priest and that priest gives you absolution through the power of Christ. That is, according to the beliefs of the Catholic Church throughout history.

But let’s forget about those grapes for a moment. In the middle ages, you may have had your hand removed for such a sin and a crime. Today we still know that it is morally wrong to steal, but we may excuse ourselves by saying that our blood sugar was low and we had to eat something and surely God will understand….and there are people who do far worse. So, if you are going to go to Hell, you are probably going to have a large crowd of people going with you and ahead of you. So no sleep is lost over the theft.

However, what does cause a lack of sleep and much guilt because it has been hammered into our heads as the most despicable of sins? Anything to do with sex. Surely God will overlook a simple sin were nobody got hurt, and confessing about stealing grapes may make you feel stupid, but you can probably get the words out without feeling too vulnerable.

But what if you went to confess a sin of infidelity in your relationship or becoming involved with someone who was married? Or what if as a younger person, you were struggling with the realization that you were gay and you needed spiritual reassurance that it was okay to be you? That is personal. That hits to your soul. That is you, being at your most emotionally vulnerable and talking to someone who represents a healer of souls and a soother of anxiety. That is you….handing over your heart for the reassurance that this secret you are holding inside that may be eating you up can be let go of. All is well. God loves you and is not going to punish you.

So how would it feel to have the priest use this information to manipulate and use you? There have been instances where priests have been known to withhold absolution pending sexual favors. These requests of the penitent per the book, included intercourse, oral and manual sex, verbal sex, and sadomasochistic sex. Most of the victims were adult women.

Here we go with vulnerability, abuse of power, power imbalance, threats, installation of fear, and coercion. And if the penitent woman, man, girl or boy decided to tell anyone about what the priest was doing, not only were they possibly seen at fault for their part in the sex act, but if they were not believed, they could be charged with false denunciation….which was considered far worse than what the priest had done. The victim could then be excommunicated.

If it was determined that the priest was guilty of solicitation within the confessional, both parties were often punished as there was implied some kind of consent on the part of the victim.

The assumption of consent was not agreed upon by everyone, but the idea of sex between two people who were intimately spiritual as the priest was by granting absolution while at the same time, soliciting sex, was seen as heinous by church leaders. Even if there was seen some degree of consent, the priest was seen as guilty of leading his charge astray.

In the 1700’s, Pope Benedict declared that any attempt by a priest to lead someone into wrongdoing in the confessional was condemned. It was considered a crime according to canon law. Affected penitents were urged to come forward and there was no statute of limitations on the crime. But victims were hesitant to come forward to tell their stories.

In any case, what we have seen throughout history is what we still see today. A spiritual imbalance of power, the hesitation for the victim to come forward, the acts seen as being possibly consensual but immoral on the part of the priest, attempts at coercion and the abuse of position and a person’s vulnerability to gain sexual favors, and attempts to unsuccessfully control the abuse itself and the widespread and on-going nature of the crime within the priesthood.

I don’t know why, but this floored me. Why don’t we know about this stuff? And if we did hear something about it, why did it seem like a remote and ancient issue? I mean, who knew that we as parishioners were safer on the streets or in a bar than in church or confessional or diocesan office? And why, if this has been an on-going problem for over 2,000 years, is the church as powerful as it is today? And why does the general public think that these stories are isolated incidents. And why are the priests so convincing and so believed? What is going on here?

When I first read about priests hitting on people in the confessional and withholding absolution as a power play, my first thought was…how low can you get? But I also found I related to this. Because it is taking things out of the same play book to hold a person’s job well-being in your hand and raise it over your head and tell a person you will let them have it if they will get down on their knees, remove their clothes, and sexually gratify you and possibly their friends as well.

I mean, who are these people? Certainly not my spiritual leaders, that’s for sure.

Who Hurts More?

While talking to a male survivor one day, I was told that he was awarded money for the emotional pain and suffering he experienced as a result of the abuse he suffered as a young man.

He also said that because the money awarded to him was due to emotional and psychological pain and suffering, after the lawyer got their part, his part was taxed. He said he felt like he had been abused again.

It’s not always easy to prove someone has been damaged emotionally specifically by another person or event if there has been no physical trauma as well. However, if there is physical trauma, it is easier to link that event to emotional issues later on that are connected.

In other words, it is easier to prove your PTSD is related to being in a car accident on your way to work than it is to prove that your PTSD is due to emotional stress from your job. Unless, of course, you can prove that your job stress directly affected your health in some way. In order to have such proof, there has to be documentation that the health condition was either caused, or exacerbated by, the stressful job situation.

In order to have such proof, it is best to have documentation about any health crisis that might be linked to a stressful situation. For instance, if someone has a heart attack after being made a target for attack by a co-worker, which produced many sleepless nights and mornings full of dread at the thought of going back into work….that should be mentioned in the patient’s chart as a cause of the physical manifestation of the stress.

In my case, after I was fired, I ended up in the emergency room twice in six months. Both times ended up having to do with gastrointestinal tract issues, although the second time, I was sure I was having a heart attack. It felt like a golf ball was trying to make its way through my chest. I also still have recurring dreams where my ex-boss is lurking in the shadows somewhere.

I think I remember telling medical staff that I had gone through significant stress recently, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t divulge the details as at that time I was still feeling that I had been in something consensual that had gone wrong because he was a priest.

So, yes, it is true that money awarded for physical injury is not taxed while money awarded for emotional or psychological injury and distress is indeed taxed…..unless the emotional or psychological damaged is a direct result of the physical injury….such as if my boss had hit me with a ruler and had broken a finger….and I might live in fear of him attacking me again.

And the same pretty much goes for sexual assault versus harassment. Although with harassment, the mind still feels violated, and it can create the same feelings of anxiety and fear and PTSD as actual physical contact, the law and those who collect the taxes do not see the two as the same and will not tax the physical, but will tax the emotional if it stands alone without physical injury.

With the survivor who told me this, there was plenty of emotional fallout for the rest of his life until now due to emotional manipulation that resulted in physical abuse. But that could not be proved, and so his compensation was taxed.

I’m hoping that things will begin to change. We are seeing people more and more who are speaking about the unfairness and antiquity of the system. We are seeing people being prosecuted…powerful people…who abused their power.

I know that I have begun to question things I never before questioned and I take another look at things I’ve seen all my life and I tend to hear things a bit differently now….becoming more aware.

Whether or not it is fair, knowledge is power. And so is truth.

Monthly Meeting

When I first joined SNAP, I felt like a fraud. Here were people who were raped when they were children trying to heal from horrific acts and bravely facing the church in a one-step forward, two-steps back struggle for justice and prevention. There’s not much worse than taking advantage and hurting the innocent and the helpless. Here I was, an adult who had been duped by a crazy priest who I thought had used his position to control his love life out of what I believed to be guilt and fear.

And I had cared for him. I had cared about his feelings. I had liked the positive attention when he was happy and I had said nothing when he was unhappy or in a rage. I had enabled his behavior. I was just as much at fault, I believed. It was a personal, isolated incident. How could I even compare myself to anyone who had no choice or was so small and innocent?

But I was so confused as to what had happened to me, and further emotionally wrecked by not being able to talk to him to understand anything (don’t know why I ever thought that would help), and by his ability to wash his hands of me and fill my position at work so quickly like I had never existed….that I began to acknowledge the fact that I was never special to him. And it was with that knowledge that I began to realize that it had all been a game. And then I began to wonder that if he had been so good at this game that he had fooled me….and at least one other person he had admitted to being “involved” with….could it be possible that he was not the only priest who knew the rules to this game?

Slowly, hesitatingly, I began to share some of my story with other survivors at my first annual SNAP gathering in Alexandria, VA. Having a glass of wine with a senior SNAP member one night at the conference, I felt so stupid and embarrassed but I told him the basics of what had happened to me.

“What an asshole!” was his take on the situation.

I was relieved that he was taking my side, but still….I’ve known many such people in my life so his description could have covered many and not just this priest and what he had done. I was still not totally convinced that I had been abused.

I became a SNAP leader, mainly because there was nobody in my area who answered the phone when I needed someone and I didn’t want that to happen to anyone else, and because I was also searching for someone else who understood what had happened to me. I listened to and totally empathized with people who came to my meetings with their stories of childhood abuse. But I still always wondered if it had been something I had done wrong or something inheritantly wrong with me that caused “my” priest to turn on me.

I knew they had to be out there somewhere…..other people who had been abused as adults. I told myself that this priest had an agenda, that he had known from the beginning where his game was headed. I later learned more about narcissistic abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, and priests abusing adult men and women.

Little by little, things began to come together. Attending a SNAP meeting last year, again in Alexandria, I happened to sit next to an adult survivor from California who actually won her case against her abuser. I also met a woman who did a breakout session on adult abuse at the conference. I was also chosen to lead a group of survivors abused as adults at my own breakout session. I met many wonderful people who “got it” and understood that although our stories may differ in details, the overall tales told were those of deliberate abuse….very similar to the head games experienced by those abused as children. Like those children, we too were abused by clergy.

But unlike the children, because we were abused as adults, we, and society, don’t always see it as abuse. It is often seen as consensual and we survivors feel that we are at fault because we were somehow involved with the “untouchables”….those who are above us. Like children of abuse, we too have to grapple with the issues of love versus sin that having the religious/sex line crossed brings about; bringing feelings of self-loathing and unworthiness and PTSD and doubt when attending church functions or seaking solice in prayer.

As our numbers grew, it made sense to get together on a regular basis to share our stories and our mutual support of one another. And so, our monthly virtual meeting for those abused as adults came into being.

There is a sense of healing you get from sharing your story with others and having other people understand that you are a human being and not a label put on you by the judgement of church employees and officials. You are not a sinner because you want love or because you have been hurt in the past and trusted that what a clergy member said was the truth. You are not stupid. We are supposed to be able to trust these people. For Heaven’s sake….who among us has ever taken our pocketbook with us when we go to communion? We leave it at our seats, right? Why? Anyone could walk out with it when left unattended like that. But we are in a church….a place of love and of trust. And so we leave our pocketbook at our seat and we go to communion. And we come back to our seats and the pocketbook is still there. Because when we walk into the house of God, and when we are among those who work for Him, we are supposed to be able to feel safe. And when the priest speaks, we take what he says into our souls, knowing he speaks God’s truth.

Since we have started the monthly video chat for those abused as adults, more and more people have come forward to tell their stories. I still have a very difficult time talking about my story because it is so ingrained in me that you are only a victim if you are beaten and physically held down and raped by a stranger. There is so much we have learned that needs to be unlearned. My abuser played many psychological games with me. He tried to lure me into corners where I would most likely make a move on my part. And as soon as I made a move, he could point out that I was the one at fault, I was unstable and pursuing him. I’ve been told by others how clever his game was. It was so clever, in fact, that I and others I worked with….and the therapist I was sent to….believed that I had been the one to initiate things….and he had simply been “tempted” and did the right thing by turning me in.

And I still feel the shame of not being smarter or stronger.

But that is something we all have in common. Like I said, the details may be different, but the main story is the same…..we were all abused as adults.

And coming together and sharing our stories at the monthly video chat meeting…..knowing we are not alone…..helps tremendously.

If you have been abused as an adult, by a priest or any religious leader or leader of an organization, please go to the SNAP website to see how to join the monthly video meetings.

Don’t Wake Me

It took a long time for me to wake up. Long after my abuse and harassment had ceased, I was still asleep. I still believed it was my fault and that what had happened with Fr. Jade was just the fact that he had feelings for me which he could not deal with. I had an explanation, I thought, for everything. I still missed him. I still thought….maybe if I had done something different, things wouldn’t have turned out this way.

Even after I had joined SNAP (Survivor’s Network for those Abused by Priests), I felt I did not deserve to belong. Even when I was told it was not my fault. It still took time for me to wake up.

First I heard myself saying “It was not my fault”. But I still felt like a hypocrite. He was a good man, after all. And I was told by others that it was my fault. I felt like scum and like I didn’t belong anywhere.

I should have just been obedient and did what I was told and kept quiet. But no, I thought….I couldn’t do that. It was wrong. Slowly I began to stir in my sleep.

And I think about the people who blamed me and I wonder if they too are asleep. It’s so easy and so tempting just to close my eyes and pretend I’m not awake. I wonder if that is what they are doing. Are they just pretending to be asleep, like a toddler at day care?

I was sleeping so peacefully for so many years. I was part of the pack and I didn’t want anything to disturb my rest. I believed the priests and the diocese were good and Godlike. That we were all family. Kumbaya.

That is what you believe when you belong to the church. And if you want to belong and not be labeled a nutcase or an outsider, you keep your eyes closed.

And I have often wondered how much people are actually aware of. How “woke” are most people? I’m guessing not very. Yet, I am always surprised by people who don’t get it. I don’t know why. I was once asleep as they are. Part of me probably always will be.

From the woman in Human Resources who didn’t want to hear anything I had to say and just kept screaming at me as to how could I say these things to a priest (in an email) as he said he has no idea what you are talking about, to the other priest who worked with us who says he never saw or heard anything unusual between Fr. Jade and myself….although I know he heard Fr. Jade scream at me many times, to my co-worker who asked at first why nobody asked her any questions…..and who later said she just wanted to keep her job…..were they asleep or were they lulled into slumber by familiar words of piety and sin….or fear?

People outside of the diocese as well don’t seem to want to wipe the sleep out of their eyes. Even when they know my story. A therapist told me that it was my fault. My mother wants me to give the church their share of money when I am in charge of her will. A good friend said that my priest was a crazy man but surely the exception. They aren’t all like him.

I want to go back to sleep because life was uncomplicated just believing that the church was good and that crazy people possessed by Satan were trying to smear their good name for a few bad apples. We will defend the church. Because the church is God.

ZZZZZZzzzzzzz

This is not about power. The church is not corrupt. A few people are weird and shouldn’t be around kids. The church will take care of that.

I just want to keep my job. I want my bonuses on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I want to go to the Christmas party and win the raffle. I want to do the Lord’s work and help Fr. Jade help our flock.

After all, they cannot be doing God’s work and have evil inside of them. Life doesn’t work that way…..

Like I said, I still feel half asleep and every once in awhile I too need a jolt of caffeine.

I listened to Bishop Scharfenberger talk about how he had a private mass and included priests who had been credibly accused. I heard him say that mass is for “sinners” and even Christ hung on the cross between two sinners. I get taken in. Because I have been conditioned to be taken in for years.

I shake myself awake and realize that they are grooming the public. They are lessening the impact of the credibly accused priests publicly by labeling them “sinners” and “those who have fallen from grace”. He calls for them to come to the mass to be forgiven and to atone for their sins.

And this is what I have been raised with and believed all of my life. Forgiveness. It is right. It is what Christ would do. Really?

Forgiveness for what has been done must come from within a survivor of sexual abuse. And it is only for the purpose of their own healing. It does not absolve anyone or let them….be at peace and go love and serve the Lord.

Because it does not take into account that the only thing these priest are truly sorry for is getting caught. And being absolved and let go by the bishop to go out and sin no more…that is saying that they are truly sorry and have no intention of harming anyone else and are once again on the straight and narrow.

I’m pretty sure that the bishop doesn’t even believe that is possible.

The bishop said he goes to prisons and says mass for thieves and murderers. He also said that 80% of sexual abuse occurs within families and that we just have to kind of live with those people.

One thing, though, that the bishop does not address is how he plans to prevent this from happening to someone else. He talks about sin, money, bankruptcy, selling church property, and his sympathy for survivors….as if he coined that word himself…..but he does not speak about a plan to prevent further abuse.

And those who are still asleep most likely feel that all that can be done is being done. But that is far from the truth.

I figure that the bishop and the pope and many priests have influence and means of keeping people in blissful slumber. And I think that we can keep going around and around the same circle and get pretty much nowhere because we would be wasting energy shooting at windmills while the windmills shot back at us and the villagers remained in slumber.

Unfortunately, “they” as a group have an advantage when it comes to visibility, righteousness, gaining sympathy, seeming in sync with God, etc. So we have our jobs cut out for us when it comes to going up against this giant.

Most people would rather take the easier road and not question anything if it does not involve them. And the church is trying to silence all of our arguments by seeming to look like they are cooperating….therefore making any complaints fall on the deaf ears of the sleeping.

But they don’t have control over everything. And I think even they know this. Don’t despair. One of the things the bishop did was he added the term “harassment” and “adults” not “vulnerable adults” to his statement. A small but significant change.

I believe that things are changing slowly. But they are changing. I think we are beginning to wake up and come together.

And I think we are beginning to wake the world.

When all your dreams hit a wall…..

When I was a child, I grew up knowing that someday my prince would come. And when that day happened, I would then go on to live the life my mother was living, as her mother had done before her. So I grew up with that internalized view of my future. One day, a man will come along. He will fall in love with my beauty and my good heart and he will pull me onto his white horse and we will live together forever and have a lovely family with….I wanted five…five children….because you see I planned to be a housewife and full time mother so I could have five children with no problem. And we would all live happily ever after.

But then I began to grow up and as I waited for love to arrive, I found that somehow the universe had not gotten the message, for instead of a prince on a white horse, frogs began to show up at my door. But then I remembered….kiss a frog and he may turn into a prince. So I kissed many frogs looking for one to turn into a prince. You might say that I adapted. I was still looking for a partner to ride into the sunset with. Perhaps I just needed to stop looking for the horse to arrive to carry me away and just hop on the back on the frog and hop slowly into the dusk.

Perhaps with all of the love I had to give, my frog would be a wonderful partner. I would support my frog emotionally and he would take care of our family, just as my parents said he should. I would stay home and raise our five tadpoles. But then one child came along, and then two. And I realized that I would never be able to afford to stay home with them. Once again, I adapted. I did not have five children. I had two children. Life had thrown up a wall through which I could not pass.

I had also planned to be a loving aunt to my brother’s children. And for his first child, I was that….for seven years. And at that point, her mom got remarried and her new husband wanted to adopt my niece. So the little girl I loved was taken away forever. Then my brother had a son. I saw him a couple of times when he was a baby. Then he too was taken away by his mom and never seen again. More impassible walls. More changes to the plan. More adapting.

I had planned on being there for my sons’ weddings. That never happened as well. One son has never married and the other ran away and eloped when he was 18. The one who has never married has had two children with two different women. Like my niece and nephew with my brother, they too were swept into the families of their mother’s new husband….and turned against our family. Despite going to court to see my grand-daughter, I ended up having awkward breakfasts with her and her mother, hearing her mom declare that the child belonged to her and fearing saying anything because I wanted to see my grand-daughter.

My marriage broke up many years ago. Sometimes love just ain’t enough. When you find that you aren’t working together towards the same goal, it makes working on the relationship that much harder to do. So I ended up sometimes working two jobs to make ends meet and living alone….something I never saw coming in my life.

So after 35 years of working, now divorced and seeing my children living their own lives of dysfunction, I thought things were really turning around after I retired and got a great part-time job at the diocese to supplement my income. Nothing felt so sure, so very secure, as did working for the church. But once again, my life did not go as planned. I hit another brick wall when I was fired….betrayed….by a priest who set me up and then stood back to watch my fall. Who would’ve thought that a priest could be so very deliberately evil?

I guess I am naïve, thinking that life was going to easily fall into place and that all I had to do was to be a good person and not cause anyone any problems and just do what I was supposed to do and be kind and loving. But life has had other plans for me. And spiritually, I believe that I’ve come to this point for whatever reason that I was supposed to be here. After the tears have passed, I have accepted the walls I could not pass and adapted and went in another direction. I have accepted help when I needed it but I stopped looking for someone else to save me and to put me on their horse. I have kept my heart open but have stopped expecting others to be good to me simply because it is the right thing to do to be nice.

But having walked a road less paved, I like to believe I have gained a better insight into what it feels like to hurt and to suffer loss and to keep going. I know that I have developed a strength that I would not have otherwise obtained had the road been easier. I have also, I believe, gained knowledge. I would like to go back and to tell that little girl who believed that her life would begin when someone else came along not to wait and to not put her happiness in the control of others. I would have told her not to keep pushing so hard against the walls in her path because those are the things in life that you cannot change, so to try to change them is a waste of time and energy.

I would have told her that she would have to keep creating new paths throughout her life and that she would have to keep going despite her fears. I would tell her she would need to be strong.

Because she would need to learn to slay her own dragons.