We Are Family

Have you ever had someone betray you? Of course you have, or you most likely would not be reading this. But there are certain relationships that we go back to, even when we have been hurt or betrayed. People who we have bonded with and who we love. That would be family.

Despite heated Thanksgiving battles, on-going 50-year old annoyances, sibling torture and the contempt that comes from familiarity, families for the most part, remain intact and can count on each other.

So what makes a family dysfunctional to the point of destruction….either destroying each other or shattering the bond that holds them together?

I guess we would first have to determine what was normal behavior in a family. I mentioned remaining intact and being there for each other. I would also say that normal family behavior would mean that the members of the family complete school and go on to be productive and independent. The family would produce people with good self esteem and good mental health….although mental health issues can be hereditary. People who socialize, and use their education and talents for good, people who are not afraid to love and form relationships, people who are assertive and people who respect themselves and others. People who have boundaries and sound judgment. Those people would most likely succeed in this world and parent successful children as well.

I knew something was not right with my family but I didn’t have the experience or the comparison to understand what it was. Everything functioned as it should. Physically not a speck was out of place. Nobody was beating anyone and bills were paid. Yet, something was not right. I remember not being able to wait until I was able to leave home. I felt that by getting away from whatever it was that was creating stress, life would be better. It was not. I just stepped from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Before I left, though, I was witness to my brother getting his high school girlfriend pregnant, crashing his car into a tree while drinking when they had a fight, being discovered making out with my friend, then getting married and having parties with his friends while taking care of the baby.

I don’t think I even thought of those things as being different. That wouldn’t come until I was a little older and I had my own marital issues and I saw my brother still living to excess and losing not one but two children because his ex’s got married and things became even more difficult. It was a case of control on one side and a lack of control on my brother’s side. It was easy to take the kids away from him. Nobody fought back. And being on his side and trying to defend his actions was difficult.

History repeated itself last week when my oldest son, who works odd hours and drinks a little too much and has never been married, lost his two children….my grandchildren…both adults. It was the same story as my brother, except that my son never stopped child support payments, turned over his yearly bonus check to the mother’s of his children, and had occasional contact with the kids. He never took anyone to court for set visitation and I have to say that the mothers and their new husbands jumped on that and now the kids who are grown, cut off all contact with us.

Having lived through my brother going through this and now my son, and me having gone to court for grandparent rights and trying to keep my son’s half sibling children together, and having my grandson give very little or no warning that he was just going to stop responding to my emails or phone calls and that one day the “Love you Gram” or “Merry Christmas Gram” would just end without explanation…..I never saw it coming. None of us did. My grandkids have basically ghosted us.

This kind of stuff happens. I feel worse for both of my sons than anything else. I can’t tell my son who is hurting “I told you so” because he refused to do anything about visitation. And my younger son is hurting because he did absolutely nothing wrong and is just collateral damage….like I was with my brother.

So why does this keep happening to our family? Why does it seem like I am connected to this dysfunction? What causes such familial betrayal?

What I have seen in common is alcohol consumption, controlling or verbally abusive fathers, enabling mothers (that’s me too), having children too early, and being victimized by controlling bullies while doing nothing to fight back legally.

I know you’re thinking I’m biased, but I heard my niece say that she was not allowed to talk about her daddy or she would pay for it. And I saw my son’s ex-girlfriends either threaten to beat up the new girlfriend or my grandson at the age of 4 repeating such sentiments, and I went to breakfast with the other mom and my grand-daughter while the woman told me that the child belonged to her.

I want to say at this point that for myself, I am somewhat okay for the most part. Not really, but I am at peace with letting these people go. Why? When I look back over the years, I ended up in the position of trying to help people and losing people. With my kids and my grandkids, I tried my best. I babysat, gave furniture and diapers and rides to and from and kindness and tumbling lessons and I pleaded to be able to spend time with them….and this is the result of all of that. And I’m done. And that is not a bad thing. Because in order to get a crumb I would have to have to beg and plead and hit a brick wall. And family or not, when it comes to that with anyone, it is time to let go and take care of yourself.

I’ve heard from others on here who have been the children in these situations and have had to go to years of therapy to deprogram. I don’t understand parents who can take money in child support and deliberately turn the child away from an entire family. And I don’t care to understand them.

I have spoken to people who have been in abusive relationships and there seems to be a connection between abuse between partners and abuse of the parent who was abused by the children of that couple. I ran into a cousin from another state on Ancestry and when she found out that I work with SNAP, she began to tell me about her abusive relationship with her ex-husband and how her teenage son had hit her. My older son with these two adult children highly identifies with his dad, my ex.

The thing is….no matter how we got here….we are now here. And my feeling is that I don’t want a person in my life who is going to play hurtful games or bring a load of negative energy with them. As much as I know there will be things that I will miss out on….I would rather have these people out of my view and my life. I am sick and I am tired and I don’t want to try so hard anymore for happiness. I will, however, always have an open door and an open heart if they decide to walk back into my life. But I will also not hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

I was reading something today that said….people say that love hurts. But love never hurts. Rejection hurts. Loneliness hurts. Betrayal hurts. But real love never hurts. Love when it is real is what heals us.

I know there are many people who feel that their family has hurt them. And there are many people who feel lonely and unable to connect with others. Some people are afraid of ending up alone. Some people hang on to bad relationships because it is less scary than the thought of being alone.

Since my days with the priest, and my subsequent learning about narcissists and their victims and gaslighting and abuse of power and such, I have taken to the belief that people who are simply unpleasant and mean to others without concern or empathy have narcissistic tendencies. I am not one that is able to diagnose anyone, but I can fling an imaginary water balloon at difficult people and upon exploding, the person would be covered, not in water, but in the words….”You have narcissistic tendencies”. I find it helpful. Makes the world make more sense. They are crazy, not me. lol

It explains a lot to me that I cannot otherwise explain. It helps me to know what I am dealing with. I can look back at my life and tell myself that I have been existing in a world where I was gaslighted into believing that narcissistic behavior was normal. I’ve been trying to please and placate people walking around with giant “N’s” on their foreheads. It’s helpful in that I now realize that I have a choice between being pulled into their drama or taking care of myself. That’s a huge step for all of us.

Remember….real love does not hurt….it heals.

Be careful out there. Take this week’s survey if you get the chance. And this week we will have a bonus blog. One of our readers has submitted a contribution. That will be posted later on in the week. Look for that. Peace to all.

Little Boxes

Lent will be upon us soon. Holy days bring with them many memories and feelings. I was abused as an adult as many of us were, so I was able to keep the fairy tale of a holy institution of a church and infallible people living in human form until I was much older.

Church was always a comfort and a constant in an uncertain and ever-changing world. It was something done as a family once a week. Going to mass was always in there at Christmas…should we go before or after we opened our gifts?

Then school began and we as five year-olds learned religion. Not about “religions” and that some people had different beliefs….just “religion” …. the Catholic kind….the only kind that I knew existed. We were taught about God and the bible and Jesus and we drew pictures and we learned what was considered good and bad and how to please Jesus, but mainly how to say the right things to please the nuns who were our teachers and our parents who were paying for our education.

There was already a pack mentality. You lived in the box if you wanted to fit in. And what kid doesn’t want to fit in? I mean, the biggest fear when you are a kid is losing your parents or your sense of security and belonging. So you are going to do what you are asked and you are going to please. And kids don’t always know what religion means. We had rules, you know? No meat on Fridays. So one Friday when I brought in a cheese sandwich, one of my classmates got an attitude. She told me I could not eat that cheese sandwich because “cheese comes from mice and mice are meat”.

So we as kids understood that school and the nuns and church and the priests were kind of an extension of our parents. We had to confess the things we did at home at church if we knew it would not please Jesus because we knew it would please the priest and all of the grown-ups to do that. We knew that if we did anything morally questionable at school, our parents would hear about it and we would be in trouble. The religious people at school, like our parents, were able to lecture us and punish us as needed.

One time in the sixth grade, the boys in the class got to form a football team after school. One of the girls, a friend of mine and an independent thinker ahead of her time, asked one of the teachers at gym if the girls in the class could do cheerleader practice after school to be able to cheer at the boys’ games and practices. No uniforms. Just us in our after school jeans and our tiny 6th grade breasts covered in layers of shirts and sweaters and such. Nothing resembling the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders….just us girls wanting to have our own activity.

But it had to go through the principal and the principal would not hear of it. I don’t know why, but the answer was no. So my friend felt this was unfair. She wrote a letter to the principal, a huge elderly nun with thick glasses and a prominent nose, to tell her that she didn’t think it was fair. After all, it was after school hours and everything. My friend passed the letter around and had all of us girls sign it. Well, signing that letter turned out to be the moral equivalent of taking the side of the pope over the king of England in the mid 1500’s. There was outrage from the main office and we were all called in one by one and interrogated as to whether we were aware of what we were signing and if we knew how very wrong it was to speak back to the principal once a decision was made. Highly disrespectful.

And of course under interrogation, all of us good Catholic girls who said we would die for Jesus rather than deny Him, lied and said we had not read the letter before we had signed it. In essence, we were moral weaklings who threw our friend under the bus. And I for one, was rewarded for doing that. My teacher said she knew I would never have signed the letter because I was such a good person. I never told her the truth. I wanted her to think I was a good person. Good or not, we were all punished. We had to stay after everyone was let out at noon for a holiday. We stayed a full day and could not leave until we memorized whatever was given to us.

Would that happen these days? I don’t know. These days the school may be charged with discrimination for not allowing the girls to have their request. In fact, having an all male football team may come into question as well. That is what my friend really wanted to do. She wanted to play football. Cheerleading was the best thing a girl could hope for at the time.

Thing is, we had attempted to set foot out of the box we didn’t know we lived in and we were punished for doing so. Rules were rules. And ultimately, the fear of leaving the safety of the box kept us from venturing too far. I think this is something to which many people can relate.

Another way church was mixed with family was that one of the priests from church would stop by and visit my grandmother once a week. I never questioned that. It was just the priest’s job to check in on shut in’s and bring them communion and make sure they were okay spiritually. And that is how I saw things from my time living in the box when I questioned nothing. Now I look at that differently. Exactly how much was my grandmother contributing to the church for this visit? Was this priest left in her will when she passed away? These are questions that I sadly ask myself now.

Someone mentioned in a comment how wonderful the good old days were. They said men were men and women were women and they each knew their roles in life. Life was simple. And women going to work was the beginning of the end of that.

Although it sounds like a quaint old fashioned opinion, I could relate to that. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and for the most part, moms were at home and people didn’t get divorced and our neighborhood was completely white and life was pretty much mapped out for everyone. Life felt safe and predictable and you learned not to step outside of the box or question anything.

But life did change. And it didn’t go as planned. And all of a sudden, women were supposed to go back to work after having children. And it was not what I had planned or I had wanted. It felt unnatural to me to leave my babies. But I had already begun to leave the box. I had been pregnant before I got married. And I hid it as carefully as possible, gaining 13 pounds by the time I had my first baby….totally afraid to gain weight so people would see and being fed by my mom, who til this day thinks the best way to eat candy is to chew it and spit it out so you get the taste but not the calories.

Today when I look back at the good old days, I realize that I was privileged and I didn’t realize it. Until I myself broke a rule and lived outside of the box for the first time, I never realized what it was like for anyone else who lived in this world who did not have a complete family or a mom who didn’t have to work or a home and food and I never worried about my parents not being responsible for taking care of things or having them abandon me or the church not being there for us.

I fit within the box. I ticked off all of the boxes. I was a white female who did not question authority, I was attracted to the opposite sex, I did pretty well in school, my ambition was to work in a female-dominated profession as a secretary to continue to serve the male -dominated sector in the boss department until I married and had children. My culture blended in nicely with the neighbors. In fact, the biggest culture “shock” in my young life was when we had Italian neighbors move in and the husband was from Italy. He had a heavy accent and cooked heavenly Italian food and he became my dad’s best friend for life. But that was not venturing outside of the box. They went to our church. They had the same beliefs.

I am not sure whether it would be harder for someone to venture into the box that we had back then, or to try to leave the box. But sooner or later, both things began to change. My mom’s neighborhood where I grew up is now more diversified. Many people are non-Catholic. There are people from different cultures and races. There are gay couples buying houses together and unmarried people living together. Even people who don’t have any children live on the street now.

But for me, as someone who grew up within the box with its rules and its limits and its invisible cloak of control as we were all molded to be one and the same, going past its limits and even beginning to see the truth of the box’s existence has always been uncomfortable. And yet, in having to grow outside of the box and away from the realms of other’s approval, I have grown in a way that I never would have otherwise.

I have seen truths that I don’t believe I ever would have seen in the comfort of conformity. I feel I have learned more outside of the box on my own and have searched for more answers myself than when I would have living in the safety of knowing only what others told me I needed to believe.

The truth is oftentimes not very pretty. There is power and prejudice and fear and hatred….and coverups. And it can feel so overwhelming to be able to now see the giants and monsters who only once existed in the books you mother read to you and to feel powerless.

I can tell you what helps me and what I turn to now for comfort and guidance. I no longer feel the need for someone outside of myself to tell me what I need to be doing. I look inside. I meditate. I shut off for awhile. I go within. I still believe in the basic message but not the church. I may still give something up for Lent not because the church says I must but because I eat too much chocolate and I drink too much soda and I have not been motivated to do a lot because I am home with no place to go so my body needs respect. I am the spirit and I am my church. And I still believe in guides and guardian angels. I just have a hard time linking that up with a building that is built with the money of the people that it destroys. Or listening to the words of someone who may be getting away with criminal acts.

Have a good week. Have a safe week. Take this week’s poll. Remember that the meeting for those abused over the age of 18 meets weekly on Sunday evenings.

Also, just a bit of trivia for you. Last year, this blog reached people in 43 countries. Not only the blog, but your comments are being read around the world. To think I used to want to write sermons. Sending good thoughts to everyone.

After the Storm

Ag

The following is an excerpt from an email sent to me from a survivor. I am sharing with permission but will not use their name.

It’s ok to feel what you feel at any given moment. Feelings are not wrong or right. They are our truth at the time. 
 
My emotions still vacillate between the powerful feelings that had me euphoric and feeling he was my “soul mate” alternating with “f**k you!” or “f**ker!” It caused massive confusion. 
Love has no confusion. It’s taken me a long time to realize any niceness displayed was all a part of the abuser’s tactics. In other words he is either nice manifesting wounded parts or an abuser who isn’t nice at all because it was false and a facade used to groom and manipulate!
Now when I think of him I feel an aversion. I focused too much on what he projected that I needed so much of in me. Now I focus on the truth; he was a manipulative con man who exploited everyone even the church for his end. 
Asshole is how I feel today. That’s healing. But I can still have compassion to override my feelings. Again, it’s the nurse in me who could overlook the behaviors of suffering people who could act in ways they might not ordinarily out of fear and pain. 
So you are right where you need to be. Give the compassion first to yourself. That is what I am doing. It is better balanced that way!

Feelings are so tough when you have been taught that it’s not polite to feel them or to show them. I was given a book when I was around ten years old that stated it was a sin even to think anything if it was not considered “holy”.

I mentioned before the confusion of my teen years when it came to sex. There was drinking involved and making out….but very little in the way of expressing feelings or limit setting….or the knowledge of how to do that. And it was not just teen years. I still to this day struggle with the same things.

Recently I told someone that my love life has been a series of disasters And that made me sad. Until I realized that I had walked away from those disasters. They were now in my past. But what happened with my boss….the priest….was like disaster on steroids. It set me back. Back to not acknowledging anything sinful. Back to difficulty in communication. Back to losing my limits. Back to handing over my control to someone else.

It was a pinnacle that stands out in my head as the abuse that puts the icing on the cake of all other abuses suffered. The priest showed me my vulnerabilities. He became a reflection of myself. He saw what I needed and he became that until he had me where I felt that we were soul mates of sorts. I can’t say that I felt that I really loved him, but I felt responsible for his feelings for me. I felt guilty for enjoying his kindness and for feeling safe and special. I felt our relationship was God’s will. I had made a priest have feelings for me. I was responsible. And then if I made him angry, I felt responsible for that as well.

Whatever had been learned in prior relationships was gone. I had no walls and I was confused and my emotions went from tenderness to disgust….from a feeling of being on a pedestal to being crushed under his foot. I felt many of the feelings my letter writer above felt.

I read recently that Narcissistic abusers look for people who are weak in some way. Most often, they will look for someone suffering from, or recovering from trauma or mental illness or past abuse. That is disgusting. It really is. For a person posing as someone who is a safe harbor, a comforter, or a spiritual guide, to listen as someone lays out everything before them with deep trust and devotion, and to see that as an opportunity to use that knowledge and trust to destroy a person….

To be abused is emotionally horrific. It is emotionally horrific because you are betrayed by someone you trusted. Sometimes you are abused after the abuse by people who don’t understand or who try to cover up the abuse. You feel that you have betrayed yourself. You feel stupid and like you can’t trust yourself and your judgement.

I described this to someone recently as peeling the onion. Not original but we were discussing how long it would take to “get back to normal”. I don’t think that “normal” meant resetting time and going back to how things were. Because there are things you just can’t unsee. And because you have changed inside.

It took me over six months. Six months. Before I realized that my abuser didn’t have feelings for me. You know why? Well, he told me that I had a difficult time seeing the bad in other people. He liked that about me. You see, we tend to project our own feelings unto others. Because I would not see a vulnerable person and think of using their pain to my benefit….I could not understand why someone else would. I’m not just talking about me….most survivors have this trait. We don’t see the wolf under the sheep’s clothing. We simply cannot understand the wolf and his/her nature.

That was a huge revelation for me. To actually understand that he was not a nice person. That there were no excuses for his behavior. That the truth was he saw me as someone he could toy with for his amusement and he didn’t care what the outcome would do to me personally.

A survivor I know once said that if only an abuser could attend one of our meetings. If only they could sit there and listen to what happens to people after the fact. The pain and the destruction they have caused people. Maybe then they would understand what they have done.

Those are the words of a good caring person who doesn’t understand the true nature of the wolf. The wolf does not care. Never did. Never will. The wolf never was a good person and will never be a good person.

Okay are there exceptions? One survivor said that they actually sat down with their abuser years later after their abuser had quit drinking. They found the person to be quite different when they were sober. Not knowing myself what triggers an abuser to want to abuse, I don’t know what would motivate them to stop abusing. I know that alcohol can open the gates of rage and distort personalities so stopping drinking can surely stop some behaviors. But I am no expert at judging that. The meeting did help this particular survivor with their healing so I am happy for them.

But for me, as much as it hurt to know that this priest was not looking for a soul mate or that he did not care about me a bit, it has also shown a light onto other areas of my life.

Abusers prey on vulnerabilities. Even some you may not know you have or that you may consider vulnerabilities. We ask ourselves…how can we trust our judgement and our feelings? How do we know when someone truly loves us? Because the perpetrator knows so well how to mimic love. And they are so good at mimicking what we perceive as love. They seem to know exactly what we are looking for and they become that.

Are you consciously or unconsciously looking for someone who will save you? Are you afraid to be alone? Do you need other people’s approval? Do you feel that you have to have a romantic partner in your life? Are you afraid of rejection? Are you shy? Are you agoraphobic? Do you have difficulty expressing yourself with other people? Do you lack boundaries? Do you have low self-esteem? Do you feel socially awkward? Do you need love from others?

The unfortunate truth is…people can feel that. And people who are looking to use, bully, and destroy other people, will be attracted to those qualities. Sucks, doesn’t it?

The survivor I quoted above states that they were focusing too much on what the abuser was projecting….that which they needed so much from themselves.

Healing is both confusing and painful. It’s scary to think you are alone in this world and that nobody is going to come and save you. And that if you look for a savior, you may find someone who wants to control your life in return. And if you look for love, you may end up being used by someone who knows how to mimic love to get what they want from you.

Knowledge can be painful and confusing. But it can also be the beginning of freedom.

Our survivor has found the truth. He was a manipulative con man. She now calls him “asshole” when she thinks of him. And that is healing, she says.

I believe that to be true. Anger is one of the stages of grief. You need to go through anger in order to heal. Funny how the church wants us to gloss over that and just be forgiving. Anger is a feeling. It’s a righteous feeling when you realize you have been deceived.

If anger is not felt and directed outward, it gets repressed and goes inward, causing depression and anxiety and illness.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be in a state of perpetual anger. That isn’t healthy either. But anger is important. I don’t know that you can develop any kind of boundaries without it. At some point, even with people you love, you have to know what behavior may be toxic or unacceptable and refuse to be a punching bag for someone else.

Our survivor ends her statement with wise advice. Give the compassion first to yourself.

Have a good week. Stay well. Be good to yourself.

Dust in the Wind

I couldn’t sleep. I tried to meditate. I couldn’t get my thoughts to stop racing. Then I thought…one day nothing will matter. None of this. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go.

But I could not. I thought about how I could die at any moment and I would own nothing, I would have no bills…no debt…..I would be a spirit. Just dust in the wind.

Well, that still didn’t work. Just made me think about more stuff to worry about.

One of the things on my mind was a meeting I attended tonight. It was the Abused as Adults SNAP meeting. And it made me think about how we all share similar experiences. But that doesn’t mean that we are all alike.

We get into habits. Sometimes it seems silly to go over the meeting rules when people have heard them a million times. But then we forget that some people have not heard them. And it is for that reason, and because we are all at different stages of our recovery, that the rules are needed.

I had a glitch in sending out the invitation to the meeting this week and it went out to everyone so I got a lot of responses from people I will call “new people”. Everyone requesting access and me going through the usual “you do understand what this meeting is about…for those abused at the age of 18 and over?” Because many times people don’t get that right off the bat. And I get that. Because we are adults and we have all been abused. And SNAP for many years was about the children who had been abused who are now adults. Many people….SNAP members included, did not know that adult abuse was a thing. I didn’t know.

So there were new people at the meeting tonight. For some, it was their first meeting. Sometimes people come in late…that is okay. But if you do come in late, and someone is talking, please hold off on your questions until after they are done talking or enter a message on the side and someone will answer that way.

Usually there are two parts to a meeting, the first part allows everyone about ten minutes to tell their story and why they are there, or how their week went, how they are feeling today, or how something affected them. When that person is done speaking, the moderator usually thanks them and then there is silence until someone else chooses to speak. And so on until everyone who wants to speak has the chance to do so. But, group members are free to come and go as they’d like to take a break or a breather or to let their dogs out….as I do….and they are also free to remain quiet and to just listen. Because, again, we are all at different stages of recovery.

One thing that newer people tend to do….and I’ve done it myself….is ask for advice from anyone who will help them. We don’t do that. And there is a reason for that. Because we have all had similar experiences, but we are all different and are at different stages in our recovery. So instead of giving advice or asking for advice, we listen to the stories of others. This isn’t an easy thing to do when your emotions are screaming inside of your head and the pain is brand new and you just want answers…..but like many recovery programs…..this is the format and it is in place because it works best.

What tends to happen when someone asks for advice is that for one thing, it throws off the balance of the meeting. When someone speaks and ends with….so I don’t know what to do, can someone help me…..there is no “end” to their story. No “end” to their time. And without an end to their time, there is no beginning to someone else’s time. It’s hard. I get it. But we learn by listening. And we gift others by allowing them the time to tell their story. And allowing everyone to focus on what they are saying. We respect everyone and allow everyone a chance to speak….uninterrupted….without comments or questions.

People tend to want to have the answers. I was talking to a friend of mine earlier before the meeting and I told her about something I was thinking about in regard to getting back in touch with the bishop and something I wanted to request. Her response to me was “Oh, you don’t want to do that” and “Oh, they will never do that”. And I never even thought about her giving me advice because I have known her for years and she was just trying to help. But you can’t help that way. Even with people in our own families, it isn’t effective to give advice.

Another thing that is discouraged is asking for more information from someone who is speaking. While encouragement is always welcome, asking for more information by sending messages to the person while they are talking can be distracting to the person who is speaking and to everyone else who is listening.

Sometimes people shy away from saying anything because they are afraid it will be seen as giving advice. Something similar happened at the meeting tonight where a new person asked how to handle contact with their abuser. This is tough. Many of us know or remember how that feels. Are we supposed to forgive? Be friends? Be friends with other people in the congregation? Pretend nothing happened? Maybe just a little contact? Just as a friend, you know?

Many of us have been there in that person’s shoes. We all know that it takes time. We all know how painful the initial stages of recovery and loss can be. The confusion. The trying to figure out if the abuser is a good person or a bad person. The needing contact. The need for the initial love bombing after we have been discarded. The denial.

We want to help, right? The thing is….when we were at that point, it was so emotional, advice would not have stuck. The person will think we don’t understand how they feel. They have to feel and they have to heal….at their own pace. In that case, it is best to share what helped you and how hard it was for you. We may think we know how they are feeling. But it’s going to take time. And again, we all have been through similar experiences, but nobody is exactly like someone else.

Another big issue is religion. We all have different feelings about that subject. I find that often….especially in the beginning when people are struggling to comprehend the horror and confusion…..people tend to throw in a lot about God and “bless you” and God’s will and although it is not meant to be so….it can come across as preaching. I think this tends to be especially true when people are trying to still have faith and still want to belong and so they are saying the words that they have learned that all “good people” say.

People tend to get overly concerned about people’s faith or lack of. And that is a very personal issue. When you have had a traumatic event happen where what has always been perceived to be good and right gets flipped, it’s like we just don’t know what to do about Jesus anymore. Because the abuse screws that up for you. If they are lying and hurting people and covering things up….what else have they told us that isn’t true?

Be obedient. Don’t fight back. Turn the other cheek. Allow. Praise those who are divine and whose hands touch the sacred host. Forgive. He who without sin….

Does it make me a bad person to not trust anything that I have been told? To question everything? To not want anyone else to be in charge of my spiritual care? To not want a sexual deviant baptize my children or be a vice principal at the high school?

Okay, I digress. Some things trigger me more than others. My point is I have my feelings and other people have theirs. I will not talk anyone out of going to church and continuing their life as a practicing Catholic. There was a time when it brought me comfort to have the familiarity and the feeling of being safe when walking into the church.

I can say how I feel. My feelings. But I cannot tell someone how they should be feeling. In the same vein, those who attend support meetings need to know that religion is a very sensitive subject to most attendees. It’s okay to express your beliefs but more helpful to everyone if it is kept within the context of how your abuse affected or did not affect those beliefs….in other words….keep it personal and keep it within your own story.

To sum things up, what is most important when attending any SNAP meeting is respect of other’s boundaries. Keep things about your story and your recovery, stay away from giving advice. Think of it as if you were attending an AA meeting. The stories are confidential. We welcome and respect everyone whether it’s been ten years since the abuse or ten days. We welcome you if you’ve fallen off the wagon and you still have feelings for your abuser. That, you may find out…may be a shared experience that someone else understands.

It’s okay to recommend a book that has helped you or to share a link to a story that may interest people…..or the name of a good lawyer who helped you….or the name of your abuser if that helps you.

But remember that these meetings are for recovery. And that means everyone’s recovery. And everyone is at different stages of that recovery. Please respect that. Please turn off your microphones when not speaking. Please do not interrupt others. Please listen actively without asking for further information, and when speaking, please talk about yourself and how things have affected you.

We are all in this together and yet we are all fighting our own personal battles. No one knows what is best for someone else. Sometimes it may feel like we are accomplishing nothing. It may feel like while we are talking about our trauma, “they” are out there getting away with it. But I believe that every action and intention has a ripple affect in the world.

I can promise you that “they” don’t like the fact that we are getting together to talk about “them” or that we are recovering and getting stronger all the time. And I’m sure they don’t like blogs that talk about talking about recovery and strength. They want us alone and scared and intimidated and ashamed in a corner somewhere. Nameless and blaming ourselves.

But we aren’t going to scatter and disappear like dust in the wind. We are here and we are learning and gaining understanding and growing stronger together and within ourselves.

A Change is Gonna Come

I had a thought tonight. You know how a woman can go years being “the other woman”, hanging on to the belief that one day her beloved will leave his wife with whom he says he is miserable? Woman have been known to wait until their childbearing years are over, passing up more available men, spending holidays alone, living in an altered state brought about by a promise from someone who made them feel special?

We don’t tend to have much sympathy for the other woman, do we? After all, she didn’t seem to care if the man’s wife or kids got hurt, did she? What did she expect? We tend to think of “the other woman” as a “painted woman”….a woman of loose morals. someone younger, prettier than the wife. While that is sometimes true, it’s not always true.

She hears her lover talk about his marital problems and assumes that he is cheating because he has a valid reason. Obviously his wife is a shrew. The wife on the other hand, should she find out what is going on, would blame the mistress for being a temptress.

In our society, people tend to blame the woman. What if the woman were to cheat? People would still tend to blame the woman.

I don’t know why that is. I know that woman tend to be blamed for their sexuality whereas men tend to be forgiven for almost anything. Woman have been killed for being the victim of rape. Sexually active woman seem to lose their value when it comes to marriage, politics, or the title of Miss America.

So I was wondering, what if a woman who felt she was mislead by a promise that was never to be….was able to take her married lover to court and sue him for breach of promise?

Don’t know that it’s been done. Not saying it should be. Not saying it shouldn’t be. I do know that if a woman tried to do this, it would probably be a he said/she said type of thing and if she was able to retain a lawyer, she would have to be prepared to be judged heavily. People would say she shouldn’t have gotten involved with a married man. They would automatically assume she was not a nice person. They would say she should have known better.

Does it sound ridiculous? What if the man, instead of being married, had been a priest? Priests have been known to leave the priesthood and get married. I have read somewhere that ex-priests make good husbands because they most likely are spiritual and loving. I’m talking about good priests who exist who don’t play games and abuse their power. But what about the woman who has given up 30 years of her life faithfully attached to a priest who has no intention of giving up what he has or being faithful in return?

Do we laugh at her behind her back and ask ourselves how stupid could she be? Do we call her delusional? A temptress in pursuit of a conquest who ended up being played? She should have known better? Too bad?

At what point in our lives is it okay for someone to deliberately scam us? I know it’s not okay if you are a senior citizen and someone takes your money to pave your driveway and disappears. That’s not okay. I know that if we are under the age of 18, we are given a pass for being trusting and there are legal penalties and protections in place. But once you turn 18 and you step out into the world, you are supposed to “know better”. And that term can come back to haunt you.

Someone said to me that women used to be expected to not be a sexual being until their wedding night. And then they were expected to be sexual upon demand from their husbands. They may never know anything about sex other than what happens within the marriage. I’m just going to say here that unless there is some good communication going on, someone could go their entire life not knowing that there was anything other than what they experienced.

I’m not encouraging promiscuity. That teaches little about relationships and closeness and love. But I am saying that we are just beginning to tip the scale a bit when it comes to women’s rights and entitlement and respect. And I’m saying that there needs to be something in between being prized for your virginity to an extreme and being shamed by men who get stuck in adolescence who use use the threat of Hell in order to take away your control of your own body because you are an adult sexual being. To use your sexuality and then to make you ashamed of it.

It reminds me of the priest in high school who agreed that I had pushed my ex-boyfriend into beating me because I had led him on. And I had led him on because we were a couple and we did make out and we were “going steady” and he was insecure and felt that he owned me and so he was within his rights to punch me in the head when I said I didn’t want to marry him as soon as we graduated.

Because the concept of “owning” someone is a dangerous concept that society, love songs, and the church have encouraged.

It’s true. Women have never held much power in the church. We have been valued for our compliance and obedience. And those rules have kept women quiet and ashamed of feeling anything. And it has allowed priests the luxury of labeling us and leaving them blameless.

And I have known women who have stayed faithful to priests, feeling it was both right and wrong at the same time. Not knowing what to think of themselves but trusting that God meant for this to happen because this is what they were told….or that they needed to be a good obedient woman. And they believed.

And then they were told that they were wrong and that they should have known better. And everyone agreed because they also believed and trusted the priest.

And the woman felt worthless and stupid and lower than dirt and she wanted to die. But she was over 18 and she was of sound mind and not a law in the land was there to protect her.

She could not sue for loss of time or child support or broken promises or coercive control because it was said that nobody else had ever come forward and made a complaint. And so she retreated to the shadows and remained silent.

And waited for the day when more women would see the truth for what it was and came forward to speak that truth. And for the day when women no longer feared being seen as sexual beings and embracing that without also fearing that they would be seen as less worthy for doing so.

Just Not True

I want to talk about those people…..you know who they are…..those people who were our friends. The huggers. The people in the choir who we socialized with. The neighbors. The co-workers. spiritual supporters, family members and fellow church goers.

The people who suddenly seemed to turn against us.

As a survivor of a deliberate game of abuse, when you exit beaten down, emotionally crushed, confused, self-destructive, and dazed, it is not uncommon to find that people who were once close will begin to distance themselves from you. And if you are lucky, that is all they will do.

Many survivors find they are no longer welcome in what used to be sources of refuge and comfort. I spoke to a mother of a survivor this past week. Her son was abused as an adult while in seminary. After he went public with his accusations, she was no longer welcome in church. In fact, she was told to “get the F— out of here!”

Ah, yes….the righteous anger of the congregation. Nobody wants to be separated from the group and perhaps not be invited to brunch after church, so group mentality is the order of the day. Gossip. Condemnation. Hipocrisy.

But for this woman and her family, it did not stop there. The harassment from the church and its members got so bad, she and her family eventually moved to another state.

For another person who reached out for comfort to a kind clergy member when her daughter was sick in the hospital and ended up having that need and her trust shattered by a priest who took advantage of those emotions, this now very emotionally vulnerable woman sees people cross the street to avoid her and she feels ostracized by her church.

Another person I spoke with had been sexually assaulted while in seminary by someone who he thought was a friend and fellow seminarian. The two friends went out for dinner and drinks and to a movie together and then returned to the friend’s room where the rape took place. When this gentleman began to speak out about the assault that took place and how it affected his future spiritual path, the only thing that was focused upon was the fact that he happened to be gay. Therefore, how was it possible for a gay man to be raped?

The two had gone out together…essentially a date it was said….and he had been drinking and did go back to the friend’s room. What did he expect after all? He was asked if he had been attracted to his friend at all. What vibes was he putting out? What was he wearing? How much did he have to drink?

Wow. So it’s not rape if you went out together, had a few drinks, maybe were attracted to the person and went back to hang out at their place? So, if you do that, it’s okay for someone to do whatever they want to you, right? After all, all of the signals were there. I suppose it would also be okay for them to beat you with a broomstick too? Hey, you did walk into the place so you gave your consent to anything that might happen.

So a gay man can’t be raped by another man. Someone who speaks out about a priest deserves whatever they get. Having sex with a priest makes you a slut. Well, doesn’t that make it convenient for the perpetrator when their crimes are approved by society?

It is this blaming the victim and the “it could never happen to me” ideology that helps the narcissistic abuser be able to continue to abuse. It is the respect for the position of power and the wanting to identify with the person in power instead of the victim that makes us want to deny the abuse and push the victim aside and hope they stay silent so nobody has to be uncomfortable.

I wondered how my boss separated me from the pack. Because that is part of the game. And then I realized that he did it by pulling me in and making me feel that I was important to the office. You see, “that woman” drove him crazy. And Fr. so and so…well, good guy, but he could never run this place. And my co-worker…..he felt a little intimidated by her. He didn’t want to upset her by bringing up something unpleasant. Oh, would you help me? That would be great if you spoke to her for me. She wouldn’t get upset if it came from you.

See, I was important to him. I was the only one who wasn’t a bit crazy in the bunch. The only one he could really talk to. He had a heart condition, you know. He could go at any time. Of course I wanted to help him in any way that I could. And of course my co-worker got into a huff and got angry at me…the messenger…when I explained that somehow the wrong code was being entered in the mail machine and we were being incorrectly charged so please be careful.

Seeds of doubt were sown. He said he had sent Fr. S. a card with $5 in it that Fr. S. had never received. Usually the mail landed in the outbox unsealed. Whoever took the mail downstairs would seal all of the envelopes. So an unable to be proved seed of doubt was sown in the mind of Fr. S. against the honesty of the people doing the mail. That was really ironic as I held the key to the slush fund….money that came into the office when people paid their bills in cash. So it wasn’t the money that was the issue. It was raising doubt about someone’s word.

For David, a survivor of child sexual abuse by a priest, he found support and gestures of love and caring by parishioners of his church when he bravely spoke up during mass.

Here is David’s story in his own words which I share with his permission.

SUPER SUNDAY

By David Pietrasanta

Yes, today is Super Bowl Sunday and Baltimore held on to beat San Francisco 34-31.  However, today turned out to be Super Sunday for reasons that have nothing to do with football or sports at all.

At 9:58 am I decided to turn on my television and catch the morning 10:00 am news headlines.  The lead story caught my attention…… all of my attention.  This weekend at Masses in the Los Angeles area a letter from Archbishop Jose H. Gomez is to be read.  This letter is a half-hearted attempt to apologize to the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of many of our “trusted spiritual leaders”.  This letter is nothing more than a continuation of the “snow-job”, and cover-up by the hierarchy of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  “Cardinal Mahony has expressed his sorrow for his failure to fully protect young people entrusted to his care”.  As my mom would say, Cardinal “BALONEY”.  Cardinal Mahony did everything within his power to cover-up this growing sex abuse scandal, putting power, money, image, and reputation ahead of the welfare of every single victim abused in this church scandal.

So, I called my parents and asked them about this letter.  My dad said they heard it last night at Saturday evening Mass and it was a  “crock”.  So my curiosity got the best of me and I told my mom and dad that I was going to go to 11:00 am Mass this morning to hear for myself what this letter was all about.

When I arrived at church this morning I made a point of sitting right up front, two rows back from the altar.  I didn’t want to miss any part of this letter and the subsequent homily that followed. 

Father Jay read the letter to us, and then followed it up with his “message” for Super Sunday.  I was on edge waiting to hear how he was going to continue the “spin-parade” on this subject of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

As Father Jay was reading this letter I found myself agreeing with my mom and dad that this was a “crock”, and more of the same rhetoric we have been hearing and reading about for sometime now.

As soon as Father Jay finished reading Archbishop Gomez’s letter I put my hand up high and hard with conviction, as if I had the answer to the most complex questions about our universe.  Father Jay ignored me.  I was already in the mindset that I would not be silenced and turned away, so I kept my hand up and he continued to ignore me. 

Finally, as Father Jay was coming to a close I caught him in a moment of pause and asked, “Father Jay, why won’t you call on me”?

Father Jay was stunned and shocked right where he stood on the altar.  He looked at me as if to say, “Nobody has ever challenged me in my lifetime”.  So Father Jay responded to my question by saying, “I didn’t see you”.  Now what Father Jay doesn’t know about me is I know you can’t B.S. a B.S.er.  I told Father Jay my hand has been up most of the time he had been speaking.  Again, another pause, and I took full advantage of it.  I turned around to face all the parishioners and simply said, “On behalf of all the victims that have been abused, and I have been abused myself, I want to say that this apology is unacceptable”.  This was followed by complete silence.  Then it happened.  There was some clapping at the back of the church and continued forward for just a few seconds.  I said “thank you” and I sat down.  Father Jay did get the last word in by saying directly to me, how sorry he was for my pain. 

Mass continued and what followed next is something I will remember for the rest of my life.  This turned out to be a very significant day in my life.

As Mass continued I felt a tap on my shoulder.  A handicapped woman, walking with her cane, came up to me and said, “I am sorry for what you have had to go through and I appreciate what you just did”.  Now I was stunned.  A few seconds later another tap on my shoulder.  A woman with tears in her eyes said, “I am so sorry for what has happened to you”,…..… she couldn’t finish her sentence because she started to cry.  A few more seconds passed and still another woman came to me and expressed the same sorrow and said she hoped it didn’t ruin my faith.  I told her I have had a lot of help and I am able to separate the good from the ugly.

This happened several more times as Mass went on.  My heart filled with gratitude, that these people would reach out to me during Mass without any thought or care that Mass was continuing on while they approached me with their kind words.

Next was communion.  Since the parishioners come from the back of church first, up to the front rows last, a good number of them passed by me. I was stunned again.  At least 15 to 20 men and women had kind words for me and shook my hand.  Some of the comments that were directed toward me:  “It took a lot of courage for you to stand up for what you believe in during Mass.”  “I left the Church for seven years before I decided to come back and what you did today made it worth it. “ Mahony should be locked away in prison forever, God bless you.”  “I am so sorry for what you have been through, I can’t even imagine what your life has been like.”  There were more comments about me standing up for myself and more comments about my courage and bravery.  Again, my heart was overflowing with…. I guess I would call it love, because I was receiving so much love from people I have never met before in my life.

After communion a woman came into the second row and slid all the way down to where I was sitting and put her arm around me and told me she was moved by my courage to “tell it like it is” in front of so many people.  She was not the only one.  As soon as she left another woman slid down row number two and expressed with her tears how sorry she was that this had happened to me and was glad to hear that today I am helping others overcome their difficulties with this issue.

As Mass ended, Father Ernesto came down from the altar and shook my hand and said he was sorry for what happened to me.  I thanked him.

I anticipated there might be some people who wanted to talk to me after Mass so I waited until the last hymn was over and walked outside.

As I reached the patio area I could hear someone say, “Oh, there he is”.   I was at the patio area talking to parishioners from Mass for the next 40 minutes or so.

When that was over and the patio was clearing, Father Jay caught my eye and I went over to speak to him.  The first thing he says is “You know, I get so wrapped up in what I am doing up there I guess I just didn’t see your hand.” I wanted to say to him “Father Jay, you can’t B.B. a B.S.er” but I didn’t, and instead apologized for interrupting his Mass.

Father Jay repeated himself by saying how sorry he was for my pain and then asked me my name.  As soon as I said David Pietrasanta his head curls back and he holds his head in his hands and says, “Yes, right, I know you.”  I replied with pride, “And yes you know my parents also. My mom was the parish secretary here for many years and you know my dad from the finance council.”

At that point, I believe I could hear the voice inside Father Jay’s head, “This S.O.B. Pietrasanta family, what am I going to do with them? They are the only ones in this parish who keep pulling my covers and calling me to the front.”  You can count on it, Father Jay. 

In closing, there was one woman above all that really touched me by her words.  She came up to me after Mass, tears rolling down her face as she was crying, and said, “I want you to know you taught me a very valuable and important lesson today that I needed to see and hear.  That lesson is about courage and I really needed to see that today and I thank you so much for your endless amount of courage and the lesson I learned from you today.  Thank you.”

To Our Lady of Grace Parish, ( I did not send this to anyone at OLG), I just wanted to close my writing with this:

You have made me feel welcomed today with your love and kind words and you reinforced the fact that I do matter in this world and that I can make a positive difference in people’s lives today.  Thank you for making my Sunday a Super Sunday!

I will close with that. Have a happy and healthy and safe week.

How Did You Not Know

The abuse of one person affects many people. And very often, we are left not knowing what to do or how to help those who are being abused or those in abusive situations. Sometimes when all that can be done has been done, stepping away from the situation is the best course of action is the best you can do. I’m talking about after police have been notified and the situation is not improving.

Such was the case of a friend’s daughter eight years ago this week. Twenty six year old Lauren was living in New Orleans, hoping to soak up the ambience for her career as a writer. She and her room-mate worked as waitresses at a restaurant near their apartment. Lauren’s room-mate was having trouble with her ex-boyfriend, a very large angry man who would stand outside the restaurant and glare at the two young women while they worked. Occasionally there were verbal threats issued when they stepped outside for break or to go home.

After many calls to 911 which were not taken seriously by police, Lauren had decided that when she returned to New Orleans after spending Christmas and New Year’s with her family, she was going to find a new apartment and move out and leave this situation.

And so she did. She found another apartment and left work on the evening of January 12, 2013 planning to go home and finish packing for her move the next day. Her room-mate stayed behind at work and did not come home until several hours later.

Later on that evening, or in the early hours of the 13th, Lauren was caught off guard and surprised by her room-mate’s ex-boyfriend, who had broken into the apartment. Now like I said, he was a big man. Big and threatening and looking for trouble. Lauren, a tiny little thing. A couple of hours later, her room-mate came home to find that Lauren had been viciously beaten and killed….just hours before she was about to move out. She was killed by a person who she was not even involved with. Someone who broke in with the intent to kill someone and happened to find her there alone.

The ex boyfriend was caught and arrested and put in jail where he remains. But a murder conviction took time. It was said that he had limited mental capacity. He said that he had feared for his life. He finally was said to be competent to stand trial but took a plea deal and plead guilty to manslaughter. But that was of little comfort to Lauren’s friends and family. There is a little pocket park dedicated in her name in New Orleans. But again, what comfort is that to a grieving mother?

The police had been called just hours before the murder when the perpetrator threatened to kill his ex outside of the restaurant where she and Lauren worked. But nothing was done. He had prior drug convictions, a number of reports for help called in to the police. And time and time again, he was just taken away from the situation and released.

I know this is upsetting and for that I apologize, but things like this happen way too often. This young woman did not have to die. I knew her when she was a child. I knew her mom and her dad. They are good people. Good kind-hearted people.

I was recently watching the story of Rodney Alcala, aka the “Dating Game Killer”. He got away with murdering many women….and a 12 year old child….because he was attractive and intelligent and lured women with his offers to photograph them. When he was finally caught, hundreds of photos of women were found in a storage locker that belonged to him, along with trophies such as pieces of jewelry that belonged to his victims.

They kept letting him go. Kept giving him short sentences and letting him go for good behavior. As soon as he was let go, he would kill again. Granted, he was not in jail for murder, but even when the pieces were put together and had a witness from a victim who survived…they were able to claim he was wrongly convicted and retry him.

What’s wrong with this world where adults and children are treated as disposable objects to be used for lusts and desires instead of seeing them as people, and where the rights of criminals outweigh those of their victims?

So where am I going with this? Well, first, a failure of the justice system and the police when it comes to domestic issues and protection, and making it difficult to prosecute and to prove abuse where there are no black eyes or broken bones evident.

In the first case, even though the man who murdered Lauren had openly threatened to kill his girlfriend only hours before he killed Lauren, and it was not the first time police had to be called, because there was no physical evidence of abuse, he was able to walk free. In the second case, the case went back and forth and seemed as if the murderer could go free. It wasn’t until they introduced DNA matching with the victims and the items in the storage locker that they actually “had” Alcala where he could not proclaim his innocence.

We are talking about “regular guys” here. One who was involved in “just a domestic” call and the other who had a high I.Q. who knew his way around the law and who knew how to turn on the charm to manipulate people. It is estimated that Alcala killed over 100 women. What happens then when trying to report and prosecute a member of the respected clergy? It’s not easy. And change is slow in coming.

We think we can spot the “bad guys”. We think we are safe in our homes and that we know who we can trust when we speak to a stranger. Normally the average person isn’t fluent in psychology and adept at analyzing the motives behind a nice smile.

In a perfect world, the bad guys would wear costumes like they did on “Batman”. Even the bad guy’s henchmen wore matching outfits so you could tell they were the bad guys.

In real life, there is no way of knowing who the bad guys are. They may wear costumes….like policemen and doctors….and priests. Or they may be the cute person on the dating site. It’s scary to think you can’t trust anyone. And yet….it’s better that you don’t. Even if you know someone, if something feels off, listen to your radar. You may feel more sensitive and think you are getting false readings on people at times because you have been abused in the past. That is okay. You’re not perfect. Accept that and continue to listen to your own feelings.

Not that I like talking about negative things because this world is depressing enough as it is….but if something seems off….document it. Tell a friend. It may not feel like we can change the world, but that is not our job anyway. Our job is to change our own world…our own circle…our own story…..if we are able.

These days, I’m proud of myself if I know what day it is and I am able to get some exercise and meditate and remain calm.

Hope you are all able to do that as well. Stay safe and healthy. Take the weekly poll if you’d like. Have a good week.

,

I’m Not Ready to Make Nice

I once described the feeling of being betrayed by my boss the priest as if I was travelling at 90 miles per hour and hit a tree. There had been so much emotional turmoil and anxiety and confusion inside of me and once I was fired and sent home, it was a feeling that is hard to describe. Unless you have been betrayed. And we all have been betrayed at one point or another. But to be betrayed by an institution you should be able to depend upon for well being….that is a betrayal trauma.

I had no way to vent my feelings. And although the metaphor of the car I had been in had suddenly come to a complete halt, the feelings were still travelling at the speed they were used to. But suddenly, there was “no problem” to fixate the feelings upon. I was just supposed to go away neatly. People were uncomfortable talking to me about it and trying to find someone who could tell me that what had happened was anything but my fault was kind of hard to come by.

Even my best therapist, who kindly took my phone calls had to admit that it wasn’t the brightest idea for me to send the priest emails which he could use against me. Emails which made me look complicit.

Someone said to me recently that I was so much “more healed” if you will…more than they. But that’s not true really. Because life is continuously unfair and because being betrayed affects how you view your relationships and the risks you are willing to take and how you feel about yourself.

I saw a conversation thread on Facebook the other day. The topic was about the cult Nxvim. If you have never heard of this group, basically, there was a somewhat charismatic “leader” who ran a business and executive training workshop to help people with their careers and personal development. You can look into this more on your own, but it was like Charles Manson in the suburbs. I believe the workshops involved some mind play which posed as getting in touch with yourself but were really intent on breaking down the ego and getting people to think less for themselves and to not question anything that was going on because it was all “for the best”.

Not surprisingly, woman who had joined the workshop, seemed to end up in bed with the guy who was running the show, and he even had a number of “top ladies” recruiting other women to join. Once they were really brainwashed, some women even allowed themselves to be branded with a hot iron with a symbol containing initials of the leaders of the group. And some, I learned, became victims of sex-trafficking.

Well, these people on Facebook were discussing this group and how could anyone have fallen for that. They must have had very low self esteem, it was determined. That would never happen to me, others said.

That is what makes me angry. Not just that people betray people and use them and hurt them for their own gain, but it’s the judgmental folks who claim it could never happen to them and that these people must be of a lower stock of human beings to fall for this. Okay, there may be some pity, but there is also a definite separation and a feeling of “my group is better than your group” going on. We would never. And we all do that. And it is a very dangerous way of thinking. It could never happen to me.

We are all just one step away from something like that happening to us.

First, by saying you could never be duped and that nothing like that could happen to you….well, the truth is, anyone can be gaslighted and any of us could have their lives changed in a moment by someone we thought we knew.

I was talking to a group of survivors recently and the point was made….would you continue to date someone who punched you in the face on your first date? No, of course not. But there are times in our lives when we are more vulnerable. Perhaps our family has deserted us in some way or our spouse has cheated on us with our best friend…and then a person comes along and makes us feel good. The pain turns into joy in their presence. We feel special. And that feeling makes us want to block out anything that doesn’t seem to sync with that feeling.

Are you stupid for feeling that way? I just described what it is like for anyone who is falling in love and who has ever fallen in love. When you fall in love, that chemistry, those hormones, that joy being in their presence….that is normal. That is what is supposed to happen. But why do some of us seem to fail to see the red flags that may be glaringly obvious to other people?

I guess we all have ideas of what it means to have a good friend, a beloved family member, or a person we would want to spend our lives with. And if you are like me, you have been betrayed by all of these plus a priest. So, what is going on?

Well, I think that once we have allowed bad behavior of any kind either in the belief that everyone has issues or that nobody is perfect or we have to forgive in life, we have already gone off the right path. Honestly, whenever I have thought that about someone and put excusing them before how their actions made me feel, I’m already in trouble. But that is how I was raised. In my home and in my school and in my church. Forgive others. And the longer I live, the less inclined I am to believe that is the right course of action.

The thing is, just like being in that car going 90 miles per hour, if that tree ahead of us is the red flag, even when we are forced to face the truth, our emotions just can’t stop as easily. If you look upon the feelings you are feeling when you are in love or when you have a good friendship, you are being rewarded by being around those people. You are feeling the rush of endorphins in your brain. Just like when you get “likes” on your Facebook posts or someone tells you that your eyes are amazing or that your hair feels good as hell when they run their hands through it. It’s a drug. And we keep going back for more. And the more we identify that person with good feelings and rewards, the harder it is to back away and to realize that the rewards are conditional or mixed with pain, or confusing. We form a bond with that person. Again, I don’t know why perhaps you or I are more susceptible than someone else or even if we are so. I just know that being rewarded by attention from others feels good and having that taken away or needing to step away from that feels like a loss and it feels not so good.

And so I think that we sometimes bargain. Such as…

Since I have two children and a house with this man and I will be all alone if I tell him to leave, I will not ask him where he has been until 4am with his old friend who happens to a woman.

He seems like a nice man. Just because he was late for our first date and showed up after I paid the bill, well…it happens, right?

So he tells me we aren’t going to have sex anymore unless I make more of a commitment….we can still be friends, right?

He had to back away. He’s my ex-husband’s friend.

His motives are pure…he is a priest.

It’s okay that he hurt me. He was doing the right thing. I’m sure he loves me, but he couldn’t hurt his wife. I understand.

So he asked me in confidence what was going on so he could help me and advise me and then used what he knew to tell everyone we know…and everyone that I love….what I have done in my sex life at a very young an impressionable age….after basically pimping me out to his friends and telling me what was expected of me.

And

I’m sure she just forgot to invite me. She invited everyone else and we’ve been friends for over 30 years, but I’m sure she just forgot.

So here’s the thing. In most every case, above, there were other things to consider. So I believed. Family. Long friendship. Respect of the priesthood. Allowing other people to have “faults”. Forgiving. Weighing the issue against the loss of the person. Hurt. Feeling undeserving. Feeling like I existed in a world where I was just a reaction to other people’s actions. If they loved me, I was good. If they used me and threw me away, I was worthless. If they hurt me, I needed to forgive. If they rejected me, I needed to do everything I could until I found the right key to make them accept me.

I struggle with these feelings. I’m sure many people do. Even when logically you know the answer, emotions can take time catching up.

We can be blinded by what we think should be good. A priest for instance. A doctor. One of the people I spoke about was a respected doctor where I worked. We remained friends for awhile after our break up. But we weren’t really friends. Not really. If you are romantically involved with someone who is treating you in a way that would not be acceptable with a friend, then you really can’t be friends. I just got emails from him for a long time telling me what I was missing out on. Trips he was taking that I would have loved so he put it. Things like that.

Another woman in the survivor’s group said a similar thing….he was a doctor for Pete’s sake. A well respected intelligent man. And he was still abusive.

I don’t think I really “got it” until I found myself making excuses for someone who hurt me. And then I thought….how about how I feel? I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t want to hurt anyone. But I was hurt too. And he is not taking responsibility or acting in a mature way. Essentially, he is doing what is the least likely thing to hurt himself.

Please don’t say that I have it all together. My feelings never want to cooperate with my adult point of view. But when I realized that my forgiving meant that I was excusing someone’s behavior when they hurt me….basically telling them it was fine with me if they wiped the dog poo off their shoe on my front steps and walk away clean, I realized it was okay to get angry.

And I am. But it is now what you do with that anger that matters. Nothing is a waste of time if you learn a lesson. I think anger is good. And I think you have to feel anger before you can think of forgiving anyone. I think you have to allow yourself to scream “how dare you do this to me! You are a …….(you can come up with some really good words here) blankety blank blank” I think you have to have anger before you can heal. I don’t think that means that you do things you can’t take back to hurt someone in return. I do think you should get your anger out. Scream. Write. Do something very selfish for yourself. Take care of yourself….because you are not going to allow some blankety blank blank to take anything else away from you. Buy yourself flowers and chocolate. Know that whatever they do or think about you does not matter.

And…it’s not always easy to get people out of your life. In many ways, loss is always painful. Especially as you get older. It’s tough to continue to try to allow people to get close knowing they could hurt you. It is tough to even think about allowing emotions to surface. And it’s not always easy to completely let go of some people. Old time friends. Family members. people you still need to see socially or professionally. I have emotionally distanced myself from people such as those. I have found new friends while maintaining friendships that have warped over the years and are now less close and contact is less often. My family member I have lessened my involvement with his drama and his negativity. And I no longer confide anything in him as I know he will want to use that knowledge as a source of control.

So in closing, anger is necessary. You can understand the actions of others without excusing them if it ended up hurting you. You don’t have to forgive if forgiveness means you are basically saying it is okay for someone to treat you badly or if you aren’t acknowledging how you feel. Anger does not mean revenge. Sometimes it is enough to realize that this person was not adding to your life, but rather taking from you and that they are no longer doing that if they are gone from your life. Acknowledge and respect your own feelings. When all is said and done, you have to live with yourself. Learn to like yourself.

I wish for peace and health for everyone this year and just a reminder that our Abused as Adults meeting now meets weekly every Sunday evening 7pm to 9pm EST.

Tell Me What You Want, And I’ll Give You What You Need

Ah, the pursuit of happiness and perfection. You ever feel like you have never quite made it? Is there always something missing? Have you looked back over your life so far and you see nothing but unhappiness with a bleak future ahead? Does it feel like life is one big bowl of disappointments with a cherry on top of moments of loss and utter despair? Or do you ever look back and say….what happened to the good old days? Or do you look forward to the day when you will be able to retire or find your soul mate or win a legal battle?

Are you happy right now? No? What is it you are missing? And what do you do when you feel down in the dumps? Do you reach for a drink? Feel you need a cigarette? A bowl of ice cream? All three in no particular order? I’ve been there.

I look back at my teen-age years now thinking how great it was when life was simple and we had time to be self-absorbed. In truth, it wasn’t all great. I think the best part of that time was to be able to eat or drink whatever I wanted without many long lasting consequences. And even if life felt like it was falling apart around me, Mom still had dinner on the table and Dad still paid the bills. I had horrible acne, but I had a home. Emotionally life didn’t feel stable but I had opportunities that were there if I chose to take them. If I had seen them.

And then I think about how many people…not just women…aren’t really sure how to become adults on their own. That is a vulnerable period in life as well, when we begin to become adults and aren’t sure what “adulting” actually means. So many people who don’t even realize what it means to be co-dependent if they have even heard the term at that point, end up with pregnancies or marriages because it feels scary to take that jump into the abyss on your own. Many adults who have been abused by priests end up being abused at that point in their lives because it is an emotionally vulnerable time. We’re venturing away from the herd and beginning to find out who we are. If we have never really learned who we are other than being attached to other people’s needs or crisis, it can be really hard to judge our own value and who we are as individuals. And people who are just coming to terms with their own sexuality perhaps not being the same as how they saw their peers in high school, have that on their plate as well.

I didn’t mean to be a statistic. An unwed mother. I had no idea that instead of pulling things together, an unplanned baby would just end up highlighting things I didn’t yet understand. And that would bring years of struggling to pull away from more unhealthy attachments that got passed along to my children. And yet, even during those horrifically painful years of growth and panic attacks when trying to pull away from the unhealthy safe and familiar, there was good. As much as it may have been uncomfortable to be so tied to my parents’ rules and still needing their help, they were there for me and took care of my children. I could not have done that alone.

That and my own belief that I was not alone helped to get me through.

Whether or not you believe the following is up to you. One night, when I was giving a 3am bottle to my youngest son who would not sleep unless held, I was on the couch in the dark in the living room while my older son and husband slept in the bedrooms.

I was exhausted and fighting sleep. It was then that I felt a sensation. Like an electrical charge of some kind. I looked up to see a figure standing next to me. Just standing to the left of me, between the couch and the coffee table. The figure was completely white and shaped like a human. What I noticed was that he was a being of pure energy. I could actually see the energy within and around him.

As I held my son on my lap and I looked at this being to my left, I saw “him” reach out his right arm and hold out his hand to me. He stayed there like that. I thought…oh, I have to do the same. I looked down at my son and shifted my arms so that I held him against me with one arm. I looked back up to the figure standing there and I reached out to them with my other arm. At that moment, they just vanished.

The memory of that moment….that I was not alone….that someone cared….helped me through some tough times. That and the joyful moments with my kids…who I know needed me. It helped me through.

What I think is ironic is that one of the things I did when times really sucked is I started to write and to send things to magazines to be published. One of the largest markets out there was at the time anyway, the religious market. Religious stories as guidance for children. I did get three things published. And I was drawn to writing for the religious market. God, inspiration and His Holy Church. Yup. For children. I never told kids to go to church or said anything about priests, but it was more of a finding strength within.

Kind of ironic that I now write to connect with others who have gone through abuse by the church. I tell you that I believe that people are groomed by the church itself to be used and abused in the name of God. It’s just so totally sad and disgusting. People who innocently believe in giving and forgiving and that trusting that Godly people are good are the most vulnerable. Those that are the kindest and the most trusting.

And so I looked forward to retirement. I couldn’t wait to retire and to not have to hit that alarm button anymore five days a week.

Then the time came. But along with retirement came my part time job at the diocese which ended badly, a bout with cancer, and the challenges of growing older. So I sometimes look with fondness at the years when I could move freely, slept easily, did not have to handle bills and house repairs, had my future ahead of me, many romantic prospects, never gained weight, ate what I wanted, and had none of the pain that comes with time and the loss of loved ones and a younger physical body. And a time when I still believed that the church and the government had everything under control and cared about my well being.

It is easy to get depressed. Especially this year. It is easy to focus on how people have wronged us and what we don’t have. It’s easy to get angry that after all this B.S., we are still going to die. And to have the news tell us about death and man’s inhumanity towards man every day does not help. It’s understandable to want to give up or to feel sorry for ourselves or to feel hopeless and sad and say….why am I trying not to eat ice cream or why did I quit smoking? Why am I depriving myself of any joy when it could all end tomorrow?

I’ll tell you. I live with someone who watches the news a lot. And he is sick. And he has financial woes. And he gets upset easily. My brother gets upset with my elderly mother and yells at her. My mother gets emotional and there is not much I can do as I cannot really see her and it’s lonely around the holidays. I was texting an old friend yesterday who lives alone and has health issues. She is finding it really tough to quit smoking though she knows she should. And I just found out that I have some more health issues and need some tests.

We are a sad lot right now. But the title of this blog was “Tell me what you want, and I’ll give you what you need”. That is an old Doobie Brothers song. it means more to me today than when it came out in 1975.

To me it means that more than ever, it’s time to tune out the bad news and all of the things that we cannot control in our lives. All of the loss, the health issues, and all of the fun things we can’t do right now.

What is it that we need at this time? To me, that is peace and appreciating what we have. We will never be happy because we will never have everything we want. And we cannot control what other people feel or do. I’m not trying to preach because I am far from perfect. I have great pity parties. Those are the only parties I’m attending right now.

So I’m reminding myself as well as I’m saying this to everyone else. Take time to step away. Do the things that you enjoy and are able to do. I once had a 90 year old aunt who lived alone but I thought she had the best life. She owned her own home, had a dog, watched her soap opera, baked for other people, and loved to read every night. She also had a small, close group of family and friends. But she remained independent up until three months before she passed away when she had to leave her beloved home. She didn’t have a lot, but she loved what she had.

Seek the things that bring you joy. Don’t let this world overwhelm you. Don’t pressure yourself. Be thankful.

If you feel there is nothing to be thankful for….turn it around.

My mother was given six months to live 25 years ago. My brother attempted suicide and is still here. I had cancer and survived. My oldest son is seeing a doctor for his health. I can’t control his family history of early heart attacks, but I am thankful that he is taking care of things before he needs to. My youngest son graduated from college this year and has an 18 month old son. I never thought I’d see the day either one of those things was possible for him. I have contacted my brother’s estranged son and I get to text with him and see pictures of his children. I may have a heart issue, but it was noticed before it was too late.

And finally….this week, I noticed that my book got a rating of one star from someone who did not leave a review….just the one star. Well, Stephen King I am not but to me that means one thing…..I hit a nerve. Someone read the book and got upset. Want to take a guess as to who I think that someone is?

And that is how you flip a bad thing into a good thing.

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Take this week’s poll. Remember you can answer more than once.

Happy New Year. Hoping 2021 brings new hope to all.

Oh Holy Night

This is one of my favorite Christmas songs. It’s so pure and emotional and focuses on the true meaning of the celebration of Christmas.

I was thinking recently how Christmas is one of those days in your life where there is most likely a trail of memories that we can trace beginning with childhood all the way to where we are now.

Christmas at my grandparents’ house until they passed and then it was Christmas at my Aunt and Uncle’s house until my Uncle passed away. Then it became running between my parents’ house and my in-law’s house with our children. Christmas as a single mom, Christmas when the boys were teens, then Christmas when they were gone and came home for a visit, Christmas when they came back to live with their significant other, Christmas when they were gone again and it snowed so much and I spent the day alone with my dogs, Christmas movies and a TV dinner. First Christmas without my father. The last Christmas party at my Aunt’s before she passed away.

It can be emotional, this time of year. Because memories of Christmas past can be so triggering when it comes to loss and change and the comparison as to how things used to be and how they are now. Tables with empty chairs. Your mom’s good china. Aunt Eleanor’s recipe for fudge.

And this year…..this year so many people will be seeing the day come and go while they are alone and isolated. Too many families have lost loved ones and others have to tell their children that Santa had to lay off most of his elves due to Covid and they are praying that their stimulus payments will come in time for them to run out to the crowded stores in time to grab food and something for the kids so they won’t have to face harsh reality on a day that should be magical.

But thank God the church got their billions so they didn’t have to close their doors. And I wonder how many victims of the pandemic left money to the church in their will.

You know, my intent is not to manifest hatred towards anyone. And I know that life is unfair. But businesses are struggling. Families are struggling. And is beyond my comprehension that people have had to wait until a couple of days before Christmas to get enough to buy some groceries and maybe some warm clothes or a toy for their children while the church cries poor mouth so loud that nobody else can be heard….all the while priests can afford to own their own businesses and property and before Covid, could afford to rack up frequent flyer miles.

The thing is, a couple of year’s ago, I wouldn’t have complained about that. I would have thought that the church does good things and takes care of people and anyone in need can go to the church for help.

Not saying that to some extent that isn’t true, but I am saying that I personally would not send someone to a church to get help. And I am saying it seems that this country has some things backwards. And that the church does not need financial help from the government and that they should not have had their hands out before anyone else who needs it. People who work hard and who have to pay taxes.

Okay, but back to Christmas. According to last week’s poll, most people said they never think about going to mass or they don’t feel they need to attend mass on Christmas day in order to celebrate.

Personally, I try not to get my spiritual beliefs confused with priests or a nice building with high ceilings and stained glass. It can feel more isolating to not attend mass with friends and neighbors. And childhood memories revolved around church at Christmas. But when some have been hurt by the people and the rituals and what was once comforting and safe now causes panic attacks and depression, I don’t think that is a good place for a soul to seek guidance.

I had someone say that in AA, they are having a hard time dealing with the concept of a “higher power” because God has been so powerfully linked for so long with the church and its people. And when one of those people continues to show one face to the world and a very sinister face to those they abuse, that abuse is very powerful as well.

I don’t know if you will be alone this Christmas. I don’t know if you will be unable to see your loved ones. I don’t know if it will be a really tough day for you because you have lost loved ones or because you are out of work or because maybe you have to work double shifts at the hospital….or perhaps you or someone you know are sick right now.

I still believe in Christmas miracles. Because I still believe there is good in the world. And I still believe in prayer and spiritual intervention and pretty much everything I grew up learning to believe…..but I have removed myself from the belief of the physical manifestation of a higher power in a building on Earth. And that people within that building are good simply by being there.

This is going to be a tough Christmas in some ways for almost everyone. But as I discovered that day I sat alone in the snowstorm with my TV dinner and my dogs and cable TV….it’s only a day like any other day.

So whether or not you are alone, or have family with you, or if the day brings feelings of emotion and loss…..it’s just a day. Better days are coming.