What’s Going On?

Okay, I will say this and then we will move on. Bill Cosby. Yes, that. I want to say that I never met Bill Cosby and yet just seeing what went on last week where he was let out of jail on a technicality, and we saw that power and means can overthrow justice…it affected me. I had nightmares for two nights straight just reading about him. And I mean nightmares. One about my own predator and the other was so clear I don’t know where it came from.

In the dream, I was a young girl about the age of 13. Wanting to become a women and to look pretty but being afraid to do so because I feared it would bring me unwanted attention. That’s all I will say because it involved family and people I needed and violence and wanting to run away. And blood.

I’m not sure where it came from but I’m sure the dream was triggered by the Cosby release. So I can’t even begin to imagine how his actual victims feel.

All I will say, because it is terribly frustrating to see justice backslide, is that he was called out. His nefarious deeds were brought into the light. He will never be the same again. People will never see him the same way. And so, it was a small victory in a world where small victories come after great pain and struggle. But it was a victory at one point, never the less. Enough about that.

On a more positive note, after I brought forward some positive thoughts about myself last week, more began to follow. The reason I believe this happened, is because I lit up that roadway in my brain. My brain saw that I was seeking research on good things and so it gave me more. Our brains don’t ask questions. They give what they are asked to give without filtering.

That’s why it is important to do this….everyone…do this. This next week, I want everyone to write at least one thing each day that is good about you. Just do it. Get your brain running on a program to show you good things about yourself.

Why is it important? Well, for one thing, your body responds to what your brain is processing. Thoughts like “I hate myself and I want to die” send out signals that make your body sick. But telling yourself “You’ve got this” on your first day of a new job will get your brain working to pull up long forgotten files from the past where you did a good job.

I will tell you what is usually in the forefront of my mind. 1. I gained those two pounds back because I ate those French fries. 2. I wonder if eating this will raise my blood sugar. 3. I’m not in control of anything. 4. What did she mean by that? 5. It’s always something. 6. I’m saving those pants for when I lose weight. 7. I feel like I never get enough done. 8. I should be doing something productive. 9. I’m afraid. 10. I’m sad.

Okay, I know. Sounds like life, right? But if you were going to program a computer to do something, and you gave it those instructions, it would end up like the elevator in the book “The Restaurant at the end of the Universe”. In this science fiction book in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” trilogy, the elevators had issues. They had issues because they were existential elevators. They didn’t want to be told where to go. They wanted to take part in the decision.

Being elevators who would be considered successful if they went with the flow and didn’t question life, they instead became too inquisitive with their passengers and too dissatisfied with the boredom they had to put up with. Most of the elevators, therefore, sat depressed and unmoving, in the basement, refusing to move.

How far am I going to get from my own basement with thoughts that bring me down? These thoughts I listed above are really thoughts I get distracted with. I mean, how can I go on when I can’t fit into the new pants because I ate French fries that I am still beating myself up about and so there you go…..I am one weak, undisciplined delusional person who may as well just give up because it’s not getting any better from here.

Do you see why some loving self talk is important? It is. And the more you do it, the more good thoughts come your way.

For instance, many years ago, it only took me one glass of wine to get up in front of a packed bar on open mic night and read my poetry. I had met up with a doctor from work who considered himself a poet, and he told me that I really needed to work on my stuff, and that I wasn’t opening up to the real me….but still. I did it. Ironically, my poem was about trusting someone and being led blindfolded into the woods and left there. It was metaphoric for basically being gaslighted.

Of course, the doctor, who wrote that he strutted like a samurai into his kitchen in the morning knew good writing when he saw it. Hey, he wrote that, not me.

How many times in our lives do we get interviewed for jobs and are asked “What is your greatest strength?” Only to sit there with a blank mind trying to think of a line to come up with that will impress someone. “Tell me about yourself”. Huh? Um. I live in a house and I have kids and two dogs….that is not who you are.

Do we really know who we are?

I mean, we can do it the other way and say….I love to bake but I’m terrible at following recipes and one time I almost killed my friend because instead of using liquid coffee in a cookie mix, I used the grounds. Did I mention my friend has heart issues?

If you find a balance, you won’t feel like a failure. You will be able to laugh at yourself.

Watch what you say to yourself.

I also read this week about the importance of security in the first year of life. I had read something before, but there is something people suffer from called “Cold Mother Syndrome” where especially back in the day, it was felt that comforting a baby could spoil them. I remember my mom telling me that children just got fussy now and then and to let them be…..don’t pick them up. Let them self soothe. It didn’t feel right to let my son cry, but you figure that mom knows what she is talking about.

Now they are saying that babies who don’t get the love and comfort they seek when they are small can have psychological issues later on. Love and comfort means survival for babies. When we think we see a baby self soothing, they may be feeling that their world is in peril and their life is in jeopardy.

And long term effects? Will have to read more about this to see.

I also read that they are narrowing down physical traits of pedophiles. They have found some common traits and physical defects that are thought to happen during the second trimester of pregnancy due to alcohol intake or lack of good nutrition, causing those babies to be born with a predisposition for pedophilia. That is interesting as well.

Someone sent me an article about “Cognitive Empathy” and how abusers use that to gain control over you.

Picture yourself on a witness stand at a trial. A lawyer approaches you. They acknowledge your pain and they want to make you feel comfortable. They try to get into your head. They try to see things from your point of view. But unlike a good friend who will use empathy to comfort you, someone who uses cognitive empathy does so not because they care about you, but because they want to learn what buttons they can push to get a reaction. Or to harm you. Or to win their case. Or to lead a cult.

Interesting. Remember that abusers don’t care about your feelings unless it benefits them in some way.

Some things that have helped people this week are support groups such as Survivors of Incest, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Co-Dependent support groups, EMDR which is a non-drug treatment for depression and PTSD and journaling.

That is all for now. Remember to do as I say, not as I do. Take care of yourself. Speak kindly to yourself. Exercise. Get your rest. Eat some healthy stuff. And let go. Clear your mind. Breathe. Meditate. Read. Smile. Laugh. Love.

Also we have hit 100 postings here on this blog site. Again….I always welcome guest bloggers…

Tell Me Lies

When I was younger, I was called into the principal’s office. Not because I was in trouble. Although I couldn’t think of any positive reason why they were calling me to meet with the principal. But once in there, I was told that I was tied for the highest score in the city for the high school entrance exams. But you see, I was not/am not smart. My brother was/is smart.

When I met my future husband, my friend called me to tell me that she had two guys who wanted to go out with me and who did I want to go out with? But you see, I was not attractive.

I raised both my children to adulthood….and both were alive and dragged through high school kicking and screaming and anyway I could make it happen. Sitting on freezing cold bleachers, running to the store for medicine at 3am, bedtime stories, dinner when the smoke detector announced it was ready, breaking up fights when they punched each other at church, tantrums, missing kids, panic, and lots of love. Yet, I never thought I was a good mom.

At work, I organized events, trained employees, gained the respect of people who were notoriously difficult to work with for my empathic demeanor and ability to de-escalate situations, had people fight to keep me and one who asked if I would work with them, and was always the first one to volunteer to travel anywhere that was offered. I also programmed a fax machine and was responsible for making sure the nursing staff was paid correctly. Yet, I was never confident in myself.

I’ve been married and divorced. I’ve lived on my own. I’ve worked two jobs to pay my bills. I’ve hired people to do work for me. I’ve volunteered, I’ve been on a bowling team and have bowled badly, I have flown across the country by myself, gone on weekends of growth and inspiration alone, drove to D.C. and back, set up an office for an out of town company, have led groups and spoken to people about abuse, and have continued to take chances and meet new people. Yet there are times when I feel I’m not as good as other people. And there are times when I get very anxious.

But no matter how many notches on my lipstick case (although that may have a different meaning than the one I am trying to convey) all it takes is one doubt, one critical remark, one person who for some reason doesn’t like me….and nothing else matters. If you tell me that I can’t do it or that I’m not good enough….I will feel “found out”. I will drop to level zero all over again.

At the SNAP meeting this week, we discussed among other things….grooming. Specifically how grooming works, how it made us feel, and how it felt to be discarded and to realize that nothing that we saw happening was ever real.

The realization that we meant nothing after all. And how that realization can make people feel suicidal.

What makes grooming so potent that it can send someone into the pits of despair?

Well, first let’s take a look at the Catholic Church and its teachings. I remember learning as a child that God liked pain. The more pain you suffered, the more God liked it. This is the first time I have ever told anyone this….when I was a child and there was a drive for toys for the needy and we were encouraged to bring our old toys to drop off for the poor kids…..I gave away something that I actually cherished more than anything because I felt that if I sacrificed, God would know and He would be happy. God was always looking for proof like that.

If you did anything wrong, you could apologize to God but it didn’t really matter unless you asked the man in the booth for forgiveness because only he knew the secret code to God’s forgiveness. One Hail Mary. Four Our Fathers.

Don’t eat before communion. Don’t eat meat on Friday. Go to mass every Sunday and every first Friday and every day of Obligation. Memorize your prayers. Cover your head. Do what we tell you and what everyone else does. Don’t ask questions. It is because we say so.

Sex is for procreation. Don’t use birth control. Only do it if you are married. Only do it with the opposite sex. Don’t think about it. Don’t do it by yourself. Woman should follow the man’s lead and not have any experience beforehand. We don’t want any surprises. Make sure you get married in the church by a priest.

Oh, so you went and got a divorce, huh? You think the church is going to let you off that easily? Nope. You’re going to court, baby. A real Tribunal. You will be judged. Do the priests who have never been married think that you had basis for ending your to death do us part pact early? They want to know. And they want to know EVERYTHING. And then it will be recorded and maybe sent off to another judge and perhaps even to Rome if they just can’t make up their minds.

And if you think death will set you free, think again. Sacrament of the sick. My priest did that for me…..kept pushing my head down. Now that I think about that, I don’t think it was a holy gesture. And then we have Last Rites.

From the cradle to the grave, you belong to the Catholic Church. And I never thought about that as a bad thing before. It was comforting, to belong. To have someone else in charge of my soul. To keep me in line, if not just for show. No matter how much I sinned during the week, I could go back to the Lord on Sunday….or Saturday evening. And holidays.

So not only do we belong to the church, the church in a sense, owns our soul for life to insure that we go to Heaven when we die.

And in return for this service, we pay them. And when we die, we make sure they get a bonus so that we are sure we get recognition for this from God.

We are taught that we follow the church and do what they say without question. And we are bombarded with images of death and doom and torture and good people who died horrible deaths. And we are told that we should die for Christ and that we should suffer and give and not think of ourselves. We should be humble and kind and gentle. We should turn the other cheek and forgive.

Church did begin to get better in the 70’s when I remember going to a mass outside of church where someone played guitar (gasp) and they had a slide show of beautiful images of nature and wine in Dixie cups….much more sanitary…and actual bread to pass….not so sanitary but promoted a sense of actually and literally breaking bread together. That was I think the first time I ever felt a connection with God during mass. Because it had real music and beauty and connection.

But in general, we are not brought up with a positive association of God. He is a God of punishment and of cruelty. We are not supposed to be happy because if we get too happy, we can remind ourselves to slap ourselves back down and to think of the world’s suffering. And then we can tell ourselves we are not worthy.

So we have all of these holes or deficits in ourselves that we have never been taught to heal within ourselves. And if we come to church with our human frailties and needs, we are told not to think of anything sinful and be sure to give to those less fortunate. And be sure to pray the gay away.

Don’t think about who you are. Don’t be yourself. Don’t grow wild and free in a field in the sun. Don’t search for answers. Stay in your pot and don’t move. Don’t search for outside nutrition. Let us feed you so that you learn to depend upon us for all of your needs and feelings. If you are unhappy, that is God’s will. Accept it.

Okay, I’m not blaming God for this. Or Jesus either. I think things probably started out with good intentions. But human nature and power and greed and maybe a whole bunch of things along the way distorted the truth.

Or confused the intentions.

So back to grooming. When we are talking about how a priest grooms a potential victim, in a sense, that victim already belongs to the priest. We have been taught to look to the church for answers and to accept what we have been told.

So if for whatever reason, we as humans enter into an interaction of a more personal nature with a priest who is also a predator….or any narcissistic person who is looking to exploit someone…..we are going to have deficits…blind spots….holes in our souls. Reasons perhaps why we don’t love and accept ourselves. Insecurities. Co-dependencies. Needs for other people or substances to fill. And abusers look for those holes. It’s their way into our heads and our souls.

You don’t feel smart enough, attractive enough, or that you can ever live up to what people expect of you? It’s okay. I will shine my love upon you and I will heal you. You are the best. You are so smart. You take my breath away. I can’t talk to anyone but you. Believe in yourself.

And it feels right. It feels so right. You can feel yourself begin to heal from all of the old wounds your have been carrying. Someone understands. Someone values you. With their support, you can begin to feel strong. And you begin to believe and you attach yourself to this person with love and admiration, and you feel safe.

And you let your guard down. And if cracks begin to show, you explain them away or you don’t want to see them. And so you accept. And the abuser begins to push further the more you accept. And the closer you feel you become, the more the predator shifts reality. But all you want to see is that this person gets you….they value you….they bring warmth and unconditional love and they make you feel wanted and pretty much high on life and alive.

Like you feel when you are falling in love, or eating chocolate, or lighting up a smoke, or doing heroin or like when they give you whatever it is they give you before surgery that makes you feel like you love the world….you begin to crave this person because they light up your brain.

As a side note, I’d just like to recommend “You Light Up My Brain” as the title for a song. Just saying.

They have you hooked. And you are human. And people can’t seem to forgive themselves for this. For loving the abuser. For going back to see them again and again. For missing them. For feeling that they are in love. For “allowing” themselves to be kissed and for liking the attention. For the guilt that hangs over them for liking this. They confuse their feelings as being complicit. But you had no way of knowing that you were being groomed and that the person who you grew to care for did not really exist. You loved a person who was not real. You cared for someone whose lies you believed. You did not have the facts. And if you got hooked, remember that this person saw a hole….an emptiness that existed….and they took advantage of that.

I remember being so confused and having my feelings manipulated so much that I finally gave my abuser what he wanted….a reaction. Not the reaction he wanted but I did react. And my reaction got me blamed and it got me fired.

Because I made the mistake of thinking that some part of him could be reached logically or emotionally. And I didn’t realize the true extent of what was happening. And I made things too difficult. It was time for me to go.

And being discarded? Many people describe a sense of suicidal feelings. I could not eat. I could not sit down to watch tv. I couldn’t concentrate. Everything was so sudden after months of upheaval. I felt rage and because I didn’t know where to put that rage, I turned it inward. I failed.

Along the way, in his narcissistic tantrum, I had all of my perceived deficits hurled back at me. I felt unsteady. Work appeared on my desk that I had not seen before with a big note written in red that he had done this for me. He created dissension among the people he knew liked me. Could you please tell your co-worker not to do this? I am not comfortable with her. Will you do that for me?

There were remarks about supposing it was okay to have a fat friend and what did I know as I didn’t have his education and I could lose everything I cared about. He could do that. I didn’t know what he was capable of.

And so the thing you feared the most has happened. The truth is out. You have been exposed. You don’t see what this person is doing to manipulate you. You only see that you are undeserving of love….which is what you felt was the truth all along. And all of your fears of losing what is important to you become real.

They now control your feelings of self worth. And to feel good again, you will do anything to please them. To feel safe again, you hand over the rest of yourself.

That is coercive control. It is a real thing. And it is abuse. And once they take over control of your emotions and giving and taking away self esteem, when you are discarded, you feel lost and empty and unsure of who you are or what you feel. You only know that it was your fault. That is your reality. I was told that I was not allowed to be around priests anymore because I couldn’t be trusted. I was a danger to priests.

I had a SNAP leader laugh at that and tell me to have that put on a tee shirt.

In all seriousness, nobody deserves to treat you like this or make you feel like you want to die. I knew how I felt and I knew I needed to ride it out and talk to people and I did. I talked and I wrote until I felt I didn’t need to anymore. I was one step away from going to the hospital. But I didn’t want him to be able to say that was proof that I was crazy. And I didn’t have a plan….just an ungodly horrible blackness of emotion.

If you or anyone you love is feeling suicidal, please contact the suicide hotline. And don’t be afraid to talk about suicide. That can save a life. Ask someone….do you have thoughts of harming yourself or someone else? Do you have a plan in place….a way to do it, a time and or a place? Talking about suicide does not make someone suicidal. It can help tremendously.

And don’t feel stupid for calling or feel that you need to be on a ledge somewhere before you do. The majority of calls that came through the hotline when I was there were people just needing to talk things over. Some people called daily to get through their day when they were lonely.

Get help if you need it. The saddest call I ever received was that from a grandmother asking how to tell a grandchild that his mom had killed herself.

Don’t wait. Get help. There are all kinds of lies but the kind of lies that hurt the most are those we tell ourselves. It was my fault. I deserved that. I am worthless. Those are lies. Our blindspots. Make a habit of telling yourself good things about yourself. Fill in those holes with nutritious soil and let yourself bloom.

Oh Daddy

Happy Father’s Day to all. I know that this day means something different to everyone. My dad is deceased. I remember after my dad passed away and I was living alone next to an abandoned house and I had to call the police one night because someone was inside of the house next door.

I felt very vulnerable and I remember thinking that my dad was no longer around to protect me. And then I remember thinking that he couldn’t have protected me anyway as he had been sick and wasting away for the past year and using a walker to get around and couldn’t drive anywhere on his own.

But none of that mattered. Dad still cared very loudly over the phone. And he was still in control of a lot of things. And to me, he would always be the dad you didn’t want to get angry and have to come up the stairs at night if you didn’t quiet down and go to sleep.

And he was the father who came and got me from a party halfway across town when I missed my ride somehow….most likely having a serious dramatic issue with someone that warranted further private discussion in the bathroom….

He was there and he fixed stuff. That’s what he did. He had no idea how to have a relationship with a teenaged daughter but he did try to teach me how to golf at one point, saying I showed great promise.

He was a royal pain in the ass but I wasn’t easy either and neither was my brother….or my mom. So, anyway, I miss him.

You know, I sort of have an idea how my parents affected my future relationships in life. I do get it. Patterns. Moods. Personalities. Kids don’t know their parents are human really. Any kind of drift from perfection is not seen as being human but rather something we as kids caused.

I don’t think those we love are ever truly gone. I think their words live on inside of us forever. Good or bad.

But there was one influence from my father that I was confronted with that made me balk. That was when my therapist, right after my abuse from the priest who tried to threaten and manipulate me into having sex with him, asked me what was it about my obsession with priests. And was I searching for a father figure.

That kind of makes me want to throw up a little.

But was there a grain of truth to that that even the therapist was overlooking?

The whole sex with the priest thing…..even if you take away the coercion part and the narcissistic tantrums and the games and everything…..well, what made it different with him than with any other boss who may have tried to pull this?

I told a friend of mine that the whole thing felt, for lack of a better word, “icky”. In fact, “icky” pretty much is a good description of the whole ordeal.

Because what you associate with God and goodness and purity and safety….and no matter what you want to keep telling yourself that God is involved in this…He must be after all, right…..gets twisted into something more than ugly and more than what ugly would be with any other boss.

And as the feeling of “ick” coats the inside of your soul with sliminess, what you realize later on is that….yes….this was like rape but also, this was like incest.

At our SNAP meeting the other night, we were discussing this difference. Although there is an imbalance of power and I agree that a spiritual leader should not also be a sexual partner, there is also a vast difference between a lonely priest looking for companionship and love and a smug control freak using his position as a shield of innocence and turning the blame on his victim while using them like a coffee maker and tossing them out when done with them.

That is evil. And it is evil disguising themselves as purity. And that is dangerous.

Priests who are truly looking for love and companionship oftentimes will leave their vocation. Many have.

I don’t know if psychologically I saw this priest as a father figure. I don’t think so really. But like I said, I don’t know what is going on inside my subconscious mind. I only know that my dad never believed that priests should be called “father” as only God is the father. And when I think about it, the whole matter did feel somewhat incestuous.

And of course, celibacy was only imposed for the financial benefit of the church. And they really don’t like having to acknowledge children of priests, of which there are many. And mothers who had their children taken away.

There is an evil being allowed to grow under a cloak of goodness. It is hiding behind all of the tapestries and gold and incense. It is hiding around the corner from pamphlets and hymns and bake sales and bibles.

It has nothing to do with good old boys having a weak moment and needing to repent. It has nothing to do with the modesty of a woman’s hemline or about what any church law says about the age of consent.

It has to do with Narcissistic and emotionally unstable people being drawn to an occupation where they have access to children and vulnerable people. And when I say vulnerable people, I am talking about every person who feels the need for forgiveness or who is feeling lost and afraid or who need prayers badly for a sick child….or anyone crawling out of the darkness in search of God’s light and guidance.

And what they are met with feels welcoming and kind. And they feel a warmth and an acceptance. And they open themselves up to this person of God that they trust with all of their heart and soul.

But once they feel bonded and close to this Godlike human, they are betrayed and destroyed by having all of their weaknesses and guilts and self-hatred turned against them. Looking for salvation, they will be led to destruction. By the sick individual who has been allowed to be protected so they can go on to destroy more souls. Not in the name of God. In the name of money and wealth and power.

And instead of looking into the actual problem, people generally find it easier to blame the victim. Easier to get rid of a tenant who is complaining about living conditions than it is to tear down the apartment building itself. The building still stands and nobody is the wiser.

So though I don’t really feel like the priest was anything like a father figure to me, although the whole deal did smack of incest. For one I think the therapist was trying to pull a Freudian connection. Also I think that may be because we are taught that priests are asexual and holy and we don’t swear around them or treat them as we would a friend or neighbor. There is a reverence and respect and a fear of offending a priest. We go into our holy Catholic (or whatever) mode.

Basically we are raised to see these people as if they were a member of the family. We grow up learning that there is a time and a place for things. When we are in a professional setting, we act accordingly.

When we go to see a doctor, even if we have never met them before, we may be expected to disrobe for them. And we feel safe doing so because there are assumed boundaries in place. And if that doctor crossed those boundaries and acted inappropriately, he or she would most likely lose their license.

But not so with priests. If you say a priest has acted inappropriately, you are the one interrogated and made to feel like an opportunist.

My abuser told me that I would not be able to pay for my new car if he was not happy. It was a car and a job. It was traumatic. But what if it was someone who was not trying to pay for a car? What if next time it is someone who is trying to feed their child? For my child, I would put them first and do what I needed to do to keep my job. And this is exactly the kind of vulnerability they look for. Someone who is good and caring. Leverage to use against someone.

This subject matter can get very dark and depressing. And I hate to acknowledge or give any power to these people. I hope that in talking about these things, I can help to teach or to help victims understand they are not alone.

But I’d like to close with something a bit lighter. A funny story about my mom.

One night last week I was talking to my mom, an elderly woman who is still active and for the most part, able to take care of herself.

Mom tells me she has “everyday” toilet paper and “luxury” toilet paper. Remember, she grew up in the depression. She felt like opening her luxury toilet paper one day….maybe to “enjoy the go”. Anyway, the roll of toilet paper popped out of her hand and ended up in the toilet bowl.

I would have thrown it out at that point. Not my mom. She took the wet roll and put it in the microwave to dry it out. After a minute or so, she removed the roll and it was a bit dryer and very soft.

She was excited at her success and cleverness so she decided if a little time in the microwave was good….more time in the microwave would be even better.

So she popped the roll back into the microwave, hit some button, and continued on with probably five other things. When she turned to check on the toilet paper in the microwave, she noticed it had turned a shade of brown and was now emitting smoke.

At this point, I would have tossed it into the sink. Not my mom. She didn’t want the kitchen to smell like smoke. She grabbed the smoking roll and put it in the window on the porch so the smoke would go outside.

Again leaving the scene of the crime, she goes back into the kitchen. After a minute or two, she goes back to check on the toilet paper, which is now sitting on the window ledge of the porch…..in flames.

Luckily the house did not burn down and my mom is okay. I forgot to ask her what she finally ended up doing with the toilet paper that she had tried to save.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Have a great week, everyone.

Shake it Off

There is a saying that you are what you eat. I believe that to be true. Some people are sensitive to certain food groups. Some even to the point where consuming certain foods could put their life in danger. We may feel that we are our bodies and therefore we know them well, but do we really? Our bodies can be our friends or they can betray us.

Food, environment, emotions, age, physical activity, heredity and the thoughts we think….these can and do affect the bodies we are born with and can change them for better or for worse.

But just how important are thoughts and feelings when it comes to our health and well being? As children, we are taught the important of getting enough sleep and eating our fruits and vegetables ad brushing our teeth and getting enough exercise, as well as the importance of doing well in school and excelling….but that is only part of being healthy and successful in life.

The truth is, we take in more than just food and drink and oxygen. We interact with others….some of whom may not be so nice….and we process feelings and thoughts and emotions….and the only feedback we get as children or as adults….is how to act politely and appropriately. Nobody really taught us what to do with the leftover emotions. We just learned that it was wrong to lie or to hit someone or to be mean. We learned how to act in order to be loved or to survive as children. And that meant something different to each of us.

There are people who have been physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually abused as children who grow up to carry those scars within them. The body remembers and stores those thoughts and that energy and although some of the memories have been blocked from the conscious mind, those feelings get embedded into who we are.

I’ve always thought that the brain was fascinating. Do you know that it is said that when we access a memory, we aren’t really remembering the actual event but the last time we thought about that memory? And each time we access that memory, it gets a little bit more distorted and faded, like if an original print were to be reprinted many times, it would eventually end up a faded reproduction of the original print. Yet, the memory can still bring up strong emotion. And emotions however long buried, can resurface when something triggers them. We may not even be conscious of what is going on within ourselves. Emotions get triggered. The brain remembers. The body reacts.

It happened one time not so long ago that a middle aged couple in the area was asleep in their beds one night when they were attacked viciously by an intruder trying to kill them with an ax. Neither one of them died immediately. The wife actually survived the attack. The man, however, got up the next morning, despite being severely wounded, and began to get ready to go to work. Heavily bleeding and on the verge of death, he began to make his lunch and to put things in the dishwasher before he ended up finally collapsing and passing away. I doubt he was consciously aware of anything but he was going through a routine that he had done many times before just out of habit and brain memory. It’s morbid and fascinating at the same time.

Conscious memory may be faulty, as anyone who forgets why they walked into a room can testify. But cell memory? Unconscious thought? They are the Uber drivers in our lives and we are along for the ride.

I never had an extremely traumatic childhood memory. My parents were alive and nobody ever physically attacked me or neglected me. However, mixed in with the message to always behave correctly and to never lose control and to fear the fires of Hell should a bad thought even cross my mind, there was always high energy and drama amidst emotional neglect, betrayal and role model dysfunction.

Everyone….my father, my mother and my brother….everyone but me had an extremely high level of energy. My mother never stops moving and her mind is always on 50 different things at a time. And nothing has ever been right and needs to be done now or redone. If I didn’t complete something right away, I would go back and it would be done. She would redo things I had done. I couldn’t be babied….I had to take care of my own emotions, but I was also considered too young….for most of my life….to make any decisions on my own.

My dad, too, was always in a state of flux. Nobody ever spoke at dinner except my father, who would rant about the state of the world, neighbors, the bible, politics, whatever. I don’t think I consciously remembered eating dinner until I left home. My dad was either extremely up….making up silly songs and dances and teasing everyone with high energy….or very low yelling, and upset and totally unable to handle social functions beforehand. I know this now to be called anticipatory anxiety….we didn’t have a name for it then. But once around people and with drink in hand, he was loved by all for his social skills and sense of humor. Ironically, my dad would say that women were inferior because they could not handle their emotions. More mixed messages.

My brother was handsome and smart. Very smart. And I had to follow him in school. And I watched as we got to be teenagers and he was always drinking or getting caught doing something. And I was his protector and confidant. And in return, he would betray my trust in the worst ways possible. And I loved him fiercely but found that I could never be vulnerable or close to him. I could never save him. And I would need to protect my children from him.

My family told me that I was the quiet one, the calm one, and I was indeed many times the one who held it all together. I didn’t know then there was also a name for that in a family. Scapegoat. The one who has the emotion misdirected at them.

It’s called being an adult child of an alcoholic and supposedly there are more mental health issues with these adults than in the “general public”. All I do know is that for me, all of the energy that was stored inside…absorbed over the years, seemed to come at me whenever there was a conflict. Maybe as an adult without the rest of the bunch to be calm for, it all kind of let loose.

After I left my husband….the first time….the storm hit. Panic attacks, agoraphobia, inability to sleep followed by sleep paralysis when I finally did sleep.

And this frequently happens to children who have grown up in alcoholic homes, homes with incest, homes with mentally ill parents, homes with hypochondriac parents, or homes that are very strict or physically abusive.

Despite living in a state of self-imposed Hell, I didn’t miss work, I supported and fed and took care of my children, and I never drank or did drugs in order to cope. I’m not saying that to imply that I felt any stronger than anyone else or better than. I was just lucky enough not to fall into that trap. Maybe it was because I had seen what that could do. Maybe because I was already in therapy….basically the only one in my family to go….and I was able to get help there.

And I thank God that I did because I had no one. No emotional support or anyone who really understood. And it was not something you talked about. And I didn’t even know what was going on. What’s a panic attack? The thing is….I believe that so many people can identify with my family and with the stumbling blocks in my life.

What’s ironic is that my brother lost his children, called in to work frequently, and partied quite a bit. And caused tremendous upheaval in the family. And yet, he went to rehab for a month or so, did not work during that time, got everyone’s attention and support and that was okay. But I was chided for being too old to fall apart.

Another thing that was ironic is when I had treatment for cancer I remember seeing my mom crying when they took me to surgery. And I thought…..this is nothing. This is so simple. Why would she cry? The answer is because that’s the time she was raised in. You held a stiff upper lip until your body fell apart and then everyone cries and they cry again if you die. But no nonsense in between. Cut that crap out right now, sister.

After I got fired for not having sex with the priest (and that is the way I am going to phrase that from now on, thank you, M.) I ended up in the E.R., twice in six months. The first time for gastrointestinal issues and the second time because I thought I was having a heart attack and I still don’t know what happened except for working in the basement moving stuff for someone to move in and then sitting down to watch tv and having a pain climb up my back and into my chest like I was trying to pass a golf ball. It was not a blood clot, it was not a heart attack, but my markers were very high for a heart issue. So….stress I guess. I was working two jobs and trying to recover from what I thought happened to just me because I did something wrong.

So, yes, emotional stuff can come out in many ways. But I don’t regret anything at this point. I think healing is a lifelong journey. And I don’t apologize for seeming a bit angry. It is good to acknowledge a problem. Not to be a victim, not to carry around blame, but to know and to understand.

And they say you really begin to heal when you begin to help others. So, experience be damned. Here I am torn apart and pieced back together. In the company of other survivors.

Be good. Take the survey. Yes, I’m looking for advice. Asking for help. Another sign of strength, right? Have a great week.

Time in a Bottle

This past week, Pope Francis discussed harsher penalties for those priests and lay persons who groom and use pornography in order to sexually abuse children. He also expanded upon this to include those who abuse vulnerable adults. However, the term “vulnerable adult” has always tended to mean one who is physically or mentally incapable of resisting or giving consent due to disabilities. This has expanded from a basic definition of one who lacks any sort of reason.

The pope is also putting more pressure on bishops who hear about or discover abuse…..mainly to avoid criminal charges of those found guilty and to keep punishment within church walls. The recent scandal with Archbishop McCarrick has given incentive to this end.

The case with McCarrick brought to light coercive control and sexual abuse of seminarians. Due to this case and to growing unrest around the globe, Cardinal O’Malley insisted that the definition of the vulnerable adult be broadened to include those in a situation of power imbalance, where there has been abuse of those under someone’s authority, even if both of those individuals are adults.

Reactions to these potential changes are mixed. Some hail this as a move in the right direction. Others see it as nothing more than the church continuing to call the shots and an attempt to maintain cover-ups. I see it as both.

One change I did see after I spoke with the bishop is that the priest who abused me was moved from his own apartment to sharing a rectory with the bishop. While this may seem like a good thing, the rectory is adjacent to a grade school. And as we know….a predator is a predator. Prey is prey.

On another note, to anyone who was participating in the meeting yesterday, please know that we were cut off because of a sudden loss of power in the area.

We did discuss the use of the double entendre that predator priests seem to like to use. And the embarrassment it causes when a simple discussion turns awkward and sexual. And then the denial that follows. And in one case, someone was directed to forgive the perpetrator, but again, that just puts you up front and center and vulnerable when someone has no incentive to change their behavior.

Recommended book this week is “The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships” by Carnes and Phillips.

Someone this week said that they always know what is going on in my life because of my blog.

Well, this past weekend, I had one of those moments you want to freeze and hold on to. It was my grandson’s second birthday and we celebrated by bringing together a blended and extended family.

The party was held at my mother’s house and in attendance were my sons and my “adopted son”, and my grandson of course and his mom and her friend and my brother stopped by and the baby’s other grandmother….and my ex-husband and his girlfriend.

I told someone how nice it was to be able to share this birthday with my ex and to get along with him and his girlfriend and to have somewhat of a Kumbaya moment in time. It was like coming full circle. And it did not come without a price. Which made it all the more sweeter. I think some people will be able to relate.

I thought about what had to happen to make this moment possible. Choices and chance.

My mom was not supposed to make it past 1995. She is not supposed to be here. My brother is a walking miracle. I can barely remember a time when he wasn’t abusing his body.

My ex has been through a number of heart procedures but mainly, he is my ex and I have found that the further I am from him, the better we get along. I’m not trying to be funny. My mom actually said the other day what a nice guy he is. And she was “there” and knew how it was when I was with him. I never shared touching moments with him and our kids. He felt they were my responsibility and that they were basically nuisances that cost money. They both left home within a week or so of each other because they could not live with him and our life together began to crumble not long afterward.

He would threaten and push me to the point where he would leave before he would back down, and then go to his family or his friends and tell them how I threw him out and I’d get angry phone calls and people thinking I was horrible.

But the other day, we shared our grandson’s birthday and his girlfriend joked with me that if she ever tried to quit smoking while living with him, she’d have to kill him and it was funny and I could laugh at it because it wasn’t my problem anymore. And we were able to joke about how he got angry with me because my labor was taking too long and he hadn’t had anything to eat. But now he is a mellow guy who gardens and who while not having any interaction with his grandson, did buy him stuff and show up. And I think we are friends. And that was nice because at one time it wasn’t.

And my grandson? He was born to my son who didn’t want children because he was afraid he would not be a good father, and to a woman who had multiple miscarriages in the past with her ex-husband.

I knew her long before my son met her. She had been my supervisor and had trained me at the Suicide Hotline where I had volunteered. And although there are issues at times between us, and between her and my son, the fact that they came together brought my grandson into the world.

This was a rag-tag mishmash of people coming together for a joyous occasion. I can’t think of one person among all of us that I would consider “normal”. Not when the babysitter/friend compared being a baby and having all your needs met to being drunk. Huh? Only my mother cared what happened to me if I was drunk and that only happened when I was a teenager. I’ve been on my own since then.

But my point is, for one moment in time, things were perfect. For one moment. I guess that’s all we can ever count on. I mean, the next day my brother was hitting my mother up for money again, and everyone went back to keeping their issues hidden in their own homes. So the moment had passed. I guess that’s how it goes. Perfect pieces of happiness found within the rubble. Saving time in a bottle.

Have a good week. Find your bit of happiness. Be well.

Hot and Cold

The first thing I want to share this week is that we found out that my two year old grandson is autistic.

This is my youngest son’s only child and the news comes only two months after his best friend lost his 12 year old autistic son when he passed away in his sleep. I was over there the other night for the first time since we heard the news and you know how hard it sometimes is to have a toddler….now they have an autistic toddler….and they have a lot of tension already in their relationship as my son and the baby’s mom have discussed breaking up and it’s not a great situation so if anyone has any experience or knowledge they can share about the care of Autistic children, I’d appreciate it.

Another thing I ran across this week is from the Minnesota Supreme Court. They have ruled that a woman was not raped because she was voluntarily drunk when she met her attacker. This was a ruling released last Wednesday. To meet the definition of rape, according to a unanimous decision, the alcohol has to be administered to the person without that person’s agreement. Therefore, the alleged rapist cannot be charged with a felony because mental incapacitation is only relevant if a person got drunk involuntarily.

Yes, there are many cases of people being drugged without their knowledge, but this ruling is really walking a tight line. Especially since there are so many instances of rape on college campuses. At what point do you cross the line from a voluntary case of liquor reducing inhibitions to taking advantage of someone who is passed out or who is too inebriated to make a rational decision?

Young people especially, in my experience, are more likely to over-drink and not know when to stop. I know they exist, but you don’t hear as much about people in their 50’s getting together for the sole purpose of getting wasted every weekend. Younger people are also less likely to think anything bad is going to happen to them.

I’m using younger people as an example because I was young and stupid once. I remember when drinking meant drinking until you passed out or got sick. Takes awhile for you to learn how much fun that is not and that you can drink “politely”.

Of course, age doesn’t matter. Ruling that someone asked for it because they got drunk willingly is like saying a prostitute cannot be raped because they have sex for a living or that a person cannot be raped by their spouse because they are married. Each case is different and you can’t make a general ruling such as this court did. That is so damaging.

I also had the honor this week of reading a bit of a book that was written by a survivor before it will be published. It is excellent and when it is published, I will say more about it. Recommended book this week is, “Moral Injury and Beyond” by Renos Papadopoulos.

I also talked with someone for a long time about a long term relationship they have had and how it has impacted their life. It made me think more about trauma bonding.

When you think about why someone stays with a person who abuses them and why they don’t press charges against them, or why a person held hostage may bond with their captor, it may make you wonder what is wrong with that person.

I remember again years ago being in a bar with my friend when her abusive boyfriend who would beat her, walked in and gave us flowers and bought us all drinks. I left them there together and went home without taking the flower or drink the drink he’d bought me. My mom told me I had been rude to not drink the drink he had bought for me. I said I didn’t care.

It’s upsetting to see someone you love seduced back into Hell. It’s horrible to feel helpless. To see what is going on and to not be able to break that bond.

And yet, I’ve been there myself. I didn’t see it as clearly because sometimes I think it’s harder to see when there is no physical violence involved.

In trying to understand more about trauma bonding, I was reading a bit about the game of ping pong that gets people hooked. There are so many parts of this puzzle, of course, like past history and such, but I think it is put best by the person who said to me….”If you went on a first date with someone, and they punched you in the face, you would not go on a second date”. Most likely not.

But if you went out with a person and they asked you all about yourself and exuded love and a sense that you were the “bees knees”, and you developed a loving connection with that person, there would be a second date. And as each date progressed pleasantly, you would probably decided that this is a good person. You might imagine yourself having a future with this person. You begin to fill in the blanks with fantasy. This is probably normal stuff that people go through. Until it’s not.

Trauma bonding comes from hitting the highs of love and good feelings and happy endorphins having picnics and toasting marshmallows in your brain and then having those feelings removed suddenly. For whatever reason.

A fist to the head. A phone call that never comes. Being ignored. Having the person you love suddenly turn cold and reject you in some way. Boldly lying. Cheating. Stealing. Whatever it is, the behavior does not match the Heaven that once was your world.

I’m not talking about a normal healthy relationship here. I’m talking about being used by a narcissistic abuser. I’m talking about the deliberate love-bombing and withholding of love as reward and punishment that goes along with this relationship.

You feel hurt. Damaged. Devastated. But in your head, when the cold bucket of water hits the campfire and the endorphins are left with soggy marshmallows, they cry out for more dry firewood and a new bag of marshmallows while you’re at it. And they search for it in the last place where they got it. From the source that you are sure is really a great person.

So when the flowers and the apologies arrive, it is a relief for all. And it feels so good to once again feel the warmth of the fire that like being hooked on a drug, you begin a cycle of reward and withdrawal.

You would think common sense would prevail. It’s easy to judge from the outside. But rewards differ from person to person. Each person is drawn in by what they need. And each abuser knows how to give what is needed. And they also know what their victim fears losing. That is one of the things that gives the abuser their power.

It has been said that people gravitate towards pleasure but try to avoid pain. And of those two, the avoidance of pain is the biggest motivator.

So it would seem that losing the trauma bond is perceived as more painful than to actually continue within its grasp. Is that because the trauma bond destroys the sense of self and the person fears they cannot depend upon themselves alone?

In my first job interview after I was fired from the diocese, I was given the job and they told me that I was chosen out of a room full of other applicants. Yet, my first day on the job, as I drove to the office, I had to keep telling myself that I would be fine and that I knew what I was doing. I know that I was still suffering from PTSD.

You’re fired. You can’t be here. No, wait, you quit, remember? Yes, that’s what happened, we agreed you quit. Hurry up and fill out the paperwork for unemployment and start looking for work. I had no confidence. I was afraid of not doing things right. I’d never been fired before….and then told I left because I wanted to. So I didn’t know what to say to my new employers.

And yet, I felt the need to talk to him. Still. I was an emotional mess because of him but I hadn’t realized that yet. I thought he could provide me with answers. I didn’t understand how I could be discarded and replaced so easily. It hurt. I still had so much to learn. The first thing I learned was that I had already talked to him and had never gotten a straight answer. So many people need for the abuser to understand their pain. They go back to thinking about the love they were shown and think that would make a difference.

But it wouldn’t make any difference. The Narc has a heart of ice. That’s another hard lesson to learn after the discard.

It’s hard to judge someone else’s progress as well. My son will tell me he knows what is happening in his relationship. And then he will step right into the mix knowingly. I’ve realized that I can be here for him but I have to let go of trying to save him.

The survivor I spoke with at length told me that they had been in a long term relationship with someone who was potentially dangerous. But they told me things had changed because they themselves had changed. So the other person was no longer in charge. They felt they had more power. So they don’t feel the need to let go. Perhaps that is so. They said at one time they didn’t care how badly they were treated as long as they had this person in their life. They feel they have grown since then.

Hopefully we all grow from our pain. Before I got divorced, I used to write page after page of emails to my ex-husband, practically begging him to budge slightly. What I began to realize was that you can write an entire book using the same words over and over again. The order the words are in don’t change a thing when the person is not listening. And that’s all I had been doing. Same thing over and over expecting different results. So lost in the forest I could not see the trees.

Insanity. Basically we are all broken to some extent.

I don’t know what makes someone more susceptible to trauma bonding. What makes one person see the red flags and another person just see the good in someone and get sucked in? I do know that it is an unhealthy bond and one that can be incredibly painful to break. You can come out the other end broken.

Are we searching for the love we feel we weren’t given? Are we so used to drama that we don’t know what life is like without it? Are we so desperate to feel something that we will become dependent on someone else doling out the drug? To merely end up in a state of existence suffering the pain of withdrawal when it is not available?

Have we learned anything at all?

Yes, I think we have learned something very important. And that is that it is not the abuser or the abuse that made us strong. We were and are strong already.

We survived.

Mama Mia

Sometimes I hate what I do.

I mean, I like the people but I hate the subject matter.

This past week, I went to a political rally outside the capital building aimed at the passage of a bill to assist those Abused as Adults. It was an emotional gathering. I was the only SNAP person there, and it was kinda funny because I introduced myself to one of the speakers and she said, “I know who you are. I’m on your mailing list.”

So that night, I was talking to my mom on the phone and when she asked me what I did that day, against my better judgement, I told her. She was very concerned that someone there knew who I was. Because as she said, in her day, these things just happened and nobody talked about them.

And once again, she pointed out that because I was not raped, I was not really abused. This is a reminder that we are just beginning to enlighten people and change the view society holds on what abuse is. And trying to change a long-held belief is not always possible.

And although I knew that it was best to let it go, it made me feel so incredibly alone and it made me doubt myself. I mean, there is always the emotional side to everything. That side that says “don’t make waves”, “pretend you don’t see anything”, “just be a good girl, not a rebel”.

But there are two sides to this coin. I don’t want to upset my mom. And the child inside wants to make her happy. But there also comes a time in our lives when we realize that in some sense we are alone and that our thoughts and decisions may come at a price. They may separate us from the pack. It’s a vulnerable feeling but the truth can sometimes be a lonely thing.

There’s that thing about abuse, you see. It can’t always be seen. It’s not about how hard you fought or how many bruises you have. Sometimes it is. But the abuse of power does not always come with a fist at the other end.

Besides opening my eyes to what goes on behind the veil and what the church doesn’t want you to know, my experience with the priest taught me so many things about myself and my own ongoing struggle to search for a sense of balance and my attempt at staying afloat in my life.

And my initial beliefs that I should not make waves, pretend I didn’t see what was happening and to try to be invisible and to please everyone and not speak up….those beliefs weren’t working for me anymore.

But I sit here, ready to burst, because I don’t know how to fix things.

Except to talk about them. Acknowledge them. You, you there reading this….you are vulnerable. I know you don’t believe me. You are too smart. Too worldly. Too street-wise. You’ve got things under control.

It’s there. The invisible cloak that envelopes us with a false sense of security. We don’t see it but we can feel it. Something is off.

At our meeting tonight, I shared that one of the reasons I wasn’t able to see what was happening with the priest was my own distrust in my gut feelings and judgement. I tend to tell myself that I should not feel anything unpleasant. And if I do, it is not because of someone else, but because of my own shortcomings. I “should” always feel calm and pleasant. I “should” always feel in control.

So if someone is being a total ass or crossing over my boundaries….and what are boundaries…..I am the one who tries to fix and make pleasant and not let anything get out of control. It’s my go-to move. Narcissists love it.

And we learn this stuff and we continue to teach this stuff. Don’t speak. Don’t show emotion. You don’t get to have any emotions. You are responsible for others’ behavior. So stuff it down any way you can.

We also talked a little bit tonight about how evil can disguise itself as good. I went back to the cat story my priest told me and everyone. What a good man. So patient. He just sat and watched the feral cat every day for months. Little by little he drew her in and got her to trust him. Until the day came when she stepped foot into his apartment and the door slammed behind her. Trapping her. Well, that was the version I got. Other people just got that he was patient and kind to animals. I got the evil version. Come to my place and my cat will kill you.

But what gets me most about non-physical violence is that people will call these predators brilliant. They know the play book. There are actually books that discuss their secret codes. They have the advantage. They leave their victims feeling the need to forgive them and to turn the other cheek. Survivors struggle with this concept alone for years.

What gets me is that they can actually break people to the point where someone will feel they have no choice but to degrade themselves in the hope that the torture will stop. But instead it just intensifies. The bar gets raised higher while the victim’s self esteem plummets and their depression and desire for self harm increases. Because I only knew one priest. And he had other victims. And probably still does. He is out there deliberately destroying people. And he is only one of many.

Sometimes I do really hate what I do. I hate it. It was bad enough to live through it. And sometimes, truthfully, it gets to be too much sometimes. Sometimes it feels like there is too much evil and too little we can do about it.

But you know what? There’s also a lot of concrete in this world. And dandelions push their way through. They do what seems to be impossible because they are resilient. Be the dandelion.

Have a good week….don’t forget to take the poll.

Brian Toale11:59 AM (5 hours ago)
to Brian

Hello all –

We’ve picked up a bunch of new sponsors on the ASA and really want to continue that momentum into the final couple of weeks of session. Please follow @SafeHorizon and @JessSchafroth on twitter. Many coalition members also frequently post about the ASA. Please also follow @Alisonturkos @agrenell @MHoechstetter @ModelAllianceNY @Michael Polenberg @NYSPACL

We need to amplify the ASA as much as possible and continue to push for additional co-sponsors and a floor vote.

The Daily News editorialized in favor of the ASA today.
https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-edit-what-survivors-deserve-20210524-3zdkxz644jdptip55blbiguedm-story.html

We still need survivor testimonials; one-to-two page stories to share with members. This is the NUMBER ONE thing we’ve been asked for and we don’t have very many to share. Please send asap so we can distribute!!! We can share with name or without names. These stories are so important, and that personalization is what is so difficult about doing this advocacy remotely. Members need something tangible. The CVA was about policy and it was also about Bridie and Tom and Amelia and Brian, etc. Let us help tell your story and the story of your clients.

Thank you so much!!!! We have a lot of momentum with us. Let’s kick it up even more for the final few weeks.  

Jessica Schafroth

Vice President

Have You Seen Me Lately

Before I begin, I want to share that in Albany, NY, there is a bill gaining momentum in the state legislature aimed at making it easier for adult survivors of sexual assault and abuse to file lawsuits. This bill comes about due to society beginning to recognize sexual abuse and the abuse of power.

This is huge. Things are beginning to happen. Can you imagine what would happen if people began coming forward? Just the recognition alone.

I heard Governor Cuomo, who is under scrutiny at this time for abuse of power and sexual harassment, say that making someone uncomfortable is not sexual harassment…..that is just how the person feels and has nothing to do with the actions of the alleged harasser. It’s just that you can’t take a joke. Loosen up a bit.

I read once that sexual harassment can deeply affect a person and create PTSD.

What does PTSD feel like? How does it manifest itself? Once I went camping. I had to get to a telephone quickly to call my son. My friend lent me her bike. I hadn’t been on a bike in years. I am short. She is tall. The bike was too big for me. I still tried to ride it. I ended up going face first into the blacktop on the road. I broke my wrist and my front teeth.

I went to the dentist and got my teeth fixed. I went to the ortho guys and got my arm splinted up and in no time at all, you couldn’t tell that anything had happened to me.

On the outside.

On the inside, though…..my brain thought it still needed to protect me. Night after night I would dream that something was coming at me and was going to hit me. Night after night I would wake up suddenly in a panic. I no longer feared the accident as much as I began to fear the dream it seemed that I could no longer control.

Then one night, when the dream came, I told myself within the dream that I was dreaming. Don’t ask me how. But on that night, when something came flying at my face, I was able to catch it before it hit me.

The dreams ended then as quickly as they had started. Had I resolved some issue? I don’t remember. I was just glad it was over. It had been exhausting waking up gasping like someone had just punched me.

So PTSD can linger. It can be triggered. When asked if I wanted to see my predator priest face to face I said no. Because it’s not just the words or what eventually happened that can send me hurling backward. It’s how it made me feel about myself.

I was talking to some adult survivors at our weekly meeting and we had a nice talk about so many feelings we had in common.

When someone compliments you, it makes you feel good. A kiss can flood your brain with endorphins. But when you have a voice inside that tells you that you shouldn’t be feeling good or that you shouldn’t stick around for the kiss, there is no reward. No immediate payoff. It kinda sucks. Nobody wants to feel like they are missing out on a reward.

So I hear people say, “I shouldn’t have done that. I don’t know why I did that. It was wrong.” Don’t “should” on yourself. Stop it. We are human. We are programmed to want to be rewarded.

Well, you can’t move forward by kicking yourself over and over for something you can’t change. You can destroy yourself in doing that, though.

Someone asked me tonight how it feels to go to mass and to see “my” priest. I explained that I don’t. He only said mass at the diocesan building where I worked. I was fired. I was escorted from the building. I assume that means I’m not welcome to go visit. I was told never to contact him. That was the best thing that could ever have happened. I hear so many people still stuck with mixed emotions because of close proximity to the church or going to mass and seeing their abuser.

Along with not blaming yourself, get far away from the situation. No contact. You cannot get back at or even with your abuser. Trying to hurt them back in any way is most likely going to end up causing you harm. I’m not saying to let it go. I’m saying to get away from them. Put distance between you and them

We’ve talked about Narcissistic abuse and maybe a little about co-dependency. We have discussed power and the draw that it holds. But there is something we really haven’t talked about. And you may not like it.

It kind of goes like this….don’t depend upon someone else to love you. They have their own issues. I have some close friends. One I can tell almost anything to. The other one is fun to hang out with but it doesn’t get much deeper than that and I’ve accepted that because the friendship is important and I know she has emotional limits.

For some of us, especially those of us who hate conflict, the appeal of love-bombing and the all-loving acceptance and handing over the reigns to someone else and just going along with it….is like a little bubble of heaven. Just stick me to someone else and we will never have any problems because I will never say anything and I will just iron and make cheesecake.

Trust me, this does not work. But it does feel promising. And it really really really seems like the right thing to do when you feel the need to walk on eggshells around someone. And we all know that someone. Somewhere.

Woman have been raised generally to smile and to say we are fine. We are afraid of being a bitch. We accept behavior that makes us feel uncomfortable because we don’t want to cause trouble for anyone. And we don’t want to make things more uncomfortable.

We mistake expressing feelings for being an unpleasant person. We try to take care of someone else. We try to control relationships. We are afraid of losing someone. Or of losing people we love. Or losing our job. So we say nothing.

And when you are talking about a predator who targets vulnerabilities, it is never the victim’s fault.

And I never feel that we should blame ourselves. Guilt and shame and self-blame are destructive and do nothing good. We all need to relearn the bad habits we have been taught.

It’s not easy to express feelings. It can be scary. It’s something that I will be learning how to do for the rest of my life. Because you always run the risk of failure. Hurt. Pain. Rejection. The end of a relationship. But unless you are willing to let go of someone who is not good for you, and to accept being alone fully, you will always look to someone else for your source. And that makes you vulnerable to abuse.

In all fairness, it can be dangerous in this world of ours to openly speak your mind. But I’m not advocating slugging anyone. Pay attention to your feelings. Respect your feelings. Express feelings without attacking anyone.

Governor Cuomo says that he is not responsible for how his actions are perceived by another. Okay, but who’s going to tell the governor not to touch them? When someone has the power, there is a power differential. When you are dealing with a person who can use their power to hurt you if they don’t get the response they feel entitled to, trust me, it can be like the devastation of a tornado and you are disposable. So you smile and say that you are fine.

Practice self-forgiveness and self-advocating. Allow your feelings. Let go. Move forward. Be not afraid.

Have a wonderful and safe week.

The Circle Game

First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to all. I am very fortunate to have my mom still around and one of my sons dropped off flowers and I heard from my other two as well. I kind of adopted an adult relative so I consider him a son too as he has no other family. I even heard from my ex-husband which I thought was nice and what I think all fathers of children should do for those children’s mothers….as it shows respect. In a perfect world, anyway. I wonder what he wants….

You know, we have survived the abuse of a trusted religious leader and the fallout abuse from those who helped with the coverup of the crime. I say “survived” meaning if you are reading this, you are alive. So what now?

Who comes into your inner circle on a daily basis? So many people who have been abused by clergy have known abuse their whole lives. Some go on to become abusers themselves. Others never learn how to survive in this world. We are all broken in some way.

As I said last time, we tend to not see people as they are but as we are. As we try to get along with others and understand who they are and what we have in common, we may make assumptions to streamline the process. First impressions. We see someone through our own colored glasses.

Sometimes we may assume that we have something in common with a person because we have gone through similar experiences or because we like the same things but then find that is where the similarity ends.

Within my own family there are stark differences. If you are an artist who grows up in a family that values money and ambition over everything else, you may end up not valuing yourself for who you are or downplaying the importance of what you enjoy. Or you may find that trying to talk to a family member is like talking to someone from another planet. There is just no common ground for understanding each other and you see things in totally different ways.

You may think that as survivors, we all share the same mindset. In truth, some of us have healed more than others. Our religious views, though perhaps similar, can greatly affect our healing process. Our different upbringing and past experiences may be different as well.

Some people turn to mood altering substances. That too, can affect healing. I once read that if someone uses a mood altering substance to get them through a tough time, that they never really process those emotions and they get stuck. I don’t know. I have lived on the outside of that issue. Or should I say the perimeter.

And living on the perimeter tends to make you feel angry and resentful. And you stop trying to find common ground.

But when you are working with a survivor who has substance abuse issues, you have to let your own past experience go and be non-judgmental. And you need to try to relate. That’s easier to do when you are not personally involved with a person.

The reason I bring that up is because we all have sub-sections in our lives. Areas that don’t match others. And when we can’t relate to someone else’s struggle, we can sometimes become judgmental. We as survivors can relate to being judged and found morally bankrupt by others.

It’s not always easy to accept someone else’s imperfections and not reject the entire person. And it’s not always easy to understand something we have not been through.

But every once in awhile the lines get crossed and we can see. Just like being on the receiving end of abuse from the priest and the system in place for coverup at the diocese allowed me to see the corruption within the priesthood, something that once happened to my younger son allowed me a glimpse into how I live in a world of white privilege.

When my son was a teenager, he was hanging out with a group of his friends from high school and he asked one of them who had a car to take him to his job at Wendy’s so he could pick up his paycheck. Of the probably five guys in the car, my son was the only white kid.

The Wendy’s where my son worked was located outside of the main city limits. So….different police unit. A police unit that obviously found a car full of black teenage guys pulling into a Wendy’s parking lot suspicious for some reason.

As my son’s friend parked the car, they all saw a police car had pulled in behind them. These guys were not just about keeping an eye on things. They had their guns drawn. At my son and his friends.

At my son and his friends.

At MY SON.

They were told to get out of the car and asked what their business was. In a Wendy’s parking lot. Seriously.

How easy it would be to say this was somebody else’s problem had my son not had a gun pointed at him. Teenagers. Mouthy. Stupid. Teenage boys. This could have gone so very wrong. I imagine they must have been terrified. I didn’t hear about this until years later.

That’s scary stuff. And that’s why when we find we can’t relate to someone who doesn’t entirely “fit” into our circle for one reason or another because we don’t have the same issues, it’s important to respect their struggle.

We can’t like everyone. We don’t have to even. But when it comes to SNAP groups and life in general, even if we can’t relate or if we can’t find anything in common or if you feel someone causes their own problems or you wouldn’t want to be someone’s friend, everyone has a backstory and everyone faces their own heartaches and challenges.

I know that acceptance is kind of confusing when we are trying to set up boundaries. And I’m not suggesting a blanket “love everyone” mindset. You don’t have to give a second thought to anyone who treats you with disrespect. But I am suggesting that rarely is something totally somebody else’s problem. We all live in this world and we are all connected in some way.

Put up your boundaries for people and things that would harm you. But keep your mind open to people and things who seem different from yourself as you may have more in common than you think.

Diamonds and Rust

I have heard it said that until you learn a lesson, it will keep repeating.

Let me be clear, I’m not blaming anyone for what was done to them. What I am saying is….do you ever ask yourself why a certain something always seems to happen to you?

I have also heard that if you don’t love yourself, you will keep attracting people around you who don’t love you either. And I am pretty sure that knowing that and doing something about it are two different things.

For instance, I know the thoughts I have that get me into trouble. They come automatically and because they are presented to my conscious mind from somewhere deep within, I’m thinking these thoughts reflect the truth. So then feeling gets involved. Especially if I try to ignore thought. Feeling keeps poking thought into action. Thought might say…it didn’t work last time. But feeling will answer….yes, but this is different.

I also heard the saying that we don’t see people as they are. We see people as we are.

So when that priest or whoever seems to care about us, or when it becomes a game of puzzles that we are supposed to solve and that makes you feel so connected a secret that only the two of you share, endorphins may start to fire off and emotion wants more of that.

And emotion may want to silence thought or convince thought that it’s confused because thought can block fantasy who has now danced into the picture to fill in the gaps and emotion loves fantasy.

Ego wants to take center stage now because it’s heard that someone wants to know all about the self and it’s thrilled. Especially if it hasn’t put on its tap shoes and put on a show for anyone in a long time because of loneliness. Loneliness has put ego on the shelf where it has grown dusty and covered in rust.

Endorphins, connection, emotion, fantasy, ego and loneliness. They get strummed like strings on a guitar by a master player. Thought and its friend, logic can yell all they want, and are sometimes heard over the noise of the party. But if question comes along, it will be met at the door by the bouncers…..blame and gaslighting.

We get played and we feel the fool. And then we are afraid because somehow we didn’t protect ourselves. We believed. We needed that love-bombing. We must be so weak and pathetic.

We are victims and we feel as stupid and vulnerable as we did when we were four years old and wanted to hang out with our big brother and his friends and they made you do something stupid because you didn’t know any better.

And like that child who trusted because they wanted to belong and to be liked, we were deliberately tricked into thinking that we weren’t enough. That in order to be good enough to keep receiving praise and acceptance, we had to be somehow better than we were and if we had someone telling us that we weren’t worth it…someone who once told us down to our soul that we were better than we believed ourselves to be….then we will do anything to prove that we are worthy.

Anyway, that’s how at the age of 3 or 4, I ended up with my underwear around my ankles in the middle of a circle of older boys snickering and basically doing what they called “playing doctor” in order to join their club and get to hang out with them.

Anyway, I had been triggered like that before and since. And I have discovered that my thoughts have a very interesting conversation with my emotions. It goes something like this:

Did that person mean something by that? I think they may have. (Women are especially good at this unspoken game) Well it certainly sounded like they were flirting. You know, word play. Oh, that is clever. I like clever. I think I’m supposed to do something. Am I supposed to do something? What am I supposed to do? What if I don’t do anything and they stop giving me attention? I don’t want that to happen. I like feeling special. I am special, right? I mean, they think so, right? Didn’t they kind of say that? Oh, I’m so stupid. Why would they like me? Wait, look at the way they just looked at me. They do like me. What do I do now? I mean, what if I do something and they think I’m inappropriate? Or worse yet, I get rejected? Oh, I’m stupid, stupid, stupid. I don’t even know what real love is supposed to look like. Other people are better at this. They seem to know what they are doing. Maybe they just need a sign from me that I like them too. Oh, look, it worked. They winked and then they walked out the door. That means they like me, right? Oh, I can’t wait until we can get together and tell each other how we feel.

Alright that was embarrassing. But when thoughts bump into emotion, things can get a little crazy. This isn’t just about romantic relationships…this can be for friendship, family….whatever. When I look at all the self talk above, I can summarize it a bit.

I may not have a great track record and I don’t know what someone else is thinking or feeling. If they throw out crumbs…like a wink here or….well, you know….and we eagerly catch them for fear of losing the crumbs, it’s not a good situation. Also, if we should begin to make excuses for when the crumbs are constant but there’s not a cookie in sight, that is not a good situation. And if you should feel the need to be a caretaker or to save someone or if you are doing 90% of anything to keep it alive…..that is not a good situation.

I know that might sound obvious, but that is where I have gotten hung up in the past. And I am sure many other people can relate as well.

It can also be found under constructing boundaries and putting your own needs before the needs of someone else. Isn’t that selfish, you ask? Oh, how Catholic of you, I answer. No. it’s necessary. That is where you start.

Again, we all don’t have emotional abuse or alcoholism or incest or mental illness in our backgrounds. But we can all get misled and mistake drama for love. And we can get hooked on drama. And crumbs. And it’s damn hard to stop once you start. Once you start saving someone or taking care of them before yourself. Or having fantasy fill in the details that someone needs saving or is having emotional issues. Or reasons why they can’t love you back fully so you need to pick up the yoke and start pulling to show just how strong your love is.

Love is not about handing someone else the controls.