Finding Hope after Abuse

traces of hope

How do I process my grief?
Does suffering have any meaning?
Do we live in a random chaotic universe?
Is it time to re-evaluate my understanding of “God”?

This book is for anyone who has suffered a loss – of safety, of one’s home, of health, of a loved one or a relationship, or of one’s faith … and found themselves asking, “Why?” And then wondering, “Who am I asking?” and hoping they were not alone.

http://www.amazon.com/Traces-Hope-Surviving-Grief-Loss/dp/1937943275

Traces of Hope

Over the past few years I have used the opportunity offered by this blog to reflect on many aspects of my healing from sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

I have a new book coming out that tells the story of my healing journey and my journey through grief and loss if you are interested in my full story.

http://www.amazon.com/Traces-Hope-Surviving-Grief-Loss/dp/1937943275/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1426982211&sr=1-1&keywords=Mona+villarrubia

A response to commenters on Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea’s article on NCR

Reference:
“Hard work awaits pope and abuse survivors”
Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea | NCR Apr. 23, 2013

A response:

I read the article and was impressed, as always, by Frawley-O’Dea’s passionate and insightful comments. She not only counsels but truly understands the struggles of victims. Not all therapists can comprehend the spiritual devastation of priest abuse.

Then I read the comments and was sickened by two themes: 1. The problem is homosexuality; 2. Compensation is a miss-use of church funds and neglects the poor and needy.

To the second point I want to say that the victims of pedophile and sexually abusive priests are, in my experience (11 years active in the survivor community; 54 years living with the effects of the abuse) some of the poorest, most damaged and needy people in the catholic community. Sadly they are no longer actively catholic and hence not included in the charitable giving of the church. But the reason they are no longer actively catholic IS the church – the behavior of abusive priests in the church.

I have known suicides, alcoholics, drug users, homeless, bankrupt, mentally ill victims whose lives were irrevocably damaged by suffering priest abuse. Counseling is vital, but so is the ability to earn a living, a place to live, and food to eat. Unfortunately the emotional and psychological ability to process a claim against the church is beyond the mental and certainly fiscal resources of most victims. This is where pro-active lawyers must step in and when they do the claims made must cover their fees and they are expensive. And getting a large settlement is what lawyers do. It helps their reputations. This is just the facts. If the church would make settlements before lawyers are engaged it would lesson costs to the church. But the bishops are the first ones to lawyer up. Again, my experience: 17 years seeking help for therapy, the bishop eventually said – “don’t write to me any more, talk to my lawyer. ” It was downhill from there.

Now to the first point. Homosexuality is not and never has been the issue. No more than heterosexuality. If we throw out homosexual priests we have to throw out heterosexual ones too, because pedophilia and ephebophilia are two very different issues and not strictly homo or heterosexual. Sexually abusive priests I have known, or learnt about, were psychologically deformed in some manner. Some abused girls and boys, some abused adults and children. One of my abusers raped my mother, molested me and one of my brothers. How should he be categorized? Simply a sick man with a corrupted morality and deformed psycho-sexual nature. He was an opportunistic abuser, not a homosexual or heterosexual abuser. We have to stop labeling this a homosexual issue. Healthy homosexual relationships are between consenting adults and are as committed as heterosexual ones. The problem for some of the commenters is that homosexuality is seen as evil so it must the root of the sexual problems of abuser priests. Wrong! If anything, the common sexual issues for abusive priests are chastity and celibacy.

Switchfoot, “Thrive”

Video

 “Thrive”

Been fighting things that I can’t see
Like voices coming from the inside of me and
Like doing things I find hard to believe in
Am I myself or am I dreaming?

I’ve been awake for an hour or so
Checking for a pulse but I just don’t know
Am I a man when I feel like a ghost?
The stranger in the mirror is wearing my clothes

No, I’m not alright
I know that I’m not right
A steering wheel don’t mean you can drive
A warm body don’t mean I’m alive

No, I’m not alright
I know that I’m not right
Feel like I travel but I never arrive
I wanna thrive not just survive

I come alive when I hear you singing
But lately I haven’t been hearing a thing and
I get the feeling that I’m in between
A machine and a man who only looks like me

I try and hide it and not let it show
But deep down inside me I just don’t know
Am I a man when I feel like a hoax?
The stranger in the mirror is wearing my clothes

No, I’m not alright
I know that I’m not right
A steering wheel don’t mean you can drive
A warm body don’t mean I’m alive

No, I’m not alright
I know that I’m not right
Feel like I travel but I never arrive
I wanna thrive not just survive

I’m always close, but I’m never enough
I’m always in line, but I’m never in love
I get so down, but I won’t give up
I get so down, but I won’t give up
I get so down, but I won’t give up

Been fighting things that I can’t see
Like voices coming from the inside of me …

Nightmares that linger

What is it about nightmares that gives them so much power in the daytime? After all they’re not real, right? Right! And yet…

What seems to make my nightmares so powerful after I wake up is the fact that the feelings are very real.  When I wake up I don’t leave the fear, panic, nausea, panic (yes I said panic twice — not sure how else to emphasize it) behind.  It’s all still there. Even though the images are gone — as long as I can keep my eyes open and don’t slide off into the nightmare again — the feelings remain. And the feelings suck! 

Last night, or to be precise 4.10am this morning, I woke up in the middle of a nightmare. I had been pursued by a rapist who morphed into a man in black (no surprises there) and I was somehow looking down on the top of his head trying to fly through a broken window to escape. Then he flew too, and all of a sudden the figure became quite demonic and exaggerated, evil personified if you like.  The more religious might be inclined to say he became the devil, but to me “devil” is just a metaphor for evil. Either way you name it I was being pursued and trying to escape with my life. As is typical for me in such dreams, even when I try to interject the saving device of phoning for help, I can’t remember the phone number for my therapist or the police, and then the phone doesn’t work etc .etc. More panic.

This time I decided to jump into a body of water to escape … I think I was mixing religious mythology with the Wizard of Oz and hoping the devil would dissolve (melt). He did for a while and I sank into peacefulness. Quite happy to be succumbing to the watery depths.  It was such a relief. The he loomed again in front of me in the water …. And I woke up.  Panicked.

I paced the house for a while, trying not to wake my husband whose sleep patterns aren’t much better than my own, waiting for his alarm to sound so I could hang out for breakfast and experience some normalcy. 

So, the dream was fiction but the feelings were real? Yes. And yet…

There it is, you see. Freud and Jung, psychologists and Jackson Square“mystics,” they all know there is more to reality than just our conscious, immediate awareness. However much we try to deny it, there is some “real” in our dreams. Connections to events, feelings, senses, movies and TV images, memories, thoughts, memories of thoughts, thoughts of memories…whatever.  They can all play a part, as can our body chemistry. As a diabetic I know that I have cycles of blood levels during the night and that can affect the rest of my body I’m sure.

How we interpret dreams should I think be our own individual adventure.  Look for repeated themes or obvious connections to the Law and Order episode you watched before bedtime.  Consider what you ate or drank before bed and what your body might be trying to tell you. Don’t assume anything is a “revealed memory.”  Just unwrap the feelings during the day, maybe journal, and then let them go and see what seems to want to stay around. Then … well then you have to ask the piece that won’t go away … What is it that I need to learn? But if you don’t get an answer, leave it be. If there is something for you to learn, it will come up again another time.

Murder, Suicide and God’s Plan

Someone posted a letter on-line today with news of the death of a Benedictine monk – his abuser. The death may have brought “closure” for his abuser, he reflected, but not for him.  Over the years he had planned then rejected both murder and suicide, but now he expressed sadness — for victims, but also for his abuser who, he realizes, must have been a troubled and twisted individual. The writer ended the letter with a blessing for his abuser!  I was shocked. To have moved from considering murder, not so many years ago, to offering a blessing was incredible, I hesitate to use the word but — miraculous.

In his words:

“Today I visited Montserrat Abbey, the oldest Benedictine monastery in existence. I went into the Church. I don’t know God’s plan for me, I don’t know God’s plan for Fr. Roger, but in my own simple way, I said – And May God bless him.            
                                                      C Michael Coode (SNAP  Tennessee)

Here was a victim who had retained his faith in God and was now dedicated to advocating for and supporting other victims through the National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC) and through leadership in his local branch of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and religious (SNAP).  He had maintained his faith in God despite the overwhelming proof of negligence, deceit, and denial by the Catholic Bishops. He could still enter a monastery and not run out shaking and crying. He could still pray to a God he believes has a Plan.

I know one thing with absolute certainty: If there is a God and if there is a Plan it doesn’t involve abuse of children. What makes most sense to me is that God’s plan — call it “the best of all possible worlds” — is thwarted every time someone chooses to reject God in favor of doing evil. And so God has to adjust the plan. My heart tells me that in responding to evil with a blessing Michael has more than lived up to what God would hope for. There is NOTHING more powerful and more loving and healing in the world than responding to evil with goodness, offering a blessing instead of creating more suffering — by hurting oneself or others. 

So, I responded to his post and offered Michael a blessing:

May you be blessed and comforted, may the light of Goodness shine upon you and bring you peace, and may you be filled with the healing power of Grace. You are my hero today.

To read the letter in its entirety you can go here:

 http://nationalsurvivoradvocatescoalition.wordpress.com/___-8/

Dear Pontiff — Letter #3

September 10, 2010

I just wanted to drop a note and thank you for the invitation, but I really can’t make it.  I hope you have a good visit with the other victims, though.  Mona 

Happy Rosh Hashanah,

What if the Pope really had invited me to one of his face-to-face meetings? Would I have gone? I gave this some serious thought and realized that in order for me to experience such a meeting as safe and positive I would need my own “people” with me to help me survive and remain emotionally healthy. This may seem ridiculous to you, but as a victim of profound and prolonged sexual abuse as a child, by more than one priest, I want you to know that I write this in all seriousness. I want you to understand the scenario as it would impact me and I imagine many other victims like me. 

How can I summon up some of the feelings for you?  Imagine a nightmare in which you are being chased. It is nighttime. Someone is trying to hurt you, to kill you, to rape you. You are running but you can’t escape. You enter a room but the door doesn’t lock. You keep running, keep running. Now imagine that this awful nightmare was actually based on the real fears and real danger that you experienced on a regular basis as a child — bad men who were always trying to get you alone to hurt you, and then threatening you if you told. Imagine the nightmare haunting your sleep for years during your childhood and then imagine it returning in times of stress for decades long into adulthood. Now imagine that you are going to a meeting in which the players in your nightmare drama were going to be in the room with you, in the flesh. And imagine all the fears of being chased, hurt, raped and killed, that haunted your nightmares rising up in your guts and into your throat and swirling around in your mind as you walk into this room, sweating, shaking, clammy, nauseated. Now you have a sense of what it would feel like for me. 

What would I need?
 ~  I would need my therapist because I would need “handling.” Someone talking me through the preparations and keeping me grounded in the present. “They cannot hurt you. You are safe. You are no longer a child, you are an adult. They can’t keep you here against your will. You are going to leave with us and go home. You are not doing anything wrong; you are allowed to tell.” Advocacy and compassion.

~  I would need my husband next to me so I could hold his hand or just lean on him and know he was there and that I would be leaving with him. Safe, male touch.

~  I would need a  group of strong, religious women in the room to balance all the men in clerical garb. Preferably these women would be American Dominicans from the Dominican Alliance. Feminine, Catholic, strength, wisdom and spirituality.

~  I would request that the Pope not wear a medieval costume but the simple, white cassock and zucchetto (cap). I have really bad memories involving a priest in a black cassock and a black biretta (three-ridged, square hat). But I know that would be pushing it.  

As it would not be possible to have all the above people with me when I met with the Pope and all his “people,” it would not be a good experience — at all. It would very likely lead to a serious mental health episode. I worry about those victims who do meet him and the conflicted feelings they must experience. And I worry that they don’t get to bring their “people” with them.  I hope they can process the visit and remain safe and that it gives them what they are looking for.

Dear Pontiff — Day 2

Dear Pontiff,

As you prepare for your visit to England I just want to express my support for your bishops in my homeland. I want you to know that I realize responding in any kind of meaningful way to accusations against priests takes time. Of course the accusations must be investigated. It would be tragic if a good priest was wrongfully accused; my brother is a religious and I am very protective. But I really think that sixteen years is a bit long for justice to be served.

The only corroboration to my accusations (that I know of) comes from other members of my family who were also raped and molested, so maybe that is problematic. But I wonder if you might try to expedite some help for me. I have spent over $100,000 on therapy, medication and hospitalization. I don’t expect to recoup that, and I am not interested in bankrupting any diocese. But help going forward with therapy would sure be useful — this millennium preferably.

M