Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pastoral Sexual Abuse




I have waited for years for this moment when I would take my journey out and share it with the world. My journey..........a romantic way of describing the pain of pastoral sexual abuse and the healing from its damage.

At 17, I was a senior in high school, president of my youth group, an A/B student, and a Christian hungering and looking for something more of God. In November of that year our church hired a youth minister, so as youth president I drove over to his house to welcome him to town.

I am 51 now and 34 years have passed since that fateful day. I still remember at that first meeting how I felt so adult in the way I was treated and welcomed. I left feeling both wanted and accepted and with plans to show Bob around the youth center the following day and to babysit for their daughter on Thursday afternoon while his wife attended a new decoupage class.

After classes on Tuesday, I sped out to meet Bob at the church, totally unsuspecting that the afternoon would change my life. My childhood ended in Bob’s office, but my adulthood hung stuck in the claws of abuse, only to disentangle itself many years down the road.

After meeting Bob in his office we walked over to the youth center. Bob was an amazing communicator and unlike anyone I had ever met he could talk about sex without being in the least bit awkward sounding. On the way back to his office he began to ask me if I had a boyfriend. “No, we broke up a few weeks ago.”

Before I knew it he was asking me about our sexual relationship and how far we had gone together. Right then and there I should have been shooting up flares and setting off warning beacons but I was totally naïve. The extent of my sexual relationship with Brian had been some light petting but once he had ejaculated. Bob asked me if he had also met my needs and when I replied in the negative, he responded that he should have.

After reentering Bob’s office we talked a few more moments and then Bob lifted my chin and kissed me. It was an amazing feeling kissing a mustached grown man. As I drowned in his kiss his hand dropped to my breast and then as quickly as it had started it ended. It is odd that I have no memory of any sense of sin or wrongness. I felt guilt over what I did in the back seat of my boyfriend’s Volkswagen but no sense of wrong over this kiss.

Two days passed with me constantly thinking of the kiss. After school on Thursday I showed up to babysit for Bob's wife to attend her craft class. That was a day filled with firsts. I changed my first diaper and later had sex with my pastor.

Bob came home early as I am sure he planned. Their daughter was down for her nap. I have no memory of how we got there but I remember receiving an education on the male anatomy and what felt good and how to do it and that it’s ok, it is sterile, people just swallow it.

It was two weeks – the 4th time I was alone with him, before I finally had intercourse with Bob. Afterwards, I sat down on the floor next to the bed, getting dressed, and bled on the carpet. Bob was pretty upset trying to get it cleaned up before Georgia got home. While he was anxiously trying to get the blood stain out, I was sitting in the den reveling in the momentousness of the afternoon. I was an adult. I was no longer a virgin. Wow!

I was totally oblivious to the truth.

As the year progressed, guilt began to eat at me. I had to stop. Tendrils of shame began to creep into my soul. I had to find some peace within myself. “Sure, I understand,” was Bob’s response. “It is ok. We can stop.” That is what he said.
What he did was ignore me. I was no longer special. I no longer had the attention that had fed me.

I couldn’t handle it. So, being the adult I was, I went and talked to him. Being the predator he was, he replied, “Once you have crossed that line, you can’t go back and have one without the other. It doesn’t work that way.”

He won.

It happened another time. He won then too.

The sexual and emotional abuse continued until I went off to college the next fall.

The church fired Bob about the time Spring quarter started. The story was that they just couldn’t afford to keep him but I think the truth is that he got caught with one of the ladies that helped him out with the youth. For whatever reason, he disappeared from my life for 30 years to reappear at another painful time in my life – my brother’s funeral. His appearance and seeming obliviousness to the pain he had caused, finally led me to report him to the denomination’s regional office.

But for many years I did not report him. At first I told no one and 34 years ago the power dynamic of abuse was not understood by many. The first time I did share my secret I did so to a pastor while off at college. I told the pastor that I had had an “affair” with my youth minister. I did not tell him that he was 32 and I was 17, nor did I tell him the predatory details of the relationship. He didn't ask. He was too shocked to say much of anything. The pastor withdrew from me completely. Perhaps it scared him or perhaps he had no idea how to handle it, but I FELT as if I had the plague and deep shame grew inside of me.

The second pastor I shared with was the leader of a small house church that was birthed in the charismatic movement of the 70's. After sharing with him and his wife, he began to pursue me. I fought off his advances until people began to pick up on something being wrong and threw ME out of the church. They never asked me what was going on. They only asked me to leave. That was probably the most painful experience of my life. Painful due to the intense shame involved.

At that point in the relationship I no longer had the strength to even try to stand against the pastor’s advances so I quit trying and gave in. The relationship lasted about a year before God extricated me from it in a rather painful way. I swallowed a yellow jacket that had flown down into my straw while we sat outside at a park. It stung me in the throat, my throat swole, and I thought I was going to die and I didn't care if I did, just please God don't let me die with this pastor and everyone find out what I have been doing.

I broke off the relationship and I’m still here.

I was ready to do whatever it took to end these nightmares in my life. I was convinced something was terribly wrong with me for this to have happened twice. I started attending a new church. The next pastor, after listening to the previous one's rendition of the story, asked me if I understood the seriousness of what I had done. I didn't, though I told him I did. I had no idea of the depth of the damage in my soul. I had forfeited all my self respect and filled my heart with wads of self hatred. I followed his advice and spent the next 10 years rising daily and reminding myself of the seriousness of what I had done. I erroneously believed this was the only way to prevent myself from ever doing such a thing again.

In the meantime I married a wonderful man who has supported and loved me since then. I never again entered any type of power abusive relationship but I was full of pain and shame and self hatred and fear of what resided inside of me.

The next time I shared, it was much better. The world was changing. The church was learning about emotional healing. This time the pastor of the church cried FOR me and the release from the shame began. That was about 20 years ago. His wife remains one of my best friends.

I went to several Christian healing conferences and got better but I could not stop the shame or self hatred. I read several Christian inner healing books. I knew God loved me and accepted me and I understood, in my head, the story of the prodigal son but I could not get past the self hatred and shame.

About 6 years ago I returned to college and discovered therapy was free. It was just in time because the plug was ready to blow and when it did a lot spewed out. There were many, many weeks that I spent at least 3 hours in Cheryl's office. Some weeks in the beginning I was in there every day. My life was an emotional hurricane.

I worked through a lot and learned how to stop the negative and constant self hatred. "What are you telling yourself, Diane?" was probably the most life changing question I have heard -right up there with "Are you satisfied with your relationship with God?" and “Will you marry me?”. I continue in therapy today.

This fall my elderly mom moved in to live with us and I began taking her to the local church in the same denomination in which I had been abused. This was a big step and I was excited that after a lot of work I could do it. My intent was to get her settled and then sneak out the back door. But, that first Sunday, I knew - as in I KNEW - God had healing for me in that place and that the pastor was safe and had a part to play in that healing.

Shortly thereafter some of the pain and ways of coping began to surface and along with them a wad of panic. I felt I had two choices, leave or face it and tear down this thing that held me captive. I was tired of Bob's abuse reeking havoc in me. I stayed and made an appointment with Tom the pastor. I told him via email what I had gone through. When we met he apologized for the damage the church, denomination, and pastors had done to me. It was quite a moment.

As I have continued in this newer level of healing, I have tackled new layers of shame and found newer deeper freedom. Amazing how one thinks there could be no more, only to discover there is yet another battle to win. In the midst of the new freedom I discovered forgiveness toward the abuser I did not think I could achieve. Not just a decision but a release from deep inside of me.

My journey will continue for a lifetime – as all of ours do. I no longer expect to wake up one day completely free of the past. Instead I expect the healing to continue and for opportunities to open that will allow me to share His Grace.

18 comments:

TREY MORGAN said...

Di,

Powerful story about your journey. I pray for healing in your life and others who have been hurt. I also pray that you'll be able to minister to those who suffer from this horrible problem.

Blessings

Di said...

Thanks Trey. I wouldn't change my journey - now that much is healed though much was difficult. Nevertheless it has formed me into who I am today and I like her. :-)

NB said...

I'm sorry you've had to experience this pain and I will pray for your continued healing.

A wise lady,(Monica), once said, "No matter what our past is filled with, we can still choose our present and our future".

ronxum@yahoo.com said...

My wife (who should tell her own story) has also experienced a similar pastoral sex-crime. Now more recently she and I have together entered into a new life-long dance with cancer; which is also painful.

We are attempting to shift our worldview away from “the helpless victim role” to one of faith and power.

Accordingly, we have more recently chosen to see this dance as an adventure.

Our faith teaches us that we are already living with an eternal God. Death may come, but a New Heavens and Earth are also coming.

Therefore on the one hand we find that treating these matters are painful and “abusive” but defining ourselves as “victims” seems to “dis-empower” (sic) our faith while on the other hand doing that also empowers the disease/crime.

Therefore we would rather choose to "own" rather than "disown" our present circumstance as a part of a larger life and world view.

Our world will always be marked by these facts, but we want God and our faith to control and empower us and the principalities and powers that would usurp our lives instead be sent back to their rightful place. We can never go back to what was "normal" but in some circles there is talk of a recovery that surpasses one's previous "normal" it is called the "weller than well" syndrome. That is what we seek.

Consider: The recent school shooting at Virginia Tech which carries a sub-text story yet to be more fully unpacked about one man named, Liviu Librescu, a 76 year old holocaust survivor and Israeli professor at Virginia Tech University, who died by putting himself in the door blocking the gunman from his students in the classroom behind him.

In one sense he was neither coward nor a dominating hero, he chose non-violence and did to actively resist/attack nor was he an unwilling victim. He seems to have truly made himself a sacrifice. In time we will know his story. My point is that would seem to me that this is the Christ-like calling I would hope to choose for myself.

Shifting our minds to stop seeing ourselves as victims and forever defined by that victimization is important. Telling our story as a testimony of God’s grace, our healing, and sharing our coping skills is also worthy.

Thanks you for the strength I see in yours. May blessings abound to you.

Di said...

Ronxum,

WOW That was powerful. I had to read that twice to begin to digest the wisdom.

Interesting for me is that we have been watching a series of tapes at church on Acts and the first week we were asked whether we identified more with the cross of Christ or His resurrection.

I realized that at the moment I was certainly more cross oriented because I was in some pretty severe emotional pain having just begun to attend there - the denomination in which the first abuse occurred. Everything inside was exploding. It has settled since then and a lot of growth and healing came out of the explosion.

I too am now pondering what it is like to see myself in through the ressurection instead of the suffering of the cross.

In the world of psychology, I think they would say you go from victim to survivor. As my pastor says, truth is truth.

I will chew on all you offered me. If you feel to share more - I am interested in specifics of how you have enterred this way of thinking. It takes a lot of work to change one's paradigm.

Anonymous said...

I like the neologism "Thrivor" better than "Survivor." Again the latter seems suggestive of being "less than" one was before and the first is more suggestive of something better. Yes, ressurrection has great possiblities -- therein we do no regain our former bodies but nrew and different ones. Good point. I seek to stay green and growing!
Ron

Monalea said...

Di,
What courage you have to tell your story! I have been down a similar path, the abuse starting as a small child of 3 or 4 and finally ending at age 29. Funny, but until you get help, the abuse just seems to continue.

I was in counseling for many years. Counseling and breast cancer helped me to heal. And you are right about forgiveness; it comes in layers like an onion. You are also right about God; you can tell Him how you feel about never being able to forgive the perpetrator. Why not be honest with Him? He knows anyway and I think you get through it better when you are honest with God.

I poured over parts of Psalms where David was crying out to God when he felt so lost and alone. Then one day Psalms 23 (everyone is familiar with it) "He restores my soul." And for the first time in my life I realized that God could restore what someone had stolen.

Thank you for being so brave and sharing your story. I'm not that brave 'yet.'

Monalea (Trey's Sister)

Di said...

Anonymous, you have me questioning if I am thriving yet? Out of the abuse and issues prior to the abuse, I developed an addiction to people's attention, approval, affirmation, etc. It is this addiction that I once again discussed with my shrink this past week. Does one ever find freedom? He equated it with any addiction and we decided that though I was close, I still had not quite reached the point of recovery. In other words the addiction still finds me vulnerable and I still feel shame for it. It is not concious shame but pockets of it explode here and there. John's view was that once I handled myself the way I handle others (with the same mercy) then I will be fully in recovery. I think it will be then that I can be called a thrivor.

I don't mind the idea of survivor because it expresses a grit determination to finish this and that is me. And, it is a battle or war at times for me and many causualties are out there and I am thrilled to be hearing from some of them.

You challenge me. Thank you.

Di said...

Monalea,

No wonder Trey had such care and interest in my story. I imagine your story has affected his ministry a great deal and in a very good way. Out of your story he has helped me find further healing and another step on my own journey.

Oh, and doesn't it continue until we get help?! If not outwardly, inwardly. The worst damage was what I inflicted on myself - the self hatred and belief that something was terribly wrong with me.

And it sounds to me like you did manage to share parts of your story. And about God knowing anyway - I have said that many times.

Please come back and visit. I am so glad to have met one more who understands in a way others can't. I so very much needed this. Though I know they are out there, not many are willing to say - hey I was there too.

Balaam's Ass said...

agkuvDearest Di,

No one can has any business judging another's journey. Your story is an Ebenezer memorial about how God has brought you this far.

There are many roads that draw us toward God from all points in the globe. As we draw closer to God we will draw closer to each other.

As I deal with hard matters such as faith, death and dying or dealing with abuse in my own life I am looking for windows and doors, strength and grace -- that glory God not me.

I see you raising all the right questions. I read all sorts of authors for material that triggers my heart's search for God and for coping with my own issues. I pray that you are encouraged toward that end more than anything else...

Monalea said...

Di,
Just so you know the abuse I suffered was not from anyone in the ministry. My abuse was beyond words. . . but I can't how even imagine how awful when it is someone that does it in the name of God.

You hang in there 'Dear Friend.'
Monalea

Di said...

Monolea,

Abuse is abuse. I think the worst is by the hands of one's family and that which begins at a really early age. But, I don't think we need to compare measures because pain is pain and depression and anxiety and self hatred hit us all. I have wondered why I remained in church and maintained a relationship with God once I realized many don't. I did spend 3 or so years recently doing some very very deep questioning of God's existence, but underneath the Holy Spirit was still there and amazing things happened just when I needed them to and I could never avoid noticing that.

If you had one thing to share with folks that have been down your path, one thing that you do to help yourself when things get tough, what would it be?

I think mine was learning to ask myself "What am I telling myself?" Maybe it is time to post those thoughts.

Di

Di said...

Balaam's Ass, I love that pen name. :-) Many times I have identified with the ass.

I was once in a very destructive church that judged everyone and was very hard on women. Women wiped noses and changed diapers and if they weren't with their husbands, they had better not pray for anyone and help us all if a woman felt that God wanted her to share something because she was a woman. The fact that God spoke through an ass, well I think women were regarded higher than that, so I loved that scripture and used to say, if God can speak through Balaam's ass then he can speak through me. They had a hard time refuting that.

I guess I stayed in that church for the same reason I allowed the abuse.

So, in all your reading, what has helped?

Di

Monalea said...

Di,

You asked, 'If there where 1 thing I could share that helped me?

There is healing!

For years I didn't know you could heal, so why go down the path and face the past just to get the same results.

I'll say it again, "There is Healing!"

Leah said...

I am glad you published this blog. I am now come to realize that what I have experienced wasn't an affair, but sexual abuse. I think the comment made "the abuse continues until you get help" is true. I am not a victim, I am not a survivor, I am a thriver. Abuse does not define who I am and how far I go in life.

Di said...

Thank you Leah for sharing. I am glad the blog has met a need. It is a rich feeling to take pain in your life and be able to give out of it. It has also met many of my needs. I am still very much in the healing process.

And you are right Leah, it was not an affair. It was abuse. No matter one's age when someone in a minsterial, therapeutic relationship uses their position to take us places that hurt us - it is, in the least, sexual exploitation. (Check out some of the links I listed.)

One day in therapy I was comparing my first episode of pastoral abuse with the second situation, saying the first was predatory. John smiled and corrected me. "Both were predatory, Di." And yes, that seems clear now. Though the second predator was not similarly addicted to sex, he did prey on me.

May God's healing flood us all.

Di

The Preacher's Household: said...

Thank you for sharing. I am not sure how many women have not been harmed by a predator of some kind. I think your honesty and experiences will help a great many people.
I must say that reading your story brings about feelings of anger for me and I am not even involved.
I will pray for your continued healing and the healing of those who are doing the same.
Kathy

Di said...

Thank you for your anger. It is a subject that deserves anger and disgust and education and I am grateful to our friend Trey for doing that educating on his recent posts.

As a pastor's wife, if you ever find a place where my story might make a difference and be of use - let me know. It is my heart to share and in sharing to hopefully change lives.

Di