Friday, June 22, 2007

The Legacy of Pastoral Sexual Abuse

How does one quantify or qualify the damage done by clergy sexual misconduct? When I search online for answers to this question, I find little talk of actual cost. So, I began to ask myself this question - what did Bob's and Minton's abuse cost me?

I was privy, as a returning non-traditional college student, to free therapy for 5 1/2 years. I once tallied up what the therapy would have cost me had I been required to pay for it and the tab came to $120,000; a fee I could have never afforded. I currently pay a minimum of $150 a month. That $150 includes therapy and medication of which insurance covers the majority.
As large as that figure is to my budget, the greater cost is in my time, energy, and emotional health. Here is a cost list I created a few weeks ago:

  • shame, shame and more shame

  • lack of trust of myself

  • What is wrong with me?

  • self doubt

  • self flagellation - Do you understand the seriousness of what you have done?

  • fear of myself
By far the most important and most damaging effect was the loss of self respect. Once Minton made moves toward me as a result of my sharing Bob's abuse with he and his wife, I adopted the belief and question, "What is wrong with me?" Any tatters of belief in myself was totally destroyed. I truly believed the abuse was a result of something decidedly misconstructed in me. A later pastor asked me if I understood the seriousness of what I had done? Being the fantastic overachiever my son accuses me of being - I determined to understand this fact with all my being.

I daily flagellated myself with the seriousness of what I had done in hopes of preventing such misbehavior in the future. I lost any trust of my own personhood and saw myself as something to fear - and fear myself, I did. Who else would I contaminate?

Shame became the primary definer of my soul. I lived in shame. I believed in my shame. I was shame. Therapists will tell you that shame is at the base of most psychological issues. It WAS my psychological issue.
  • identification of attention and approval with sex

  • increase in need for approval

  • loss of healthy boundaries

During my relationship with Bob, my boundaries were destroyed. I equated sexual desire with acceptance. I was eaten alive inside by a hunger for approval and attention that was promised by the sex but I never seemed to attain. Have you ever been so thirsty that you would have drunk anything? I have - once. Since then I always make sure water travels with me. I have carried inside of me a similar thirst for approval and attention and acceptance. The hole inside my soul was unquenchable and constantly drove me to have it filled. It tormented every waking moment of my life. Tell me I am OK. Tell me you like me. Tell me I did a good job. Tell me you care about me. Tell me I am special. Tell me....... Only no matter how much love was shown, it never filled the hole. I became frantic to make the pain and emptiness stop.

  • involvement in a controlling church that was full of misogyny

  • anger toward authority which led to frequent conflict

  • transference onto relationships in the present

I sought approval in a very controlling and misogynous church. Misogyny means hatred of women, and women were treated like dirt. We had picnics at which the men played and the women took care of the kids and believed that was their place. The men went to meetings that the women were too fragile to understand or learn about. Women were not allowed to pray for anyone if their husband was not present. Whatever issues a husband might have was immediately deflected back onto the wife for if she was a proverb's women her husband would be an elder and "sit in the gates". If he wasn't - then there was something wrong with his wife. It took years for me to see the error of the church and then I couldn't leave it out of some warped sense of duty.

Anger toward authority leaked out of me like steam out of a pressure cooker. I was unaware of it, but those in authority felt it. It was my goal to emasculate them and expose their weaknesses. I transferred my anger at Bob and Minton onto others. Some deserved it but others did not. Relationships were affected and I was seen as someone to be avoided.

  • general anxiety disorder

  • need to be perfect, fear of failure increased

  • emotional turmoil

  • church avoidance

While prior to the abuse I had been an A/B student, after the abuse I had to be the top of the class. Being the top made me special and gave me attention and approval. It also drove me and haunted me and made me rather obnoxious at times. As I entered my late 40's an underlying anxiety built inside of me. It still remains and medication keeps me even keel most of the time. Panic attacks and a racing heart keep me taking that medication.

I left church and could not go back until 9 months ago. If I went for a wedding or once for the baptism of my son, a Xanex got me through the ceremony. Being in church was too frightening. I don't know whether I was more afraid of what someone there might do or of what I might do if let loose.

  • life focus stolen

  • identity changed and centered on abuse

  • dropped out of college

  • time

  • loss of friends

I dropped out of college early on because of the emotional turmoil over the abuse from Bob and Minton. I spent the the next 25 years pursuing the direction that brought the least anxiety. Even my eventual return to college at the age of 43 was in part out of fear of failing if I returned to the work force.

Much of the time in my 30's and 40's was spent wrestling with the after affects of the abuse. I did not always connect the two but without the abuse, much that brought turmoil into my life, would not have had its hook in me.

I lost dear friends when the relationship with Minton was aired by a pastor that promised to protect my identity. I had already been thrown out of the church group years before due to discomfort between me and Minton's wife. Then, post abuse, I was once again blamed for the action of my pastor and deemed too dangerous for some to allow their children to be around me. Their children were allowed, however, to hang out with Minton - at least until the truth came out.

I sometimes wonder who I would be if Bob had never happened - in one sense, a pointless question. Nevertheless, my life was changed. Oddly if you look at it one way, what I did to myself because of the abuse, was the deepest damage. It was not the physical happenings that hurt me, but the self hatred and despite that ate me alive.

Shame is a devourer of souls.


Sarah/Robert said...

This is powerful, Diane. I hope and pray that as other women read this and identify with it, they will be encouraged to seek the "way out."
Shame truly is the devourer of souls.

Anonymous said...

aunt diane,

WOW. This one is powerful. Thanks for writing it. I never have the words to send you after reading your blogs, it's more of a feeling of pride that I can't put into words. Even through all that with the church, please know you were (and ARE) someone who changed lives. I am so much better for having you in my life as my friend, nurturer, and mentor. I love this site. I think I am going to send it to my cousin who could really use to hear what this David guy has to say.

You're beautiful!!!!


Neva said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Di said...

Robert and Sarah, thanks for the support. I'll never forget watching Mr. Holland's Opus with you, Sarah, and asking why someone couldn't have had that integrity with me and then crying tears of pain and shame all over you.

Isn't it amazing that Jesus died to defeat the shame and yet we run to embrace it anyway?

Ang - you are loved and your honesty is soooooooooo refreshing.

Neva, I just spent 2 days with Bonnie. She is having trouble swallowing still and they are feeding her with a tub down her nose now and working on the swallowing. One of her vocal cords is not moving much and that is an issue both with speech and swallowing. She is in a lot of pain and it is so hard to watch her. Also confusion remains but I am totally convinced it is drug and sleep deprivation induced.

I meet with Bob on Tuesday and will post something about it tomorrow.

Thanks for your faithfulness.



Di said...

That is a "tube" down her nose. The tub wouldn't fit!


Anonymous said...

hang in there,
my situation is very different but I definitely relate to "Who would I have been if X had not happened?"
i can definitely relate to that.

I have thought a lot more about that than the old "Why?" question.


Di said...

Yes, perhaps life would have been very different but there are only a few things I would change. Only the inside peace would really matter to me. I would choose to not be so tormented inside.


Anonymous said...

Shame does not stop at the soul...please, take care of yourself.

I know the burden you carry. I too beg for approval, crave attention. Lately it has only backfired. And I too have experienced the betrayal from another well-meaning individual who pinned the blame on me.

Remember that Jesus stopped the stoning...

Lis said...

25yrs?!? I can't imagine. I've lost my 20's to this. There has to be a point of regaining life..there just has to be..

di said...

Yes, Lis, there is life after abuse. When this happened to me in the 70's no one even talked about sex - much less sexual abuse! It took the Catholic Church fiasco and people like David Clohessy to blow the abuse issue wide open. It took me about 10 years of work with professionals to break completely free. In that time, I worked on a lot of stuff other than the abuse. Other issues had made me an easy target. I went for the complete deal and dealt with it all. I can say that I am a richer person because of all I worked through. Don't quit....and remember His grace really is sufficient even if it doesn't feel that way in the moment.