6. Learn your legal rights. The church
leaders have lots more information about our abuse than we do. They
know our legal rights, but most of us dont know. We can choose
to exercise our legal rights or not but it is empowering to make
the choice. Without knowing we dont make the choice.
SNAP members ignored learning about our legal rights because we
assumed we didnt need to learn them because the church leaders
would do the right thing. By the time we figured out that the church
leaders were not going to do the right thing it was too late for
many of us to exercise our legal rights. We have noticed that frequently
the church leaders string victims along until the statute of limitations
has run, or in laymans terms, the opportunity we had to file
a claim was over before we knew it.
the time many of us realized it was too late to do anything. That
experience was so painful to many survivors because it was another
moment of helplessness and powerlessness at the hands of our perpetrator
or his supervisors.
Many survivors have developed addictions or health problems. The
pain and betrayal we felt while being abused was intense. We had
no knowledge of how to cope with the experience of being abused
as well as the feelings that came as a result of the abuse. All
of us found a way to survive or we would not be here today. The
problem is that many of the coping mechanisms we used to survive
the abuse are not healthy for us today.
are some of the types of problems we have:
Alcoholism, drug addiction, over-eating, under-eating or other eating
disorders, co-dependency, finger-nail biting, promiscuity, detachment
from intimacy, sleep disorders, religious fanaticism, stomach or
intestinal problems, or just an overall attitude of anger wherein
we have a chip on our shoulder.
any of the above are a problem for you, SNAP recommends that you
seek help. Now we are not being abused and so we dont need
to rely on the unhealthy coping mechanisms we used in the past.
Help for these types of problems will liberate and free us to be
able to face the real issues of our abuse. In SNAP meetings we do
not address addiction issues and recommend that survivors seek help
for these from other sources.
Facing the issues:
Acknowledging and facing the issues of our abuse can be extremely
time consuming and require lots of energy and emotions. As a result
many of us have felt completely drained and had months of feeling
tired and overwhelmed. When we feel this way it is easy to become
irritable and short-tempered.
survivors have found it helpful to:
Keep our significant others (spouses, parents, room-mates,
bosses, anyone who is in close proximity to us) aware of what
we are going through.
While they will never know what it feels like to be us they may
find it helpful to deal with us (our mood swings, tears, tempers,
etc) if they know what we are coping with and that we are in pain.
Some of our significant others have found it helpful
to get their own counselor to know how to help us get through
the healing. Being a significant other to a survivor is not easy
and we survivors need to be aware of how difficult it can be for
those around us. However, we must keep clear that it is not our
job to take care of them. It is their job to care for us.
Take time off to feel the pain. If we attend counseling
or a support group on Monday nights we find a babysitter for the
rest of the evening, or take off work on Tuesday mornings. Frequently
when we are dealing with our abuse new thoughts, emotions, memories,
etc., come up, at any moment, with any trigger. Sometimes it is
easier to deal with it knowing that there is a specific time that
we will have to deal with the issue.
the every day habits of life, like getting dressed, going to work,
feeding the kids, caring for spouses and housework, etc. must
cannot stop while we decide to heal from our abuse. Planning ahead
can help us juggle our emotions with our responsibilities.
Exercise. Of course dealing with our emotions can make us want
to curl up into a ball and craw under our desks rather than getting
up and moving. But in the long run we will feel better if we get
up and take a long vigorous walk, go for a bike ride, or whatever
we can do to move our bodies. Getting our hearts to beat faster
gives us an emotional lift too and makes it easier to cope with
the painful emotions. Extending ourselves physically also can
become a way to release pent up anger, guilt and shame.
Do something soothing. Take a long hot bath. Drink some herbal
tea. Eat a dark chocolate candy bar.
Many survivors have found getting a massage helpful. As our bodies
are touched by safe, healing hands, the touch releases some of
the pent up pain, shame and guilt that we may be holding. Sometimes
survivors find they have had backaches, shoulder aches for years
that go away after being touched in a massage. This can also becomes
a time of our bodies remembering touches that were hurtful and
wrong by our perpetrators triggering an onslaught of emotions.
But all the survivors who have experienced massages, that I know
of, have found it helpful. At many SNAP conferences massages have
been offered and have been healing for those who experienced them.
But you know yourself and your tolerance level for being touched.
If it feels like it might be helpful, go for it. If it feels invasive
to have a stranger touch you than a massage is not for you. Trust
Set boundaries and keep them. The boundaries may be that we only
talk about our abuse to certain people at certain times. Or it
could mean that we set aside 30 minutes every day to care for
our own needs. Setting limits protects us from sharing too much
or from ignoring our needs.
Setting limits and keeping them empowers us to take control of
some aspects of our lives. While we were being abused we were
helpless and powerless.
Taking charge of our lives is empowering. Claiming power is a
significant experience of healing. It enable us to take back what
was taken from us when we were abused.
Do something artistic or write in a journal. Many survivors have
found this helpful, you might too. Writing and drawing has allowed
our emotions to take over which released painful emotions. Some
survivors have bought a sketch pad and cray-paz (mixture
of crayon and acrylic paint in type of marker) and then went to
it. We sat down and began to draw our emotions from the abuse.
Both drawing and writing released emotions and allowed our story
to be told. It seems that so much of the pain we feel is in keeping
the secret. By telling the story in our journals or drawing it
in our sketch pads we broke the silence and told the secret. Breaking
the secrecy becomes healing and helps us face more of the truth.
When we can use our discretion, following the boundaries we previously
set, to determine who, if any one else, gets to see our drawings
or read our journals is has also been healing. Even if no one
ever reads what we write, or sees what we draw, the experience
is still very helpful.
Take time to rest. Dealing with our abuse is exhausting.
Acknowledge that and give yourself a break. Dont feel guilty
when you take time to rest. The intense healing process will not
last forever and when you are through it you might find that you
dont need as much rest. Then you can resume your normal
level of commitments. But if you feel like you need it now give
yourself the time and space.
No matter how bad it feels now, it will improve and you will feel
better. Many survivors take years to work through the pain of
Be patient. The end will come, even if you dont recognize
it all at once.
Happier days will be there for you. Many survivors have felt that
they would never be happy again but eventually we do end up feeling
Create an opportunity to laugh. Many of us survivors noticed that
we just did not find many things funny and had stopped laughing.
So to make us laugh, we found it helpful to rent funny movies.
The mindless experience of becoming immersed in an otherwise stupid
story, with funny actors or plots for an hour and a half while
watching a movie can be a great release of emotions. Lots of us
started doing that and we found it helpful. We even laughed a
lot just telling about the stupid movies we had watched. Some
included: Charlie Chaplin movies, Smokey and the Bandit,
Animal House, Blazing Saddles, Planes,
Trains and Automobiles.
9. Everybody is unique! Everyones
experience of healing from abuse is unique. While many of our experiences
of abuse were similar everyone heals in their own way. There are
no rights or wrongs. Mostly, we have learned that its best to trust
our own judgements and those of the people who know us best and
love us most. By sharing our experiences in SNAP we have learned
from each other and continue to do so. We try not to tell each other
what to do or what is right because what is right for one person
might not be for another. We dont give advice to each other
but rather just learn from others experiences and then apply
what fits to our own experiences.
We are the victims (survivors)!
The abuse was not our fault. No matter what we did or didnt
do to stop it or prevent it. No matter whether it felt good or bad.
No matter whether he bought us gifts, took us out to eat, or to
fun places. No matter if we enjoyed his company. No matter if someone
else had warned us to stay away from him. No matter what, the responsibility
for a priest molesting us rests squarely on the priest. He was in
a position of authority. We looked up to the priest. We trusted
the priest and we believed what he told us. We thought he was close
to God and we might get close to God if we stuck close to him. He
should not have touched us. He abused his position of authority.
He used his position of being a priest to victimize us. He had no
right to do this. He is a criminal and what he did was a criminal
act. We are victims of his crime.
and his bosses who trained him and supervised him were wrong. His
bosses, the Bishops, Pastors, and teachers at his Seminary made
a big mistake in putting him into his position of priest. They did
not do their job properly. If they had, he would not have become
a priest and been in that position to hurt us. The church leaders
and the priests are guilty.
are victims. We are innocent. We have been wronged. We deserve to
have the wrong made right. That will mean different things to each
of us but we all deserve to be made whole, as much as that is possible.
Wisdom is a compilation of things that SNAP members have learned
and shared with each other at SNAP meetings. The above information
is what we have learned from each other. If any of the above does
not fit for you for, dont use it. If you have questions about
how any of this applies to your situation seek help from professionals.
We are not professionals in this area of sexual abuse but know about
it because we were sexually molested. So the information presented
is based upon our own experiences and advice we learned along the
way that helped us. Mostly, we believe each survivor knows what
is best for himself or herself. The survivor is responsible for
his or her path to healing.