The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

Survivors' Wisdom
Part 2

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 don’t know. We can choose to exercise our legal rights or not but it is empowering to make the choice. Without knowing we don’t make the choice.

Many SNAP members ignored learning about our legal rights because we assumed we didn’t 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 layman’s terms, the opportunity we had to file a claim was over before we knew it.

By 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.

7. Healthy Survivors: 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.

Here 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.”

If any of the above are a problem for you, SNAP recommends that you seek help. Now we are not being abused and so we don’t 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.

8. 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.

Many survivors have found it helpful to:

8A. 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.

8B. 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.

Doing the every day habits of life, like getting dressed, going to work, feeding the kids, caring for spouses and housework, etc. must go on.

Life cannot stop while we decide to heal from our abuse. Planning ahead can help us juggle our emotions with our responsibilities.

8C. 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.

8D. Do something soothing. Take a long hot bath. Drink some herbal tea. Eat a dark chocolate candy bar.

8E. 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 your instincts.

8F. 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.

8G. 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.

8H. Take time to rest. Dealing with our abuse is exhausting.
Acknowledge that and give yourself a break. Don’t 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 don’t 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.

8I. 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 their abuse.
Be patient. The end will come, even if you don’t 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 better.

8J. 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! Everyone’s 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 don’t give advice to each other but rather just learn from others’ experiences and then apply what fits to our own experiences.

10. We are the victims (survivors)! The abuse was not our fault. No matter what we did or didn’t 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.

He 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.

We 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.

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*Survivors’ 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, don’t 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.



Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests