Thursday, December 2, 2010

Blogging Dr. Romo's Book: Healing the Sexually Abused Heart -- Who Am I?

I call Dr. Jaime Romo, Jaime, because I have met him twice when he has come to Oregon, and he is a nice guy who does not throw his intellectual weight around as a former professor of education at a university.  Once I would have put him on a pedestal and called him Dr. Romo.  In the last several years many people I have put on pedestals have fallen off.  In any case, Jaime does not seem to put himself on a pedestal, so I won’t.
Jaime wrote his workbook, Healing the Sexually Abused Heart:  A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers and Supporters, as a clergy abuse survivor, for clergy abuse survivors.    He gave me a couple dozen copies of the book as a donation to Compassionate Gathering and because I work with a number of clergy abuse survivors.  When Jaime first gave me the book, I thought I was far enough along to not need to do the exercises.  I started working the exercises anyway so I could understand the book and help others who might be interested in buying a copy from me, but I only did so when I had appointments I had to wait for.  I very quickly came to the conclusion that Jaime’s book was good for all survivors of abuse and not just clergy abuse or sex abuse survivors.  I shared the book with someone who had been emotionally abused by his father but not abused in other ways, and he found that he identified with the exercises.  Eventually I realized that I am still going through interpersonal interactions I am not sure how to handle and that I could use the book to support and guide me through those interactions.  I started taking Jaime’s book with me on more occasions to peruse to see how it could help me heal my own wounded relationships.  It didn’t take me very long to decide to incorporate it into the support group Elizabeth and I run.  Elizabeth is taking a break to support her son’s family after the birth of a new grandchild, and I don’t have as much experience running support groups as she does.  Then I realized that people have a problem with inertia and people I support who had bought one of the books Jaime donated to me, had yet to begin.  So I decided to blog my way through Jaime Romo’s book to encourage others to start using the book more effectively.
I am beginning by choosing two or three exercises from each chapter.  The first exercise  is for survivors to ask themselves “Who AM I” and to write down as many responses as we can think of.  This exercise is designed to encourage survivors to see themselves as a complete whole rather than as a victim in black or white/right or wrong circumstances. When I started the exercise, I felt I couldn’t write about where I am right now because I have done so much healing work.  I felt I wouldn’t have much of value to say, so I decided to blog on where I have been through the years.  I found that to be a really valuable exercise.  I not only saw myself as a whole person, I discovered as I compared myself from decade to decade that I was more wounded than I realized I was.  For a long time I struggled to come to terms with my wounds specifically because I didn’t fully understand that I was wounded.  So it is really important to at first know that you are wounded and what your wounds are.  
What happened to me is that when I reported abuse I experienced at age four to my mother at age six and she said, “That is where babies come from,” but she didn’t do anything.
When she devalued my abuse by doing nothing about it, it took me more than four decades to connect the dots between my abuse and my wounds.  There were so many problems in my childhood.  My mother was alcoholic and in and out of psychiatric hospitals.  I knew I was harmed by my childhood, but there were so many causes, I did not separate out the sex abuse until I went back and read my diaries in 2005, and found out just how severe my problems with touch were when I was a teenager.  I always though I was just an uptight child of a White Anglo Saxon Protestant family who did not touch each other very much.  I suffered from lots of problems with touch after being raped, but I read my diaries anew in 2005, I realized that my problems with touch as a teen were much more severe than the average person from a White Anglo Saxon Protestant family.  It became obvious that more of the damage I struggled with was due to child sex abuse.  For one thing I began to understand why I suffered from depression and suicidal tendencies as a child and a teen and my brother who lived through all the same events except for the sexual abuse, did not.
Later I suffered a date rape at age 22.  I was raped on a date again at age 26.  I never forgot the event, which was very humiliating, but did not identify it as date rape until I wrote this comparison of where I was out.
In Jaime’s preface to the exercise, he clearly states that it is not his intention that I look at my wounds but I did anyway the way I did the exercise.  In conclusion, I found that the my adaptation of this exercise helped me see more clearly my wounds as well as what I did that helped me heal as much as I have healed.
My one last thought is that helping others who were abused and advocating to end abuse are very healing.  Many of my fellow Catholics, although they would never say so, just want survivors of clergy abuse to just go away.  But telling one’s story and public advocacy are so important to healing.  We should just be patient.
Who Am I?
1965 -- age 6
I am a sad and lonely little girl whose mother is in and out of psychiatric hospitals for depression.  It won’t be for nearly 40 years that I learn that my mother was probably sexually abused as a child which is why she sits in the living room so often smoking and doing nothing.  It is during one of those times that I am taken into a basement by two teenaged boys who then sexually me.  I have no idea what is going on or what is wrong with these swollen members of their bodies.  All I know is they are touching me where my parents have told me that no one is supposed to touch me.  
I tell my mother at age six what these boys did to me.
She says, “That is where babies come,” but she does nothing.
When she does nothing about the abuse, I get the message that it is not important, and I don’t say or do anything about what happened for decades.  
I am unpopular as a child.
I am shy and not comfortable around people.
I hate being very far from my mother.
I love animals and feel more comfortable in their presence than with people.
I have a mean brother who is always teasing me.
I am only an mediocre student.
I don’t have any thoughts about God because my family is not religious, but I am very interested in human evolution because I watch National Geographic specials on Louis Leakey and Jane Goodall on television with my family.  I am so interested in evolution my mother gives me a book on dinosaurs for Christmas.
1975 -- at age 16:
I am struggling with chronic depression and a cross between anorexia and bulemia.  Sometimes I make half hearted attempts to kill myself.
I am an A student and future valedictorian of my High School, however, I continue to struggle with low self esteem.
I am a girl who can’t get dates and isn’t asked to dance at school dances.
I am not popular.
I am the daughter of an alcoholic.
I am the sister of a mean boy.
I am the daughter of a mean stepmother.
I am the daughter of a brilliant inventor and engineer who won’t stand up for me when my stepmother mistreats me.
I am a lover of animals and nature.
I am an agnostic, almost an atheist.  I feel alienated from Christianity because there are many Christians who reject evolution.  I read lots of books on human evolution and on Jane Goodall’s work with chimpanzees.  I want to become a Physical Anthropologist or archaeolologist and study human evolution.

1985 -- at age 26:
I am a Foreign Fisheries Observer/ Field Biologist.  The job is much easier to get and pays more than archaeologist or anthropologist.  I also love working and traveling to the Bering Sea to work on Soviet, Polish and Russian fishing vessels and working with the fishermen of these nationalities.  
I am losing some of my shyness and lack of self esteem.
I struggle with depression episodically when romantic relationships end.
I am the daughter of a brilliant inventor and engineer who won’t stand up for me when my stepmother mistreats me.
I am the daughter of a an alcoholic who stopped drinking but who didn’t recover
I am the sister of a mean man I don’t like.
I am the daughter of a mean step mother I try to get along with so I can see my father.
I am a young woman who is now getting dates, just not with men I see in my future.
I am a lover of animals and nature.
I am an agnostic, almost and atheist.  However, I am less close minded on the topic of religion than I was before.
I am a survivor of date rape at age 22.  ( I didn’t put this is the foreground.  It only comes out when boyfriends asked why I didn’t enjoy being touched intimately very much -- a common problem for women who have survived both child sex abuse and rape).
I suffer date rape again at age 26 on a Soviet fishing vessel, but I don’t think of it as date rape until I write this and realize that it really was date rape.  A man got me drunk and proceeded to have sex with me when I was too inebriated to know what was happening. My ship was about to untie from his ship.  Announcements are made over the ship’s intercom in Russian -- a language that I don’t understand at that time, but that he understands because he speaks Russian. I know something is going on and try to leave, but he prevents me from going.  I am too inebriated to act against what he is telling me to do.  Finally a Russian sailor sticks his head into a deck side porthole and tells him I have to leave.  This event shook me so deeply that the only alcohol I’ve consumed since then has been vanilla flavoring in cookies and cakes and communion wine.  I never wanted to lose control and be taken advantage of again.  The event was very humiliating and shameful.  The Soviet fishermen who were aware of what happened make fun of me.  I blamed myself for my stupidity, which is probably why it took until now for me to think of this event as date rape.
1995 -- age 36
I the wife of a man who loves me and supports me, and I don’t know what I’d do without him.
I struggle with depression but it seems less serious because I have a loving and supportive husband.
I am the daughter of an elderly man who is dying and is unable to stand up to my mean stepmother so I am no longer able to see him very often.
I am the step daughter of a mean woman who is trying and succeeding in coming between me and my father.
I am the daughter of a deceased alcoholic.
I am a sister trying to reconcile with her brother.
I am a child sex abuse and date rape survivor but I don’t think about these events very much.  I know they have affected my ability to enjoy touch, but I m struggling with depression and that is my top priority.
I am no longer an atheist.  I am agnostic who is beginning to seek a connection to God.  I start attending Quaker meeting on and off in 1993.  Since I did not have faith when I was raped and abused, rape and abuse did not damage to my faith.  It is never an issue for me.
2005 -- age 46
I am a divorced single mother trying to give my kids a much happier childhood than I had.
I am struggling with chronic depression.
I am a child sex abuse and date rape survivor who has suffered more damage than I ever knew from these events.
I am an abuse survivor trying to become an advocate for the abused.
I am a lover of animals and nature who shares that love with my children.
Although I was baptized Catholic in 2001, I remain Catholic in spite of the Church and not because of the Church.  I am a victim of wrongdoing by both parishioners and Church leadership who threw me out of the Church and lied about my character and the cover-up of abuse after I handed out newspaper articles about clergy abuse.
I am someone who wants an apology for what was done to me by people in the Catholic Church.  I don’t understand how these people can look themselves in the mirror or sleep at night.  How can people harm others just because they want them to stop talking about clergy abuse?
I am a Catholic struggling to remain Catholic because I know my church not only let this abuse happen, they covered it up and although they are taking steps to address the issue, Church leadership is still a long way from making these wrongs right.
I maintain my faith in God through prayer and meditation and reading the Bible and other inspirational books.  Sometimes I cry when I attend Mass.  I always feel nervous entering a Catholic Church.
2010 -- age 51
I am a divorced single mother trying to bring up my children with relationship coping skills I did not know until recently.
I am a lover of animals and nature who shares that love with my children.
I am a survivor of child sex abuse and date rape trying to become a thriver through therapy, mentoring, retreats, and through my own advocacy for the abused.
I still struggle with episodes of depression when stressed, but I experience less depression than before, and I am doing this on my own without support from a husband or boyfriend.
I am beginning to cautiously date men again a little bit.
I am an advocate for survivors of abuse trying to bring a new, more comprehensive and gentler and more inclusive approach to healing the wounds of abuse in individuals and society through Restorative Justice.
I am Catholic albeit one still on the edge, but I’ve met a number of good and caring Catholic parishioners, priests and nuns who want to do right by survivors of clergy abuse.
I am not someone worried about apology anymore from the people who threw me out of the Catholic Church and turned their backs on me.  The people who most needed to apologize still haven’t apologized, but I feel validated by being welcomed by others priests and parishioners and by facilitating a reconciliation between victims of clergy abuse and other Catholics.  It is not that I formally forgave the people who hurt me and my family.  I have not done so because they have never apologized and sought my forgiveness.  I just simply moved forward with my life until they and their lack of regret for what they did became unimportant.  Still, I would love an apology.
I am someone who empowers my own healing by helping others and by speaking out for truth and justice.
I am someone who rarely thinks about my stepmother or brother unless someone else brings them up.
I volunteer in my parish’s homeless shelter and while I don’t feel completely integrated into my parish, I feel much more comfortable than I used to feel.  It has been a long time since I felt anxiety entering a Catholic Church.  Fr. Armando and then Fr. Ben welcoming our group Compassionate Gathering to meet in the parish and operate with out interference from them has helped me heal that wound.  

To buy Jaime Romo's book you can contact me below.  I still have several copies.  Or you can contact Jaime at  Or you can search for it at

1 comment:

  1. Virginia,

    Thank you for sharing your reflections on your journey. We're all on or in this journey and I celebrate your evolving, unfolding, expanding self. Thank you for inviting others into a healing conversation. Take care. Hope to see you again soon.