Friday, December 30, 2011

Finding the Way Forward Through Self Forgiveness: A Survivors Journey to Healing

We all abuse ourselves more viciously than anyone else does. Too often we repeat to ourselves, over and over, the criticisms and complaints others have directed at us, bashing ourselves and paralyzing ourselves with self loathing.

 I still remember my mother’s words said to me 40 years ago when I was a child because I’ve repeated these words to myself so many times.

 “Your father spoiled you.”

For years I thought of myself as spoiled and unpleasant, and didn’t my life and friendships, or lack of friendships, validate that point of view? Where were the friends I didn’t seem to have? Where were the invitations to dance that never came while I sat on a folded chair along the wall. Obviously there was something unattractive and unlovable about me because no one was attracted to me and no one loved me. It took me years to understand that my mother was speaking from her pain and anger at my father and not from some self evident truth about the five year old me. It was much harder for me to forgive myself for being alone and unloved than it was for me to forgive my mother for saying such wounding words to the five year old me so many times. I had to come to terms with being sexually abused as a child and discover that very often child survivors of abuse struggle with relationships and withdraw from these relationships to avoid pain we’ve experienced in interpersonal relationships. It took years for me to see the patterns of my behavior in avoiding opportunities for friendships and relationships and for choosing relationships that could not possibly work. I am still working on changing those patterns. 

Only in my mid forties, during a spiritual retreat on resolving conflict through listening, did I begin to understand how I was abusing myself with my self criticism and self doubts. The relationship I was working on changing at that time was my relationship with other Catholics. The priest who baptized me Catholic at age 41 was revealed to have abused boys. This revelation caused me to examine both my own past as a child sex abuse survivor as well as what had transpired on the issue of clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church. As I read newspaper articles and press releases from different places and times, I came to realize that the leadership of the Catholic Church had known about this particular priest's abuses for more than 20 years before he was removed, and that he had almost certainly abused many boys during that 20 year span. I set on a path of sharing my newspaper articles with other parishioners to try to inspire them to take action for change in our Church. About one-third of the people I gave my articles to were sympathetic, about one-third were more ambivalent about my course of action, and about one-third were angry at me for passing out what they considered to be scandalous and untrue newspaper articles. I was puzzled by why most people didn’t seem to care so I gave out more articles -- provoking the leadership of the church to throw me out of the parish. They also told many parishioners that I was mentally disturbed and to my distress, most people did not question what they were told. 

Fortunately there were a few brave souls in the parish. One stood up and advocated for me before the parish council. When a new priest became pastor, he welcomed me back into the parish. I took the opportunity to hand out even more newspaper articles and to tell anyone wether or not they wanted to listen, about how badly I was treated by the leadership of the Catholic Church. The response I received was that most people found me very annoying.

 Many survivors of clergy abuse have thanked me for being brave enough to stand up for truth and justice in a Catholic Church and have condemned the Catholic parishioners for acting more as cult followers than as genuine Christians. But my intense actions of handing out lots of newspaper articles and passionately advocating for survivors through passionate personal encounters and lots of long angry e-mails did achieve my goal of inspiring other Catholics to care and act on the issue I felt so intensely about.

To help me keep on advocating for survivors of abuse inside the Catholic Church, I welcome your donations:


On my path of trying to figure out what to do, I ended up at that spiritual retreat on how to listen compassionately to all sides in a conflict. I was still trying to get the Catholics to listen with compassion to the survivors who were angry at the Catholic Church. In order to listen to someone with whom you are in conflict, you have to learn how to have compassion for them, in essence how to forgive them for disagreeing with you or for wounding you. But it turns out that you have to forgive yourself before you can forgive others.

 The self criticism I was struggling with at the time was related to my mother’s words that I was spoiled but different at the same time. I wanted so badly to connect with other Catholics but could not. Over an over I was told that I was mentally unstable or too intense. I knew I wasn’t mentally unstable. That was an easy excuse for other people to dismiss my message, but the too intense criticism struck a nerve because it was true.

 I was intense. I knew then and still know that I am right about the clergy abuse issue. I didn’t understand how others could turn their back on me, so I tried harder and harder to be heard as if speaking louder or handing out more articles could achieve what handing out only a few articles had not been able to achieve. I had sent long, passionate, angry and accusatory e-mails to people who had been my friends and supporters and they turned their backs on me. Writing long letters and leaving them unsent is a good way to cope with your pain, but in the e-mail age it is all too easy to press the “send” button. The reason we have to be trained to listen to resolve conflict is because most people don’t know how to handle intense anger or pain. It shuts them down. They aren’t bad people.  They’re just human.

Because I had pressed that “send” button too many times, some of my all too “human” friends left me, never to come back. I berated myself for being so stupid for directing so much of my anger and pain at people whose support I relied on. I berated myself for not realizing that they were human and broken like me and not able to take intense pain and anger any more than I was.

 I grieved, criticizing myself over and over.

“Virginia, you’re too intense; you drive people away.”

In the retreat the answer was easy. We had to turn those self criticisms around to a positive restatement. What was the restatement of my self criticism? I didn’t want to drive people away. I wanted to connect with them.

So I wrote on my exercise sheet, “Virginia, you want to connect.”

I say it to myself over and over, “Virginia, you want to connect.”

It was the positive retort to my mother’s criticism. The positive retort helped me start to feel better. Moreover, although this was not a part of the retreat, as I repeated the positive restatement of the criticism to myself over and over through the years, I realized that it was showing my the way where I needed to refocus my attention and action. The retreat, although it was not a healing retreat, helped me feel much more positive about myself.

I want to connect. OK, how do I connect? Unfortunately, relearning a new, more positive path can take years of self exploration. I didn't automatically connect the right way. At first, I simply changed from writing reams of negative e-mails to writing reams of positive e-mails. When I had already alienated someone, reams of positive e-mails did not help the matter. It took years of therapy and spiritual direction and lots of practice and some modeling from others before I replaced lots of long worded e-mails with short, sweet, concise e-mails that reached out to others is in small, easy to digest bits and pieces.

How to connect with others, making friends, co-workers and allies out of others is another subject, I will write on sooner or later. Before then I want to cover more self care issues. I’ve been leading a support group for survivors of abuse for a few years and learned a few things in the process. I tried just listening at first -- which survivors need, but I felt the need to help people move forward with their lives instead of ceaselessly talking about the pain in our lives.

One book I’ve found very helpful in shaping my support group is Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence from domestic abuse to political terror by Judith Herman M.D. Dr. Herman is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She led support groups for survivors of child sex abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence for many years before beginning to work with colleagues who worked with veterans of combat and political terror. She noted the similarities in experiences with unsupportive communities as well as struggles with the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Over the years she found that the most effective course she could take with her groups was to first help survivors work on self care. After self care, comes the sharing of stories in a safe environment. Finally after working on self care and sharing of stories, the final stage in healing is reconnecting with the community. Rejection from the community is not an experience unique to Catholic clergy abuse survivors. Stories of sexual abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence upend most people perceptions of their community and the respected people within it who may have abused or covered up abuse to protect friends colleagues and loved ones. Most survivors experience some degree of alienation from the community as do combat veterans. Veterans find that members of the community usually do not understand when their stories of combat do not match the opinions of the people back home. Reintegration into the community is an important late step in the healing process, one that requires the involvement of the community in the healing process.

In the meantime, as you try to heal, if you do not have access to a therapist or to a spiritual retreat or a support group, you can work on healing by yourself. Our old bad habits of interacting and thinking are ingrained in our neural pathways. To learn new ways of thinking and acting takes concerted effort over time. A therapist or a spiritual director or a can guide you and help find the way, but you still have to do the work of changing yourself. One very valuable way is to journal your feelings and experiences as you cope with difficult situations. I kept a diary for recording my feelings for many years without directing my feelings into positive change. Expressing my feelings in my journal was a positive action, but it was not enough on it’s own. Later I channeled my feelings into e-mails I should never have sent. Writing to someone can help you express yourself just think four or five times before you send long angry or sad e-mails. Perhaps addressing yourself to someone else is best used as a prompt for writing. What is most useful is to use prompts to help yourself focus your thoughts in positive directions and actions.

Below are a list of journal prompts I have compiled for the issue of self forgiveness as well as a few of my brief restatements. Please don’t feel you need to be brief. I was brief merely to keep my statements easy to read and understand. However, distilling longer reflections down to one or two sentences will make them easier to act on.

Journal prompts:

1. What self criticisms do I repeat to myself over and over?

Example: I am so intense I drive people away.

2.  What are my hopes and dreams underlying this criticism?

Example: I am longing for connections with other people.

3.  Restate the self criticism in a positive way.

Example: I want to connect with other people.

4. What can I do to find the way forward to heal myself?

Example: I can work on ways to connect with others.

People interested in clergy abuse will want to know if I connected with other Catholics on the issue. I have succeeded in quieting criticism of me as too intense or mentally unstable in my own parish. Many people who used to repeat these criticisms about me, now view me much more positively. I haven't persuaded people to care about the issue of clergy abuse or to act on it, and I haven't managed to connect to other interested people in part because the people I work with remain afraid of criticism from other Catholics to reach out, and no one with good connections has chosen to advocate for me and my cause, and I don't have those connections myself. One Spirit, One Call, the Catholic women's reform group here in Portland, which is struggling with dwindling interest, received it's big break because well connected priests and parishioners shared e-mails with friends and acquaintances in many parishes advocating for One Spirit, One Call. As a single mother, I can't join every Catholic group I want to in order to connect with other Catholics. My children need me at home. I have volunteered with a homeless shelter hosted by my Catholic parish, but that connects me more with homeless, non-Catholic families than it does with Catholics. I've been working on connecting with other interested Catholics by attending some One Spirit, One Call events and Call to Action meetings, but breaking my elbow this last year and having surgery and going through extensive Physical Therapy made my attendance at these events, as well as everything else in my life, much harder.

Truthfully, it has been a struggle to remain positive. I've had to work hard on self care to keep going through all the bad things that have come my way, but I've managed to keep moving forward despite being repeatedly wounded. But that is life. Sometimes lots of bad things come our way, but rarely do only bad things come our way. If we stay mired in our misery, if we think only negative thoughts and take only negative actions, we don't move forward, we stay wounded. It is possible to focus on the good things that happen to us as well as positive thoughts and actions and opportunities. By doing so we can move forward through daunting challenges.

Please check back for future blogs to find out about more steps forward to healing, including how to connect with others more successfully.

If you want to attend a support group that will take you through these steps and you live in the area of Portland, Oregon, please contact me, Virginia Jones, at 503-866-6163 or

This is the challenge that I've had to remain positive about this year.  I fell and broke my elbow.  I needed a surgery to repair the elbow that cost $42,000, but I had no health insurance.  Through perseverance and unimaginable patience, I obtained funding for the surgery.  The surgeon inserted a metal hinge in my elbow held in place by these pins for 6 weeks after the surgery.  I had to clean and change the dressings on these pins twice a day for weeks.  But this was not the end of my ordeal.  To obtain about 90% use of my arm, I had to go through incredibly painful physical therapy lasting three to five hours a day for about five months.  To maintain use of my arm, I will have to maintain that therapy for about an hour a day for the rest of my life.  The physical pain I've had to cope with is horrible, the circumstances daunting.  I received little help from the few family members I have, and I had to care for two children while going through this.  I did receive vital help from my clergy abuse survivor partner, Elizabeth.   She cared for me and my children the night after I was discharged form the hospital -- the night I was in most need of help.  Fr. Armando Lopez, OFM, also sent me $500 to help me pay for Physical Therapy and other medical costs.  A few other Catholic friends have given me rides to medical appointments and to the grocery store.  One helped me with self care the week after my surgery and right after I fell.

I can use your help to help me move forward to keep advocating for all survivors of abuse and to provide a support group.

Please donate:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Walking the Labyrinth for Healing the Wounds of Abuse

This year, as she has every year for many years, Elizabeth Goeke is leading an icon Advent Labyrinth Walk, at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral here in Portland, Oregon.

Elizabeth might have led an Icon Advent Labyrinth Walk in Benedictine Monastery as she once was a young Benedictine Nun. But fate intervened. A priest tried to rape her on a Christmas Eve in the mid 1960s. She fought the priest off but ended up bloodied and shaken. She pulled herself together and played the church organ for Christmas Eve Mass, but inside she struggled with what had happened to her. Her confessor ordered her to remain silent or face ex communication. When she could no longer remain silent, he told her she had lost her vocation and could only speak of the attempted rape in confession. So she returned to her parent’s home and sought advice on what to do during confession with the priest in her parent’s parish. The priest accused her of lying and threw her out of the Church. She left the Catholic Church and Christianity for the next 35 years or so until coming forward as a survivor of clergy abuse inspired to seek spiritual answers for what had happened. Unfortunately her former Benedictine sisters and her Catholic family did not understand her spiritual pain. She found the support she lacked in the Catholic Church at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.  Since 2002, Elizabeth has spent many years studying Christian theology through a variety of sources and has much experience leading retreats.

Labyrinths, although not a usual form of worship in early Christianity, were incorporated into the floors of many medieval Cathedral. Their precise origin appears to have been in ancient Greece and Mycenae. The famous palace of Knossos that housed the Minotaur of Greek Mythology included a labyrinth. Scant documentation exists that explains their use in the Medieval cathedrals although some books indicate that pilgrims used them as a sort of substitute for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Labyrinths are different from mazes in that mazes follow random paths that often lead to dead ends. Labyrinths follows paths that take you closer to and away from a center circle but eventually lead you to the center and out again.

Elizabeth belongs to the Labyrinth Guild at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and helps to organize monthly Labyrinth Walks. They are held in, Kempton Hall, a church building on the opposite side of the courtyard to the cathedral. The labyrinth consists inlaid wood on a larger wood floor. The Labyrinth Guild keeps the room illuminated with candles, plays soft music, and provides a bell at the entrance to the labyrinth along with stones with one word spiritual thoughts such as “joy” or “gratitude”. This bell and these stones are supposed to enhance our spiritual experience. My children and I first went on one of these walks in November 2007. My then 11 year old son, Colin, was entranced. He walks the labyrinth faster than I wish he would and then he sat in the center for a long time.

Colin is very Franciscan in his life style. He cares not for material possessions nor whether his clothes are old and torn. He likes good food the way St. Francis did, and he loves hiking and being in nature and finds that he feels uplifted and most connected to God when he is hiking on a mountain side. After this first labyrinth walk, he remarked that he felt the same uplift walking the labyrinth as he did hiking in nature.

But the Advent walk is not the same as the usual Labyrinth Walk. It begins with a procession of icons relevant to the season of Advent, usually including icons of Mary Mother of Jesus, Madonna and child, St. Joseph, St. Francis who prayed the Rosary with devotion, and St. Michael the Archangel among others. Advent, to remind everyone, is the season during which we prepare for the birth of Jesus.

This year a few survivors who are a part of Compassionate Gathering plan to attend the Labyrinth Walk. Since Labyrinths have an uncertain Christian origin I decided to explore the spiritual significance of various saints likely to be a part of the Icon Walk.

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I start with Mary because she is the mother of God. For me the most inspiring images of her are her holding either the infant Jesus or the crucified Christ.

Mary is much revered in Catholicism and Greek and Russian Orthodox Christianity. Protestants are less interested in Mary. I looked up the spirituality of Mary on Google to see how I could relate Mary to surviving and healing from the wounds of abuse and found the Catholic doctrines of Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary. Immaculate Conception of Mary refers to the doctrine that Mary’s mother, Anne, was a virgin when Mary was born. Assumption refers to the doctrine that Mary was assumed into heaven when she died and presumably did not have to go through purgatory because she was already so advanced spiritually. Quite honestly, I do not find these doctrines inspiring because they are like arguing, as theologians did during Medieval times, how many angels can dance of the head of a pin.

I find more inspiration in the life of the human Mary.

When my son was 5 years old when we were baptized Catholic.  He was devoted to Mary. My son really loves me, his mother. Mary was Jesus’s mother. Therefore Mary must be somebody really special.

My second source of inspiration I found in the a very Catholic tradition -- the mysteries of the Rosary as well as the gospel stories behind those mysteries.

The Annunciation of the impending birth of the son of God by the angel Gabriel. Basically Gabriel tells her that she has a really big job -- she is about to become the mother of God in human form.  I tell my children that motherhood is the hardest job you will ever love.

The Visitation of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist to Mary. Elizabeth, Mary’s pregnant cousin comes to visit. Mary is pregnant, too but she worries more about Elizabeth than herself.

The Nativity or birth of Jesus in a manger. I have given birth to two children. I have never experienced such pain in my life. My whole essence was immersed in pain, and I had an epidural nerve block to lessen that pain, a doula, a devoted physician husband, an obstetrician and an obstetrical nurse to help me. Imagine riding all day on a donkey and having no shelter except the animal shed and a husband who is not a physician to help you through it. Mary qualifies for sainthood on that basis alone.

The Wedding at Cana where Mary tells Jesus to turn water into wine. He’s reluctant as His time has not yet come, but He obeys his mother.

As a mother of two teenagers, I really appreciate the part about Jesus obeying his mother.

The Crucifixion where Mary stays by Jesus along with John and a few other women. Meanwhile all these male Apostles have abandoned him.

It is easy to find inspiration in the life of Mary if you are a survivor of abuse. Mary is a very compassionate and giving person, but most of all she stands by her son when others deny Him. Her son is abused, disbelieved and abandoned by his friends but she never stops believing in him. She pushes him to come forward and show the world who he really is. What a story. If only all parents were like Mary.

I also find the image of Madonna and child inspiring. Babies fill our lives with much joy and much work.  They also deprive us of sleep. Until I became a mother of small children, I did not know how much I had to give. I remember taking an all day train ride from California when my second child was 8 months old. After arriving home I unpacked everything and made dinner and got the children ready for bed. I was dead tired, but they wanted me to read them a story. I tried to beg off, but my three year old and my 8 month old were not understanding. I thought I was ready to drop but found just enough energy to cuddle two children and read to them for half an hour. The image of Madonna and Child conveys unconditional love. We all need to be cuddled.  We all need to be cared for. We all need to be loved unconditionally. Survivors who have not been able to count on unconditional love, need it all the more so.

St. Joseph. St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers as well as the patron saint of unwed mothers. Mary gets pregnant while they are engaged, and he’s supposed to believe that she was wasn’t cheating on him and believe he does, as well as protect this child that is supposedly not his. He takes wife and child to Egypt to keep his son from begin killed. I work with a survivor who was abused by her father. Without asking, I am sure she wishes that he took some parental inspiration from St. Joseph. Just as we need loving mothers to care for us, we need loving fathers who would go as far away as Egypt in order to protect us from harm.

St. Francis of Assisi was included in the Icon Walk last year. I love this guy. He talked to birds and found God in the mountains. I used to be a wildlife biologist. Here I am at age 20 holding some baby Red-tail Hawks I helped to band.

Look at my face. As a child sex abuse survivor I struggled with depression all my life, but not when I was holding baby birds on a desert mountain. I felt not depression at that moment, but ecstatic joy. St. Francis was my patron saint even when I was an agnostic who was not especially interested in looking for God.

But St. Francis did more than speak to wolves and birds, he hung out with lepers, treated women as equals and saw the goodness of God in Muslims. Clergy abuse survivors are the lepers of the Catholic Church. I am sure that St. Francis would have sat and listened compassionately to any survivor who came his way. He would have embraced survivors in public and not cared one whit about what anyone one else thought.

St. Michael the Archangel. My first awareness of St. Michael -- Mount St. Michel. This rocky mountain is home to the monastery of St. Michel as well as an island off the coast of France -- at high tide at least.

St. Michael is one of the Archangels mentioned in the Bible and is supposedly one of the angels who visited St. Joan of Arc repeatedly. St. Michael is considered the protector and is often pictured with a sword.

We all need protectors bearing swords at times, especially when someone is abusing us.

Rumor has it that St. Michael is the most talkative of the angels, the one most likely to reveal his presence when we ask for his help.

I can’t cite any scientific studies to back this up, but I do know people who feel they have experienced his presence through prayer.

Well, anyway, come. Talk to Elizabeth. She is a clinical counselor as well as a clergy abuse survivor. Walk the labyrinth at your own pace. Enjoy. Hopefully if you want to connect to other survivors, Elizabeth will know who they are. I hope to come too, but I will be late as I have other obligations.

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is located at 147 Northwest 19th Avenue  Portland, OR 97209-1901. The Procession of the Icons takes place in Kempton Hall at 6 PM. Contact Elizabeth Goeke at

See this Labyrinth at the Chartres Medieval Cathedral in France.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What if we All Watched Out for Children?

I like to go to the mall with my daughter. We don’t clothes shop. We eat cheap Chinese food at the food court and then go to Barnes and Noble cafe to share a cappuccino or Frappuccino and read books.

Browsing through the bookstore before retreating to the cafe, I saw a book entitled True Police Stories of the Strange and Unexplained by Ingrid P. Dean. The book included stories of encounters with angels, encounters with ghosts, intuition saving lives, and odd coincidences and twists of fate. I browsed through the until I chanced upon one particular story about a police man stationed at a high school. He was assigned once to show a new student around the school. She wore her hair piled on her head, a sun dress, and oversized high heels. He worried that she would be bullied by other students because she dressed oddly, so he sought out the student twice a week or so after school and between classes to ask her if she was OK. She repeatedly replied that she was doing fine. Over time he sought her out less and less, because she always insisted that she was fine. Eventually he stopped seeking her out.

Then one day, he saw her again. He asked her one more time how things were going. One more time she replied that things were fine, but this time she handed him a letter. He put the letter in his pocket and forgot about it until he was driving home from work. His car was held up by a train, so he took the time to read the letter.

The girl wrote in detail about the sexual abuse she was suffering at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend. He turned his car around and headed back to the police station and did not rest again until that man was behind bars in the county jail.

Reading Abuse Tracker this week as well as listening to the ordinary news on the radio (I don’t own a television), I heard over and over about how Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno, and his superiors in the administration of the University did not report to the police eye witness accounts of child sexual abuse perpetrated by Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky.

I wonder what would happen if all adults took the sexual abuse of children as seriously as this police man whose story is told in the book, True Police Stories of the Strange and Unexplained?

We should all watch out for children.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What I Learned at Occupy Portland or Compassion versus Anger

The Occupy Portland protestor held up a sign based on the words of Dom Helder Camara, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.’

I had taken my children down to Occupy Portland for the fifth time to see the scrappy protest progress from people with sleeping bags sleeping on tarps to a tent city with a kitchen open to feed protestors, the homeless, supporters and even the occasionally hostile passer by. Both my children wanted to see the protests, but my daughter was apprehensive because of the presence of so many homeless people with drug and alcohol problems.

I told her that the main group of protestors would not want people to engage in public drunkenness and drug taking because these activities could give the police an excuse to shut down the protest. Indeed, during this fifth visit we had seen a number of signs posted asking people not to engage in public drinking and drug use. My children, being my children, already know the statistic that one quarter of homeless people are survivors of some form of child abuse and that most of the rest are war veterans or people with biologically based mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. However, the out of control and sometimes aggressive behavior that inebriated people sometimes engage in, really bothers my daughter, and she doesn’t want to be around it. She wondered what these people were doing at this protest.

I explained to her that the Occupy movement is compassionate, feeding everyone, not asking if they fit some qualification to be fed, and that the homeless people with problems were attracted to the openhearted people who did not tell them that if they were poor, it was their fault, but who offered welcome instead.

This protestor’s sign was a perfect example of that openhearted welcome. As a Catholic, I was drawn to the sign inspired by the late Archbishop of Recife Brazil, who fought for social justice in his country, only to see his reforms for involving lay people in Church governance dismantled by the conservative archbishop who followed him in 1985. I approached the Occupy Portland sign holder to express my support for his actions.

While we were speaking a tall, burly guy brushed up against my children and me.

“Do you guys have any whisky?” he asked loudly.

“Please don’t use illegal substances here,” I said.

The man glared at me, “You’re judging me.”

‘If you use illegal substances here, you can draw the police to this protest,” I replied.

“The police have been here all day, and they haven’t done anything,” the man shouted, “You are judging me. Are you one of those right wing conservatives trying to shut this place down?”

“No, she supports us,” the sign holder interjected.

“Peace be with you, “I said, “My mother was an alcoholic and that was very traumatic for me when I was a child.”

“Well I was abused as a child,” the man said.

“I am sorry for your suffering,” I said.

I wanted to add, “I was abused as a child too,” but the man interrupted me, shouting again, “I’m not suffering; I’m having fun.”

My daughter started tugging on my arm, “Mom, lets go.”

“Alcoholism is a symptom of abuse,” I replied.

I don’t remember the man’s reply. He interrupted me as again, his physical presence was as aggressive as his tone of voice.

I could feel my daughter’s arm tugging on me more insistently.

“I have to go,” I said, “My daughter doesn’t like conflict.”

“I don’t like conflict either,” the man shouted.

I continued to the food tent with my children, but we could see and hear the man in the distance. He was loudly told everyone he could about this bi#*! who told him he shouldn’t be drinking at the Occupy Portland protest.

My daughter said, “Mom, he could hurt you.”

I said, “I’m fine; the Occupy Portland people will stop him from hurting me.”

“But Mom, your arm,” my daughter said.

I had to admit her concern was valid. I broke my right elbow in February and had surgery on it in May. I remain a little fragile.   I wanted to stay longer at the protest, but my daughter was too scared to stay longer.

I support the Occupy movement in spite of one really obnoxious, drunken survivor of abuse. Indeed I celebrate the movement because it is open hearted enough to embrace and feed him. I wonder how he would be treated by a Tea Party protest.

That aside, I’ve read just this week that the Seattle police were using the presence of homeless addicts as an excuse to try to shut down Occupy Seattle. Occupy Portland have volunteer therapists who try to help... but they simply aren’t equipped with any structure or authority or resource to handle the presence and the needs of so many of these people.

Moreover, the movement aside, while many people are so wounded and so lacking in resources, that they need support for healing, conservatives argue, rightly, that people are responsible for their own actions.

Anger is initially a healthy reaction. a vital step in early healing process during which the survivor  starts to reclaim their power from the abuser and the “system” that supports the abuser.

The problem with anger is that it is also easily becomes a destructive force, especially when it is directed the wrong way at the wrong person.

For example, the survivor at the Occupy Portland protest directed his anger at me, someone who supports the protest and survivors of abuse, but if he directed that anger at someone less familiar with the symptoms of abuse and less supportive of the protest, he could drive away a potential supporter. For someone who is critical of the movement, he validates their negative opinions.

I’ve seen this self destructive anger in many other survivors, and I’ve struggled with it myself. Some years ago, I met a survivor of clergy abuse who was a very nice man. He walked with me as I came to terms with my own abuse. He walked with me through my intense anger and deep pain. His presence was very comforting. He urged me to seek therapy, which I was slow to seek on my own. But he worked with the church. I felt then and still feel that this survivor has made too many compromises working with the Church. Several years ago, I directed so much of my anger at the Catholic Church at him that he stopped communicating with me.

He was a potential ally who I drove away.

Unfortunately, I know all to well what he felt when I directed my anger at him. I’ve been criticized harshly by other survivors for remaining in the Catholic Church and walking softly. I feel it is really important for me to be inside the Church speaking about the issue of abuse. Moreover, as I have walked through rural areas in Eastern Oregon, I’ve heard from the local child abuse and domestic violence agencies, that they need to walking softly as they bring up these issues in their communities.  In many rural areas the culture remains a patriarchal -- viewing the man as the head of the household and women and children as duty bound to be subservient.  This works if a man is loving and caring, but if a man is abusive, it forces women and children to remain in an abusive situation without support.

There is medicine for this wound -- open discussion of abuse.

I remember being fed cod liver oil as a child.... Yuck...

When we bring up the issue of abuse in public, we are inviting the whole community to take big dose of an unpleasant medicine. Abuse wounds the whole community.  Our view of the kindly grandfather or the dynamic priest is challenged.  We don't know what to do, who to believe.  We don't want tot talk about this issue.  We want the survivor to be quiet so we can be comfortable.  But we can't heal if we don't acknowledge the wound.  Moreover talking about abuse to raise awareness is vital to ending abuse.  In addition, it is much harder for survivors to heal on their own, unsupported and unbelieved.

Although talking about abuse is a bitter medicine, we can make the medicine easier to swallow.

As Mary Poppins says, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down...”

On the other hand, does adding hot chile oil or vinegar make cod liver oil easier to take?

One Sunday morning a few years ago, I’ve experienced the heat of misdirected anger from a survivor. As a mother, I have to put the needs of my children first. Unfortunately, I am divorced. My children visit their father every other weekend. I pick them up at 9 AM every other Sunday. As I was getting ready to leave my house  to pick up my children this one particular Sunday, a survivor called me to talk. I warned her repeatedly that I could only talk for a few minutes, that I had to go pick up my children. She kept talking without acknowledging my situation.

Finally I had to apologize one more time and then just hang up on her. She was so mad at me that she didn’t speak to me for six months. She probably experienced my actions as abandonment because she had been abandoned so many times before. I had no intention of abandoning her, I was simply taking care of the needs of my children.  Her anger was unjustified and meant that she removed from her life a source of validation and support.

I’ve read two sources which explain how anger functions as a dysfunctional coping mechanism -- Billie Mazzei and Mike Lew.

Billie Mazzei, is a clergy abuse survivor who studied with the Faith Trust Institute and offers small groups for clergy abuse survivors.  In her article found on my website, , she cites the work of James Hillman, a Jungian psychologist and theologian who described the five “sterile” choices survivors make -- revenge, denial, cynicism, paranoia and self sabotage.

Revenge is the first sterile choice.  Many survivors I work with want revenge on all those they perceive as betraying them. The problem is that if their plans for revenge don’t work the, they damage relationships and never end up with a satisfactory resolution of the problem. If the revenge works, they get temporary satisfaction for having “won," then they end up feeling depressed as they didn’t actually solve any of their problems.

One survivor I worked with was always talking about reporting every lawyer who she felt had not served her interests to the state Bar in hopes of them being disbarred. The problem was her legal case was murky and complicated. The various lawyers from whom she sought help had all essentially done the same thing. She fired each one, frustrated that they did not represent her interests as she wished. I wondered if multiple lawyers choosing the same course of action meant that she would have difficulty doing what she wanted to do no matter who represented her. I worried how she would feel if she made complaints about these lawyers to the Bar if none were punished. Sometimes we get treated unfairly, sometimes massively unfairly, but the law requires a certain level of wrongdoing and lots of evidence before we get justice. Too often people fall through the cracks in the legal system, and there is no recourse for justice. I guess that is why I do what I do rather than try to change the laws because I doubt we will never get the legal system to work perfectly. But if we can't receive justice through the legal system, do we have to remain so wounded we can’t live a good life?

They say a life well lived is the best revenge.

I initially found this concept difficult to accept, but over time I realized that I have come to live my life well after others hurt me.  I was thrown out of my Catholic parish after I started handing out articles on the clergy abuse scandal inside the Church (not outside on the sidewalk after Mass).  I am not ready to go into details about what happened, but a good number of people in the Church treated me pretty badly.  It galled me that so many people could hurt someone or actively turn their back on someone who has been mistreated without ever listening to their side of the story.

For a long time, for years, I kept saying to myself and to others, "How can I heal when  they haven't apologized for what they have done?"

I was obsessed with telling my story and getting an apology from the Church.  The people who hurt me never apologized.  The people who failed to listen never did listen to my side of the story.

However, Fr. Armando Lopez apologized to me on behalf of the Church.   Later Fr. Armando allowed me to hold Gatherings to bring survivors of abuse together with other Catholics and to publicize them in the Church bulletin.  Then, when he was moved to another ministry, Fr. Ben embraced my work and allowed it to continue.  They both welcomed survivors of clergy abuse into the parish.  Fr. Armando apologized to a clergy abuse survivor, Steve Fearing, who was abused by one of his Franciscan brothers.  Fr. Ben embraced a retreat led by Elizabeth Goeke, who is also a survivor of clergy abuse.  Through the long term support of these priests and my dedicated friends inside the Catholic Church, I eventually healed without the apology I still believe I deserve.

I lived my life well.  They kicked me out of the Church for talking about clergy abuse, but I came right back in and kept on talking about clergy abuse.  Ironically the two people most responsible for throwing me out of my parish are now either gone or minimally involved with the parish.

In my case, justice came not through the punishment of the abuser, nor through the apology from those who wronged me.  Abusers are often incapable of apologizing.  In my case, justice comes through the loving embrace of a small portion of the community.

Denial is the second sterile choice that can help you survive trauma in the short term. In the long run it damages your ability to heal.

The homeless, alcoholic survivor at the Occupy Portland encampment denied that his drinking was a problem. To him, my gentle suggestion that he not drink was the problem. Is that survivor going to heal as long as he continues to drink? No, of course not. He is going to remain stuck and unable to heal. Unfortunately, our society values prisons more than it values drug and alcohol treatment, but even if the society closed prisons and opened up drug and alcohol treatment centers, that man still needs to decide to stop drinking in order to stop drinking. Becoming angry at me for suggesting that he do so helped him not at all.

Cynicism, the third sterile choice, entails assuming that people will always betray you and that things will always be bad.

As Billie put it in the article, “We point our ‘finger’ at them. We give away our power and our responsibility.” By doing this, we avoid responsibility for our own healing.

This homeless, alcoholic survivor accused me of being a corporate oppressor and of judging him. He was wrong on both counts, but by accusing me of being the problem, he freed from himself of caring for himself because I was “oppressing” him.  Probably I will never see him again.  I was only a part of his life for five minutes. How am I responsible for his homelessness and his abuse during the rest of his life?

Billie says the rest of this better than I can. These are her words from her article...

Spiritual director and counselor, Barbara Gibson says,  "Cynicism is the last resort of the disappointed idealist."

Reality tells us that some humans act irresponsibly no matter what their position in life.  I cannot control the choices that others make, but I can make choices myself for life and wholeness. I can use my awareness of cynicism as a cue to remind myself that I have been robbed of my innocence and optimism.  Then I can decide whether or not I want the betrayer to have that power over me. “

Self Betrayal is the fourth sterile choice. Again, Billie describes it better than I can,...

Self-betrayal as a response is one of the saddest of sterile choices.  It can be played out like this---"I made an error in judgement that resulted in this betrayal.  I must not be able to make good judgements or decisions.  I can't trust myself.  Therefore, I will dumb down, tune out, be less than I can be so I won't make that mistake again."  Women respond most often with this kind of self-betrayal.  For men, self-betrayal might come in the form of issues around control and bullying.  “I was betrayed once, but I’ll NEVER put myself in that position again.”

It is another attempt to prevent further betrayal. Both men and women can use either choice or a combination as self-betrayal plays out. It diminishes self and keeps us bound.  It shuts out a developing self and effectively shuts out others.

The homeless man in the park coped with his pain by bullying me and my children. He probably bullied other people.  I am open to going back and helping the man without my daughter, but many less informed people wouldn’t to go back to help him.  Other forms of self betrayal are drug and alcohol abuse, choosing to numb yourself rather than deal with your challenges, staying in an abusive or unhappy relationship rather than taking steps to help yourself.

Paranoia is the last sterile choice. Once again I will quote Billie Mazzei.

The last of the sterile choices listed by Hillman is what he calls paranoia. It isn't a clinical paranoia but a way of putting up so many conditions or stipulations on a relationship that no human being can ever meet them.  It is an attempt to protect ourselves against further hurt.  Unfortunately, carried too long and too tightly, it is certain that we will never have another intimate relationship. No one on earth can be that perfect.  It's natural to be suspicious after a betrayal, and to wonder who and what we can trust. Fears may be used as a way to explore how to protect ourselves while staying in touch with the realities of the situation.  The reality is that in human relationships there is always the potential for betrayal.  We can learn from betrayal and not give our trust naively.

I can’t read the mind of the homeless survivor. I don’t know his precise line of thinking or if his reaction was an instinctual one without much thought. Perhaps having been traumatized, he remained on alert for being similarly abused without ever being aware of his internal psychological processes.

I’ve worked with survivors who keep wearing out everyone who tries to help them with their anger.  I’ve heard from the domestic violence agencies that hey have the same problem with some of their survivors.  One clergy abuse survivor I’ve worked with has remained in the Catholic Church and has remained close to Catholic priests, on whom she piles a great deal of anger.  Ironically, the few  priests who have remained her supporters, seem to be the only people able to take her anger.  They seem to feel that it is part of their calling to remain open and supportive to a deeply wounded person, and she keeps returning to them.  This woman has gone outside the Catholic Church for help.  She readily repeats a long litany of social workers who abandoned, mistreated and betrayed her.  When she came to us, she sought support from Elizabeth first.  Elizabeth, who has been a clinical counselor for 35 years of so, has an enormous amount of compassion.  The woman called her every day and spoke for an hour, saddling Elizabeth with enormous cell phone bills.  I don’t know what happened, but she became angry with Elizabeth.  Then she came to me telling me how awful Elizabeth was.  Then came the Sunday morning when she called me just before I had to go pick up my children and I had to abandon her.  After that incident, she told many people how awful I was.

She sabotages herself because as she constantly demonizes other people, she drives away people who might help her and made others wonder if she was the problem and not the victim. Moreover, as she demonizes others, she never takes responsibility for her own abusive behavior. She never takes responsibility for her own healing. She remains stuck, unable to progress.

Mike Lew, my second source on maladaptive coping mechanisms that survivors adopt, is  a psychotherapist who works with male survivors.  He wrote the book, Victims No Longer, which describes the patterns for how survivors interact in dysfucntional romantic relationships.  However the patterns he describes remains true for work relationships and friendships too as well as for female survivors.

The first behavioral pattern Mike Lew describes is isolation. The survivor distances themselves from intimacy and isolates themselves from relationships.  Too many relationships have hurt.  Too many people have betrayed them.  It is safer to be alone.  I do this.  I’ve always done this. (I don’t smoke or drink.  I’ve never even tried any mind altering substances, and I am a divorced mother who rarely dates.) I am happiest hiking on a mountainside or working in my garden.  I long to be a monk so I could spend all my days gardening and praying.  I have met other survivors who cope the same way I do.  I work homeless survivor of clergy abuse who sleeps in his car with his dog.  His dog never judges his drug use or his rages.  His dog just loves him.  He won’t go to a shelter because he doesn’t want to stop using drugs, but he also doesn’t want to leave the only being who loves him -- his Pit Bull.  Fortunately for me I get along very well with dogs, including Pit Bulls.  

Some survivors, like this man, are only able to maintain trusting relationships with animals.  The abuse they suffered severed their ability to maintain trusting relationships with other people.  The problem is you can’t heal this wound unless you take the risk of having a relationship with other people.  
My children saved from totally isolating from other people.  I keep thinking about what the singer Madonna, who I normally have no interest in, said about the birth of her daughter, Lourdes.  Madonna lost her mother to cancer at a young age and suffered from a less than compassionate father and step mother, said that when she gave birth to her daughter, she looked into her eyes and found healing.  No one has ever loved me as my children love me.  When I was thrown out of my Catholic parish, I isolated myself almost completely, although some of the isolation was not my choice.  Some parishioners, who had been my friends, abandoned me completely.  Others remained my friends, but were afraid to associate with me in public.  I still had my children.   I couldn’t totally isolate myself completely because I had the responsibility to be the best mother I could be.  I took them out places to have fun.  The fun we had together helped me heal.  Moreover, I know my children love me and support me unreservedly.  I trust that love as I have never been able to trust the love of others.

The second behavior pattern Mike Lew describes is a series short lived and volatile relationships.  In these relationships, the survivor is on guard against being abused again and treats their partners that way.

As Mike Lew put it, “Some will goad their partners beyond endurance, never realizing that they are behaving provocatively.. Expressions of caring are rejected as trust is needed to let caring in. Since they have learned to mistrust words, open communication with them is impossible. Partners who attempt to communicate are met with silence, hostility or withdrawal. Finally the survivor finds sufficient justification to leave the relationship., often abruptly, and without explanation. He feels hurt and misunderstood, but he quickly moves to another relationship that follows virtually pattern to the one that just ended. Through silence, criticism, unreasonable demands, emotional outbursts, promiscuity,other means, he may wear down his partner’s ability to keep trying. Since there is very little open communication, these issues are not work on. When the partner, hurt and confused, leaves the relationship, the survivor feels once again abandoned. He has received further evidence that nobody cares, that people can’t be trusted; that he is unable to find someone who will really love him; that all women/men are undependable; that all anyone wants from him is sex; that relationships are impossible and/or he is totally unloveable. No insight or understanding comes from the breakup because there was neither trust nor communication involved."

In the third behavior pattern, the survivor keeps replaying the pattern of abuse in his or her life either as the perpetrator or the victims. The survivor is comfortable with the relationship pattern because it is the one he or she knows. But abusive behavior, whether it is verbal abuse or physical abuse, blocks respectful communication. Without that communication, insight and understanding are not possible, and the survivors experience the relationship as being confirmation that relationships must be abusive.

The survivor who got mad at me for hanging up on her when I had repeatedly told her I needed to go pick up my children is someone who seems to form abusive relationships. Her anger at me was never going to change my responsibility to care for my children. Both Elizabeth and I have had to withdraw from working with her from time to time because she is always getting mad at us and criticizing us. I’ve learned that I can help people calm down by listening to them, but sometimes the stimulus making them angry is inside of them and they get angry no matter what I say or do.

Another example of a person choosing an abusive relationship pattern was, ironically, a Catholic parishioner who called me up and yelled at me because I organized special event with a survivor of clergy abuse sharing his story in my Catholic church.   Fr. Armando put the event in the Church bulletin but I was listed as the contact.

After Mass this parishioner called me up and said, “There is something wrong with you. You need to let go of this clergy abuse issue, you need to have your head examined.”

“May I ask who is calling?” I replied.

“That doesn’t matter,” the woman interjected. “There is something wrong with you. You need to go see a counselor. You need therapy. You need to let go of this issue. I am sick of seeing your announcements in the Church bulletin.”

“I am sorry for your pain, “ I tried to say.

The woman interrupted me again, “There is something wrong with you. You need to have your head examined.”

Finally she hung up without ever letting me get more that a few words out of my mouth.

Obviously she was very wounded by the Catholic clergy abuse issue, but she was in deep denial. She blocked all healing and all communication with her denial and her anger. Instead of accepting responsibility for her actions and her feelings, she placed all the blame on me.  She certainly didn't convince me that I was wrong.

The path to healing is learning compassion for others.  To embody compassion, we need to learn how to listen respectfully and how to express ourselves respectfully without hurting others. When we learn how to listen to others with our hearts for what is in their hearts, we can connect with each other. When we engage in name calling and put downs, when we shout, we continue the cycle of abuse..

The last behavior pattern that Mike Lew describes is settling for crumbs. The survivor has low self esteem and doesn’t trust that life can ever be better, that they can be loved. They settle for any relationship that comes along. They end up too readily with someone who mistreats them.

I followed this pattern until I changed the pattern by going to sea as a Foreign Fisheries Observer. A few times out of the eleven cruises I served on, I found myself persuaded to break rules against fraternization.  Most of my “relationships” were with Soviet fisherman. That way, when the relationship ended, the Soviet governments political oppression cause the demise of the relationship, not my flaws as a woman and a person. Only later did I come to understand that I was still choosing to have relationships that couldn’t possibly work. I think women resort to this coping strategy happens more often, but some men tend to take care of others before they care for themselves.

Sometimes the survivor remains in this relationship but eventually gets fed up with neglect or mistreatment and explodes with anger.

This kind of abusive dance survivors often experience int heir relationships is playing out in society right now in the political arena. It feels as though politicians and their supporters have resorted to abuse of their opponents to win elections.  It is easy to become immersed in it.   I am a liberal and I remember Republicans making statements excluding liberals as patriotic Americans.  This kind of statement demeans and dehumanizes our political opponents.  As a liberal, I feel that my opinions are very patriotic.  I just have a different view of how America can to live up to it’s fullest promise. But the political left engages in abusive behavior too.

For example, we liberals hate Fox News. For us, Fox News feels like the propaganda arm of the Republican Party and the rest of the corporate media seems like purveyors of milquetoast in their coverage of news. We don’t see our opinions represented in the news very often.

I witnessed abusive behavior directed at Fox News camera men and producers at Occupy Portland. I understand and agree fully with the criticisms from the Occupy movement that the media, in particular Fox News, will often find a less articulate or more peculiar protester to interview. News vans are usually parked along the periphery of the Occupy Portland protest. I watched as a demonstrator berated one Fox News employee staffing the Fox News van.

Seeking to defuse what I saw as the mistreatment of the Fox News employee, I walked up to him and said, “I want to apologize on behalf of this protest for this man’s behavior. I fully agree with this protest, but this protest is about treating people with respect and compassion. That means you too.”

The Fox News employee replied, “Thank you, I get this kind of criticism all the time. I am used to it, but it doesn’t feel very good.

I didn’t try to do communicate the message of the movement, but I would have framed the protestors words differently.

This is what I would have said,“I respect that you have a family and bills to pay. This is your job, and you are just trying to survive, but I want you to know that I am very disappointed with the Fox News coverage of this protest. When I see Fox News, I see someone with dreadlocks and tie dye clothes or someone who is unable to answer the questions the Fox News reporter poses. Although there are some among us who might fit that description, our movement includes university professors, lawyers, mothers and fathers with their children, as well as war veterans. I feel as though we are covered in a way that makes our movement look bad and does not cover the full range of the people here.  Is there something we can do to work together to give you interviews with a range of people who can express what this movement is about.”

My last comments are about the movement itself. Of course there are the people who berate at Fox News reporters, but for the most part, the Occupy Movement has remained non-violent. Mostly they do not vandalize property, they just remain in public all the time so their issues don't go away.

The rights to peaceably assemble and for redress of grievances are enshrined in the constitution. Our political system has broken down so that the Democratic president and legislators do not reflect in their actions what their ordinary Democratic voter wants. The number of lobbyist in Washington DC has skyrocketed in the last 30 years. The costs of elections has also skyrocketed. Politicians appear to listen to lobbyists and to their donors more than to their voters. We had to resort to the right to assemble to redress our grievances.

I think the Occupy Movement is going to succeed because the basic message embodied by the movement is so much more appealing than that expressed by our politicians.

Although I did not enjoy being shouted at by the homeless, alcoholic survivor, I am grateful that the Occupy Portland organizers feed him. I am grateful they have a medical tent where he can receive basic medical treatment for scrapes and bruises he might receive if he trips and falls or ends up dehydrated, with a headache. I am grateful that therapists volunteer with the Occuoy movement and try to guide this man to taking steps to heal himself.

Every time, I’ve gone to Occupy Portland, I’ve been welcomed by someone I’ve never met before. We’ve been fed along with the protestors and the homeless -- vegan curries to potato salad and bread and chocolate chip cookies. The Occupy encampment is awash with donations of food, toys for their children’s tent, medicines, computers, tarpaulins, tents...

Contrast that with Herman Cains words, “If you don’t have a job, if you aren’t rich, don't blame Wall Street.  Don't blame the big banks.  Blame yourself.”

If you over fifty and have lost and job and had your home foreclosed or you are a newly graduated student with a master’s degree and $40,000 debt and the only job you can get is as a part time barista, if you are a homeless, alcoholic survivor of abuse, who are you going to go to for help?

Compassion is healing. Compassion is attractive. Compassion is very powerful.

My next blog will be about a homeless victim of domestic violence who I met on the Walk Across Oregon.

For help with healing the pain and anger caused by abuse and turning towards more positive relationships with others, I recommend Jaime Romo's book:Healing the Sexually Abuse Heart: A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers and Supporters

If you live near Portland, Oregon, and want to both be with others who will support your recovery from abuse and if you want to work on how to heal your relationships with others, come to our monthly Compassionate Gatherings

Friday, September 30, 2011

My Spirit, My Call

My son and I arrived late at the One Spirit, One Call event this Sunday in the Park blocks here in Portland, Oregon.  One Spirit, One Call is a group that formed last year in response to the announcement by the Vatican that the ordination of women was a sin against faith as serious as the abuse of children.  The group is not about the ordination of women, but about women having a more respected and responsible role in church life.  Last year’s event as well as this year's centered around a woman oriented service paralleling, to some degree, Mass without the Eucharist.
The role of women in the Church is not my particular issue.  I am a woman doing what I do, so I feel that my own conscience overrides my obedience to authority, but women abuse children and cover up abuse the abuse of children too.  Ordaining women as priests won’t end abuse in the Catholic Church, nor will it heal the wounds caused by abuse.  However, there is a relationship between the two issues in that in both situations, some people are treated as though they are more worthy than others.  So I go to some One Spirit, One Call events.  I feel inspired when I am around other reform minded Catholics.
This Sunday the event drew an attendee who others might have wished had gone elsewhere.  My son and I sat on a low wall lining a sidewalk leading to the center of the South Park block where the One Spirit, One Call event was held both last year and this.  On the other side of the sidewalk and ten or so feet closer to the curb sat a man, loudly and apparently drunkenly proclaiming something about God, the Church, San Francisco and being molested.  A woman in a red jacket, who appeared to be a crowd security person with One Spirit, One Call, walked up to the man, spoke with him and slipped him a few dollars.  She walked off after a few minutes, but the man continued to proclaim his issues loudly and somewhat incoherently.
I wondered if he was a Catholic clergy abuse survivor.  So I walked over to the man with my son in tow and sat down.  
He spoke randomly about being a gay man and an artist and a flight attendant who had traveled all over the world.  He criticized organized religion.  I asked if he understood what the One Spirit, One Call event was about.  He understood the basics.  I suggested that we speak a little more quietly, but he did not quiet down.  So I suggested that we walk to the nearby Starbucks and speak there.  I don’t usually give money to homeless alcoholics in fear that the money would be spent buying more drugs and alcohol.  I don’t have enough money to donate, but If I did, any and all of the various shelters and missions that work with the homeless would be worthy recipients of  my money.  But this man had forgotten how to live.  He needs hospitalization, but given our penchant for wars and tax cuts, he is unlikely to ever receive the intensive help he needs.  I can’t do much for him, but I can divert him from disrupting the One Spirit, One Call event and lift up his spirits for a short time.  So I repeated my invitation to Starbucks and after a few repeats, he agreed.  All three of us, my 15 year old son, the man, and I walked the entire block to the closest Starbucks.  The man said he was hungry so I bought him coffee and a breakfast sandwich as well as a hot chocolate for my son and a cappuccino for me.
“Thank you so much for your hospitality,” the man said, “When I get my place, I’ll invite you over for Christmas dinner and make tamales for you.  I need friends.”
“How long have you been homeless?” I asked.
“Two of three months,” the man said.
I didn’t believe him but said nothing.
I said I worked with abuse survivors, trying to encourage the man to open up.  It turned out he was abused, not by a priest, but by a babysitter.  But I work with all survivors of abuse, not just clergy abuse survivors, so we stayed with the man,
He spoke at random, telling me that his first love was a Puerto Rican.  He also told me about being an alcoholic.
“It’s a genetic disease,” he said.
I told him that many people who were abused as children became alcoholics and drug addicts.
He told me about his years as a prostitute.  (Yes, my 15 year old son was present for this, but he’s heard many other bad stories.  The up side is he is very aware of abuse and the damage caused by abuse.)
His most high profile customer as a prostitute, was a prominent Hollywood entertainer, now deceased.  
“I did both women and men,” he confided, “but I  didn’t like it much.”
“Many survivors of abuse end up as prostitutes because they are used to only being valued for sex,” I replied.
The survivor receded into memories and began dissociating.  He didn’t look at us as he spoke.  Drool dripped down his chin.  His words lost what coherence they did have.
Victims of abuse often dissociate to cope with their pain.  Their mind goes elsewhere while their body is being abused.  
My heart broke that I had so little to offer him.  I have some Rose City Resource Guides published by the Street Roots newspaper that advocates for the homeless, but I left them at home.  All the homeless I’ve met know about them and the resources available.  Elizabeth, my therapist partner in this work, tells me that Central City Concern is the best place to refer people in this condition to.  But they have to be ready to go or it won’t work.
We need more.  I feel as though society abandons fragile survivors of abuse such as this man.  Yes, he made bad choices, but he clearly did not understand the reasons for his poor choices.  Because he lacked proper support at the proper time, his condition became much worse than it might have been.
I was concerned about the man’s dissociated state.
I asked him, “What is your name.”
That was enough to bring him back to the present.
He told me his name.  
“I came from a good family,” he told me.
We spent half an hour with the man, but I had promised my son some quality time.  I have to be a Mom first so we said our goodbyes, but I am still thinking about the man.  His story and his plight moved me.  I had to call Elizabeth and ask her what else to do.  She told me more details about various resources.  I wonder if I should have walked with the homeless man to Central City Concern.  We were only a few blocks away.  We were also close to Picnic in the Park which serves dinner to many homeless and non-homeless people in O’Bryant Square every Sunday in downtown Portland.  Later in the afternoon I passed by O'Bryant Square with my daughter and saw the Picnic in the Park still handing out food.  Next time I hope to be better prepared.  O'Bryant Square is located between SW 8th and 9th and SW Stark and SW Washington Avenues in downtown Portland.  The various addresses for various Central City Concern facilities are listed below.

These resources are easily found on Google Maps.

Central City Concern - Community Engagement Program  
709 Northwest Everett Street, Portland, OR
(503) 226-4060 ‎ ·
alcohol and drug · equal opportunity employer · mental health services · mental health treatment · homelessness

Central City Concern - Business Enterprises  
205 Northwest Couch Street, Portland, OR
(503) 467-4707 ‎ ·

Central City Concern - Employment Access Center  
2 Northwest 2nd Avenue, Portland, OR
(503) 226-7387 ‎ ·
department of veterans affairs · department of labor · stand-down and job fair · homelessness

Central City Concern  
204 Southwest 8th Avenue, Portland, OR
(503) 295-0390 ‎ ·

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dispatch From Grant County -- Rerun blog from May 2010

Mary Ann said,  “It’s not that people don’t care.  They do care, but the issue is so intimidating.  They don’t know what to do, so they don’t do anything.”
Mary Ann is the Executive Director of Heart of Grant County, the local agency that supports for survivors of domestic violence in Grant County, Oregon.  Since the county has fewer than 8,000 residents in an area twice the size of Delaware, Heart of Grant County also advocates for survivors of other forms of abuse.
Mary Ann went on, inspired for her passion for supporting victims.
“”When the Aryan Nations wanted to set up a headquarters in Grant County, people joined a coalition to stop hate crimes and came out and marched and rallied against the Aryan Nations.  Hate crimes are a good cause to rally against, but violence against women and children is a much bigger problem in Grant County than hate crimes. Unfortunately it is really challenging to rally people to come out and march against violence against women and children.”
I know what Mary Ann’s is talking about.  Been there, experienced that, done that. When I was six years old I told my mother about the two teenaged boys who touched me in an inappropriate way.
My mother said, “That’s where babies come from,” but she didn’t do anything.
Much of my life I struggled with depression, low self esteem, relationship issues, problems with touch.....
What if my mother had done something to support me instead?
I’ve experienced the same reluctance to do anything  about clergy abuse from fellow Catholics, but I am also guilty of not knowing what to do, and, consequently, doing nothing.   Not only did it take me a while for me to support survivors of clergy abuse after an abusive priest was removed from my parish, but to my shame, I also failed to report a potential incident of domestic abuse that I witnessed a few years ago.
I shared my story with Mary Ann when we chatted on the phone a few weeks ago.  I had called Mary Ann to interest her in supporting my Walk Across Oregon to Stop Abuse and Heal the Wounds.  We started Walking Across Oregon in 2008, specifically to address the issue of child sex abuse, but in Winston, Oregon, we ended up witnessing domestic abuse.  Our support van parked across the road from a house on a rural road, and, as we paused to refresh ourselves by drinking water and eating snacks, we noticed that there was a man standing on the front porch of that house across.  The man held a beer in his left hand while he was shouted and gestured at a woman.  She circled the house as though she was looking for a way into the house, but she never entered.
We watched this interaction unfold for more than thirty minutes, debating on what we should do.  Although we were all profoundly disturbed by what we saw, we ended up doing nothing.   We ended up walking away, and while we were walking away, the man continued to stand on the porch and shout and gesture at the woman, who continued to circle around the house.  Later, when I recounted the incident to domestic violence advocates, they told me that we should have called the police.  Oh well, live and learn.  
It is hard to know what to do.  Sometimes abuse doesn’t rise to the level of criminal conduct at a time and in a way that social workers can conclusively document as abuse.  Sometimes, victims of violence and abuse are struggling with their own relationship and self esteem issues and don’t welcome outside interference.  Sometimes the perpetrator of the abuse is a well-respected man in the community, and people can’t believe he is an abuser.  Sometimes the perpetrator is a woman, and some people can’t believe that the women are capable of abuse.
But there are consequences for not reporting abuse.  We know those consequences in the Catholic Church – scandal that has reached the papacy and shows no sign of going away.
But our whole society is impacted by the consequences caused by all the forms of abuse.  A few years ago I was posting a flyer for the screening of a film on clergy sex abuse that I hosted.  I decided to give a flyer to a man selling Street Roots, a newspaper written and sold locally in Portland, Oregon, by people struggling to overcome homelessness.  The man confided to me that he was chronically sexually abused as a child in nearly every foster home in which he lived.
Then he added, “I haven’t told the guys down at the shelter about that.”
I walked down the street to the Park Blocks, and offered a flyer to still another man selling Street Roots.  He, too, told me that he was a survivor of chronic childhood sex abuse.  Certainly many homeless people are on the streets for reasons other than child sex abuse, but I’ve gotten in the habit of asking, and I have found that around 50 percent of the homeless people I spoke with were victims of some form of child abuse mixed in with the war veterans and others who appeared to have biologically based mental challenges.
So victims of abuse and emotional trauma suffer depression, anxiety, low self esteem, problems with trust, boundaries, relationships, jobs, drugs alcohol, and housing.
And it gets worse….
In November 2009, at least five Oregon women were killed by ex-husbands or boyfriends who preferred to kill the woman in their life rather than give up control of her.  In December 2009, a 15-year-old girl named Jeanette Maples was tortured to death by her mother.  Her case had been reported numerous times to the Department of Human Services, but caseworkers had concluded that she was old enough to advocate for herself.  But like many victims of abuse and violence, she was too cowed by those who abused her to tell the truth to authorities.  In another chilling case that made the Portland Oregonian newspaper a couple weeks ago, a five year old girl living in Portland suburb died after repeated beatings by her father’s girlfriend.  Investigators said they found it hard to believe that no one around the girls observed the violence perpetrated on her, but there are no records of any reports made to authorities.
Why should we care?  
Because all the forms of abuse are related to each other.  If children are being abused by a father, it is likely that the mother is also being abused by the father too.  Mary Ann told me if the children aren’t victims of violence, but the mother is, the children still frequently suffer from undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from all the violence they are witnessing.  Moreover, as child victims often grow up, they often have such poor self-esteem, that they are vulnerable to even more abuse as an adult such as date rape and domestic violence.  The cycle of abuse goes on and on..
Why should we care?
Because the cycle of abuse won’t stop until we become brave enough to talk about it, report it and support the traumatized survivors.  Supporting survivors is another important issue, because it is much harder to heal alone and unsupported.
If you want to raise consciousness about abuse in the larger community, if you want to support survivors of abuse on the path to healing, then join us for the Walk Across Oregon.  We will be walking through John Day on August 4th with employees and supporters of Heart of Grant County.
Click here to see a preliminary itinerary.  A more detailed and specific itinerary will become available later on.
We will probably begin our day by eating at the Outpost Trading Company at 8:30 AM.  The Outpost is located at 201 West Main Street, John Day, Oregon.  We will cir-cum navigate John Day, and hopefully end up cooling off and refreshing ourselves at Dairy Queen at 106 South Canyon Boulevard around Noon.
This is not a march or rally.  We hope to enjoy ourselves and visit the Kam Wah Chung museum and park and maybe some shops or stores that strike our fancy.  We are child friendly.  My children are coming and would really appreciate it if your children come too.  Children aren’t happy unless they are having fun, so we plan on having fun.  We also discovered that survivors needed a chance to check us out before they came forward.  Trust and safety are enormous issues for survivors of abuse, so when we take time to have fun, survivors have a chance to think about sharing their story with us.  Moreover, getting out and having fun are healing.
If the town of John Day is too public for you, then join us on August 5, on a hike at the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds.  We hope to begin the Islands in Time trail at 10 AM in the Blue Basin.  We are taking it easy because of the August heat.  Next we will visit the Flood of Fire Trail and the Story in Stone Trail.  We hope to be at the Thomas Condon Visitor’s Center at 1 PM.
Oregon is beautiful!  Hope to see you there.