Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blogging Jaime Romo's Book: The Value of Flexibility

I have been using Jaime Romo’s book Healing the Sexually Abused Heart: A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers and Supporters for my support group.  Since some people have trouble motivating themselves to do the exercises in a serious form -- writing down their responses and sitting with them and writing them down again, I decided to blog my way through the book to try to help others to do the same thing. I already completed the first exercise in the book and so it is now time for the second exercise -- Action 1.02 -- on flexibility.

Jaime begins by asking, "How can I be more flexible when dealing with unfamiliar or uncomfortable ideas?"

I would add "and situations" to the question.

The last question in the exercise is, "What do I commit to now in order to be more flexible."

This exercise instantly put me in a state of anxiety, because I have an abusive person in my life right now. This person is constantly making demands on me. Some are reasonable. Some are outrageously unfair. And when I stand up to him and tell him “no,” then he acts as though I am being unreasonable and inflexible. And yet, I virtually never ask him to do anything for me. I don’t want to interact with him any more than I absolutely have to because interacting with him is so unpleasant -- so I try very hard to solve all my issues without him.

Why do I, the person who is being abused, have do be flexible and do all the compromising? It feels totally unfair. It feels as though I am going through abuse over and over again.

I think this is what happens to survivors. We get mistreated so many times we start to get rigid in an attempt to keep from being abused again.

There are two problems with this. First, sometimes we get so rigid that we are not open to alternatives that may be very healing for us if only we try them. Second, the outside world doesn’t not perceive reality through our eyes. doctors, lawyers, therapists, judges and the like hear not only our story, but also the story of the person abusing us, so they judge us not merely on our story, but also on our behavior, which means that when we are rigid in trying to protect ourselves from being abused again we look like we are the problem and not the victim.

That being said, I have to be rigid in discussing my own situation because it is an ongoing situation. I worry that I’ve already said enough to make myself vulnerable to further wounding. I have some good examples among the survivors I work with how people have wounded themselves with their own rigidity, but I can’t really keep their confidences and support them and tell their stories to other people. I can only tell a few stories from my life to illustrate the point I think Jaime Romo was making about flexibility.

Abuse shouldn’t happen -- anywhere -- in any relationship, and society should care about wrongdoing and stop it, but there are so many situations where wrongdoing happens and nothing is done.  About ten years ago I knew a woman whose purse was snatched. She reported it to the police only to be told that the situation was so minor that the police would not pursue it beyond taking a report on the incident. So the woman tracked down the purse snatcher and took her evidence to the police so they could arrest him.

Do you know what the police did?


There has also been a case of elder abuse in my family -- an older cousin of mine is being taken advantage of by a much younger man. He is verbally abusive of her and always persuading her to give him money. I reported the situation some years ago. The result? My older relative was mad at me for causing trouble for her boyfriend, and Adult Protective Services did nothing because she was lucid and wanted the man in her life. Recently my relative fell and had a cracked rib, and her much younger boyfriend let her languish in pain for a couple weeks before someone else finally took her to a doctor. The horrified doctor, who is a mandatory reporter, reported the case to Adult Protective Services. Once again Adult Protective Services did nothing because she was lucid and wanted this abusive man in her life. However, my cousin did get rid of the doctor.

What do you do?

Unfortunately you can’t control everything, and sometimes, even though it feels to the core of your being that something is totally unfair, you have to be flexible and try to adapt to a less than perfect situation. And sometimes you never know, but if you're patient, something good will happen that just happens not to be what you wanted to make happen.

That is always happening to me. I am always trying to make things happen when something else happens that I did not plan on. The clergy abuse issue is a great example. The reason why I got into the clergy abuse issue is an abusive priest was removed from my parish. It took me a year or so to put the pieces together and realize that what Church leadership had told our parish about the priest was a whitewashed form of the truth. I came to the sad conclusion that there were more victims and that I needed to do something. I handed out newspaper articles in my parish and thought people would support me in my quest for truth and justice. I hoped to inspire the parishioners of my parish to write a letter to Church leadership asking for truth and justice.

I can hear the cynical laughter of quite a few survivors of clergy abuse.

No it didn’t happen.

But something else happened just as good and maybe even better.

In response to my attempts to do something about the clergy abuse issue, Church leadership put me in touch with a clergy abuse survivor in another state who was trying to work with the Church.  I had heard about him, that he was allowing himself to be used by the Church for propaganda purposes. I never imagined myself going to him for advice and help. After Church leadership advised me to contact him, I wrote him an angry and confrontational letter. To my surprise, he wrote me an eloquent and compassionate response. We corresponded for about a year. He even made a trip to Portland. We went to dinner at Powell’s bookstore and then visited a park after dinner with my children. My children adored him because he was funny and playful.

I guess that was the icing on the cake.

The cake was that he helped me get forums started in my parish. The forums were run by church personnel and were limited in the healing they offered, but enough parishioners came forward and said they were hurt by the clergy abuse scandal that the forums were continued and eventually, with the support of Franciscan Friar Armando Lopez, they morphed into Compassionate Gatherings run by me, a lay Catholic parishioner and Elizabeth, a clergy abuse survivor. Our very first independent Compassionate Gathering a family member of a clergy abuse survivor came to us seeking our support and survivors have come to us since then, slowly, one by one, but they are still coming. I was contacted by a new survivor just before Christmas.

So what I was trying to make happen did not happen, something else happened that was probably even better. If I had been rigid and said that healing could happen only one way, then the good that happened from me being open to an alternative, probably would not have happened.

Do I work with this survivor anymore? No, he stopped writing to me after about a year and that was that.

Although I was disappointed, even his departure was it’s own gift. I had wanted and expected to keep working with him. But as I said before, he works very closely with the Church, which strongly influences how he does his work. If I had kept on working with him, I would have had to let the Church significantly influence my work. However, not long after he stopped writing to me, I ran into a reference on the internet about The Compassionate Listening Project. Compassionate Listening sounded like just the thing to me because during the forums of clergy abuse church personnel allowed people, especially me, to be interrupted, put down, and criticized. I had thought that if only Catholics met survivors of clergy abuse face to face that they would become more sympathetic to them. Then I realized that you can’t bring survivors face to face with other Catholics because they will criticize them, put them down and interrupt them. This sort of experience would be really wounding to survivors.  When I saw the work of the Compassionate Listening Project, I knew you could bring survivors and Catholics together if you taught the Catholics and some of the survivors Compassionate Listening. Compassionate Listening works beautifully. This is what Compassionate Gathering does.  We bring survivors together with other Catholics and members of the community so people can tell their stories in a supportive environment.

My last story about flexibility concerns my daughter. My daughter has a bubbly, sparkly personality, but when she hit puberty she became a lovely girl with a bubbly personality and lots of insecurities. For the last three and half years we have been volunteering once every couple months at a shelter for homeless families. For a long time my daughter intermixed with the homeless children with ease.  She was a wonderful source of fun for them and big help for me. But her last couple visits to the shelter she has grown too shy to easily mix with the other kids. This last week at the shelter there have been a couple girls her age. I collected toys to bring to the shelter this last Sunday for our shift as evening host, but my teenagers grumbled that the toys were too small and uninteresting to give out. They were leftover toys from the freebies given out during church picnics -- small plastic odds and ends. After we arrived at the shelter, my daughter stayed in the kitchen, and read her book and helped set up for dinner, but she did not mix with our guests even though there were several girls her age present.

There were two families in the shelter. For reasons that will become obvious I am obscuring their identities. One was a Mexican family with a mother and father and five kids. One was an Asian family with a single mother and five kids. All the adults spoke halting English, and all the kids were very well behaved. In the past we’ve hosted adults struggling with drug and alcohol and abuse issues. More recently our shelter has hosted happy families in which the parents have lost their jobs and stopped being able to pay rent.

The single mother had a ten year old son.  I sat down across from him at dinner and noticed he looked very sad, so I asked him a few questions. My children told me that I was being intrusive. I asked the young man, and he agreed, so I stopped asking questions.

After dinner I sat down by the boy's mother and commented on how hard it must be to be a homeless single mother. Not only did she have 5 children, but one of them was a five month old baby.

She had moved abruptly in mid October from a state two or three states away from Oregon. She had slept in her car with her kids at the FoodCo parking lot for a couple months before someone told her about the shelter for homeless families. Sleeping in a car life this with a five kids is hard enough, but a newborn baby? That is unimaginably difficult.

I told the mother I noticed how sad her son was.

She said, “He misses his grandmother back home”

My mind silently screamed domestic violence. Why would a woman move to a state two states away from her family with no money and no job and winter coming on and a newborn baby? Moreover the state she came from had lower unemployment than Oregon.

There had to be a reason bigger than any usual reason.

I asked the mother a few questions and let it be. She didn’t open up and tell me what I thought was the case. I wish she had been able to trust me, because there are Domestic Violence services in Portland that are specific to ethnic communities.  Probably shelter staff who screen shelter applicants were aware of the woman’s circumstances and referred her to appropriate services.

Although the mother was very circumspect about her circumstances, she did tell me one story. She told me how her kids were wishing for toys and would ask her if she had a dollar so they could go to Fred Meyer’s and buy one of the cheap toys for sale there.  Then she would look for change in the car and usually come up with a dollar or so.

This was the opening for me to bring in my children’s leftover toys. I asked her if she wanted them. She did.

So I went out to my car and brought my one small bag of toys into the shelter. There were inflatable balls and a helicopter, a bubble blower on a cord that could be worn around the neck, some crosses on chains, a plastic magnifying glass, and a children’s magazine.

These poor children lit up as though it was Christmas and soon all children were playing together, including my daughter. My kids thought our toys were too cheap to give away, but the homeless children were delighted with them. And with the joy, my daughter’s adolescent insecurities disappeared.

Monday night we went through our toys and clothes and came up with four bags of toys and kids clothing to take to the shelter. My daughter had great fun figuring out which toys and outfits she wanted to give away. Tuesday night we went back to the shelter and gave away these four bags of toys and clothes. And now some homeless boys are playing with my son’s pirate ship and a homeless girl owns my daughter’s baby doll.  But there were other toys too -- enough toys for everyone to receive something. My own children once again laughed and played with the other kids.

So there you go (as my Irish friend always says). My daughter was afraid to interact. She was afraid our toys would be insulting. Instead she had so much fun playing with these kids that she looked forward to visiting them again and giving them even more used toys and clothes.

If you never try anything new, you might miss a lot of fun and healing.

Or, another way of putting it is, if what you are doing isn’t working, try something else. It might work.

And so it turns out that flexibility is really valuable for healing. So if you have a copy of Jaime Romo’s workbook turn to page 16 and start thinking about how flexibility might help you heal and how you can be flexible. If you don’t own open of his workbooks contact me or contact him and one of us can send you off a copy for a bout $20 to cover the cost of the book and handling.

E-mail Jaime at

The specific questions Jaime asks in the exercise include:

How can I be more flexible when dealing with unfamiliar or uncomfortable ideas?

When is it okay for me to be flexible with unfamiliar or uncomfortable ideas?

What might be some benefits to my being more flexible with unfamiliar or uncomfortable ideas?


What is keeping me form being more flexible?

There are more questions but you will have buy Jaime's book to find out what they are.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Being an Instrument of Peace

These days are sad ones for our country, with the shooting of Democratic Representative, Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona as well as the shooting of the little girl Christina Greem, who was born on 9/11. These shootings were an act of a man, Jared Lee Loughner, who appears to have suffered from emotional trauma meted out by a verbally abusive father. Jared may be schizophrenic too. Maybe his stimuli were all internal, and he was not influenced by angry rhetoric from Republican or Democratic politicians and pundits....or maybe he was influenced. My opinion is that probably an emotional violent father coupled with possible biochemical disturbances in Loughner's brain made him more vulnerable to influence from violent rhetoric and more likely to commit the insane act of violence when most of the rest of us know the rhetoric is intended to incite political action and not actual violence.

That said, now what do we do to help our country heal?

President Obama gave a moving speech the other night at the memorial to the dead in Arizona, especially his words about Christina Green, the little girl born on 9/11 who was a member of student council and aspired to follow in Gabrielle Giffords footsteps, "I want America to be as good as she imagined it..."

Don't we all?

The Arizona memorial was one that brought together Republicans and Democrats -- Republican senators John McCain and John Kyl attended as did retired Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Conner.

I listened to Jon Stewart on the internet this morning. He played clips from Fox News criticizing the memorial in Arizona. The Fox news pundits criticized and criticized and criticized.

It gets tiresome to hear all that criticism. The brain shuts down, and I was reminded why I don't subscribe to cable television.

And then I think about my area of interest -- abuse in the Catholic Church.

Yesterday, I had Facebook message exchanges with two different people -- both people wounded by abuse. One woman was abused by a nun. She was older and frail and unable to travel. She felt alone. I referred her to someone I knew abused by a nun. She told me she had tried contacting that person without success. She was afraid to tell her story alone, because she was afraid of what the Church might do to her. She said she felt like ending her life because she felt so alone and uncared for. She lives afar away so I cannot go to her.

Catholics cringe when they hear criticism of their Church like this. They hurt, but the abuse survivors hurt much more. How can we bring healing to this issue? How can we care for people such as this nun abuse survivor who feels so alone that she wants to end her life? How can we address the fears of Catholics who feel wounded by criticism? They know in their hearts the abuse happened, but they don't know what to do so they shut down and do nothing -- which perpetuates the problem.

Later yesterday, I heard from another Facebook friend, Jaques. I only met the nun abuse survivor yesterday. Jacques I remember from First Grade. I remember him swinging on the Monkey Bars much more ably than me. We went to school together all the way through high school. High school was a terrible time in my life when no one asked me to date or dance.

Everyone said high school is the best time in your life. I hated it. I didn't have the money for nice clothes. I had way too many pimples. I was the class brainiac which never makes you popular. I went to a dance at the urging of my friends when I was a Freshman. As usual, nobody asked me to dance. So I asked someone. I asked Jacques. He was middling in popularity so I thought he was a safe bet, but he turned me down.

It hurt, and I never went voluntarily to another dance (however I was involuntarily taken to a dance two years later). My relationship skills were poor, and I suffered from low self esteem and depression. In the years that followed I made several half hearted suicide attempts. I had a secret. Two teenaged boys had taken me into a basement when I was 4 years old and they sexually abused me. On top of that my mother had been sexually abused as a child and through out my childhood struggled with disabling depression and alcoholism.

From the prism of my mind, I interpreted Jacques declining to dance with me as confirmation of my unworthiness as a person.

But Jacques had a secret too.

He is gay.

But in high school he dared not tell anyone, at least not anyone I knew of.

When we reconnected last year through Facebook, he told me about the rejection and labeling and discrimination he suffered all of his life for being gay. And then, in 1994, he was with his male friend in Greenwich Village...holding hands.....when they were attacked and beaten by three young men wielding golf clubs. Jacques escaped permanent damage, but his friend suffered the loss of hearing in one ear and later struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism until his death a few years ago. Jacques struggled with a different kind of damage. He was filled with anger and fear that he would be attacked again for being gay..... because some people view gays as evil or filthy so it is acceptable to discriminate against gays and lesbians, it is acceptable to attack gays and lesbians and wound them or kill them. And, for some reason, other people do not identify these actions as hate crimes because they think, "People make the choice to be gay.'

Looking back on the high school dance and the way I felt and the way Jacques felt -- neither one of us chose what we felt. I did not choose to be abused, and Jacques did not choose to be attracted to boys instead of girls. In our small town, both experiences had be kept private because everyone knew everything, and there was no tolerance for people on the fringes.

Jacques left our home town and worked his way up through Greenpeace and then as an artist and art studio owner in New York. Now he can tell people from our hometown that he is gay, and he is respected because he is the most successful person from our high school graduating class if not from the whole school.

Still, for many years, Jacques, struggled with darkness in his soul -- pain and anger that so many people do not consider attacks on gays and lesbians to be hate crimes. He was able to move forward towards healing when President Obama signed a bill in 2009 making it a federal offense to attack someone because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. Knowing he had more access for justice helped Jaques heal the wounds of his psyche.

Sounds familiar. One of the deepest wounds clergy abuse survivors feel is the lack of access to justice because of laws limiting statutes of limitations on criminal and civil prosecutions for abuse.

In our e-mail exchange yesterday I told Jacques that he can use his success as an artist and art studio owner as a platform to do much good as Oprah has used to her television show.

Jacques liked that. He wrote back, knowingly or unknowingly quoting the words of St. Francis.

"Thanks for the words of inspiration...," he wrote, "I choose to be happy...where there is darkness let me bring light.."

Jacques words inspired me in turn.

I thought about where our country is now, with all the conflict and anger between left and right. And I thought about the relationship between survivors and other Catholics. The church takes tentative steps that often appear either clueless or for show and not genuine. And survivors remained silent in the church or outside the church, angry at the lack of genuine progress, and the person in the pew has either left the church out of frustration or he or she remains in the church, confused and uncertain. We all wait for justice and healing, not knowing what to do.

The answer for Church and society is the same. We need to heed the words of St. Francis in his Prayer of Peace. Some people, such as Gaby Giffords or Christiana Green and a great many survivors of abuse, are dead or so wounded they can't do anything. The rest of us must carry forward and live the words of St. Francis.....

Lord, make me an instrument of Your Peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

(c) 2011 Virginia Pickles Jones

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