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, http://web.me.com/virginiajones/Compsassionate_Gathering/Billies_Article.html , 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.
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.
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.
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.
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