Posts Tagged ‘healing’

I first met Jeannie years ago at a SNAP conference.  I continue to appreciate her wisdom, honesty, transformation and joy.

JR: Thank you for participating in this interview. I experience you as a nurturer or guide in various kinds of survivor healing efforts: the Farm, SNAP, and individual support. How would you describe your kind of advocacy?

 JW: Back in the early 90’s, Jaime, when everything ‘hit the fan’ for me, I was overwhelmed with memories of the abuse. They didn’t seem ‘real’ – I felt totally out of control of my life and yes, crazy, for lack of a better word. I started hearing about other people with similar experiences. I started reaching out – I jumped into the advocacy movement of exposing the crimes of the church without much focus on my personal journey towards healing. I researched priest’s assignments through the church directories for people all over the country; I worked with a reporter to expose the issues locally; supported other survivors… It took quite awhile and painful insight to realize that in my personal journey, I was using all the activity to keep one step ahead of my-self and outrun, so to speak, the work I had to do to reclaim my life and really heal my soul.

For me, now, advocacy has a much different meaning in my life journey. It’s much more ‘quiet’. I’m learning that responding, versus reacting to situations opens up opportunities to share my story and hopefully that offers support in a way that encourages people to ask more questions. Being observant and respectful of people’s ability to take in the scope of the traumatic effects of any kind of abuse is a tough challenge, when it can trigger my old pattern of outrage and the adrenaline rush of needing to challenge and change institutions and systems that enable abuse. I believe that becoming the person I was meant to be in this life – healthy physically, mentally, emotionally and especially spiritually – is an extremely powerful force that can instill hope and affect change. Encouraging other survivors to truly become them-selves is where the heart of my advocacy focus is now.

JR: You’re someone I see as deeply spiritual. What was your religious affiliation or identity growing up?

JW: I was raised Catholic; grade school education through a couple of years of college. However, I don’t equate spiritual with religious affiliation/identity anymore.

JR: We’ve talked about how, as unspeakable clergy or religious authority sexual abuse is, ritual abuse is even more difficult and upsetting for most people to even think about. What are your concerns and hopes about even discussing this topic?

JW: I have to say that even now, after so many years, my heart seems to skip a beat and I’m forgetting to breathe with this question. I wish I could say that it’s become a topic people are more willing to learn or talk about – at least think about – but in my personal experience, that’s not the case. This kind of abuse is very underground – a closed system usually involving groups of abusers. This elevates the danger involved in exposing this kind of abuse tremendously, which never should be taken lightly. And then there’s the credibility factor: exposing an individual priest as an abuser – doable; exposing ritual abuse groups within the church….?

The nature of the abuse itself – the grooming process, the ‘brainwashing’, the trauma itself, the isolation and the real, possible danger for the survivors are all things I’ve thought about through the years as I’ve processed my memories. In years past, I’ve asked questions of people much more in the know than I and I’ve always run up against doors that quickly close, but there are indications that there’s info known. Maybe someday. My concerns and hope go out to those who have experienced this kind of abuse; they are definitely not alone with their memories.

JR: Given that, can you say a little about your abuse experience?

JW: I experienced group ritual abuse involving priests and lay people. I was very young when it started and the ‘grooming’ process and abuse was extensive and traumatic. As I’ve mentioned before, my memories flooded out during a short period of time back in the early 90’s. It was years before I let myself talk about my memories outside of therapy or read about ritual abuse because I was terrified that I’d ‘imprint’ false memories into my brain. After a couple of years, through internet support groups like SNAP, I came into contact with other ritual abuse survivors. Time and time again upon hearing their experiences and me sharing mine, there were ‘rituals’ that were the same – people from all over the country. One gentleman even had known one of the priests involved in my abuse and talked about the priest’s abusive behavior towards him.

At a VOTF conference a man who was from a town where some of my abuse took place and was very familiar with a particular church building, knew exactly the room I described where I was taken to after a ceremony – down to a very unique door; I spoke with 2 women who suffered similar abuse in a parish very close to the parish I grew up in. Someday I hope that ritual abuse will be exposed – my experience certainly is not an isolated case.

JR: What have been some of your challenges in recovery/ healing?

JW: Certainly the credibility factor was a big issue for me at first. At first I kept my ‘flooded’ memories kind of off to the side. As I put pieces together, my life ‘story’ started to have a continuum that I never experienced before. I began to realize that I had always remembered so much more than I thought. A therapist I worked with would tell me over and over again that I had all the ‘answers’ inside of me…yeah, right! It’s turned out to be so true.

Another huge challenge in the beginning was the extreme changes that happened in my everyday life. I was a small business owner at the time who couldn’t run the business anymore in a town where I was pretty visible. Many catholic friends and many family members wrote me off – no questions about what happened – only condemnation. Everything in my life shifted. Nothing on my list of challenges is unique, for sure. Today, there are still challenges that pop up, but I’ve learned how to identify them, track them down, and deal with them in a healthy way. Not always easy, but certainly makes for a happier life!

JR: I think you have some valuable insights about re-programming (physically, mentally, emotionally) as part of healing from religious authority sexual abuse. Can you share some of what you’ve learned?

JW: Programming, Jaime, is SUCH a good word to use in describing the healing process! Physically…. I never knew that people “in the normal range” (I like to use that phrase versus just “normal”) felt their whole body at the same time! I grew up very disconnected from my body. I had to deal with many body memories throughout my recovery process. CraniolSacral massage therapy was extremely difficult but tremendously beneficial. (Very important to work with a therapist thoroughly trained to work with trauma victims!) I had to literally re-train my body to feel connected and remember touch and energy flow.

Mentally….. The first thing that comes to mind was my discovery that I had to go back and re-define words! What does “being safe” really mean? – much more than that I won’t be hurt today.

What does “friendship” really mean? – much deeper than someone just paying attention to me at the moment. etc. As a child being traumatized, I latched onto meanings that helped me survive. As an adult I had to re-define so many words through healthier eyes and experiences. Throughout my whole life, I’ve experienced situations where I can’t remember things no matter how hard I try. I’ve done a lot of reading about how trauma, especially early age trauma, affects the development of memory and that’s helped a lot in my understanding this difficulty. As a child it was far safer not to remember.

I’ve re-programmed my-self now to try and intercept the “you’re so stupid” etc. self-talk when my memory blanks out and slowly the “garage doors” – as I call them – don’t slam closed as often. Through CraniolSacral massage I’ve learned how to open them when they do. Present day stress at times still plays havoc on my memory and it’s a signal I have to pay attention to what’s going on.

Emotionally…. Again, from that very wise therapist who traveled with me on my healing journey… ‘my thoughts and emotions don’t define who I am – it’s what I do with them that matters’. It took me a long time to understand and realize that I did have control over what I did with my thoughts and emotions. I can go ballistic over something OR I could choose to simply look at it and respond in the best, healthiest, kindest, etc. way I could figure out. I’ll never forget a ‘homework’ assignment my therapist gave me during a time suicide seemed like a possible option to take away the emotional pain. I was to write down all the intrusive, depressive thoughts in one column – opposite I was to write down a minimum of 3 counter-active thoughts for each one. Example: I just want to go to sleep and never wake up. Choice: I could make a cup of tea and cuddle on my sofa with a blanket; go out into my garden; take a nap but set the alarm for 30 minutes. After the list was made I was to CHOOSE just one and act on it. A life changing exercise for me! I discovered I was scared to death of going outside the box of emotions and thoughts that were familiar and predictable – being happy was outside the box! In fact, I didn’t even know what being happy meant (another word I had to re-define for my-self). It took so much practice but now I know I can choose to live my life with a serene outlook even in the toughest circumstances. When it doesn’t happen easily, I can choose to do an attitude adjustment – my choice!

JR: Would you talk about your spiritual journey? What has been helpful? What have you gained?

JW: This is where my life now feels most fulfilled – in my spiritual journey. I feel I’ve finally made a connection to this world and universe. The most helpful breakthrough? Probably the recognition that the religious training (I prefer the word brainwashing) I took in throughout my school years had no critical thinking component – just the ‘believe us;’the church demands adherence. For me, breaking free of the tentacles of guilt, shame, fear, etc of leaving the church has been a long, hard fought journey. Watching survivors and supporters stand up to the church and expose the abuse and hypocrisy -so incredibly courageous – was an encouragement for me to grapple with the tough questions I needed to ask about the church myself. In the practice of just being quiet within my-self, I’ve come to know the God within me. I was created in God’s image – that I still fully believe and I have a purpose in this life. Learning to be in the present moment, I’ve become aware of how we’re all inter-connected in this universe.

JR: We’ve talked in the past about the addictive aspects of advocacy work or what happens for some survivors who take up public actions to expose abuse. What do you mean by that?

JW: I shared at the beginning of this interview about how I discovered I was using advocacy as a way to “out run” my dealing with the trauma of my childhood. My body learned very early in life how to kick in that adrenaline “rush” to help me survive the abuse and stay vigilant. The ‘rush’ became what I defined as feeling like I was alive. When I attended press conferences, support meetings, just getting together with survivors in my early days of advocacy, I began to notice that a collective agitation, anger often times surfaced and we ran with it…a feeling of being alive…but with an addictive quality to it.

Over the years, it saddens me to see some survivors stuck in that whirlwind… stuck in the beginning stages of healing with such raw emotions, anger, tears, clinging to the whirlwind because it is familiar and familiar often times “feels” safe. Advocacy can be empowering but it’s not a substitution for one-on-one therapy. What if we began to place the healing of survivors on the same priority level as advocacy? I think the time has come for us to take care of our own.

JR: What has worked for you to be less in a ‘Fight-Flight’ or ‘reactive’ mode, and more in an spiritually integrative mode in your day to day life?

JW: This is an easy question…….remembering to BREATHE!!  Does all kinds of good things. It gives me a pause to reflect and CHOOSE a response instead of a knee-jerk re-action; my whole-self gets a chance to participate in my-life moment; often times, with a moment of reflection, it becomes clear that whatever was rearing up to knock me off balance, really wasn’t all that important.                                     

JR: What is your sacred space now or what is sacred to you now?

JW: I think the sacred spiritual space for me now is when I feel connected to the universe; when I sense my purpose in life, guided by the creator of this world; when my inside matches my outside. What’s sacred to me now? Everything! My children, friends, my garden, waking up in the morning 🙂 I’ve learned to celebrate even the smallest pleasures. Someday, I’m going to be successful in encouraging survivors and supporters to gather together JUST to celebrate. Everyone’s invited!

JR: I know there is so much more to talk about and learn together. Thank you for your time and sharing. I hope to continue our conversation another time. Thank you!


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Portia Nelson, in There’s a Hole in my Sidewalk, describes her life in five segments. In chapter one, she describes walking down a street and falling into a deep hole in the sidewalk. She’s lost and help­less, and it takes forever to find a way out. In chapter two, she walks down the same street with the same deep hole in the sidewalk. She pretends she doesn’t see it and falls in again. She is somehow surprised that she is in the same place. Again, she thinks it isn’t her fault and again it takes her a long time to get out.

In chapter three, she walks down the same street, sees the hole, and falls in anyway because it is a habit. She takes responsibility for herself and gets out immediately. In chapter four, she walks down the same street and walks around the hole in the sidewalk. In chapter five, she walks down another street.

I can imagine how I came to write this workbook in five segments. Stage one: A deep hole. I was sexually abused by my pastor as a teenager, memories of which lay buried for nearly 30 years. From the time I left seminary in 1984, I worked to bring social justice and the incarnation of God into the world through education.

Stage two: Buried alive. As a professor, I participated in a week long summer program for Catholic University faculty. At this time, the Boston scandal was in the news daily. My flashbacks began around that time.  More abuse memories were triggered by seeing my sons sleeping shirtless; they were about the age I was when I was abused.

I called the L.A. Archdiocese to report what I thought others must want to know in order to help others. During the next year, I contacted an attorney, filed a police report and got in touch with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. In support meetings, I heard my own story in graphic detail through many others’ and I became a spokesman.

Stage three: Letting go. During the fall 2005, when I could no longer conceal that I could not read or effectively remember lectures and material, I dragged myself to a psychiatrist.  I was on emotional edge, working and conflicting with tenured colleagues who reminded me of church hierarchy. My PTSD leave of absence in 2006, before I began meditation, became my cocoon from my life of being a victim and survivor. When a registered sex offender came to my new church to worship there, I became a spiritual support team member, and met with this person weekly.  That experience was re- traumatizing as well as life changing towards my transformation.

Stage 4: Transformation. Shortly after the 2006-2007 academic year ended, I received notification that I would not be reappointed, which circumvented my bid for tenure.  My appeal to the Provost was denied. I participated in a Chopra Center program about healing and began my path of meditation, transformation, and writing.

Stage 5: Publication. I have written Healing the Sexually Abused Heart: A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers, and Supporters, to help others. 39 million people in the United States have experienced sexual abuse in some form. Sadly, most victims live among us with near-invisibility. Survivors and supporters say that this book is a valuable resource for victims of sexual abuse, their support groups, and others impacted by abuse and neglect.  That it is useful, inspirational and hopeful, and will literally help save lives. Even if I didn’t write it, I think it should be in every church’s library.

Victims of abuse and betrayal carry similar toxic experiences that can continue to impact mind and spirit long after the original physical abuse occurred. This workbook guides the reader through a self-questioning process that gently leads her or him through stages of recovery. Every chapter includes exercises to help readers recognize how their hearts and minds work together with respect to self-talk, responses to authority, boundaries, roles, and action-steps. This resource helps readers examine the past and understand present actions and ways of thinking that maintain self-victimization. Practical exercises teach readers to take responsibility for the present. Chapter 5 is particularly geared for those who aspire to be effective supporters or change agents in their particular religious environment.

Healing is possible; transformation is necessary.  See chapter samples on line at www.jaimeromo.com/workbook

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In the wake of the massive disaster in Haiti, we have seen a worldwide supportive response to the people of Haiti. Fortunately, religious and other groups and agencies are doing all they can to save lives, rebuild the infrastructure, and even improve the quality and safety of homes in the future. What a wonderful example of public and private, inter-faith cooperation to help those impacted by this event.

At the same time, another disaster is unfolding around us. It also brings negative mental and spiritual trauma that can stay with and impact victims negatively for years if not treated. The trauma can infect the capacity to live in the present, and function well; paraphrasing the words of 2nd century Iraneus, the trauma can keep a victim from being the glory of God by being fully alive.

There are parallels between earthquakes and sexual abuse.

Many sexual abuse victims’ lives have already been lost. Many survivors’ careers demolished, and relationships buried under the rubble of the toxic impact of religious authority abuse. Daily news reports from every continent provide ample evidence of the ongoing pandemic. Bishop Accountability tracks Catholic offenders. StopBaptistPredators tracks Baptist offenders.  The Awareness Center tracks Jewish offenders. I believe these are important efforts. There’s a saying, “To name the disease is to be able to cure it.” But those are just the religious tips of a societal iceberg.

I’m not particularly interested in finding out if one religious group has a higher percentage of sexual abusers, or if sexual abuse is more prevalent in religious groups than in general. I’ve been searching for an accurate number to describe how many people in the United States have experienced sexual abuse in some form.  Not just victims of religious authority sexual abuse, but anyone in society who has experienced sexual abuse. And that has been a difficult process.

Studies from justice departments and the National Crime Victim Center, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are over descriptive and not inter-connected.  Even recent studies note that the majority of sexual abuse cases are not reported.  The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. The most conservative numbers give us a base of 39,000.000 people in the United States who have experienced sexual abuse in some way.

39,000,000, and I believe the reality is much higher.

I imagine that many readers may be approaching this topic with some distance or detachment, as neither an abuser nor as a person who has been abused. I imagine that it is difficult to see value in taking up such a tragic and toxic topic, especially when there are other disasters that call for attention. It may even be seductive to dismiss this issue as only involving a few individuals who did some very serious damage to some vulnerable children. But whether you consider yourself religious or secular, we as Americans have looked the other way while this happened and did practically nothing to prevent this ongoing abuse of power, this betrayal of confidence, and erosion in trust in our very culture.

What’s at stake in this issue? In a word: civilization.  A society where children mistrust adults because children are abused and because other adults allow this to happen, and do not believe or protect children, is no civilization, certainly no democracy. Instead of our society benefiting from the vast gifts of these persons, their gifts are often lost to us along with the abuse they endured.

So is it any wonder that church or education or other important values driven organization leaders or groups are not believed and not trusted?

What’s the solution for an organization, particularly a religious one, which is no longer credible or trusted by those we intend to serve? It’s simple, but not easy. If we want to be trusted, we have to be clear with our boundaries, our roles, and how we understand authority. And if we want to be believed? If we want people to believe in us– we have to be active and consistent in our actions to prevent abuse and live up to our visions or missions.

So, if we cannot trust churches or church leaders to protect children and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse by religious authorities, no wonder we have so much sexual abuse in society. Two years ago, California church leaders agreed, as part of legal settlements in order to avoid the public humiliation of victims reporting lurid details of their abuse and to avoid the threat of even greater civil settlements determined by juries, to release documents. And we still do not have them.

42 years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said the following about the Good Samaritan parable, “And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me? But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him”

It seems that the documents about sexual abuse are only partially available, just like the documents about religious authority sexual abuse—even though the release of church documents has been one of the conditions of the ‘settlements’ with many churches. Survivors of religious authority sexual abuse have been fighting for these documents to be released for years. We know that to be able to name the problem is to be able to solve it.  We know that the problem is much worse than has been reported or than many imagine. And if we cannot get information about sexual abuse from organizations that have the information and have agreed to release them, how can we diagnose, let alone treat, this cancer of sexual abuse in particular organizations or in society?

Survivors’ trauma and healing will be best discovered and then affirmed in a healthy and responsible community, where people ask If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him? If you and others can face this deep, shameful, and unspeakable reality and find in yourself the outrage and compassion necessary to correct systemic perpetuation of clergy sexual abuse, then the more than 39,000,000 survivors can begin to know justice; then you will have taken up your role, as adults, to address crimes against humanity, and to do no less than save civilization.

As with the Haiti disaster, it’s not about us feeling better about ourselves because of what we believe or even because we’ve done something for someone else.  It’s not about me or you individually. It’s about ending Child Sexual Abuse; everyone working together in whatever way is most helpful to survivors.


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