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Posts Tagged ‘ritual abuse’

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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