Posts Tagged ‘survivors’

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 context of either-or thinking and behavior, I believe that today’s interview illustrates both-and experience: both survivor and spiritual mentor; both religious and critical of institutional callousness.  Lindy Morelli is a Carmelite nun, counselor, and spiritual director. Her organization, Solace of Souls, believes “that persons who have had the experience of being rejected or wounded by their faith communities (for whatever reason) find it almost impossible to have a meaningful faith journey without experiencing healing and spiritual support/guidance, and that they fit into the “poor” to whom Jesus instructs us to give a preferential option, and we believe that this work constitutes loving our neighbor.”

Find out more at www.solaceofsouls.org and www.alabasterheart.org

JR: Survivors have a wide variety of responses to the church.  Some join other churches and some stay away from religion entirely.  I think it’s extraordinary that you’re a survivor and also a Carmelite nun. Can you give a little background about yourself and how you reconcile those aspects of your identity?

Even before the sexual assault by a clergy person happened, I had a deep personal faith in a personal God who was living, real, vital and I had built my life on making my relationship with this God the center of my life and the purpose for my life.

My faith was rooted in this deep personal relationship with God, and although I encountered a great crisis when the institutional church responded to the abuse I suffered in a way which I perceived as calloused and re-victimizing, I believe that it was through the grace of God alone that I was able to separate the institutional church from the living God.  The institution was not God for me, and although I was profoundly traumatized by their lack of attentive caring regarding my sufferings, my faith in the God I knew and loved and who I also experienced as loving me, went on and grew in spite of the institution’s great failings.

My call to give my life to God as a Carmelite, and the call I have responded to live as a person in consecrated life in vows (as a nun) is also rooted in the fact that giving one’s life to God and feeling the desire to respond to God who has loved one, is indeed that, a response of love for love; it is giving my response of yes, to the God who has shown Him/herself as the God who has loved me and who has invited me to be in deep union with Him/herself.

Carmelite spirituality is a call to prayer; it is a call to pray for others, and it is a profoundly joyful life of love; love for others, service and love for other who are in need, and a life of deep love shared with God, myself and the whole world. No crisis, no tragedy, no abuse, no matter how shattering, can affect this type of spiritual groundedness in knowing one is loved, because this love I have experienced is supernatural and eternal.

I hope this answer is not too abstract, but the point is that, when one has been touched by God, crises, traumas and tragedies e.g. abuse can be healed and overcome.  The pain of such abuse no matter how all -encompassing can be transformed and used for good and that is what I have tried to do with my experiences of pain.

JR: You are a counselor. How has your work as a counselor related to your personal experiences?

I was studying to be a counselor before the abuse occurred.  It occurred while I was in graduate school.  I found my study then, as well as ongoing study, in psychology to be helpful in my own healing journey.  My own study has given me insight into myself and into what may be healing for others.

JR: We’ve talked about the need for survivors to really engage in therapy or whatever helps them to process and/ or let go of their toxic feelings or ideas related to their abuse, as a way for survivors to reconnect with their spirits or spirituality.  What has helped you to do this inner work?

I initially went to therapy after the abuse occurred and while I have found certain types of therapy helpful, for the abuse itself, and for the re-victimization which happened because of the actions of some church officials, I did not find therapy helpful.  I attended twelve step groups and found that environment to be a non-threatening safe place for me in which to work through serious emotional issues.  I feel that God, once again, sent the right people at the right time into my life to help me and I strongly believe that the healing I have received has come through the grace of God.  I personally do not believe that therapy alone can affect such deep and profound thorough healing and I experienced healing and release from painful recurring memories at a deep level through my relationship with God and through contemplative prayer.

As a Carmelite, I feel called to engage in deep communion with God, and in my experience, the healing that has taken place in my soul at a very deep level has been a gift from God as I opened myself to God in silence, in transparency and in prayer, setting before God all the misery of my heart and asking for help.  Healing also occurred for me as I was able to tell my stories over and over to a very select couple of persons who I believe were sent to me by God.  Because these persons were gentle, nurturing and nonjudgmental, affirming, compassionate and very, very tenderly discrete in their responses to my pain, I was able to regain integration of myself body, soul and spirit. I, too, believe this was a gift from God.

At that time, I had a very special friendship with a caring person whom God put into my life, and we spent a lot of time in nature, hiking and be out of doors in very quiet peaceful places, near running water, out in the spring time sun, listening to the birds etc.  I believe strongly that healing happened in me by being in God’s creation and that nature has the power to restore.

JR: What has helped you in your spiritual journey?

As a Carmelite, certain autobiographies of people who have discovered the true meaning of life have given me purpose and fulfillment.  As a very young child, I realized, perhaps because of my total lack of sight, or because God gave me  special blessings, that life was very short and that nothing was lasting except love and how one loved others.  Nothing for me was lasting except God.  I knew this from an early age, so when I read of other people who had also suffered in very deep and profoundly painful ways, and when I read about how they made sense of their suffering, by realizing that this life is not really what we are truly living for, I was able to find great joy and new meaning.  Such persons as Theresa of Lisieux, and reading her autobiography Story of a Soul helped me unspeakably and immeasurably.

JR: What would you hope for survivors or others with respect to healing?

I think church officials need to be held accountable for the negligence in the ways they have not handled enumerable cases of abuse.  I feel that this also is a deep spiritual problem.  No amount of money paid out in law suits can truly heal survivors and their families in my opinion, because unless the church and its leaders (and those responsible) change from the inside and truly show that they are completely regretful and changing in the ways they have neglected poor helpless shattered victims, nothing will help survivors.

What do you hope for survivors and their spiritual development?

I would like to offer days of retreat, individual spiritual/companioning or guidance to survivors and their families who are ready to grow in that facet of their lives.  I do believe that without the spiritual component of one’s life being addressed nourished and healed, true integration and a complete possibility for an abundant life is not possible.

JR: You’re beginning to work with survivors and supporters to offer spiritual development support to survivors and supporters.  How is that going?

For a long time, I felt like I encountered inconsistency etc, but I have great respect for people’s limitations, and trust that when and if something is to materialize it will. I have a heart and gifts for it, but I didn’t have any real connections with groups of “survivors”. I do not want to agonize or force anything to happen even though it is in my heart and mind, because I want it to be done in peace and to be what God desires.

I still want to help people who have been hurt along these lines, but the timing has to be right. Recently, I got one call from someone who said she needed help. It is good to know that some people are indeed ready for inner and spiritual work!

JR: What inspires you?  Who are some of your heroes?

Saint Therese of Lisieux would be one of them, because she was able to transform her deep sufferings into something which was beneficial for her development as a person and into something that benefited others.  There are lots of other reasons why she would be an example I would like to follow, but those reasons are too hard to explain in this post.

JR: Thanks so much.

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