Friday, August 17, 2018

Hope for My Daughter

I've had the privilege of journeying with women recovering from having been married to a pedophile for a number of years now.  Some, like I, have dared to remarry but we have all struggled mightily with the prospect of trusting again.  After all, as some are want to say, "Our pickers were broken" the first time around (a concept I don't necessarily agree with because perpetrators are so deceptive.)

Recently, however, the "pilgrim" is someone much closer to my heart.  My daughter and I have enjoyed some deep conversations about what to look for in a marriage partner and in her, I see many of the same fears and concerns that so many of us have experienced the second time around.  She too has been deeply impacted by her father's betrayal and arrest and our subsequent divorce.  She has seen up close the devastation that can occur and she wants to avoid that--and who wouldn't?

So I've been thinking about what I hope my daughter will find in a partner.  The list today is far different than it would have been ten years ago.  This is partly due to my ex-husband's betrayal but also has been impacted by the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements.  So here is my wish list for her and really for all of us.  My hope is that my daughter will find a man who will:

See her as the prize:  My current husband reminds our daughter all of the time that she is the prize and he is right.  It is so easy to discount ourselves and "settle" because we do not feel worthy of anything more.  Or, we allow someone else to define our worth and treat us accordingly.  I hope my daughter remembers her unique value and doesn't settle for anyone who sees her as anything other than the ultimate prize that she truly is.

Honor her as an individual:  Part of the give-and-take of any relationship is negotiating areas of difference.  I want my daughter's partner to honor her individuality and respect her right to be different.  I do not want her to allow anyone to try to mold her into something that she is not but rather to respect and honor who she already is and who she is becoming.

Treat her as an equal:  Unfortunately, my daughter was raised in a very conservative religious environment that taught female submission in marriage and restricted women's roles in the church.  Mutual submission, on the other hand, values and prioritizes both parties in the relationship rather than the one-sided, power-over model of female submission.  The current climate in conservative religious circles has demonstrated the huge problems an emphasis on female submission has created. It's past time to call "ENOUGH" on this ugly distortion of scripture.

Have the hots for her and only her:  One of the things I have consistently heard from former partners of pedophiles is that sexual dysfunction, perversion and weirdness presented themselves fairly early in the sexual relationship.  I want my daughter's partner to be passionate about her, to desire her and to be faithful in all aspects of their sexual union.  I want him to honor the sanctity of their sex lives together and not engage in any behavior that will jeopardize or disrupt that critical part of their relationship.

Respect her faith, even if he doesn't share it:  This is probably where my thoughts have changed most drastically.  I used to believe it was important to pray for my children's future partners--for their "purity" and spiritual growth, etc.  Back then I could not conceive of the notion that they would marry anyone other than a Christian.  With all that I have seen and learned however, I am not so certain that it is as important for my daughter's partner to share her faith.  I would definitely ask that he respect her faith and of course, if he doesn't share it to come to an agreement before marriage on how they will raise their children.

When we were discussing this recently, I told my daughter that I would rather she marry a man who consistently demonstrates the fruits of the Spirit (kindness, meekness, self-control, etc.) even if he does not profess than who who professes but whose life does not validate that profession.  I guess I am a bit jaded; I've seen how sly wolves are when they don sheep's clothing.  I know from experience that one can say all of the right things and convince the world of their piety while abusing their wife or child and feeling a sense of entitlement to do so.  I've seen so many instances of churches preferring the offender rather than defending the victim and I know that domestic violence is most prevalent in religious homes.

But I also know the destructiveness of a theology that privileges the male perspective and creates an imbalance of power within the relationship.  Even if he demonstrates those "fruits of the Spirit," the underlying belief system that grants him that privilege is so damaging to a woman's sense of autonomy, freedom and negatively impacts her relationship with God.  It also seeks to restrict her choices should he behave poorly.  I don't want that for my daughter or any other woman.

So these are my thoughts and hopes for my daughter as she considers her future partner.  Of course I long for certainty, as most of us do, but I no longer trust in a formulaic approach to life.  I know, as does she, that life can change in an instant but that we are far stronger and more resilient than we ever dreamed we were.  I have full confidence in her ability to stand strong no matter what may come, of that I am certain.  I want her to trust herself, to listen to her gut and to be in a relationship that encourages her continued growth and happiness.  And I don't think God wants anything less than that for her as well.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Timeout

My second home from infancy
One of the first places my parents took me shortly after my birth was to church.  I have an old black and white picture of my infant dedication, which included the "laying on of hands" in fervent prayer for me.  Both of my grandmothers were in attendance and their faith is part of my spiritual heritage.  As the daughter of a pastor, church was my second home and we were there three times a week and every night during revival or camp meeting.

I grew up in a church where women were empowered to serve in
My grandmothers, mother and me
any capacity within the congregation, including as an ordained elder or pastor.  My exposure to churches that restricted the role of women did not begin until my adult years.  Even so, within the home, women were expected to follow the lead of their husbands and to submit to his authority.  This created quite the dilemma for a woman called to be a pastor--she could lead the congregation, which included her husband but was required to submit to him at home.  Kind of a dual role with many conflicts of interests that probably led to actual conflicts, I'm suspecting.

At two outside my father's first church
In my 30's and 40's I was part of a denomination that sent women as missionaries to engage fully in ministry but did not allow them the same freedom in the U. S.  I never understood the logic of that policy!  I became a leader in a local congregation and was actually appointed to serve on the Governing Board--I was the token female on a male-dominated and resentful Board.  When I could no longer stomach the controversy over my leadership, I resigned and spent many Sunday mornings curled up on the floor of my closet in some of the deepest grief I had experienced at that point in my life.

I have been a member of or regular attender at ten different mainline evangelical denominations as well as several independent and Charismatic churches; fifty percent of them restricted the roles of women, the rest did not.  I have been exposed to many different streams of theological thought and have taken graduate courses in theology as part of an advanced degree program.  I haven't seen or experienced it all within organized religion, but have come pretty close.

Serving as a missionary
Recently, I have found it increasingly difficult to attend a church service.  I find it nearly impossible to sit under the ministry or in a group who seek to marginalize at least 50% of the congregation. While the individual pastors or church members may disagree with the official position of their denomination or may have a more "moderate" view, it just doesn't sit well with me.  So, I have put myself in timeout.

I do not know how long this timeout will last.  I suspected it was coming but I have no clue when it will end.  I just know that the views espoused in groups willing to use the bible to justify the oppression or marginalization of any group of people no longer reflects who or what I believe God to be.  I cannot participate any longer.

I have not lost my faith, I have found it again.  I have not rejected the Bible but rather am learning to approach it with an open heart and mind--not one closed to all but one possible interpretation.  I have not walked away from God but rather am running headlong into His all-encompassing love and compassion for all of humanity, including me, a mere woman.

"Enough," my word for 2018 perfectly describes my feelings during this timeout.  Enough of tolerating marginalization and second-class status all in the name of religion.  Enough compromising and swallowing my pain and disgust; enough of my support through membership or attendance of any group that devalues women.  Enough.  I've had enough.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Enough for 2018

I have been struggling to write my annual post describing my word for the year for well over a month.  The word revealed itself quite early in the process; it has been the sorting out of what the word means to me or holds for the upcoming months that has been challenging.  For the first time, my word for the year has both a personal and broader intention.

In a personal sense, my word describes my intention to do more work around self-acceptance, positive affirmation and silencing my inner critic.  We are daily bombarded with messages that tell us we are not slim enough, smart enough, rich enough, talented enough. . . the list goes on and on and on.  Embracing a sense of not enoughness breeds shame and fosters all sorts of maladaptive behaviors in a futile attempt to be OK in our own skin.

According to my friend Merriam-Webster, when used as an adverb the word "enough" refers to something that occurs "in such quantity, quality or scope as to fully meet demands, needs or expectations."  I am enough; you are enough.  We are human beings created in the image and likeness of God; that makes us fully enough.

I am in a post-major birthday funk that is common during life transitions. My husband says that I
have reached an age that is considered to be the "youth of old age."  I typically do a lot of self-reflection and analysis when I make a major transition and my word for the year will be a compass to guide and correct me through the process.  The measure of my success in life is not in how much I have accumulated, the adulation of a world or in my achievements.  The true measure of success in life is how well I have loved, including myself.  This next season will bring additional losses and challenges but it seems that settling the issue of my intrinsic value and "enoughness" will give me the strength and stamina to face those losses with grace and serenity.

The broader implications of my 2018 word came this week while watching the incredibly brave women who confronted their abuser in a court of law.  It seems that every institution in our society is being forced to deal with the consequences of decades of systemic discrimination and sexual harassment and assault of women. No segment of our society has been exempt--from Hollywood to the local church, sports and news organizations and political figures.  The #MeToo campaign gave thousands of women an opportunity to finally acknowledge publicly what has been tolerated in secret.

"Enough" when used as a determiner and pronoun expresses an "impatient desire for the cessation of undesirable behavior or speech. . . [and] indicates that one is unwilling to tolerate any more."  Until we say "ENOUGH" to a culture of objectification and marginalization of women and children, we will never be able to prevent monsters like Larry Nassar from sexually molesting little girls in their mother's presence.  ENOUGH!  The laws we have passed and the protections we have put in place will never be enough until the societal and often religiously sanctioned discrimination is stopped.

It occurs to me that both the personal and broader implications of my word are intertwined.  Advocacy must begin with me.  I must embrace my intrinsic value and enoughness in order to stand and fight against the systems that are designed to keep me in an inferior or marginalized position.  If I am to fight for others, I must first fight for myself.  I must do the internal work so that I can fully engage in the external battle.  I am enough; you are enough and together we are enough to challenge and change a culture that insists we are not.  Enough and ENOUGH!


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Healing Stones

I awoke this morning after another series of dreams that seem to point to a niggling truth struggling to come to my conscious awareness.  As I prayed for discernment and understanding, I recalled the many who have been helpers along this journey of recovery and healing.  I have been blessed with wonderful professionals who have walked with me for a portion of my journey and friends and family who have made themselves available for what I needed during the critical days when life was frightening and anxiety-ridden.  For these men and women--my tribe, my healing stones--I give thanks:

  • For Bonnie, Lou, Mari and Teri--professionals who spoke truth with compassion and love and who helped me see myself through gentle and loving eyes;
  • For Sharon and that inept MFT intern who taught me that I can and must resist help that is not helpful;
  • For Sheila and Tam--old friends who reached out when I was so fragile and simply made themselves available;
  • For the women in my small group who listened and loved well;
  • For my S-ANON sisters who cried and laughed with me as we shared our journey on the healing path out of betrayal and addiction;
  • For Crystal, a sponsor and friend extraordinaire who like her name, brings clarity and insight into the muddy waters of life's situations;
  • For Wm. Paul Young, Richard Rohr, Paula D'Arcy, Glennon Mellon, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brene Brown, Stephanie Carnes, Mari Lee, Barbara Steffens, Marsha Means, Ann Voskamp, Patricia Wiklund, Terri St. Cloud, Rachel Held Evans and Scot McKnight whose words were like a healing balm to my wounded soul, like manna from heaven that satisfied my hunger for information and that shone a bright light during very dark days when I could not find my way;
  • For Julie Anne and "Anonymous" who helped me reconnect with my inner activist;
  • For all of the partners and former partners who have dared to share their stories with me; they have reinforced the truth that we are not alone;
  • For my sweet and bestest friend, Kay--a loyal, loving and faithful sister for the past three and a half decades.  She has been a secret-keeper, a sounding board and a witness to my entire journey, not just parts of it.  We have forged a friendship that has stood the test of time, disagreements and changing life transitions.  Many miles separate us but our hearts are connected in a way that transcends geography;
  • For my children who are the very best gifts I have ever received and whose love and connection continues to bring healing and purpose to my life.  Their resiliency, courage and strength amaze me and I am so very proud of the wonderful human beings they have become.  They have been severely tried and tested, crushed and challenged and still they love and live with integrity, compassion and kindness;
  • For my gifts of grace, life and peace--"The Three," the "K's," the granddaughters who have come into our family and brought hope, giggles, snuggles and joy;
  • For my husband, whose love is healing in ways that only a healthy intimate relationship can after severe betrayal, and who has brought adventure and laughter into my life again.
"Hitherto the Lord hath helped us," is an older translation of I Samuel 7:12 that was running through my mind when I awoke this morning.  The context of this verse was a particularly difficult battle between Israel and her enemies and God's amazing intervention.  After the battle, Samuel erected a standing stone and named it "Ebenezer" which is translated "the stone of help."
The Western Wall, also called "The Wailing Wall" in Jerusalem
It occurs to me that the people of my "tribe" have been God's gifts of help.  Recovery is not a solitary journey after all but rather is more like a grand orchestra.  Papa God is the conductor who arranges and directs the music (i.e. healing) but each section of the orchestra contribute out of their gifts and wisdom and are essential to the ongoing majesty and grandeur of the masterpiece.  So at this start of a brand new year, I erect my Ebenezer in recognition of all those who have been my stones of help.  I am truly grateful and blessed.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Court Transcripts & Letters from Prison

I have not said much lately about my "qualifier" (a kinder word for the perpetrator I was married to).  Earlier this year, he violated the conditions of his probation and now sits in prison.  As a former volunteer behind bars, I had inside information on the kind of treatment child offenders receive when incarcerated.  After I learned of his foray into the dark world of child pornography, we had many "discussions" where I painted the consequence of his continued pursuit in vivid language.   He called me "paranoid" then but is now living in some pretty horrendous conditions, as I predicted.

Anyone who has been in a relationship with an addict has experienced the blame, projection, minimization, exaggeration and denial that is common to addiction, and particularly so when dealing with a narcissist.  (One therapist that I worked with asserts that she has yet to meet an addict who is not also a narcissist).  You would think that when you are caught with your hand in the proverbial cookie jar, there would be little recourse except to acknowledge your guilt and accept your punishment.  That is not what I am experiencing and after speaking with many women who have had the same misfortune of marrying a pedophile, I find that my experience is not unique.

As I did after my ex's first trial, I purchased the court transcripts from his most recent trial and received them a few months ago.  It has been enlightening and sobering to read once again the case against him, particularly the ways he "storied" his probation violation.  One paragraph in the transcript stood out to me and the words continue to reverberate in my head and are validated by past and current experiences with my qualifier.  Quoting  a clinical psychologist who treated my ex for nearly four years, the prosecutor said, "This defendant has an inordinately difficult time accepting responsibility for his behavior.  He constantly blames his [ex]wife for his offense . . . feeling that if she had been more supportive of him, he wouldn't have had to look at child pornography."  His probation officer testified about his violation in great detail (no children were directly harmed, thank God) and the prosecutor illustrated how the defendant's story about the violation changed, depending on who he was talking to.  Court transcripts are incredibly valuable, particularly when dealing with an addict/narcissist who uses a lot of gaslighting.  They are the stake in the ground that becomes unmovable and grounding when communication becomes murky and confusing.

Letters from prison have been arriving--letters that are deeply disturbing and hurtful, far more desperate than previous ones.  The latest, addressed to one of my children, includes 20 pages of hate and blame towards me.  The specifics do not merit inclusion here but once again, those court transcripts are the anchor in the swirl of blame-shifting, denial and deception.  As my friend, "Eve" discovered, the man I thought I married does not exist and never did.  He was an illusion and I was simply a prop in his elaborate scheme to hide his secret nature.  Eve and I had a conversation recently about the difficulty in removing those rose-colored glasses and accepting the truth about our former partners, a conversation I vividly remembered when reading those letters!

My ex made it clear in his letters that he does not like the fact that this blog exists and consequently I have questioned my motives in continuing to write about my experience.  While he thinks that my writing is all about him, it is really about my recovery from betrayal and trauma; he is central to my wounding but irrelevant to my recovery.  I regularly hear from women just like me who somehow discover this space on the internet and find hope in the knowledge that they are not alone.  There is risk and vulnerability in writing of such personal experiences but there is also freedom in speaking the truth rather than continuing to hide.

So the lessons I have learned from reading and re-reading court transcripts and letters from prison can be summarized by the following:
  • Denial, minimization, blame-shifting, projecting and deception are common among addicts and until they are abandoned, recovery becomes virtually impossible;
  • Gaslighting (using tactics to try to change an individual's perception of reality) is very confusing; those who experience it need frequent reality checks with trusted individuals or court transcripts;
  • Manipulation, exaggeration and distortion of facts can be very convincing and require vigilance in holding to what we know to be objective truth;
  • Perpetrators are incredibly skilled at creating and maintaining a near-perfect illusionary life, gathering props (i.e. spouse, children, academic credentials, etc.) to support the facade that hides their true nature and behavior;
  • When a narcissist is through with you, either by your choice or his, what seemed like love becomes rabid hatred.  We can't be surprised by this.
How about you?  Has your experience been similar or different to what I have described?   As always, I would love to hear from you. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Two Marriages, Two Islands, Two Traumas

I married my first husband when I was 21 years old and left with him two weeks after our wedding for an assignment in the Caribbean.  We set up housekeeping in a multi-colored cement block house, in a small village on the edge of a rain forest.  We had running water but no hot water, electricity, refrigerator or screens on our windows.  Our only mode of transportation was a small Honda 90 motorcycle.

I've written elsewhere about the trauma that I experienced while on this gorgeous island paradise, when my husband introduced me to a young girl and insisted that she become a regular part of our lives.  I didn't know it at the time, but he was grooming her for an eventual molestation.  I didn't learn of the molestation until three years later when he confessed it to me.  I experienced the "relationship" with his young friend as an incredible trauma that I was completely confused by--nothing indicated that he was a predator, my gut was just screaming that this little girl was a threat to my marriage.  She wasn't, but he definitely was; in fact our marriage ended before it really began.  I just didn't know that for over three decades.

I met and married my current husband four years after my world and marriage exploded with my ex-husband's arrest.  During the first year of our marriage, an idyllic time of adjusting to one another and blending our families came to a rather abrupt end during the month of December.  December tends to be a trigger-month for me; my first marriage began and was pronounced dead and I gave birth to my firstborn during the last month of the year.  Our final family gathering also occurred during this month, so it can be a challenging time for me.  For a variety of reasons my current husband and I entered some treacherous waters during our first December together.

We were vacationing on the beautiful island of Hawaii when our individual triggers collided in a frightening and bewildering fashion.  I think it is fair to say that we both were confused, hurt and lost; it seems that even paradise can turn ugly, depending on our perceptions and circumstances.  I ended up leaving my new husband and returning to the mainland early.  Eventually with the help of some gifted therapists and a lot of grit and determination (i.e. hard work), we gained a better understanding of what happened; the whys are still revealing themselves as we continue to grow individually and as a couple.  But the experience was traumatic during a month that has a history of trauma and loss for me.

Recently we revisited some of the "whys" of that island trauma and I found myself fighting hard to
not mix up the names of the two islands.  What I've learned about trauma and loss is that if left unresolved, new losses or traumas bring the old ones along for company.  So it appears that I may have some additional work to do around that first trauma on an island paradise with my ex-husband, especially as we near my "trigger" month of December.  Recovery work, I am learning, is rarely completely done in one season of life; each new growth spurt or deepening relationship can reveal new levels of healing that is necessary.

I am re-reading an excellent work by an incest survivor turned advocate.  Marilyn Van Debur's biography "Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayals and Unconditional Love" chronicles her molestation at the hands of her powerful father and more importantly, her recovery.  It is a stark reminder of the indelible imprint that childhood sexual molestation makes on an individual and the work that is required if recovery is to occur.  As the former wife of a pedophile, it is both a grim refresher of the seriousness of the crimes my ex-husband committed but also of the secondary victimization that occurs for the non-offending family members of the perpetrator.  Everyone in a perpetrator's sphere of influence is impacted by their behavior; no one remains untouched.

Before we move into December with all of its celebrations and potential landmines, we will pause to give thanks.  We give thanks for the good and for the challenging times and remember that forgiveness is a gift that we give ourselves; it opens the door to deeper healing, connection and freedom.  I was mesmerized by this poem that came across my desk today:

"At the year's turn,
in the days between, 
we step away
from what we know
into the spaces 
we cannot name.
Slowly the edges
begin to yield,
the hard places
soften,
the gate to forgiveness
and gratitude
opens."
-- unknown

And another by a favorite artist/poet:

"she closed her eyes
and thought of her year.
it couldn't just be
the good she was
thankful for
it had to be the all...
the fullness, the depths,
the journey.
the dance of life.
for these she gave thanks."

May we all move into those spaces we cannot name--traumas, memories, losses and betrayal--and as we do the work of recovery, watch them soften and give thanks for the gifts we find in our woundings--the depth fullness and journey.  Have a wonderful week of feasting, giving thanks and dancing to the music of life! 


Sunday, September 3, 2017

When Dreams Die

One of the gifts that I have discovered as a consequence of marriage to a pedophile has been the opportunity to work with other partners. Sharing our stories and pain has been deeply rewarding and healing for me and I think for them as well.  I'd like to introduce you to one such partner with her permission, of course, and her identity shielded.

Eve* met her husband at a church singles' group and was immediately attracted to his quiet nature and compassion.  People were drawn to his kindness and ability to be present with others so it came as no surprise when he announced plans to go to seminary in preparation for ministry.  Shortly after their marriage, Eve supported "Adam" through seminary training and joyfully joined him in ministry when  he obtained a pastorate.  She loved ministering with him and watching him minister to others.

As his ministry flourished, they began making plans to start a family.  Early one morning she kissed him goodbye as he left for an out-of-town church conference.  He never came home from that meeting.  While folding his laundry she received a phone call from him and heard the unbelievable news that he was in jail, having been arrested in a child pornography and trafficking sting.  Can you imagine how her world tilted and twirled?  Nothing in her life with him led her to believe that this was remotely possible.

Eve and I have shared our stories and our pain over the death of the dreams we had when we were brides.  While her marriage lasted three years and mine over three decades, there are similarities and profound differences in our stories.  The death of a dream is a loss and all losses must be grieved, but just as people process grief differently, variations in one's story may also impact how one processes the losses attached to broken dreams.

My dreams died a slow and agonizing death; Eve's died suddenly with one phone call.  I had time to come to terms with the loss of my marriage prior to my ex-husband's arrest; Adam's arrest required that Eve immediately take steps to end her marriage.  Both of us lost homes, ministries and friends that we dearly loved but while I lost my past, in a way Eve lost her future.  I had spent my entire adult life committed to my ex-husband and our marriage; recovery demanded that I sift through a lifetime of memories and reframe them in light of the diagnosis of pedophilia.  While Eve's recovery also involves this sifting and reframing, her immediate hopes for a family were dashed when her marriage ended.

She remarked recently that the "shock of adjusting to the difference between trying to have a baby with this man to suddenly divorcing him [after his arrest]" continues to be a challenge to recovery and moving on. I had grown children who were devastated by their father's arrest but I had children and a grandchild on the way! Eve understands that it is advantageous that she did not have a child with Adam but the lost potential of children underscores the devastation that he brought into her life.  This is not what she signed up for when she took her sacred vows; it is unfair and tragic.  When dreams die, sometimes hope does as well. 

I've been musing recently on the dreams that I cherished on my first wedding day--dreams of living a long full life with the man I loved, creating and raising a family and eventually growing old together.  This week my third granddaughter came into our lives and even now, after all of the pain, I feel a bit of nostalgia and regret that the man who helped me create this family is not sharing in the joy of watching them thrive and in welcoming new little ones.  The dreams I had long ago as a bride have died and life demands new dreams and a reframing of old ones.  And new dreams birth hope.

Eve is just beginning to nurse hope again--sober hope but hope nevertheless.  I am reminded of a quote I used when I named this year and it seems a good place to end this post.  Hope (and new dreams) "comes into play when our circumstances are dire--things are not going well or at least there's considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out."  SOURCE  My friend Eve is daring to choose hope and to dream again  That is the definition of courage.

*pseudonym; some details changed to protect her anonymity