Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saying Goodbye Before Saying Hello

How long does it take after the loss of a romantic partner to move on?  What is the "respectful" and "normal" amount of time?  Is it possible to completely say goodbye?  And what does saying "goodbye" have to do with saying "hello?"

Relationship loss due to death was an involuntary loss (without the consent of both parties) while relationship loss due to divorce usually has been a voluntary loss, at least on the part of one party.  Regardless of how the loss occurred, saying goodbye means that you simultaneously let go and hold on to the memory of the lost partner.  It also involves:
  • Acknowledging the finality of the loss.  This may be a bit more ambiguous with divorce because the possibility of reconciliation, as unrealistic as it may be, can still cloud one's ability to accept the finality of the loss.  With relationship loss due to death, most individuals are fully aware of the finality of the loss, though denial is still one of the stages of grief.
  • Making peace with the way the relationship ended.  Those who lose a partner due to death as well as those who lose a partner through divorce may fall prey to the "what ifs" of relationship loss.  "What if I had taken him/her to the Mayo Clinic?"  or "What if we had tried a different marriage therapist?"   Saying goodbye means accepting that the relationship ended the way it did.
  • Surrendering the dreams and aspirations the relationship provided.  Imagine your lost spouse encouraging you to "Wrap the memories of our life together around you--and begin a new life." Source
  • Death and divorce destroys so much more than a marital unit--it robs us of the future that we anticipated and hoped for.  Saying goodbye means surrendering those dreams and aspirations and opening our hearts to the possibility that new dreams and aspirations are available to us.
  • Changing your relationship with the lost person.  With the death of a partner, saying goodbye means that you now love her/him as a spirit--in order for a relationship to be current, both parties must be present.  With divorce, it may be a bit more challenging, especially if children are involved.  Saying goodbye after divorce means to close the door on hope that the relationship with the lost person can ever be anything other than what it is.
  • Accepting that the quality of the relationship, whatever it was at the time of the loss, will never be improved upon or changed.  Whatever was unresolved will remain unresolved and it is important to make peace with that as a means of saying goodbye to the relationship.
  • Be willing to move into the pain of the loss, to fully experience it.  This is incredibly important to the health of the new relationship.  Feeling pain is not a fun thing but failure to do so, covering it up with the intoxication of a new relationship will shortchange you, your prospective partner and whatever future you might hope for.

How long must one wait after fully saying goodbye before he/she can say hello to the possibility of a new romantic relationship?  That varies from individual to individual and from circumstance to circumstance.  Someone has said that you know you are ready to move on when your solitude turns to loneliness.  Initially, solitude may have felt like a familiar quilt, providing warmth, comfort and security from the chaos and confusion of the events precipitating the loss.  But when solitude turns into bone-crushing loneliness, you are ready to move into whatever new awaits you.

Saying hello to a new potential romantic partner involves:
  • Acknowledging that the new person in your life could never replace the person you lost.  It means accepting that a new relationship involves a different relationship with a different person--different tastes, opinions, way of doing things, etc. than the one you lost.
  • Not expecting the new relationship to heal the pain of the lost one.  Falling into "like" or into "love" is a wonderful, energizing experience that can temporarily numb the pain of the relationship loss.  However, no one person or relationship can fully heal a broken heart.  The heart has to heal itself; it may never be what it was prior to the loss but it can heal and accommodate new love.
  • Being open to accepting this new person into your heart and making him/her the new center of your universe.  Expect that some may not agree with your decision to move on; that family and children may feel threatened, angry or critical of your decision.  The health of the new relationship demands that you defend and support the one you are with, especially in the face of rejection and criticism by family and friends.
  • Understanding that guilt over dating is a natural response after a long-term relationship loss.  This is probably more profound in those who have lost a partner to death than to divorce.  The divorce process typically destroys whatever guilt might remain for the decision to move on.
  • Resisting comparing the new person in your life to the one you lost; some comparison is inevitable but you are becoming involved with a completely different person.  But saying hello means that you refuse to allow the lost person to influence or impact your response to the new person, either positively or negatively.
  • Daring to dream and live again.  Live until you die; love until you close your eyes for the final time.  Just because you lost one love doesn't mean you will lose another; just because one relationship ended does not mean you will never have another.  Life rarely offers a "do-over" but moving on after a relationship loss is one; it is an opportunity to bring all of the you as you currently exist into something new and fresh.
We were created for connection, for deep intimacy, companionship and for sharing our lives with another.  Death and divorce rob us of the opportunity for the type of connection we are hardwired for.  Moving on is an amazing opportunity but I am convinced we have to fully do the work of saying "Goodbye" before we can open our hearts to another and say "Hello."  How long does that take?  As long as it takes--two weeks, two years, or twenty.  As long as it takes for each individual.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Staying Safe in a Predatory World

The world has changed significantly and if we do not change how we approach life, we stand the risk of being perpetually victimized.  For most of us, this idea is difficult to comprehend or accept.  We continue to view people as safe, unless they prove otherwise, and expect that those we meet will operate by the same set of rules that we observe.  Sadly, this is not the case.

According to Dr. Anne Salter, each of us operates by a set of positive personal illusions.  These illusions include a common tendency to "soften the world, ignoring and minimizing its bad aspects and overgeneralizing its good ones." (Salter, p. 160).  Positive personal illusions are the truths we tell ourselves about others that provide us with a feeling of personal safety.  They include a naive acceptance of what individuals tell us as absolute truth.  Some of them might include:
  • Bad things happen to people other than me--people of color, people who live on the wrong side of the track, people who like XYZ, people who are ABC, people who do MNO, etc.
  • People are basically good and are trustworthy.
  • I'm a good deception detector.
  • What you see is what you get with almost everyone.
The tendency to live in a rose-colored world puts us at risk and most importantly puts at risk those we love the most, including our children.  How often have we heard about yet another person acquiring access to children in order to molest because the parents trusted the man with the clerical collar, the family-oriented neighbor or the energetic teacher, coach or family member?

Approximately 25 percent of the population are sociopaths, that is they do not have a conscience.  For those of us who do have a conscience, it is unfathomable that individuals could lie without batting an eye, use and abuse people, including children.  The inept ones are already incarcerated but that doesn't mean that we are safer.  The really competent sociopaths are still walking among us and we have to become more aware and practice defensive living.  Part of our defensive living strategy should include:
  • Suspect flattery: "Compliments are lovely, especially when they are sincere.  In contrast, flattery is extreme and appeals to our egos in unrealistic ways."  Predators will use flattery to lower your defenses and gain an entrance in order to exploit.  "Peek over your massaged ego and remember to suspect flattery." (Stout,  p. 158)
  • Avoid conscienceless people (i.e. sociopaths):  Avoid him, refuse contact and above all, don't worry about hurting his feelings.  "Strange as it seems, and though they may try to pretend otherwise, sociopaths do not have any such feelings to hurt." (Stout, p. 160)
  • Don't pity too easily:  pity should be reserved for "innocent people who are in genuine pain or who have fallen on misfortune."  The predator will "campaign for your sympathy" but is engaged in a pattern of hurting people. (Stout, pg. 160)
  • Do not be afraid to be unkind or even unfriendly:  predators often are void of conscience and are incredibly dangerous.  They do not respect boundaries and they do not take "no" easily.  Be kind and friendly to people who deserve that treatment.
  • Do not try to redeem the unredeemable:  conscienceless individuals are unredeemable!  If you are dealing with a predator, cut your losses and walk away.
  • Do not fall prey to the "you owe me" guilt-inducing tactic to ensure your silence:  Predators will do their best to silence you; to guilt you into letting them off the hook.  "'You owe me' has been the standard line of sociopaths for thousands of years, quite literally, and is still so." Another perfect line they commonly use is "You are just like me."  You are not--don't forget it! (Stout, pg. 162)
On the bright side, positive personal optimism offers a sense of personal control and confidence.  It is not a denial that bad things might happen but rather a belief in one's ability to make meaning of whatever life experiences we are confronted with.  While positive personal illusions put us at a greater risk of exploitation, manipulation and deception, positive personal optimism engenders a sense of personal resiliency and strength.  Personal illusions create a rose-colored view of the world; personal optimism removes the rose-colored glasses and while the new view may be frightening, chooses to move ahead with faith, determination and purpose.  And maybe that is the best offense against the bully, perpetrator or the sociopath--a sense of empowered living rooted in a realistic view of the world around us, including the people we meet.  Maybe this makes us less of a target.

Two excellent resources quoted above:
  1. The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout, Ph.D.
  2. Predators Pedophiles, Rapists & other Sex Offenders, Anna C. Salter, Ph.D.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Predators and Online Dating

I recently decided to dip my big toe into the frightening world of online dating and chose a site that I thought would be safer than most.  But predators do not respect the sanctity or security of others so no site is really all that safe.  It kind of reminds me of trying to swim in shark-infested waters with the hope of finding a goldfish.  I'm sure there are great individuals on each of the sites but there are predators as well.  Let me tell you about my experience with one such individual.

The site I subscribed to has a strict moderation policy, that is, they carefully screen all essays, written introductions as well as photos before allowing the material to go live.  So "Barry, aka nicemaninin46360" contacted me prior to really knowing who I was or what I looked like.  He was quite the charmer, I have to give him that, but he is a predator pure and simple.

So let's explore what we know about predators and I'll provide the comic relief by telling you about Barry (I feel no qualms about using his "name" because it isn't really his name).

They will tell you what they perceive you want to hear.
"I love your smile."  You are just the woman I have been looking for."  Note this was before he had seen my smile or any of my profile information other than the very basics.

They appeal to your kindness, charity, human decency and trust.
"Why would you ask me if the pictures I want to send you are obscene?  Don't you know that I would never do that?"  But then the pictures he sent me were not of him.  I wonder what Neil and Tom would think if they knew he was using their legitimate pictures to lure someone into his net?  Thank God for Google Image Search and for a friend who told me about it.

They will warn you about who they are or what they intend to do but you have to learn to read the subtitles of their script.
"In this digital age, you need to know that I am a real person."  While reassuring me that he was real and not representing himself as something he wasn't, he was fraudulently representing himself.  He warned me of who he was right from the start; I just needed to pay attention to his subtitles.   

They will push your boundaries.
"I know you don't want to share your phone number or email address with me this soon in the process but my computer is acting up.  I want to get to know you, I really do.  Can't we talk on the phone?"  And to reinforce these statements, he had to reboot his computer repeatedly--at least that is what he said.

They will manipulate the reality of your interaction with them.
"But I am trustworthy and God-fearing.  You should trust me, you need to trust me."  They will attempt to sound like a person of faith and integrity but in actuality they are a wolf in a poorly designed sheep costume.

They will slowly but surely groom you to accept more and more unacceptable behavior.
"I'll be glad to tell you all that you need to know about me," except for who I really am and what I'm really trying to get out of you.  They will attempt to ingratiate themselves to you very early in the game, calling you endearing names far too early in the relationship.

They will lie.
Have you heard of the Rule of Threes?  "When considering a new relationship of any kind, practice the Rule of Threes regarding the claims and promises a person makes, and the responsibilities he or she has.  Make the Rule of Threes your personal policy.  One lie, one broken promise, or a single neglected responsibility may be a misunderstanding instead.  Two may involve a serious mistake.  But three lies says you're dealing with a liar, and deceit is the linchpin of conscienceless behavior."  (The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout, p. 157)

If you stay in relationship with them long enough, they will exploit the relationship, steal your trust (and maybe your money) and abandon you when they have accomplished their purpose.

So after an online chat, several email exchanges, text messages and one voicemail, how do I know without a doubt that "Barry" is a predator?
  • His story lacks consistency and believability.  He indicated that he earned a MA degree from a University in England and in another place indicates that he has an Associate's degree.
  • He is unable to write grammatically correct sentences or express himself as one would expect from someone in the profession and with the education he claims to have.
  • He has lied to me in that he sent me pictures of Neil and Tom and indicated they were images of him.
  • His accent and word choices reveal that English is not his native tongue.
  • His first email went into my spam folder, along with all of the other nefarious "solicitations."  It appear that Gmail was quicker than I was in detecting the scam!
Fortunately, I'm familiar with the tactics of predators so poor Barry is history.  He was a great teacher for me, however.  He reminded me once again that predators are always looking for their next target, that I should trust my gut always.  And contrary to how most of us in "civilized society" think, I need to suspend judgment--either good or bad--on individuals I meet in person or online until they give me evidence one way or another.  Goodbye Barry!  I'm onto you.    

For online dating safety tips, click here

Monday, October 27, 2014

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

I noticed a curious plant on a walk in my neighborhood--it is a shrub with tiny, delicate flowers on it in three shades of purple--deep purple, lavender and white.  Purple is one of my favorite colors so of course, I was intrigued.  It took some research but I discovered that the plant's name is Brunfelsia latifolia but is commonly called the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow shrub.  I purchased one for my garden on the second anniversary of my divorce--it seemed appropriate somehow.

When the blooms open, they are dark purple in color; on the second day they fade to lavender and then become white on the third day.  At any given time, all three colors are present on the plant and the color of the blossom clues one in on how long the flower has been open.  Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow will not thrive in colder climates but will grow in any light exposure, though it prefers morning sun and afternoon shade.

The name of the plant intrigued me because my life has been in a major transition during the past few years.  The trauma I have experienced anchors me to the events of yesterday and creates fear of what may come tomorrow.  This is the very nature of trauma--it ties us to an event(s) that occurred in one or more of our yesterdays.  The world is not as safe as we believed it was so we have fear and anxiety about what my come in our tomorrows.

But recovery offers another option--one that does not deny the trauma of yesterday or dismiss the fears we harbor of tomorrow.  It teaches us to be fully present in today--to live fully in this present moment.  Indeed, orienting to the present is a technique we teach victims of trauma to use when experiencing a flashback.  During a triggering event, the trauma victim's brain cannot differentiate between the past and the present, so experiences the trigger as though the remembered event were happening in the now.  Orienting to the present--noticing the feel of my feet on the floor, the smell of the plant on my desk, the light touch as my fingers skim the keyboard and the jazz playing softly in the background--these appeals to my senses remind my brain that that was then, this is now.

Recovery assures us that the bruises of our past will fade as we process through the pain, turning the deep purple of the wound into lighter and lighter shades of lavender and white.  But the key is staying present in the now, while honoring the past and surrendering to what may come in the future.  Today is my pressing concern--this moment, now this one and again this one.

Those of us in the Western world often live with one foot planted in "yesterday" and another planted in "tomorrow."  And far too often, we miss today.  We expend so much time fretting about what has already happened in our world or what may happen that we have no energy left to enjoy the beauty and majesty of daily life on this amazing planet.  This is the epidemic that plagues our world and it is far deadlier than Ebola or terrorism or a flagging economy.

I'm reminded of the lyrics of a song that meant so much to me many years ago.  It urges the listener to "hold tight to the sound of the music of living."  It refers to the music of the moment, the music of today--the laughter of children, the touch of a loved one, the blue of the sky or the green of the forest.  These are amazing gifts that we take for granted or ignore because we are listening to the cacophony of voices engaged in rigorous debate or issuing dire warnings about what tomorrow may hold.  The music of living gets drowned out by the noise of shrill street vendors urging vigilance, anxiety and fear.

Yesterday is gone and can never be recaptured and we are not promised tomorrow.  We have this moment, this very moment of life.  And isn't that enough?


Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Hallway

A funny (?) thing happened at this year's Unity Conference, a 12-step recovery gathering for sex addicts (SA) and those impacted by living with or having lived with a sexually addicted or compulsive individual (S-Anon).  The hotel where the event was held also booked another major conference.  That in itself is not note-worthy, except that the other conference was an international ballroom dancing competition.

The halls that led to our breakout rooms were filled with men and women in incredibly skimpy attire--not the ballroom dancing gowns I remember!  Even the public restrooms and lobby were filled with competitors with lots and lots of exposed skin, tight-fitting clothing and exaggerated make-up.  It created a minefield of danger for our conference attendees.

But an amazing thing happened.  Men and women working hard to recover from a progressive disease took extraordinary measures to maintain their sobriety in the face of this unexpected challenge.  They found other ways to get to the breakout rooms; they avoided The Hallway at all costs.  It was inconvenient and even silly to go outside the hotel and walk all the way around it to get to a door leading directly into the desired room.  But they did.

And I learned an important lesson:  a man or woman in recovery will do all they can to stay away from The Hallway of temptation.  For you see a relapse or slip in sex addiction does not mean a momentary lustful thought, a small window of porn viewing, masturbation or one visit to a strip club.  It can and often does lead to a binge of out-of-control behavior.  For those of us who do not struggle with an addiction, this may seem extreme or foreign but for those who second-by-second contend with this monstrous disease know it as their reality 24/7.

Staying away from The Hallway means that the person in recovery won't:
  • underestimate the severity and complexity of his disease or over-estimate his ability to control it.
  • minimize the power of temptation or inflate his ability to resist.
  • deny that The Hallway exists or deceive himself into believing that it is safe for him to enter.
So hats off to all those brave men and women who daily choose the long way around rather than risking the dangers of The Hallway.  Theirs is a courageous, gut-wrenching battle with huge implications for failure.  I'm grateful for the opportunity of knowing brave hearts who daily prove that addiction can be beaten with vigilance, courage and a tenacious commitment to staying out of The Hallway.




Thursday, October 16, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again

Another headline, another hidden perpetrator, another brave wife, more individuals wounded grievously in childhood . . . when is it ever going to end?  When the Stephen Collins' story first broke last week, the sordid tale of molestation, betrayal, manipulation and deceit triggered my own quieted grief and anger.  It was deja vu all over again so it was not hard to feel great empathy for his wife--not hard at all.

While the details and timetable of the Collins' situation are still somewhat sketchy, with what I have gleaned from numerous sources, it seems that the pattern of behavior is quite typical of what many partners/former partners have experienced.  Deja vu--it has "already been seen" before.


And maybe by looking at the typical pattern of behavior of a pedophile/perpetrator we can find pieces of information that will prove helpful in formulating an earlier detection plan.
  • He targets an unsuspecting woman and pursues her as a romantic partner, playing to her insecurities and vulnerabilities.
  • When the relationship is secure from his perspective, he manipulates, deceives, minimizes and distorts her perception of reality (gaslighting) if she suspects anything is off in the relationship.
  • He is now free to molest because he is perceived as a "safe" person in that he has a wife and family of his own.  His plan to create just the perfect cover for deviancy is now in place and she has no clue she is part of this grand scheme.
  • If and when his perpetrating behavior is revealed, either through voluntary disclosure, discovery or involvement with the criminal justice system, he feigns just enough remorse and contempt for his behavior to lull her into believing that there is hope, with help, for their relationship.  She believes whatever explanation he provides because he is just that good at fooling others.
  • He agrees to therapy, accountability, boundaries, honesty, etc. in an attempt to persuade her that he really is going to change or truly address his deviant behavior.
  • When she has relaxed a bit into believing he is in "recovery," he will abruptly leave the relationship, either by actually leaving the marriage or by a pseudo-leaving.  Pseudo-leaving involves being even more unavailable for relationships as his disease and preoccupation with perpetrating behaviors escalates.
  • All the while he is engaged in illegal activities, he will project all of the blame and shame for the relationship difficulties onto her.  She may balk at carrying the heavier responsibility for the marital woes but far too often carries it anyway.
  • When he no longer wants of feels that he needs her, he will change his stripes dramatically.  He may become vindictive or retaliatory, work hard to disrupt or destroy her reputation, friendships or relationships with their children and be incredibly selfish with their joint assets.  He becomes the man he has always been on the inside--predatory--and she is shocked because she discovers that the man she thought she married never existed.

With all the stories that are dominating the news about yet another actor, youth pastor, teacher or counselor preying on children, what gets lost in the lurid details is the pattern. These guys are not very creative and it seems behind every one of them is a woman who is absolutely devastated by the behavior of her partner.  And while the public scrutiny and shock is initially correctly placed on the behavior of the perpetrator, eventually the tide turns and her behavior is called into question as well.  This has been so clearly illustrated in the Stephen Collins' story.  One actress was quoted as saying, "He was such a nice man."  Meanwhile his wife has been portrayed as a money-hungry extortionist who probably broke the law by secretly recording their conversations.

It is easier to believe that the affable, sweet man who charms us and is sensitive and kind is less guilty than his innocent and betrayed spouse.  The individual who has caused such irreparable harm to children is judged less grievous than his romantic partner who is just trying to survive a world that has suddenly and inexplicably turned upside down.

There is a "tedious familiarity" to these stories and they definitely are "unpleasantly familiar."  If we fail to learn from them, however, they becomes just another horrendous tragedy with no redeeming element.  There is a pattern; it eventually becomes detectible with enough education and awareness.  Perpetrators are actually quite predictable and that is how we can catch them earlier. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

What is Love?

I was talking with my life-long friend recently and she asked me this question.  "What is love?"  When you think about it, it is not an easy question to answer because love can be elusive and difficult to define. Is it something you recognize when you see but are hard-pressed to quantify?  Many malicious intententions can masquerade as love so it often is not easily recognizable.  What may look and feel like love can be something sinister and malignant.  So, I'm left with the question, "What is love?"

What does a child need from her parents to truly know that she is loved and valued just because she exists?  How can a woman trust that the man wooing her truly loves her?  How can a man be certain that the love his partner expresses is really love that can be relied on when hard times come?

I spent many happy hours on this porch!
And I remember my grandmother and my own granddaughter.  Sandwiched between these two generations I gain a glimpse of what true love looks like.  My grandmother still has a very special place in my heart though she transitioned to heaven a long time ago.  She enriched my childhood in so many ways.  I loved spending time with her because she encouraged my imagination and nurtured my fragile self-esteem.  She gave me the gift of time, even when I know she was exhausted after a 15-hour day.

There is something pure and fierce about the love a grandparent has for her grandchild.  I have loved my own children thoroughly and delighted in them since before they were born.  But the love I have for my grandchild is different--maybe because I am different, more mature or maybe because I can enjoy her without being responsible for her. Whatever the reason, she has taught me so much about love.

Love says, "You are enough just as you are."
Love delights in you with your unique gifts and quirks.
Love values and honors you.
Love never gives up on you.
Love cares more about you than it does for self.
Love doesn't force itself on you; it focuses on your needs, desires or preferences.
Love doesn't fly off the handle or keep score of your misbehavior.
Love isn't gleeful when you are hurt.
Love is patient, kind and compassionate.
Love is faithful and unconditional.
Love is extravagant.
Love is tolerant.
Love is commitment.

There is nothing that my sweet granddaughter can do that would disappoint me.  I delight in absolutely
everything about her and everything she does.  I love her slight lisp and her tangled curls.  When she smiles, I feel as though my heart will melt.  From the moment she slipped into my life, I have been captured by her.  I am mesmerized by watching her.  Cuddling and holding her has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  She cannot do one tangible thing for me and yet I would gladly give my life to protect hers.  Every milestone, every new word and every tear are incredibly important to me. Providing for her needs when she is in my care is my most cherished responsibility.

This is love--pure and simple, profound and deep.  It is the kind of love every little girl needs and deserves.  It is the kind of love few of us are fortunate enough to receive.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Twist of Irony or an Epidemic?

The Ebola Epidemic in Africa has captured the attention of the world.  Fear is the natural response to a virus that so ravages the human body, especially when there is no known cure.  Recently we learned that aid workers in Guinea were killed by villagers who feared that they were there to deliberately spread the feared virus.  As "enlightened" Westerners, we scoff at the ignorance of unenlightened third world societies that embrace and act on such wrong information.  And yet, when it comes pedophilia, fear often drives our response and as a society, we are often guilty of similar knee-jerk reactions.

Over two years ago my wise sponsor suggested that I find other partners of pedophiles as part of my recovery journey.  I had been faithfully attending S-Anon but found that there are some distinct differences in the experience of a pedophile's partner as compared to that of the partner of a sex addict.  I remember putting the phone down and sighing at the seeming impossibility of the task.  How does one go about finding other partners of a disease that is so deeply hidden?  I had a hunch that neither Craig's nor Angie's lists would be helpful.

But I picked up my laptop and began the search.  It was a search that eventually led me to one other partner, who just happened to live in my geographical area.  And in a bizarre twist of fate, she had actually written anonymously to me after my own life exploded.  We met for dinner and she confessed that I was the first partner she had spoken to about her experience in over 18 years.  I had found one other former partner.
The Ebola virus

Since that time, through my own blog and others', I have encountered dozens of women who are or have been in a romantic relationship with a pedophile.  I quipped recently that I need to create a spreadsheet to keep everyone's story straight.  On average, I hear from one new woman every week or so.  While the names and particular circumstances are varied, the reality is our stories are very similar.

  • We were wooed by a man who seemed to be the man of our dreams.
  • We worked hard to create a life and family with someone who was present but not fully present in our lives or in our relationships.
  • We had no clue that our partner had a secret life, often until his involvement with the criminal justice or child protective services.
  • We are left with a devastated life--a past that now begins to make sense and a future that seems uncertain at best.
  • Our children are impacted, either as primary or secondary victims.
  • We feel very little support from any quarter.  We are isolated and alone.
  • We feel shamed and scorned and often feel pretty stupid that we didn't know.
So I am left wondering if this avalanche of partners/former partners in my small world is a cosmic twist of irony or if it is indicative of an epidemic.  Maybe it is both.  I firmly believe that the protestant church is facing a scandal at least as large as the Catholic Church has faced and maybe larger.  We have pointed at the celibacy requirement for priests as a reasonable excuse for the huge percentage of pedophiles that have been exposed within the Catholic Church.  But what excuse does the protestant church have?

The reality is that pedophiles are drawn to professions where they will have a legitimate reason to be around children.  What better place to hide than in a school or church?  And it is far easier to gain unsuspecting parents' trust if one wears a clerical collar or carries a large Bible, hears confessions or organizes Sunday School. It is a perfect set-up for the predator-in-waiting.  And he looks so normal, with a wife and children of his own--why should anyone suspect him?  He looks and sounds authentic so we blindly trust him with those who are most vulnerable and precious to us.

I believe that my ever growing pool of partners/former partners is indicative of this exploding problem.  As a society, we can continue to blame and belittle her--it may make us feel good but it will do little to protect children from the man in the pew or the one in the pulpit; the neighbor next door or the youth group leader.  We need to reach out to the partner in kindness, empathy and support and enlist her in this battle to protect our children.

How we should respond as a society to this growing pedophilia epidemic can be informed by the West's response to the Ebola epidemic.  We need solid information, good containment and isolation practices informed by the best research and a determination to do all we can to protect and assist those who have been exposed to the virus.  Instead of "killing" those who could provide us with inside information if given the support, information and compassion they need, we should invite her to the conversation.  Only then will we have a workable plan to contain and eradicate this menace to our children.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Are Victims Inherently Narcissistic?

The question this posts asks leaves me a bit queasy.  Is it possible that victimhood and narcissism are related?  The victim advocate in me riles at the suggestion and yet the victim in me sees it as a distinct possibility, particularly if one becomes stuck in victimhood.  The perspective of a victim is necessarily self-centered, and there is absolutely no shame or judgment that is appropriate for that self-centeredness.  An individual who has suffered relational trauma through betrayal, abandonment or rejection is certainly and rightfully a victim.  And as a victim, she deserves the time and space to process what happened to her.  Indeed most individuals who have experienced relational trauma probably have a long history of not being self-centered enough.

But I'm wondering if it is possible for legitimate victimhood to become chronic and to move the impacted individual into more of a narcissistic state?  When I first began attending S-Anon, a 12-step program for friends and family members of a sexually addicted individual, I was initially repulsed by the idea that I could bear any responsibility in the relational trauma I had just experienced.  And I still believe that the language in some of the conference-approved literature needs to be updated to reflect the partner's experience through a trauma lens rather than that of co-addiction.  But as I am processing through the steps, I am beginning to believe that the hinge that can swing an individual from that of "narcissistic" victimhood to a fully functioning, healthy adult is step four.  Steps one through three facilitate an understanding of our own powerlessness and inability to manage our lives.  But by requiring a heroic and daring moral inventory, step four offers us a way out of that helplessness and powerlessness.  It is the key to moving from being a helpless victim to empowering ourselves for change.


Most people approach step four with reluctance and with fear.  This is particularly true for individuals who come from very legalistic religious backgrounds.  We have spent so much time thinking of ourselves as worms because of poor theology that we are frankly tired of that perspective.  And the traumatic relationships we have experienced have been rife with projected blame and carried shame.  We're tired of being the "responsible" one.  We become paralyzed by the idea that we must now analyze our own part of the equation.

Let me just pause and state for the record, that I do not believe the partner bears any responsibility in the addiction of her spouse--she didn't cause it, she certainly cannot control it or cure it  But she has vulnerabilities from wounds received in her home of origin, culturally or from other victimizing relationships.  These vulnerabilities were exploited, either knowingly or unknowingly by her addict.  This is the core issue that step four addresses--identifying and understanding those vulnerabilities.

Step four is intended to be a compassionate and empathic look at self--at strengths as well as character defects.  It is not an either/or evaluation but a both/and look at ourselves.  Character traits that are now "defects" began as a means of protection or as the Big Book calls them, "Assets gone astray."  As children, we adopted learned behaviors as a defense against a hostile and toxic environment.  Maybe we became a caretaker as a means of obtaining needed affirmation or attention from our parents  For a while, the role of caretaker worked--it provided us with significance.  But as an adult, caretaking becomes more of a liability than an asset because it makes us more prone to becoming involved with an addict.  We tend to view defense mechanisms in a negative light, however, they once were protective actions essential for our emotional survival.  We have just outgrown our need for them so step four invites us to discard those "defects/traits" that are no longer useful.

You cannot heal what you do not acknowledge and understand.  I have found that identifying character traits that have become problematic for me as an adult and seeking to understand why I needed them as a child makes it far easier to lay them down.  The "inventory" is not so much a listing of the "whats" as it is answering the "whys."  Another list of faults or defects is not that helpful, particularly for a survivor of a relational trauma.  But understanding why I have behaved in the way that I have and why these "defects" developed is far more enlightening and leads to a deeper healing.

Step four asks us to stop denying our pain and to cease from blaming and accusing others for it.  Note, that it does not absolve others but simply changes the focus from their bad behavior to our coping behavior.  Step four requires that we become willing to face our true self and to put aside the false self that has protected and defended us.  Step four demands that we become willing to make amends to others we have hurt, including ourselves.

The hallmark of a narcissistic individual is is the inability to feel empathy for another.  Step four encourages us to move into an empathic response towards our own wounded and broken self and to others we have wounded in our pain.  Step four offers the wounded victim a gentle way out of victimhood into healing and wholeness.  Hurt people hurt people so the choice we have after victimization is to allow the pain to transform us or we will inevitably transmit it to others, including ourselves.

A victim is powerless over the events that created her victimhood.  She feels vulnerable, needy, frightened and
very much alone.  Relational trauma rends the very fabric of her soul.  By gently and courageously working step four, the pain of trauma and victimhood can be transformed.  Where there was powerlessness over circumstances and even over self, a new independence of spirit that is empowered for change emerges.  Where there was low self-esteem and the incredible weight of shame, a healthy evaluation of strengths vulnerabilities is born.  And what once felt like an impossible task--making amends and moving forward from victimhood becomes an exciting and rewarding possibility.

I'm not ready to call those stuck in victimhood narcissistic because that would be adding more pain to incredibly wounded individuals.  But I am willing to admit that the pain of my victimhood generated what has become an unhealthy narcissistic bent in me.  So I'm pushing forward ever more eagerly with step four.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Is it Well with my Soul?

I was reminded recently of the story behind my all-time favorite hymn and want to digress today from my normal blog posts to explore the story behind the story.  I believe that story has something to offer to those of us who have been terribly wounded by organized religion.  Horotio Spafford was a successful Chicago attorney and real estate mogul during the mid to late 1800s.  He and his wife, Anna, were members of a well-known church in the Chicago area.  In 1870, the Spaffords only son died of scarlet fever and then during the fire of 1871, Mr. Spafford lost much of his real estate holdings.

Because of the difficulties the family experienced in 1870 and 1871, the Spaffords decided that an extended European vacation was in order.  So they booked passage to England.  Just prior to their departure, however, Mr. Spafford was detained in the city on business but sent Anna and their four daughters on ahead of him.  On November 2, 1872, the ship that Mrs. Spafford and her children were on collided with another ship and sank within twelve minutes.  All four of the Spafford daughters died.  Mrs. Spafford was saved because a plank floated under her and kept her unconscious body from sinking in the cold Atlantic.  Her last memory of her daughters was of her baby being torn from her arms by the cold rushing water.  When she reached England, Anna sent a telegram to her husband stating, "Saved alone.  What shall I do?"

Horotio immediately boarded a ship sailing for England to be with his wife but asked the ship's captain to let him know when they were near the spot where his children had perished.  When the captain brought him to the deck as the ship neared the site of the wreckage, he informed Mr. Spafford that the water was at least three miles deep.  After contemplating his daughters' watery grave, Horotio went back to his cabin and penned the words to this well-loved hymn.

This part of the tragic story is somewhat familiar to most regular church-goers.  Many sermons have been preached on the courage and strength that Horotio drew upon to overcome unfathomable tragedy.  What is not as familiar, however, is the reaction of the Spaffords' church to their overwhelming loss.  Church elders believed that the tragedies had befallen the Spaffords due to secret sin and according to the church dogma, the children could not have gone to heaven.  At a time when comfort from their community of faith was most needed, the Spaffords experienced rejection, blame and were eventually expelled from the church.  Friends who supported them were expelled as well and it became a media scandal.  Ummm, sounds a bit familiar.


A daughter born after the tragedy later wrote about the family's life prior to 1872, "In Chicago, Father searched his life for explanation. Until now, it had flowed gently as a river.  Spiritual peace and worldly security had sustained his early years, his family life and his home.  All around him people were asking the unvoiced question, 'What guilt had brought this sweeping tragedy to Anna and Horotio Spafford?' Father became convinced that God was kind and that he would see his children again in heaven.  This thought calmed his heart but it was to bring Father into open conflict with what was then the Christian world." Source

It seems the notion of churches killing their wounded is not new nor is the tendency to blame victims of horrendous tragedy.  Expulsion, banning, finger-pointing and abusive "church discipline" are not new ideas, unfortunately.  I don't know how the Spaffords reconciled themselves to the rejection they experienced by their religious community; I don't know quite how any of us do.  My hope is that Horotio and Anna found peace in the arms of their Shepherd, even if they didn't in their church.  

I am encouraged by the communities that are springing up of disenfranchised former church attenders.  They are leaving organized religion because of abuses much like the Staffords experienced and they are finding each other.  They are banding together to heal, to encourage and to reform a system that has become unbelievably corrupt and dysfunctional.  I am privileged to be part of that group of people so can truly affirm that it is well with my soul.




Saturday, August 9, 2014

Staying Safe and Sane

I live in a community that has an intense love of fireworks, which has never made sense to me because of the dryness of our natural environment.  Most cities have outlawed all fireworks except those deemed "safe and sane," which is a term designated for fireworks that do not fly or explode.  In spite of law enforcement's efforts, however, many unsafe and insane fireworks are regularly displayed around major holidays in my community.  Sometimes neighborhoods look like war zones because of this intense love of things that go boom in the night.

For a family living with the fallout of exposed pedophilia, staying safe and sane becomes a challenge.  Sometimes it feels like we are winning the effort and at other times it feels like we might as well surrender because we have already lost the war.  The collateral damage from the arrest and incarceration of a fmamily member is huge, especially when the crimes were committed against children.  Safety and sanity feel illusionary--like the desert mirage promising a respite from the heat and unquenchable thirst.


We crave validation and affirmation but are afraid to risk telling another our "secrets" for fear that we will be judged guilty by association.

Our sense of personal safety was destroyed when a family member became involved with the criminal justice system.  As all victims of trauma do, we seek to re-establish saety but since we are distrustful and suspicious, it is challenging.

We crave the ability to live productively in the world but constantly fear repercussions and exposure.  Will our employment be threatened if we tell our story?  Will we come under criminal investigation simply because we lived in proximity to the criminal?  Will we be seen as damaged goods by friends and potential romantic partners?

We want to become crusaders for children's safety but instead we guard our privacy, isolate and hide.  It is risky to identify with this form of social leprosy, it is very risky and we know it from our personal experience.

So we struggle for truth, authenticity and transparency from a place of safety.  Staying in that safe place requires every bit of faith, hope and sheer grit that we can muster up.  the boundaries of our safe place keep changing so we must shift and change with it.

We long for stability and security in a world that has become quite unstable and chaotic.  We flinch when we hear a loud noise or see a police cruiser because these are no longer symbols of help and safety.

We don't like things that go boom in the night and we don't enjoy life explosions.  We have lived through enough of those to satisfy us for a lifetime.  And really there is nothing sane or safe about holding even the "safest" firework in one's hand--sparklers are estimated to burn at 2,000 degrees--hot enough to cause significant damage to the human body.  And there certainly is nothing sane or safe about pedophilia--even for the innocent parties, which include the predator's family members.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Re-Envisioning the Empty Nest

I can still recall the overwhelming love I felt when each of my children were born and the accompanying grief that one day they would grow up and leave.  At the time, I couldn't imagine that loss.  There were times, however, especially during those difficult teen years that the empty nest didn't seem like such a bad thing.  I looked forward to returning to just the two of us once more and to celebrating the life and family that we had created together.

We purchased an Amish hand-made dining table that extended to accomondate seating for nearly twenty people.  I envisioned our children and their families gathered around that beautiful table for years to come, celebrating holidays, birthdays and the traditions that we had carefully developed over the years.  Our children were grown and soon grandchildren would come but we still had each other.  Our impending empty nest would provide a much-needed opportunity to rediscover each other and to enjoy the fruits of our marriage and labor.

But that didn't happen.

As I continue this journey of recovery, I am realizing that I must now redefine or re-envision the empty nest because the definition I have always used is now outdated.  There is no "us" in my nest, only "me."  And the divorce has redefined the cherished relationships I have enjoyed with my children.  The expectations we had for this time in life have been radically changed.  Loyalties are divided and hurts abound--this is a common side effect of divorce.

I thrive on connecting with others; indeed this has been the focus of my life to this point.  My connections have changed and I am challenged to adjust my expectations of what connections will now look like.  My children are adults now with lives of their own.  While my connection to them continues, albeit in a different way, I must now focus on connections with others outside my family.

I mentioned in a recent post that I have lived life based on plans created by someone else's expectations of me or of their own dreams and aspirations.  Re-envisioning the empty nest offers an opportunity to create an authentically "me" plan for the rest of my life.  As I have contemplated on what I want my life to look like for whatever time remains, it has become quite apparent that it is not so much the container of my life that I am concerned with but rather the contents of that container.

The container or "nest" is typically developed during the first half of life and consists of establishing a home, career, family and identity.  The contents of that container become far more important during the second half of life.  I do not want my life to be defined by my career or house for they are simply the container of my life but rather by the quality of my connections with others, including my connections with self and with God.

  • I want to have friends I can just be silly with--someone who will call me up and say "Let's put on our cowboy boots and go line dancing!"  (I don't own cowboy boots and I don't know how to dance, but I don't want to care about those facts anymore).
  • I want people in my life that I can laugh with--belly laughs without inhibitions.
  • I want my life to be full of meaningful connections--people I can be authentic with and with whom I can cry or shout or simply sit in silence.
  • I want to grow in my capacity to love and in my ability to live loved.
  • I want to embrace paradox--both the light and the darkness, realizing that without both, I cannot fully see.
  • I want to continue to learn how to be fully present in each moment rather than living in the what-ifs of the past or the what-nows of the future.
  • I want to grow and expand and stretch myself in new ventures.  I want to step out of my comfort zone and try new things, maybe create my own "Bucket List."
  • I want to become more comfortable in my own skin and with who I am becoming.
  • Knowing that the second half of life will bring additional challenges and more loss, I want to continue to practice the disciples of acceptance, surrender and courage.
  • I want to live fully until the moment I die--no sitting around waiting for the inevitable but dancing and loving and living until my final breath.
If I can achieve even half of these goals in my new life plan, then my nest will never be empty but fuller than I can imagine.  And though I may be alone in my nest, I am guaranteed to not be lonely.  Hand me that twig, will you?  I'm gonna start building.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Substitute

A gentleman in my neighborhood came calling recently and while I was initially shocked and a bit flattered by his attention, it soon became apparent that he was looking for a substitute.  His wife of many years died within the past year and he is looking for a replacement.  In mulling over the emotions that his attention raised for me, I realized that I have been a substitute for my entire life.  I also realized that I no longer wish to be a substitute anything for anyone.

A substitute is an individual who stands in or acts on behalf of another, in essence, a place holder.  Substitutes typically have no authority or value on their own in their substitute capacity but derive their purpose from another.  They are in that place for that moment in time because of the existence and absence of another.  They are not there because of their unique intrinsic value.

Remember those days when the teacher was absent and a substitute was in the classroom for the day?  Wasn't it just a wee bit fun to see how far we could go in misbehaving since the "real deal" was gone?  Most of us can readily confess to quickly sizing up the substitute to try to determine just how far we could get in our misbehavior.

But for the substitute the experience often was a grueling one.  She was required to try to decipher and implement another individual's plan for the class.  She knew she would be judged not on her own merit or missteps but simply that she was not able to be exactly like the person she was replacing for that moment in time.  She instantly was at a disadvantage because she didn't know the individuals in the class as well as the person for whom she was substituting.  It was rarely a win/win situation for the substitute.  The best she could hope for was to survive the day intact.

So it occurs to me that my days of people-pleasing and approval-seeking were days when I was allowing myself to be used as a substitute.  The real me didn't show up on those days instead a substitute me performed, contorted and aimed to please, thank you very much.  This fake/inauthentic me was substituting for the real me who was curled up in a ball on the closet floor, afraid to show up for my own life.  And to be fair to myself, my fear of being seen was not entirely baseless.

I grew up in a family where it was not safe to allow yourself to be seen; I marinated in a religious environment that placed an extreme emphasis on perfection and I married a man who needed me to cure something that is incurable.  So I learned the fine art of hiding at a tender age.  I didn't show up for myself or for others that I loved.  I was my own substitute for over five decades.

There were rare times when I sent the substitute home and showed up for my own life.  But because I was so rarely present, I did not have a plan for how I wanted to live my own life.  Oh, I had plans, lots of plans because I am a planner by nature.  But they were based on what someone else wanted from me, not on what I wanted for myself.  I made my plans based on the expectations and desires of others; I had no real plan apart from the important people in my life.

And it might have worked out ok but then I'll never know.  What I do know is that I can no longer allow a substitute me to live my life. I can no longer live my life based on the expectations of another, even if they disapprove of decisions or views that I have.  My days of people-pleasing and approval-seeking have ended.  I'm showing up for my life in an authentic, real, embodied way.  I have fired the substitute but then, she was exhausted and ready to retire anyway.

So, I'll gently send the widower seeking a substitute wife on his way--I cannot be what he has lost.  And I'll thoughtfully make a plan for my life and I will show up to implement that plan.  I won't do it perfectly and I'm sure that I will make mistakes.  But is is my life and I am the only one who can truly live it.  What an incredible thing to learn after so many years of living.  I'm just grateful I am learning it while I still have time to be me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When is Enough, Enough?

For centuries, women have been held to a higher standard than men.  We are to be pure and virtuous while they are expected to "sow their wild oats."  We are told to be kind and submissive, gentle of spirit n order to keep our husbands happy; it they look elsewhere it must be because we let ourselves go, are frigid or just not available enough.  We have been held responsible for the misbehavior of our partners and our children since Adam blamed Eve for offering him the forbidden fruit.  And heaven forbid if we do commit a crime.  Men who murder their spouses with forethought and planning get less time, on average, than women who kill their abusive partners in a valiant attempt to preserve their life and maybe the lives of their children.  It is morally offensive to most of us when women behave in ways we do not expect them to.

And partners of pedophiles?  We are labeled as co-conspirators, co-pedophiles, co-criminals and worse.  "How could you not have known your husband was attracted to children?" he asked.  "Couldn't you tell in your sex life with him?"  No, I couldn't and neither could scores of other women, including highly trained psychologists, social workers and academics.  And yet, we are somehow held responsible for the deviancy of our spouse and for not knowing what they are so skilled at hiding.

The perpetrator has to throw someone under the bus in order to survive and most often, that someone is the partner who has been incredibly betrayed and deceived.  He cannot reenter civil society unless he has a rational explanation for his irrational and incomprehensible behavior.  And that explanation often involves some failure on the part of his partner.  It is rare for a pedophile to take full responsibility for his crimes and his disease without projecting some of the responsibility onto whomever is closest.  He always has a qualifer for any apology or expression of remorse he may make.

And the maddening thing is sophisticated, educated and experienced people believe him!  They take the word of the convicted felon and make a judgment call most often against the spouse.  "She wouldn't allow me to be my true self," he says.  And the response from church leaders, colleagues and friends is to feel sorry for the poor beleaguered man who was tormented by his intolerant wife.  No one thinks to ask the wife for her version of the story!  And we wonder why women who suspect their partner may be sexually attracted to children keep quiet?

As a domestic violence advocate, I get this because I find it eerily similar to what women in abusive relationships experience.  Contrary to public opinion, women who resort to the murder of their tormentor take that action as a measure of last resort.  They have tried repeatedly to break silence and to get help but they are not believed or not helped.  And there is hell to pay when her abuser finds out that she has tried to get help so she learns to suffer in silence until she can suffer no more or until the safety of her children is threatened.

But I echo an abused woman convicted and incarcerated for defending her life when I ask "When is enough, enough?"  When are we going to stop blaming women for the crimes and deviancy of their partners and put the responsibility squarely on the person to whom it belongs?  When are we going to require sex offenders to demonstrate over time that they really do understand how completely they have betrayed others?  When are we going to demand that their words and actions match consistently over the long term before we restore them to our communities or to our churches?  When are we going to insist that the offfender accept full and unconditional responsibility for his crimes and not tolerate blame-shifting, minimization or denial in any form?  When?

Until then, our children are not safe--not in church, at school or at home.  They simply are not safe.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Well Traveled Road

A grad school friend visited recently.  Our life journeys have been similar and yet very different, but during her visit, we discovered that we have much more in common than either of us knew.  We both have been victims of a perpetrator intent on grooming us to accept unacceptable behavior.

I wrote about the grooming process a while back.  A consequence of grooming not addressed in the article, is the toxic shame and guilt that victims of grooming carry.  Even as adults, we carry the shame, though we cognitively acknowledge that it is not ours to carry.  We still struggle under its burden.  So my friend shared her grooming experience with me; she broke silence for the first time and courageously told me what had happened to her.

As a group facilitator for domestic violence survivors, I have frequently observed a phenomenon that I believe may be the key reason for the incredible efficacy of groups and narrative therapy.  While a member may not identify her own experience as abusive because she continues to assume responsibility for the abuser's exploitative behavior, she is often able to identify abusive behavior in another's story.  She may become angry and protective of a group member after hearing their story but still insist that her story is somehow different--that she caused the abuse or could have controlled it.  Gradually, over time, the power of the group experience and the personal narratives begins to erode the rock she has built around her own story.  She is able to see the abuse and violence in her own narrative.  It is an amazing process to observe.
So while praying for my friend this morning, I realized that I was also praying for myself.  I was asking that we both can begin to lay down the burdens we carry on behalf of our perpetrators, that we both can forgive ourselves for being vulnerable, that we both can clearly see that we did not have a chance--the perpetrator was skilled, manipulative and targeted us.  They exploited our vulnerabilitis through the knowledge they had accumulated about us.  I prayed that we both can heal from our shame, that we can courageously hand it back to the person to whom it belongs.

I can so easily see her shame and pain.  I can feel tremendous empathy and compassion for her but anger at the culpability of her abuser.  I want to hunt him down and call him to accountability.  I see her innocence and the horrific betrayal of trust her grooming and abuse created.  I want so much to do something, anything, to relieve her suffering and to convince her that this was not her fault.  I can clearly see her lack of culpability but it is with great difficulty that I see my own.

My friend and I have journeyed separately on two well-traveled roads.  But now, as we join in prayer and support for one another, we journey together on this road called "Recovery."  I'm often reminded that shame happens between people (i.e. perpetrator and victim) and it heals between people (i.e. survivors sharing their secrets).  It is in partnership with another that we begin to heal.  I am grateful for my companions on this part of my journey.


Friday, July 4, 2014

My Personal Declaration of Freedom

I have published this blog for almost two years under a pseudonymn.  I needed to write as an outlet of healing and recovery but I was very concerned with my privacy and that of my children.  We were fragile and needed time to recover from the devastation of my ex-husband's arrest.  

I am an activist and an advocate so always knew that the day would come when I would need to step out of the shadows of my safe hiding place, particularly if I wanted to work authentically for change.  In light of so many scandals and arrests of predators, both inside and outside of organized religion, I feel the time has come and I want to use whatever influence I have to effect change.

So on this day when we celebrate our nation's independence and freedom, I am waving my flag of personal identity and self-disclosure.  Hi, my name is Brenda Ratcliff.  I was married to a professor who was arrested for possession of child pornography.

One of the ways we can make meaning of tragedy is to channel our grief into working for change.  Most great initiatives in our country came from stunning loss--The Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Mothers Against Drunk Driving--are two that immediately come to mind.  I'm not happy that the man I married and who fathered my children turned out to be a pedophile--no one would willingly embrace that story.  But it is my story and I cannot change that.  

I have believed for a very long time that the partner of a pedophile is our first line of defense in our efforts to protect children from predators.  But that partner probably does not know that her spouse is a predator--I certainly didn't.  If by authentically and transparently sharing my story, even the parts that are still very painful, I can turn a light bulb on for a woman who is puzzled by things she is seeing in her spouse, then it is worth it.  

I still feel great compassion for that young 21-year-old that was me.  She was confronted with a set of circumstances that nothing in life had prepared her for.  She lived in an era when there was not much public awareness of pedophilia and child sexual abuse.  She was isolated, confused and devastated.  Even with all of the public awareness and outrage that we currently see, there are still women just as isolated, confused and devastated.  That must change.

There is much work to be done but I sense that change is in the air.  Today we celebrate our nation's fight for freedom from tyranny.  So today in making my personal declaration of freedom, I am reporting for duty in a more upfront way.  Let's do all we can to insure freedom from predators for all the victims in our land including our children and the spouses of pedophiles.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Predators in our Midst

Christianity Today, a leading evangelical magazine, recently published an article titled "My Easy Trip from Youth Minister to Felon."  The article also appeared in their companion publication for those in professional ministry, Leadership Journal.  A former youth pastor who molested one of the children in his youth group wrote it anonymously.  After an avalanche of criticism from the blogosphere, both magazines removed the article and issued apologies.

Yesterday, the media in a major metropolitan city were breathlessly reporting the arrest of a prominent former pastor for child sexual abuse.  The actual location and details of the story, while incredibly important to the victim, his family and the family of the perpetrator, are not really germane to this article.  Pick any city and virtually any news media outlet and you will find scores of reports of a similar situation.  We are now experiencing an epidemic of predators in our midst.  I believe that Protestant churches are now experiencing what the Catholic Church has struggled with for a very long time. And it is failing dismally in its response, just as the Catholic Church did.

It took some work, but I found the article that Christianity Today retracted and feel that it is important to point out some glaring concerns I see, particularly as they demonstrate the dangerous mindset of pedophiles.** As the former spouse of a now-convicted sex offender, I have experienced all of these denials, minimizations and rationalizations; indeed they re quite common among individuals struggling with a sex addiction and/or pedophilia:
  • A grandiose sense of his own importance, i.e. "The youth group grew and I was viewed as an expert in youth group ministry."  my paraphrase
  • Blaming others for his criminal behavior, i.e. "My wife didn't appreciate me at home so I had to look elsewhere."
  • Rationalization:  "This was a consensual relationship between two individuals."
  • Minimization:  i.e. comparing his criminal behavior to King David's adultery with Bathsheba.  Prison sentences are not typically handed down for adultery in this country.
  • Entitlement: i.e. "I deserved more than I was receiving."
  • Playing the victim:  "I've lost my job, haven't seen my kids or wife."  He says nothing about the impact on his victims, including his own children and spouse.
Box Tchividjian published a blog this week titled "4 Lessons We Can Learn From a Church that Hired a Sex Offender."  The church he describes in the article serves as a perfect illustration of why sex offenders seek out positions of authority and influence in churches.  We are far too naive and trusting.  Until we get our heads out of the sand and acknowledge that predators are in our midst and that they do not look like our preconceived notions, church will continue to be a very dangerous place for our children.  We have to get educated and quick because this is an epidemic and we must protect our children.

**I am unable to attach the PDF of the article to this post.  Please email me at the address listed in the sidebar if you would like a copy.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Dead Stay Dead

I recently completed a course in disaster response and learned some valuable lessons on how to help myself as well as my family and neighbors in the event of a catastrophic disaster.  Several underlying themes of disaster work resonated with what I am learning in recovery:
  • The dead stay dead.
  • None of us get out of here alive.
  • Acceptance of these concepts as well as what life brings is key to surviving.
I have taken first aid courses and have been certified in CPR so approached disaster training from the mindset that every life is precious and worth doing all we can to preserve.  And while I still believe in the incredible value of human life, disaster training taught me another concept--that of doing the most good for the most people in the shortest span of time, with few resources, including rescue personnel.  And that requires allowing the dead to stay dead.

In a disaster, a person who is not breathing is given two shots at life.  His airway is cleared and if he takes a breath, he is tagged as urgent and aid is rendered as soon as possible.  But if he does not breathe spontaneously after two attempts to clear his airway, he is tagged as deceased and taken to the morgue.  Could his life be saved if he were in a first-rate trauma center?  Maybe or maybe not.  But in a disaster when many lives are hanging in the balance, time cannot be wasted on the dying or dead.  Because the dead stay dead and none of us get out of here alive, we move on to help others who are still alive and can benefit from our help.  It is pragmatic and seems heartless in one sense, but in light of the goal--to help as many victims as possible in a short time span with limited resources--it is absolutely the right approach.

The underlying philosophy of disaster work meshes quite well with the lessons learned in recovery.  None of us want to experience sorrow, betrayal, financial ruin, illness, etc.  But just as dying is part of living, so too is the inevitability of sorrow and loss.  We will experience it and we will have no control over when or how it comes.

The only thing we can control is our response to it.  We can choose to beat the chest of the dead corpse of our dreams, relationships or situation, performing life "CPR" until we exhaust ourselves.  Or, we can accept what life brings; we can choose to accept life on life's terns.  That does not mean that we don't grieve our losses or difficulties but it does mean that we stop fighting them.  We surrender and find the gift of serenity.  No one lives forever so no one of us gets out of here without experiencing death.  It is as simple and as difficult as that.  The challenge comes in accepting that and letting go of our expectations about how life "ought to be."

Let me personalize this.  For many years, I worked feverishly on the dead corpse of my marriage.  I exhausted myself trying to breathe life back into a rotting, stinking flesh.  I wasted years grieving over what was and essentially stopped living myself.  The dead stay dead; my marriage was dead, if it had ever been alive and viable, which is questionable.  As long as I continued to focus on bringing it back to life, I was not spending time on the things that mattered most now--focusing on my own personal healing and recovery, getting myself squared away financially and back into the work force, preparing my kids and getting us to safety.  I was so preoccupied with the "dead" that I failed to focus on the very real and pressing needs of the "living."  I broke the first rule of disaster triage:  the dead stay dead.

I have grieved many long months the losses associated with my ex-husband's arrest, loss of employment and our divorce.  I have done the necessary grief work and now it is time to go on
living.  I don't want to be one of those people who stop living when disaster or loss strike; I don't want to become paralyzed by grief and spend the rest of my days ruminating on the disempowering questions of "Why?" and "What did I do to deserve this?"  I want to live before I die because I know that the dead stay dead.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Gentle Pull or a Quick Yank?

Remember how it felt as a kid with a scraped knee when it was time to replace the Band-Aid?  Did your mom gently remove the Band-Aid or rip it off quickly?  Which hurt more?  As I recall, it was painful either way; the choice was to have the pain come gradually, prolonging the process or to get it over with quickly.

I have been thinking of this illustration because of several conversations I have had recently with partners of child predators.  Their world exploded with the disclosure that their partner had sexually molested a child/ren when the Department of Children and Family Services opened investigations into the allegations.  Many of these men are involved in the helping professions, some of them serving on church staffs.

In one partner's case, in the short time since the devastating discovery, charges have been filed against her husband and he has been removed from their household.  But he has not yet been arrested and her house has not yet been searched.  So, while the pain of discovery is intense and the repercussions of her husband's criminal behavior have begun, she is in this period of limbo--not sure when the unnamed what will happen.

In my case, the raid on my house was like a kamikaze attack--quick and brutal.  Before we had even begun to process our new reality, the police came and carted my ex-husband away in handcuffs.  The Band-Aid of our supposedly idyllic life was brutally and quickly yanked off.  Our pain was severe and we were impressively traumatized, but it was over (well almost) before we even realized we had a Band-Aid to remove.

My friends, on the other hand, wait and wonder.  I imagine the waiting is excruciating.  The repercussions have already begun--their marriages have been torn asunder, their kids are reeling with the disclosures, friends have dropped them like they are leprous, their family finances have suffered fatal blows but yet they still wait.

When will the police come?
When will their partner be arrested?
When will the announcement be made to the media?
How big will the media circus be?
Will there be news trucks outside her house?
Will the kids be impacted at school?  At church?
What will happen next?
When will it happen?
How can she prepare?

There is no controlling the situation and there will be no warning. The next events in their catastrophic situations will happen as they will.  The waiting has to be torturous.  I think if I had to choose, I would choose the kamikaze attack instead of the prolonged agony.

But then, we are never offered that choice.

And my mind goes to all the other women like my friends and I.  How did their worlds end?  Was it quick and brutal or slow and torturous?  Either way it hurts like hell. Either way, her world will never be the same.  Either way, she is left with a decimated life--just the shell of what once was, or what she thought she once had.

My heart hurts for my new friends and all the others out there.  This is an epidemic and there are so many victims of each perpetrator.  These victims absolutely include the partners and families of the perpetrator and we don't have Band-Aids big enough for their broken hearts.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Family Disease

I have recognized for a very long time that a genetic predisposition to addiction runs in families and even wrote about a genogram I created for my family a while back.  The genogram was created for a graduate class in substance abuse and what was clear to me, in my rudimentary research, is that even where there was no addiction to a substance present in a family unit, the behaviors that characterize addictive families were present.  And if you add in process addictions (food, religion, gambling, sex, etc.), no unit of my extended family has been immune.

As I listen to the struggles of those members of my 12-step family group who are still in a relationship with an active and/or recovering addict, I have frequently expressed gratitude that I no longer live with an active addict.  And yet, I still live with an addiction-prone extended family with all of the interpersonal dynamics and behaviors that characterize life with an addict:

  • Gaslighting
  • Narcissism
  • Chaos
  • Inability to empathize
  • Projection, blame, denial, minimization
  • Instability of relationships
  • Scapegoating
  • "Don't feel and don't talk"
I still live with the fall-out of addiction.  I experience it in every interaction I have with extended family members.  It is no accident that I married an individual with an addictive personality--it is incredibly familiar to me.  I grew up during the Cold War and recall seeing signs pointing the way to the bomb shelter in my elementary school.  The shelter was designed to protect us from nuclear fallout in the event of war.  It occurs to me that because I still live in the "war zone" of family addiction, I need a shelter.  Recovery has become that shelter for me.

My daughter and I sat in our garden swing recently, enjoying the cool air of the desert where we live.  She expressed frustration that it is taking so long to grieve the many, many losses of our personal nuclear war.  I reminded her that failure to grieve life's losses creates a perfect dysfunctional environment conducive to the growth of addictions.  The healthy response to loss is to give ourselves the time and space to grieve until we are through grieving.  The unhealthy response is to deny the loss, minimize it or fail to grieve it, creating a need to numb the pain from the loss.  We either process grief, trauma and difficult emotions or we numb them.  And we have so many ways to numb emotional pain--ways that often become addictive.

My shelter from the chaos of a family impacted by addiction and trauma is in processing my emotions as they arise.  Each time I choose to process my emotions and to fully experience them appropriately, I am choosing health and embracing a fully functional way of living.  When I carefully yet assertively express what I need or hold a boundary, I am opting for a new and different way to be in this world.  When I clearly delineate between what is on my side of the street and what is not on my side of the street, I am forging a new way of living.  This is my antidote to the family disease of addiction.  This is my shelter from the fall-out of that disease.

It is a choice to be fully present in each moment, embracing the complexity and variety of my emotional experiences and discarding those familiar coping mechanisms that allowed me to stay safe in a chaotic world.  It is a resolve to stand firm in my truth and to advocte for myself, to accept responsibility for my character defects and to refuse to carry the responsibility or shame of another's character defects.

My family heritage may include the disease of addiction but that does not have to be the legacy that I hand down to my children and grandchildren.  I am a pivot and my choices will impact the lives of those who will follow me.  My march to a healthier way of living is their march as well so I am determined to continue this journey of recovery.  There is too much at stake to quit now.