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.