Tag Archives: abuse

The apology of Pope Francis

Pope Francis apologises and asks for forgiveness

Pope Francis apologises and asks for forgiveness

I have been totally consumed with completing a uni assignment for the last few days and haven’t had time to write anything.  When my thoughts turned to writing earlier this afternoon, for the first time in weeks I drew an absolute blank – zip, nada, nothing.  So, I sent a silent request out to the Universe for a topic.

Several hours after this request, I sat down with my computer and caught up on the news I have missed while I have been researching and writing my ethics assignment – and what do you know? – the first news item I read has provided my topic for today’s post.

Pope Francis asks for forgiveness for child sex abuse by priests, says sanctions ‘must be imposed’

Hmm… with a headline like that, how could I not read the article?

To be clear, I am not a Catholic, nor do I know the Pope personally, or in any other capacity, however, I have read many articles expounding his virtues and generally indicating that he is a pretty decent bloke.  Now he has apologised for all those ‘evil’ deeds members of the Catholic ministry have enacted upon children, so that must mean he is a good man, mustn’t it?

Well, maybe not.

Yes, it is, theoretically, a good thing that he has done by apologising, however, I don’t personally feel that the apology goes quite far enough.  You see, although Pope Francis has said the Church “will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed” he has also indicated that those sanctions only relate to the priests who abused children.  He has made no mention of what will be done about the many, many more within the Church who protected those men and worked hard to discredit and discount the victims.

It is all well and good to impose ‘sanctions’ on the perpetrators, even though the form those ‘sanctions’ will take has not been elaborated, but while there are people within the Church willing to aid and abet “…the evil which some priests…” have done, then it’s a hollow apology.

Take Australia’s own Cardinal George Pell.  He is now Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy – a bloody good reward for his diligent efforts to cover up child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Australia, don’t you think? 

Although there will be an endless number of people ‘out there’ who will be thinking something along the lines of, “Wow, wasn’t that a wonderful thing Pope Francis did, apologising to all those abused children?  They should all be feeling much better now that it’s all in the past, forgiven and forgotten” (believe me, there are people who really think like this), I find it hard to believe or accept such an apology when the people in his inner circle, those hand-picked by the Pope himself, have spent so much time and energy fighting to silence victims over the last few decades.

I can only hope and pray Pope Francis will ‘see the light’ and also ensure he weeds out all pro-child abuse supporters from ALL levels of the Catholic Church.

 

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I just want to be normal

I Just want to be normal

I Just want to be normal

“I just want to be normal!” 

If only I had a dollar for every time I have said this, or any of its many variations, because I would be Rich, Rich, Rich – yes, Rich with a capital R!

My diaries are filled with this statement, along with “Why can’t I just be normal?”  “Why can’t I be like everyone else?” “If only I was normal!”

Guess what?  For what I had experienced in life, I was normal.  I was, and am, just like everyone else who has experienced some form of major trauma as a child.  The hell I have experienced while healing is the same hell others experience while they heal.  Yet, all the while, I just wanted to be normal.

What is ‘normal’ anyway?

For me, it was ‘normal’ for my father to have sex with me.  It’s just what he did.  It was ‘normal’ to never know from one minute to the next if there was a belting waiting for me when the next minute arrived.  It was ‘normal’ to not know from moment to moment if I was ‘loved’ or hated by my father.  It was ‘normal’ to show the world I was ‘normal’ according to society’s stereotypical standards, while at the same time asking myself why I couldn’t be ‘normal’.

The first time I remember verbalising that I was not normal was when I was 12.  My brother and I had been fighting, as we always did if ever we were in each other’s company for more than 30 seconds.  We were home alone and during the fight my brother had grabbed a large kitchen knife and started chasing me with it.  Eventually he caught me and knocked me to the ground.  As he held the knife to my throat I practically begged him to kill me.  I told him that he should do it because the world would be a better place without me because I wasn’t normal and should be in the ‘looney bin’ anyway.

He didn’t kill me.  In fact, telling him this had the opposite effect, and he helped me up off the ground and said, “No it wouldn’t Sis.”

My brother was 10 at the time.

It wasn’t until I started to understand what I experienced emotionally and psychologically was normal for people who live through child sexual abuse that I started to recognise how I continued verbally abusing myself.  I had fully taken on the role of abuser through my inner voice, telling myself I was useless, stupid, abnormal, crazy.  I came to believe, absolutely, that I was insane.

My only ‘insanity’ was the inability to process my trauma in a way that would release it, rather than relive it.

The process is long, slow, and unbelievably painful.  It cannot be expressed in words.  It is a very lonely road, because although you may be lucky enough to have a ‘support system’ unless those around you have experienced exactly what you have experienced, there is no way they can comprehend what you are going through.  Every moment of healing feels like you have to fight your way, kicking and screaming, to find even enough air to breathe, let alone find the strength to function in any ‘normal’ capacity.

For a while I didn’t want to be normal.  I craved complete loss of function.  I thought it an exceptionally cruel twist of fate that, although there were days when all I could manage was to pull the covers up and a pillow over my head, I was still able to hold down a job, be a mother, be a partner, and work on my healing all at the same time.  I envied people who could just withdraw from life completely.

In hindsight, I am glad I was able to keep going, even if it was in a reduced capacity.  I did withdraw from the world, but not completely.  I did want to die so very badly – but I didn’t.

So, am I ‘normal’?  According to some, I am not.  According to others, I am.  According to myself?  I don’t always conform to society’s norms, but I am not a complete deviate either – I am me – and for ‘me’ I am normal.

Thanks for thinking badly of me

Thank you for providing opportunities to learn & grow

Thank you for providing opportunities to learn & grow

“To all of the people along the way who hurt me, lied to me, betrayed me and broke my heart…

You unknowingly pointed me in the direction of my own North Star.  Without the messes, I wouldn’t have a message.

You gave me more than you ever take from me, so thank you.”

 

My friend posted this on Facebook yesterday.  I instantly connected with it because it is something that I have believed in, and lived by, for quite a while now.

People often tell me I should be angry – at my father, at other adults who did not protect me, at the family and friends that have, as a result of the legal process against my father and his subsequent death, turned their backs on me.

What use to me is anger?

I spent the first 38 years of my life being angry – angry that I had to live this life.  Every one of my emotions expressed itself as anger – even when I didn’t ‘feel’ angry – and it was a horrible existence.

For years I wondered ‘why me?’  What did I do to deserve all of the pain I felt, both physically and psychologically?  What had I done to cause my father to be so angry?  What was that I did that made him sexually abuse me?  Why did I have to be born?

From the very second I made the decision that I mattered, that I was important, and that I was going to stand up and do my very best to protect other children from experiencing what I had experienced, my anger started dissipating.  I started to look at the crap dished out to me by other people in a whole new light.  My perspective changed, and so did my attitude.

I no longer approached everything from the ‘why me?’ perspective.  Instead, I looked hard for ‘what can I learn from this?’  Let me tell you, it was hard, unbelievably hard, but it was so amazingly worth it.

Why was it worth it?  Because the more I looked for the lessons in what I was experiencing, the less others controlled me.  The more I learnt about myself – what were my thoughts, what were my feelings, what were my beliefs, what were my vales – the less the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and values of others that I had unknowingly adopted as my own, impacted me.  The power of other people to hurt me reduced dramatically.

I had always believed the world would end if I dared to tell, or that Dad would make good on his threats to kill me, or that the family would implode if the secret ever got out.

Well, the family did implode – but I survived!

There are numerous people out there who would be horrified to know that I write about my experiences of child sexual abuse.  They are the family and friends who chose to protect my father and the family’s public image.  Not one of these people know all of the facts.  These are the people that will do whatever is within their power to stop me from getting my message out there, just as they have used a variety of actions and threats to try to stop me, and those who have supported me, in the past.

There was a time when having the possibility of conflict hanging over my head would have sent me into a tail spin, if not a complete melt down.  I would have been flustered, depressed, and upset, but mostly I would have been angry that others ‘just don’t understand’.

Now, however, I know that the actions of others are not a reflection of me.  In fact, their actions have no relevance to me at all, because the actions of others belong to them, and those actions are motivated by the thoughts and feelings of the people that carry them out.  Just because other people behave badly towards me, does not mean that I am a bad person.

About six months into the legal journey, I had to go on medication because I was barely able to keep myself breathing, let alone be a mother, a partner,  and continue to hold down a full-time job.  Over the next 18 months my ability to function improved, and my outlook on life had really started to change.  Everything went down hill very quickly after Dad passed away.

To be honest, I didn’t even really notice.  It was my partner that made me sit back and take stock and see how I was returning to my old,  comfortable, but totally unhelpful, ways of coping.

After much discussion, we identified the turning point.

My brother was speaking to one of my father’s friends the day after Dad died.  The conversation was going well until my father’s friend, thinking that my brother did not support my decision to speak out, said to my brother, “Well, your sister should have thought about the consequences before she went to the police…”

This statement from my father’s friend sent me right back to square one.

If other people said bad things about me, then they believed I was bad; if they believed I was a bad person, then it must be true that I am a bad person; if it is true that I am a bad person, then I must believe that I am a bad person.  So, if anyone indicated that they thought badly about me, I believed them.  This was the way my mind worked for 38 years.

The challenge was, did I want to go back to that way of thinking, or did I want to continue the work I had been doing and reclaim the progress I had made in the two years following my decision to speak out?

I had worked far too hard, and experienced way too much pain, to go back now.

This meant I had to analyse the way I processed things in my mind.  I had to ask myself, “Am I a bad person just because someone thinks or says that I am?”

The answer is a resounding, “NO!”

What other people think is just their opinion.  Just because they, or I, think something does not make it true.

The next step was to ask myself if I, taking away all of the opinions of others, thought I was a bad person?

No, I don’t.

I am generous, honest, loyal, trustworthy, open, friendly, loving… and a whole heap of other adjectives.  I say what I mean, and do what I say.  What you see is what you get.  I don’t say this to one person and that to someone else.  I don’t judge people by what they have or don’t have, do or don’t do, or any of their personal preferences.  I call a spade a spade, but I am also able to be tactful and understanding.

(Gosh, do you know how hard that would have been to say or write not that long ago?  I have come a long way!).

Anyway, my long-winded point is this – it does not matter what any one else thinks or says about you.  It is their opinion.  It is only your opinion of yourself that matters.

What the opinion of others is good for, however, is as an aid to identifying those parts of you that are not truly you, that you have taken on from someone else.

How do you know if something is truly you or not?  Sit with for a while and it will either feel comfortable or uncomfortable – it will either fit with your values or it will irritate and itch and not feel ‘right’.

It is in this way, that people who do not like us, who hurt us, lie to us etc., can teach us the most wonderful things about ourselves and our purpose in life.  So, just like the meme posted by my friend on Facebook, be grateful to those people for the lessons they lead us to, and in doing so, such people and their actions can no longer have a negative impact on your life.

 

 

Why Lie?

Why lie?

Why lie?

Dear Ms Bréagadóir,

You stood there, looked me in the eye, showing concern, and that you cared. Surrounded, as we were, by hypocrites, I took your consideration at face value, because I had seen no involuntary withdrawal, nothing at all to indicate you were anything other than genuine.

In the following weeks, I discovered you were, in fact, being false, accumulating ammunition, and lying your scrawny freaking arse off!

I have no idea why you felt the need to lie.  It would have been so much better if you had been honest, and told me you didn’t want to speak to me.  So many people there that day wanted nothing to do with me, and I was okay with that. They made it very clear that I was so much less than pond scum, and it was their right to do so.  Apparently, you also felt that way, so why pretend?  Why stand there and tell lies?  Why betray me and add more pain to the hurt I was already burdened with?

To say I am disappointed is a mighty understatement.

So, you don’t believe me?  Who cares?  Ninety-nine point nine percent of everyone who was around us in that moment don’t believe me either.  My respect for them, however, is in tact.  Why?  Because they did not lie.  They did not pretend to have any concern or consideration for me, or my feelings, at all. They were up-front and honest – they don’t like me, they don’t believe me, and most of them even hate me.  So?  They are entitled to their opinion.

You, however, stood right in front of me and expressed disgust at the actions being described to you.  You blatantly lied about your knowledge, and that of others.  You told me we should keep in touch.  You hugged me.  You expressed concern.  You reminisced about the ‘good old days’ and things I had done for you, and that we had done together, in the past.

All the while, I now know, you were being fraudulent.  Everyone, I have been told, knew everything there was to know about what was going on – from one person’s perspective, at least – and they had also spent many an hour discussing the situation and bad-mouthing me and those who support me.  You, I now know, participated in those conversations, and many that have been had since that day.  Your thoughts and feelings of the situation were in total opposition to mine, and yet you deliberately set out to make me think otherwise.

Did you find it funny? Was it ‘good value’ from a practical joke point of view? Did you get plenty of mileage from the ‘hilarity’ of deceiving me?

How lucky for you that you weren’t the one molested and raped.  Imagine what it would have been like if you had been.  Have you ever wondered, what if it is true?  Have you ever considered what it might be like for someone to experience that?

Your mother asked me once if I would ever take any action.  At the time of the conversation, I said I didn’t think so.  I told her I believed he would have to account for his actions to someone other than me – my meaning was to God, or some other Higher Power.

Now I wonder how you will account for your actions.  What will you say when it is time for you to atone for your life on earth?  How will you excuse your duplicity?  What reasons will you provide?

I wish you well when the time comes.

Regards,

Fírinne

Peer support through blogging

Peer Support

Peer Support

One of my reasons for returning to study is that I would like to set up an organisation whose sole purpose is peer support for adults (both women and men) who experienced abuse as a child.

After making the decision to take action instead of remaining silent, I sought answers to all the questions I had about going through the legal process, as well as general questions relating to whether I was ‘normal’.  I wanted to know, for instance, what happened during the legal process, how I could help ensure the safety of my step-mother, how I could help ensure the safety of others at risk from my father, how do you write a victim impact statement, how do I keep functioning when all I want to do is fall into oblivion…

First I approached one of the most prominent organisations in Queensland for victims of child sexual abuse.  Their reply was, “I’m so sorry to hear about what you have been through, and particularly what has happened for you and your family recently. Breaking the silence about child sexual assault is very difficult for victims and dealing with the impacts of this takes a lot of courage…” which sounded promising, but they then went on to advise they were unable to assist me, and had I heard of this other organisation that was based interstate.

On contacting the said interstate organisation, I was again advised, “sorry, we can’t help you.”

I was blessed to have one of the most amazing human beings, in the form of a detective, looking after my case, and following his suggestion, I contacted an organisation that supports victims of crime.  I received a number of fact sheets in the mail that contained all the information I was already aware of, and no specific information that could help me find the answers I was looking for.

I felt totally alone.

Yet again it seemed as though I was going to have to fight hard to get through the living hell I was experiencing, and to do it under my own steam and initiative.  I was so tired of fighting.

I was extremely lucky to have a circle of family and friends that supported me, but there was only so much they could do.  Unfortunately, they were as much in the dark about what was happening and what was coming my way as I was.  I knew no-one who had already ‘been there’ to help guide me and keep me in touch with my sanity.

At my lowest point, my partner quite strongly advised I should call Lifeline.  Very reluctantly, I did.

For an hour there was a person, a total stranger, at the other end of the phone, trying to help me hang on to the small thread of strength inside me that wanted to live.

The degree of difficulty in telling my story, yet again, to a total stranger, can not be described in words – it is something you have to experience to really understand.  However, I am so glad that I managed it, and I am ever so grateful to that person who did not judge me, who did not tell me I was stupid for wanting to die, and who helped me onto the path of understanding just how much I really wanted to live.

Within hours of that conversation, I received a call from a family member who was having severe difficulties of their own.  My immediate reaction was to go to their aid.  My partner was concerned about me doing so, given that only hours before he had taken me to the hospital in a suicidal state.

What I came to understand, however, was that helping other people also helped me.  Listening to their perspective helped me see my problems from a different point of view.  Understanding how they were impacted by the environment I grew up in allowed me to start putting the pieces of me back together.

From this small beginning, I became determined that one day I would create an organisation that would not turn people away if they needed someone to talk to.  A safe place in which people could share their stories and help each other help themselves.  Somewhere people could contact others who had similar experiences that could shed some light on how you get through it – can you really get out of the darkness?

This organisation is still my dream.  Every day I am working towards it.

What I am finding, however, is that there is already an amazing peer support circle in existence – it can be found through blogging!

There are some incredibly courageous souls out there who are breaking the silence and sharing their experiences in online blogs.  Some are just starting the healing journey, some are in the deepest depths of darkness, and others are emerging on the other side of ‘hell’ and finding there really is light in the world after all.

The stories that I read, the people I converse with, and the information I am gathering has been amazing.  Strong, brave, men and women, are already out there, selflessly and unconsciously providing peer support for others.

You are all my unsung heroes, and I salute you!  Please keep writing, no matter how alone you feel, because I assure you, you are not alone, and the things that you write about are, and have been, experienced by others.  Your blogs not only help break the silence, they provide hope for others along the way.

Becoming whole by finding all the pieces

Pieces of me

Pieces of me

One of the difficulties we have in ‘becoming whole’ is that others hold pieces of our story.

As children, we do not have the capacity to understand the full context in which our abuse occurs.  As we get older, and start to question who and what we are, we sometimes feel we are not ‘whole’ – that we are not normal, and there are parts of us missing.

It was not until I wanted to heal, (as opposed to just trying to get through each day), that I discovered other people often held the key to real understanding.

Over the years, I had received snippets of information from relatives, friends of my parents, people who were children when I was, but I had never consciously put these pieces into the jig-saw that was my life as a child.  It was only when I had made a conscious decision to become ‘whole’ that these pieces of ‘me’ fell into place.

My perspective was that of a child.  The perspective of others was the background and context.

Going through the darkest years, at times it really did feel like someone had upended a box of jig-saw pieces, scattering them everywhere.  For quite a while I did not have the energy or the inclination to sift through them and start putting the pieces together.

Once I started, however, I noticed subtle changes in me even after placing only a few pieces.  Suddenly things were starting to make sense.  Things like why my family was the way it was, how others could not see the monster I could see, why my cries for help went unnoticed, and why I always felt so confused and angry.  All of this understanding relied on the information others had given me.

No longer was I trying to make sense of my life purely from a child’s perspective, with a child’s limited understanding.

Although that statement might, at first, seem strange, the truth is, I was trying to comprehend what had happened, but the only knowledge of it I had was through the eyes of a child.  Even as an adult, the only experience of it I knew was my own.  Because I was a child living through it, I did not have all the details, all of the context, or all of the broader understanding that comes with age.

The years of painstakingly seeking out, and sorting through, all of the pieces of the puzzle were hard (a HUGE understatement), but I did, eventually, get through it.

Actively seeking the pieces of me held by other people, left me open to hurt, embarrassment, and shame.  At times it felt as though I was once again a child experiencing abuse – and in a sense I was.  I found I had to revisit what had happened to me time and time and time again to make sense of the new information – to see what was happening through the eyes of the person supplying this ‘new’ information.

There are still pieces that are missing.  There are still things I can’t make sense of.  There are still questions I need answered.

The difference now, however, is that the hardest work has been done, and new pieces of information no longer push me to the brink of oblivion.

A large percentage of the puzzle is together.  There is now room on the table for the rest of the pieces to lie separate from each other, instead of piled in a heap with no breathing room.  I already have a good sense of the background and context, so the correct placement of the new pieces occurs more quickly than before, and I don’t need to revisit and relive what happened in order to make sense of it all (well, not as much anyway).

These days, I can function reasonably similarly to a ‘normal’ person.  I can look at the sky and enjoy it’s blueness and not be triggered by it.  I can smile.  I can laugh, and really mean it.  I can do most of the things I want to without feeling like I need to have someone else’s permission.

Yes, there is still work to be done, but it is no longer vital to my survival like it used to be.  There is no longer real risk of harm to myself if I can’t get the pieces together.  There is enough of the puzzle completed to be able to stand back and see the bigger picture.

Who holds the pieces of you?

Acknowledging the pain of others

Growing through pain

Growing through pain

People like me, who write about their experiences of child sexual abuse, do not intentionally set out to cause other people pain.  Unfortunately, however, we do.

When we are lucky enough to have people in our lives who are supportive, and willing to try to understand the impact of what we have lived through, it is sometimes difficult to balance the work of creating awareness and the desire not to hurt those we care about and who care about us.

Some may call us insensitive, or selfish, in our desire/need to speak out.  Personally, I am not insensitive to the pain I cause.  I know it is there.  It hurts me to know it is the result of my actions.  However, I do not deliberately set out to hurt people.

Why do I write?

I write because I have to write.  Writing is something I have done for most of my life, although until 2010, all of my writing was in secret.  During the darkest period of healing, from 2011 until recently, I tried to keep my writing hidden and yet still raise awareness of the long-term impacts of child-sexual abuse.  I did this because I know what I write can cause pain to people close to me.

Why did I have to ‘come out’?

Trying to write as someone else, using a fake name, and fake persona, really starts messing with your head.  Particularly when you have spent two and a half solid years smashing down the barriers and vowing to break the silence.  I found myself questioning my ethics and my values.  There I was, telling all and sundry about how important it was to speak out, but hiding my true identity.  I started to feel like I used to – that I had to have a face that I showed the world, and another that had to be hidden at all costs.  There was no integrity in that.

If I wanted to be true to me, and put my money where my mouth was, so to speak, I had to make a decision to either back off and remain silent, or be truly open and honest.

Honesty won.

The flip-side of this, of course, is now those close to me are confronted with my writing on a day-to-day basis.  The end result is pain.

Why do I have to write about child sexual abuse?

There are a couple of reasons for this – first, I write what I know.  It is so much easier for me to write from experience than to write from imagination.  Tied in with this, is the healing writing brings for me.  Yes, even my short stories are generally dark, but usually it is because something inside me needs to be fixed and it just appears on the page in front of me.

Second, I write about child sexual abuse to raise awareness – not that child sexual abuse happens, but that the impacts of repeated trauma as a child never go away – they do lessen in strength, but they NEVER go away.

Third, I write about child sexual abuse because I know that while I sit here, in my comfy chair, in a warm and cosy house, with all of my basic needs met, there are children being sexually abused, beaten, neglected, sold into prostitution, and having all sorts of other horrendous things done to them at this very moment.  I cannot sit here in silence.  Awareness needs to be raised.  Something needs to be done, and all I can do at this point in time is write.

Children are so very precious.

I am sorry for the pain I cause.  I am sorry that the things I write also brings back bad memories for you.  However, to those close to me, there are some  things I would like to say:

  • You are not responsible for what happened to me.  The person who abused me – the person that could have chosen not to abuse me – is no longer with us, but it is important to understand that the responsibility for what happened was his, and his alone.  The rest of us have been involuntarily caught up in the consequences of his behaviour.  Do not blame yourself.
  • I am well.  I know the last few years have seen me crash to the deepest depths, but right here, right now, today, I am well, and I have been for some months now.
  • Just because I write about what happened to me does not mean it is the only thing I think about – it no longer consumes me the way that it did.
  • The past cannot be changed – it is what it is.  All we can do is enjoy the here and now, and have hope for the future.  My way of doing that is by sharing my experiences.  You never know, someone else might find them useful.

I am truly grateful for the support I have around me.  Knowing that I hurt them is not a nice feeling.  If I could wave a magic want to erase it, I would.  For now, all I can do is love the people around me and support them as they have supported me.

My heartfelt thanks to the ‘inner circle’ who have seen me at my worst and are hanging in there to see me at my best.  I love you all from the bottom of my heart.