For the past few months, I’ve been dealing with a huge, difficult family situation. It takes most of my physical and emotional energy. I’ve had almost none for this blog. I feel bad about neglecting the cause, but in a way this is good news. Finally there’s something in my life big enough to take my mind off my old trauma. For several weeks, I haven’t thought about my former priest, bishop, or church at all.
Until a few days ago, that is. For most of last week, mental images of the scene of abuse — my former pastor’s office — kept flashing into my mind. I couldn’t figure out why, until I looked at the calendar. Ah, the power of anniversaries! Our first “pastoral counseling” session happened almost exactly ten years ago. One day after church, “Pastor Kevin” invited me to make an appointment to talk to him. I met him in his office on October 15, 2004. We spent most of the hour talking about spiritual matters; he later told me he loved the fact that I cried. He loved seeing me vulnerable. As we were wrapping up that meeting, he invited me to make another appointment.
And he said, “We’ll have to watch the sexual dynamic.” When I looked startled, he explained: “The man-woman thing.”
It was a red flag big enough to cover a football field. But I was so desperate for hope that I chose to ignore it. I made another appointment, and then another and another. Eventually he made his sexual feelings clear. When I finally got my head clear, I turned him in and left the church. But it was a long process. I didn’t file my complaint until January of 2010.
For women and men still in the grip of abuse, healing can seem like an impossible goal. Just getting free of abuse can seem impossible. I’m sharing my ten-year timeframe for two reasons. One, to acknowledge what a long journey it is. “Pastor Kevin” groomed me for three years before he sprung his trap. It took me two more years to build up the strength and courage to file a complaint. Five years after leaving my church, I can finally call myself healed.
But I’m also sharing my timeline to give hope. Healing from clergy sexual abuse is a long journey, but it does move forward. In my long journey, I could never see even a week ahead but I could always see the next step, and I just kept taking those steps. Ten years after my pastor drew me into his web, I stand free and strong and healed.
I call this post “Ten Years Later.” That’s also the title of a book by Hoda Kotb, published last year by Simon & Schuster. In Ten Years Later, Ms. Kotb profiles six people who faced a series of catastrophic challenges: illness, abuse, grief, addiction, job loss. Ten years later, each of them has forged a bigger and better life from their hard experience. Ten years later, I’ve done that too.
For readers who are still living with abuse: I promise you can do it too. But don’t think ten years ahead just yet. Don’t even think a week ahead. The journey toward freedom happens one step at a time. To get there, just keep doing the next right thing.
For readers who have freed yourselves from abuse: what were some of the most important early steps on your journey? If you’ll share them in the comments, you may encourage and inspire others.