Five years ago, inspired by my friend T, I conducted a year-end review of my life. What had I learned in 2010? What had I accomplished? How had I spent my time? The lessons I learned that year were dark: people are irrationally loyal to institutions, friends will desert you in a heartbeat, and the church doesn’t care two cents about its victims. But my accomplishments were huge and full of light: I reported an abusive minister, committed to a course of treatment for anorexia and PTSD, joined a healthy new church, and began to learn to trust again. Seeing my progress on the printed page, I was so encouraged that I decided to make it an annual tradition.
In 2011’s review, I created a special “healing” category to track my steps toward wholeness. That year, I attended a survivors’ workshop by The Hope of Survivors, reached a settlement with my former church, and began connecting with nationwide leaders on this issue. I traced my steps toward healing in 2012 (told my former minister’s new bishop about his record of abuse), 2013 (started this blog), and 2014 (stood up to a threat from my former bishop).
This year, I decided to drop the “healing” category from my review. Although I will never be the person I was before the abuse, I feel I’ve grown fully into my new self. And this year, clergy sexual abuse was not the biggest hole in the fabric of my universe. In February, I wrote about separating from my husband. This year, most of my energy went into the questions “How can I save my marriage?”, “Can I save my marriage?,” and finally “How can I end it in a way that gives as little pain to my family as possible?”
My husband and I are now in the process of divorce.
But here’s the good news: we’re getting along better than we have in years. We’re working in harmony as we divide our assets. We’re making the needs of our children (two grown, one teen) our top priority. As much as we can, we’re protecting our family traditions: I’m posting these words from the mountain cabin where we’ve gathered to celebrate Christmas. Both of us are developing stronger relationships with our children, with our own families and with each other’s. In short — paradoxically — divorce seems to be pulling our family together.
Is the failure of my marriage connected with the church abuse? Of course, but I can’t say one thing caused the other. The rifts in my marriage made me vulnerable to ministerial abuse. The resulting trauma may have been the straw that broke the marriage’s back.
I would never willingly repeat the experience of being exploited, silenced, and shunned, but I couldn’t be more grateful for what I learned. If I’d had this kind of clarity, courage, and strength twenty years ago, I might have addressed the holes in my marriage before it was too late. But it’s never too late to put hard-earned lessons to use. With my newfound wisdom — and in cooperation with my husband who is doing his own learning — I am building a good divorce.
What does this mean for my work as a survivor/advocate? I believe God called me to this work, but I now feel that God is calling me to give my whole heart and soul to the task of restructuring my family. It’s my most important job, and it calls for my utmost commitment and effort. Readers may have noticed that this blog has already taken a backseat, but I remain committed to the work. I know this blog is an important resource; new readers find it every day.
To end this post on a note of hope: healing happens. We don’t hurt forever. Pain eventually turns into strength, compassion, and clarity. If we commit with whole hearts to our healing, we can become the best versions of ourselves. As we move into the new year, I lift a prayer that this happens for all survivors.
Update, April 2016. Two months ago, I asked my husband if we could put the divorce on hold. He agreed, I’m back home, and we are deciding whether we can repair our marriage. This happened a few weeks after “Pastor Kevin” (aka Scott Richardson) was defrocked following complaints by three women at his new church, and after Bishop Mathes finally disclosed my complaint to my former church at a congregational meeting. Friends have asked me, did these steps toward justice not only bring healing to me, but to my marriage? It’s possible. If so, it’s one more example of the profound, deep harm the church does when they enable pastoral misconduct and cover up the truth — and of the profound, deep healing that truth and justice can bring.