I was asked a short time ago to contemplate speaking to a group about my personal experience of poly-victimization as a child and re-victimization as an adult. The asker is a close friend both my husband and I, and so I did not initially hesitate when I said yes.
Then I said, “I’ll think about it.”
Speaking is SO different from writing. In the writing, I can titrate my emotion, I can take my time to find the words to fit the fractures, I can pour out my pain privately on a page and edit the messy bits, the crumpled face, the outrage, the ugly crying— they stay between me and the page. Sure it leaks out, but in a way that I can control. I like control.
A few precious souls have requested a transcript of the talk. I have thought about it and finally decided that something sacred would be lost in taking three dimensional, orally communicated atrocities — only to deflate them on the two dimensional page.
Having settled in to the haven of home once again I have accumulated words to describe our trip to Boston. A few fragments leaked out yesterday while I made the hummus and cooked the curry; some more bubbled up in the word soup of my mind as I woke from slumber.
I had told my listeners that it was Mark Twain who aptly said that it takes more three weeks to prepare an impromptu speech. I still believe he was onto something. It took all of three weeks to prepare the speech that I would not be giving to them that evening.
In the speech that I was going to give to them, I remained in my head as academic (it’s the safest place to be) I skimmed my heart, and I really skirted the reality of child and clergy abuse.
I wanted them to know what I have always been trying to prove — that I am more than where I came from, I am more than what happened to me.
I had to settle on the reality that I am a person to whom things happened.
I wanted them to know all the things I wish I had known, the things that have cost me so dearly. I wanted them to know for instance that 93% of offenders self-profess to be religious or very religious that religious offenders have the most and the youngest victims —meanwhile they have committed of the most of heinous crimes.
In the speech they didn’t hear, I explained that it is possible for a cleric to offend sexually without financially abusing. Likewise, it is possible for a cleric to offend financially without offending sexually. It is however not possible for clerics to offend sexually or financially without spiritually abusing their victim.
I decided to tell them that I have had the misfortune of experiencing all three.
I wanted to tell them that Shupe called clergy abuse “the unpleasant underbelly of organized religion.”
I settled instead on sharing with them the view from the underbelly.
I shared that we may not be aware that elite deviants are safest in faith communities, but they sure are — that they spend years cultivating a double life thats impervious to external investigation. I also submitted to them that we are really good at detecting when someone is telling the truth — that we are no better than chance at detecting a liar.
I shared with them some salient memories of the slaughter that was. To told them of the truncating trauma… How I made the grave mistake of thinking that while my natural father was a predator, that surely there could be a father figure in the faith community that could love me like a daughter.
I watched the fatherly hearts of an aging rabbi, an elderly ethicist, and an older cleric fracture, when I shared how I was repeatedly re-victimized as an adult, when recovery from a despairing daughterhood was what I required. I watched as the face of a retired reporter from the Boston Spotlight team fell like an unbaked cake removed from the oven too soon. I knew — he knew.
I told them that of late I have been reading the book Blind to Betrayal by Jennifer Fryed:
“For speaking truth to be healing, it must be heard… whatever else we may be saying, each time we address another, we are beseeching them, listen to me, please listen to me. Our very lives depend on that listening. This plea is not one of the things that we utter in our speech, it is what we utter with the whole of our speech. We never speak, except to be heard. When we are not heard, we have not truly spoken and when we cannot speak, we have increasingly less to say, therefore, less to ask for and the lights of our being steadily darken.”
That night was the first time in a public, face to face platform that I had ever spoken my own unspeakable. That while it is easy for me to speak passionately and powerfully for and about others, I would never willingly speak of my own personal life on this or any other public platform, had circumstances not required it.
I told the listener, that I do not covet a platform, I covet privacy. Since being repeatedly re-victimized in adulthood, privacy is a commodity that I and my husband have lost in such a catastrophic, publicly humiliating, and disempowering way.
He was there that night, as an act of solidarity. As my spouse he has suffered in a way that few may ever understand. He was one of the many heroes in the room.
The silent pressure pipe of pain cracked by speaking; the sorrow sopped up by the sponge of listening and as I spoke, I looked for listening eyes to meet. There were many.
There were a few etched faces that fell with each stanza of sorrow — reflecting their even more deeply etched hearts. Unabashed, heroic faces crumpled in public for me, for us, for our private hell, for what was, and for what should have been. They were crushed for us; emitting a balm of empathy that entered in; a salve that sealed and soothed the sorrow for us both.
So to reiterate would ruin the intimacy, the beauty of not only speaking, but being heard in such a wholly (holy) and complete way. As I closed, I borrowed the aforementioned words from Fryed…
I beseeched them,
“… listen to me, please listen to me. My very life depends on that listening. This plea is not one of the things that I uttered in my speech, it is what I uttered with the whole of my speech. I never speak, except to be heard. When I am not heard, I have not truly spoken and when I cannot speak, I have increasingly less to say, therefore, less to ask for and the lights of my being steadily darken.”
They were luminescent listeners that evening, lights around the tables, and a lighted city on a hill. I suspect they will be every day hence.