SURVIVING SPIRITUAL ABUSE AND THRIVING SPIRITUALLY NOW
I am a survivor of spiritual abuse as well as a life coach for other spiritual abuse survivors. Spiritual abuse has many definitions. Religious abuse falls under spiritual abuse, in my mind. I do not know if all spiritual abuse is religious. Semantics can be a way to get lost and avoid the real issues. I shall avoid that pitfall by voicing my thoughts and sharing my past.
Individuals have asked me why I am still a Catholic or if I am still a Catholic. Others wonder why I wander from one type of church or spiritual experience to another. I seek an even deeper relationship with God. That is a given.
I was born and raised a Catholic; and, I attended Catholic schools through high school. As I was human trafficked to two Catholic priests (as well as to others) during my childhood, religious and spiritual confusion entered my life at an early age. Of course, I was too young to realize that religious and spiritual abuse was occurring. I was trying to be a good, little, Catholic girl. To grow up in a household of abuse from an early age made me judge myself as bad, never good enough, and left me striving for perfection in all activities in my life. Of course, no one is perfect; and, the stress of never reaching perfection had dire consequences.
Attending Catholic schools had positives and negatives. On the positive side, I received an excellent education preparing me for college and life. The clergy abuse which was sexual and spiritual/religious in nature began when I was a young child. To be told by a priest to do it (sexual acts) as a servant of God’s causes much confusion in a victim. My days at grammar school contained much fear. The pastor was the ultimate disciplinarian in Catholic parishes at this time. I tried to be as invisible as I could be. There was no way I would cause trouble of any type.
My Catholic high school experience was mainly good. Sisters of Providence were mostly my teachers. Mother Theodore Guerin High School in the early 1970’s contained a breath of fresh air. Vatican II and its recommendations were being allowed. I have positive memories … learning of other world religions … being taught to value myself (although I could not see my own worth at that point in time) … At least when I was attending high school, I felt safe. Returning home was something I dreaded each and every day.
I attended a state university in Chicago as a commuter student. During the years of college, I took psychology, sociology, and many philosophy classes. I was trying to figure out who I was, what I believed, and what else was out there in the world. I worked at the university in an office that contained adults who believed in Judaism. My world of thoughts regarding religion, philosophy, and spirituality was beginning to enlarge.
Early on as a college student, I became involved in the Catholic Student Center (Newman Center). Mostly that was a good experience until I met my husband-to-be, Tom M., there in 1977. He was not a student at the university; but, he was meeting a high school friend who attended the Newman Center. After my involvement with Tom M. became serious, I eventually left college to live with him in California. During that move, my religious activity became nil. As the reality of life with Tom M. hit me (domestic violence and more), I recognized that this Prince Charming of mine was not Prince Charming. I turned away from God to a great extent. I left God. As far as Catholicism, during the next 15 or so years until Megan was born in 1994, I attended a few Masses and a few funerals. None of the church services I attended resonated with me or noticeably touched my heart. To a large extent, my emotion state was numb. The person I had become was more and more robot-like.
Once Megan was born, the urge to become closer to God and to return to a church appeared. I thought about other churches besides Catholic ones; but, it was Catholicism that resonated with me. A few years later, Tom M. and I both returned to the Catholic Church. Inside I sense that I was seeking a way out of my life with Tom M. I was trying to find a way to protect my daughter from the damaging atmosphere in the household. (This was unconscious for I was still in denial of the abuse in my daily life.)
Fast forward to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s – Tom M., my daughter, and I moved to Germany. That is when the ritual abuse Tom M. and others were perpetrating against me (and Megan) became worse. Ritual abuse —- extreme abuse — spiritual abuse. Tom M. and the other perpetrators used the Catholic Mass as a stage to produce the physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual horror and torture.
Catholics believe the bread and wine after consecration are the actual body and blood of Christ. For someone who is not Catholic (including many other Christian denominations believers), this is a hard concept to grasp. Tom M. desecrated the body and blood of Christ and used them in the abuse and torture toward me (which consisted many times of torture-porn which was sold for profit on the Internet). I not only became hurt and damaged physically, mentally, and emotionally; but, I was also in pain spiritually. Tom M. was not worshipping the devil or Satan as in many black masses. Tom M. believed and acted as though he was God. He thought he should be worshipped as God.
There is no need for me to write of details of the abuse and reenactments (with many differences) of the Catholic Mass. Those details have been shared elsewhere. What matters here are the aftermath, the PTSD symptoms, and the consequences of this spiritual abuse.
The strange fact is that my faith, my belief in a Higher Power, God, Jesus, during that time period of the ritual abuse (in Germany) became stronger. It was almost as though the more Tom M. and his cult partners-in-crime tried to break me spiritually, the stronger I became spiritually.
For me, I healed from the spiritual abuse by staying within the Catholic Church. At the time that I was in therapy and revealing my past to Fr. Marcantonio, (Catholic priest, pastoral counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist in Virginia). I was a part of a very healing, loving, non-judgmental Catholic Community at Landstuhl. This community led by Fr. Marc did not know many details of what was occurring with me. They just supported me through prayers and actions. Megan was welcome into many families’ homes especially when I went to work. My heart fills with love and gratitude for the generosity of these loving people who put Jesus’ values into action.
I was still in the abusive relationship with Tom M. during the initial part of this healing process. When Tom M. and I did separate in late 2003, Megan was in my custody. As she began to feel safe, Megan started to tell of the abuse that was perpetrated upon herself by her father, Tom M., as well as others. Besides dealing with the German court system (regarding custody) and the American military system (which was in charge of investigating the abuse), I was also dealing with PTSD and triggers.
The Catholic Mass contained many triggers. I look back with amazement that I was able to be in a church, experience flashes of the ritual abuse (extreme abuse and torture), sometimes leave the church after Communion; and, yet stay a Catholic at that point in time. For years, when I attended a Catholic Mass or any religious service, I purposely sat at the end of a pew. I wanted to be able to leave when I choose. I also exercised my freedom to not attend Mass. I know of no one from that Catholic community who judged me. Having the choice to attend Mass or not empowered me.
Maybe it was plain determination – I wasn’t going to allow Tom M. or any other of the abusers including Fr. Kevin R. to take away my religion. If I was going to walk away from the Catholic Church, it was going to be because I decided to do so … not due to PTSD or my ritual abuse history. In my past, I have known (and still do know) many Catholics who are deeply spiritual and put the gospel values into action. I, somehow, chose not to condemn all Catholics or all Catholic priests or all religious people because of the experiences of the abuse I suffered.
Becoming a protective parent to protect Megan from her father and the abusers, which I successfully did for 16 months by returning to the United States with her and hiding our location, challenged my faith in God. When my daughter, Megan, and I were unjustly separated due to the court systems and other institutions, I somehow still had a relationship with God. I was angry. I was very angry with God. All the questions – Why? How could God let evil exist? How could this have happened? Why is life so unfair? Where is justice? Oh, my Job-like questions were constant. The despair I felt was deep and intense. The PAIN and the PROFOUND SADNESS were almost unbearable. The suicidal brainwashing that Tom M. instilled within my mind was strong at that time. Not only did I read the Book of Job in the Bible; but, I read books written about Job. I also read books of any religions or faiths to try to find answers to these unanswerable questions.
During this time though, I did not walk away from God. I faced God with rage, with tears, with despair, and with deep, profound sadness. Fortunately I had refuge at a convent (for mostly retired Sisters of Providence) for a few years. These sisters cloaked me in prayers. I know that. There were also prayers of Fr. Marc, many from the original Landstuhl Catholic Community, friends I had met in WA State and others. Not all these people were Catholic. It did not matter. Prayers from others, positive thoughts from others, energy sent from others … that helped me tremendously. Knowing that other people were praying for me when I could not pray (except for Megan and others) was a huge gift.
No matter what faith or religion someone is or is not, I believe in the power of prayer and the power of sending Light and Love to others.
Eventually I once again made a life for myself — this time alone, without Megan. Of course, Megan has been and always is in my mind and heart. During the past several years, I have wandered spiritually as well as religiously.
On this spiritual journey, I have explored Buddhism and other Eastern paths. I find them enlightening. The world is filled with ways to be close to God, Divine Love, the Universe, Jesus, a Higher Power, Love, Energy …
I have attended a few services at other Christian churches besides Catholicism. I attend the Catholic Mass sometimes. Once in a while, you will find me at a Society of Friends’ Meeting (Quaker). I am intrigued by Sufism for much of it resonates within me. The Shambhala Center occasionally offers me a quiet, safe haven. In fact, it was the method of meditation that the Shambhala Center introduced me to (especially keeping your eyes open) that enabled me to relax enough to meditate. (Tom M.’s method of brainwashing/mind control was too similar to meditation and entering a hypnotic state.) Eventually I was able to pray, meditate, and contemplate with my eye closed (which is my preferred method). Being a part of a spiritual community is important to me. Unfortunately, I am without one at the moment.
Two questions that interest me are why each of us is on the path that we are and what occurs after we die. Many Christians believe in “heaven”. Many Buddhists believe in reincarnation. In Christian traditions, we are put in our lives here by God. In some Eastern beliefs, the soul (the individual soul) chooses to be put on a certain path on earth. A soul may choose a difficult path to move forward on its journey to enlightenment.
Bodhisattvas chose to stay on earth to help others attain enlightenment. Their great compassion for others is chosen over their own entrance to paradise for the time being. Kwan Yin is a respected Bodhisattva of compassion. When I heard of her, the description to a large extent reminded me of the Blessed Mother Mary (of the Catholic tradition). The Blessed Mother was and still is a special saint to me … one whom I prayed to regularly. Kwan Yin resonates within my heart also. I believe my faith and my devotion to the Blessed Mother helped me to survive my childhood. I think it is so interesting how different faiths have various ways to reach out to spiritual guides. Religions can define these guides differently and/or signify how we “should” reach out to saints or guides. Yet, the bottom line is that reaching out to spiritual guides and saints have helped human beings for centuries. We are not alone in this Universe.
No matter what our beliefs, the majority of us face PAIN. Working through our pain – individually and collectively – frees us and sometimes brings wisdom.
“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Many faith authors and philosophers write regarding joy and sorrow.
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
That sentiment is repeated in different words by many writers. I believe that deep, intense sorrow can increase the intensity and amount of joy you can contain within your heart. Great PAIN and SORROW have been in my heart. Joy and peace of great depth and intensity will also travel through my heart. Peace is almost constantly within me; and, I am so grateful! Sorrow and joy flows like a stream through my heart … sometimes separately and sometimes together … This stream carves the ability to accept and receive love – human and Divine Love – and to give love. I see Love as a current, a current that flows through all of us, through nature, through the universe. To “sit and trust in Divine Love” (God to me) can be a great challenge and is also a great gift.
The fact that joy can bring tears to my eyes is fine with me. It highlights the depth and intensity of that joy. Life is a mixture ….
My spiritual journey cannot be shared in one blog post. These are my thoughts today …
What are your thoughts on spirituality? Where does your heart lie?
If you ever are in need of or desire a spiritual life coach, feel free to contact me.
I am filled with gratitude for this journey of mine. When Megan and I were together, we used to go into churches and light candles. Those memories are precious and so very dear to me. I still go into churches; and, my heart quickens and is gladden when I see candles to light! Peace, deep peace, enters my heart as I light a candle with someone in mind. Light … Hope … Love …
I have a closer and deeper relationship to God than I ever thought possible. Spiritual guidance from a few people I trust helped me to enlarge and deepen my faith. I did not travel this journey alone. My faith is stronger than it has ever been.
I wish you joy. I wish you peace. I wish you moments to sit … with emptiness, with bliss, with Divine Love, or with whatever is needed for you on your path at this present moment.
P.S. The Book of Job ends well. “The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.” (Job 42.12) What also inspires me is that Job chose to give an inheritance to his daughters as well as to his sons.