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Survivors' Voices: What Has Helped Me Heal
This month, I asked the In Spirit and Truth Survivor Voices Panel to respond to this question: What is one thing that you have found helpful in your healing journey?
It has been a beautiful experience for me, reading about the varying paths that have been taken by each individual in their journey toward wholeness, strength, and peace. I hope this post is helpful to other survivors searching for healing, as well as those who love them.
I am sharing the first half of responses below. You can find the rest of the responses in What Has Helped Me Heal, Part 2.
If you have experienced sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I would be honored to include your perspective in this “Survivors’ Voices” series. You can find more information and express your interest here.
What is one thing that you have found helpful in your healing journey?
I think the most helpful thing for me has been being able to share my story with other victims and hear their stories. I got so much affirmation in seeing how many similarities there were between their stories and mine. I also found reading books on clerical sexual abuse and spiritual abuse very helpful, but also triggering. I have really needed to know that we CAN get through this, and that healing will come, in time.
For my personal healing, I found therapy to be absolutely vital.
One of the things I found helpful in healing from being raped by a priest is slowly getting to know a few good and holy priests and sharing my story with them. It was really healing for me to see those in the priesthood who would get angry for me and be compassionate. This went a long way in healing my relationship with the Church.
Friends who listen and are willing to wrestle with stuff with me. I have a couple friends who haven't been through abuse but are still willing to listen and talk to me about what I'm struggling with. I’ve learned that this is rare; most people give me a deer-in-headlights stare, awkwardly say "I'm sorry," and then change the subject as quickly as possible.
A local prayer ministry. Their prayers and love kept me grounded in the midst of the tsunami of the reporting process. The game-playing, cruelty, and beatdown by the diocese was devastating. The ongoing harassment to silence me was pure torture. When I showed up sobbing and sat there sobbing, this prayer ministry took me in as I was. They sat with me in my pain.
My primary act of recovery as I continue to heal from my wounds of childhood sexual abuse was telling my wife my story. Initially, I thought she would think differently of me as her husband and father to our children. She responded to me with compassion, love and understanding. For me, healing started at home.
Telling the pastor of our parish was my second act of recovery which has been helpful to my healing journey. I was anxious about sharing my story because I thought he might think I had a problem with him or was questioning his good ministry or his good character. He listened to me, and he heard the depth of my sadness and pain.
Grief to Grace Ministry and its healing retreat for sexual abuse survivors. It got me started in therapy and helped me discover where God was in the midst of the storm.
I know opinions about EMDR therapy vary, but it's honestly the only thing that ever helped my PTSD symptoms after nearly a decade of trying different things. I'm grateful to the clerical sexual abuse survivor I met around the time of my own assault, who saved me a lot of grief and struggle by telling me: "Don't go to the church for help. Go to therapy, and your community, and maybe the police. But not the church."
Sharing the story of my abuse. In 40+ years I had only mentioned it to four people. Sharing the story has lifted the shame and fear of people finding out what was done to me.
What has been most helpful to me in my healing journey has been the immediate and continued support of priests in the positions of authority in the chancery office of my diocese. If I had received different treatment from these men in the chancery when I came forward, it’s doubtful I would be alive, much less been able to remain in the Catholic Church. Being treated with care and concern throughout the reporting process by representatives of the church was definitely the foundation of my healing which God has continued to build upon. The second most impactful part of my healing has been meeting and talking with other survivors.
Mother Nature. I couldn't speak of the atrocities to any human for nearly four decades. When among the trees, in the garden, breathing sunshine, hiking cliff banks, paddling deep water, wandering cedar swamps, and held in the stillness of the air, I was, and still am, loved, cared for, part of, included, nurtured, teachable, humbled, free, whole, and restored.
One thing that has been helpful in my healing journey, sadly - and paradoxically - is coming to understand that my archdiocese will NEVER help me. That eventually freed me to look for help in unexpected places and to take ownership of my recovery, to save myself.
The love and support of my family. Every one of them understands, as far as one can without actually being a survivor. In order to receive family support, that meant I had to tell someone the secret.
Empathy and patience from those within the Church who have allowed me the freedom to heal at my own pace and without a hidden agenda. People who have stayed with me in the midst of mind-blowing rage, gut-wrenching sadness, suicidal ideation, and overwhelming despair/hopelessness - and didn’t try to rush me through the process of those painful emotions which are a normal and healthy part of the healing process.
The most helpful thing is knowing that I'm not alone. Having support groups (even/especially virtual groups during COVID) has given me a place where I don't have to defend myself or worry that I'm the one at fault.
I am grateful to the women and men who chose to share their experiences in this way, and I look forward to offering you more wisdom from the Survivor Voices Panel soon. ( You can find What Has Helped Me Heal, Part 2 here.)
Please join me in praying for healing for all victims of sexual abuse, and consider sharing this post as a gesture of your concern and support.