Survivors' Voices: Words for My Younger Self
Welcome to the first Survivors’ Voices post of 2023. This month’s topic - "Words for My Younger Self” - was inspired by the powerful conversations we had in Awake's Survivor Circles last month, when our discussion centered around a similar theme. I was deeply moved by the words of compassion, encouragement, and wisdom from each person, and I wanted to share some of these insights with you, dear readers.
I am grateful for the panelists who submitted such moving reflections.
Words to myself the year after I put the pieces of what happened together: Hang in there. There will come a day when you go for hours at a time without thinking about what happened and feeling angry and upset about it. And then there will come a time when you go days without thinking about it. It'll always be a part of you in some ways, and you'll still have times where you grieve it all over again, but those times will be bearable. It won't always be the most defining feature of your mind and story. I know the anger and grief is overwhelming right now, and you don't know what to do with those feelings. The answers will come.
I returned to the Basilica of Notre Dame in Quebec, one of the locations of my abuse, in September of 2018. The purpose of that trip was to sit in reflection and "conversation" with "Little Bobby.” This was one of the most powerful actions in my recovery from my abuse. It was simple and meaningful. I apologized for not protecting him, but I am able and willing to be aware of and awake to his needs now, even though it is years later. His response was "I want to leave here. I want to come home.” My answer to Little Bobby was "OK, lets go home." Now each week, through a specific, precise, and clear-cut process, I check in with "Little Bobby" to see how he is doing and if anything in the current moment and experience is in need of attention.
Me today speaking to myself as a 10 year old boy: I'm sorry you thought it was your fault. That's what we need to talk about. Listen to me, because I'm older now. I know what happened to us is not our fault. That should give you some relief. We made a decision to use drugs because we thought that would make everything go away. You know how that turned out. We tried "Let’s just forget about it" and learned that doesn't work. We were in survival mode when we decided to stay silent. What happened to us is not our fault. Let’s talk about living in fear of “him.” First of all, he's dead now. I knew that would cheer you up. The guilt and shame cuts deep, and it never goes away. We were terrorized. We felt helpless and hopeless. This has affected us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We're in this together. Do you want to know how you turned out? You're a suvivor. You turned your life around and discovered your purpose in life.
I think that the complex PTSD I was experiencing as a young person was so complicated that there is not something I could have said to make anything better. I was struggling to survive the only way I knew how, and it made me vulnerable to predators. I have grown exponentially in my personal life as I recover from being groomed and then sexually pursued by my pastor. In retrospect, I think all I could possibly say is, "Keep trying. Things are going to get better. Don't give up."
I couldn't access my younger self until well into healing. Shame and a false sense of guilt kept my younger self and my adult self apart. Neither of us could face ourselves, let alone each other. We thought everything was our fault. When I began to access my younger self, I kept us emotionally separated. It wasn't until I began to feel compassion for her that I could begin to feel compassion for me, my older self. My younger self never needed me to say anything to her, she needed me to listen, to take care of her, and to take action to protect her. She needed me to stand with her when she, inside my forty-five year old body, told what happened. I wasn't strong enough back when I first began sharing my story, and of course everyone saw an adult (me) when she (a seven year old) told her story. These days I am strong enough. She and I are inseparable. We share with no shame and no remorse. She holds most of the wisdom. I listen, protect her, and add language she didn't have access to. We are a team.
Words to my younger self: You are a sweet, innocent little boy filled with kindness and joy. You have a great sense of humor and you've developed good friends. There is a man who will do things to your body which you won't understand. He will say things to you that are untrue. Even though Mom and Dad are friends with this man, he will betray their friendship. This man will go on to cause real disruption and mistrust within our family. He will hurt you, our whole family, and many other children and families, all for his own sexual satisfaction. Since he is held in high regard in the community, and also because Mom and Dad really trusted him, you will be unable to process the sexual nature of the relationship, the family and social implications involved, or your own safety and needs. This will happen when you are 12 years old. It is literally impossible for any child to handle all of this, so you will cope by keeping it all inside. I want you to know that I am so very sorry all of this will happen to you. NONE of this is your fault. You remain the sweet, innocent boy filled with kindness and joy in your heart. Despite these difficulties, because of your strength of character and God's grace, you never give up. You grow up to be resilient, strong, and filled with hope. You have a beautiful wife, healthy children, and a wonderful life filled with many blessings. May God bless you on your journey.
If you have experienced sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I would be grateful to include your own perspectives on this topic. You can find information about joining the Survivors’ Voices Panel here: An Invitation for Survivors.
I will have more perspectives on this topic next week, so please subscribe here if you’re not already signed up.