Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I remember

Trish lived down the hall from me when I was 19 years old and in the dorm at the University of North Texas. She was a dear friend, but though we kept in touch for several years after college, we eventually lost track of one another. I hadn’t heard from Trish for about 30 years when, out of the blue, I got this email the other day:


Since I met you, I have admired you for your courage, intellect, risk-taking and compassion. What you have done in the past few years to openly confront the sexual abuse that you and others have suffered is so powerful! I am so proud of what you have done for yourself and many other victims of clergy abuse.

I will always remember the bravado in your voice (probably due to our over-consumption of homemade Kahlua) and the pain on your face the night we sat on the floor of your Bruce Hall dorm room and you first told me about what you then referred to as ‘your affair.’ I know I was a na├»ve little twit and my jaw fell open, but I was still so shocked and sickened that you blamed yourself and not the married minister and that there was no one who could/would counsel or support you. I ached for you as you described how you felt you were unworthy of love and respect and were so distressed that you had lost your connection to God. Despite all of your academic achievements and global travels, you buried your victimization so deep, but I always felt this abuse was the reason for your despondent and sometimes suicidal phone calls. For years I was haunted by the loneliness that was revealed in those phone calls and prayed that you would never give up hope. That you have taken the damage that has been done to you to help others heal is so inspiring.”

I sat and wept after reading Trish’s email.

I remember that girl – the girl Trish is talking about – the girl who, for years, couldn’t find any meaning for much of anything.

I remember that girl -- the girl whose whole sense of self disintegrated after she was molested, sexually abused and raped by a Southern Baptist minister when she was a 16-year-old church kid. I’m grateful that Trish remembers her, too.

In truth, I have no memory of sitting on the floor in Bruce Hall and telling Trish about “my affair.” But I expect Trish’s memory is more accurate than mine. I was probably totally sloshed.

What I do remember is that, several years after college, Trish had the misfortune of calling me on the phone one night when I had the pills on the counter and was already half-drunk and was trying to get up my gumption to down them. Trish figured out what was going on and she stayed on the phone with me for hours. No telling how things would have turned out if she hadn’t.

I remember only that one suicidal phone call, but again, I don’t doubt that Trish’s memory may be better on this than mine. There were probably other calls.

And then there was the night I finally went through with it . . . and woke up in my own vomit.

I remember that young woman – a young woman whose life should have been full of promise but instead seemed so void of meaning that she saw no reason to continue it.

I remember that young woman – a young woman whose emotions were so deadened that the only thing she felt was disgust at the smell of vomit and anger at her own ineptness.

That’s what clergy sex abuse does to many of its victims.

For people who are raised with faith, faith and meaning become intertwined. The two are often so fused that, when faith gets twisted into a weapon, meaning itself is destroyed.

I was lucky to have a friend like Trish. Many other abuse survivors are not so fortunate.

My youth minister abused me. My music minister silenced me. My childhood church abandoned me. My faith betrayed me.

But my friend Trish was true.

I am profoundly grateful.


Valarie said...

I am also profoundly grateful...for Trish's faithfulness to you and for the powerful impact your life and work has had on so many.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Christa for sharing your friend's letter. I too had friends who sustained me when I was at the bottom looking up.
Aline Frybarger, Survivor of clergy abuse

Unknown said...

I am so grateful that you are willing to share your vulnerability and pain with the world. It is the story that so many survivors of sexual abuse also experience. Putting this pain into words helps a great deal. For many of us all we know is that it hurts. We do not know how to articulate it. The way you put the pain into words is profound. Thank you for articulating what so many of us feel. This helps survivors to know we are not alone and it helps supporters and others come to a better understanding of our pain.
Barbara Blaine, SNAP President, 312 399 4747, snapblaine@gmail.com

Frank said...

Dear Christa,

I'm glad to know that you had friends who were willing to listen in your darkest moments, to help you first to survive, and then to support your advocacy of clergy abuse victims. Thank you also for posting the suicide note from B.Z. on January 9. Tragically his sexual abuse was exposed only after it was too late to save him.

I hope that your work and that of related organizations (SNAP, etc.) will continue to expose those who have tried to hide their crimes under the cloak of religious infallibility. Having read your book "This Little Light" and this blog for the past few months, it's clear that nothing will really change until those who have remained within the churches and other religious organizations demand accountability and openness from their leaders.

Wendy said...

Christa, thank you for sharing Trish's email. What a faithful friend during some of your darkest moments. I'm incredibly grateful that you had her as your confidante and even protector at times. But I couldn't help but think how far-reaching the effects of clergy sex abuse are.

As a college student who didn't even know your minister-abuser, Trish was affected too. Clergy sexual abuse doesn't happen in a vacuum. When you hurt a child in this way, you not only destroy them physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but you affect others too.

As always, thank you for being open and honest and sharing your pain with us. It hurts me to read about that suicidal college girl who blamed herself for the abuse she suffered. I feel so much sadness and grief for her, but I'm proud of you for the journey you've taken. I agree that your life and work and the voice you give to survivors has had a tremendous impact.

Annette said...

Thanks for sharing this, Christa.

The self-blame that victims of clergy sexual abuse suffer is part of what makes this abuse so hideous and destructive. To me this shows how difficult it is, even for the victim, to believe that their pastor, a man of God, is capable of such wrong. It's almost easier to take this burden upon ourselves.

Thank God for friends who hang in there, like Trish did. And I'm glad that the years have brought the full picture together for her.