This is the first of seven posts in the Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse series. All posts available here.
I remember exactly how I found out. It was winter in 2010, and I was living in my college dormitory, just over an hour’s drive from my family home. I was in the last semester of my bachelor’s degree, and though I was doing well academically, I was also coming to terms with having depression. My parents had planned to come visit me that weekend, but a surprise snowstorm meant the driving conditions cancelled their visit. They called me on the phone, instead. When my mom began the conversation, “I didn’t want to tell you this over the phone…”, I knew it wasn’t good. A youth worker from my old church youth group had confronted the church leadership: the youth pastor, John, had been abusing the teenagers. I was one of them.
At first I was incredulous. Surely they had gotten it wrong. Surely I would have known if I was abused for seven years. But as my mom continued to explain, I started to reinterpret my past in this terribly dark and twisted light. She was right, and I had had no idea.
I hung up the phone, and walked back to my room, unsure of what to do next. My friend asked me if I was okay. In a hollow, confused voice, I told her I wasn’t, and tried to explain the conversation I had just finished. The next few weeks are somewhat of a blur as I tried to understand what my teenage years really meant.
Shortly after, I found out the church had formed a committee to investigate what had happened. They wanted me to meet with them and share my story. I agreed, and typed it up in advance to read at the meeting, because I knew I couldn’t explain anything clearly otherwise.
I walked into the church to face a panel composed entirely of men. Given that we were talking about a male youth pastor who had abused teenage girls, this didn’t seem appropriate, but I continued. Here is some of what I shared:
In many ways, the youth pastor to youth relationship was reversed between us. It seemed more so that I was his counsellor and he told me his problems. He always painted himself as a victim. Everyone else was against him. His relationship with his wife was bad, the church didn’t understand him, parents were giving him issues, and the volunteers weren’t doing a good job helping at youth. He always said that I was the only one who truly cared and would listen to him and could help him. That I was the only one who knew these things. He told me many times that I shouldn’t tell others what we discussed…such as things about his personal relationship with his wife – their intimacy, that he thought she had a mental illness that she refused to seek treatment for, and that if things didn’t change, he wanted to leave her after his kids graduated. He told me of a time when he almost committed suicide. He said he…had a noose tied to a part of the roof and a chair underneath. He said he would have done it if he hadn’t had someone walk in before he did it. Then of course he told me not to tell anyone about it. That was something very hard for me. I thought that if I told someone else what he told me, that something bad might happen and it would be my fault.
I feel used, dirty, and violated. Sometimes I wonder why I feel this way because he never physically or sexually abused me. But I know that these feelings are legitimate. Even though emotional abuse has no physical mark, it still has strong consequences. I have thought – “If only I were more perceptive and discerning, I could have seen this and stopped it so much sooner!” Sometimes it is hard not to partially blame myself for what happened.
To give you a better picture of how this has affected me, I want to read you a poem that I wrote shortly after I found out.
Did it really happen?
Or was it just an affair of the mind with yesterday?
Tell me what I want to hear.
Tell me reality was only a dream.
Was this abuse unwittingly done or,
You raped me without a sound.
I was a fool.
But now I look down and see wounds appearing from thin air.
They keep coming, consuming my flesh until it is a carpet of blood.
My mind is a cheap carving.
Connections to rational thought severed by your crooked, desirous dagger.
Did you hate me or just love yourself that much?
Did you ever care or am I that good at believing lies?
Maybe you didn’t know but it’s still your fault.
I thought I could trust you.
My heart thumps – numb, anguish, numb, anguish…
You. You did it.
We’re not even. Can I kill you too?
What do these years mean now?
What was the truth? What did you twist for me to believe?
Who am I?
You tramped all over me,
Emotionlessly rubbing dirt into my self-concept.
You never cared.
Now I wish I could say the same.
You used me for your own selfish ends,
Discarding me by the side of the road like I never mattered.
I hear you screaming “garbage” in every memory,
Though sometimes it looks like care.
As I finished sharing, I asked the church committee what they were going to do about the situation, and told them I thought he should be let go. I still remember my confusion when they asked me why I was so angry, and when I would be able to forgive John for what happened. I left the meeting naively believing their promise to keep me informed of the situation, and somehow trusting for a good outcome.