Innocent people can become victims of physical, mental and spiritual abuse. I was an innocent victim. Abuse means to be treated improperly, wrongfully or harmfully. When you are abused you don’t feel fully alive. Physical, mental and spiritual abuse made me feel dead inside.
Let me share my spiritual story about feeling dead inside. I will compare myself to a boat in the water. A boat, dead in the water, is the object that describes me best. A boat, dead in the water, continues to float along. Will it flip over in the next storm and sink quickly and quietly? Due to abuse inflicted on me, I had become a boat, dead in the water, dead inside. I wondered if I would disappear or sink due to pain? I wondered if, perhaps, someone might spot the floating boat dead in the water and pull it ashore. I wondered if someone would take away my pain from the abuse I suffered.
The boat dead in the water has a leak in the bottom, due to the fact it hit a rock. The boat never had a chance, there was a rock in its path. To me a hit like that represents the abuse I suffered that I did not see coming. The hole is small since it was a quick, quiet, fast, direct puncture. The abuse that happened to me was a direct personal attack.
A Small Boat
The boat is small, not a yacht. I am an average person. If the boat made it ashore, will someone fix the boat or will it be left to rot? The boat had a purpose before; does it now? Will someone take time to repair the boat? A small boat really has nothing to offer. On the other hand, a small boat could make someone happy. Maybe, that was the only purpose of the boat. Maybe, the small boat made someone happy before it was damaged.
I compare myself to the boat, dead in the water. I have a purpose. I am not human trash. On the shore stands a person who has an opinion about the small boat. This person can tell friends lies about the boat. No one would know if it was true. The boat floated to the shore, and the person standing there was not a greeter, but a destroyer, another abuser. Now, the person kicked the small boat forcefully. The boat previously suffered abuse by an unexpected rock and now by this swift kick. Objects cannot handle extensive abuse.
Another person spotted the boat and thought maybe the small boat would be a profitable investment. That person would have to get closer to the boat; to see the condition of the boat: rotten seats, extensive water damage, rust, paint damage and holes. Then the person would have to decide if it was worth the effort to salvage the boat. The holes in the boat could be small. The person would have to decide whether to spend the time and money needed to fix the boat.
I see this person who spotted the boat as my personal Catholic church who did not support its principle of “Always welcomed and always loved.” I felt that my church is just a building and not composed of caring humans. I felt my personal Catholic church consisted of rules to follow, never allowing you to express opinions, or to offer support for one another, or to ask questions or to ever deviate from the norm. If you were annoying and continued to ask your questions or state your concerns, you would be labeled as something horrible.
The people of my church wanted to be in control and use their power to manipulate their followers. No one is perfect, and everyone has imperfections or sins. I felt that my church wanted only the superior persons to belong — perhaps those with the most financial contributions or intellect, or the ones who follow all rules.
Spiritual abuse occurred, attacking my well-being. I feel that everyone belongs and has a purpose. I am in a weakened, emotional state after being abused. I know that people judge, slander and lie about others. There are also good people, but the question is: will they help me, a confused, abused being?
The abuser who hurt me was a prominent figure in a Catholic religious order, someone whom you would not expect to be an abuser. This religious abuser, who was in a position of ecclesiastical authority, caused me great anguish. This abuser judged me without ever knowing my values, or my beliefs. This abuser caused an emotional overload in me, resulting in depression, spiritual turmoil and a feeling of dread.
My abuser didn’t think anything wrong had happened. The abuser lied about the situation, when there is proof. The abuser had to be asked for an apology. The apology was just another torrent of verbal abuse. I felt as if I were drowning. To make the ordeal worse, the religious superior also performed poorly and did not confront the issue. The religious superior did not want to become involved. I felt that I was classified as non-human. I still feel like I am drowning.
The damaged boat floated back into murky, unknown water. Objects don’t feel or have emotions, but they can be eliminated, demolished and crushed. What will be the fate of the boat?
Dead in the Water
Comparing me to the boat dead in the water, I am 50 percent object, because I am not totally destroyed, neither by depression, nor over-activated emotions, nor feelings, and I am not seeking revenge.
I had a nightmare that I drowned in water. Could I drown in tears from being abused? What will be my fate? I do not have closure or a coping mechanism from the abuse I sustained. I know I am not the judge of the people who abuse me. I feel like I am in a fog of uncertainty and fear. Who will hurt me now? Quiet tears roll down my cheeks. I have to hold all my emotions inside. When someone makes abusive remarks about me, is it to destroy?
I was experiencing trust issues because of being abused. Did God send that person to destroy me? Was I His mistake, having no purpose, and should I not belong? Was I just the innocent victim of someone’s sin?
With tears in my eyes, I believe these words: My God is kind and merciful. God would not want me to be destroyed. I know the meaning of the word trust. I pray to God. He has kept me afloat. I have not sunk.
The boat, dead in the water, has two ropes in its bow. One rope is fragile, decrepit and contains imperfections. The other rope is stronger, totally enclosed with twisted fibers in a plastic coating. This rope could be slippery, and a person would have to have a strong grip to pull it through the waves. A person would have to take a chance to save the boat. The person would experience much muscle pain.
I compare the boat ropes to my lifeline help. The weak rope is my personal Catholic Church community, not wanting to help. The strong rope is my spiritual director who took a chance to help me feel alive again. I turned to my spiritual director, who is a priest, to help me through this horrific ordeal of experiencing abuse. He listened. He showed compassion. He guided me and never gave up on me. He taught me the techniques to the daily examen, a prayerful reflection each day to discern God’s presence. Basically, this means to find God in others and in all experiences. It teaches you to thank God and praise God, to be aware of feelings and emotions.
For nine months, my spiritual director led me through the exercises developed by St. Ignatius Loyola. My world changed when I learned from my spiritual director about Lectio Divina. In Lectio Divina, I would take a word out of the Bible story and use it for my mediation. I became part of the Bible. I would feel alive and not present in this world.
My spiritual director gave me books and music. He introduced Taizé to me. The words in Taizé, repeated many times over, penetrated my being. Silence is also an important part of this prayer music. In my healing, my spiritual director unlocked a gift that God had given me. I can now listen to Christian music, and I have a clear vision as the words of the song unfold. My spiritual director emphasized forgiveness, and he introduced using the sacrament of confession to heal me and restore to me an awareness of God’s grace at work in my life.
I was doing well after previous abuses. I re-read some notes from the spiritual retreat with my spiritual director priest, who was guiding, listening, strengthening and mending me and helping me heal from previous abuse. I was so ready to belong, to join, eager and willing to give my time and talent. I had a purpose for my gifts and talents. I had ideas, but it does not matter, because it is now all under water.
I was abused this time by slander. Slander, the crime or action of expressing false and hurtful lies, was spoken about me. To utter slander and circulate it would destroy anyone, especially words coming from a prominent Catholic leader. This slander caused me to question my integrity. It was words that can never be forgotten. The words still echo in my mind each day. I have the feeling of emptiness inside because I had offered everything I had.
To be attacked by words when you don’t even get the chance to defend yourself is like dying. You never anticipated that. Tears of hurt will follow slander, along with a possible drowning of the being that I was. How does a person recover from slander abuse? Words hurt the heart and the soul. Slander affects everything I do, because a sense of fear arises. I wonder who heard the slander?
The waves are rough for the small boat. Clouds are rolling in, and there will be a wicked storm. The rain will bring golf-size hail, pelting and pelting and weakening the boat. The wind will pick up its velocity and rock the boat. Visibility will soon be gone. Rain will pour down. Tears of water will pour down and might cause a flood. Floods can cause drowning. What will be the fate of the boat? The little boat had no defenses to protect itself. What it had to offer was itself.
Objects do not have emotions and feelings, and they cannot be hurt. If an object is destroyed, it would come at the hands of a human being. God made humans. Humans destroy others by physical, mental or spiritual abuse.
God Never Left Me
Floating alone as a boat, dead in the water, is what can happen when I feel God is far away. However, God never left me throughout my personal turmoil. God cried tears with me in my storm. He heard my cries and guided me through my emotional turmoil. Through my suffering of physical, mental and spiritual abuse, God was there trying to teach me something. Perhaps, it was forgiveness, patience, not to take revenge, to trust.
Ultimately, God gave me a spiritual director, a priest, to aid me. My spiritual director gave me a rosary, a prayer rope. I am now encircled by God’s love. My healing took place over many months. God is present in all situations, and God took me through rough waters. By remaining faithful to God, I was comforted. Forgiveness is the lesson God showed me when I released the hurt, anger, pain from being abused.
The small boat in the water, to which I compared myself, is now full of life. There is sin in the world, but God will heal the world of sin. Sin is evil inflicted by another human being. I did not sink from the evil abuse inflicted upon me. I did not lose faith. The waters are calm enough for boats to take humans on a peaceful journey. Currently, I am sailing with the Spirit of God in me, filled with His wind to conquer.
BARBARA MORRIS writes from Michigan.