What Happens When You Come Forward: A Break in the Communal Delusion

Coming forward with a claim of abuse is never an easy endeavor. In fact, many victims of abuse will attest that coming forward can actually be far more painful than enduring the abuse itself. Not only is coming forward an extremely vulnerable and often courageous act , but it reveals a hidden woundedness that the community as a whole has suffered causing a great deal of discomfort, which in our modern culture, we are conditioned to avoid.

If your contemplating coming forward, I’ve written this blog for you. I am by no means an expert, but someone who has gone through the process. I know what it is like to fear what people will think of you and fear how others will be affected by what you have to say. I’m here to share with you that you are worthy of being of heard and you are worthy of living in the light regardless of those who desire you to remain in the dark. I’m here to share with you what my experience taught me in the hope that you can see Christ working through the very thing that so many dread and perhaps you yourself are dreading.

The human heart’s reactions to claims of abuse point to the fact that the human experience is a communal one. And there is no way around this. Like any social sin, sexual abuse effects the entire community. While, the perpetrator and the victim are at the center, it is truly a threat to all they are involved with. This is perhaps the most stark reality I was confronted with following coming forward, and in all honesty something I came to resent for a time.

“All men are called to the same end: God himself. There is a certain resemblance between the union of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God. The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation.”

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1878-1879.)

Communion and fellowship is core to our identity, as stated so eloquently in the catechism. Any time this communion is disrupted by grievous acts such as abuse, our identity is threatened.

When I came forward I received a stark mixture of reactions and often different reactions at different moments from the same people. Those closest to me did not want to believe what happened but could not deny the clear evidence I presented. But why was there a temptation to denial amongst those in my immediate circle?

From a physiological perspective, humans typically respond to mental and physical danger through what is referred to as a “fight or flight response.” In other words, the two main responses to a perceived threat are to run or fight. Within the flight response exists the freeze response in which a person hides interiorly within themselves (in my own life- something that has tempted me to inaction).

When I came forward, I observed this response manifested in two ways: retaliatory accusation against me and denial against the evidence I presented (sometimes presenting in the form of justifying the actions of the abuser). While in hindsight and in the immediate moment, those removed from my community could see that these responses were not rational, why did they occur?

What I underwent was hidden in plain sight. It took place in the environment that was created by the very people who displayed conflicting responses when the veil was lifted. Just as the abuse had communal effects, so it had communal causes.

And this is a hard pill to swallow for those who were obligated to care for me and other young people but had no knowledge of what was happening right in under their noses. In this sense, the abuse I experienced was also an attack on them.

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In the immediate aftermath following coming forward, I often took these two reactions very personally. It was hard to separate my woundedness from the reactions of others. While they failed to recognize my woundedness I also failed to account for theirs. In recognizing their woundedness, I may have been able to bear their reactions much better than I initially did.

I believed I had already endured the worst of it. While in many ways true, I failed to account for the fact that I had had the luxury of time to process what happened, while others did not. I had been living in this attack on my identity for years, and this attack on the identity of my community was new to everyone else.

Why did my perpetrator pick me? While I may never know for certain, I suspect it was in part due to the inconsistent care I received by nature of being a child a divorce along with my own propensity for silence. I also suspect it had a lot to do with the vulnerabilities of those who had authority over me at the time in my circle of influence.

In other words my abuser chose to exploit the externalities around me that were embedded in my community for the ends that he desired. I was not the only victim in this attack.

You were chosen for a reason and this choice, more than likely, involved more than your own naivety because you are a communal being made in the image and likeness of God.

While coming foreword did involve a great deal of pain, the memory of this communal reaction now serves as source of encouragement that I truly did belong to a place that I felt so othered from for so long. While God never actively wills pain, He allows it to happen because He knows how He can mold us through it. In this experience I was molded to know my identity as beloved, to know that my identity was not dependent on the reactions of others but dependent on the fact that I am loved by Christ.

In coming forward you will be presented with a choice to embrace your truest identity as beloved by Christ as you learn to stand independent of the perceptions of those around you. I can say that this is by far the best choice you will ever make.

7 Years Later: Living In A Heart Replaced

I hear his scream. The scream of little boy who needed his mama, who was lost in the land of her own grief, much like those who inflicted this grief upon her.

About a year ago I was sitting in a coffee shop in Old Town Alexandria, VA, staring at a letter I had been up writing the night before. I sat there in what I can only describe as a feeling of emotional hell. It was empty and defined by a familiar isolation I had known awhile prior. This feeling had been present for weeks. It was impeding on my ability to function in daily life and worst of all, my ability to simply be present to the Lord, my husband, and my son. My day was defined by intrusive thoughts and grief from something I thought I had resolved 6 years prior. I was ashamed to go to prayer as it took every ounce of my being to focus on Christ. I was not living in the present of my life but in the past. This had become my emotional reality and was beginning to feel like my reality in every other sense. And I was at a loss of how to get out of it.

I thought I had gotten past all of this. After all, I had encountered Christ and cut off ties with my abuser about 6 years prior, I lived across the country from where I had experienced this isolation in the past, and now lived in a healthy marriage, parenting a little boy who brought me more joy than I had ever known. My daily questions became, “what is wrong wrong with me?,” “Why was the Lord allowing me to experience this?,” and “What was He doing?”

Intertwined with this isolation and grief I felt a strong pull to the place where I grew up, the place where I was wounded. I longed to simply sit in that place and watch the unique dusk sky, which at times felt like my only friend. To smell the dirt and fields of cows that are entangled with so many feelings of fear, sorrow, and anger. To once again gaze at the tabernacle which for many years gazed back at me. I followed this prompting. And all along the way of my 4 day journey to my native place, God provided me with friends.

As my plane took off I felt a weight on my heart thinking of the family I was leaving behind for a few days for the first time. I felt an indescribable tug on my heart as the plane accelerated and my mind was flooded with imagery of my little boy who would not understand where his mommy went. But my brother in Christ, who I providentially ended up flying with, told me something that gave me the energy to keep going, “you are so brave.”

I began my 4 day trip home by visiting the place I had come to know the person of Christ, a place known for its blatant antithesis to His message, Berkeley, CA. I spent a day walking the streets and visiting the places Christ found me in my wounds as a college student. The day culminated with a visit to a small patch of land hidden by trees I would often go to on campus to sit and pray. I felt as if this little place was a gift for me from the Lord to rest. It was the quiet place that I would go away to the 4 years I lived in Berkeley.

It was the place I first shared my deepest wounds with another. It was the place I found the conviction to completely separate myself from a person who had spent years trying to be my god. I returned here with the person who had first received my wounds in that exact location 6 years prior to share with her two letters I had written to two men. These letters were an outpouring of the concealed areas of my heart that I had spent years suppressing. They were the product of everything coming out at once. But most of all, they were the direct reflection of having invited Christ in to those spaces, however imperfectly I had done so. And He made them beautiful.

These letters were the things I always wanted to say but could never say as the scared little girl who did not recognize the value of her own personhood, and thus allowed herself to be used and discarded for the egos of others. She was finally allowed to speak. And this was because Christ had broken and replaced the boundaries which once confined her. And all that was left was love.

Christ was breaking those boundaries in the emotional turmoil I had been experiencing. The breaking of those boundaries hurt more than anything I have ever experienced, but the love that replaced them was worth waiting for. As I looked at my sister who I shared these letters with she said in tears, “I can see Christ.” and we both cried. In this moment I realized that all of the pain I had been feeling was Him entering that space and giving me a new heart, His heart which he promises us all. These letters were filled with love that I would have never given on my own but a love that could only come from Christ.

That next morning I drove down to my hometown to give these letters away to the place I felt they needed to go. I met with one of the men whom I had written to and after that meeting ended I spent some time grieving the fact what I had to say was not received very well in that moment and might never be. But over the course of this past year, Christ has increasingly made me okay with that. He’s opened doors that were previously closed and has begun a new season of mission in my life. And I am finally ready to accept because of what He has done in my heart. I can live where I am, in the present moment of my life, more fully than ever before.

When I returned from my trip I spent the first few days giving my little boy his mommy back. When I returned my husband disclosed to me how my son screamed for me in the middle of the night while I was away. And that scream gives me the energy I need never to rebuild those places in my heart that Christ broke down and replaced with himself.

I plead with you to invite Christ into the spaces that hurt the most. The world so desperately needs the Heart Christ desires to give you. That scared little girl and the boy who longs for his mommy need your courage.

“I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you.” Ezekial 36:26

This is what my body was made for: The Redemptive Nature of Childbirth

Childbirth is one of the most joyful and difficult experiences that life has to offer. For certain populations, particularly those with a history of trauma I’ve learned it can be even more complex.

So often we read about victims of physical or sexual abuse being especially sensitive to touch and physical closeness. But have we ever stopped to think about how women with histories of misused sexuality are particularly affected by the physicality of bringing children into the world?

Perhaps you’ve struggled deeply with sexual sin or even been a victim of sexual abuse. If you’ve had an experience of simultaneous joy and grief upon bringing your own children in the world, I’m hear to tell you you are not alone. In fact, I think its something we Catholics should not be afraid to talk about.

The relationship between a mother and child is inherently physical. From the first moment of the child’s existence, the child is physically dependent on the mother and the mother becomes a space for that child to simply be.

When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I was completely overjoyed and albeit, overwhelmed. Having only been married for two months and recently moved across the country, there was a lot going on in my life.

Along with this feeling of being overwhelmed there was also a sense of dread with the realization of how much I was about to “lose.” And as a Catholic, I felt so guilty for feeling this dread. I feared losing my freedom, my career path, and perhaps the most difficult for me, the young and thin physical body that I placed an unhealthy amount of value on. Becoming pregnant was a wake up call in that it alerted me to the fact that deep down a part of me still sought validation from the way I looked physically. This was no doubt a result of having been an object of lust both in the abuse I had experienced and the way I had lived my sexuality prior to my deeper conversion into the faith. And becoming pregnant immediately threatened this false sense of security that was seemingly ingrained in my psyche.

Having been open to life from the very beginning of my marriage it was shocking to me that I felt the way I did. I thought I knew what I was getting into and freely put myself in the position to do so. I thought I had gotten over seeking my self-worth from the way I looked, but I suddenly realized a part of me hadn’t. I didn’t talk about it because I felt so guilty for having these feelings. I loved my son from the moment I knew he existed but mixed up with that love was an intense amount of grief.

With that love something else unexpected emerged: a profound feeling of unworthiness to carry and care for such an innocent and pure being. I simultaneously felt a sense of disgust with my own body. How could I let this new life reside in something that had been defiled and perversely used? I struggled with these feelings silently though out my pregnancy and my son’s infancy. With each new stage of my relationship with my son came a new and unanticipated struggle with his dependency on my physical body. Not only did the physical touch sometimes remind me of the abuse, but it made me hate that all I had to offer to my son was my defiled self.

Being forced to confront these feelings through my relationship with my son was however, one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. As I watched my son grow and got to know more of who he was every day, I realized that my motherhood was a key factor in molding this beautiful and loving little boy. As I realized my physical body could provide the nourishment needed to sustain his life, I came to profoundly feel and believe the goodness of my physicality. I realized: This is what my body was made for. And I was truly giving my body in the way God had intended, which was life-giving.

The physical dependency that my son had on me from the moment of his conception played a significant role in redeeming my self-worth, particularly my view of my physical body. And while sometimes I still struggle with the physical changes my body went through, I have been renewed through the new life my body was able to produce. The grief I initially felt and still sometimes struggle with was perhaps a purifying gift.

As a young mother I know very well the pressure women feel to delay or put off having children as its believed to be in conflict with pursuing a life of meaning or success. But in my experience, my motherhood has given any success that has come my way even more meaning and helped healed my soul from ways it was deeply wounded. Be not afraid to give of yourself! No-one, not even you, can take away the innate goodness bestowed upon you.

The Healing a Holy Spouse Can Bring: An Abuse Victim’s Testament to a Christ-Centered Marriage

After experiencing sexually and emotionally abusive relationships, it seemed like my heart and mind were wired for skepticism and distrust. I kept most in my life at an arms length, revealing only the surface of my emotions and realities of my heart to even those I was closest to. I was comfortable in hiding. It was safe. But I was alone and at the core of my identity, I desired to give myself totally to someone. However, that required a step in the light and a vulnerability that absolutely terrified me (and at times still does).

My healing really began the day I began to share my total and authentic self in a completely platonic relationship that pointed me towards Christ. As my healing journey progressed I had a lot to learn about what it meant to give of oneself to another. I had to discover and rediscover what maintaining proper boundaries looked like in both non-platonic and platonic relationships. And there was a lot of trial and error. Thankfully, through it all, I had and still have the guidance of the Church.

I met my husband, Jordan, just a couple months after really beginning the process of healing. At the time I was not looking at my husband as a potential dating interest as I was discerning the possibility of marriage with another holy man. Because of this, I first got to know my husband as a friend and thus through an honest lens not blurred by feelings of attraction. In hindsight I can see this was an immense blessing. About a year after initially meeting Jordan, we both were in a position to be open to dating and that door between us was opened by what I believe to be the nudging of the Holy Spirit.

“He loves you so much.” friends repeatedly said to me. When I first heard this, there was a part of me always looking to disprove this claim. I wasn’t afraid of it being true but I was afraid of it being another lie.

From the very beginning of my dating relationship with my husband, his intentions were clear and out in the open. And this was completely anti-thesis to the abuse I had experienced. There was no hiding. While this was comforting, I quickly discovered it was also terrifying.

I had to learn how to live in integrity and trust Jordan with my honest feelings which required the thing I was worst at: vulnerability. I knew that if I wanted to authentically pursue a relationship with Jordan that was geared toward marriage I had to choose vulnerability. My love for Jordan ultimately led me to make this choice. But I came to this choice only after a lot of internal conflict and struggle. It was this conflict of feelings that made me realize my husband would sanctify me in marriage, because he was already doing so.

I can identify the exact moment in our relationship when I realized that I wanted to marry him. It was when I able to display my greatest weaknesses and emotional ugliness to Jordan that I knew a marriage to him would prepare for total union with Christ. Because he did not leave.

There I sat sobbing in the grass, letting this man see me and be present to my raw woundedness and hurt pride. I fought him at every effort he made to understand my hurt, but he remained present. This is exactly what I had experienced with Christ just months prior. I don’t really remember anything Jordan said that night. But I do remember the gift of his authentic presence and his unwillingness to abandon me when I tested his patience and trust. I recognized that I desired to overcome my brokenness out of love for him and Jordan was patient with me in my struggle to do so. That’s when I knew that this was the man who would get me to Heaven. I only hope that the love I’m able to give does the same for him.

An Open Letter to the Man Who Sexually Groomed Me: Everything my teenage heart couldn’t articulate and my adult-self now can.

I was recently advised by my spiritual director to write a letter to the man who groomed me. What I ultimately wrote was something that I did not foresee.

I had never realized, or perhaps let myself realize, how much my teenage self admired and loved the man who ultimately used me for his own gratification. In hindsight, I can see that’s exactly why he was able to use me in the way that he did. This letter was the product of repressed grief stemming from that affection. I taught myself to hide from this grief for nearly a decade. But you can only hide from yourself for so long.

One of the very reasons I was vulnerable to abuse in the first place was because of my tendency to hide within myself in moments of stress or trauma (kind of like Adam and Eve when God came looking for them after the fall). My healing process has been a process of learning to live completely in the light. For me, this letter was a major step in doing so and ultimately giving all that was previously hidden to the One who can make me new.

What is written below is my teenage self finally having the ability to articulate all she was feeling through the mind of her twenty-five year old self. I now know that there is a vast difference between the capabilities of those two brains. I share in order to help all who may feel uncomfortable accepting the feelings that were evoked in them by those who had power over them, just as I did. Perhaps, your reaction to what happened is completely human. In recognizing your humanity, maybe you can learn to love yourself more. I’m beginning to love the teenager I once hated and she needs that.

Sections and details written in the original letter have been omitted for the sake of identity concealment and prudent disclosure:

,

I distinctly remember the day I met you. At the time I couldn’t understand why you stood out to me so much. But perhaps God was giving me some sort of spiritual insight I would later need. We first met when I was 13 years old. You were at my parish for the …. , when I looked at your face and at your eyes, I felt extremely sorrowful and empty. I couldn’t get it out of my head for a while. However, something about you also made me joyful and it was very confusing. I had forgotten about that moment by the time you started messaging me 3 years later. But as I’ve reflected on everything that occurred the past several years, it came back.

I have no idea how to say what I need to say to you. Maybe I can start with the fact that I was in love with you for a long time when I was just a teenager. I don’t think those feelings will ever go away but the feelings have changed as my understanding of love has. I was so angry with you. For years I went between wanting to you punch you in the face and wanting to give you a long hug on a daily basis. Do you have any idea what you did to my heart? Do you realize how much you meant to me and how much affect you had on me? Did you ever love me for who I was? Or was I just something you were attracted to. I desperately wanted you to love me.

….. I was so mad at myself for feeling the way I did about you. I knew it would end with me hating myself. I hated myself so much.

As I’ve grown into adulthood, I’ve began to understand why I felt so strongly about you. You gave me attention when I didn’t feel like anyone else genuinely cared. With the frequency and content of your messages its no surprise to me know why things happened the way they did. My teenage brain wanted to believe you. The horrible thing is that I was smart enough to know what was happening but not strong enough to put an end to it. I left for college with a very conflicted heart. ….

at Cal I met …. He ended up completely breaking my heart. This heart break was the final straw that led me to change my life. During my first semester I began attending a bible study and met two friends who would play an important role in helping me let go of you.

I met a group of people who were pursuing a life of chastity. They were the most joyful people I had ever met in my life and I wanted that so much. Eventually I was able to attain it, but it took a lot more than just putting an end to the things that were sexually inappropriate in my life. I had to replace those things with something that would give me lasting joy. I found that in an authentic relationship with the Eucharist. Previously, I had resorted to sexual sin when the desires I had to be loved and known were not being met because of my fear of vulnerability. I think that’s what you do to whether you are aware of it or not.

Cutting off communication with you was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It literally took an act of God to make that happen. He saved me from your inability to protect me from yourself. I definitely didn’t have the ability to protect you from me. I tried. The day I stopped talking to you I felt like my soul was bleeding. It took everything I had to push send on the message I had spent days drafting which I’m not sure if you ever actually saw. I cried so much. I felt like I was dead inside.

Because of you, I began going to adoration every day with greater intentionality and authenticity. I had to learn how to speak to Jesus with complete vulnerability. The ache of your absence lead me there. And Christ began to mysteriously fill the wounds in my heart that I previously used you to hide and conceal from myself.

Had it not been for you and this chaos– I wouldn’t have the amazing life I do now.  I think you did to me what someone once did to you, …. And I am so sorry.

….

……………I forgive you for everything.

Those who abused you do not define who you are and they never did. You know who does. He thirsts for you way more than I ever did for your (authentic) love. And I know that’s unbearable.

-Mariah”

Forgiving him is not something that I could ever do on my own but only through redirecting the distorted affection towards love for Christ. In Christ filling the wounds of my heart, as discussed in the letter, he can now act through me if I remain in Him. This is what He does for us and this is our path to freedom.

Writing this letter has been one of the most healing experiences of my life. While I realized a long time ago that direct contact with my abuser would be extremely harmful for my mental and spiritual health because of the mental power he has over me, I made the decision to give this letter to someone who I know could get it to him. I have no certainty if he will actually receive it (and maybe he’s not supposed to) but if God wills it, I know it will happen in His time.

To the girl who had her first sexual experience at 12: He cried with you.

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“Do you have any experience?… sexual experience?”

I’ll never forget the night I was asked this by a man whose attention I had become emotionally dependent on over the course of the year prior.

Not only was this question inappropriate for a middle aged man to be asking a teenage girl, but for me, the answer to that question was almost impossible to articulate.

As I answered a question I should have completely ignored, I confided in this man that I had been hurt by the effects of a sexual experience at the age of 12. While I hoped I would receive the response of a loving a father, the response I received was one that indicated he desired to use me just as I had been used before.

At the age of 12 I had what I would later come to realize as my first sexual experience. At the time I was infatuated with a boy three to four years older than me who had asked if he could be my first kiss.

But when I showed up to receive it, I got a lot more than I expected. While in the moment I was completely enamored by the fact a boy who I had a crush on “liked me,” this moment was the beginning of a struggle that would be present in my life indefinitely.

In the months following the sexual activity I became extremely depressed but I had no means of articulating why. While I attributed the depression to losing the friendship I had come to have with that boy, there was something deeper at play. I was grieving the loss of my innocence and purity at the level of my soul. And it wasn’t until 6 to 7 years later that I would be able to understand what happened for what it was: a grave violation of the good and natural order that God intended for human relationships and physical communion.

I now understand the grief that my 12-year-old self experienced as an indicator of the goodness my body was intended for and the innate dignity I possess. In a sense, the grief I experienced was a God-given built in mechanism that I believe every human feels when they are used (or use themselves) for purposes contrary to God’s design (Sort of like a check-engine light on a car). I thoroughly believe that anyone who engages in behavior contrary to God’s intention for sex feels this to some degree, regardless of consent or lack thereof. Guilt and shame serve a purpose.

As asserted in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, our bodies are designed to communicate the language of love. And because of this, sex can only be done in the context of marriage, if what is said by our bodies is to be true. Sex communicates, “I love you in my entirety and without end.” When sex occurs in a context other than an intentional life-long sacramental commitment, a deep and physical lie is communicated. And we feel this deception in our very physicality and soul, if not immediately, eventually (the check-engine light). This is exactly where my profound grief was coming from, the lie I had been told.

In my adolescent efforts to make sense of my own grief, I often compounded it in the lies that I would fully consent to and engage in in my romantic peer relationships. This grief landed me in yet another situation of domination and use as a 16/17 year old girl who found herself the target of a sexual predator. But Christ found me at my breaking point and that’s why I’m writing this today.

I was once encouraged to ask Christ to reveal to me where He was in the particular moments of my life that have caused me the greatest amounts pain, most of which being related to sexually abusive behavior and my own failings in striving for chastity. In each moment I saw an image of Christ in profound grief, reminding me of the grief I knew intimately. He revealed that He was full of sorrow for me in each moment I recalled, just as He no doubt is for you in your most painful and shameful moments.

Just as He cried with me, He cried with you.

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Breaking Attachment From Your Abuser

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37

I struggled for a long time to accept the fact that I had developed feelings of emotional attachment to a man who clearly did not have my good or wellbeing in mind. While I was conscious of the fact he did not genuinely love me and the relationship was not age-appropriate, I could not let go of it. And for a long time I hated myself for it. But learning why I couldn’t let go has not only helped me understand why I acted the way I did, but has completely changed my relationship with Christ.

We all possess innate goodness by the simple fact we are created by God. While the human race is quite diverse, we all desire to be loved, to be known, and to be delighted in. These desires are very good. But when we or others in relationship with us break the natural law set by God in order to fulfill these desires, destruction and greater longing is what follows.

When our hearts are wounded or in need of love, we cling to the things that give us security or seem to fulfill our deepest longings. For me, my abuser was this sense of security for years. He offered me a very distorted reflection of what my heart desired most. I used him to fill the cracks in my heart that were longing for healing. It was a dependency that was never fulfilling but just enough to take the edge off.

I was in the habit of turning to him whenever I felt lonely. He distracted me from hurt and stress that occupied my mind. Ending communication with him was extremely difficult for this reason. In February of 2015, less than a year into my freshmen year of college, I put an end to all communication with him. In the lead up to that day, I remember having a complete emotional breakdown when I realized what I had to do.

I sat at a coffee house bawling my eyes out realizing that he not only needed to be removed completely from my life, but that I was the one that had to send him away. At the same time I was uncomfortable with myself for even feeling so torn up about it. Why was I so emotionally invested? How did it get that far?

When God created the human heart and marriage, He created them to function with integrity. Sex creates lasting and enduring bonds. It is designed to increase unity and love between spouses. While we can certainly numb ourselves to these lasting effects for a time, we will indeed experience them at some point and often at the least convenient times–the times when we most need security and love.

There is a very good reason behind why we should take seriously the Church teaching that sex is specifically reserved for the marital union. The reason is that valid marriages are indissoluble, and sexuality is designed to perpetuate this indissolubility. On our own, we cannot break these bonds once they have been established. When we let in or give too much of ourselves to another person that is not our spouse (physically or emotionally), we are swimming in dangerous waters. We must recognize the limitations of our hearts if we are to truly love. In my life this recognition came when a trusted friend pointed out, “He (my abuser) is very good at manipulating you.”

Recently I’ve spent some time revisiting the tens of thousands of messages sent between me and my abuser with the hopes of answering the question: how did it get that far?

The answer I’ve come to is this: attachment. There was a point where I began to have real feelings for him. He was giving me constant attention and manipulating my desires to be seen, known, and loved. I loved him for the attention he gave me. But then it got complicated.

When he first sexualized the relationship I convinced myself I was reading into something that wasn’t there. He did so in a way that was not explicitly clear and I didn’t want to be embarrassed for telling anyone if I was in fact misinterpreting his words. He was an adult who was esteemed by those I was close with. I continued to let his advances and words in and over time it became explicitly clear that he wanted our relationship to be sexual. Eventually I felt trapped in a situation that I didn’t know how to get out of and ultimately felt responsible for. I was afraid of anyone finding out about what was happening for fear they would think less of me because of the amount of time I had let the communication continue.

The content our messages and the amount of time I spent speaking with him created inappropriate attachments that I became aware of only when they felt impossible to break. And at the time I ended communication with him completely, the attachment had only been accentuated through a physical interaction that occurred months prior.

In the immediate months following my decision to end communication with him I remember feeling as if I had just come out of an intense battle. I felt like my soul was bleeding. But that ache is exactly what led me to spend time in front of the Eucharist on a daily basis. This ache pointed me straight toward the authentic fulfillment of all the desires of my heart.

On February 25, 2021 I celebrated six years of striving to fill my wounds with the only One who can truly heal wounds and fulfill the longings that make us human. While I fail at this on a daily basis, it has been the greatest adventure of my life.

In your battle to guard your heart (or reclaim it) do not forget to surrender it to the One who created it and delights in you more than any of His creatures can!

Abortion and Sexual Abuse: How the Pro-Life Movement helped me come forward

While I have always identified as being “pro-life,” I struggled with this belief silently for years. I logically understood and could clearly see that abortion ends a human life (all we have to do is open a biology text book to figure that one out), but I found the distressed plea of a mother who legitimately felt she could not bear a child compelling. In my head I could logically see how this thinking was flawed, but I struggled with it in my heart, much like I did with my own worth. And the two were intimately connected.

My biggest fear in life used to be that I was a burden to other people. I never wanted to cause problems or inconvenience others. If another was upset, I too often assumed it was because of something I did. When I was first sexually abused at age 12, I was convinced it was my fault. I thought I had done something wrong. The abuse only accentuated my fear of being a burden–how could I reveal what happened, and create the trouble that would come with it? I struggled for a long time to even call what happened “sexual abuse” because of this fear. But that’s exactly what it was–sexual abuse. My fear of being a burden is what led me to keep quiet about what was happening in my life as a teenager when I began to be abused by another man.

When I became a member of my university’s pro-life group my second semester of college, it hit me that abortion and sexual abuse are different forms of the same evil. They hold the same assumptions to justify their existence and accomplish similar ends; death on one hand, and abuse in another. A mother who only has an abortion because she feels it is her only option is certainly more sympathetic than a sexual predator, but the acts themselves communicate the same message: “You are less valuable than me, and disposable. I do not totally or genuinely love you, and you will suffer for me.”

If from our very conception, it is permissible to question whether or not someone’s existence is convenient, or worth protecting, what stops us from using someone at any stage of their lives for our own convenience or pleasure? Why are we worth protecting from any danger if life has no inherent value? Truly, if our lives have no value or meaning, there is no reason to protect them.

If you ever wondered what goes on at a pro-life group meeting, we spend a lot of time studying why abortion occurs and how to compellingly and compassionately explain the logical fallacies used to justify it in our culture. It was in this study that I realized the logical inconsistencies that were rooted in my heart and which led me to believe I was not worth being treasured and protected. When I began to realize and believe I did have value, and was worth being loved, I had no question as to whether or not another human life at any stage deserves the same, no matter the level of “convenience” their existence disturbs in another’s perception.

Abortion and sexual abuse are both products of the culture of death. It will take prayer and true charity to bring about the culture of life. Please join in me in prayer for the protection of the unborn today and that our culture may come to never view another human person in light of what they can or can’t do but rather what they are: a being of infinite value who is due only love.

On the Day We Hoped We’d See Your Face, We Remember You

This coming Thursday, November 5, 2020 was the due date for the child we lost, Claire Francis Buzza. I can’t help but mourn that this day is lot different than I anticipated it would be when we found out Claire was with us. In the 7 months it’s been since the day we faced our loss, I’ve learned a lot, both joyful and sorrowful.

Something so close to my heart is so close to Jesus

Just a few days before we lost our baby, I received communion for the last time before we would undergo more than three months without in person Mass. A day or two after the loss, which fell on a Wednesday, we received news that public Masses were canceled indefinitely as lock downs began. Admittedly, I felt abandoned in my grief. The one place I had always gone when I felt I could go nowhere else was now closed off.

Without the support of my loving husband, the joy my living son bring us, and the actions of my father, I can’t imagine what the first two weeks after the loss would have been like. When I woke up from surgery I found out my dad was boarding a plane to come be with me as I recovered. This was an immense consolation and had he not done this I know this time would have been much worse than it was, as after he left I began to feel weight of isolation much worse than before.

The first two weeks after the loss and surgery, I spent most of my time focusing on physical recovery and began to feel anger as society imploded in fear. A fear I felt at the time, took away any sense of compassion from what we had just gone through. As I tried to process what had just happened all anyone talked about was how it was unsafe to receive or give physical presence, the thing I craved most. And as it became the societal doctrine that anyone who deviated from this “new normal” of social distancing was a “selfish murderer,” none of it set right with me. I cried myself to sleep for 2 weeks due to feelings of abandonment ( and in part due to post-pregnancy hormones no doubt). I wondered if anyone else was feeling this way as the (in hindsight what could only be described as) militant “Quarinteam” posts flooded my social media accounts.

Around the third week after the loss, I felt I was pretty well recovered physically. It was around that time I began to really grieve the loss of the baby. I relived the day of the loss praying we had navigated everything in a way that honored our child. I felt like every time I closed my eyes I saw the image of the ultrasound that told us the pregnancy was ectopic. As I looked at my 1 year old living son, I began to feel a sense of guilt and sadness over how much love I could show him that I felt I would never be able to show the other child.

A few weeks after we lost Claire Francis, a local parish began perpetual adoration (outside of course) in light of the pandemic. My husband and I immediately ran to this. Our first visit to the Eucharist was filled with clarity and peace.

While ideally, having had recourse to the Sacraments after a loss such as ours would have been preferred, would I have searched for God in the same ways I did without them? I don’t know. But in this heightened longing which was brought about by the loss amidst social isolation, my desire for God was increased and not my desire for the world that will continually disappoint. And in that came good.

As we continued to visit the Eucharist, I came to know and feel that our little one was in the arms of Jesus through the forms of prayer that I see Jesus most. And every time we visit Jesus in the Eucharist, we also visit Claire Francis who I have no doubt is praying for us as he or she lays in green pastures and praises our Lord with the Heavenly hosts in an even more beautiful life than would have been had on Earth. Jesus holds on to a part of me that is so dear. It is through Jesus I can have a relationship with a child I didn’t give birth to, but gave life to. And in that I find joy.

Out of this experience I have had the opportunity to form relationships with others who are navigating how to grieve losing a baby in pregnancy, in a world that only recognizes the value of a baby in utero in certain cases. This is obviously problematic.

Miscarriage is a pain that’s not allowed to be expressed (and a lot of women are suffering)

After the loss, I was encouraged to join a support group of Catholic women who have had similar or identical experiences. Around the time of COVID many women voiced similar feelings of abandonment and inhumane treatment when it came to their loss.

Aside from the COVID mentality, one of the most common grievances I have heard among women who have experienced loss is the fact that these women aren’t allowed to express their pain. Because in doing so, it illegitimizes abortion and a “woman’s right to choose.” There is not a single woman I have spoken in this group who views a child as disposable. There is not a single woman I know whose experienced a loss and doesn’t feel the immense pain that comes from death within one’s very body.

The great logical fallacy that a baby is a person if it is wanted versus if it is not wanted cannot continue. WOMEN ARE SUFFERING (also PEOPLE ARE DYING). We can’t continue to ignore this suffering simply because it makes us uncomfortable. We can’t continue to redirect oppression simply so women can have “better lives.” (Not to mention a majority of women who have abortions suffer from it in the long run anyways.) Perhaps we should value human life for how precious it is and honor women for their inherent ability to bring about life. Had Claire Francis never existed, I would never have known this unseen struggle of women facing miscarriages in a society that is now indifferent to the right to life.

On November 5, 2020 a precious life I once carried might have been born. But I now call upon that life to pray for the unborn and all mother’s feeling like their only option is abortion. I hope and have faith that Claire Francis’ proximity to Jesus allows these prayers to be better heard and felt.