***Trigger Warning for child sexual abuse***
A man of God once told me, “Good boys are gifts,” but he didn’t mean me. He called me the “Devil’s boy,” always with two fingers and a thumb pinching my cheek on the edge of the terrible scar. It still hurt, even a year after the knife slashed across my mouth, wielded by my god, my father. I would promise to be good, to obey, and this man who liked to call my father “Devil” would look at me strangely, as if amazed.
He came to the house alone, except on rare occasions. He never wanted to see the other men. If he had to, he would pace in the kitchen and harass my mother, trying to preach to her, I suppose. He never spoke to the others. I never knew his name, but when I named them in a poem, I called him Praiser. My father called him “this preacher” and told me to obey.
I was raised to believe that my father was a god. He told me he was, and taught me ways to “worship” him. He said I was his sacrifice, to be used however he liked. I knew no different. He read, wrote and spoke Latin as well as any Catholic priest, just like the men on TV did on Sunday. When Praiser came along, he confused me. When he spoke of his god, he didn’t seem to mean my father; but a lot of the ways of worship turned out to be the same.
Praiser told me I’d been “made to be used for the glory,” because I was a vessel for sin. When he took me into the downstairs room the men rented, he would always repeat the phrase “Now I lay me down.” It made no sense to me then, but my father had told me how to respond. When the man raped and degraded me, he called it “passing his sins into me” so he could go back to his church clean, and free of lust. This preacher paid my father money to use me this way. He wore a fancy suit with a silver cross pin on the tie, and when he was finished, the suit perfect again, he would tell me to dress. Then he would sit beside me and explain that I was wicked, that I would go to hell. He said it couldn’t be helped, because I was evil, and I had a purpose. He told me to ask forgiveness for my sin, and I did, as I sat there bewildered, dazed, and in pain. He said it was to make me ready again, a “fit vessel.” Most Saturday afternoons, he showed up. I was five.
So many times I read or hear statements from religious people about how a survivor “must know God” in order to heal, be clean, be free. To me, god was my father, my first abuser, the man who gave me to all the others. These religious people tell me that I “must forgive my abusers, or God will not forgive me.” These concepts have horrified and confused me, bringing on despair and suicidal thoughts. It is my view that no survivor of any sort of abuse “must” forgive the abusers, and I’ve read articles by psychiatrists and psychologists that support me on that. I’ve also, thankfully, had good people who happen to be Christian tell me that I don’t “have to” forgive unless I wish to, and feel I can. They tell me I was a child and couldn’t fight, couldn’t be guilty of what they made me do. I struggle to believe it.
I try not to disrespect or “bash” anybody else’s religion or lack of religion. This is difficult when so many “people of faith” bash me, for being bisexual or for my Goth appearance. I try in spite of that to keep a “live and let live” attitude. However, many religious people need to realize that not everybody wants to hear about their religion, many don’t share it, and for others, it can be an abuse trigger.
Some survivors might benefit from a spiritual angle to the healing process, whether they were raised religiously or not; but the fact is that not all survivors would welcome that. Many were abused by “men of God”, as I was, most often Catholic priests. Only one of my abusers was a preacher, but most of them went to church. Many pedophiles who are preachers or priests will use scripture and other aspects of their religion, or objects from their religion, to abuse their victims. My adopted parents are Catholics (though excommunicated for being gay) and the first time I heard one of them recite, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep … ” I had to run to the bathroom and be sick.
A survivor may not tell you that religious speech triggers them. They may simply go away to deal with the fallout alone. Once, I lay in bed with a knife under my pillow and sobbed, trying not to use it to make the memories stop.
If you wish to talk about religion to a survivor, or tell them how your faith could help them to heal, I implore you to learn first who the survivor is, and how they may feel about religion. If you gain their trust enough to hear their story, listen to them. If they were hurt by people who represented religion, religion and spiritual aspects and suggestions may not comfort them. These things can sometimes stall their healing progress.
To survivors harmed by preachers, priests, nuns, people who claim to be religious; the pronouncement “only God can heal you” could do a lot of damage. It is so vital to know something about the person you want to help before you start. Even if a spiritual approach helped one survivor, it could drive another to despair. If your goal is to help that person, a person in pain … please help them without adding to their pain.
This essay was originally posted here on the Good Men Project.
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© W.R.R. 7/23/2012
For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Seek help. Speak out. Find your path to healing.
Thank you for reading.