Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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My “Me, Too” Story

Harvey Weinstein was a lot worse than my abuser, but no abuse is acceptable. Facebook and Twitter, and the news media that reports on both, are filling up with #metoo stories that make me cringe and my skin crawl. But I am so proud of those who are able to name their metoostories, to tell their own tales with authenticity and courage.

My story happened in Virginia in another lifetime. I am an Episcopalian and was seeing our local priest for counseling that got out of hand. Where do you go when the person you are seeing for help is the one who is acting out?  I settled on food to change my body size, to make myself as unattractive as possible, and a geographic solution with a move to Maine in January. Not exactly the best time to move, but I needed to get out and found a way.

Feeling safer there, I told a Maine priest that something had happened that was wrong and I didn’t want anyone else to endure the same. I was basically patted on the head and told to let it go. It didn’t sit well but I did it. Believing I was called to ministry, I began the process to seek ordination – and was told by my bishop that I had a problem with intimacy and authority and needed to be more involved as a lay person. Hmmm. Okay. Vestry member, choir member, hospital visitor, altar guild member, stewardship chair obviously not enough activity.

Moved to Boston. In 1992, news broke about Father James Porter and child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. I began to cringe and had trouble concentrating. One day in my diocesan newspaper I saw a tiny ad for a booklet on clergy sexual abuse. It was only $5 and I figured that no one would know that I had it. I’d read the booklet and then move on. Except I couldn’t. From page one, that booklet described what happend to me. I was in tears after a few pages, holding my stomach and shaking. It had happened to me. And I needed help.

The booklet was dedicated to a Boston therapist the author had worked with, who happened to practice in my town of Brookline. I called her office on a Friday about an appointment before I lost my nerve; much to my shock, she had an opening on Monday morning. She asked me to read “Is Nothing Sacred” by Marie Fortune if I had a chance before then. Working on a university campus with a theology library next door made that easy.

Twenty minutes into my appointment, the therapist stopped me and told me that there was no question that what had happened to me was clergy abuse, that is was highly probable that the priest had a sex addiction, and was or had abused others. It was shocking how much that relieved me. I didn’t make it up, I hadn’t blown it out of proportion. It had happened, it was wrong, and there was damage.

My diocese had a process for dealing with such things. I went to my bishop with an advocate and a written statement that took me 45 minutes to write after 7 years of living with it. He read it, put down his glasses, looked me in the eye, and apologized to me for the hurt that this had caused me. He believed me. And he did something about it, writing immediately to the bishop in my former diocese where my abuser lived.  I got a call from that bishop within a week, telling me that the abuser had been called into the bishop’s office, confronted with my statement, and had confessed.

shieldIt was done but not done. I had expected it to take weeks, months, years, and even then, didn’t believe that the abuser would ever acknowledge that what he did was wrong. So I wasn’t ready for it to be over. Long, long story involving many letters and much therapy. My abuser was required by HIS bishop to pay for my therapy as well as his own. I asked that my former congregation be told what had happened, which didn’t materialize. However, they WERE required to have a workshop on clergy sexual abuse.  I kept going to church until I couldn’t anymore. Until my anger at the church spilled over and turned my joy into something broken.

Oh, and the bishops. The Bishop of Maine turned out to have been having affairs with married women. And the Bishop of Massachusetts not only turned out to have ALSO been having affairs with married women, but he committed suicide as news was about to break about it. He was the one who had heard my story, who had believed me, and who took action. But my trust was broken. More clergy in positions of power who were not behaving well. I even wrote to the Presiding Bishop about a letter that appeared over his name after the suicide, in which he described the pressures of being a bishop.  I told him he was NEVER to equate the pressure of being a bishop, a role that was deliberately taken, with the pressures of being a VICTIM and a SURVIVOR.

I kept those letters, that initial statement, the therapy word collages, my notes, for over 20 years. I would pull them out periodically to look at, reminding myself how far I’d come. My letters are articulate and thoughtful, and very powerful.  I finally was ready to let them go when I moved to Texas. I took the files in to work and shredded everything – not to preserve privacy, but because there was power in shredding. I felt lighter. I still have trouble with intimacy and authority, and I still have trouble with church. Not with God, but church.

I still have a huge weight problem and deep inside I know I don’t want to look like someone who is likely to attract sexual harassment. No one does that to fat people, they hurt us in other ways, but I’m used to those.  I want to be brave and strong and honest and whole. That last one takes more time than we think. Harvey Weinstein and his ilk opened the wounds again. But I will heal.

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What would you take?

TexasStrongIt was hard to tear myself away from watching Hurricane Harvey coverage. It went on forever and every day had more stories of damaged buildings, flooded streets and homes, injuries and deaths. But it also had heartfelt stories of the Cajun Navy and strangers rescuing stranded people in boats, of shelters in unlikely places such as furniture stores, of social media helping stranded people be found and brought to safety. All they had with them was what they could grab in a few minutes before they got out.

I can’t do anything about Houston except send prayers and give money to organizations doing feet-on-the-ground disaster relief assistance. Those I have done and continue to do. But I’ve been thinking about what I would do if faced with the same situation here. Where would I go? What would I take with me?

I’ll be honest – I’d probably be one of the people who evacuated ahead of the storm, even if no one told me to go. I’m not very agile and climbing onto a roof or into a boat would be problematic. I’m good at hunkering down for something like a blizzard but a hurricane is a different animal altogether.

My house is full of things, and they’re just things. While I love and would mourn the loss of things with family history ties, they’re still just things. I’ve looked around and thought about what’s in different rooms and what I would take, given the chance. In no particular order (well, yeah, the genealogy stuff came first), here are some:

  • Genealogy files and old photos
  • Purse with wallet and credit cards
  • Medicine
  • Cell phone
  • Laptop and backup portable hard drive
  • Kindle
  • Charging cords
  • Insurance papers
  • Car title
  • House deed
  • Good jewelry
  • Clothes

KeepCalmMy mom had what she called the “Boy Scout Folder” that she put on the kitchen counter when she and Dad would go out of town. In it she had copies of insurance papers, social security cards and drivers’ licenses, bank information, list of account numbers, list of people to notify (family, medical, bank, insurance), obituaries and pictures to use with them. She would have grabbed that folder if she needed to leave in a hurry and know that what she needed was there.

I can do that but mine will also be digital on a flash drive – actually, a copy for me and one for my brother so it’s available outside the house if something happens here. Scanning documents won’t take long and the peace of mind will be worth it.

My genealogy scanning hasn’t been a huge priority for me but it needs to be. Many of the records and photos are one of a kind. They need to be scanned as high-quality images and saved in multiple places so they can be preserved and shared. Bottom line is they are just things, however precious to me. I have the power to make sure they are digitally preserved. It’s time to map out a plan to scan and add metadata so what I know stays with them.

Hurricanes happen. Tornadoes happen. Floods happen. Fires happen. Earthquakes happen. Everything we have could be gone in a heartbeat. We owe it to ourselves and to our families to be as prepared as possible. Do it now.

Texas strong!


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Have You Written Your Obituary?

There are three things that you can do now to make things easier for your family when you die. You don’t need to be sick to do them – in fact, it’s better to do these while you’re healthy and have time to think and plan. You can do them in any order. But trust me on this: taking the time to do these three things is a gift to your loved ones.

In Memory OfFirst, write your obituary. You’ve read many of them and if you haven’t, just pull up any local paper and read a bunch. Some of them are boring and just have name, birth and death dates, spouse, children. My favorite obituaries, though, tell me who the person was, what their passions were, what made their lives better. My dad read to first graders for over 20 years and you can bet that will be in his obituary. I read a wonderful one years ago about a 102-year old woman known for her pie baking – I knew who she was after reading it. Include basic information but go beyond it to tell people who you are and why you mattered. Pick a good picture for the obituary, too, preferably one that looks like you as a mature person and not the army picture if you are in your 70’s.

Second, plan your funeral or memorial service and give a copy of what you decide to your church office as well as your own files. A funeral service is conducted when the body is present; when it’s not, as in the case with cremation, there is a memorial service. Different religious faiths and denominations have structure or liturgy for their services, but it’s up to the family – to you – to select scriptures or readings to be included, and to decide on music that’s significant.

This doesn’t have to be hard! There are websites with ideas, such as 30 Top Funeral Bible Verses. Hymnals and prayer books also have suggested music and scripture that’s appropriate. Do you want to have a choir sing, or maybe someone sing a solo? Write it down!  Nothing is written in stone and it can be changed as you change and want something else. Also remember that a memorial service is for the living, so if your family decides on something else, that’s okay, too. But at least they will know what you want, and that will help enormously.

TombstoneFinally, plan what happens to your body. Do you want to be cremated or buried? Do you know where the body/ashes will be interred?  Sit down with a funeral home (or several, to decide on one), and make plans. Even better, prepay it to lock in prices (they call this “pre-need arrangements”).  Your family won’t have to do anything when you die except call the funeral home and meet to review what has already been arranged.

I work in a church office and deal with memorial services and grieving families all the time. I’ve seen what a difference it is for them when these three things have been planned in advance. Make thoughtful decisions about what you want, write them down, and make sure your family and your religious home have copies. It might be the best gift you can leave them.


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Not my circus, not my monkeys

circusmonkeyLast year at this time I was up to my eyeballs working on closing out a fiscal year, balancing the budget, sending endowment reports to the development office, and groaning that somehow the library also wanted performance appraisals done at the same time. This year that’s not my circus, not my monkeys. It feels good.

I was good at it. That budget was spent down to .01% of the total. But I don’t miss doing it. I do, however, miss some of my colleagues. I don’t know how or if things would be different had I retired and stayed put, but certainly moving 1600 miles away made it impossible to get together for lunch. I hadn’t really thought that I’d be dropped like a hot potato, though. That’s what it feels like.


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Sudden loss

One of my friends died suddenly yesterday, on the golf course in New Mexico while traveling with a group from our community. Although death is always a reality when you live in a place that has mostly 55+ residents, this one hit extra hard because it was so unexpected, because of where he was at the time, but mostly because he was so beloved by all. He had been a leader in the community and the church, but was also just a fun person who brought a smile to our faces.

We have a lot of memorial services here over the course of a year but most come after a lingering illness or simply from complications of age. This death was different and has made us stop in our tracks. Bob was a member of the choir and last night, instead of rehearsal, we spent time talking out the facts and reactions, and praying together.

It’s too soon to know anything else now. Logistics get complicated when a body needs to be moved across state lines and there are too many unknowns. What we do know is that we lost someone who mattered.


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Does Customer Support really support?

My computer is 3 years old and so is most of the software I use, which these days actually isn’t all that much. But I’m working with images more than usual now that I’m church webmaster and I decided to upgrade my Adobe Photoshop Elements to the current version. Even bought a helpful book and everything. They arrived yesterday.

I sat down to install the product and immediately ran into problems. Adobe made me be a registered user before I could install and register my software, so I did that. But when the installation got to the part where I was to put in the serial number – I couldn’t find one! There were lots of numbers and even one that looked like a serial number, but it wasn’t. What to do?

Being a savvy geekette, I went to the Adobe customer service forums to see if anyone else had the problem. Several different entries but no real resolution. So next step was to open a chat conversation with tech support. It was, to put it mildly, annoying. I sent a picture of the label on the back of the box with all the numbers. I typed the numbers. I explained the problem. He told me he couldn’t get a serial number out of it. Well, duh.

Then he told me to look at the inner sleeve of the “box” that the disc came in and said the 24-digit serial number was on the sleeve. I took it apart, people, and there was nothing on that sleeve. Nothing. So naturally he told me I needed to report this to Amazon, where I purchased the product. It was Amazon’s fault that the Adobe product they sold didn’t have a serial number on it?  I don’t think so.

But I contacted them anyway. Finding Amazon chat is a little hidden but it’s always been productive and today was no exception. The lovely Christina told me to just send it all back and I would have a replacement tomorrow. Even though I’d dismantled the inner sleeve of the box?  Yes, she said, that’s not a problem.

 

This is why I will buy from Amazon. Because they support their sales and treat me like someone with a problem, not someone who IS a problem.


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Too Busy to Work

I thought I would be spending my retirement working on genealogy and doing house things. Hah. The genealogy, much as I love it and want to do it, has taken a back seat to the more important things like Mah Jongg. It’s very popular here in the Bay and I’m playing today for the third time this week. mahjong-2I’ve never really been a games-playing person but this just appeals to me. The tiles make such a lovely sound when they click together and the images are colorful and pretty. Bams, cracks, dots, dragons, jokers, winds are mixed into different specified combinations in order to make mah jongg. We use official cards from the National Mah Jongg League that show us what hands of tiles are valid each year for scoring. The new 2016 cards just arrived so we’re all equally confused about how to make them work. In any case, this is keeping me busy.

So is having taken on the role of webmaster for my church. Honestly, I need a 12-Step program for this stuff. The site is in WordPress, which I’ve been working with for 8 years, including this blog, and I’m having a grand time updating contents and playing with changes to navigation. The site needs a redesign to make it responsive and generally less green. But it’s doable and uses a different part of my brain that’s been missing the chance to play with familiar toys.