Friday, September 6, 2019

Me Too, Too.

Another woman. Same Pastor. Here's her story.

"You brought me back to life. You healed me."

These are the words spoken to me by my abuser. These are the words that seeped into my mind and made me think I consented to the continual abuse he forced upon me. Seasoned abusers don't come out of the dark shadows in the night to assault their victims. Predators don't willingly share their intentions with their victims. My abuser lived as a pillar of the community. My abuser was my Pastor, friend, best friend to my husband. And my worst nightmare.

"For most of the relationship, the survivor may be eager to experience the sense of specialness and push to see the primary aggressor. This may contribute to later guilt and shame when abuse is occurring. Because of the staged and confusing progression, the survivor may not at the end understand that the primary aggressor has been the whole instigator. The survivor might erroneously believe that there has been a mutual progression. This is largely responsible for the tragic, well-known reluctance of the survivors to report abuse."

It was March 2016 in Panama City, we vacationed with my abuser and his wife, like we've done many times before through our decade long friendship. I don't recall seeing red flags or signs of strange behavior to make me believe this couple was anything but great friends to us. Until it was our second day at the beach in March 2016...

We were enjoying the sun at the beach and suddenly, he started rubbing my leg while his wife and our children sat nearby. In fact, while he was doing it, he was also speaking to an elderly couple. Distraction. His wife asked what he was doing when she saw his hand on my leg. He told her he was brushing the sand off. I wanted to believe him but in my gut I knew... Something wasn't right. This is what started the beginning of my abuse after years of manipulation and grooming.

The touching started with my leg on the beach and ended in something that I never wanted. My Pastor and his wife initiating inappropriate relations with me. Together. Something to this day I still don't fully understand and will continue years of healing and therapy for.

-- deep breath --

We were standing in the condo, I kissed my son and husband goodbye as they headed to the beach so I could nap. My Pastor, at the beach, heard that I was in the condo alone and took advantage of this opportunity. That's when he stormed into my bedroom, flipped on the light, pulled back my covers, pulled my bathing suit to the side and began fondling me. I was half asleep and before I knew it, it was too late. The whole time, I had an overwhelming sick and nauseating feeling to my stomach. "I need to act like I like it so he will go away. I need this to go away. My husband and son might walk in. I want this to be over. Just act like you like it so it can be over." It ended when he attempted to have sex with me but was unable to.

I stayed quiet. If I told my husband, what would my husband do? He would kill him. I thought this was an isolated incident. I thought it was a one time mistake. He made sure I knew, "If you tell anyone, we're toast." He made it seem as if it was a mutual decision and because of the years of grooming, I believed him. So, against all of my morals and everything I thought I would do if to ever be in this situation. I stayed quiet.

I thought my silence would be protecting him. I didn't think it would happen again. But he took my silence as permission to continue the abuse. It was late in the 3rd evening. my Pastor, his wife and I were playing a game. Never Have I Ever. My husband and son were asleep in the next room. The questions were escalating to a high level of inappropriateness. I was asked the question, "Have you ever been with a woman?" Before I could answer, his wife engaged in relations with me under his guidance and direction. We both listened and did what he said. I did so as if I was mindless. Doing things he told me to do without question. He watched, he instructed us. And he pleasured himself. My Pastor and his wife raped me. When it was over, I laid numb. Barely able to breathe. His wife later emerged from their bedroom and whispered, " You know if any of this gets out, we go down. And if we go down, so do you." I was sworn to secrecy. I was groomed. Manipulated. I laid in silence deprived of any thought or feeling. Praying this night would leave my memory.

The next evening while sitting on the couch, his wife stated, "I think he wants to do it again." I quickly left the room and went to bed.

This was the only time they ever had physical contact with me. He continuously tried to seek me out in secrecy for 3 months. He was relentless. He was determined to speak to me. Texting me through Snapchat. After I blocked him from my account, he then tried to pursue me through his friend's accounts. Always making sure there was no trace of evidence. He learned my daily schedule. He learned at what times I was at work. Conveniently, our children attended the same daycare which happened to be across from my workplace. He learned my running routes. He was waiting for me on his bike while I ran my usual route one day. He demanded that I kiss him. "I just need a real quick kiss. You don't know what it does for me." He insisted that I kiss him. I obliged to get away.

I found myself at my breaking point. Keep in mind, my husband was his best friend and employee at the time. I felt the need to protect him. Protect the church. But I couldn't take him anymore. I told him I needed to cut off all communication. He sobbed. Begging. I didn't give in. The morning after, he showed up in the parking lot where I worked out. He said, "I haven't been able to sleep or eat all night. Is this weird to you that I'm here right now?" Looking back, I realize this was stalking. He learned my routine and would show up where he knew I would be. I didn't understand it at the time. I didn't understand that every word he said and every action was apart of his grooming process to ensure I kept my silence. He made sure I would keep quiet. And for 3 years. I did.

During this time, he would ask me a series of questions. He would ask about my sexual abuse history. I shared with him that I've been raped. I was vulnerable and felt safe because of the words he said to me. "I want to know everything about you." "I want to know how I can pray for you." "God bless you." He would ask if his age bothered me. He seemed to love that I was much younger than him. He learned about my vulnerabilities. He was using my weaknesses to later use as exploitation to fulfill his needs. And I fell for all of it. I looked at him as my Pastor, a good man and a good counselor. Someone I trusted and confided in. I was completely brainwashed by this man.

My heart still breaks. 3 years. And my heart breaks. How do I wrap my head around the fact that my abuser was my husband's best friend? My Pastor? A decade long friendship? My heart breaks for my son who witnessed his mother who's been shattered by this man.

My Pastor and his wife sexually assaulted me. I was raped.

Until other victims came forward. Accusing the same man, Pastor, of sexual assault. I thought I was a willing participant. This is what sexual assault looks like. This is what predators do to their victims. Finding out that he was grooming and assaulting other women 3 years ago was devastating and a relief at the same time. He WASN'T in love with me. I no longer had to carry that burden of fixing him. I've held this in for 3 years. I've gone over this countless times in my head. I didn't have the courage to write this 3 years ago. I was afraid of what he might do. I was afraid of what people might think. I was afraid. 3 years ago, he still had a hold on me. Today, he doesn't.

"You brought me back to life. You healed me." Words from my abuser to me. Words that changed my life. He changed the way I viewed myself as a mother and wife. He changed the way I trust people. He changed the valued friendships I had in my life. He changed everything. Some of you will be angry. Some will be sympathetic. This is not written for either. It's written so it doesn't happen again. I feel it is my responsibility as a woman and Christ follower. We can't let history repeat itself. How will we allow this man to speak the Word of God to his congregation? Has he apologized? Has he admitted to any wrongdoing? Has he admitted to the things he's actually done? I ask you to ask yourself these questions before you show up on Sunday.

Think what  you want of me. I've been wearing the Scarlet Letter since 2016.

Me Too, Too.