“Thank you for seeing me for an extra session this week,” Peter begins.
“I haven’t been able to think of anything else but what you said, that by not talking about my priest abusing me I’ve done exactly the opposite of what I intended, I’ve let him continue to control my life.” Pause. “That makes me sick. But I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“And feeling …?”
“Sick. Angry! Scared. I keep remembering what he did to me. I try to figure out how many times it happened. I wonder why I never told my parents, anyone.” Pause. “I guess I know the answer to the last one, I didn’t think anyone would believe me.”
“Do you feel sad for you as the abused child?”
“I hate when you put it like that! That’s not all I am!”
“That’s true. It would have been better for me to say, do you feel sad for the child in you who was abused?”
Peter’s eyes well with tears. “You’re amazing. You listen and understand and take responsibility for even a little mistake.”
“Unlike the priest who took responsibility for nothing.”
“Unlike the priest. Unlike my parents who could never understand.”
“Would it be helpful if you told me what actually happened between you and the priest or do you feel you’re not ready?”
“He’d touch me. Usually until I climaxed. And then he’d make me touch him. Sometimes – I don’t know how often – he’d tell me to kneel – Catholics are good at that – and then he’d… he’d, you know, he’d make me use my mouth. I hated that. It was disgusting.”
“Thank you for telling me Peter. I know how hard it was for you. How do you feel now having told me?”
“Relieved. I knew I’d have to tell you. It feels like a relief to have it over.”
“Can I ask you what you’re thinking?” I ask.
“I was actually wondering what you’re thinking. I was afraid you’d think I was disgusting.”
“You’re not in any way disgusting, Peter.”
“I was afraid my wife would think that too. I wonder if she thinks about it when we make love. I wonder if a part of her recoils from me.”
I wonder to myself if Peter thinks about the abuse when they make love, but decide it’s too soon to ask that question. “Does she seem to recoil from you?”
He shakes his head. “No, not at all.” Pause. “But, but it’s hard for me to have … to have oral sex. Either to give it or receive it. I know it’s because of the abuse. Sometimes I force myself because I know she likes it, but it seems kind of disgusting to me.” Pause. “Actually, when she does it to me it feels good at the time, but then, then afterwards I don’t feel good at all.”
“You feel guilty?”
“And you felt guilty with the priest as well?”
“Yes. Guilty and ashamed. I was afraid someone would find out and think I was disgusting. Afterwards I’d come out from the church… If it was sunny I’d wonder how that was possible. It seemed so dark where I’d just been. I couldn’t understand how the sun could be shining. I didn’t want it to be sunny. I wanted to hide.”
“Peter, very often the hardest thing childhood sexual victims struggle with is the pleasure that they themselves felt. Like how could I have been abused if part of me enjoyed it?”
“That’s exactly right! How can it be abuse if I, if I climaxed?”
“Because your genitals were being stimulated and your body responded just as it’s supposed to. You were also a frightened, lonely child and some esteemed authority figure was paying attention to you, making you feel special and bringing you pleasure.”
“No, that’s not completely right. I didn’t feel special at all. I felt I was being singled out because I was disgusting and he knew I was disgusting. Don’t forget he was my confessor.”
“And what had you done that made you feel disgusting?”
“I touched myself.”
“You masturbated just like every child. I’m sure the priest made you feel guilty and ashamed of doing what was entirely normal, but the horrible irony is that he was the one who was doing what was horrible, illegal, destructive. That’s enraging. I feel enraged for you.”
“I feel as though I’ve been in a trance this session. Like I want to shake myself and come back to reality.”
“I think what you’re saying, Peter, is that you’ve been back being your child self. I’m sure that will be helpful to you - and to us - because it’s that part of you that was damaged and needs to heal.”
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