By Norm Riggins
My road to healing began in 1994 at 70 mph one gray day on Interstate 64. For some reason my wife of 23 years and I were listening to NPR and out of the blue a report on clergy sexual abuse in Chicago grabbed my attention. Tears began to swell in my eyes and then a valiant effort to suppress the emotions that were filling my being. I had been a master of repressing emotions, anger, hurt and shame since 1958. A simple and loving question “what’s wrong” opened the floodgates of all that I tried to keep bottled up inside for so many years. Of course I had to keep driving because it was my way of exerting power over my life that had been so badly shaken. We talked over the hours that remained on our trip. I know now that the revelation of my abuse was something she never expected. It shook her to the core of her being. Initially all she said was “now I understand.” She was a high school teacher and knew many of the signs of child abuse, but never did she imagine she was married to a victim/survivor. Her quiet and loving response was what I needed to begin the long road to healing. She listened to all I had to say on that long road home. We promised the love each other in good and bad times. Neither of us knew what that would entail over the next 20 years. I know that it hurt her deeply that I did not trust her enough to tell her what was inside me. She did not understand my impatience or my insistence to sit on the end of a pew, always having an escape plan when we went out … and so many other “quirks.”
I swore her to absolute secrecy, no one was to know. She kept the secret for a year all the while gently encouraging me to talk to someone. I finally agreed to begin talking about my abuse not only to her but to a trusted priest and then a professional counselor.
The real story is what my wife has endured all these years. I have come to realize that when she said “I do” some 43 years ago she in a real sense became a victim of the abuse so long ago. Her faith has been shaken; she shares in the pain of betrayal by the very people who tell us of God’s love, to live a life of virtue and to do no harm to our fellow man. She sees the effects of the abuse has had on me, the man she loves, and feels almost helpless to make it right and cure the pain. If she could only understand that by her mere presence in my life and her willingness to stand with me is a true gift of love and the fuel that keeps me traveling, maybe not at 70 mph, that long and sometimes lonely road to healing.
We have been fortunate that our Bishop recognizes the role a spouse or other loved one plays in healing from abuse. She has had the opportunity to talk to others who are supporting a victim survivor and gain strength for the journey ahead from the church she has loved and cherished all her life.
As survivors we must take a moment to thank the person who has supported us, pray for them, and let them know how much their just being there and putting up with all the stuff they endure from us means.
(Note: This newsletter looks forward to featuring reflections written by spouses and other loved ones who have shared our wounds and burdens – and miracles – by only one degree of separation. This reflection is an important start. We acknowledge the grace and hope others, who have loved us and suffered with us, have given us as “channels of His peace.”)