By Bridget McGill
First and foremost I need to tell you I consider myself a “thriver.” It has been a long lonely journey to become that. I was afraid of public restrooms for as long as I could remember, I made sure my three children were accompanied by me or my husband when they used one. He thought I was overprotective.
I was 40 years old when I remembered my assault. I was sitting at home on my couch and wondered at my long-held fear. In quick succession a series of black and white photographic memories bombarded me: I am eight years old. This was an attack against my body and my everlasting soul. That was the beginning of my healing journey.
I chose to go to the pastor of my parish. He told me to meditate on Christ crucified on the Cross. That was way beyond my ken. There was a parish program on clerical abuse that was held during the crisis when the scandal reached national proportions. I realized I was not a lone victim, but the revelation horrified me as I contemplated so many victims, all the victims. I attended the church program, and there were small group discussions. When I shared that I had been assaulted as a child, I could see other parishioners shrink away as if I were a leper. The social worker who led the group offered to speak with me after the program, and I was comforted knowing he was at least one understanding soul.
The flashbacks gradually abated, and my inner child grew to trust me after my repeated assurances that she was beloved. I accepted that I would need to seek healing in other ways, including counseling. I worked with a sincerely committed young woman through desensitization exercises to help reduce my fears. Just as the news about clerical abuse in the USA simmered down, the reports began about abuses in Ireland, which is my homeland, and throughout Europe. I told my mother about the abuse when I was eight. This revelation opened the door for us to speak frankly about how difficult her life had been there as a child. I realized there was no Safe House to be found for me.
Feeling like I had done all I humanly could, I decided to actually reflect on the crucified Christ. And I did so. Repeatedly. Eventually I remembered that Christ died for our sins, not just my sins, but the sins of all of us, including priests who sexually assault children. For me, forgiveness was the key to my overcoming my anger and fears.
Finally I participated in a Healing Arts project. I labored on producing a book from a recycled CD case. It was lined in colorful patchwork fabric and zippered closed. I inserted pages that told my story. It started with an explanation of the phoenix and it’s resurrection to new life out of ashes, an analogy of my own transformation! The song “Blessed Assurance” became my anthem call. I ended quoting Isaiah 40:30. I discovered closure, and I was released of the burden of my shame and fear.
Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength;
they will mount up with wings like eagles.
They will run and not get tired,
they will walk and not become weary.
Bridget McGill is an Irish immigrant, lifelong Catholic, wife, and mother with education and work experience in early childhood education. She has earned certification and is commissioned as a Spiritual Director in the Diocese of Peoria. She founded St. Brigid’s Well which is a center for spiritual growth and development in Urbana Il.