(Editor’s note: Steve Thompson is a survivor of clergy sexual abuse of a minor that occurred while he was growing up in the Diocese of Davenport. He wrote the following article for The Catholic Messenger about his journey toward healing.)
When you look into the abyss of death enough times you find your true self. It took several near-death experiences before I finally figured out what was eating me alive from the inside out. At the same time, I found that life is to be enjoyed, that rage and resentment are destructive choices and cause us much harm.
The horrific stories of abuse are true; many are much nastier than mine. I am here to reassure victims that there is real recovery from the assaults we took as a child. As with alcoholism and drug addiction, it is the first step that points out that our lives had become unmanageable. The hardest part is to get over the denial of the real effect it had on you.
Like many others, I denied any sort of abuse because I wanted to appear tough. Finally, as a last resort, I put 15 pages together, sent it to the Diocese of Davenport and published it on Facebook. I must add that the truth of the abuse upset the entire apple cart for those still alive who either perpetrated the abuse or supported it in some fashion.
Another thing it did was to bring witnesses out into the open who saw bruises, remembered them vividly, and were not afraid to support me. I was terrified; I was on a heart transplant list and I truly thought I was going to die at 55, and that I would carry the secret of my abuse to my grave.
Back when the Wapello County Sheriff came to my house to ask if I was OK (after a teacher had seen bruises on me and reported it), boy were my abusers mad! It also proved the abuse beyond a shadow of a doubt. By posting the full story on Facebook years later, the truth came out and finally set me free.
Funny thing though, evidently, one is not supposed to tell these stories of abuse to kids. Kids should be wrapped in bubble wrap so as not to upset their magical world of unicorns and happy times. I have found that telling and explaining to them what happened actually helps kids grow up to be more realistic about what really can go on in life. It also tells kids that they can get through bad times, still be a good person, and that being a silent victim is for the birds.
The trait I carried was trying to please bullies and to get them to like me. Bullies are a fact of life, always have been, always will be. It is much better to explain to kids that you don’t have to put up with crap from someone before you finally stand up to them and assert your rights as a human being.
In closing, let me state that as a victim I found the most constructive manner to work through rage and resentment is to accept it and begin the healing process that will take place when you finally reach the pinnacle of your mountain of grief. You, too, can recover. I am ecstatic that I did. I continue to pray the rosary for the still-suffering victims. Praying the rosary focuses prayers; it is 20 minutes of you and God alone and it works. You can also get mad at God and call him names. He will still love you, I guarantee it. He is not a vengeful God; he is a God of love and redemption and that is why he sent Christ to save us.
I can only hope that all victims can find the peace I found. I found it through the prayers of the rosary and the grace of the Holy Spirit. My thanks to the entire team at the Diocese of Davenport, particularly to Alicia Owens (victim assistance coordinator) for the Lord’s work she did to help me navigate the absolutely most difficult period of my life. I made it; I survived; you can too!!!