Clergy sexual abuse is one of the most devastating forms of abuse, impacting almost every area of life. After surviving abuse like that, how do you recover? And after being preyed upon by a powerful church figure, how do you recover your agency, your voice, your life?
This edition of The Roys Report features an unforgettable session from the recent Restore Conference, and one of the most raw and vulnerable talks you’ll ever hear. It comes from Lori Anne Thompson, a victim of clergy sexual abuse by one of the most powerful men in evangelicalism for nearly 40 years—Ravi Zacharias.
But even before Ravi, she experienced the pain of abuse by her father. And then, after becoming a believer, the pastor who had become a father figure to her used his position to extort money from Lori Anne and her husband.
Statistically, Lori Anne should be a shell of herself. But anyone who knows Lori Anne knows her as uncommonly kind, extraordinarily bright, perceptive, healthy—and truly, one of those people whose presence in your life just makes your life better.
She has walked a road no one should ever have to walk. And yet, through that process, she’s learned the keys to not just surviving abuse and trauma, but how to thrive after abuse and trauma.
The voice of abuse survivors is too often missing—and silenced—in American evangelical churches and ministries. Lori Anne has a vital perspective as a survivor and healer, and she’s distilled decades of experiences and wisdom into this riveting 52-minute talk.
Lori Anne Thompson
Lori Anne Thompson. RKin, MA, is a survivor of clergy sexual abuse who now seeks to serve the survivor community through selective speaking, extensive writing, and in her role as an intake specialist at a survivor-centric law firm. She graduated from Queens University, Canada, earning a Bachelor of Science Kinesiology and a Master of Child Advocacy & Policy from Montclair State University. Learn more at loriannethompson.com
Julie Roys, LORI ANNE THOMPSON
JULIE ROYS 00:02
Hi, I’m Julie Roys, founder of The Roys Report and the RESTORE conference, and you’re about to see a video from Restore 2023. Alot of conferences charge for videos like these, we’ve decided to make them available for free. We’ve done that because we don’t want anybody to miss out on this valuable content for lack of finances. But of course these do cost us money to shoot and to edit. So if you’re able we’d really appreciate it if you consider donating to The Roys Report so we can continue this important service. To do so just go to JULIEROYS.COM/DONATE. Also, I hope you’ll make plans to join us at the next RESTORE conference, which we’ll be announcing soon. As great as these videos are they pale in comparison to being there in person. As one speaker commented this year, RESTORE is more of a restorative community than it is a conference. And every year that community just grows deeper and richer. And so I hope you’ll be able to join us at the next RESTORE. Be watching for that. And in the meantime, I hope you’re blessed and encouraged by this video.
LORI ANNE THOMPSON 01:11
The survivor community is a community that I was born into. It’s also a community I never ever wanted to be part of. 100% of those of us who have survived any kind of abuse did so in a social structure, where the despot has ruled the day. Where the power dynamic was as tangible as what it was invisible. Where dominance and subordination or submission have been the typography of our tyranny. The Oxford Dictionary in the Oxford Dictionary, tyranny is defined as cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of power or control. The work of Dr. Judith Herman has informed so much of my understanding. and she writes this, and I quote, “The rules of tyranny are simple. The strong do what they will simply because they can. The weak and vulnerable submit, the rule of the strong is enforced by violence or the threat of violence. Violence does not have to be used very often; it merely needs to be effective when it is used.”
In faith communities, we not only have the threat of violence by our earthly offenders, who seem all powerful and deeply omnipotent, but we also have the ever-present threat of the Almighty himself. The rules of tyranny are as systemic as what they are systematic. They are as pervasive as what they are predictable. In contrast, the survivor community is meant to be based upon principles of mutuality and reciprocity, a safe shelter for people who have been pillaged, where they should have been protected. And a place where people should be fed when they have been eaten. Juxtaposed to those who offended against us, overwhelmingly, we are a group of courageous overcomers. We are not a group of losers. But we are a group who have suffered catastrophic losses. I regularly have the privilege of interviewing survivors who are seeking civil justice. And the single hardest question that these people have to answer in that interview is this: what, what are the damages to your financial, personal, physical, psychological, professional, sexual and spiritual life? It is easier to make a list of what’s not been damaged, about what remains, because across domains, life is radically altered when you’ve been touched in any way by abuse.
Some of us may have encountered abuse for the first time as adults, but a much higher percentage of us have encountered abuse as children. Those are called Adverse Childhood Experiences, and they result in a sequela a staggering sequela of negative outcomes that compound and complicate life in adolescence and adulthood. In the 1990’s, Dr. Vincent Felitti, and his team at Kaiser Permanente did the original or foundational a study, and they elucidated–they surveyed I think it was 17,000 people–and they elucidated 10 factors that if any one of them happen in childhood, that can cause a deformation of the person and personhood and personality of individuals. And they include sexual, physical and emotional abuse, physical and emotional neglect, parental separation, parental incarceration, parental substance abuse, domestic violence and/or mental illness. Later on in the Philadelphia study, not surprisingly, the concept of childhood adversity was expanded to include community violence, racism, foster care and bullying. The earlier and more protracted all this, (I’m gonna bleep myself) happens, these adverse experiences happen, the longer and later the outcome, the adverse outcome stay. And a score of four or more puts survivors at risk of a 12-fold risk of suicide. So, check, check, check, check, check, depression, substance abuse and a laundry list of extensive poor health outcomes that last well into adulthood and often lead to early death. It’s an abysmal picture. For those of us who have encountered abuse across a lifespan, a significant percentage of us have never told a soul. Rather, we have suffered and suffocated in silence. Sometimes, sometimes people don’t even tell themselves.
This is a very leaky business. Research done by Baylor University, I met Dr. Pooler yesterday, it was a privilege, informs us that those of us who have survived clergy perpetrated sexual abuse as adults, they know some facts about folks like us. The average age of onset is 30. So much for being vulnerable, not being vulnerable past the age of 18. With an average duration, and this is staggering to me, of four years of abuse. Like that’s staggering. A whopping 65% of us had unprocessed trauma, and a further 62% of us, were being counseled by the very person, the clergy member who abused us. Only 9% of us report that the church supported us after we disclosed. And 80% of us report that abuse negatively impacted our relationship with God. More recent research that’s not been published yet reports that 40% of clergy adult sexual abuse survivors have post-traumatic stress disorder. Man, I tell you, I wonder why, wonder why we have PTSD? Anybody? It might just be that those of us who have decided to disclose and sought any form of public justice have each had our own public crucifixion. Silence looks like a very attractive alternative in the face of that. We have watched strangers and friends alike gamble in person or online, as our private hell is hung in public humiliation, as we are mocked, and lied about when we were the ones who were lied to. Most of us can recall the hollow thud of our frames when our limp bodies collapse in exhaustion and when we dragged ourselves away from the side of the evangelical religious road and waited to die. We can taste the trauma, the disorientation and the bewilderment of telling the truth only to labelled a liar. The cruelty of incomprehension as we asked for bread not only to be given a stone, but to have stones thrown at us, to be told to sit down in silence while our offenders rise to speak for standing ovations.
It is grievous. It is right to grieve, it is also right in this moment to breathe. Can you join me? Can we do it again? One more.
That was then, and this is now. And I’m about to enter into what is the beginning of my end and so if that hurt, I would ask you to find a space to ground yourself because this may hurt more. It hurt for me to write it may hurt for you to read. I have written a brief narrative, one that is as gentle as I could make it. One that leaves out as many details as possible, yet still provides a cogent narrative for you to understand that when I met Ravi Zacharias I was already destroyed.
I was sired by a sexual predator. I am the child of a child molester. I was my mother’s last child and I thought I was my father’s last child too until several years ago, I found out that he sired his last child just before he died. That child was born to a child. She took her first breath five months after his last. I was two when my mother and my oldest sister fled the home. Myself and my two remaining siblings were left behind with him. Consequently, my home life was transient and tumultuous. Poverty pervaded my life across domains. My siblings and I regularly endured rage fueled physical assaults by my father, on more than one occasion, that led to unconsciousness. My father had a partner in his crimes, my stepmother, who also perpetrated verbal, emotional, physical, sexual abuse, at times that came close to torture. Polyvictimization in my home hung as heavy as the daily dose of secondhand smoke. Shame, spurning, starvation, medical and physical neglect were commonplace. These abuses are too overwhelming to number or even to name, but they included control of consumption of food and drink, control of urination and defecation, a regimen that did not resemble human hygiene, sexually abusive bathing practices, denuding and dehumanizing and defeminizing that include mandatory dressing in full coverage masculine clothes, which was always excessively hot in summer and wholly inadequate in winter. It seems to me that all oppressive regimes seem to engage in the practice of the shearing off of hair of their victims. Month after merciless month I sat in the kitchen where she and I silently sobbed where my any traces of tresses would fall to the floor. I was formed and fashioned entirely by the will of others, and I rarely, if ever expressed a will of my own. My older remaining sister disclosed my father’s savage sexual abuse of her and fled the home when I was 10 years old. She was 13. Once again, I and my remaining sibling were left behind. My father confessed to his crimes, attempted suicide twice, went to jail for nine months and returned home rehabilitated. It is difficult to breathe when your father’s shame hangs around you like secondhand smoke. I was in a toxic family and with no choice but to inhale or die. I did both with each breath.
Upon his release from incarceration, he turned his abusive intentions towards me — sexually abusive intentions. I could not fathom how an adult would want to have sex acts with a child. I still cannot. After a particularly salient incident, I asked him why he had sex with children. I like many others thought that if a man had a wife, he would not sexually offend. I can still see this moment, the traumatic tableaux as he leaned against the table, the kitchen table. He was a massive, he was an immense man, and I can feel what I felt as I stood by the door ready to run to literally nowhere and no one, knowing full well, the futility of fleeing, but ready to flee anyway. And in a rare moment of clarity, and maybe the only honest thing he ever said, he told me that his predation was not about sex, it was about power. I was twelve.
Judith Herman says, “Repeated trauma in childhood forms and deforms the personality which how trapped in an abusive environment is faced with the formidable task of adaptation. She must find a way to preserve a sense of trust in people who are untrustworthy, safety in a situation that is unsafe, control in a situation that is terrifyingly unpredictable, and power in a situation of helplessness. Unable to care for or protect herself, she must compensate for the failures of adult care and protection with the only means at her disposal – an immature system of psychological defenses.”
More Kleenex. Thank you for being patient with me. It would be harder if I didn’t feel this, or easier, sorry, if I didn’t feel it so much. I understood that if I were to survive, I would have to protect myself from the one man who was supposed to protect me. I tried really hard for three more years and he tried harder. But the time I left home at 15, I had a perfect ACE score of 10. It was a perfect score. And my perfectionism began early. I left with life in a cardboard box. And I never looked back.
He was arrested for child molestation for the second time, and he learned from his first go round that the nearly universal act of predatory denial. This time he was acquitted because it was my word against his. And there were no traces of his trauma on my person. Many children many abuse children, says Judith Herman cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom without question, but that they will grow up with major impairments in cognition, self-care, in a memory, and identity and the capacity to form stable relationships. I had them all. My father was released from prison, but I was not. As an adult, I was repeatedly revictimized by men in places of power and fiduciary duty, men that I both dearly loved, and deeply trusted. I married when I was 18. Because he asked and I couldn’t say no. And I had my first child at 21. Her very existence some of you may relate to this, awakened in me an anguish about my own childhood that can only be described as infinite and touching absolutely every area of my life. It was an earthquake, the birth of something beautiful, someone beautiful showed me that I was vulnerable too. The desire to protect her, nurture her, care for her and rip limb to limb anybody who would bring her harm, evoked rage for my own inner person. I was entirely unequipped to handle that the doors to the past that the present had opened. I knew I needed help. But I had very little in the way of resources.
That’s when I turned to the evangelical church, who offered me cost free help. I had no idea how costly that help would be. Rightly, they proclaim good news to the poor, comfort to the brokenhearted, release for the captives, and liberty for those who had been imprisoned. I was poor, and I sure was brokenhearted, I knew everything there was to know about captivity. And they said that all who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be filled. And I was starving.
In the early days of belonging to the so-called Christian community, my own father died and it’s that time that a door to a deeper darker world was open to me and I was adopted as a spiritual daughter of the lead pastor, who, and I had regular therapy sessions with him, I was diagnosed by him, and he was the treatment. I came to believe that the sum total of the Christian life in those early years was crying. I thought that, I was told and in some ways it’s true, that tears will tarry, but joy would come in the morning, and it looked to me like night would never end. It was in the same community that I later met and married my current husband of 18 years. It was also there that the same pastor committed egregious spiritual abuse and financial malfeasance against us and other members of the congregation. And you know this but attempting to hold a much beloved, high powered pastor to account is an invite in catastrophic sequala of betrayal trauma as experienced by us, but as theorized by Dr. Jennifer Freyd, that includes a series of events that is defined by DARVO: denial that anything happened, attacking the victim in reversing the victim and offender dynamics such that the real victim is thought to be the offender agent of Satan, and the real offender is being victimized. Some of us have been DARVOed to death.
All of this happens, astonishingly, institutional cowardice is committed in the name of Christ. Perhaps truer words were never spoken by Dr. Judith Herman when she said, “In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the purpose or perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim, and if he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens.” No one listened. Very straightforward. Highly successful campaign. We were shunned and shut out of our Christian community. Before we had at least the hope in Christ. Now all we had was the harm of those who called upon his name, and not too much remained. It was in this context that I met Ravi Zacharias.
When I came forward when this story went public in 2016-2017, life as I knew it, anything that was beautiful, collapsed in what can only be described as a protracted private and public catastrophe. Virtually no one believed me. I could hardly believe myself. I was globally vilified. I lost my home, my occupation, and nearly my life itself. Years of days were filled with night. My only confidants were my therapist, and my lawyer, and in times of really intense moments, they still are. Justice was a joke, and so was hope. The steady drum of those two people’s sanity helped me to save mine. I had no faith or hope left so I had to borrow theirs. In time, their belief and trust in me helped me to find a measure of belief and trust in myself. But there would be many years of nights before dawn would ever come. I and my husband took one step forward only to take at least 10 steps back. It took forever to not lose ground. It took even longer to gain any. C.S. Lewis said of wrong some can be made right, but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot develop into good. Time does not heal it the spell must be unwound bit by bit with backward mutters of dissevering power or else not. It’s in recovery that we go back to the source of the error. And we work it a fresh from there.
Lainna said yesterday that we have to look back to move forward. Lena, I want a statue of that duck wherever you can find one of those. She was completely right.
For the time that we have remaining, I want to talk to you about the stages of recovery. The architecture of empowerment, and the route to resilience, even as each one of us has our own path and we’ll take divergent paths forward. Are y’all ready for that? Okay. I want to say this as a caveat and no I didn’t add this after I heard Lena speak. Although I was born into an abusive and nonnutritive environment. The simple fact that I’m a white, heterosexual female endowed with a backpack of privileges, that my fellow survivors who are part of marginalized groups, and races and cultures simply do not have. I was clever as a child compulsively compliant, and I had a quiet disposition. Some of those things have changed.
Even then, I had an interest in human wellbeing that was higher than my low estate. I had a lot of words, which I was not permitted to use, nor was I even permitted to think them. I was able to attend school, and eventually church. And those two things were a reprieve for me. I was watchful, which helped me anticipate some of the storms and take shelter, but whenever possible, these were compensatory mechanisms for me, you will have your own.
Another breath. On your mark, get set, here we go. 123, inhale, hold it there, exhale. Let’s do it again, shall we? I need this as much as you do. On your mark, get set, go, inhale 123. And exhale. Feel your butt in your seat. Feel your feet on the floor, put your hands in your lap and your head on your shoulders. You have a body and it’s good.
Okay, recovery is defined as the return to a normal state of health, or to regain the possession or control over something that was stolen or lost. That definition hits home. For many of you the road to recovery will be a pathway to recover what was. You remember a self before this, some of you. For me, recovery has been a pathway to collect what wasn’t. I’m not saying it’s better or worse. I’m just saying it’s different. I have a big bee in my bonnet about empowerment. And this might sound ranty, so hold on. Dr. Judith Herman again says, “The first principle of recovery is empowerment of the survivor.” I’m going to say it again. The first principle of recovery is empowerment of the survivor. “She or he must be the author and arbiter of her own recovery. Others may offer advice, support, assistance, affection, and care, but not very, very importantly, not the cure.” Others are not the cure. “Many benevolent and well intentioned attempts to assist the survivor flounder because this basic principle of empowerment is not observed. No intervention, (I say it again), no intervention that takes power away from a survivor can possibly foster recovery, no matter how much it appears to be in his or her immediate best interest.” Empower, to be empowered is to have capacity and control. To have autonomy, which means I am me, I’m not you, and have agency which means that things I do matter in my life, I can affect change. It’s not sufficient for you to do for me. It’s wholly insufficient. We do for toddlers. Even in toddlerhood, that’s how children learn. It also means to engage in critical thinking rather than being told what to think. That means we have to flex our thinking muscles. And I don’t know your story, but I know mine. And I was not permitted to think, but I also didn’t even know how to think. And so even when I became a Christian, I was really happy for other people to think for me because they must be right. That has to stop if we’re going to be a people who are empowered. We need to seek information and not be given a steady stream of advice. When I’m in a hurry, I will drop a piece of advice. And when people are also in a hurry, I’ll do that. But in general, I will only provide resources and information. We can’t have other people chew the meat for us. We have to learn to chew ourselves. I’m deeply concerned and don’t mind publicly saying it that I’m very concerned about the dynamic that I see developing in the survivor advocacy community. I fear that we are absolutely without question recreating the celebrity culture from whence we came.
People speak of their, this drives me crazy. Oh, you can tell I’m feeling empowered. People speak of their helpers as if their helper is responsible for their healing. That is bullshit. You are responsible for your healing. You are not responsible for your hurt, which also many people aren’t going to tell you you’re responsible for your hurt. You are not responsible for your hurt, but you are responsible for your healing. No one person is the cure. And anyone who says they are, big circle around that person, big circle. There is no question that we need advocates in public spaces. But critically, we need to learn to advocate for ourselves. We need wise helpers. I’m all for wise helpers. And they’re essential to recovery. The wisest helpers are those who can and will do with you and me, but not for. Wise helpers should not give you the answers. They might ask you questions. They should help you find the answers for yourself.
Empowerment is so central to recovery, that if that fails, recovery will not ensue. Empowerment is not a one and done. It is a process. However, there are stages to recovery. Carson alluded to that. He didn’t know how well he was cueing me up. He really demonstrated his recovery journey for you. Thank you, Carson for embodying that, for us.
The first stage of recovery is establishment of safety and stability in the present. And I really think that many people continue to flounder because they try to go into the next phases of recovery before they are safe and stable. So you consider trauma… think of it like a train wreck, you’re in a train wreck, nobody’s going to get you to get up and walk when you have an open wound. That makes sense, your guts will fall out. So, for many of us, we’re trying to get up and walk, some of us are trying to get up and run with our entrails hanging behind us. And we wonder why we’re not well. Like that has to stop. And it took me at least a year and a half to stop hemorrhaging. Like I mean hemorrhaging. It took another year and a half just to be safe and stable. That’s a long time, three years, just to get safe and stable.
And grieving and remembering is the second stage of recovery. Before we go to the second stage of recovery, let’s just talk a little bit more I’ve got some notes and I want to make sure we talk about them. Part of safety and stability is are you safe from harm from yourself? Fair, fair point? Are you safe from harm from others? Can it the restoration of biological functions is paramount. They are the litmus test of whether or not you are in a place, a safe and stable place. Can you eat enough but not too much? Can you sleep enough but not too much? Can you move? Can you work, pay your bills, all those things? Abuse annihilates our attachment systems. I didn’t have working attachment systems, but any sort of abuse, whether it’s attachment system to key relationships, like Carson was talking about or workplace or identity, it annihilates our basic trust in others and also ourselves. Right? It rips apart our identity it destroys our autonomy. It really obliterates intimacy, and then it crushes initiative. Just can’t do anything, you can hardly function. Trauma shatters our sense of safety in the world, and in our very selves. These things are not only fracturing, they are also formative. It takes time to rebuild a secure base. Give yourself that time.
The good news is that this is all possible. The bad news is its gonna take a lot of work. But you are people who know work; your gritty, you know how to get things done. So, we might as well put in the work to become safe and stable. People who don’t negotiate safety and stability well will repeatedly re stabilize, or destabilize.
I have two young kids who remain at home still we have four in total. I birthed three of those suckers and I got one for free. And they’re great, they’re amazing. My youngest daughter is 14. She’s amazing. She just started high school in Canada. And that’s a big deal, because you go from like grade school to high school and they’re wearing school uniforms. And she made the high school basketball team. Yeah, proud mom. I can’t hit the broadside of a barn. But you know, she’s my kids are athletic, which I’m really grateful for. And so, my husband likes to coach from the bench. Nobody else has that problem, I’m sure. And I don’t know anything about basketball. But I’m really excited that she’s having a good time and making connections and it’s part of her identity and growth and development. And so, I’m all for that. What I have learned and watched that when the girls are a new team and young, and when they get the ball, they’re like panicked, like, oh my gosh, we got the ball! And then they they all run in a mad, like a mad way to get to the other end of the court and then they don’t know what to do. And my coach husband beside me, I’m quiet and he is usually quiet, but something happens in athletics to men. Oh, it’s crazy. And he’s saying, slow down. Like, can you just slow it, slow it down! They can’t hear him because he’s not the coach. And then he’s telling me, like I even care. He’s telling me look at that kid, like there’s this kid on the team and she she’s dribbling, right. I can’t even mimic it because I can’t do it. She’s dribbling, she’s got her head up. And she’s looking, right she’s looking for what she’s supposed to do with the ball. But every other girl’s like they’ve got their head down, they’ve got the ball, and they’re not looking up at all. But he’s right. It’s good advice. So, if when you’re new at recovery, and you are welcomed into survivor community, but it is baptism by fire. And so when you are thrown the ball and thrown into a new team, where you have no experience, and everything’s confusing, and you have this ball that you feel you need to hold the offender accountable, you need to tell the church, you need to, you know, Christine said contact a lawyer or the authorities if there’s a legal or criminal thing, and that’s correct. But everything else, slow down! Take the time to feel what safety looks like. Take the time to see what it tastes like. So that you can monitor and measure those metrics. So keep your head so you should be able to dribble the ball of recovery in such a fashion that you can still look around and see where things are at.
And part of dribbling the ball and playing the game of recovery, and it’s not a game but it’s a good analogy, is grieving and remembering. And it’s really, it’s making meaning out of processing metabolizing and making meaning out of trauma. None of us incurred abuse alone. And none of us will be able to heal alone. The importance of social support can’t be overstated. Small, safe, homegrown support groups are really, really, important. Thankfully, there’s a lot more survivor led grassroot organizations that have been cropping up now than what there were then when things happened with me.
The therapeutic alliance which I’m pretty sure we’re going to hear about next is of the utmost importance. And when I say therapeutic alliance, this is what I mean. And I make no apologies for making this statement because you deserve the best, the best of care. You need a licensed, competent board-certified mental health professional. I know it costs a great deal to get good therapy. I am telling you I would not be here without it. It costs more not to. Low to no cost things are journaling, meditation, prayer, really vigorous exercise. I am in the wellness industry, I’m a health care provider. And when this all happened, I was curled into a ball for several years. I know what it feels like to feel paralyzed and not be able to move. You think that you cannot move a muscle. But vigorous exercise, there is such strong evidence to say that moving your body will help you heal. It’s basic, but adequate rest, good nutrition, you are really truly worth caring for. If your children were going through a crisis, you would make sure they had breakfast, lunch and dinner and they had naps. Podcasts, blogs, vlogs, library books, there are online and in person communities. I want to give some caution and caveats to online communities. Please consider your rules of engagement. Consider them for yourself, not just what the rules of engagement of the online community are. Consider how do you want to interface What do you want to get out of this? What do you want to bring to this. And remember that online, the online world is a made-up world, really. So there are many safe secular spaces in which to flourish, and eventually to heal and eventually flourish. Don’t be afraid to seek those out.
Most of us were reluctant to face the agony of abuse. I remember talking to my trauma therapist, when I first met her, and I said I’m not sure if my story is bad enough to really warrant a trauma therapist. I can’t believe I don’t know. But that’s what I thought then. It’s your choice whether or not you’re going to confront the horrors of your present or your past. Nobody can or should force you to do that. We do believe that if we open up that Pandora’s box of pain that, you know, we’ll never be able to shut it, and it will just overwhelm our lives. I want to tell you something. That’s the very thing you should do, the thing you don’t want to look at. And the box you don’t want to open are the very things that slowly, safely, securely in gradiated fashion. Those are the things you need to look at. Those are the places you need to go. Traumatic memories are buried alive. And grief can be really, really, really complicated by an unlimited number of factors. But grieving does come to an end, believe it or not. “Crying is alright while it lasts,” says CS Lewis, “but sooner or later, you have to stop sooner or later. And then you got to decide what to do.”
Reintegration. Reintegration to me means neither being defined by your trauma or denying it. Establishing yourself once again as an independent “I.” Who was I before this happened? Who am I now? And who’s like Carson said, “who do I want to be?” Getting to know yourself, including being aware that there are things about yourself that you don’t yet know. Self-knowledge is a process. How is my role changed in my family and my faith community, with my employ, compared to what it was then. How can I contribute to community of my choice in a way that’s based on my strengths? And how can I live a life, some of us for the first time, how can I live a life that includes me?
This brings us to the topic of agency. Agency is not only the feeling but the actual capacity to have control over your own life. In Christendom, we’re like, well, God has a plan for you, so you shouldn’t have one. Crazy. Yeah, it’s crazy. And in his book, Trauma, Dr. Paul Conti suggests that agency is a verb, that’s something that you do rather than a noun, which is the person, place, or thing. And there’s a difference between being in a car, being the passenger in a car and being the driver of the car. And one of the questions that we should ask ourselves is, “how old is the person who’s driving your emotional car?” At too many junctions in my life, someone who should not have had the keys, was steering my car into seas of sorrow repeatedly. I was compulsively compliant, which essentially meant that my no was broke. And when compliance is the only possibility, consent is utterly impossible. If you can’t say no, then you can’t say yes either.
Abuse and abusers try to define you. Just search on the internet, there’s lots of definitions of me. They take away your choice. In the process of reintegration, you actually get to choose who you want to be. The most beautiful people I know without fail, are the ones who have dug through the rubble and made something beautiful. Some of these people may live and die in insufficiency, but they have found a way to make beauty from ashes. And that is who I want to be. I was astonished to realize that with much practice and patience, I developed an intact sense of self. That was a miracle. I didn’t, you know, you fill in the blank yourself, that was a miracle. And I differentiated from others. If you wanted your eggs like that, that’s how I have my eggs. If you like that restaurant, that’s how I’d like that restaurant. If you wear those clothes, that’s the clothes I would wear. I’m able to hold my own “No,” while carefully considering what yes would mean. Many survivors negotiate their trauma in the privacy of their own lives. My entire family, they don’t even know what I’m doing here. It’s fine. My sisters, my mother, my brother, we don’t talk about these things. It’s okay. That’s how they’re negotiating their trauma. But there’s a subsection of trauma survivors that (a small percentage of us) want to feel compelled to altruistically engage in advocacy, in some way, shape, or form. This is an altruism born of suffering. And suffering can create a need to help, and it has in me, I think I’m a helper by nature. But this has to be congruent with your life narrative, and also consistent with your strengths. I continue to seek meaningful ways to serve the survivor community, that increases my strength but diminishes my sorrow. When seeking to serve others, I looked at all sorts of options when I finished grad school. Most of them, it was kind of fun, because too many stories to tell. But most of them would leave me hemorrhaging with trauma and like in trauma with the person who’s in trauma. So the last thing survivors needed is for the person who’s trying to help them to also be falling apart. So there’s caveats, if you decide that you’re going to develop a survivor mission that is in the public sphere, one, get to know yourself, get and keep good therapeutic help. It may help you it may help you to serve others, but it’s not about you. Wherever you see individuals, or organizations who are recreating the dynamic you left, it’s a red flag. Here’s some other red flags so you’re ready. Dominance. In any culture or any person where dominance, subordination, and submission is the name of the game. Where people tell you what to think, instead of how to think, where people give you advice versus information, where people will speak for you instead of empowering you to speak for yourself, doing with rather than doing for, whose actions appear to be wholly invested in building up their platform rather than people. Don’t let anybody use you that way. Remember that we’re supposed to be a people of mutuality and reciprocity. While these things feel familiar, they have no place in the survivor community that we’re trying to cultivate.
We have to learn to cultivate healthy decision-making processes. Y’all need to stop being so dang nice. Offenders not only tell you what they think, they also tell you what you should think too. Learning to think for yourself is worth its weight in gold, and it is a skill that takes time and practice. This is important, you will know if you have successfully navigated the reintegration process if these four things are in place. Are you ready? You are able to tolerate the symptoms that are associated with PTSD within reasonable limits. That doesn’t mean you won’t have them. You have PTSD, but you’re able to tolerate those symptoms and you have coping skills. And that includes number two, being able to manage the feelings of trauma. You saw that I went in and out of feeling very emotional, but I managed, right?. You can call up your traumatic memories under your own volitional control and they don’t control you. The memories of the event or events have a cogent narrative that you can convey if you want to, and they’re importantly, and I talked to Carson about this before he spoke importantly, they’re connected to your feelings. And my final comment about reintegration. And I say this with absolute care and concern for not only your well-being but my own. I urge you to cultivate a personal and private life. One that has not lived out before your abuser or your abusive community. One that honors your own humanity, protects your person and allows your roots to grow and allows you to bear fruit.
I want to talk about justice in the moral community, and then I’m going to wrap it up. The idea of a moral community is a concept wherein a group of people have a social contract, and they respect a certain moral code, a group of people in whom you trust, and you believe will have your back. It does not have to be a faith community. But very often faith communities fall into that category. For faith communities to be a place of healing, it’s critical that the demand for justice in the context of the moral community must be shared by the group. We all need to be outraged. Julie asked the other day, people ask her why she’s so mad. And she says why are you not mad? We all need to be outraged. And yeah, absolutely. And what Paulo Freire calls, “our just ire.” We need to get our backs up about this stuff. And we need to ask the following question, or we want to be asked the following question as well. What would it take to repair the harm? Or at least as much as possible? This requires that people listen. Universally, we want public acknowledgement of the harm universally. If the harm has been public, we want publicly acknowledgement. We want the right. Somebody asked me once, you know, how far does this apology from RZIM needs to go? And I said needs to go as far as what the damage to me has gone.
And we all want protection from others, and we want moral vindication. We want somebody to stand up and say that bastard was wrong, not her. There are roads to justice and many of you know those roads to justice, and they’re probably not worth getting into. But what is required of you is required that you do justice, and that we love mercy. And mercy doesn’t look like re-platforming anyone or sharing platforms of abusers. But it does look like honoring your own humanity and even the humanity of the people who have wounded you. I am speaking after two people who sought my slaughter. That fact is not lost on me.
And it also requires us to walk with humility. Humility says that although we have been wronged, we are people who are capable of wrong as well. It means cultivating a culture and a posture, not of deference, as I have heard so often, but one of gratitude. Not gratitude for the harm that you have suffered and in many ways continue to suffer, but gratitude that unlike your offender, you get to choose who you want to be. You can cultivate your character, you can nurture empathy, and you can become the person that you desperately wished that others had been for you. I spoke for the last time, I spoke at RESTORE last year in 2023. And while I’m not certain at present, I do feel I felt coming here to this conference this time that this season is coming to an end for me, which is why I had an epitaph here for you today. It’s in keeping with my own core values that I didn’t know I had but I now can name of equality and mutuality and reciprocity. I am going to be taking a seat and letting others speak. I’ve also come to know that my own person is most effective when I can pursue excellence and you deserve excellence. For me that requires concentrated effort in one domain.
Additionally, I didn’t survive all of this to not really live and neither have you. Julie is going to talk to you about why not quit and I am here to tell you can. It has been a privilege to speak with you. I’m sorry I took up so much of your time. It is an honor and you have been my joy. Thank you for your absorbent listening and for bringing the weight of your pain and for bearing the weight of mine. I opened with saying that I didn’t choose to be part of this community. But I close with this, I would choose any one of you any day of the week. Something rare and true and beautiful emerges when an innocent victim endures abuse and finds a way to flourish in the aftermath of injustice, and you are truly beautiful.