Coping With Betrayal
This past May , several months after the events in this story transpired, and seven years after the abuse, I asked each of the main participants, one at a time, to share their experiences. The first interview was with Lauren and Myra. We walked out to Myra’s back yard (accompanied by Puck, her pet ferret) and sat down on the grass with a small tape recorder.
Myra: After the abuse was uncovered, when I was eight, I felt more angry toward myself. Almost like it was my fault. I knew it wasn’t, but those thoughts came up a lot. I didn’t understand the situation. All I knew was that I wanted to punish Adam somehow. I didn’t know whether I wanted to punish him for something I did wrong or something he did wrong.
Lauren: I felt basically that he was this friend of mine who had lived in my community for as long as I can remember. And I felt betrayed. Like, “Why the hell did he do that?”
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Joyce: The processing we did with Lauren after the abuse went well. But we had no way to gauge what was going to happen when she got into her teenage years. We intuitively felt that much of what she had experienced would be a time-release capsule and would be triggered by the onset of puberty.
That turned out to be true. About a year and a half ago, an angst or a hostility toward Adam started showing up that hadn’t been there before. It was as though Adam could do no right. Something was obviously brewing, and we weren’t sure where it was going to go.
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Myra: Last fall, I definitely felt angry. I had stuff to get out that hadn’t come out yet. And I didn’t know if it was ever going to come out, if I was ever going to be able to talk about it.
Lauren: I had a lot of anger, but it was buried. I had put it down. But about a year ago, it was starting to come back up onto the surface.
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Joyce: When all this first hit the fan, back in 1992, I knew that if I was going to be of any use to Adam as a support person, I had to give full expression to my sense of betrayal and disgust and just my rage at someone hurting my child. Anyone who has children, they know what this would feel like. To have someone that you’ve lived with and loved and trusted harm your child is a huge betrayal.
I was able to get those feelings out, even though it was hard work. And it turned out the way I had hoped–I was able to offer him my support. But I had to keep doing it. I had to keep bringing him before me (both at the time of the abuse and at various times since) and vent my feelings over and over again.
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Adam: I discovered, after the abuse, that my community was basing its response upon a fundamental, almost unspoken premise–a refusal to participate in our throw-away society, a society in which relationships are disposable. To choose instead, when the deeper dimensions of a relationship challenge us to let go of some dearly held attachments–to choose to face that agonizing struggle, rather than avoid it by throwing away the relationship.
That is precisely the challenge that I presented to Light Morning. Were you going to ditch me, the way the rest of society ditches a sex offender? That’s what we do. We bury them under the jail. We give them sentences that are astronomical. Because no one wants to identify with that struggle in their own lives.
The alternative is for each of us to claim an extremely ugly side of ourselves. To see my offense as something that is not outside the realm of human nature. Society says, “You’re a monster,” if you do what I did. I know that I am not a monster. Yet at the same time, I know that what I did was horrible.
This community rose to the excruciating challenge that my behavior presented it with. And I was met with something different than what society offers sex offenders. Dramatically different. I discovered that the people in my community were choosing to not make their relationships with me be disposable.
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Daniel: The Chinese word for “crisis” means both danger and opportunity. That’s conflict in a nutshell. There’s the potential for danger–for an antagonistic, polarized situation. Yet there’s also an opportunity, if people have the willingness to engage with each other in a new way. It’s about creating a loving, empathetic connection, based upon a desire to see and appreciate another person’s perspective. Especially that person’s emotional perspective, which may be volatile.
But if two people, or a community, have a container or safety net–an agreed-upon process that they know and can use in their relationships–then anything is possible.