A Healing Impulse: 5 — A Courageous Encounter

A Courageous Encounter


After the training, and after the facilitated sharings between Adam and some of the neighbors and parents, the day finally came for the session with Adam and the girls. It was scheduled for early afternoon, in our new community shelter. Nervous energy rippled through the air.

Lauren and Myra came up from our house, where they had been psyching each other up all morning. Adam walked in from the parking lot. Daniel and Cecile were waiting on the porch. Folks were hugging everyone and wishing them well. For each person involved, it would be a courageous encounter.

Daniel: We started by getting an agreement on what the format would be. The first part was a chance for the girls to just be angry–to yell and scream and discharge. And for Adam to be able to take that without taking it personally, as an attack. This is somewhat foreign to the formal practice of Open Hearted Listening. Yet we wanted to honor the girls’ request to do this, as a way of tapping into their powerful emotions.

Cecile: Lauren and Myra stood together. Adam was maybe ten feet away. The girls were feeding off each other’s feelings. I chose to stand with them and offer my energetic support, both through my physical presence and by touching them and sometimes offering words of encouragement.

Robert: It was a brave and difficult thing they were attempting to do.

Cecile: Very brave and difficult.

Daniel: And incredibly brave willingness on Adam’s part, to go through that. I was standing with Adam. I had my hand on his back, behind his heart. We were trying to keep our knees bent and keep grounded. At times, the girls really got their energy going. Adam was breathing hard, but staying grounded. It was very intense, but he was doing fine.

The girls had a certain reluctance. My God, of course! This process was a re-creation of the whole situation, with the girls having to be vulnerable with Adam–their abuser! They were being asked to reveal their innermost being. That’s an incredibly vulnerable thing to do. And the whole violation had been about their being revealed in a totally inappropriate way. So considering that it was such a loaded situation, they did great! All three of them did great.

Myra was able to display some real vulnerability to Adam–her anger, and some grief, and a sadness about the breaking of trust. It was good to see that she was able to get to that place.

Lauren: My karate training helped me get my anger out. It has made me a hell of a lot less shy. Yelling at Adam was like doing a big karate shout.

Daniel: That’s exactly what it was. She went into a karate stance and then the anger came out like a “KEEEAAAH” from the gut. It was a little rehearsed, because she was relying on a martial arts form to access her feelings. Yet it worked. It allowed the energy to move, whereas otherwise it might have been too scary.

Lauren: I felt sorry for the poor bastard. But I also wanted to do it. I just had to think to myself, while we were doing it, “Well, he didn’t think one shit’s worth about us, when he did what he did. So why do I care?”

Myra: Daniel and Cecile were very supporting during the actual session. They were there for me and Lauren. Cecile was right by us the whole time–hugging us and rubbing our back and telling us to breathe. And Daniel was over by Adam.

Lauren: They did an awesome job!

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Robert: Being directly confronted by Lauren and Myra must have re-opened some painful memories of what you did to them. How did you deal with that?

Adam: I couldn’t have done it without therapy. The concept of “therapy” conjures up an image of empathy and compassion for the person receiving it. The therapy that sex offenders get is anything but that. My therapy was funded primarily by the Department of Corrections, although the offenders themselves contribute financially. My belief is that the mode of treatment reflects the funding source. Much of it, therefore, was punitive.

But regardless of how punitive the therapy, there was still an opportunity to learn from the experience. What everybody in the treatment program learned, over and over, was to go back to when we were abusing our power. The nitty-gritty awfulness of it. The gut-wrenching, nauseating aspects of it. And to do it in a way that your feelings are there. That you’re not numbing to it.

It wasn’t new, therefore, having to regurgitate those memories. So when the girls were confronting me, I wasn’t feeling fear. I was respectful of what they were doing. Aware of how much courage it took. I was praying for their strength, because I was responsible for what I had done to them, and I wanted them to move in a healing direction.

Maybe one reason it’s called Open Hearted Listening is that when you open your heart and start caring about the other person, the empathy just flows. It’s a genuine, heart-felt desire to hear and understand something that I have to assume I don’t hear and don’t understand, until they help me. So the girls were helping me hear something I needed to hear, something I didn’t fully understand. That I needed to understand.

Robert: What did you hear them sharing with you?

Adam: They wanted me to understand how much pain and agony I had caused them. Not just in the past, but in an ongoing way. That they were still struggling, because of what I had done. They wanted to make sure I was not minimizing. That I was not in denial. And part of the reason they wanted me to understand was to make sure that I would never do it again to anyone.

I was surprised that Lauren and Myra came up at the end of the session and hugged me. I might have imagined Lauren doing that in a token way, but this felt like a genuine embrace. I was far more surprised when Myra was able to do it. It was probably the context and the feelings of the moment that inspired her. It felt authentic. It felt like she meant it. Although I don’t think she would do it today.