He Saved My Life - 19 September 2017
Roseanne Sheridan says the priest she turned to for help from domestic violence saved her life. Here’s her story.
“I didn’t realise I was in domestic violence because I was abused as a child. But the level of abuse in my marriage got to such a stage it started triggering abuse memories from my childhood.
“So stuff was coming up inside me. It wouldn’t go back down. I prayed and read the Bible. I thought I might ask Father John* if I could have prayer ministry. I had already talked to him about a few things regarding my childhood and what was happening at home with my husband.
“I was really really nervous. I had two or three goes at ringing him up. I said ‘can I please have some prayer with you?’
“He said that would be fine, he will pray for me and we will have prayer together.
“Looking back I realise the abuse with my husband had got to such a level that my life was in danger. He minimised his abusiveness. He told me I was imagining it, making it up or exaggerating it.
“He kept telling me that I wasn’t a very good wife or mother and that what was happening wasn’t to do with him, it was to do with me and the childhood abuse I suffered. He said I was lucky he put up with me because no-one else would. He used my faith belief and marriage vows to keep me trapped.
“He wanted me to visit Father John about what was ‘wrong with me’, not what he was doing to me.
‘It was frightening’
“I went to pray with Father John lots and lots of times. I felt like such a nuisance. I was having flashbacks, panic and anxiety attacks, really going through the physical experience of my childhood and reliving it, it was frightening.
“I would write things down and give them to Father John to read. It took me a very long time to talk about what I had written down. One time it took all I had not to run out of the room.
“It was scary giving them to a man. I thought ‘he’s a man too – he could hurt me’. I began to realise all the things my husband had been doing to me and how he used the childhood abuse to discount the things he had done.
“I would be so frightened and anxious. I would be frightened about what he would say. I would think ‘this time he will say how awful and bad I am’. I was desperate to find out what was wrong with me that meant I was abused. I wanted him to help me ‘see’ what it was about me that made them abuse me, that made me ‘bad’. I felt like I had something written on my back that I couldn’t see, but everyone else could. If I knew, then I could change it, so I wouldn’t be abused any more.
“I was told abuse was my fault, that I was ‘bad’ and wouldn’t go to heaven, that anyone who knew I had been abused would think this too. My husband had said ‘there is just something about you that means I can’t help but abuse you, other men abused you too when you were young.’
“Father John would say there is nothing he could ever know about me that would change how he would be towards me. This helped me to trust to share.
“Father John helped me to understand that how I felt when I tried to trust men was the result of suffering abuse, not that it meant I was bad.
“He said ‘it’s alright I’m not going to hurt you’. Without Father John there I don’t know what would have happened to me, he kept believing me even though others did not.
“He would say ‘if a woman was living in a house and someone broke in and raped her would that be her fault?’ Gradually I began to believe abuse was not my fault, to break the chains of illusion and fear and lies.
“He said no-one would think less of me if I didn’t want to stay in the marriage.
“He didn’t realise it was domestic violence at first. I know at one point he felt out of his depth and asked me for permission to consult a psychologist.
“It was so incredibly wonderful to have a person, a man, know what had happened to me and feel safe with him, for the first time in my whole life. Someone who saw what happened to me and didn’t abuse me or laugh at me or say I made it up. He cared. He didn’t treat me any differently whatever he heard or saw.
“He said I was a lovable person and that I deserved to be treated with dignity, worth and respect by men.
“He held up the mirror of God’s love for me to show me that God didn’t see me that bad way. God is about love. I saw that I belong in love not abuse.
“I learned that abuse is not what God intended marriage to be. Marriage is about love.
“He helped me know the healing power of ‘forgiveness’ – to not hold on to the hurt. I learned that true forgiveness does not mean what was done doesn’t matter or that reconciliation takes place, it means that I matter more than what someone else did to me.
“If he had not helped me I believe my husband would have killed me or pushed me to suicide. It was the greatest act of human love that I have experienced in my life.
“He stood by me, with me and for me.
“He saved my life.”
Father John saw Roseanne regularly over a period of two to three years for an hour a week.
He offered her listening, acceptance and time.
“The one thing I felt I could be for her is a listening ear. I could accept what she was saying and try to be as compassionate as I could.
“I was non-judgemental of anything she brought up and that was a help to her.
“I think a lot of people at that time didn’t believe her.
“Some may have given up on her or thought she was making this up and minimising what happened. I offered her the fact that I believed her and accepted her.
“I wouldn’t say a lot of people come to me about domestic violence and I felt out of my depth most of the time. There were times when I felt that I had no answer to what she was bringing up. All I could do was listen and be empathetic.
“I don’t think my help for Roseanne was any different to the way I help others, but some may have tired of trying to help her. I did seek professional help for her during that time as well.
“At one stage I was confronted by her family who did not believe she had been abused. I was able to talk this out with somebody else and didn’t take it on about myself. I was quite clear there was nothing I did to cause them to be upset.
“Roseanne’s faith was very important to her and we would often end our sessions with prayer for healing.
“The thing I admire about Roseanne is she is a survivor and has come through it all and can still laugh. She can see a positive side in life and I admire her for that.
“I am sure I am not unique among the clergy, I am sure lot of others would be just as generous.
“My advice is to don’t make any judgements; be prepared to give an open ear but also put strict boundaries in place.”
*name has been changed.
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