In the 1950s and 60s, authority figures were not to be questioned, but blindly obeyed and trusted.
Church leaders, in particular, were considered above and beyond reproach.
Staggering statistics show that the prevailing attitude at the time enabled many pedophiles to abuse their young victims without consequence, for decades.
Thorold’s Leslie Daniels was one of them.
In her memoir, entitled Boundaries, Daniels shares the story of her childhood that’s so disturbing, her husband Alan still can’t bring himself to read it.
An excerpt from Boundaries: “Minus the candles, it was dark, really dark. Even the lights in the church were out, since by now everyone else had left. As I put the key into the lock I sensed something—warm, fetid breath, body heat, shallow breathing. Quickly, I pulled the key out and turned to run back down the stairs, but found my way blocked. My scream never made it out as a large gloved hand covered my mouth and nose. Then darkness…”
“Just before Christmas 2012, I began to write the story of my life,” Daniels told ThoroldNews. “Since I didn’t feel all that comfortable putting the details down on paper, I originally made it a coming-of-age narrative written in the third person; a story about ‘Beth.’ I wasn’t sure why I felt this way, but I did. No one was more surprised than I when readers began referring to my words as a story of childhood sexual abuse. I had absolutely no idea.
To me, it was a love affair, pure and simple. One I had rarely told anyone about, but … As you will see, dredging up the past was not without its own trauma. It made me look at myself. I discovered that I didn’t like being touched or hugged. I questioned who I was and if anyone could actually see ‘the real me.’ Revelations like the fact I had been ‘programmed’ and ‘hard-wired sexually’ by my abuser, both disgusted and shocked me.”
As Daniels reflected and wrote more about her life, “Everything I thought I knew about myself was now open for interpretation. The walls I’d fashioned years ago no longer served a purpose, but I continued writing my feelings down, hoping to understand myself. Confused, upset, and frantic, I had no idea why. On the advice of a dear friend, I found a psychologist with whom to talk out my past and present feelings. Through his intervention and help, I was able to define the next steps in my journey. After much research, support from respected confidants, and calling on a strength that resided deep within me, I finished the first draft of my manuscript on March 28, 2013.”
It was then that she decided to contact Anglican officials, explained Daniels, which started the church’s “Safe process” program in motion.
“Decades earlier, I had tried approaching the church but found it lacking in experience and compassion, in my opinion. It was most likely more than that since covering up these sorts of things was the method of handing sensitive and potentially explosive stories entering the public domain. For more than 50 years I had watched the stories revealed of sexual abuse in various churches but never thought they applied to me. Mine was different – a love story—hidden, yes, and forbidden for sure; but not abuse.”
Eventually, Daniels said she realized “that if I could be so brain-washed, there must be others out there that had similar stories. And after a year of the church’s Safe Church process, I realized how damaging it was to come forward. I wanted others to know that they were not alone and that some of the things they suffered with were the common effects of these sorts of experiences and that they, too, could be survivors in the end.”
Boundaries is also a tale of resilience, as Daniels shares how in later years, she became a high-profile environmental activist and raised a family, despite suffering the heartbreaking adoption of one of her sons, and punishing mental anguish caused by chaos in her youth.
The effects of long-term sexual abuse do not go away, she stated.
“Similar to the PTSD suffered by those traumatized by war experiences, we cannot undo the damage done to us as children. Your childhood was what it was and no amount of looking back and wanting things to be different will change what you experienced. I guess the best I can offer is that it is no longer a secret, and for that I am thankful.”
Daniels added that the following passages from, Some impacts of childhood sexual abuse on the life of adult survivors, written by J. Summers, “describes how my views (and the views of other survivors) of the world are just a little bit different than what one would expect.”
Summers states the common belief people have that because abuse occurred in childhood, “As an adult the survivor should now just forget about it and get on with life. If it were this simple, many survivors would do it! It is not this simple, however. Childhood is where all humans learn the basics of adult behaviour. When this learning process is distorted through abuse, it is impossible to change or erase the lessons learned once adulthood has been reached.
This is not to say that a survivor cannot lead a perfectly happy and fulfilling life, but they will never be the same as a non-survivor. The way a survivor is taught to think and act is forever different from a non-abused adult. This altered way of thinking affects relationships with their families, partners, close friends, their own children and with themselves.”
To skeptics who don’t believe this, Summers advises that they “Reflect on how they would think about life knowing that every day was going to be a struggle, and all because someone else selfishly used you for their own gratification when you were young. Now tell them to blame themselves for allowing it to happen and to feel the guilt that they are unable to tell anyone about it. This experiment may give a non-abused person a small insight into the life of a childhood sexual abuse survivor. Adult survivors therefore, do not have the same outlook on life as non-abused adults.
As a child, someone they trusted hurt and manipulated them. Not understanding what was happening, but somehow knowing that it was wrong, they assimilate many deviant behaviours into their understanding of normality. They grow up with a different view of many of the cornerstones of inter-human relationships and interactions.”
Children who experience abuse are often told by the abuser that they love the child, according to Summers. Love is understood to be a good thing from people who love you and care for you. “It is also a bad thing that leads you to get physically hurt, to become terrified at times, makes you feel embarrassed or dominated. It will include forced involvement in activities that must be shrouded in secrecy and which you will not be able terminate, avoid or have any control over. To a child being abused, this becomes what love is. Anyone who proclaims love may naturally be viewed with suspicion, perhaps dread or fear, or at best with wariness. The other person’s motives will always be open to speculation. The child learns not that some adults do bad things, but that all trusted people can do bad things.”
This also applies to how survivors see themselves, noted Summers. “As the beliefs are tainted with shame and guilt, they promote isolationist or self-destructive behaviours (I am unlovable; you’re only being nice to me because you want something).”
To a child being abused, Summers explained, “Authority figures in their lives are not perceived as benevolent dictators as in non-abusive families, but as tyrants with absolute control and little compassion or empathy. Feeling trapped and powerless becomes a common understanding of being a part of a family.”
Many abused children come to the realization “that the real reason for the abuse is due to themselves. They are the bad ones. In adult survivors this belief is converted into self-hatred and self-loathing and causes profound psychological damage. If left unchallenged, it will remain a part of the adult survivor’s self-concept for life.”
“It is common for the abused child to create a psychological wall around itself where no one is able to emotionally touch them. No one can see inside this sanctuary. It is where all the bad, abused and private parts of the child are kept. It is where the child lives. By disassociating from their bodies, the child can again feel safe, as it is only the body which is being abused, not the true self.”
“Relationship boundaries remain blurred as the child gets older. It is not unusual for survivors to group many different types of acquaintances, friends and family members into the same levels of intimacy. They are unable to differentiate between the level of trust one should allocate to true friends; who genuinely care about them and that which should be allocated to acquaintances they have just met. They have learned that all people are untrustworthy.”
For Daniels, it became apparent that her boundaries differ from others when she was dealing with the church chaplain “over months and months, and in an email I thanked her for being a friend. Her response back to me floored me: ‘I’m not your friend,’ she said. I still have a problem figuring that one out but I know she was trying to show me my lack of boundary-making.”
New behaviours can be integrated with courage, repetition and persistence, stated Summers. “It requires the survivor to actively choose to change and to learn new ways of reacting to and thinking about a situation. A good counsellor will assist with this, but the risk taking will always be on the shoulders of the survivor; for instance, speaking to a counsellor about some of the black inside. Gently edge the self-doubt and self-hate out into the light so that it can be examined by new and perhaps less critical eyes.”
Summers suggested, further, “Place the care of you, the adult survivor, firmly into your own hands. You take control. You set the pace. Let yourself make mistakes. You are learning and it takes time. Many things will seem strange and scary at first and that’s normal. Reassess your boundaries. Practice saying no or yes to people. Try loving yourself. If that is too hard at first, then try finding just one little bit of yourself you like - perhaps an ear or a toe.
Try finding some things in your personality you like, too - perhaps your creativity or sense of humour or compassion. Work on these things until you can accept all of yourself. It may take years but that’s okay, too - you have the whole rest of your life.”
Daniels was awarded Honourable Mention in the 2015 Annual Writer’s Digest Writing competition. Her book, Boundaries, A Memoir (2015), as well as her follow-up book, Consequences, A Poetic Memoir (2016), can be purchased by emailing her for a copy at email@example.com, or through https://www.amazon.ca