9. Change Needed

I went to Oiltown for a couple days before I started working full-time at Tamara’s House. There, the after-effects of the party really settled in and took hold of me. I suppose because the party itself had been such an emotional and spiritual high, the crash, when it came, would have to be correspondingly low. But it wasn’t depression, grief, or sadness that gripped me those few days in Oiltown. It was anger – anger at my brother Calvin. I was seething all the way back to Saskatoon. I needed to confront him again.
I arrived home from my first day of work to the sound of the telephone ringing. It was a reporter. He had read my court transcripts and wanted to do an article on the church. I spoke to my lawyer about it. She had had a meeting with the diocesan lawyer, she told me, but the meeting had gone round in circles. Any settlements would have to be made without an admission of liability on the church’s part, and the church would want to call it counselling, not compensation. The diocesen lawyer, like the church itself, was grossly ignorant of the devastation wrought by sexual abuse. reporters had been phoning my lawyer about alleged cover-ups regarding sexual abuse in the Catholic church. The biggest problem, my lawyer said, was that there was no process to uniformly assess damage. Yet the court asks for dollar figures, so we need expert assessments. This litigation will not change the church, she told me; it was only about getting compensation, to make my life better. However, the fact that they were talking about some claims without assessments was tantamount to admitting that they might be liable. I made four pages of notes, but when we ended the conversation I still didn’t know what I was supposed to tell the reporter.
 He called again shortly after I got off the phone with my lawyer. It was clear that he wanted to pin down both the church’s position and my response to it. The church’s position, apparently, was that it was an entity with no assets, and it was not responsible for the actions of priests. My response to that was that I couldn’t handle it right then, but if there came a time when I could, I would give him a call.
The next phone call was from my landlord. The house I was renting was officially sold.
Later that day, while meditating, I tried to visualize energy coming into my body from the universe. Suddenly, it was as if a white light was coming through the top of my head. It was so intense that it hurt my eyes.
At work, forty-two survivors had phoned or come to the resource centre in the past two weeks. I made this sign for myself:
Slow Down
 Catch Up
 Write Down What Has Really Happened Here
I knew I needed to do the same in my personal life.
My dentures cracked – the second time in a month – and I had to borrow money to get new ones. I hadn’t had time yet to look for a place to live.
The second week of May, 1995, my church lawyer called to report on her meeting with the diocesan lawyers. She said she was feeling positive about it. The downside was that the church had no insurance for this type of eventuality, and the diocese was asset rich but cash poor. She jokingly suggested that they should just give us a church, then. More seriously, she talked about doing something on a larger scale that would benefit all survivors, such as the safe home I had suggested. The diocese knew there were no facilities, and maybe at some point they would sit down with government and look at that option. They did feel they had taken steps in this direction by establishing the victim’s committee and developing a protocol for handling complaints of abuse. They wanted further to develop a summary of services available and improve the protocol, and they would like survivors’ help in doing that. They wanted to feel that something positive had come out of this. They were also prepared to go to mediation. They had sent one survivor to a treatment program in the United States for six weeks at a cost of approximately $50,000, but they did not feel they had made a good move in that case. My lawyer was asking the diocese for an award of $50,000 for pain and suffering, counselling, and loss of future employment, but she thought there was a finite amount of money and was concerned about the church’s ability to pay. She thought we should proceed to the action. She had agreed to receive the diocese’s offer for compensation within two weeks, at which we would make a proposal to them, without prejudice. My lawyer still had no psychological report detailing damages to survivors. She said the church was anxious to avoid a smear campaign, and asked me to be careful about what I said to the press.
My son and I started looking for a place to live.
The reporter phoned again. I said, “The suits will be filed and I won’t be talking to the press about my personal experiences right now.”
 I was disillusioned with the church. I felt it could do much more. On May 14 I wrote a letter to the other survivors of Allinblack who had gone through the court process:
Dear [Name],
 I am writing this letter only to the sixteen women, besides myself, who were survivors and witnesses at the trial regarding childhood sexual abuse received from Allinblack.
 After three years of intense healing – weekly counselling, daily journalling, classes, workshops, art therapy, etc., I realize some of the after-effects of being sexually abused by Allinblack. I believe I deserve personal financial compensation from him and I am in the process of negotiating with the diocese of BigCity for that compensation, as they control his assets.
 The diocese of BigCity knows they were in the wrong in how they handled this whole situation, as many of us came forward and their actions and/or inactions caused many to experience more pain.
 In February of l993, I asked the diocese of BigCity to provide money – no strings attached – to buy a section of land in the middle of populated Saskatchewan on which a safe home could be built which would be a place of safety and security to gain emotional stability which would include long and short-term therapy; group therapy; a resource room with tapes, books, films; counselling for families/relationships/addictions; parenting classes; self-esteem classes; self-confidence classes; relaxation classes; a meditation/prayer room; a music room; an art therapy room with tools; a rage or screaming room; an exercise room; a pool; a Jacuzzi; a masseuse and sauna; and a writing room: retreats on a donation basis.
 I still want part of this. From the diocese of BigCity, I want the money for the section of land and the safe home/healing centre. I want the ones of the seventeen of us who want to own it to have clear title to the land and healing centre, which we would design and build. We would decide what to name it, how we would use it, and all ideas concerning it. Ideas such as, we could, after ten years sell our share to the other owners or the idea that we could each build a cabin around the centre for our children’s and families’ use; each and all ideas would only be acted upon when there is true consensus of all of us who want to own part of this.
 This would be our retreat. It would be the first of its kind in Canada and we would decide when, how, and if we ever want it available to other survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It could benefit not only myself, us, our children, but all those for whom it wasn’t safe to come forward, and future survivors whose memories of abuse haven’t returned yet or who don’t realize at this time the after-effects of the abuse they experienced.
 I chose the middle of populated Saskatchewan because we are from all over Canada. The location would be along the South Saskatchewan River around Batoche, Duck Lake, or St. Louis. These towns are about half way between Prince Albert and Saskatoon and have good highway accessibility.
 I would like to hear from you as soon as possible if you want to be part of this. If you don’t, that is fine. I am still proceeding with this. I can be reached at [phone number].
 Can you tell how much I want to heal and end the pain for myself and my children? I believe only when I give myself the opportunity to heal, can I be there for my children and others around me.
I believe a healing centre is part of this healing and that it is something concrete the church can do.
During the previous month, as a member of ICSS, I had been at a meeting with regional directors of health, education, and social services to discuss adult survivor issues. Health and social services felt they were already doing their part. Education couldn’t see what it had to do with them. Justice never showed up. At a similar meeting with psychiatrists, I learned that they have to label survivors in order to get paid. I left the meeting wondering if survivors would want to be burdened with a label for the rest of their lives. Would psychiatrists?
My daughter, who was now fifteen years old, went to a doctor and told him she was crying all the time. He gave her a pamphlet on depression, and left her to read it. When he returned, she told him she had all the symptoms. He wrote her a prescription for Prozac. Luckily (from my point of view) she didn’t have the money to fill it.
My lawyer called to let me know that she expected to get an assessment from a psychologist by September. In the meantime, she was filing my claim as a test case, so that an examination for discovery with Allinblack would be completed by the time the assessment was done. She said the diocese knew the settlement numbers would be around $200,000, and would likely part with $50,000 “at the drop of a hat” to get these settled.
Some of Allinblack’s survivors responded to my letter immediately. One said she was one hundred percent behind me. Another spoke of how everyone in her family was being penalized because of what she was going through. She believed the Catholic church was directly responsible, that it had abused its power, that its corrupt hierarchy confessed to one another and covered up for each other and moved priests from place to place because they knew exactly what was going on. She believed that having a place of retreat would help her and her children, and she, too, supported me one hundred percent. A third survivor supported my proposal, but couldn’t understand how this safe place could work, or whether the cost of maintenance had been taken into account.
On May l8, l995, the local paper reported that “eleven women abused as young girls by a Catholic priest have started discussions with the church, hoping to bring about changes which will help other survivors of childhood sexual abuse.” The facts of the Allinblack case were listed yet again, together with the fact that a representative of the diocese would not comment on the talks other than to clarify that “this does not mean the church is accepting any legal blame for what happened.”
The radio had a phone-in show the next day about whether the Roman Catholic church should be held responsible for compensating victims. I listened to the guest on the show – a representative of the diocese of BigCity – and was sickened by his responses. He claimed they were helping every victim who came forward. Half the program was about the celibacy of the priesthood and the cost to the church, with no sense of the mental, spiritual, physical, and material costs to the survivors. Still, I could see people were becoming more educated on the issues.
My “normal” life during this period consisted of going to work and sorting out the seventeen years’ worth of possessions that filled my house – which was no longer my house. We had to be out by the end of June. Money was a problem; I hadn’t received my first pay cheque yet. Some of my anxiety lifted when my aunt lent me $l,000 for moving expenses. I had lost ten or twelve pounds in the past couple of months, which concerned me; I was beginning to look anorexic.
I decided to have a garage sale. I wanted to sell everything that didn’t fit in my life any more. I had scrapbooks and keepsakes from all through my marriage. As I sorted through closets, anything that was too painful to look through, I boxed up to sort another time. I put Bibles and crucifixes in the garage sale to give away, and had no feelings about doing it, beyond the thought that someone else might get something out of them.
My parents came that weekend. Dad wanted to know what was happening with the church. It was not important to me any more. I didn’t even show him the newspaper article. It didn’t matter. My mother said, not for the first time, “I didn’t know any sexual abuse was going on in our house.” I didn’t bother correcting her. I didn’t want to waste the energy.
At my next group therapy evening, I spoke of being so down that nothing seemed to matter any more. I talked about what my kids were going through, my work, my parents, my marriage, my brothers, having to move, and all the rest of it. As I spoke, my mood, like a sudden realization, transformed itself to anger. I felt like kicking something apart. I lay on my back while three group members held a slab of heavy foam above me so I could kick it. Within seconds, my anger was transformed to fear. All I could say was how scared I was. One of the counsellors asked me if this was how I had felt when I thought I had seen Allinblack in a restaurant. I began quivering in terror. The counsellor encouraged me to kick out my fear. The other encouraged me to voice it. I could kick, but I could only find a little voice that kept saying, “You shouldn’t have done that to me.” The female counsellor asked if she could apply pressure to my vocal chords. As she did, the screams inside me were abruptly unlocked. They were the long, drawn-out screams of terror. They shocked me. After a while, they changed to the sounds of a deeply wounded little girl. At the end, a sound of childlike innocence came from within me. I loved the sound, and wanted to hear it again and again. The group members surrounded me, literally and emotionally, and filled me with positive feedback.
I knew I had to make some changes in my life. I needed rest. I needed to pay attention to all parts of me. My body was hurting and I knew that through the pain and the weight loss, my body was trying to tell me something. I needed space – space to heal. It occurred to me that I might move to Oiltown. I knew I would have lots of support there: the Sexual Assault Centre, a local house of shelter for abused women was there as well as my sister and her family. I could come back to Saskatoon for group therapy once a month and to see my counsellor.
My son liked the idea. My daughter was my major concern. She hated my sister’s husband. If she wouldn’t come with us, I would be four hours away from her instead of just one. I phoned her and told her what I had decided to do. She was shocked. She said she would never come to see me. We tried to talk about it, but she hung up. It was hard not to get into my fix-it mentality and drive out to save her. I went for a walk instead. I knew I had to move to Oiltown for myself, even if my daughter could never come. She did come and stay with me for a couple of days. She wanted me to consider moving somewhere else. We looked at a map of Saskatchewan, but nowhere else felt right.
I submitted my resignation to Tamara’s House the next day. In the evenings of the next few days, my daughter and I talked about all the hurts she had experienced from different people. In less than ten minutes, she wrote the names of twenty-four people who had hurt her. As she talked about the times she had been hurt by different people, I put check marks by their names. In another ten minutes, there were l04 checkmarks on the page. There were at least five next to mine. We also looked at the different ways children can be nurtured and loved, and did the check mark thing again. Many of the same people showed up on both lists. That was hard for her to figure out.
My daughter returned to Prairietown, adamant that she would not go to Oiltown with me. Before she left, though, she made me a card in the shape of a house. Inside, it read:
Mom, at first I was thinking what should I put inside. I know its nothing special but it was a little bit of hard work. After trying to decide what to put inside, I figured it out. You said that you wanted to move because you needed a rest, right? Well, anyway, you also said you don’t quite feel safe being alone yet. So I created the perfect thing. When you’re not in very good space, you open this and there is all the space you need. It’s full of all the LOVE, PEACE, JOY, and HAPPINESS you need. And there can never be any negative thoughts. LOVE, (my daughter).
That week the National Parole Board informed me that Allinblack had withdrawn his application for a hearing. It would be rescheduled for October 4, 5, or 6, l995.
I heard from three more Allinblack survivors, asking me to keep fighting for whatever help the church would give. Two wrote that they wanted personal financial settlements, but otherwise wanted to put it behind them.
I took a Friday off work and went to Oiltown. By the end of the day, I had rented an apartment, arranged for power and phone hook-ups, and seen a financial assistance worker. I had the rest of the weekend to wonder if I was doing the right thing.
My daughter decided to move back with her father.
With help from many friends and a brother-in-law, I rented a U-Haul and moved our belongings to Oiltown on the second last weekend of June, l995. I returned to work my last week at Tamara’s House, which happened to coincide with the Annual General Meeting. I presented the following report:
I began my social work practicum on January 9, l995. I made a phone call at 9:00 a.m. about having carpet installed in the next room, and at l0:00 a.m. the first survivor called, needing to talk.
That first week was fairly quiet. It was the last quiet week. I spent the majority of the first week compiling and cataloguing the minutes of the board meetings from l99l until the end of l994. Of course, I had to read them. I also read the dreams, visions and goals that resulted from the Planning Day the Board held last summer. The poster, What A Safe Home Will Offer, was the result, and the focus of my practicum was to use the strategies outlined to make those goals a reality.
Survivors continued to phone and were happy to donate not only material things but their time and energy. We had an open house for survivors with comments and feedback sounding like this:
* The first time I felt like I fit in.
* I had tears in my eyes, and I’ve never shown emotion in front of strangers before.
* Good feeling when I was there, energy was healing.
* Finally, there’s a safe place for survivors.
The volunteers, the Board, and I hosted an open house for service providers who also supported and encouraged us with comments like:
* It’s a place that welcomes and accepts people from all cultures and faiths; very peaceful here.
* I like the way the space is being utilized and transformed.
* This is so necessary for adult survivors. They really have nowhere else to go.
The goal considered most valuable by professionals was a safe home.
Besides the development of the resource/healing aspect of Tamara’s House, contacts were made with all levels of government, foundations, business, and community organizations for funding of the Tamara’s House Safe Home Project. Individual donations came in as well as government grants.
Volunteers not only helped keep the resource/healing centre open and filled out grant applications; they also gave me invaluable personal support.
In the fifteen weeks of my practicum, there were l98 calls from self-identified survivors and l48 visits to the centre. In the next two weeks, when a student had joined the team as a practicum student, there were forty-three additional calls or visits.
One hundred and twenty-two wanted to talk and someone to listen who would understand, l06 needed information on groups, ritual abuse, making a police statement, etc. One hundred and sixty-one needed a safe place. At the end of last week, there were 547 survivor contacts here.
What I saw happen here was women breaking the silence, over and over in many different ways. Whether they phoned or visited, did a collage, painted their rage, used the quiet room to be by themselves, had a heavenly massage, or left a message on the Speak Out Wall, Tamara’s House provided an opportunity for women to voice their experience.
Reality and truth is what I heard here. Women often phoned their appreciation. I saw many friendships being made here. I saw many healing moments:

* The first time a women opened up the book, The Courage To Heal, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis.
* A survivor saying, “We don’t even know each other’s lasts names and we’re sharing our souls.”
* The practicum student painting the future on our windows [a house and a yard] and [Volunteer] adding the butterflies.
* Two strangers sitting on the floor together, working on a collage.
* A survivor placing her empty, natural spring water bottle on the Speak Out Wall with the words, “This is what I used to get through the police statement.”
* A survivor saying, “When I came out to Tamara’s House, a volunteer listened and we just sat and talked and it was exactly what I needed and then I could give the same to others.”
* Survivors stopping in just to share the excitement of good news in their lives or to tell us their bad news – they just needed someone to know. I saw many healing tears. I shed a few.
There are still many survivors who call who can’t come here; it isn’t safe for them to speak out. Many don’t have the money for the bus fare.
Many calls were desperate – needing a safe place now, or the calls that came in the middle of the night and were the first message I heard in the morning.
I am repeating what I said at the March 3l open house. I need – and survivors who call and visit – need a place in the middle of the night and on Saturdays and Sundays when we are remembering the horror, and when we are feeling the terror, the rage, and the sorrow and there is no one to hear us.
I want to thank the Board for the healing and empowering experience I’ve had over these six months, and volunteers and the practicum student for their unfailing support.
I am so glad that while I’m away at my safe place, all of you, board members and volunteers are going to keep this going, add office space and a rage room, and make the safe home and retreat centre a reality so I don’t have to go away again. Thank you for having me.


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