The most vivid childhood memory for me is traumatic. I was four, my sister was three. My sister Rita and I went to Marion, Ohio, to stay with my mother’s only sibling, her older brother, and his wife. While there, my uncle raped me. At the time, I didn’t know what was happening to me or how to explain to my little sister why I was hurting.
The trauma would remain locked in my memory until I was 33 years old.
My ever-growing family (I am the eldest of nine children) moved to a suburb in Columbus. Through the prodding of neighborhood children, we started to attend the local Catholic church and school.
I remember walking to daily Mass by myself in the morning (I must have been about nine), attending Mass, and enjoying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and hot cocoa while sitting on the curb in the church parking lot. And I remember the loving calm that was bestowed on me, which I now know to have been the presence of the Holy Eucharist. I ran there daily. These are the fondly-held and sacred memories of a child unknowingly being subject to the threat of rape by an alcoholic uncle and the ranting and violence of a mentally ill mother.
How sweet it was to escape to the realness of our loving God who gave me courage and strength to continue living. God fortified my soul from the sins against me and, I believe, nullified some of their harmful effects through His grace.
My life moving forward was confusing. I was 12 when a school friend urged me to tell my mother about the abuse of my uncle. We would go to my uncle’s house to help clean since his wife was crippled from polio. When I told my mother I was afraid to go to his house she excused me. But everything soon came out a few days later when he tried to abuse my sister, Rita. My dad found out and we were kept safe from our uncle from then on.
I longed for a normal life. I sought answers. Everything was a struggle as I grew older. I worked and went to university—all while dealing with the demons of my abuse. I sought relationships with men that always ended with my sexual adventures and, ultimately, in tears. Alcohol became a big additive to my woes.
Finally, in 1978, while attending Ohio State, I met a lapsed Catholic who changed my life. She introduced me to Jesus. The miracle of His peaceful presence filled me. I would notice His presence in my life from that point onward. But the theme of my life continued to be that of my “self-will running riot.”
In 1979 I joined Overeaters Anonymous (OA) trying to lose weight. I made it through the Twelve Steps and a priest at the Josephinum Seminary gave me the Sacrament of Reconciliation. My life began to improve and I moved to New York City. I continued with OA while being helped by the Paulists priests, their church community, and great therapists who began to unravel my sexual abuse history.
I finally graduated from Hunter College in 1985 with a degree in Italian Literature and Modern Dance. I then pursued a master’s degree in Florence, Italy, but failed miserably because of my focus only on finding a husband. I eventually became pregnant and the father and I began raising our daughter in Italy.
When my daughter Daphne was in middle school her father and I split up. Through intensive psychotherapy with loving Italian therapists, Daphne and I were able to function during this difficult time. I was able to control my drinking at that point since my main focus was my daughter.
In 2014, I returned from Italy to Columbus, Ohio. With no job and my daughter now grown-up, my drinking habit started to worsen. It took about six months for me to go from drinking a half bottle of wine every night to a full one. I was sad, depressed, tired of life, and a drain on family and friends. At this time, a friend introduced me to marijuana. I sought divine help by joining a neighborhood church but I was still drinking and smoking, which now would lead to blackouts.
My mom told me eventually to try Al-Anon (only because I claimed I wasn’t an alcoholic!). I attended 120 meetings in 120 days and I found a lovely sponsor who led me through the Twelve Steps, including a very rigorous Step Four. Still, controlled drinking and marijuana use continued as I became more involved in my church. I became a sacristan, lector, server, and also regularly cleaned and decorated the church.
I loved being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and I was willing to do anything for God to heal me except admit to my own alcoholism. I had promised Jesus while still in Italy that once I had returned to the United States I would become a faithful Catholic. Little did I know that He would bless me so.
Through the gentle teachings of holy priests at my little church and missionaries who ended up living with me, I fell more in love with Jesus and the Catholic Church. I continued to attend 12-step meetings and, finally, with clenched fists was able to admit to my alcoholism.
Yet, since I was still using marijuana I eventually stopped attending meetings. In September of 2019, I taught Bible Study to four adults while high on marijuana in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. One of the ladies told the pastor who gently confronted me on my behavior. The pastor relieved me of my duties at the church but suggested I look into Catholic in Recovery (CIR) meetings that had started at a nearby church.
As a result, I have been clean and sober since September 11, 2019. Aided by the Monday night Step Study group, the book The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments by Scott Weeman, online CIR meetings, and weekly CIR Gospel reflections, I will soon move to Step Six.
My fellow attendees in my CIR meetings are very open to my experiences. They provide a prayerful environment where it’s easy to be rigorously honest. While we share what works for us in our recovery, we most importantly share our experiences with our loving God and His Church. I love these meetings and always leave them feeling a step closer to being healed.
I pray not to relapse but am hopeful that by continuing on a steady path with the help of my CIR friends, reception of the sacraments, constant prayer, and Holy Scripture that the healing God wants for me is imminent. I am especially grateful to know my sweet loving Savior while in this life and long to be extremely happy with Him in the next.