Abuse victim finds healing, prepares to help others

| August 12, 2015 | 0 Comments
Sexual abuse survivor Marty Meyer of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville plans to help other victims by serving at a Grief to Grace retreat in the Twin Cities later this month. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Sexual abuse survivor Marty Meyer of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville plans to help other victims by serving at a Grief to Grace retreat in the Twin Cities later this month. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Marty Meyer was a child growing up in a small Iowa town when his innocence was stolen.

A group of three older kids raped him when he was just 7. He carried the guilt, shame and trauma of that event for decades before finally finding healing at a retreat for abuse victims called Grief to Grace: Healing the Wounds of Abuse.

Today, Meyer, 62 and a member of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville, is looking forward to helping other victims heal as he serves at a Grief to Grace retreat in the Twin Cities,the first in Minnesota. The six-day event takes place Aug. 23-28, with 20 people registered to attend.

Meyer’s life changed on a summer day in 1960 when he had joined up with a group of kids he knew in the neighborhood.

“It was just a bunch of us hanging out, and all of a sudden, before I even realized what was happening, the perpetration started,” he said. “I was in a situation where I couldn’t run away. They physically restrained me, verbally threatened me. And so, I felt trapped and completely helpless in the situation.”

He kept the incident bottled up inside of him, where it festered for more than 40 years before he decided to attend a Grief to Grace retreat in 2008.

“I was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell my parents,” he said. “And, it wasn’t the sort of thing back then that people talked about. I think, too, there’s a mindset that girls get raped, not boys. And I didn’t realize it at the time that that’s what had actually happened to me.”

His struggles continued into adolescence, when a priest tried to molest him, he said. He was able to get away before anything happened, but there were residual internal struggles that continued to plague him. Relationships were difficult, and he had serious trust issues, along with low self-confidence.

“I floundered,” he said. “My dad was an alcoholic and family life was difficult. I had to figure things out on my own, which added to the lack of confidence. I just felt like I was lost in the mix.”

Raised Catholic, he drifted away from his faith after graduating from high school and turned his attention toward his career. Along the way, he got married in Iowa, and he and his wife, Jeanette, later moved to the Twin Cities, where they had five children. One of them died shortly after childbirth, and the other four are now grown and married with children of their own.

Meyer worked for Xerox for 21 years, and life was clipping along nicely — except for the nagging trauma of abuse that never seemed to go away, even though he had come back to the Church and deepened his faith through involvement in the Charismatic Renewal.

“On the outside, I looked fine, but I really was struggling on the inside,” he said. “I found myself just empty, very empty. There was some situational depression. I had been carrying this thing on my back this whole time. That’s what made it so difficult for me.”

The turning point came when Jeanette attended a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat 10 years ago to help her deal with two abortions she had in the 1970s. Marty went to the retreat to support Jeanette, and it was there that he met Theresa Burke, the founder of Rachel’s Vineyard and also the founder of Grief to Grace.

“I was so deeply affected by the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat,” he said. “I experienced part of what the women were going through.”

Having seen how the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat helped Jeanette, he decided to try to find healing from his abuse. He went to a Grief to Grace retreat in Texas seven years ago. Held across the U.S, and Canada, the retreats include talks, small group discussions and licensed therapists for those who are interested. A key part is being able to talk freely and openly about the personal experience of abuse with others who have gone through it themselves.

That made all the difference for Marty, who didn’t tell anyone about the abuse for decades. He thinks Jeanette was the first person to hear his story.

“It’s a silent suffering because you don’t talk about it,” he said. That changed when he went to the retreat and opened up to other participants about the pain he had suffered. Spiritually, he was ready to tell his story, to the point where he volunteered to go first.

“In my opening up, what ended up happening was every person felt safe, that they could share their story,” he said. “All of us are there together, and it’s like we’re suffering through it together.”

Marty is happy to be able to help others through his service at the retreat later this month. Jeanette also will be there. Clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has heightened awareness of the issue, and Marty hopes more victims will choose to pursue the healing this retreat aims to provide.

“Abuse is real, but there is hope,” he said. “[The retreat] has freed me up in a way that nothing else has. . . . I see my true dignity in who I was created and why I was created. It makes all the difference in the world.”

Though this year’s retreat is filled, one will be offered in October 2016. For more information about Grief to Grace, visit grieftograce.org.

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