This story is the second one I want to tell in the context of "Self-preservation Under Narcissistic Abuse". I have contemplated telling this story before as an illustration of spiritual abuse, but have steered away from it because it is a decidedly unpleasant memory for me. Maybe it is more unpleasant for me than remembering events involving my family because this story ended badly. I never got justice. I always felt that my reputation was forever marred by it. "Where do I go to get my reputation back?" Well, nowhere. I was glad when we were finally able to move away from the area in 2004.
This event occurred around September of 2002, which if you're following the time line, was only two months before things started going to crap between me and my parents.
We had moved to a rural farming area in the Northwest. We quickly became friends with another family from the church we started attending shortly after moving there. They are lovely people who we are still friends with even though we moved from the area four years ago. These friends, who I'll call by the fake surname Bishop, had hearts several sizes larger than their good sense. They had two children when we met them who had been adopted at birth and were around six and nine in ages.
In 2001 the Bishops met an older couple who had been taking care of four of their grandchildren. Three of kids had the same father (the son of the grandparents) and all four had the same mother. The parents were drug and alcohol users. The kids had been taken away from the biological parents by the state.
Long story. I'll sum up. The Bishops decided to adopt these four children. It was a decision they rushed into and was really ill-advised. That was my opinion then; it is still my opinion now. My opinion wasn't asked for, therefore I withheld it. Time has only proven (to me) how ill-advised it really was. It took quite a few years to find out, but all these kids have FAS to one degree of another. They were tested by several professionals last year and found to have FAS and varying other learning disabilities. To say that the Bishops lives got complicated after the adoptions is to vastly understate the matter. The eldest of the four was a girl. Annie. She was only a few months younger than the youngest of the two (also a girl) who had been adopted from birth. Annie was a child from hell.
About nine months after the adoption, the Bishops home went up in smoke. Quite literally. Suddenly, a family with six kids and two adults was homeless. To complicate this tragedy, the fire had been set by one of the children. Annie was prime suspect.
At this time I and my family were attending the same church as the Bishops in a small rural town about fifteen miles down a state highway from where we lived. The church had been almost shut down by the regional church conference because there were only three members and no services had been held there in a long time. The Bishops had convinced us to start attending there with them to see if the church could be revived. Their interest in the church was augmented by the fact that their private business was operating in the same town as the dying church. Within a month or so twelve adults were members of this church. They lived in various small communities around this little church. My husband, myself and my daughter soon found ourselves wearing many hats in the effort to make the church run. I am resolved to this day to never join a small church again. The reasons are legion, not just because you end up working yourself to a frazzle. As if that isn't reason enough.
When a family with six kids is suddenly bereft of home and all possessions the church feels responsible to help. Churches of our denomination in surrounding towns started to rally to help in the first few weeks post-fire. The task list was huge. The first thing that was needed was to get this family out of their motel room and into a real house. A ramshackle old farmhouse about a half mile down the road from the burnt house was found available for rent, but it was in desperate need of some renovation. People came to paint, install cabinets in the kitchen, clean, etc. Clothes and bedding were needed. The community provided those things in short order. Seems that the thing most people think to give after someone's house burns down are blankets. The Bishops ended up with many more blankets and sheets than even a family of eight needs. Folks, after a week post-fire, the victims probably don't need more blankets. There are other ways to be more helpful. Use your imagination, or ask. Child care. Meal preparation. School supplies. Gift cards for Walmart so they can buy needed essentials. Just some ideas.
The fact that I was a close friend of Mrs. Bishop made me very aware of some of the more immediate needs of the family. Naturally, I jumped right in. I was cooking meals for them and bringing the food to the burnt out house while they worked to inventory their burnt belongings for the insurance company. Laundry was a major and immediate need. I undertook that pronto. Most of them, at this point, only had a few articles of clothing each and needed them washed overnight. Working in all the soot and ash means clothes get real dirty real fast. I would deliver the clean clothes first thing in the morning so they could leave the motel room with clothes on.
I am no saint and am not trying to present myself as one. There were plenty of jobs I wasn't willing to sign up for. The last thing I wanted to do was hang out for hours in the blackened basement breathing in toxic soot to inventory pencils and books. Given that Mrs. Bishop was homeschooling all six kids there were vast numbers of both. I would much rather cook a meal for eight, do laundry, provide moral support, drive miles to cart stuff around, and take the suspected fire-starter into my home than some of the other jobs that needed doing. And since I'm finite, I did what I was willing to do and had time for and left it for others to fill in the gaps. I didn't try to do it all because I knew that one person does not have the power to support a family of eight in dire need! But I attacked what I knew I could and was willing to do with energy and cheerfulness. Mrs. Bishop was relying heavily on me for moral support and help in trying to figure out what to do about Annie. Emotionally, that was an even bigger problem than even the fire itself.
This, I think, is the minimum background to describe the event that shook me up pretty badly.
For the third week in a row the scent of cooking food was wafting over the small congregation near the end of services. My house was not big enough to seat the Bishop's family and my own for an afternoon meal. During the week everyone ate outside at a fold-out table set up in the front yard. Anyway, it seemed logical to use the church's kitchen to warm up the food and then be able to set up large tables in the adjoining multi-purpose room so we could all sit to eat after church indoors without the bugs and dirt. A once a week treat for the Bishops.
Little did I know that someone was choosing to be offended over this arrangement.
An older couple had started attending our little church at some point. They were in their 60s, retired and very wealthy. I'll refer to them by their first initials. The woman was V, the husband, L. I only mention the wealthy part because this woman was obviously a very spoiled individual. I mostly just smiled vaguely and nodded when she would jabber on about some little trial she was going through, like being tempted to eat too many cookies. I kid you not. She would bring this up often. It was like, "I'm so progressed in my Christian walk that God is now left to deal with this tiny little sin of mine." She came across as shallow and silly and rather self-centered. Not nasty.
Well, her hubby had been to church without his wife for the first two weeks I had been using the church kitchen to accommodate the Bishops. He had smelled the food and then reported to his wife that the church was having potlucks and wasn't inviting them. This misapprehension was supported by the fact that he saw another woman of our congregation bringing a dish into the kitchen on these weeks. Several people from a nearby town's church had brought a casserole or two as well. But rather than ask anyone why he and his wife weren't being invited to a church potluck they simply condemned me as being evil and shutting them out since I seemed to be the one on charge of whatever was happening in that kitchen.
Both V and L showed up at church the third weekend after the fire. They were cool and aloof. I took little notice of that fact since I had a lot else on my mind and taking my time and energy. I had no reason to think that little ole' me was the cause of their attitude.
I had slipped out of the pew shortly before the end of services to check on the food in the oven. Only a few moments later I turned around to find myself face to face with V. She immediately launched into her condemnations of me. She prefaced her remarks by saying she was following Matt. 18's instruction to come to someone who has offended her. Naturally, I was completely befuddled as to what I had done to offend since my interaction with her had been nil for weeks. So I quietly indicated I was listening. She told me I was being cruel and had sinned against her because I was hosting church potlucks without bothering to invite her and her husband.
When I heard this I was actually relieved. A simple misunderstanding that could be cleared up in a moment.
No such luck.
I interrupted her with, "Oh, my V! That isn't what is happening! This isn't a potluck." I tried to explain how on church day I had no where else to accommodate the Bishops for a large meal so I was using church facilities to handle the situation. (I'll point out here this woman lived in a vast mansion of a house. I notice she wasn't offering to help with providing a house for a meal! She was too worried about her hardwood floors being ruined by little kids.) I told her that the logistics of gathering up the donated food as well as the food I'd prepared, then heating it up and serving it were most efficiently solved by doing it there at the church. I told her she could ask other church members and would quickly find out they were not invited to a church potluck either.
Her face remained cold and hard. She basically called me a liar by insisting it was a potluck. The conversation began to spiral because I then tried to appeal to her heart. I told her that I was exhausted (very true) and was just doing my best to help the Bishops. I'm sorry if she felt she had been overlooked but that wasn't the case. I was only minding my own business and trying to do what I could to help another family in a crisis.
At this time I knew absolutely nothing about malignant narcissism. If I had known anything I would have immediately spotted a giant red flag at this juncture. The more I tried to gain a bit of mercy and understanding the more of the opposite I was treated to. Her accusations escalated. The refrigeration unit was going full blast. She was one haughty, cold bitch.
Apparently she felt like my good deeds were showing her up, so she took it upon herself to show me how it was my fault she was looking bad for not helping. So far what I had said pointed out that other people were helping with the food. She immediately assumed this was because I had asked for them to bring food. I hadn't. A few other women figured that food was needed for church day and simply provided it without asking. V then told me she had asked me right after the fire to tell her if there was anything she could do to help. Why hadn't I called her and asked her to bring food? I told her I hadn't asked anyone to bring food. People saw a need and filled it. There was plenty of food therefore I didn't need to call anyone.
I vaguely remembered V saying to me within a day of the fire to call her if help was needed, but had not put any thought into it. It wasn't my job to tell other people what to do. Everyone else seemed able to figure out what to do without being told. I had not appointed myself master and commander of an organized help effort. It wasn't needed. Stuff was getting done!
At this point I was in tears. Part of that was the exhaustion, the other part was the supreme injustice I was being subjected to along with her cold and merciless attitude. At this point I reached exasperation. I threw my arms up in a gesture to demonstrate what I was saying, "V, what do you need!? A big flashing sign to tell you what to do? Other people have been able to help without me telling them what to do!!" I saw a look pass across her face when I had thrown up my arms and hands to look like it was a big sign. She stepped back half a step and raised her eyebrow along with this, "I have you now" look. I found out later what that look meant.
She continued with her accusations and cold, accusatory anger. I was beside myself. Dissolved. Desperate against the unfairness of it. Feeling like I was being kicked for only doing my very best. I was literally having a hard time breathing. It was just like getting a boot right in the mid-section. It was a feeling that resonated with a desperation I had felt in my youth with the same dynamic. Doing my best, getting back crap for it. My best efforts only perversely proving what a horrible person I was. Every effort to defend myself was rejected and used as proof that I was lying.
She shifted somewhat from the accusation I was throwing church potlucks because I kept slapping that one down and so she moved to a new accusation. She then told me I had no business using church property for a private exercise like feeding the Bishops. (How is that for compassion for the dispossessed Bishops?) V had married a man whose parents had help start up this particular church back in the 1940s. Although her husband had left the church entirely for all his adult life and had only started up attendance again in the last nine months they had this propriety sense toward the church. Like their last name alone gave them some kind of authority. So, she'd pulled out this new piece of crap from her back end to find another fault with me. In addition to everything else, I was misusing church property without asking for the express permission from the church board. A board that both my husband and I served on, and she and her husband did not! No one else had expressed concern about my "misuse" of church property. And never did. Reasonable people would never think to construe my use of the church kitchen as "misuse" of church property.
At some point this vicious bitch walked away from me while I was standing there, my face completely soaked in my tears. I was shaking in anger and grief. This whole scene went down unwitnessed by anyone but me. She had attacked me when I was alone and where no one could over hear. So, from beginning to end it was her word against mine.
She sidled right up to my friend, Mrs. Bishop. When I looked down the hallway I could see V talking with Mrs. Bishop and putting on a look of sympathy on her face toward Mrs. Bishop's plight. I couldn't stand it. I walked straight up to the two of them, rudely interrupted and said, "V, why don't you tell Mrs. Bishop what you just said to me back there in the kitchen." She was mum. There I stood, shaking and tearful; trying to get a witness, I suppose. "Tell her, V, how you are accusing me of something I didn't do. Tell her what a horrible person you think I am for simply trying to help Mrs. Bishop and her family! TELL HER!"
V needed to go somewhere right that very moment. She deflected my insistence she re-state her complaints to someone else by acting like I was a crazy woman and she didn't know what I was talking about. She turned on her heel and left the church.
This was the beginning of sorrows.
This post is long enough. I'll continue the story in the next post. For now, I need a break. I'm heading off for a nice, long walk in the sunshine. Next post I'll try to describe the fall-out from this event. It was the aftermath that made this whole episode much more painful. Disarmed by good Christians, I was denied the right to defend myself against the original accusations as well as the false ones which followed. My desire to defend myself was actually used by the pastor to assert that I was a weak Christian because I reacted emotionally. This was a man I had held great respect for. Ouch.