Jim, a successful financial planner who raised his family in North Kingstown, grew up in Quincy, Mass. and attended Boston College High School, a Catholic all-boys school, in the 1970s. There, like so many students, Jim was sexually abused by a priest he and his family trusted. Jim never spoke publicly about the abuse he endured until the Oscar-winning film Spotlight was released in late 2015. (Read the powerful Providence Journal story here.) Jim is portrayed in the film as “Kevin from Providence.” Here, Jim offers some thoughts about the power of resilience to recover from abuse, shame and trauma, and thrive in life.
It took me decades to be able to talk about the abuse I experienced as a student at a Catholic high school in Boston by a trusted teacher and coach, who was a priest. And it took me until age 54 to be able to share my story publicly. But I felt it was important that others know you can experience tremendous challenges and still recover and thrive and lead a wonderful life, as I have been able to do.
For years, I pushed down and away what had happened to me. I didn’t want to let my abuser take anything else from me. I focused on all the good things in life that I wanted for myself – a family, career and good friends. I didn’t even tell my wife what had happened to me. There is so much misplaced shame carried by survivors of abuse, and I was no different.
My first step in sharing my story was an anonymous phone call I made to a hotline set up by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, after I had read several stories in the paper about the magnitude of the priest sex abuse scandal and the cover up by Church officials. Walter Robinson, an editor at the Globe and another BC High alumnus, called and asked if he could come to my office on Federal Hill in Providence in 2002 to learn more about what had happened to me. I agreed. That was the first time I ever told another person about what had happened to me as a teenager.
When the Globe ran stories about what had happened to me, they protected my anonymity, as I had asked them to do. I was not ready, and had no plans at that time, to publicly share my story. I later testified against my abuser before a grand jury, which helped put him behind bars. It later came to light that this particular priest told the Massachusetts Parole Board that he had abused 88 victims. The abuse occurred over a period of many years, in both Massachusetts and in Maine, where the Jesuit leadership had moved him after his time at BC High, and where he continued to abuse students in his care.
It was the example of resilience of another survivor of priest sexual abuse in Boston, Joe Crowley, who I met during a special viewing of the movie Spotlight — which featured both of our stories– that gave me the courage to finally come forward publicly. Joe was, without question, the most resilient person I ever met. Sadly, Joe died last year, much too young. But I, and many others affected by priest sex abuse, will be forever changed for the better because of the generosity, courage and kindness of this one man.
Despite what happened to me, I know I am blessed, most of all by my three children, now all adults. Finally sharing the story of what had happened to me with my kids was a major part of my healing process – something I didn’t realize I needed as much as I did. More than anything, I want other young people who have experienced abuse to know: it is not their fault. The shame they are carrying around is not theirs – it’s the shame their abusers should be feeling.
Examples of resilience are also what make me so passionate about Center For Resilience, where I proudly serve as board vice president and treasurer. I believe strongly in the work the Center does to help children and adults cultivate their own resilience, recover from setbacks and thrive through adversity – because I know it is possible. For me personally, practicing mindfulness has helped me to heal and truly appreciate the great life I have today.
Center for Resilience is trying to change the conversation about resiliency, adversity and mindfulness in Rhode Island. We are working to bring more awareness to these issues and empower people with the tools they need to become stronger, more aware and more compassionate as they move through the challenges that life inevitably brings all of us.
The outpouring of love and support from people I know as well as those I have never met since my Providence Journal story ran in November 2015 has been overwhelming – and humbling. For years, I kept my silence. I now understand just how powerful telling one’s story – no matter how difficult – can be. If by sharing what happened to me, even one person who has experienced abuse or trauma feels understood, supported and lifted up, if even one young person begins the process of letting go of shame they do not deserve and should not be carrying around, then it has been worth it.
What I have learned is that happiness is possible after great loss and pain. I want every survivor out there to know that, believe it and reach for their own peace and joy, knowing they deserve it, they are capable of great things, and they are not alone.