By Kevin Burke, LSW
Dan and Bethany Meola are founders of Life Giving Wounds, a Catholic ministry offering healing retreats, talks and resources for adult children of divorce
Today, an estimated one-quarter of young adults are children of divorce and many of them feel they were denied an opportunity to share their pain and loss. Divorce can be a source of deep emotional and spiritual wounds that are rarely validated and given voice.
Dan Meola shares about his experience of divorce as a child:
“You’re caught between anger and love with your parents,” he said. “As a kid growing up, even as an adult…it’s still hard to navigate that – those complex, warring emotions.”
Dan explains that children want to shield parents from their painful emotions. At the same time, he shares that this silence leads to intense anger because of the “unspoken rule” that the divorce was not something that could be openly discussed.
“The first wound we address is the wound of silence…Children of divorce often feel like talking about the pain caused by the divorce is not allowed – that it just further burdens their parents, or that divorce is normal and therefore should not be a big deal. There’s a lot of testimonies now from adult children of divorce that they felt like, ‘I don’t know how to share this or where to go with this, or even if anyone will care’…” – (From: Give Voice to the Pain-Catholic News Service)
Dan and his wife developed a healing retreat for adult children of divorce to “give voice to and validate the pain.” Participants gather with others who share this loss, providing a safe place to express their grief.
Dan reveals the value of sharing one’s story, and “getting it all out on the table,” so participants can see the connection between their personal struggles and a past divorce experience. “Those wounds can take many shapes, Dan added, “from protective behaviors like promiscuity and cohabitation, to broken relationships with parents or other family members, to identity crises and strained relationships with God.”
Breaking the Silence
Based on over 25 years in outreach to those hurting after abortion, Bethany’s comments resonate strongly with our experience in abortion recovery ministry.
We can paraphrase Bethany’s previous comments about the “wounds of silence,” substituting the word abortion for divorce, to reveal the strong shared themes for those suffering after divorce and abortion:
“Those who are hurting after abortion often feel like talking about the pain caused by their abortion is not allowed – that it just further burdens others, or that abortion is normal and therefore should not be a big deal. There’s a lot of testimonies from women and men who felt like, ‘I don’t know how to share this or where to go with this, or even if anyone will care’…”
Georgette Forney and Janet Morana are the co-founders of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign and would heartily endorse Bethany’s sentiments.
Georgette had an abortion at age sixteen and later experienced healing, forgiveness and reconciliation after going through an abortion recovery program. Janet and Georgette saw the need to raise awareness about the physical, spiritual and emotional impact of abortion, and to let those who are hurting from abortion know that help is available.
The campaign has empowered thousands of women and men to share their testimonies of abortion regret and pain in schools, churches, and the public square, while also proclaiming the good news of their emotional and spiritual healing.
The Impact of Abortion on Adult Children of Divorce
The connection between divorce and abortion can run even deeper for some women and men. In the recently published book Rivers of Blood/Oceans of Mercy, there is a chapter entitled, Primal Fear – The Impact of Abortion on Adult Children of Divorce.
Here’s an excerpt:
On Saturday morning of a Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend participants share their abortion story. But they are encouraged to share that abortion event in the context of their overall life experiences.
Their stories reveal that some children from divorced families can be overwhelmed by their emotions when facing an unplanned pregnancy, and in the aftermath of the abortion procedure.
Divorce can be such a seismic emotional event for some children, that when faced with an unplanned pregnancy later in life, they may panic and try to establish some sense of control as soon as possible – control they did not have as children.
They may have deep ambivalence about becoming a parent and terrified of losing their partner. While these feelings are common to others facing an unplanned pregnancy, with children of divorce, the level of anxiety and panic can be even more intense.
…The experience of divorce, and the aftermath, can feel like an emotional abortion. A child can have the sense of being violently separated from what was previously thought to be a stable and lifelong family unit. A child who was traumatized by the experience of divorce, and later participates in the death of their unborn child, magnifies an already deep and complex wound.
… In other cases a woman or man may feel pressured to have the abortion, overwhelmed by their emotions, or have no voice or say in the matter. These feelings of anxiety, panic and powerlessness can reenact the emotional devastation of the divorce event.
The abortion experience may connect in a very toxic way with that wounded inner child resulting in depression, anxiety, anger issues, sleep disturbance, increased drug and alcohol use, and acting out this complicated grief leading to problems in intimate relationships.
Abortion healing programs can create a foundation of peace at the heart of this deep and complex wound. As women and men find healthy ways to tell their stories, to process their abortion related pain and grieve their losses, they are reconnected in love with their aborted children. They have a safe place to share their childhood wounds, and allow their own inner child to have a voice, to be consoled and move toward healing and peace. [More info on the book Rivers of Blood/Oceans of Mercy here.]
Divorce and Abortion Stigma
Dan said he hopes that Life Giving Wounds helps spark more conversations about healing from divorce in the Church, where sometimes there can be a stigma attached to the topic. (I wrote about abortion stigma, in the context of abortion, here.)
[Here’s an original song about a man running from the darkness of his youth and finding the light.]