DEAR AMY: My husband and I have been friends with another couple for 40 years. We get together socially, vacation together, visit each other’s homes in different states, etc. My problem is that now it is very difficult for me to be with the female friend because of something that happened in the early ’90s. I thought that I had been able to put the incident out of my mind; but now I am finding that it is bothering me to the point that I cannot bear to talk to the friend, be with her, etc. The incident that happened involved her father, a minister. In the early ’90s, my husband went with our friends to visit her parents in their home state. My friend’s father took a group of us on a tour of the huge, beautiful, historic church where he had been a minister for many years. As the group descended a very narrow staircase, he and I were the last in the single file line going down. All of a sudden, he was next to me — his hands were all over me, fondling me, and he was looking me in the eyes. I was so shocked that I did not say anything to anyone, not even my husband. Although I have tried to put the incident out of my mind, for some reason this memory is surfacing frequently lately. I finally told my husband about the incident about five years after it happened and asked him not to say anything to anyone. Whenever my friend calls now, I am rude to her, cutting the conversation short. I am wondering if I need counseling and whether I should tell my friend the real reason that I am distancing myself from her. Your advice, please?
DEAR HAUNTED: Yes, you definitely should receive counseling. Meeting with a therapist will give you a safe space where you can talk about this and describe all of your feelings, including your conflicted reaction to your friend over time.
Your story provides an example of how damaging and insidious sexual assault is. It traumatizes you initially, and then the memory of it can continue to surface, along with feelings of anger, guilt and shame. Assault disrupts your friendships and other relationships, even the one you have with yourself.
Given everything you state, unfortunately, I think this very long friendship is probably over. And yes, I do believe you should disclose this to your friend. The man who did this to you was a minister. He no doubt had countless opportunities to assault other women, and given the brazen and reckless way he did this to you, you should also consider going to the police; other victims might come forward. Talk this through with your counselor and your husband, and do what you need to do to receive relief, release and peace.
DEAR AMY: I want to thank you sincerely for suggesting Al-Anon to a reader who had an alcoholic in their life. I didn’t know about the organization until I read about it in your column. In spite of anxiety and reluctance, I went to that first meeting. I’ve continued going for almost a year now. My life has become bearable! I’ve learned that alcoholism is a disease that I didn’t cause and that I can neither cure nor control. I’ve learned not to nag and harass the sick alcoholic in my life any more than I would someone with the flu or cancer. I’ve learned to take care of me, the only person I can control. Those meetings are calming and comforting; the men and women so caring. The more I go, the better I get. Happiness is truly an inside job that begins with me. Al-Anon is costless therapy with unimaginable rewards.
DEAR GRATEFUL: Al-Anon Family Groups (al-anon.org) is not the only support group available for friends and family of substance abusers, but the organization has definitely provided a model for free, anonymous, discreet support provided by people who have been there. I also highly recommend Alateen for younger people. I’m so happy my column helped to lead you toward this support.
DEAR AMY: The letter from “Feeling Dished” concerned who should do household chores, namely washing the dishes. The couple should purchase a dishwasher, if they can. If they can’t, then I agree with you — the person with the most specific standard should do the chore.
DEAR HAPPY: Of course, many couples also argue over the “correct” way to load a dishwasher.