“When the abuse happened to me I was 13, just coming out of eighth grade going into ninth grade. At that time I never drank, I never smoked marijuana or did anything like that,” said Michael Whalen of South Buffalo.
That all changed after Whalen was allegedly sexually abused by Father Norbert Orsolits.
“I was turning to blackouts where I don’t remember coming home,” Whalen told News 4.
We met Whalen back in March, when he shared his story publicly for the first time. Days later, the Buffalo Catholic Diocese released a list of 42 accused priests, including Rev. Orsolits.
Looking back now, Whalen believes the alleged abuse led to substance abuse problems later in life.
Since sharing his story, he’s gotten to know fellow survivor James Faluszczak.
“I tried to minimize it and that’s ultimately what I was using the alcohol for was, I was having this creeping sense of anxiety. I was having flashbacks,” Faluszczak, who is also a former priest, told News 4.
He battled alcoholism for years after his alleged sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.
Faluszczak, who then went into ministry himself, struggled with sobriety when he was working at a parish setting.
Eventually, he gave up ministry life altogether.
“I gave up my pulpit, I gave up saying mass at the altar. Those were more important to me than the other things that I lost,” he said.
Caitlin Powalski of Crisis Services told News 4 experiencing trauma of any kind, especially at a young age, can often lead to coping struggles as an adult.
“We see that folks may have co-curring disorders, substances abuse, because of the type of trauma they experienced and that can impact further in life,” she said.
Chilhood trauma and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand, Powalski told News 4.
People abused by family members, or people they trust, like priests, can face even more obstacles when it comes to reporting the abuse, and coping with it afterwards.
Crisis Services has a 24 hotline. You can call 716-834-3131 anytime to speak with a trained counselor.
Powalski said the hotline is steadily busy, but can’t say for sure if call volumes have been affected by recent wide-spread allegations of sexual abuse within the Buffalo Catholic Diocese. She explained that’s because survivors come forward at different times.
Some victims of childhood trauma report it years later, others wait decades, and some don’t want to report it all. When a survivor decides to speak openly about their experiences, it always varies, she said.
Whalen said it took him decades to tell his wife what happened.
“I think what we do is we just tried to hide the pain.”
Faluszczak, who testified before a Pennsylvania Grand Jury about his alleged clergy abuse, said while he’s not drinking, he still battles unexpected panic attacks.
He takes his sobriety one step at a time.
“I can’t say I have control of it. But I also wouldn’t say right now that it has control of me either,” he said.
In some ways, the retired priest feels as though he’s gotten his pulpit back; he’s an advocate for criminal investigation into the Church, and outspoken in his quest for more transparency.
Since speaking publicly about their experiences, both Whalen and Faluszczak have been contacted by fellow survivors; looking for guidance, advice, or just a person to listen.
“I have two shoulders,” Whalen said. He hopes more survivors will reach out if they’re struggling.