It’s just incredible that a month has passed since I wrote about my niece-in-law. After the initial upset and bringing it up in my own counseling sessions, it hasn’t popped up again as a significant thing outside of praying for the whole family during bible study. I guess a part of me thinks that suffering within my husband’s family should be a bigger deal for us, but it’s difficult to keep that sensitivity when you’re building boundaries within a dysfunctional family. This is a prime opportunity for, “Let go, let God,” as God works on both my husband’s family and my husband and myself.
Within counseling, there have definitely been some breakthroughs for me. I go about once per week and each session is emotional and draining. Last week we focused more on career issues I am having and some confidence and authority problems I’ve had since my bad teaching experience. After one session, a lot of my anxiety around my current business just dissolved! So, I am officially a convert of EDMR style therapy.
Without consciously doing it, I have been taking a break from the sexual side of my issues. Within few EDMR sessions I definitely saw improvement in my desire to have sex and my anxiety around sex itself, but I still have the sperm issue.
I am so, so grateful that EDMR seems to work just like glue solvent where you don’t really feel huge changes but things just seem to be less charged, less painful, and less of a big deal. It hasn’t happened yet, but I have it in mind that that’s what will happen with my main problem (ejaculation) and one day it just won’t be a big deal that my husband and I complete the sex act together.
A girl can hope.
Until then, my health is giving me more than enough to contend with, and I’ve been feeling way more peaceful about the idea of being childless. God asks us to give up our plans for our lives, and I have been really feeling peaceful about that process lately, even though I put up more of a fight last year. When I look at the blessings in my life, I can see that it is more than enough to warrant a long, happy, and fruitful existence with or without children.
And honestly, I want to poll some more women on this subject. I really don’t see myself as carrying a child or being pregnant, despite coming from a large family and large families coming from my brothers. When I look in the mirror, I just don’t see or feel that process to be aligned with my path. I guess there are always surprises, but I wonder how many other women really felt like they *knew* they would or would not be pregnant in their life, or got pregnant after feeling distinctly that it was not something they would experience. (Outside of the whole secular “I just don’t want to be a mother” sentiment, of course).
That’s all for now! I have a feeling I’ll be digging into the sexual side of things again soon and that my brain just needed a break from the intense reading I was doing at the start of the year. I also have a dear friend coming over for dinner tonight and, if the mood is right, I may share my story with her so we can grow even closer.
She was with me before, during, and after the abusive relationship occurred, so I will be very curious to hear her thoughts on it. She is also not Christian, so that spin on it will be interesting, too. And, to not be too selfish about it, I wonder if this will inspire to share some of her own wounds from that time period, because I think we were both suffering with sexual relationships and emotional abuse and not talking about it.
God bless you all, and keep me in your prayers if you have an empty spot on your list!
PS Catholic Twitter is seriously hilarious. Join us!
Yesterday was my 4th EDMR session. While it feels weird to jump right into the results (rather than lay the foundation over several blog posts), that can’t be helped. The story takes too long to tell.
Here’s the short version: in 2014, my husband and I started learning about Natural Family Planning (NFP) and the Creighton Method (CM). At the time, we were married, practicing Catholics using condoms. We made it about six months through the NFP practice before our conversations about and understanding of sex radically shifted. We weren’t “trying to conceive,” but it quickly became clear that a healthy, happy marriage does not stand on birth control.
Then we started having sex all the time without a condom. Easy peasy, right? Not so fast.
Fear of Sperm
The first few times we tried to have sex without a condom in 2014, I freaked out. I couldn’t pinpoint the issue, but when the moment arrived for us to follow through with the whole sexual act, something inside of me spazzed and I couldn’t do it (no pun intended).
Starting-a-family anxiety? Parenting issues? That’s what I assumed at first. I googled everything I could think of, starting with “Sperm is gross” and “Fear of sperm,” hoping to find camaraderie in a pregnancy forum. But I only found one comment about it and it was pretty innocuous (“Does anyone else think sperm is pretty gross?” “Yeah, ew! But whatcha gonna do?”)
However, when I started talking about it with a counselor it quickly became clear that I had an awful lot of negative associations with the sexual act and sperm in particular. And in January of 2015 (this year) I realized that what I thought was just a crappy first relationship at 15 years old was actually sexual abuse.
A Bad First Impression
I never thought I’d be someone who suddenly “remembered” being abused, but that’s exactly how it happened. In the course of one 60-minute counseling session I went from “Yeah, I dated a jerk,” to “Oh, I remember X and X, and it was consensual, but looking back I would never do that and I would be disgusted by anyone who asked me to do that.”
I’ll leave the details for another post, but my first introduction to sex was as far from Catholic as possible. It was secretive (I snuck around my strict parents to make it happen), it was selfish (on behalf of the guy), it was not loving, and it was as far from respectful of of a woman as it is possible to get without getting into forced rape territory.
It was also calculated, inspired by his desire to experiment and act out scenes he enjoyed from pornography, and inappropriate based on our ages (he was 19, I was 15, a senior when I was a freshman).
Forgiveness & Recovery
I won’t get into the guy too much — looking back, what he shared about his sexual compulsiveness indicates to me that he was sexually abused as a child. And no matter how inappropriate, misguided, or uninformed I was, it was also always “up to me” what we did.
Instead, I’m drawn to how this story impacts my understanding of femininity, my ability to be open to life within my marriage now, and how my husband and I will approach pregnancy staring down this less obvious form of psychological infertility.
The more I unravel this situation in the EDMR sessions, the more clearly this becomes a far-reaching theme into the secular history of my body, including the following:
- The respect/love my body didn’t get from my mother (because of the respect/love she did not give her own body for being overweight, abused, and prone to overeating)
- The teasing I received in middle school because I was overweight
- The abusive relationship I entered into in high school
- The dramatic and sexually-active relationships I maintained through high school and college (even with my current husband until we were married and then entered the Catholic Church)
- The chronic illness that became active in college and after college
- The current sense of “invasion” at the thought of completing the sexual act (a million sperm verses just me)
In each of these segments of my history, my body was the enemy. I was not a spiritual being working with a physical body, as CS Lewis says. I was a spiritual being burdened by a crappy body that didn’t work properly (it was too fat, too sick, too abused by someone else).
It wasn’t mine. It wasn’t me. The me I held on to and cultivated was the me of the mind and the intellect. I was me in spite of my body not because of it. The two were separate, and the one (the mind) was preferable to the other (the body).
Beyond Plugging the Hole
This is where I hope the abuse ends. Using the Church’s teaching and sacraments, I want to get to the bottom of this and merge the two again. I want to find away to accept my sick, broken, and abused body, and love it again. Because, honestly, I don’t think I do.
Reading Women, Food, and God helped me stop hating my body. But it mainly just plugged up the abuse. I didn’t take the next step to actively love or accept my body. I just moved on to other things, grateful to ditch my body issues once and for all. Cue the phrase, “The opposite of hate is not love, it’s apathy.”
But as anyone who moved to one town to escape relationships in another, you know that ditching the issues is just the first step. There’s also a lot of work to be done with digging out the rotten roots and filling it with something that will let your body heal. If you don’t, you’re just building your emotional house on sand over and over again.
How the Church Saves
I think that something that can fill me and let my body heal is Jesus Christ. Someone who came to us with a perfect body, a perfect intellect, and a perfect spirit… and submitted to God to watch it all be broken and torn apart in full confidence that it was for the best.
I might think I am suffering and I might be afraid of the sacrifice I would have to make as a pregnant woman (the overshadowing, the submission, the loss of control), but I would not be the first, the last, or even the most notable.
Jesus already showed me how. Mary already showed me how. But no one can do it for me. I have my own cross, my own trial, and my own issues to overcome (because yeah, I haven’t met anyone else with a fear of sperm yet!). It won’t be easy, but at least now I can see the path laid out before me instead of wandering alone.
Step one: I ordered an introduction to Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I’ll be reading it and writing about it in hopes that I can unravel these complicated emotions and embrace the simple heart of the Catholic Church: a respectful, loving, life-giving marriage.
This article was originally posted in 2014.
Writing about our typical holiday apprehension was very therapeutic for me. Even more therapeutic was getting a comment that someone else felt the same way!
The day I wrote that post kicked off a three-day barrage of stressful phone calls and conversations. Without even seeing my in-laws myself, they managed to create a toxic experience full of power plays and guilt trips specially targeted to my husband. I suffered through it vicariously, but my husband bore the brunt of it.
Here are a few blog posts that helped my husband and me find some strength for the holidays. We’re still stressed, but we’re not alone:
- Dr. Phil helps you understand that you need to choose your spouse first.
- Darlene Ouimet writes a whole blog on recovering from abuse of all kinds. In particular, her post about Dysfunctional Families and Holidays resonated with me. (She also wrote about Toxic Mother-Daughter Relationships, which I found to be accurate).
- Dr. Townsend and Dr. Cloud write the book Boundaries, which my husband and I turn to every year to guide us through his family’s manipulative behavior. Not only is it a great resource year-round, but it got us started on this road to freedom and peace within our marriage (at least where his family is concerned).
Talking helps us the most– analyzing every angle of this situation in as much detail as possible. We’ve also found counselors and psychiatrists for my husband who have touched on these topics from time to time. Clearly we need to touch on it more in sessions, but for the most part this has made us stronger as a couple.
If you are struggling with destructive, dysfunctional families, I encourage you to seek some distance in your relationship and begin to build more firm boundaries. It is difficult and painful, but it is the only way to live outside the thumb of oppressive emotional abuse!
This article was originally posted in 2014.
Seriously, I can’t be the only one with insane in-laws and drama-filled holidays. But somehow everything I’m reading is about being thankful for your family, cooking amazing food, and relaxing with loved ones over the holiday.
What if instead of expressing thankfulness for your family, you’re trying to set boundaries and say “No,” to your family? What if instead of settling in for a fun holiday with laughs and good times, you’re crying with your spouse about how mean his family is, and yet how strongly he feels he wants to see them and be a part of their lives?
For us, that means dealing with my husband’s tendency to respond to abusive behavior to make everyone happy: No one has called to make plans? Well maybe they think we don’t want to talk to them, so we need to be nicer! Short-notice plans 3 hours away? Of course we should go, it’s cold not to!
Translation: I’m stuck respecting his desire to have a relationship with his family of origin and battening down the hatches to protect him from their manipulative behavior. Oh yes, a holly jolly holiday for us.
Just once, I’d love to see a headline on The Huffington Post that reads “How to Deal With Dysfunctional In-Laws,” or “What to Do When Your Spouse Wants to See His Abusive Family.”
No, no sir. The media does not talk openly about dysfunctional family holidays. After all, that writer would have to put her name on the article and that would lead to a dysfunctional holiday indeed.
How about you: are you anticipating a typical happy holiday, or lots of stress and tears like us?
I’ll be back later this weekend with a real post, but for now can I just say I’m so excited to start this blog! I write somewhere else, but this is where I can be myself. Because with anonymity comes no consequences! Yes!
Truthfully, I’m dealing with a lot of annoying problems right now. Trying to be nice to in-laws who are mean to me. Trying to use the Creighton method (problem #1) to get ready to get pregnant (problem #2) with a body that can’t conceive or carry the child (problem #3). And trying to come out as my Catholic self with friends who aren’t Catholic or christian.
If I don’t get to posting this weekend, don’t worry! I have a feature coming out on TheFix.com about creating boundaries around my sister-in-law’s alcoholism. You’ll soon find that I have a mess of in-law problems ranging from narcism, alcoholism, denial, lack of boundaries, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. I really, really hope you CAN’T relate, because I know how hard it is to deal with that stuff.
Until then, I’d love to learn more about you! Leave a note in the comments with your name and your blog and I’ll stop by and say hello!