The Power of Mourning Together: Intimacy after Trauma

Recently, I went through a period where I was thinking about my miscarriages a lot. I had made a short film about Emma, and I was grieving some other people who had died, and I had to work through some leftover anger at God for what happened with her.

It is very hard for my husband when I talk about miscarriages, especially Emma. He copes with things by focusing on the good, and talking about Emma is not a helpful way to do that, because there’s not much good in that situation for us. Unfortunately, I heal and process what happens to me through talking it out, so that sucks for him sometimes.

So of course, when I was suddenly processing all of this stuff about Emma, it was very difficult for him to handle. We had some Grade A, level 5 fights going on. I was bogged down by the problem of evil, and he was just trying to live life.

One day I wrote several pieces about Emma, one after another. I felt like he completely blew me off once I convinced him to read them. We had a history-making fight over that one. It ended in us feeling hopeless about resolving it collapsed on the floor in the bedroom.

I was so angry, but I took a second to tell him that I know how hard it was for him, and that I’m sorry. He came over to the rocking chair I was sitting in and laid his head in my lap. We had a completely honest conversation about how painful losing Emma was, and how hard it was that our marriage started out like that. We talked about how much we had stuck together through, and we cried together about how much it hurt at times.

And then, we had pretty much the best sex that has ever been had, ever.

There has been so much pain from the beginning of our marriage, and dealing with the loss of a child at the most hopeful time in your life is devastating. Our hopes and plans were destroyed and we were flailing trying to find each other and ourselves again after going through a severe trauma, but in a different way. He struggled with religion and wanted nothing to do with it for a while, while I bounced back and forth between clinging to Jesus like a life raft, and raging out about how hateful the Church is and how I wish I had never been a part of it, and raging at God.

We had these amazing ideas for making movies together, and being artistic and talking philosophy, but when the only philosophy you can think about is the philosophy of grief and the problem of evil, eventually survival instinct takes over and forbids you think about it anymore.

So we grew apart in some ways for a while, because neither one of us were being ourselves. We stayed close deliberately, but there was this space between us that kept coming up. Over the years, we have had little healing moments like this recent one, and they are getting deeper and deeper. Healing through a tragedy like losing a child, at any age, is incredibly difficult, and it comes out in many ways.

The reason I mention sex is that I think a lot of people may not think about how much unresolved issues can play a part in intimacy. Especially men, I think don’t realize how much of a difference emotional intimacy makes for women.

Women’s bodies physically respond to feeling emotionally heard. My body responded to that, I could feel nerve centers of my body that had been dead sizzling back to life, and I was able to breathe in a way I hadn’t been able to, for as long as I could remember. I was as hungry as a teenage boy. Every touch felt like he was a master of contact, where I had struggled with feeling the awkwardness of sex at times. I wasn’t afraid to tell him where to touch, what to do, but it wasn’t because I was bossing him around but because the heat of the moment swirled around us. It was so natural, and carnal, it was really and profoundly “making love.” We were making love out of trauma, love out of tragedy, and it was incredible.

We connected in a way we hadn’t for a long time that night. I tell you this because my husband and I are very open and emotional people, and we still struggle with this. I can only imagine that people who are not this way would struggle even more, first to find the words to talk about this stuff, but even more to work through it no matter how hard it gets. I believe though, that nights like this are what make marriage work. So, maybe see if your husband will talk about anything you think might be blocking you from enjoying intimacy with him. If you need to, let him read this to understand how much of a difference it makes. We need to be heard, and our body responds to that, and your relationship will respond to that too.

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Communion is like Sex

When I was in college, I took a class on Theology of the Body and it changed my life. A little after that class ended, I was kneeling at the Communion rail, when I heard as if from a quiet voice nearby, “Communion is like sex.” I shook it off as a temptation from the devil, because that sounded crazy, but it remained in my heart. Since that moment, it has formed and informed my relationship with Christ, my Bridegroom.

Now I know you may be totally freaking out that I would be putting those two terms in the same sentence. I think my mom thought I had lost my mind when I told her this theory, but hear me out. In sex, the man is literally inside the woman. In Communion(as far as Catholic beliefs), Jesus is inside of the person receiving him. In marriage, sex is the closest a husband and wife can get. On this earth, the closest we can get to Jesus is in the Eucharist. Sex unites the man and the woman. The Eucharist unites God and man. I could go on, but you get the idea.

This realization revolutionized my relationship with God. For the first time, it occurred to me that God wanted to be as close to us as He could possibly get. In eating His Body, we cannot get any closer to Him-He becomes a part of our body. What an intense and amazing kind of closeness that is, to be fully one with Him.

To believe in that powerful desire of God for me, changed the way I looked at everything spiritually. If God wants to be as close as a married couple, then of course He would want us to come to Him as much as possible, of course He would want us to be safe, of course He would want us to keep each other safe. Sin became an issue in our relationship with each other instead of a rule book being banged over my head. I started talking to God about anything and everything going on with me. I was able to bring anything to Him and be close to Him always.

Now, I use this relationship as a baseline for every decision I make in our spiritual life. Should I go to Church today even though I’m sick? If it was the best date ever with my husband, would I push through or stay home? Where should we go to Church? What Church furthers our closeness, does the Church harden my heart towards Him? In prayer, I bring literally everything to Him like a wife. We have even had marital spats. He yelled back and me pretty hard in Scripture the other day, in fact.

Because of all of this, He is always on my mind. He is the first one I talk to, vent to, complain to, and confide in. He is the one I tell my fears too, he is the one I hide with. He is the one who will follow me everywhere I go, and that’s a good thing because I like to be pursued. He is the one who holds me at night when everything that happened today is too hard.

If the Eucharist is that intense of a closeness with Jesus, how would that change your life with Him? How would you live it differently?

Just say NO: You Don’t Have to Have Sex if You Don’t Want To Even if You are Married

One time when we hadn’t been married for long, I wasn’t in the mood for sex, but my husband was. This rarely happened, to be fair. I was ALWAYS in the mood when he wasn’t, but this particular time was an anomaly for us. I tried to grin and bear it and “just do it.” My sweet husband stopped me, “What is going on?” He was upset and I didn’t understand why.

He stopped me and we got dressed and he talked to me for a long time about consent and how important it was. Granted, this is stuff that we are always hearing every day in the media, but it was different to hear it coming from someone who loved me. He told me that if a man really loves a woman, he doesn’t want her to have sex when she doesn’t want to. He told me about how the woman’s body physically reacts differently to sex when she isn’t in the mood. He talked about how God believes in free will, and so He would never believe in a woman giving up her ownership over sex for someone else.

None of this had ever occurred to me. Even now sometimes I am shocked by the talk about how women need to “just do it,” and sometimes even just “for the man.” I know they don’t know they are doing it, but that is rape culture. They are teaching women that their body doesn’t belong to them, but to the men they are with.

THIS IS NOT TRUE!

Theology of the Body talks about how sex is the free gift of the body to the other person. It is not free if you do not have a choice.

Now, just to clarify, because we don’t want to just go Lysistrata on all the men out there, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try. I found out what never wanting sex was like after I had babies, and I know now how easy it would be to never have sex again for a woman sometimes. But we love our husbands; and that intimacy MEANS something. What I have started doing is if I am not in the mood, I will tell my husband, “Ok, but I need help getting in the mood.” Your husband May need help learning how to help you get in the mood but once you figure out what does it for you, your intimacy will change forever.

Sex Rebel: Being a Catholic Who Likes Sex

I was once Chastity Team president. I advocated chivalry and gender roles and how God rewards those who follow Him. Then, I took Pre-Cana, and almost left the Church over it. Then, I had a miscarriage. I lost a baby girl right after I got married. I was one of the only people I knew who stayed a virgin until marriage, and that includes some of the most vocal chastity advocates in my life. I never really fit in with the Chastity Team crowd, even when I led it, but now I felt ashamed of my title and any association I had with it. I told my husband that I wished I had never advocated Chastity because I thought it was just until marriage, I didn’t realize sex would be a nightmare for my whole life. Some time has passed, and I have come to terms with the issues I had, but I have had to come to terms with some big truths that I never thought I would learn.

  1. Just because someone is a respected Catholic teacher does not mean that what they teach is official Church teaching.

I will never forget the moment my husband and I read our assigned pages from Christopher West from our marriage counseling. As I read the list of sexual acts that were forbidden in any circumstances, my head swam. I was nauseous. I had always been a very sexual person, and I had been so excited for marriage. I believed I was saving all of my beautiful, spicy, sexy self for one person. Turns out, I was just not supposed to be that person at all. Everything I had imagined had some rule attached to it, and most of them, I had never heard before. My now-husband and I had a huge fight, because he didn’t want to follow the guidelines, and neither did I, but I thought we had no choice. I was so angry. It combined with all of these different beliefs I had never been taught about the Church(and I was not raised liberal Catholic at all) to make me hate the Church and her millions of impossible rules, and ruining sex and anything else good for everyone. Finally, I sat down with actual Church teaching. I had the Catechism, scripture, and all the official doctrine documents I could find. Half of what we were taught in pre-cana was nowhere in those documents. The things I was going to leave the Church over were the exact opposite of what the Church teaches. Now, I rarely trust a Catholic teacher because they are usually wrong.

2. Priests need some sort of counseling in this area in seminary because they don’t know what they are doing.

This is really just a sub-set of #1, because we spent hours talking to our priest about all of this and he did not have a clue how to help us.

3. We have to stop teaching Chastity the way we are right now.

Sex is both not as big of a deal as people are making it, and way bigger. Christians are making such a huge thing about saying no to sex, and how virginity is so important, that we are ignoring that sexuality is a natural and important and wonderful part of life. We are creating this monster of evil, and then turning around and demanding people understand how sacred it is. On top of that, we are not educating people about sexuality because we are so busy teaching them not to have it, which backfires into people hating sex, wishing they weren’t having it, wishing they were having it with someone else, or worse. We act like talking about sex is evil, and that backfires in a whole host of ways.

 

Living with these three truths is incredibly uncomfortable for someone who also wants to be a good Catholic/Christian. Jason Evert primed a whole generation with how wrong it is to even ask “How far can we go?” We all know the analogy of getting as close to the cliff as possible. You know what though, sometimes it is AWESOME to get as close to the edge of a cliff as possible, and it doesn’t mean you want to die. Christians are being primed to live with a terror of the edge, that makes it impossible to live your life. Every single action must be analyzed thoroughly to make sure that it is not putting yourself or anyone else in danger of sin. Guess what? That’s not God. But I thought it was.

I lived that way for years, and I lost so much of myself. Now, I work hard to know what is ACTUAL Church teaching, not trending doctrine, I very sparingly trust priestly advice on anything they don’t know about, and I recoil against the way Christian’s currently teach sexuality(so I made a sex group to teach it better ;-)) It is terrifying because people often include me, condescendingly, in the catch-all term of “cafeteria catholic,” or “liberal Catholic,” and I thought they were right for a while there, but they aren’t, or maybe they are, but differently than they think. We all have to be “cafeteria Catholics” if it means discerning which teachers are right and which are wrong.

What Sex and the City got Right

Sex and the City was the first mainstream television show to feature women talking about sex. Now, to be fair, a lot of the conversations are awkward and inauthentic, but whatever they were, they set an example for women. Women can “locker room talk” too! This is important, not so that women can be just like men, but because women need to know about sex from someone other than just their husbands. Husbands are not women, and therefore do not know what works for women unless we tell them, but moreso women do not know what works for them if they do not know how to find out.

I came into marriage with an excruciatingly small amount of knowledge about sex. I was lucky to be marrying a kind, patient non-virgin, who knew what other women needed and liked, enough that he was able to teach me how to enjoy sex, and even how to safely engage in sex without injuring my body in any way. However, if I had not been so lucky, he could have taken advantage of me in any number of ways, and I may have just believed that is how things were. I am also grateful that he knew how important it is to listen to the woman during sex. Many men do not realize that the woman is not as easy to please as they are. We need foreplay, we need to be in the mood, we need to be seduced. A woman can not educate her man about these things, unless she has others to educate her.

On a very basic level, talking about sex with other women, especially in a similar state in life, normalizes the awkward, weirdness of sex. It takes away the magical fairy tale expectations a person may have if sex when their best friend says to them, “and then we had to get an extra blanket so we wouldn’t get the bed wet.” This allows women to learn what real sex is like rather than building their expectations on television and male fantasies. On another, more difficult, level however, many women struggle to enjoy sex for one reason or another, and it is only in sharing their knowledge with each other that they can teach each other how to truly enjoy intimacy.

As a child, I heard a multitude of complaints and horror about Sex and the City, and it’s unabashed sexual discussions, but I must admit I am grateful for the example set by the show for women who would otherwise be unsure how to talk about such a sensitive subject. Even I grew as a person watching the show, and learned how to open up about my desires and learning how to fulfill them.

What the New York Abortion Bill Means to Me

When I found out I was pregnant with Emma, my husband walked away from me, went upstairs and blared slipknot. I trembled downstairs in fear.

When I was pregnant with Emma, my husband and I fought every single day. These were not little, meaningless spats. They were screaming arguments, “How are we going to pay for that? How are we going to take care of her? What are we going to do?” We would scream at each other for hours and break down into the kind of sobs that take over your whole body, and your guts come out through your eyes.

It never stopped. Every single day we erupted in terror at the only person we could talk to about it.

We were Catholic. There were no options. We were stuck, and we were screwed. We had no insurance because we couldn’t afford it, but because we were paying rent we couldn’t get Medicaid. We didn’t have our own house. We were living in a tiny bedroom, sleeping together in a twin bed as I grew enormous in a matter of weeks. My mom has always said that using NFP meant that you didn’t really trust God, and I had had virtually no sex education so it didn’t occur to me how quickly you could get pregnant, if you were married(obviously you get pregnant if you even think about having sex if you aren’t married.)

Our marriage was ruined, we had no idea how we would survive, or how she would. I was terrified of hospitals, and we couldn’t afford one anyway.

I had fleeting thoughts of wishing I would miscarry, but I could feel her. She was present in me and I knew her, but I couldn’t stand the pain of knowing that she would always be afraid because we couldn’t provide for her.

It got so bad that I considered abortion. Not fully, not seriously, but for a second, I thought about it. It is almost impossible for me to admit that as a Catholic.

Later, I don’t even know how it happened, but one day I realized I was reading a how-to on committing a natural abortion. I think I may have been searching for vitamin safety during pregnancy, and then saw this article and was so shocked it even existed. I had been taking a ton of vitamins that weren’t safe to stay healthy while I was so run down, and again, for a split second, I thought, “What if I just kept doing it?”

It couldn’t be a sin right? It’s just taking a vitamin, for my health. It’d be an accident. I’d like to think I didn’t mean it, but I was so scared.

We lost her a week later.

In the most horrifying, tragic moment of my life, I miscarried our honeymoon baby.

I don’t know if it was the vitamins I was taking unknowingly, the lack of sleep, the exhausting work I was doing, the stress, or just my body’s inability to form the baby correctly, but whatever it was she was gone. She IS gone.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel some repercussion of losing her. She is my butterfly effect proof. She is everywhere. She was all over my periods every time I questioned whether they were miscarriages or not. She was there every step of my pregnancy with my rainbow, and my double rainbow. She is there when I check my babies breathing at night. She is there when I hear stories of women losing their children. She is in me still, even though she’s not for anyone else.

I cannot believe now that there were moments I did not want her. Now, I would give anything to take those moments back, to have her back. I was so scared, and I try not to blame myself, but losing a child, whether it is your fault or not, is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. It is the greatest pain that you can imagine, and it isn’t healed by time. The thought fades, thankfully, but the grief never does.

In the face of the New York bill, what I want to say to you, is that you do not know what these women are feeling. A woman who is losing her child, has lost her child, or could lose her child, is in a kind of pain that you cannot imagine if you have not been there. There are women who are pro-life who have held their own children lifeless in their arms, and they cannot stand the idea of another child being lost. There are women who are pro-choice who have faced the worst nightmares and had to ask “what do I do?” No matter who you are, you do not know what is in the hearts of who you are against. You do not know what drives them.

So? You ask. What do I do with that information? Find out. Learn from the pain of others how to address problems in a way that helps everyone. Ask the mom who is contemplating abortion what she needs, and help her find it. Start a fund for women who are struggling. Be compassionate. If you are pro-choice, ask the pro-life women what are they worried about, what is wrong with the bill? What do they want?

More than anything, tell your story, tell it as loud as you possibly can, until you are heard. Stop telling everyone else what’s wrong with them, and speak your truth.

Ecstasy

Have you ever felt so much pleasure that you thought your entire body might explode?

Have you ever stopped being intimate because you were afraid you might not be able to handle what was coming?

Have you ever submitted completely only to be racked by a painful pleasure that just won’t stop?

If you haven’t, you haven’t experienced all that the orgasm has to offer.

If you haven’t, you can’t understand Teresa’s expression in the statue called Ecstasy.

If you haven’t, then you haven’t yet had the best sex of your life.

I know, because I told an older married woman that I didn’t like sex, and I didn’t believe her when she told me:

“It gets better.”

Losing My Virginity

Losing my Virginity

“About an hour after the first time I had sex, I woke up in a cold sweat. I was so nauseous I thought I was going to be sick, and I couldn’t breathe. I laid in a dark hotel room thinking I was going to die.

I remember first walking into the hotel room and consciously keeping my smile on because the hotel was not what I had imagined. It was the kind of hotel teenagers sneak to to have sex on prom night, dirt in the corners, everything a little bit rundown. He kept talking about how amazing it was, and I kept smiling. Now, he wasn’t awake, and I was, and all I could do was exist in my fear and this crappy hotel room.

I woke Patrick up, and told him I didn’t know what was going on. He was such a sweetheart and turned over to hold me, but it got worse. I left and went to the bathroom. I took labored deep breaths in one of the tiniest wooden bathrooms I have ever been in, second only to my childhood friends’ RV that didn’t even leave room to turn around. When I looked up out the door there was the glass shower door where we had tried to have shower sex, and my stomach clenched. I felt faint.

I think I need to eat something.” I said when I came out of the bathroom.

My husband got out of bed, in the middle of the night, on his honeymoon, to go to McDonalds. I needed comfort food, and he would go with me. By the time we got to the drive thru, I was shaking, and my stomach had butterflies in it the size of Mars. They were beating their wings against the side of my stomach and I was starving but felt like vomiting at the same time. I kept trying to breathe, trying to calm down, but I just ended up telling my new husband, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

He said I needed protein and water, so he got me a burger and a couple of waters. He listened to me panic and ask him to turn different ways ten times on the way home until I asked him to stop the car at a park. I stared at the grass from inside the car, curling into myself. I shook so bad I could barely open my water. Most of the conversation is a blur, but the first thing I do remember is the moment when he told me, “A lot of women have a hard time the first time they have sex. They have been told no for so long, that they feel guilty when the answer is finally yes, even though it is technically ok.”

The amount of relief I felt when he said this, changed me as a person forever. For the first time, I realized that the way we, as a society, as a religion, as a planet, as families, address chastity is not only wrong, but dangerous. I had read theology of the body, and learned the beauty of Christian Marriage, I thought, but it didn’t prepare me for the insignificance of sex, the banal nothingness of it, and the soul shifting guilt and confusion of enjoying the “wrong” parts of it. Sex was everything and nothing I had expected, and I couldn’t handle the mind shift that was happening. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, or even the drive home, but I do remember the moment we got back to the hotel. I sat on the hard 70s pull out sofa and breathed. I realized I had leftovers in the fridge that I could’ve eaten, and was paralyzed by guilt about it for a few minutes. We talked about guilt some more, and about how all that was wrong with me was the terror that I was going to Hell now, and I needed to just breathe and be patient with myself. Shortly afterward, my husband pulled me into the bed with him, and with him spooning me and breathing deeply, I was finally able to fall asleep.”