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.

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?

The Power of Unity: a review of Grey’s Anatomy on Abuse(TRIGGER WARNING EXPLICIT CONTENT AND SPOILERS)

Tonight, on Grey’s Anatomy, I witnessed, in my opinion, one of the most powerful moments of television in all of history. It may get missed, because we are in season eleventy hundred at this point, but it shouldn’t. It was an episode about abuse and assault, and there a million things to talk about about how masterful everyone involved was. The pivotal moment of the episode was a message of unity, a message to every single survivor of every single kind of suffering or trauma. “You are not alone.”

The episode begins with Meredith’s traditional monologue, this time about trauma, and how it can hide in the most banal moments of existence. Just as a memory of home can appear as quick as the wafting smell of apple pie, a flash of light at the wrong angle can send a person back to the moment they were dead, or wished they were. Immediately, Grey’s is letting us know that the episode may be about one kind of trauma, as we all know from the trailers and warnings, but it’s also about every kind.

Next, we see Jo in her aftermath of whatever she discovered with her birthmother, though we haven’t been clued in yet. She finds a woman who is clearly experiencing severe suffering, and helps her to the ER. This was the first life-changing moment of the episode. Jo looks in the woman’s eyes, and instead of telling her where the emergency room is, she drops everything, all of her own struggles, the busy-ness she is using to escape, and her work for the day, to help this woman to get to where she needed to go, and to keep her safe.

The story unfolds alongside the story of Jo’s discussion with her birth mother. Jo is angry at her mother because of the scars she has from feeling abandoned and unloved. Her mother is scarred in different ways but is just as strong, and just as wounded. She confesses to Jo that she was raped, and that Jo resulted from that rape. Jo fights back with the wounds that she has, trying to forge some sort of connection, but also clearly struggling with the tension of realizing that her suffering was not the whole story.

Whether you believe in abortion or not, the next conversation they have is a gut-wrenching one. She admits that when she saw Jo she fell head over heels in love with her, but that she couldn’t stop seeing her aggressors face whenever she saw Jo. She tells Jo she didn’t have her best to give when she abandoned her at a fire station. Jo responds by telling her that she had an abortion when she got pregnant by her abuser.

It is an uncomfortable moment. Jo’s mother looks away. The set-up of the conversation is all to real, in its awkwardness. There was a moment that all I could ask was, “Is she angry that her mother didn’t abort her?” There was a sense that Jo did think she should have, and the mother’s reaction was immediate and intense, but vague. Shonda Rhimes’ shows are consistent about this when dealing with abortion, she is very conscious of the differing opinions and the pain associated with it on either side, and in true Shonda form, they allow the uncomfortable moment to exist without answering the questions it brings up or tying it up with a neat little bow. It seems to me that the most important part of it was the divide between the two of them.

Meanwhile, Jo’s patient has been revealed to be a survivor of a sexual assault. She is covered with raw, realistic wounds, rivaling any film depiction I have ever seen. The aggressor himself is not given a single moment of screen time. That is reserved for the woman herself alone. Grey’s breaks the cardinal rule of film/tv,”Show don’t tell,” but in this instance, abuse/assault is all too often used for shock factor or to up the ratings, and I believe that they intentionally refused to indulge that.

Jo encourages the woman to do the rape kit, in a way that taught me things I didn’t know about rape kits. In the person of her character, Camilla Luddington told every survivor of every abuser ever, “You can fight this, and it is not your fault.” The way she said, “You did nothing to deserve this,” is still ringing in my chest, holding up a mirror to every time I blamed myself for every thing bad that ever happened.

“You did nothing to deserve this.”

Finally, it is time for her patient to go to surgery, but she is terrified to see the faces of the men who could be around her on the way. In a perspective altering, powerful moment, they reveal that they have asked every woman who worked in the hospital to line the halls so that she will see only their faces.

Now, I’m going to take a little detour here for a second because I can already here all the defenders of men pissed off because all men are not abusers. That’s not the point. As Meredith’s monologue said at the beginning, anything can set off trauma. The point is that this is what she was struggling with, no whether or not it was right or in her head, or whatever else. It was her struggle, and because it was her struggle, it was worth protecting her from it, while she was in a vulnerable state. I’m going to resist the temptation to go off about the “snowflake” mentality and people who complain about them, so I stay focused but that rant may come one day.

In that moment, when the women’s faces lined the halls, I felt the world move. Shonda Rhimes and the team that she assembled had just brought a new light into the world. In that moment, the entire team of Greys Anatomy told every single one of us, “You are not alone.” They also told, specifically those who have suffered any kind of assault or abuse, but especially sexual assault, “We see you, you matter. You are not alone.”

In this pivotal moment, Shondaland did what makes them great. They answered the pain in the world with hope, not a hope that is shallow and false, but a sure resounding hope in the power of the human spirit and community with others. They gave us the language to heal, and an example.

The episode doesn’t conclude with a pretty pink bow of how we are all happy now because we are not alone, but it does end with one character giving her honesty to her husband and another, not. Jo is not ready to talk to Alex and the pain in her is palpable, but while she is in pain and feels alone, she has given her patient the gift of not feeling alone. It’s a tragic truth that often the one who creates love and hope for others struggles to find it for themselves. I hope that we will see Jo heal, but it shouldn’t be surprising that she needs to.

I am an undying fan girl of Shonda Rhimes and what she has created in Grey’s Anatomy.moments like this are what make her the Mistress of Television in my opinion. She has healed broken spots in my soul more times that I can count, and I pray that she has millions more to come, and that in my own film career I will touch people half as well as she does.

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.

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.”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑