Part 1: Origins
Part 2: The Onset of Freaking Out
Part 3: Engagement
I was pretty low-key about graduating with my master of music degree. I knew that now, I was going home to dive into the last three months’ worth of wedding preparations. And that was a much, much bigger deal than a master’s degree. Because now it was crunch time. If I wasn’t going through with this wedding, it was time to decide.
At times like this, you pray for some incredible moment of clarity, but then, if you had clarity, you wouldn’t really need faith, would you?
In retrospect, it seems clear that I needed professional help. I had allowed normal doubt to turn into a monster of mythic proportions. But if I asked to go see a counselor three months—two months—one month—before my wedding, would not my parents think we needed to postpone the wedding? My rational brain told me that there was no reason to be freaking out; that postponing the wedding would likely destroy my relationship with Christian (who could put up with something like that?); and besides, what would everyone think?
So I didn’t go for help. I expressed a hesitant doubt to my mother on the way home from picking up the wedding dress, about three days out, and she asked, “Is it about a wedding or is it about Christian?” I could answer honestly that I had no doubts about Christian.
By this time…I’m not sure what Christian thought of all this. He was pretty thoroughly sick of it, but I don’t remember him laying down ultimatums. (You want unconditional love? You need to meet my husband.)
Don’t misunderstand: there was a great deal of joy in my life those last few months. Many moments of peace and certainty, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of wedding planning.
Still, the fear always returned, usually when I reflected on the words of the marriage ceremony: Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage? I could hardly claim having no reservations, could I?
Then one day during Mass, I heard something I’d never heard before. Oddly enough, I can’t remember the exact placement anymore. I think it was in the Eucharistic Prayer. It said something like, “Jesus gave Himself without reservation.”
I sat thunderstruck. Jesus spent hours in the Garden of Gethsemane, begging God to spare him his Passion. This is not what I would call “without reservation”! He was definitely expressing reservations. The fear and doubt aren’t the point. The point is that he did God’s will in spite of them.
This revelation burst like a dazzling flash of light on my psyche. For the first time in my life, I had a glimpse of Jesus as a human being—divine, yes, but surely he stared down the specter of Crucifixion with sheer terror in defiance of all he knew to be true, and wondered, What if I’m wrong? And although it didn’t rid me of fear, anxiety or freaking out, this insight was a point to cling to in those last weeks, a message I knew had been aimed at me as surely as the billboard I’d been hoping for.
The morning of my wedding, I woke very early in my bedroom in my parents’ house, with the same paper cranes turning lazy circles above me that had hung there for years. This was it. Lord, I prayed, I really hoped I’d be through with doubt by this time. But I have to believe that you’ve gotten me this far for a reason. Please protect me from freaking out today.
The practicalities of a wedding day kept me too busy to freak out. I could feel it hanging around back there, probing for openings, but I kept letting go, and I rode on a buffer of the Spirit until I was standing at outside the church with my dad in the Labor Day weekend heat, with football fans walking past calling congratulations on their long walk to the stadium. The door opened, and cool air washed out, and when I entered the church and saw Christian standing at the front, a great spring of joy erupted inside my soul and bubbled out of my mouth in a giggle that lasted almost all the way up the aisle.
I cannot claim that the fear never returned after that blessed moment that was our wedding day. On our honeymoon, in the first weeks and months of our marriage, the fear lingered. It had lost a great deal of its venom, but it was still there. Two years later, it made a valiant effort when infertility reared its ugly head: Maybe this was God frowning on me for marrying a man after I’d been told not to.
Still, time does heal much, if not all, and having made the commitment, I gradually found myself able to stop wrestling with the fear and let it dissipate into the tapestry of a beautiful life. And of course, becoming a parent meant I ran out of time to worship at the altar of irrational fear.
We are the sum of our experiences. I value this one, because through it I learned the value of quieting my soul, of seeking God in stillness. I learned lessons about love that paved the way for more advanced lessons still to come.
Although the comment box has been quiet, I can see that you all have been reading, and for that I thank you. This is tougher to write about than infertility, because paralyzing fear still lies dormant within me, waiting for an opportunity to attach to another subject and tear me to pieces.
This much I know, however. If it does resurface, this time I won’t hesitate to seek help. My life is too beautiful, to blessed, to sacrifice to years of pain again.
Thank you for sharing. Definitely a tough and intensely personal subject to write about, and I admire your courage to bring some clarity to it and share it.
I’ve been struggling in trying to write about my own, even only to myself, much less sharing with anyone else. Part of the reason is likely that I really haven’t dealt with it, and it is still currently holding me back from taking action in several parts of my life.
(I arrived at Newman Center that same fall of 95. I admired both of you for your musical talents, both far above my own on either instrument. When I heard that you were together, it seemed natural and fitting! )
Sometimes I wonder if I’ve really dealt with it, either. I think my conclusion has been that there really wasn’t anything to deal with; it was all made up, and so the only thing I can do to escape it is to turn my back and pretend it isn’t there. Maybe someday that will come back to bite me…but at least this time I will know better than to let the “stigma” of counseling stop me.
Your last paragraph makes me happy. One of the striking differences I notice between your story and mine is that you weren’t “allowed” to doubt/question. Since I had a strong sense of how young I was etc. it seemed perfectly appropriate to stress and question like crazy.
Somewhere around 4 months before our wedding I pushed the date back by 3 months, and I can’t remember it occurring to me that there was any reason for Josh to freak out about it. It seemed like I *could* be ready to get married on the date we had chosen, but I really wanted to have enough time where we were both able to enjoy being engaged without trying to force ourselves to be ready for marriage in time. And now that I think about it, that is probably the main reason that things worked for me… worked for us?
The worst part was the first days, and even months to some extent, after getting married where I rehashed every possibility for our marriage not being valid (could sickness prevent one from actually giving consent? hmmm). Not that I wanted it to be invalid, just that when it came to feeling grace, this sacrament just didn’t match up to the others.
In any case, this “a great spring of joy erupted inside my soul and bubbled out of my mouth in a giggle that lasted almost all the way up the aisle” is simply wonderful. Thank God for moments of *rightness*!
I’m curious to know if I went where you thought I was going with this series. 🙂
If we’ve been quiet until now, it’s probably because certain topics are harder to comment on because they hit so close to home.
I’ve noticed that whenever I want to respond to one of your posts, and find myself unable to voice the appropriate words… those were the topics that I carried with me instead, mulling over throughout the day.
So, yes, we’re all still here… absorbing everything you say, even when we’re being quiet. 😉
I’m here reading too. I think the reason I don’t reply very often is simply that I can’t put into words what I want to share.
Your father and I never knew how deeply troubling your doubts were. Maybe it was better that way. But after reading your reflection now, I’ve had one very insistent thought that I believe I should share. Perhaps you have misnamed the problem. Perhaps the problem was being excessively scrupulous. To have this character trait is a virtue, until it is carried to excess. Then it becomes more like a vice. Excessive scrupulosity has been the subject of more than one commentary in church literature and history. A good confessor is what is needed here. A confessor not only absolves you but also advises you. Many of the saints had a regular confessor in whom they confided and to whom they were obedient. Keep in mind that if it’s worth traveling to go to the right doctor, it’s worth traveling to go to the right confessor. Perhaps finding that right confessor is something you will want to take to God in prayer.
That’s a good insight, Mom. I never thought about it as scrupulousness, but it certainly fits, doesn’t it?
I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have a priest I could trust. Most of the time, confession is not a terribly spiritual experience, I must admit. I’m always longing for someone who will dig beneath the trite and obvious.
What a beautiful beginning…full of hopes and fears. That’s what I think about the fears I had on my wedding day. I was full of pure panic, but there wasn’t time to panic, just time to smile and say hi to everyone, then before I knew it I was on my way to the altar with my parents at my sides.
This has been so insightful, Kate, and I too am amazed at your courage and strength in sharing.
As to your comment about finding a priest to trust, I too seek that and I have found a few that I mostly trust (one unfortunately lives in a monastery in Illinois). But for some reason, I have the same problem with confession. I think it has a purpose, but for me, it hasn’t been everything I’d hoped it would be. Rather, I think pairing that with psychotherapy is the way to go. I hit my breaking point last December and a number of people recommended a therapist to me who I think is great. He is a Newman parishioner and though we don’t talk much about faith in our sessions, it is calming to know that he’s coming from the same faith. Just a thought…maybe it helps you too.
For my wife and sisters I think the wedding was the biggest obstacle to getting married.
As I’ve said before, I’ve lived in the grips of an anxiety disorder all my adult life, so I know all too well that going through such chronic worry/fear is awful. Fortunately your bout was apparently temporary and largely brought on by wedding jitters (of course, you were making a huge decision!). I didn’t know what was wrong with me and never sought (and probably could not have afforded) professional help. I’m on medication to help control it, but I’m still not out of the woods.
Anyway, you have my sympathies, and I’m glad that you came through this experience stronger and wiser. Your story has lessons we can all learn from. God bless.