I wish to warn you that this post is very different from past ones. It is extremely personal. Although graphic details have been avoided, this post contains themes of abuse in various forms. As such, its contents may be "triggering" to those who have suffered similar circumstances. Please, if such content offends you in any way, please-- for your own sake-- do not continue on.
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"Christ has made my soul beautiful with the jewels of grace and virtue. I belong to Him Whom the Angels serve." -- Saint Agnes
I have always believed that suffering can be offered up to God and, therein, become something beautiful for Him. My life is a testament to the power of God's grace. This is my story: the journey of a shattered soul who became a traditional wife.
How shall I begin my story? This story which is really His? There is no point to this story if it is mine alone; with God, it is everything. I beg Him to grant me the words that will take one broken woman's journey and transform it into something that can inspire the hurting hearts of others. If only one soul is touched, it will have been worth it.
Shall I speak of my childhood? Those sometimes beautiful, but often painful, formative years? On the surface, my family seemed to be picture perfect. We lived on a nice street across from a public park. We attended church nearly every Sunday. My parents were both hard-working, much-respected individuals within their workplaces and spheres of influence. Yet there was a duality within our home.
My parents, who were something of childhood sweethearts, held much discontent with one another. Whether this stemmed from my father's poor leadership and decision-making regarding the home he built in fulfillment of his dreams (which went against those of my mother), the years of hardship and strife that occurred as a result of his unfair job loss, or something else, I cannot be sure. There was a lot of fighting in our home. Loud voices shouting behind closed doors haunt my memories. So, too, do the loud smacks (not of the DD sort) and, much later, my mother's pitiful cries as she sobbed long into the night. Sometimes my father's volatile moods necessitated the need for my mother to take my brother and me away for a week or two at a time.
In later years, I would bear much of the brunt of their individual wrath. What use is it to admit that I was my parents' miracle child when often I felt as if I were such a disappointed to them? There were several occasions on which my father's temper and cruel words caused me to break out in hives. My mother, who came home quite late-- sometimes past midnight-- would take her frustrations out on me. She could only be subdued by being allowed to vent. On those nights, I would wait until she had settled down; then I would calmly tuck her into bed and give her a goodnight kiss. I would wearily fall into my own bed to catch a few, short hours of sleep before beginning the process over again.
My childhood also included personal loss. When I was a girl, my beloved teenage babysitter was killed in a fatal car accident. There was a brief joy when my little brother was born that same summer-- the year I turned seven. Then another harsh blow: My paternal Grandfather, a mean old German codger, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He struggled for years. The disease was cruel to him. My grandmother patiently cared for him until the end.
When my grandfather was near death, I would walk after school to their house and either read or sing to him. The last book I ever read out loud was an abridged version of "Black Beauty." In those final days, I tried to make my peace with my grandfather. He had not been a kind man. He had been cruel with his words. I was not sure I had ever truly forgiven my grandfather for referring to my brother and me as waste of his time. This statement was accidentally overheard one summer when we stayed with them for a short time. Apparently, our being there interfered with his golf plans. I remember the day my grandfather died. I had been present when he drew his last breath. I had never before seen someone die.
The year before university, I found the Catholic faith. The highlights of my conversion can be found in my August post entitled "Ever Faithful," but I mention this because of its significance to the story as a whole. I could not tell my parents what I had found. How could I? Things were very different back then. They were, at the time, extremely anti-Catholic.
The summer after graduation, my mother underwent a fairly serious surgery. She spent several weeks recovering at the cottage our extended family shares. For the first time in my entire life, I was out from underneath her watchful eye. This brought about a newfound freedom. I was able to attend Mass each day before work. Once a week, I managed to use my lunch break to meet with a parish priest for private instruction. It was a blessed summer. Yet, I spent each day literally trembling at the thought of the hell that would break loose once my family found out that I wished to become Catholic. In the end, I gave in to grave fear.
For nearly the next two years, I suffered through Bible College. The university I chose was a very small independent, fundamentalist Baptist school. I quickly made friends, several of whom I am still in contact with today. My overall experience there was positive. However, each day there was a serious slam made against the Catholic Church. These stemmed from an erroneous understanding of what the Church actually taught. In many ways, Bible College made me Catholic.
While there, I met someone. He was the nephew of one of my father's colleagues and he was studying to become a minister. We hit it off immediately. I pause here to mention that I had dated only twice before, and those experiences had only ever been in a group setting. I very much believed in courtship. I had also purposed not to share a single kiss before my wedding day. I had wanted to save my first kiss for my spouse. This, however, was taken from me. One day, at church, this person caught me and stole my first kiss. I was livid. I was hurt. It was an ideal crushed, something I could never take back.
That first kiss ignited something within me. My university had very strict rules. Among them, it did not allow men and women to touch each other, save for a brief handshake. Yet, once passion is awakened, it is difficult to stifle. It is like a roaring fire that consumes everything it its path.
Somehow we found clandestine ways to share affection. Holidays were another opportunity to do that which we ought not have. Our relationship became passionate far too quickly, and by that first Christmas, I had been coaxed into doing much that I regret. Nevertheless, I assumed that we would be married after graduation, so nagging guilt was somewhat mitigated.
This person was also the first individual to whom I had brought up the idea of domestic discipline. This was an idea I cherished very much. I desperately wanted it to be a part of my life. From my earliest days, the traditional roles of men and women in marriage had been important to me. My favorite shows growing up-- Little House on the Prairie, I Love Lucy, I Dream of Jeannie, and the CBC's mini-series edition of Anne of Green Gable-- fed my fascination. Later, I found websites like Bethany's Woodshed that offered spanking stories. It was a blessing, even if a bit of a shock, to realise I was not alone in my beliefs!
My Bible College boyfriend, though, was not convinced. At first, he did seem open to the idea. He was the first man, other than my father (who did so perhaps twice in my entire life) to spank me. He could not, however, wrap his mind around domestic discipline existing within the framework of an everyday Christian marriage. To him, it was entirely "fun and games." While I was initially thrilled to let him whack away on my behind (I admit to cherishing the bruises he left), it was unfulfilling. For me, leadership, discipline, obedience and submission had to be real. When I left Bible College, my relationship ended, too. In truth, it had died long before the formal break-up. After all, a roaring fire, if when it has consumed all in its path, finds nothing else to feed on, it quickly dies.
When I returned home, I felt like a person without a country. I was not Baptist in theology anymore and I despaired that I would ever become Catholic. I dutifully went to church with my parents, but often thought longingly of Catholicism.
On Ash Wednesday, I was able to sneak off to Mass. I remember being asked to help take up the gifts; it was my first time doing so. I tried, unsuccessfully, to get out of it by telling the usher I was not Catholic. Despite my misgivings, I found it to be a beautiful experience. Receiving my first blessed ashes, too, was one of the highlights of my life. Although I did wipe off the smudge before returning home, the imprint of the cross on my forehead remained there and gave me strength. That day, I finally purposed in my heart to become Catholic, whatever the cost.
My parents did not take the news well. Ironically, after suffering much agony over how to best approach the subject with my parents, the matter was taken entirely out of my hands. I was not actually the one to tell them. While I had been mustering up the courage to say what I must, my little brother ratted me out. He had been under suspicion for something at the time and, in order to get out of the spotlight, he divulged my secret.
I was not thrilled with my sibling. I was caught sorely off-guard. Yet, in its own way, my brother's self-interested actions were a blessing. He had removed the first obstacle for me; I only had to deal with the dam that was about to burst as a result. And burst it did. The night my parents discovered my desire to become Catholic was a defining moment in my life. Its aftermath left me under virtual house arrest. I was limited to severely restricted vehicle privileges, almost no computer access, and a "check in" system during the day. There was also a complete lack of privacy. My belongings were subject to parental search at any time. What is worse, my parents' ultimatum looming over my head: if I converted, I would have to leave home.
In the weeks that followed, I was dragged to one Baptist pastor after another. There were three in all: our Senior Pastor, our Youth Pastor, and my maternal grandparents' independent, fundamentalist pastor. The first two were not horrible experiences. Our Senior Pastor acknowledged hearing that younger people were seeking after more formal liturgy, and remarked that I was the first of whom he had personally met like that. I felt somewhat honoured. My Youth Pastor had a large portrait of Saint Maximilian Kolbe in his office. I took this as another good sign.
The latter pastoral meeting was, by far, the worst. For the first hour, my grandparents' pastor and I sat behind closed doors. We did not really touch on theology. We did not even open a Bible. It had been a fairly agreeable conversation; I felt that, while this anti-Catholic pastor certainly did not agree with my decision, he at least begrudgingly respected it. This was a tremendous relief! I had stayed up the entire night before studying apologetics and trying to cram verses into my head as if I were preparing to take a final exam on whose successful completion life depended. In many ways, I thought it just might!
Then my parents were brought in. Over a span of several more hours, I was psychoanalysed and belittled by this pastor in front of my parents. He had my mother crying and my father looked as if he wanted to kill someone. My father said that if I chose to become Catholic, he would never walk me down the aisle at my wedding. Neither would he be at my future childrens' christenings. The pastor looked at me and asked if becoming Catholic was worth what I was doing to my parents. For the first time in my life, I did not shy away. I quietly replied, "Yes."
I had come to a parting of the ways. It was time to take up my cross and follow Christ. It killed me inside to do so under such circumstances, but there was no other choice: It was time to leave home.
When I left and how I left are not proud memories for me. My parents still had me under lock and key (and not in a good way :-)). I knew that the only way in which I could leave was simply to leave. And so I did. One day, when my parents were gone, I ran away. To be sure, I had planned this out a few weeks prior. I felt that I was following after God's will for my life; if not perfectly, then at least the only way I knew how. I had no prophetic inkling that I had just jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
I moved as far away geographically as I could from my parents. This was meant to keep them from dragging me back home. I had turned to someone I thought of as a friend for help. This man and I had "met" some time back online, through a Catholic singles site. I feel the need to note that I had not signed up on the site with the intention of finding romance. At the time, I had really been looking to find other Catholic people in my hometown, as I knew of next to no one. All of my friends were Protestant. In any case, this individual found and contacted me.
We spoke a few times on the phone, and it was surprisingly pleasant. At one point, I had been throwing out DD "feelers" and, to my surprise, they were matched. This person quipped that he did not believe in spanking his future children, but he did believe in wife spanking. I was intrigued. At another time, he had mentioned having a small guest house on the back of his property where I could potentially live while we discerned a relationship. I was not comfortable with this idea. Nor was I comfortable with the fact that he had purchased a plane ticket to come visit me in my hometown without even asking if it was alright. Our first-- and only--date felt entirely forced.
We stayed in contact with one another, however, and when I was desperate for help, he was the only person I knew to turn to. I remembered the little house, and I asked if I could live there. I promised my housekeeping services until I could find a steady job with which to support myself. Before the move was final, he spoke to me about submission. He said that if I lived on his property, he expected things to be a certain way between us-- that I would be submissive to his wishes. This was fine by me. In fact, it was more than fine. Did he want me to stop biting my nails, to grow out my less-than-shoulder length hair? Alright. Done. I had never been under obedience before and I longed for it. I craved micromanagement from a dominant man. Aside from this, I would have promised the moon to get away from my parents.
The day I arrived to my new "home," I set off to clean my little house from top to bottom. It had been rather neglected. In my mind's eye, I can still see it as it was when I had fixed it up. It was my proud achievement-- my symbol of independence and the start of a new life in Christ.
The second day, however, changed all of that. What had seemed like the beginning to a possible chaste relationship took a very dark turn. I was slowly introduced to things I had only ever dreamt about in my most secret of fantasies. The major overlying theme of this was BDSM. In this, I admit to being a young, naive, and somewhat willing victim. I did not mind the idea of power exchange-- in fact, I craved it. It was the sexual aspect that bothered me most. I fought against it. This individual took advantage of my relative innocence. He used my good and holy desire for obedience and submission, as well as my guilt for his generosity, as tools to prod me deeper and deeper into sin.
Nearly all of the sexual aspect of our relationship was, at first, coerced. Shortly after I moved to my new home, he took my virginity. Although he had done other things to me before that, this was essentially the last thing he could take from me. During this time, I struggled and cried to get away. I would have run as far away as possible, but I was put into a chokehold until the deed was done. Like after my first kiss, that stolen kiss, something in me shattered. I fell asleep that night in a numb state of shock. I had just been raped.
After that, it was easy to give in. I had been used; I was defiled. What else was there after that? I was no longer special.
Worse, I could not get away. This individual had successfully kept me dependent upon him. I became something of a live-in girlfriend. He sabotaged my efforts at holding down a full-time job. When I worked, he insisted that it be for his private company. He also hacked into my personal accounts. There was no escaping him. Even if I had been able to get away, to whom would I go? Back to my parents? I had left my parents' home with the best of intentions, and where had it gotten me? I could only imagine their faces at the return of their Prodigal Daughter. I also felt certain that they would believe everything that had happened to be my fault. I would be spoiled goods in their eyes. A harlot. I would have forever worn a scarlet letter branded upon me. I would have been theirs to control by guilt and by shame. Even abuse was preferable to my parents' control.
My days settled into something of a double-life. I went to Mass on Sundays. I enrolled in RCIA. I took part in the Catholic Young Adult group programs. I made a lot of new and interesting friends. At "home," life was anything but pure. I hated going home.
Aside from the sexual abuse, I also suffered physical and psychological abuse. When I lived at my little house, I would often hear my front door unlock and open in the middle of the night. Heavy footsteps would sound on the loft steps. Most of the time, what followed was sexual coercion. At other times, however, there was physical abuse. I remember, once, having failed to do something he believed I ought to have done. When he had climbed the stairs to my bedroom, this person went over to the window and plucked a blind stick from where it hung against the shades. He then grabbed my hair, shoved me over the bed, and beat me over and over again with the stick. I had never before felt such sickening pain. When it was finished, he sexually coerced me to do his bidding and then left. His rages, when they flared, were worse than those of my father. I was truly scared of this person. I felt constantly on edge.
The worst psychological abuse I endured was being cheated on. Some women I knew about, others I found out about only after the fact. Some, I may never know about. This person often took weekend trips away, meeting up with women he had met through sites like Match.com, Bondage.com, or CollarMe. My self-worth-- what little there was of it left-- crumbled to pieces. I was only one of many, and truly no one special.
By the grace of God, I got out of that situation. Some time back, I had gone to a Catholic Eucharistic Congress. There, I met the famous Catholic apologist and his wife whose book jump-started my conversion. He signed my copy of their book with a kind word and a quote from Romans 8:28. What is more-- and I am certain this proves that the Catholic world is indeed very small-- his wife had heard of me! A friend from my hometown, a former student of her husband, had sent along a prayer request e-mail for my conversion. I was on Cloud Nine! In this realm, my feet did not touch the ground for a good, long while.
A month or two later, there was a follow-up to that conference. Afterward, a group of us were chatting near his book table. Some of my friends had gone to the university where he was a professor. They were recounting their experiences with fond longing. This apologist / professor heard them and even recognised one of my friends. We all had a fun, light-hearted conversation. At one point, I voiced my dream of going to go to that Catholic university. This man of God turned to me and said, "Apply. If it is God's will, it will happen." Apparently it was God's will. :-)
At this university, my life changed again-- this time, for the better. Although the liturgical style of the university was not something I felt entirely comfortable with, I loved life there. I made new friends, joined a Christian version of a sorority, and resumed RCIA instruction. Although my abuser and I were still in touch, his pull on me began to diminish. Even trips "home" were not the same. This person had long felt as if I were meant for holiness, to be set apart; but now he began to treat me as such. In the end, we became something of friends.
Shortly before I was baptised and confirmed as a Catholic, my Husband and I met. I was so scared that it was really the other person using a false account. As a precaution, I turned him down. We did not reconnect again until a few days after the election of the current Holy Father. That time, my Husband did not let me get away. :-)
There is a musical I have loved since I was a girl. I used to listen to it during the day and fall asleep with it playing in my headphones at night. Never, never, would I have thought that Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" would become akin to my own life story. It has, however. My Husband is, in every way, my Raoul.
I know what you must be thinking: why would a submissive woman choose Raoul over the Phantom? The Phantom is ever so much more interesting! I used to agree. I will admit there is still a bit of fascination with his character. But one must be careful not excuse the madman for his mystery or his magic. In Raoul, Christine found her soul mate, her protector, and a man who would lead and guide her to the light instead of drag her down into the pit of hell. "All I ask of you"-- Christine's famous plea to Raoul, was also the cry of my heart to my Husband. It was chosen as the final dance at our wedding reception. It sent us forth into our new life together.
I wish I could say that life is perfect now. It is not. While I have shared a lot, I have, at the same time, mercifully left much out. There are days in which I still feel the invisible scars of my past. I am constantly haunted by memories and nightmares. I am still terrified of the dark, and I often have trouble sleeping. If I take a nap during the day, I first check to make sure the front door is locked-- over and over again. I jump at the slightest sound. Also, once a year, around my birthday, I get my hair trimmed. Only once a year. This year I decided to forgo it altogether. It always makes me cry. Little things, too-- like the colour purple, specific sports teams, scents, songs, and words--trigger me.
My past is my past-- it is not my present nor is it my future. Sometimes, thought, this is difficult to remember. Or to believe. A casual observer might look at me and behold a sweet Catholic woman. I look at my reflection in the mirror and remember a broken, shattered soul. Yet, with each passing day, those shattered pieces have been put back together by the loving hands of the Creator. The cracks are becoming less noticeable. I am being healed. This is what Christ's love, through the divine power of the Sacraments, can achieve when one remains close to Him.
Through my Husband, I have found the redemption of Christ. Just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, so too did my Husband for me.
I was once broken. I am being restored. Today, I am alive in Christ.
I am beautiful in the sight of God. I am His.
If you have suffered from abuse in your past, I pray that you too might come to know how beautiful you are in His sight.