All That I Have Written Is Straw. . .

Meanderings of a Catholic Devout

Facing my own shame.

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Tonight I was dropping my husband off for a “guy’s night.” It’s always a really anxious thing for me and it drives my husband nuts that it has to be that way—sometimes to the point of real anger with me about it. He thinks, I believe, that I’m projecting some blame on him for how my ex-husband abused my anxiety with his drinking habits. It’s a recurring wound between my husband and I. But it’s really about anxiety. I’m getting better about it, slowly and with lots of prayer, but it will always (always) be there. How I handle it is the key component.Now that I’m a mother now, I find myself reading interesting articles about such and such studies about such and such behavior and how to (or not to) raise my child. I normally read them with a grain of salt because so much of it is theorized b.s. and collectively, it’s very contradicting. I trust just a few sources: my maternal instinct, my child’s pediatrician, and the age-old wisdom of my close family and friends who are parents, too.

Yet one article I was reading in the New York Times, Raising a Moral Child (April 11, 2014) made a point that disturbed me into reflection about who I am. As part of the study about morality in children, researchers made a conclusion that character-centric comments made about morality to 7- and 8-year-olds influenced their behavior more so than behavior-centric comments about helpfulness. And by age 10 and 11, either type of comment was equally influential. They theorized that the character-centric comments about being generous and helpful for the 7- and 8-year-olds was most likely because at that very age, children are developing a sense of character identity: they are looking to become who they are (i.e., I am generous, I am helpful. . . etc.)

I’ve written before about the effects of my childhood. And I know the root of my anxiety found nourishment in this time frame of my life. After my mother’s death, my siblings suddenly and shockingly left, too (with an appropriate reason). Though they are in no way at fault, their sudden absence seemed to add insult to my injury from the point-of-view of a child. At 8 years, my first lesson was that those who were closest to me left me.

My father did an excellent job raising me and I would challenge anyone who said otherwise. When I was almost 10 years old, though, he took a second a job to make ends meet. This meant, for my rapidly disappearing childhood, I would be home alone for many hours. Mind you, he asked an upstairs neighbor to keep an eye on me from time-to-time. But his second job required him to work from 6 pm to 10 pm four nights a week. This meant I diligently watched the clock in anticipation of his return–almost like a tic. If he was more than 10 minutes late, I began to cry and heave. I know he needed the job to support us, but I needed him there more. Maybe that was selfish.

But this is where, I hypothesize, my current-day anxiety stems from. I felt abandoned, first by my mother, secondly by my siblings, and in some way, thirdly by my father. I learned quickly, then, to push my father away emotionally so that I wouldn’t have to feel anxiety (I didn’t know a word for what it was I was feeling at the time) about his absence–the absence of my provider, my guardian.

Or perhaps it’s genetic. My sister suffers from anxiety as well, but different scenarios set her off.  I don’t know.

What I do know, is that despite what I know to be fact—to be rational, what I know is the proper order of relationships, what is trust, is not what will appease the attacks of anxiety when I am left alone with uncertain variables.

It’s not about trusting my husband, it’s not about being a controller. It’s not about being anti-social. It’s just not about any of those. It’s a physical attack of anxiety. I can’t help it—I feel alone, I feel abandoned (even though it’s temporary), by the most important investment I have. My thoughts turn dark with hypotheticals. Not those what-ifs about jealousy, but rather about death. What happens if my love goes out and gets killed by a drunk driver? What happens if there’s some bar fight and a gun is pulled? Will I have to raise our child alone? What would I tell my stepson? How could I not prevent losing my most precious asset? There is no reason in the world to believe that this is what will happen. You can quote statistics about occurrences all night long to me—about how unlikely any of those events would happen. But in reality, these absurd thoughts feel very real to me at the time to the point of physically ailing me (tears, headaches, sickness to my stomach, shortness of breath) if I don’t have sufficient time to prepare for prevention. It’s my biggest flaw, possibly, and I know it’s difficult for even my husband to see through.

It’s very shameful to myself, though, most of all. The “morning after,” I look back on the night before and realize how normal it is for him to go out and have fun. That millions of people do it. That he did it many times long before we met. It’s very shameful to me that love feels this way, for me, in these moments. Because in all aspects of my life, I feel loved by my husband. I am still in marital bliss with him. But I don’t think that he knows that this anxiety wouldn’t exist if it I didn’t love him, even though it’s absolutely not a “gift” of love that I want to give him. (Note: that statement alone is hard to write, because it’s the same logic used by abusive spouses). It is part of my character. And as that NYT article pointed out, shame is a deep-ridden wound in character, unlike guilt, which is a temporary behavioral flaw.

Prevention is about time and communication. Now, it seems to help when I have advanced warning (a day or two at least) to mentally tell myself what will happen and find peace with it. And during his absence, it helps that he communicates with me to let me know his status. It’s like a lifeboat floating for me. Preoccupation is also helpful for me: doing chores, watching movies, reading books, anything to hold my dark thoughts at bay. Lastly, prayer saves me.

When I was a teenager, I spent many years meeting with psychiatrists about this issue. Perhaps I should take a cue from my family and revisit the issue with a licensed and trained professional. I think understanding its roots, and identifying the situation when it’s happening, is crucial. I don’t want to be this way. For my own sake and for the sake of my child, who will, one day, venture out on his own.

But tonight, however, isn’t so bad. It takes one night at a time and I doubt I can adequately express the gratitude I feel to my husband for compromising with me with this flaw: planning ahead, agreeing to give me updates, etc.


Written by Written Straw

February 2, 2015 at 6:43 am

Posted in Catholic

One Response

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  1. Oh, Erica. This made me so sad for you. It is not your fault. Don’t blame yourself for having these feelings. I wish there were some way that I could help you. Being so far away makes that difficult. I know that feeling about advance notice to get used to a change or errand or whatever. It helps me cope too, when I know what’s coming and have a chance to “prepare”. Please let me know if I can do anything to help (beyond prayers, that is. You already have those from me.)


    February 2, 2015 at 12:12 pm

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