in spite of the secret

THE BEGINNING

As you may have figured out by now, I got married young.  Of course, “young” is kinda relative, isn’t it?  But even back then, 30-some years ago, seventeen at the altar was young.

Was it a bad idea?  Not necessarily.  It wasn’t that we were so young, but that we were so naive and uneducated about what to expect as we stepped into the “major league” of adulthood. We had to figure out a lot of things on our own.  That was the biggest problem we had.

I wouldn’t change it though.  It wouldn’t have done any good for me to have been kept at home just to avoid getting married.  I’d have ended up in a lot worse situations had I been forced to stay home at that time it my life.  No, it was time for me to leave.  And in God’s good and merciful grace, He gave me Tommy to walk through life beside.

So yeah, we were both young and stupid when we got married.  Most of us are, though, no matter our age, right?  ha  But thankfully, we both at least knew the Lord, we had both been saved at a young age, we at least sorta-kinda knew how we were supposed to live.  None of that prepared us for what we’d face in the physical base of our marriage however… (link to my first attempt to “talk” about this issue)

I was a virgin when we got married.  I know, shocker, right?  Well, shock you as it might, there it is.  I had told Tommy this when we started dating and that my goal was to remain a virgin until marriage and he was good with that.  It was definitely just the grace of God that I “decided” to take this position on the matter and you’ll see why later.  That doesn’t mean we were a couple of goody-two-shoes, but we were “technically” pure before we got married.  Later on, I would wonder if the problems we had, our secret, was a punishment for our not being more careful, more spiritual, more mature…because we hadn’t been as interested in being “actually” pure, instead of just “technically”.

Fast forward to the honeymoon… I had really not been given any marital advice regarding this, I wasn’t told what to do in the honeymoon suite.  My mom didn’t even give me any bad advice!  I’m sure she thought she had advised me, but I was clueless.  All I had to go on was what I’d learned from giggling schoolgirls or the from the more ‘experienced’ girlfriends I had in high school.  From them, I only gleaned a tiny bit because of how I viewed premarital sex.  I had been taught, of course, that it was wrong, so I would never stick around to hear them telling about their exploits under the bleachers or in the back of the bus or wherever.

So I was totally unprepared for sex.  All I knew was that it was supposed to be wonderful!  It was THE thing to do, after all, right?  Weren’t most of the kids in my graduating class doing it?  It was worth risking a bad reputation, an STD or worse: being left to face a terrible choice of either walking the hallways in maternity clothes or being rushed off to an abortionist’s table.  It HAD to be the most awesome thing ever, right?

In the very mildest of terms, I was not at all prepared for reality.

I certainly wasn’t prepared for the pain.  For the record, because I promised myself I’d be perfectly honest, I’ll tell you that we didn’t have “actual” intercourse for about a week.  Oh we tried, but it was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, for lack of a better description.  And it hurt.

It hurt a lot.

I tell you these things in the hopes that, if there is ANYone out there who is going through something similar, they won’t spend years and decades suffering in silence, thinking they are the only ones…the way I did.  You are not alone, okay?  Others, not just me, have been where you are.

DEALING WITH DEFECT

So yep, we had “problems in the bedroom” and they seemed to all be because of me.  We told ourselves that it was because I hadn’t had sex before, that once we got past that initial pain, it would get better…be normal.  We told ourselves that soon it would stop being painful.

‘Soon’ turned into ten years.  And I say “ten years” not because that’s when the pain stopped, but that’s when we finally decided we needed to seek medical help.

By this time we had two children.  You’re probably wondering how that was even possible if intercourse was painful to me.  We were able, rarely, to have intercourse, but it usually involved tears from me or a fight or guilt or resentment.  Actually, it almost always involved tears.

We hadn’t really talked about kids.  Because of my diabetes and my mother’s insane fear that I would die immediately if I became pregnant, she had me convinced that I simply couldn’t.  Yeah, I honestly thought I probably couldn’t get pregnant.

I had started out on the pill, but within a month, it had jacked up my blood sugars, so my endo at the time switched me to a low-dose birth control pill.  I spotted with that one and so it began–my of year switching from one to another till after the fifth one, I just stopped them.  I was sick of what the hormones did to my diabetes and if they didn’t jack with that, they were either too weak to be effective or they turned me into Mr. Hyde.

Who needs that?

Given the circumstances of my life?  Definitely not me!!

So for the next couple of years, we thought we were being so careful.  Not that we had sex that often, mind you.  The cycle of me avoiding Tommy as much as I could was becoming routine:  staying up all hours to avoid going to bed, me pushing him away, him getting mad at me, me trying to make it up to him by attempting to make love only to cry through the entire thing, him feeling bad because he hurt me…that was the norm… then we’d start all over again.

As you would expect, I was becoming depressed.  More depressed!  Our communication skills were not the greatest to begin with and adding in this problem and our avoidance of each other, the lack of communication became a monumental problem.  In my mind, I was useless, worthless, hopeless and helpless to change anything.  I didn’t know what was wrong with me let alone how to fix it and I had NO ONE to talk to about it.

I couldn’t understand why it hurt SO bad to do this basic, seemingly simple-for-everyone-else act in our marriage.  I would tell myself, “Whores and prostitutes can do this all day, every day with anybody that offers, but I can’t bear it even occasionally with the man I waited for til marriage?  WHY?  Wasn’t I good enough?  I don’t understand, God!”  I would often cry by myself while the kids napped and Tommy was at work.

Time went on and the depression would ebb and flow.  If we hadn’t had the boys for me to focus on, I’m almost certain I would have committed suicide before the 15-year mark.  The searing guilt of leaving my children motherless, regardless of how poor a mother I felt I was, kept me from doing anything like that.  But I thought about it.

I thought about it a lot.

THE DISTRACTIONS

We had been so excited to find that we were pregnant in 1988.  I was scared but tickled too.  I can still remember Tommy when we stopped at the old Druther’s restaurant after the confirmation appointment at my gynecologist.  He was almost green as he sat there contemplating either the reality of impending fatherhood OR whether his stomach could handle any food.  I’m not sure which, but I figure that both those thoughts were causing his face to turn the color of grass.  smile

As it turned out, I loved being a mom.  I was able to handle the pregnancy, diabetes-wise, fairly well and had a healthy boy by c-section in the spring of 1989.  I was nervous about having a boy since I never had brothers or spent a lot of time with any boys, but I caught on quickly and Corey spoiled me by being an easy baby.  He was almost always content, traveled so well and slept soundly.

I thank God for my boys, for so many reasons, but in this instance, for the blessing of being a pleasant distraction during those emotionally horrible years.  In another almost-four years, we were expecting our second son.  My pregnancy with him wasn’t as easy and likewise, he wasn’t quite as easy a baby either.  He wasn’t terrible, but like I said, I had been spoiled with a really “easy” baby to start with…Casey proved to be my payback for any smugness I may have felt about it!  He was so hard to put down for bed, he didn’t like to travel, or rather, he refused to sleep when we traveled.

And he was so strong-willed!  Where Corey had a very easy-going personality and wanted to please everyone, Casey couldn’t care less if you were pleased with him!  laughing  God sure taught me not to get too comfortable with myself as a mom.  I had lots more to learn and the perfect little stinkers to teach me!

By the time Corey was 7, we had decided to try homeschooling and I had another hat to wear and distraction to keep me from dwelling on the black cloud that hung over our marriage.  I can’t adequately describe to you the way it was…sort of like an oozing sore that we both silently agreed to ignore.  We would perhaps have a random, almost-pain-free encounter maybe every several years (yes, years) but I’d finally given up thinking I was ever going to be normal in that way.  I was never going to be able to have sex with my husband of almost 18 years at the time without pain and therefore, I would never get to enjoy sex.

I wondered, Why me?  What did I do to warrant this kind of punishment?  Now, I don’t often question God, but after almost two decades of this, I had started to wonder.  Soon though, I began to just shut down completely.  I stopped fretting about whether I’d ever be able to enjoy sex or even participate in it without the pain.  I stopped thinking about anything slightly sexual, anything that had formerly been enjoyable to me…kissing, cuddling, anything that could lead to sex.  I shut all that down.  And soon, I didn’t have to even think about shutting it down…it just died.   I stopped having any desire whatsoever.

THE DESPERATION

You must realize that this shut-down came after all those years, so many fights I couldn’t possibly recall, so many days spent in icy cold silence because we were so hurt at each other.  Because he wasn’t able to comprehend that it really hurt me a lot to have sex, Tommy would think it was because I didn’t love him.  With all the distance I kept and arguing we did, I had a hard time convincing him that wasn’t the case.  And I DID love him.  But the times he would say something hurtful in the middle of an argument or some insult I created in my own mind from something he had said kept me angry.  Since I was SO emotionally torn up and since all those problems we had always came to a raging crescendo when we tried to be together, I directed all that anger at him.  Remember, I also had children I was teaching at home, a house to maintain, a family to feed, church and homeschool co-op obligations to meet, and diabetes to manage.  Diabetes makes everything SO much harder and when you add our marriage problems on top?  I was constantly overwhelmed with trying to keep it all under wraps and under pseudo-control.  It was a seemingly hopeless situation.

Tommy had been doing any extra jobs available at the construction company where he worked so he spent almost all his time at his job.  I resented him for it, but I was also relieved because it meant I didn’t have to figure out how to avoid him.  When I am telling someone about this…his way of dealing with the situation by staying away from home at work, he gets upset that people think he was cold or callous about it.  So let me clarify, he wasn’t.  It was simply all he knew to do at the time.  He figured if he wasn’t near me, he wouldn’t want me, he wouldn’t try to touch me, which led to me pushing away, etc., etc… He thought if he just stayed busy, it would be okay.  Remember, he didn’t really have anyone to talk to about this either.  When he DID very seldom mention it to someone he felt close to, he never got good feedback or encouragement.  The only encouragement he got from anyone was to leave me.  He felt that he was doing something positive by working ALL. THE. TIME…he was providing for his family after all, right?

I sometimes wondered if he was cheating on me.  Then I’d think, Who could blame him?  After awhile and a few confrontations, he assured me he wasn’t unfaithful to me nor was he looking to be.  He would always claim undying love for me, even when I suggested that he should just leave me and go marry someone without all the defects I had.  When he refused to do that, I would tell him to just get someone who could satisfy him as long as our boys never found out.  Yes, that’s how deep my dysfunction had become, that’s how hopeless I felt.  I felt guilty that I was keeping him from “being a man”, from enjoying a full marriage relationship, and I didn’t have the right to do that to him.  Now you can realize why I say it’s only by the grace of God that we remain a faithful couple, with no infidelity between us.  Any other man would have taken me up on that offer gladly.  For that matter, any other man would have probably left me long before that.

God’s mercy is truly astounding!

Looking back, I feel bad for our sons but they never seemed to realize anything was amiss.  Not long after we had Casey, Tommy took a different job where he didn’t have the extra vehicle maintenance to do nor extra jobs to keep him late.  He no longer worked outside of the city limits in this new job, so no more crazy-long workdays due to traveling.  He began to use the boys’ hobbies and involve them in his own hobbies as a means to escape our frozen relationship.

In a way, that was good.  It kept him very involved in their lives.  We both poured ourselves into whatever the boys were involved with… 4H, go-karts, tae kwon do, church groups…whatever it was, we worked in it as much as anyone.  We were still homeschooling, so that brought lots of kid-focused activity too and I stayed very busy during those years.

As the boys became teenagers, I began to think about what life was going to be for us once they moved out on their own.  What in the world would Tommy and I do then?  We really had nothing in common.  He loved hunting and fast cars.  I enjoyed computers and art, or nothing at all when the depression was the worst.

In all this time, we had settled into a pseudo-routine where I would be the focus while Tommy handled his needs himself.  I hated this.  It reminded me of how useless I was as a wife, as a woman, and since I had absolutely NO desire for sex by now, it just took all I had in me to get through those times.  I was grateful he could and would do this, that he still loved me in spite of all the mess that I was and had finally given up trying to talk me into attempting actual intercourse.  But it left me feeling so sad.

Even though I was on anti-depressants by this time, nothing really got completely rid of it.  Maybe nothing ever does, I don’t know, but for me, it just never went away.  The despair would just get a little less overwhelming and easier to hide at times so that I could feel halfway normal and appear to be emotionally functional to others.

By the time Casey, our youngest, had become serious about a girl for the first time, his brother Corey, had been married and living just down the road for almost six years.  Corey and his wife, Melissa, were (& are!) still as totally in love as ever.  That was a big relief for us as a mom and dad.  When they bought my parents’ house a short distance from us, Casey went in with them and was living in their basement, so we already had that ’empty nest’ and were still struggling, but with more acceptance of the brokenness that defined our relationship.

THE DESCENT

When Casey decided to propose, a mere 3 months after they met, we were all for it.  I had actually introduced them to each other and really felt as if God had orchestrated the whole series of events anyway.

Sometime during all that whirlwind dating/engagement Casey was doing, I got sick of not really feeling a whole lot better with my anti-depressants so I quit taking them.  I’d gone off other ones before without any adverse effects.  I know that’s not recommended, but honestly, I feel any  “bad” results from stopping them cold turkey were minimal.  It was the culmination of them getting completely out of my system along with the stressors of an impending wedding, the ever-present diabetes and the sad state of my marriage that was a problem.  That left just me: raw and bare with no buffer at all.  I guess I hadn’t been there in quite awhile.

It was horrible.

And it happened so slowly that I didn’t even realize it.  I withdrew into myself.  I’d sleep most of the day, I barely moved, had no desire to go anywhere or do anything.  I stopped even trying to take care of the house, only making sure we had clean clothes (in the dryer, most often) and a clear spot to eat in the kitchen.  I hated grocery shopping and would put it off till we were out of pretty much everything.  I went to church and the doctor when I had to and that was it.  Otherwise, I seldom got out of the clothes I had slept in let alone did anything! I avoided having to be around people as much as possible.  I was afraid I wasn’t fit company, or that I’d burst into tears if I was around other people in any setting, so I shut myself off from everyone.

It was during a sort-of confrontation-slash-intervention that happened spontaneously when my new daughter-in-law, Taylor, had a conversation with Tommy one day that things began to change.  She happens to be a nurse and I found out later, that all of the kids, the boys and their wives, had been discussing what could be done for me…how they could pull me out of this funk I was in.  Everyone could see I was total mess except me.  Well, no…I knew I was a mess, I knew I wasn’t doing well at all.  I really just didn’t care.

I just simply did not care anymore.

Tommy left work and came home, where Taylor arrived shortly afterward and they sat me down and began to talk.  Sometime during this conversation, much of which I just observed, I made the statement that I knew I was really depressed, I knew I wasn’t “good” or “well” and then I said, “I know I need some help.”

Next thing I knew, Tommy was looking up counselors on his phone.  He called the one that mentioned having a Christian counselor on staff and started telling them about me.  I was shocked, but not about what he said.  He was respectful of me, but I couldn’t believe what was happening!

THE SPARK OF HOPE

I’d been in therapy before.  Once when the boys were little, probably around 1994, before I was ever put on anti-depressants the first time.  The “counselor” they sent me to was either new or just not very good.  I had no confidence in her and told her all I could think about was how much this was costing us.  I never went back for a second session.  And now, I feared having the same kind of experience again.

Thankfully, I was wrong.  I really liked the young woman I spoke with several times.  Tommy went with me the first time, which was fine with me.  I cried most of the time, which had become normal whenever I talked to people.  I was telling her about some of the reasons I felt I was plagued by depression most of my life… tense relationships with my parents and my sister and the strain of coping with diabetes for more than four decades were the main culprits, I told her.

Then Tommy spoke up and asked if I was going to tell her everything.

I was mortified.  My mind was racing…

No, I hadn’t planned on telling her what a failure I am in the bedroom.  That I can’t even have sex, can’t be a proper wife, can’t enjoy my marriage fully, or please my husband in any way….I wasn’t planning on telling her that I’m a walking defect and my poor husband still loves me, but I have no clue why.  Or that I feel unlovable, unworthy, useless and loathsome.   Nope.  Wasn’t planning on delving into that nasty mess, thanks for bringing it up, though.

But bless his heart, he began to speak and soon I was pouring out my despair about the situation.  The sweet counselor said it was no wonder I was depressed and that first thing I needed to do was take care of the physical ailments I had.

That’s when we told her about the four doctors we’d gone to about 20 years earlier at the 10-year mark.  The ones who never gave us any hope, never a solution, sometimes not even a guess.

One said there was nothing wrong.

Another said it was all in my head.

The next one said I had a birth defect in my vagina that could be corrected with surgery, but that the surgery could possibly make the pain worse.  (to which we said NO THANKS, we have enough problems already!)

The last doctor pretty much scratched his head and insinuated that I need psychiatric help and made me another appointment to come back.

After all that, we just resigned ourselves to never being able to enjoy sex together and coped the best we knew how.  And that’s how we had lived all this time…just burying all the hurt feelings, the unresolved conflict and the sorrow that we shared but never, ever spoke about in calm voices.

That’s when the counselor told us that there actually was help to be had.  She said there were even clinics specifically for this type of problem.  We had no clue there were such things, such specialists… and I was doubtful.  I’d come to feel as if this was part of me.  It was who I was.  I was used to just holding all that sorrow inside since I’d never been able to share it with another person, not even really with Tommy because of how raw and sore the topic was to us both.  And you don’t just tell another woman that you can’t have sex with your husband.  Especially not when some of the friends you have don’t hide how much they admire him.  So I hadn’t really ever  told a soul about our problems.

Once I tried to mention it to a friend.  I didn’t go into any detail at all because once I’d ‘opened the can’, I could see she either didn’t believe me or thought I was kidding.  Either way, when later she mentioned it under her breath in front of two other ladies as if it were a joke, snickering about it, I was completely mortified and never dared broach the subject again.  Not with her or anyone else. I just prayed she wouldn’t go around talking about what I’d tried to tell her.

In my mind, that incident proved to me that I was truly alone and defective.  So I’d never been able to unload the pain and guilt I felt about it, not to family nor friend.  No one knew and I felt so isolated, broken and worthless.

I couldn’t imagine that there was any way to fix me.  By this time, like I said, I had virtually killed the sensual part of myself.  I had such traumatic memories associated with the thought of sex that I had no desire whatsoever for it.  But we went ahead and made an appointment with the OB/GYN the counselor recommended.

Once again, I had to make myself relate the problem to a perfect stranger in a white coat, this time, instead of a male doctor it was a woman and perhaps that made all the difference.  Tommy was with me this time too, and so as we both shared the problem and mentioned that our 30th anniversary was in a few months, she said, “You all have to pursue this.  You’ve been married thirty years?  You deserve to have this fixed.”  

She referred us to a pelvic therapist.  It was like being told we were going to see a fairy…we didn’t even know pelvic therapists existed!

The only pelvic therapy clinic was 80+ miles from our home and with a single therapist, appointments were scarce, so it was another 3 months before we actually saw the lady that changed our lives and played a big part in mending our marriage.

Tracey was a wonderful Christian woman who was so passionate about her work.  She saw it as a ministry and seemed to just click with us almost immediately.  It was easy to feel comfortable working with her on such an embarrassing, emotionally- & physically-painful issue when it was almost impossible for me to talk to other doctors about the problem.  She made it so easy, so matter-of-fact without feeling clinically-cold.

My sweet Tommy would end up going every week to each appointment with me.  Tracey was like a counselor herself as we talked to her about the journey we’d been on that led us to her.  She helped us understand things about both our bodies that we never had, helped us realize it was okay to talk about how we felt, what we wanted and encouraged us to have patience with the process.   As she checked and tested and showed us new exercises and different techniques and as we began to actually talk to each other about this topic that we had completely ignored for so long… the topic that, until this point, was only mentioned in anger or pain, we started to fall in love with each other again.  After 30 long, painful, hard and cold years, we were finally connecting in a way we never had before.  Oh, it didn’t happen all at once, but we began to work together to really BE with each other.

GOD’S GRACE TO US

Tracey had given us things to read together that helped us understand how things worked and exercises to do that would retrain my atrophied pelvic muscles.  One evening, after a long session of tenderly serving each other in love by helping go through these exercises, we found ourselves in our bedroom and before I could let the doubt and horrible memories flood over me, we were making love…and there were no tears.

It was like a miracle. No, it was a miracle!  There was no pain, no discomfort, for the first time in our three decades together.  Afterward, we thanked God for His mercy on us. We had been praying that God would heal us, would heal me physically and us together emotionally.  We had become so disconnected, so tense with each other we didn’t even know how to just generally interact!

We’d invested so much of our time avoiding the problem, avoiding each other, we had to learn how to be a couple, really for the first time.

All this healing began in 2014 and today we are still healing.  We have shared this story with our children, all four of them because we love our boys’ wives like daughters, and have grown as a family too, not just as a couple.  I think it’s helped our sons understand some of the “off” moments they may have witnessed, or that ‘thing’ that just never felt right about their daddy and me when they were kids.

After all this, I did go back to the first counselor and share what a transformation had taken place.  I was put back on anti-depressants and will never “just quit” them again!  I realize that even though I may not feel great, I could feel even worse without them.  And when I’m depressed I know that it could be so much worse and I remind myself of how horrible I felt during most of 2014 and the opportunities to make good memories I missed because I was in The Pit.  It was not good times even though I’m happy that my baby boy got married and for all the good things that happened that year, I was just not in a good place at the time it happened.  I never want to go there again.

Today, just a few months before our 31st wedding anniversary, we are still  healing.  It took 30 years to create the walls and thought processes we have.  It will take more than a few months to change them, so we try to remind ourselves of that when it seems things aren’t progressing.  We have discovered that if we don’t make time for us, we revert to basically ignoring each other, just trying to survive life and don’t connect with the other person at all.  With life as busy as it can be sometimes, this is something we are having to work at really hard, but I will always refer to us as being in a ‘healing process’, even though I claim our marriage healed, it’s still a work in progress!  We’re still adjusting to this new norm, the one we never got to experience as newlyweds.  Our kids shoot knowing glances at each other, smile and shake their heads at us if we’re a little late for something.  It’s pretty cool, I think.  Maybe that’s because no one ever insinuated anything risque about us before?  laugh  Maybe it’s just because I’m in such a good place at this time in my life.  It all seems unreal at times, but then I recall a recent funny exchange between us, a loving time that we spent together with no tears, no pain and I’m reminded that God cares about every part of our lives.  God created sex to be a gift shared between a husband and wife.  Why wouldn’t He care when there is a problem in that area?

If you want information about my therapist or anything else on this page, please contact me!  I would be happy to help you in any way I can.  Don’t think you are alone.  Don’t assume no one else understands.  Don’t quit looking for an answer.  Just don’t give up!  Don’t think this can never be overcome.

Just don’t ever say never!  If our marriage can survive this, there is definitely hope for you!

God bless,

G~