My family has always been part of the Catholic Church, including being actively involved in fighting for those beliefs in Ireland and France through the centuries. It is all I knew and I never imagined a life without it. Even in today’s permissive society, divorce is still a huge don’t in the Catholic Church.
When my priest advised me to stay in an abusive marriage rather than lose access to the Catholic religion, I stayed — until my husband left me for one of the many women he had been seeing. I went back to my priest for help but instead found myself without a church. Confused and directionless, I ended up seeking help at a Word of Faith Christian Church in Texas.
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Although the church and I both believed in Jesus, the similarities ended there. Everything was so different from what I had grown up with, it made the transition very difficult. They kept trying to break down my identity by using scripture to suggest that everything about me, from Catholicism to my Irish culture, was evil and against God. It was like going through spiritual boot camp as they attempted to rebuild me into a person that could gain access to heaven.
During my time there, I met my current husband. He was also having a tough time as his father had died suddenly the year before, causing him to question the church he had been raised in and even the existence of God due to how they handled his grief.
More: How I learned to face my grief and love more openly
We became really good friends who spent hours talking as we each struggled with our sheltered worlds collapsing around us, no matter how hard we tried to fight to keep the walls intact. The damage in our lives, caused by blind devotion to a religion, forced us to question all the truths we had been raised to believe.
After months of a platonic friendship, we decided to see if something more could exist; but when a small group of church members found out, they began trying to break us apart. Matriarchs in the church began spreading rumors that I was an Irish witch who had cast spells on him, forcing him to have sex with me.
We lost friends and even people we barely knew began treating us differently at church. Invitations to events began drying up, older adults showed up at his home to stage an intervention in order to help exorcise the demonic influence I had been accused of placing in his life. The metaphorical stoning through psychological and emotional punishments were severe enough that we decided that if we’re going to be punished for having premarital sex, which we hadn’t at that time, then we should escalate our relationship to the next level and start having a sexual relationship.
The irony is that if they had left us alone, we would’ve returned to just being friends because we both had realized neither of us were healed from our respective wounds to be dating anyone. Their obsessive need to control us, make an example of us to the younger generation and our peers, made us want to prove we were going to stay together no matter what. The stress of moving into a relationship that we weren’t ready for caused us to break up and get back together so often that I needed a day planner to help me keep track of when I was single or not. After nine months of chaos, we finally decided to take time away from being a couple to figure out who we were as individuals.
The break wouldn’t last long as a few weeks later I discovered I was pregnant from our last goodbye.
We decided to go to people we thought were friends at the church for help, but that decision would end our association with Christianity. I was advised to get an abortion. And when I refused, he was told to leave me to fend for myself if he wanted to keep his life in the church. Having to choose between being a father and a Christian was the final hit; he hasn’t prayed or read a bible in the nearly seven years since that happened.
The funny thing is that many of those people who judged us have since gotten divorced, affairs they had been having during their perfect Christian marriages have come out, their own children have dealt with unplanned pregnancies and they’ve left the church or various other crimes have come to light.
My husband and I? Nearly ten years later we’re still married, in love and best friends. I got my fairytale dream of having a great family; I just had to leave the church to get it.
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