Before I was able to afford therapy (I barely am now), and before I even knew a quarter of what I know about mental health now, I desperately craved a place to explore my feelings. Whatever that would end up looking like.
Being a young, impressionable, lost, Latin-mass Catholic going theatre nerd, I had two options at the time.
Here was the first.
I’m Not Your Daddy, I’m Your Father.
I had waaaay too many open confessionals with priests who had arguably better things to do with their time than listening to me rant and cry, but this was my attempt at being resourceful, and these were people that had more agency over moral matters than anyone else I knew. The priests I have come to know and love were respectable men that I whole-heartedly looked up to. I craved their wisdom and understanding, and the unconditional love that they taught through the church. It was truly the best moral compass I had.
This confessional version of therapy began more like, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned, my last confession was four months ago. Since then, I have…made, sins, against the 6th commandment.”
“…Can you explain? You have to explain in detail, I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Oh of, course. In the last four months, I have…t-ouchedmyselfimpurely.”
“I see…how many times?”
“…In four months?”
Wow I hate this. Please get me out of here.
“Oh. Sure. Hmmm.”
“Like, 3 or 4 times? Half a dozen, more than?”
“Probably, more than half a dozen. I’d say.”
This was during my adolescent, “Big Mouth” era of life. The answer was clearly more than half a dozen.
Sometimes the priest would tell me to make reparations after confession (penance) by praying one Our Father, sometimes a whole decade of the Rosary, sometimes through fasting. It was usually the last two.
How intense was the fasting I was told to do? Depends on how much I “sinned against the 6th Commandment” since the last time I went to confession.
So I started going to confessions weekly.
Hey wait a sec, this doesn’t sound like therapy! This sounds like straight up shame and embarrassment right now!
Well, I was pushing through for the end result.
Despite the guilt you feel going into the confessional, you stick it out for the hope that you can feel like and be a better person.
That’s what I was after more than anything. In order for me to turn confession into my own therapy session, I had to talk about the more humiliating stuff, too (because guys, it’s a sin to skip sins in confession!!!!).
Eventually I pushed through to the chunk of the conversation that went more like this,
“And finally Father, my last sin is despair. I hate saying it but, there’s this part of me that I just don’t think deserve God’s forgiveness, or love. I come into the confession once a week now, just as angry, just as lost, just as sinful- why do I deserve that forgiveness? At some point I’m sure he just takes it away. I try so hard to persevere through it, and I know that God loves me. I’ve been told that God loves me since I was five. But I don’t feel love, anywhere. I don’t feel like I deserve it. I know I should. But I feel like I don’t.”
Then they would say,
“No matter how many times you sin, God always loves you. He comes back for you, and fights for you. The lower you feel, the lower God bends himself to pick you back up. There is nothing on earth, no sin, no man, nothing at all, greater than God’s love.”
There is nothing on earth, no sin, no man, nothing at all, greater than love. God is love.
And so there it was very plainly, God loves me, no matter what.
But the shame would come back hours after the confessional. Shame around knowing I was 100% going to commit these sins again, even though I kept the rosary in my pocket, wore a scapula, and blessed myself with holy water everyday, and said the Latin rosary every night- family necessity. I must’ve not been doing enough spiritually to keep temptation at bay. One thing I will say because of this process, though, masturbating was so much more awkward wearing a scapula.
Shame also, from feeling like I didn’t deserve love.
This can be a very seemingly foreign dilemma, but as you begin to unravel it, it’s so common. It’s very common for people to feel unworthy, or not good enough, or that the love they receive is determined solely by the best version of themselves. We are not always that version, and even when we are, we have learned we still probably don’t deserve to be loved. In Catholicism, this can potentially be seen as sinful, because you believe that your own despair is too great for God. Now, there is more shame for feeling the way you do, and the cycle is endless.
I plowed through my shame and accepted that horrible feeling in exchange for some sort of guidance out of it (ironically). Regardless of feeling perpetually guilty, I learned that by looking to God I can become greater than my sins. And I did in fact, in some ways, feel that unconditional love from the other side of that screen, or looking across to the priest if I opted for an open confessional (imagine the mucho balls I had on me to look a priest in the eyes and tell him how many times I touch myself? Shame who?).
Consciously after a confession, I told myself this: God’s love is enough.
God is working within me, God was giving me grace- I couldn’t help but feel uplifted, or at least some relief. I was given love, from near strangers, who we are taught through Catholicism aren’t really strangers, since they are acting as the medium of Jesus Christ. Sometimes Jesus was a BIT much with the fasting but overall it was the most positive experience I was able to get. No matter what happened to me in my life, this was love, and no one was able to take that from me.
But if any of my priests saw this, I’d die.