There was a lot of estrogen in my house growing up. I was smack dab in the middle of four sisters and the one thing I knew to be true was that if one of us borrowed clothes without asking… war had been declared.
My mother was a very devout Catholic woman. And I mean devout. There wasn’t a room in the house that didn’t have a scary crucifix, intimidating religious art, or for some reason, a rooster in it.
We prayed the rosary every night, even if friends were over. She would say in a tone of voice that I knew I couldn't argue with, “Abigale, they are welcome to join us or they can wait downstairs until we’re done.”
At fourteen years old, I was convinced my mother was intentionally trying to make me the weird “church girl” outcast.
I’ll be honest: I had zero interest in anything regarding the Catholic faith my mother worked so hard to instill in us kids. I went through the motions of going to mass and “praying along” because I had no choice. I resented church for always getting in the way of my social plans and being so boring. If anything, the only impact my presence in a church had on my life was to ingrain a fear of going to hell, which looked pretty inevitable with the amount of rules Catholics seemed to have.
During high school my priorities were pretty on point with the average teenager: excel at sports, have a lot of friends, find the love of your life that you will definitely, without a doubt, no question about it, end up marrying.
Field hockey was my life, and I spent every weekend traveling over an hour away to play and train with elite club teams. Whatever time wasn’t sucked up by field hockey was allocated to all the major social events and hangouts with friends. It was my Junior year of highschool when that all changed.
I started dating a guy I thought was going to be my future husband.
Seventeen is a rough age, and falling that hard for someone makes you do some stupid sh*t. My mom had shown me how to devote everything in your life to something, but I don’t think she intended for me to use that skill on this guy. He was completely and totally my newfound religion. It was cringe worthy.
Well, I ended up losing most of my friends, my drive for field hockey, my relationship with my family… and my sanity.
In the beginning, it was great. He was this super handsome guy who seemed to like me as much as I liked him. We spent every single day together and it still didn’t feel like enough. But as time went on I started picking up on some shady scenarios. Little lies here and there that he always had an explanation for, but didn’t feel like the truth. Things weren’t adding up. I started going through his phone in secret, trying to prove what my gut was telling me.
Eventually the first truth came out without me even needing to discover it: he cheated on me.
I’d give anything to be able to continue with an awesome and dramatic break up story where I stood up for myself and moved on with my life… but him cheating on me wasn’t enough to make me not want to be with him. In fact, I think it made me cling to him harder. Even when he cheated again.
Although every time I chose to stay, I was slowly becoming a person I didn’t recognize.
I went into college still in this unhealthy relationship, now trying to make long distance work. I started my freshman field hockey preseason skinny, weak, and with a fresh diagnosis of mono. If I wasn’t falling asleep in class or falling asleep watching my team train without me, I was skyping my boyfriend, with no desire to explore what else college had to offer.
The result was me going to a very dark place. That first semester ended with my GPA sitting at a low 1.8.
The one good thing going for me were my friends from the field hockey team. It was a new bond of friendship I had never experienced, and when I did allow myself time to go do things with them, it was a blast. We were all super different people. We had a mix of party girls, health nuts, smarty pants, home bodies, and a wild card or two. Our differences in lifestyle and beliefs didn’t hinder our friendship at all, it gave us a true appreciation for each other.
In this group of girls, I was the token Catholic.
I don’t know why I called myself Catholic when not 1% of me was actually practicing or even convicted in that statement, but I guess it was just part of my identity left over from my upbringing. But in college, you can’t get away with a statement like that and not back it up.
And I could not. I didn’t know anything.
Out of pure curiosity, I would be asked questions like “Why do Catholics believe this?” or “Why do you have to go to church?”.
Now, I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to be wrong. Ever. So when I couldn’t respond to any of these questions I knew I needed to get the answers so I didn’t look like an idiot.
Basically, my motives to learn about the Church were completely based off protecting my pride.
I quickly turned to my brother-in-law, a college campus minister at West Virginia University. I texted him the questions I was being asked, and he would email back in-depth answers.
They were awesome.
For the first time, Church teachings not only started to make sense, but they were appealing.
Again, I would love to be able to say that’s where the story changes for my life, that I steadily progressed towards a new happiness I never knew before and grew deep into my faith.
But that wasn’t the case.
Everything pretty much stayed exactly the same. What did change was that I wanted to know more.
I had curiosity, and I knew this faith thing seemed somewhat desirable, but when your religion is your boyfriend, when you still think the Church can’t fit into today’s society, or that if you want to be a person of faith you have to completely change who you are... you don’t necessarily feel like running towards it.
That was a big thing for me, the idea of change. Changing my personality, how I interacted with friends, how I would live my life. If I wanted to do this Catholic thing, I’d have to completely remodel everything.
I didn’t want to become a different person, I didn’t want to become this stereotype church girl who’s a drag to be around.
I liked my edgy sense of humor, having a fun night out, rap music - I thought I would have to give all that up.
By this point, I was one broken human being in a very lonely, dark place. I confided in no one. I struggled with an eating disorder that stemmed from a very warped body image. I spent most of my weekends in screaming matches with my boyfriend. My mind was always focused on him, trying to line up with his schedule and where he said he was going to be, looking for a misstep and trying to see the next betrayal coming before it happened. I was so far from happiness, I don’t even think I knew what it was.
I was so far from happiness, I don’t even think I knew what it was.
I don’t want to paint a picture that this boyfriend was some monster I couldn’t escape. To be honest, he wasn’t. He was just your average 17-20 year old exceptionally good looking guy who’s not ready to find his wife. I subjected myself to everything I experienced in that relationship. I was looking for something deeper, and even though the signs were brighter than neon orange, I continued to proceed because I didn’t know there could be anything better out there.
I still asked the occasional question to my brother-in-law. The questions were on love, sex, marriage, purpose, and happiness. Every answer kept this spark inside of me. Over the course of two years, I realized there were things I wanted from this life that I wasn’t allowing myself to have. There was a type of person I wanted to be, and in order for that to be possible, I would have to change what I was doing. I didn’t like who I was and who I had allowed myself to become.
I was finally able to say that things needed to end with this relationship and that my life needed a change. I didn’t have the strength to do it alone, so I did something I had never really done before.
And I was really awkward about it.
I didn’t use fancy words or have a nice poetic flow. It was rough around the edges, but it was from the heart. I told God I needed help. I needed him to find a way for me to emotionally bear not being with the guy I’d revolved my world around for the last four years. I needed help to overcome the insecurities and issues I had developed over time, and gain confidence in myself.
Life moved really fast from that point on. Not even two weeks later I became friends with one of the coolest guys I’d ever known during the tail end of summer vacation. He was a tall, strong, weight lifting man’s man who could put me in tears from laughter and I could talk about anything with him for hours. For some reason I found a new strength in myself after meeting him. He was kind and treated me well. It was then that I could finally see my boyfriend for who he really was, and immediately the attraction was gone. I called him and ended things without a single tear.
Very early on in this new friendship I did something quite shocking for the girl who didn’t tell anyone anything: I opened up to him about everything that I was struggling with in my life. I had not told a single soul until that point about my eating disorder, yet it just flowed out of my mouth to this new friend. And it was from that moment, after hearing myself say it out loud for the first time, I decided I would not allow myself to be this person anymore. And he played a major role in that. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was going to end up being a huge part of my life.
Spoiler Alert: we’re getting married!
I went back to pre-season training with a new drive to get in the best shape that I could - in a healthy way. I set goals for my grades. I spent time with my friends.
And all of sudden, without realizing it, I was free.
My life didn’t change in an instant, but it set me on an upward path. A steep one, like hiking a mountain. Instead of unrealistic body goals, and the desire of being the perfect girl for the wrong guy, God was the reward at the top. I wanted to get to know God as fast as possible, but I’ve been pretty out of shape so my pace is slow. Like any mountain trail, there are rocks and roots that make it super easy to trip and fall, which I often do. I have to constantly ask God to remind me not to get discouraged and to keep going. At some points I’ve been lazy, so I’ll stop and sit on a rock for a bit scrolling through Instagram and focusing all my energy on superficial things. But then I remember those things aren’t going to be as enjoyable as the view at the top.
I knew the only way I found that strength is because of that “Hail Mary” prayer I shot up to God to help me get rid of all the things in life holding me back.
He helped me lose my religion, so I could find Him.