Self Sabotage…You probably don’t think of it as abuse.
But it can be the most pernicious form of abuse.
It’s abusive to yourself and to those who love you.
I know this subject well. For most of my adult life I did nearly everything I could to thwart my own happiness. It came very close to taking my life.
Building the False Façade
I came from an emotionally abusive home where my job was to be the peace keeper. I was set up to fail in this impossible task in a dysfunctional and crazy home environment. As I failed as a child and young adult to restore order out of this chaos, my parents, especially my mother, continuously reinforced a message within me – I wasn’t good enough.
I left home for college as a man with incredibly low self-esteem and not a lot of self-confidence. I managed to hide all of that under a façade that I presented to the world.
I was blessed with smarts, a good sense of humor, and not a bad looking guy. So, I learned to act like a person who had those qualities – though deep down, I believed none of it.
My freshman year of college I began dating a beautiful lady named Karen. Karen was pre-med; she was smart, attractive and seemed to come from a good family.
In the last semester of her senior year, we got pregnant.
To have the baby would mean giving up medical school for her and force me to drop out of college. Planned Parenthood assured us that there was no baby yet, it was just a blob of cells. For only $300 they told me, our lives could go on as planned.
We stayed with my parents during this time and went to the Planned Parenthood center for the abortion. After the procedure she was still foggy from the anesthesia. Karen was crying and through her tears she said “They took my baby. I saw them take my baby.”
Our relationship began to decline from that day forward. Within a year we broke up. I blamed myself for being such a loser that I couldn’t take care of her or my kid. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about the abortion.
When good times would come in the back of my mind I would have the thought…“Yeah, times are good, but don’t forget you killed your kid.” I would not allow myself to experience joy. If that joy did break through my wall of self hatred – I did not to trust it and certainly did not to feel I deserved it.
Drifting…into Deeper Darkness
I worked at a radio station as a program director and DJ for a couple of years out of school, drifting from one meaningless encounter with women after another. Truthfully there wasn’t even that much sex involved. I wouldn’t allow myself to get that close most of the time.
I truly felt that everyone was better than me and I was putting on a good act, but if the truth about the real me ever came out it would be devastating. So I never talked to anyone about the abortion.
I met Joanne at the radio station. We began a sexual relationship and while we thought we were being careful after a few months she was pregnant. At the time I was thinking, well this sucks, but at least I can do things the right way this time. I told Joanne I would support her and the baby as best I could.
But that first abortion left me damaged and weakened as a man and a father. When Joanne told me she was thinking about getting an abortion, I didn’t try to talk her out of it. I didn’t fight for the life of our child and instead told her, “I will support you no matter what you decide.”
Her friend let me know that Joanne had the abortion. For a minute I felt relieved, but then I was overcome by guilt and shame. Once again, I didn’t do my duty as a man. I let my kid be killed. A short time later, Joanne moved away without a word to me. To this day I have no idea what happened to her.
Not long, I met Kathy. I’ve never met anyone as honest and decent-hearted as she is. I felt Kathy was out of my league. I really felt that I in no way deserved her.
Even after we married, I lived in constant fear that she would find out who I really was.
Creating a False World
Here’s the thing about self-sabotage. It’s not something you consciously plan out. I didn’t wake up in the morning thinking, “Here’s how I’m going to screw up my relationship, today.”
Rather it’s a slow progression of selfish acts that build upon each other, fed by the inner demons that reinforce the lie that you’re a worthless human being. My fear that Kathy would discover the real me led to me create a false world for us to live in.
I didn’t tell her that we had money problems because I didn’t want her do without – that would reinforce my sense of being a loser. So, I took out credit cards that she didn’t know about. The net result was that I bankrupted us twice.
Through all of this, I thought about the abortion every day.
I only told Kathy about the abortion with Karen. I lied about of a lot of other things to keep up the false front. But as Kathy uncovered the truth, it began a process of slowly, steadily, eroding her trust in me.
On top of that I had this weird, irrational anger that would come up. I would be verbally abusive, passive aggressive, and well, to put it politely, a real jerk. I would try to make her think that she was the one with the problem.
Fortunately amidst all this suffering Kathy had converted to Catholicism after 15 years of marriage. I was raised Catholic but had been away from the Church since college. Her embracing Catholicism inspired me to return to the practice of my faith, and I came back in a big way.
I became active in my parish and served as a Eucharistic minister, lector, I helped teach RCIA, I was on the Respect Life Committee, and served on various parish councils. People were constantly telling me I should become a deacon.
While I appreciated the respect and regard people had for me, in my heart I knew it was a façade. If these people knew that I had two abortions in my past they would disown me for sure.
I was living a lie.
Marriage Tipping Point
All that pain from childhood and later the two abortions continued to hurt Kathy and attack our marriage. We finally hit a tipping point where Kathy told me I needed to get help, or she would have to leave.
I went to speak with a priest, Fr Peter. I told him what was going on, and he asked me if I had ever been involved with an abortion. I was shocked he knew to ask that.
I confessed to him my story and Fr Peter told me about Rachael’s Vineyard. I was so tired of thinking about the abortion every day for the last couple of decades and I was ready to get help.
I expressed to Fr Peter that I was worried I would be the only man on the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. He playfully punched me in the arm and said, “Well, if that’s the case, blessed are you among women.” Kathy was kind enough to attend the weekend with me.
The retreat was overwhelmingly amazing. I named my kids Anthony and Claire. I also became the godfather of the unborn child of a dear college friend whom I had driven to an abortion center when she became pregnant from a one-night-stand.
I’ll never forget Saturday evening of the retreat, standing around the bowl of lit candles floating in that holy water, each one representing our children lost to abortion. For just for a brief moment, I heard my children’s laughter. I started to believe that they forgave me as much as Christ had.
The Judas Option
I wish I could say that the story ends here, that we went on to live happily ever after.
The truth is, the retreats exposed the light of truth to the lie I had been living, but my old habits and beliefs were not miraculously cured. I struggled to fully embrace the forgiveness of Christ and that of my children.
But I believe I drew upon the grace of that healing weekend during a coming time of dark and dangerous temptation.
Things got better for Kathy and me for a while, but gradually the inner demons began their endless reminder that “Okay, Christ forgave you, but that doesn’t change what a loser you are.”
The pattern of self-sabotage returned along with my abusive behavior. It was too much, and Kathy I separated.
Three years ago I had a three-month assignment for my work in South Bend InKaren. It was Easter Weekend and I was alone. No one in my family invited me to spend the holiday with them even though they knew Kathy and I were separated.
I went to the Easter Vigil Mass and wept for joy for those people coming into the faith. But I also wept with despair at the reality that I was alone. I had sabotaged my life so bad that no one wanted to be with me.
The darkness of that rejection and pain took hold of my heart and I set out on a path of anguish and temptation.
Rather than focusing on the Resurrection and the forgiveness of Peter’s denial in the Easter story, I became preoccupied with the experience of Judas Iscariot. Judas had sold his soul for some silver. Not all that different than me selling my unborn kids out, selling my marriage out…all for my own agenda.
And what was his solution? Yes, Judas killed himself.
Finally, an answer I thought. What do I possibly have to live for? I’m alone with no prospects of a better life in sight. I have a job. So, what? In betraying Kathy, my kids, myself, I ultimately betrayed Christ. Yes, the ultimate act of self-sabotage must be the answer.
I deserved the same fate as Judas.
I didn’t sleep much that night. I just kept thinking about Judas. Christ had forgiven him, but that wasn’t enough. That’s exactly where I was.
The next day I walked along the Riverwalk of the St. Joseph River that runs through South Bend. I crossed onto a bridge that spanned the river and stopped in the middle.
I looked down into the fast-moving current. I knew the water was very cold and deep. I figured I would probably succumb to hypothermia within five minutes. I imagined what drowning would feel like. The suffering wouldn’t last too long. I just had to work up the courage to take the leap.
Suddenly, in the distance, I heard the church bells of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church where I had attended Mass the night before. I could see the parking lot about a quarter mile away from the bridge. I watched families all dressed for Easter filing out of the church.
And then the thought hit me.
Is this how I want Kathy to remember me? Is this really the way I want to meet my kids? Could I really kill myself in a river named after St. Joseph?
I stepped away from the edge of the bridge and quickly walked off it. I found a park bench and wept.
Soon after, I went back to St. Joseph’s church and confessed to a priest, Fr Kevin, about my experience. Fr Kevin helped me more than the countless therapists I had seen over the years. He helped me see that the negative self-talk I engaged in need not have such power over me or define who I was.
This wise priest awakened me to the reality that the negative thoughts were like a flock of birds flying overhead. I had no power to stop the birds from flying over, but I did have a choice of whether I allowed them to land on me.
My future meetings with Father Kevin all included the sacrament of confession. While it was Father Kevin talking to me, Christ was the true counselor in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Once a week, I would go to confession and sit down with Our Lord. His grace led me to realize that I may have negative thoughts, but I always have the power to not engage them. With God’s grace, I simply choose not to engage them. The more I don’t engage the less power they have over my life.
The Lord Heard My Cry for Mercy
A little over a year ago, Kathy and I reconciled. The two years we were apart we both used to get the help we needed. We had kept in touch during this time and managed to stay friends.
I know the love we had for each other never went away, but we could not stay together while I was continuously sabotaging myself and our marriage. I’m happy to say our marriage is better than it has ever been.
The inner struggle? Yeah, it’s still there, and maybe always will be, but I have those negative messages under the power of Christ and his love so they have no power over me any longer.
In closing I share two songs; one a contemporary tune by Julia Brenna that has been a source of inspiration and comfort to me.
The other is a much older song from the grateful heart of Israel’s King David. This David also suffered through his own journey into the darkness of sin and death. David’s sins, to his horror and anguish, brought great pain upon his family and nation.
Yet King David learned from this tragedy to trust in the Lord’s saving power, and experienced in time, restoration and salvation, reflected in this beautiful psalm:
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”
The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me. (Psalm 116: 1-6)
To Learn More about the impact of abortion on Men:
Tears of the Fisherman: Recovery for Men Wounded by Abortion by Kevin Burke, LSW
Register Your Abortion Regret with the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. You can sign up to receive a newsletter every month highlighting opportunities to be Silent No More along with news about the Campaign.
The Men and Abortion Network Our Mission: To promote emotional healing for men who have lost a child to abortion, and to create awareness among the counseling community, the pro-life movement and society as a whole regarding the impact of abortion on millions of these hurting fathers.