Nobody Knows I Freaked Out During My Wedding Ceremony

Photographed by Maria Del Rio.
Everything about the first two days was gorgeous. Friends from far away, a beautiful dress, delicious food, and a whole weekend to catch up, hang out, and ride the wave of excitement leading up to our Sunday morning ceremony.
The music starts. Down the aisle goes my now-husband’s sister, the “best lady.” Down goes my beautiful little sister, five years younger and in her first wedding. All morning, she’s been more nervous than me. Lips too red? How fast to walk? How high to hold the bouquet? Meanwhile, I’ve been calm, certain. I know we’ve planned a beautiful ceremony. I can’t wait to marry the most wonderful man in the world.

Our lone usher, a family friend I’ve grown up with since he was six years old, now 22 and at least a foot taller than me, gives me the thumbs-up and opens the door.

I sort of laugh-weep down the aisle. Overwhelmed by emotion, I forget all about the slow, dramatic walk and the big reveal of my dress — the princess cupcake ball gown I’ve been describing to my beloved for months is actually a short, feathered number. I’ve been anticipating the surprise and delight on his face for months.

The officiant is welcoming everyone to the ceremony, but something is already wrong. I’ve never seen the outfit my love is wearing. He’s shaved since this morning; his face is red. I don’t recognize him.

Something has snapped in my head. All through the planning, I’ve been proud of how well the meds have my depression and anxiety under control. I never expected this.

I hear later how sweet it was that I kept leaning against him and closing my eyes. Somehow, I’m laughing at the jokes I wrote into our ceremony. I get distracted by a baby in the second row — a soon-to-be nephew I haven’t met yet. Everyone is smiling and laughing at my obvious baby fever.

My fractured thoughts run in circles. Can I just leave? Everyone’s traveled so far. I think I’m going to faint. Bend the knees. Breathe. Look into his eyes — no, that only makes it worse. He looks all wrong — where is my fiancé? I need him. He’s right here, I tell myself, but I don’t believe it. There’s definitely somebody standing in front of me. I reach for a feeling of love or recognition, a memory, anything, but I’m drawing a blank. I’m dissociating slightly. It’s hard to describe.
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When I said my vows and heard his in return, I felt nothing but confusion and fear.

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Suddenly, my beloved is saying "I do" — I’d tuned out the officiant. I know it’s my turn, but my whole body is screaming. No, no, no, I can’t do this, it’s a big mistake. I have the shameful thought that I can always divorce him later. I reach deeper for the tiny voice of truth in my gut, but she’s silent. Asleep, maybe. Having a nightmare.

The only thing that gets me through is that I’ve been reading about childbirth. (See baby fever, above.) I’m very interested in the transition stage — between eight- and 10-centimeter dilation, many laboring women suddenly experience massive self-doubt, overwhelming feelings that they can’t do it, they can’t finish this, they’ll never make it. It was a mistake, trying to have a baby. This must be like that, I think to myself. The transition stage. I’ve read about this.

The thought is just comforting enough that I say the words. I sign the paper. I keep it together. We kiss; everyone claps and cheers. We make it back up the aisle, into the hallway.

“I need to sit down,” I say. “I need a glass of lemonade.”

This wasn’t anything like it was supposed to be.

What Is True?

What is true, and what is also true?

I learned this question from the remarkable Havi Brooks of The Fluent Self.

What is true?

I panicked through my wedding ceremony. It was awful. I felt scared, confused, and disconnected. What a waste of all that hope and anticipation.

And what is also true?

After the ceremony, as the food was being set out, I asked my husband to come with me into the basement, the only empty place in the small park lodge that was both our ceremony and reception space. He brought me a chair and then another chair to put my feet up on. He went back upstairs for my sweater and my Chapstick. Over the sound of footsteps and music from above, he told me all about his morning. How he’d buffed his feet in the bathtub, then waved our houseguest, his sister’s fiancé, into the bathroom for a shower, only realizing later that he’d never rinsed out the tub. All kinds of other minor crises occurred — getting fully dressed and then realizing he needed an undershirt. Troubles pinning the boutonniere on straight. Scrambled eggs.
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As he talks, I come back to myself. The sillier the story, the better. I feel my mind settling back in. Giggling together about the hijinks we’ve been up to is familiar in a way that baring our souls is not. I recognize his laugh. I recognize his face.

He tells me how beautiful I look and I freeze. “I can’t hear that right now. It’s too intense.”

I know it’s my turn, but my whole body is screaming. No, no, no, I can’t do this, it’s a big mistake.

“What about ‘lovely?'”

“Nope.”

“Cute?”

I think for a moment. “Cute I can do.”

His face lights up. “Your toes are so cute in those flip-flops.”

I knew he’d think so.

And What Is Also True

We’re married, anyway, for one thing. The brushed titanium ring feels unfamiliar on my finger, but it’s definitely there.

I needn’t have worried about being far, far too emotionally frayed for anything more than wedding night cuddles. We’d talked about it beforehand, anyway — maybe we would, maybe we wouldn’t. We’d see how I felt. He loved me either way. It was a moot point in the end — he spent the night over the toilet. It was a dry wedding, so, maybe food poisoning? My stomach drops at the thought. I text half-a-dozen guests. Everyone’s fine. Whew. Must just be stress.

And what is also true?

When I said my vows and heard his in return, I felt nothing but confusion and fear.

But they’re the same vows I wrote months ago, all at once in a fit of inspiration. There are no words for the love I felt every time I turned them over in my mind, mentally rehearsing for the day I would say them out loud. The words lived in my heart for months before I spoke them, and they’ll live in my heart for years more to come.

And maybe I’ll say them out loud again. Maybe in a week, maybe in a year, maybe in 10. It’s too soon to tell. I’m writing this from our hotel bed and my darling now-husband just woke up. We meant to get up early and make the most of our first day as newlyweds, but I think we both need to take it easy for a while. We’ve been through a lot.

Here’s to the other side.

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