by Melinda*, REACH Survivor Speakers Bureau
Recently I heard myself laugh and I was shocked and amazed. I thought, “Who is this person? Wow I recognize her, I recognize that laugh!”
You see, I was not allowed to laugh for years and it took me close to 3 years after I separated from my husband to allow myself to laugh.
In my abusive relationship, my husband controlled everything: who I spoke with, what I wore, my money, my time and if you can believe it, he controlled how I laughed. One of the things that made me fall in love with him was that he was an entertaining story teller who always got the punch line right.
I laugh loudly, deep from my belly and totally un-ladylike. It’s not cute at all, but it’s one of the things that makes me … me. I didn’t realize I loved that part of me until it was taken away.
The irony is that one of the things that made me fall in love (laughter) is one of many things that was taken away.
It first started with a stare, then a sideways look, an un-approving snicker, then it grew to questioning my laugh, being judgmental of my laugh and how I laugh, to telling me how unattractive and embarrassing my laugh was.
So I went from laughing freely to a controlled smile and inward laugh. Eventually the laughs became few and far between and tears replaced my laugh.
It took 2 years and 8 months of being out of his grip to realize that it’s ok to be me again. It’s ok to laugh out loud and it’s my right to be un-ladylike and laugh deeply from my belly.
People have said to me, “Oh but you are not with him anymore; you must be so relieved and free.”
Yes, I am, but the mental, emotional and deep psychological impact stays with you for a long time.
For example: Recently I was treated to dinner by a total gentleman. When we were done, we headed back to our respective cars. While heading back to the car, I realized I misplaced my keys in my purse. (You know, the big purses that you can store your whole house in!)
I was looking for my keys frantically and after what seemed an eternity (probably 60 to 90 seconds) I started shaking. The gentleman was poised, cool, collected and patient. He actually told me to take my time and that we were in no rush.
But all of the sudden I was gripped with fear because my mind took me back to when I was with him. If this had been with my husband, I would have already been cursed out up and down, called a name telling me how stupid and unorganized I was.
I shortly found my keys and the gentleman said “see I knew you would find it.”
On my way home I cried silently. Who would have known that after 3 years, misplacing my keys would be a trigger? That misplacing my keys would grip me with fear and express such a physical and emotional reaction?
I also learned something that night, that there are decent people out there, that are patient as well as supportive and I don’t have to be afraid to be me.
My husband had me in such isolation, such control that I lost what I loved the most about myself. I had lost my laugh, my voice, my identity…I lost me.
In the time since my separation, with the help of REACH, I have met other survivors through support groups. Month after month I attend support group. I speak to my advocate, I’m greeted at the door by REACH staff with smiles and the eagerness and 100% willingness to help me through my journey. I especially remember meeting one woman who was a nurse on my second round of support group. At the time it had been 7 years since her separation. She had decided to come back to group after several years of not attending as she wanted more support.
She was so funny, she had gone through so much yet she was smiling, laughing, making jokes and I remember that even years later we talked about taking her act on the road.
She represented 2 things to me.
- There is actually an other side. Although my light was dim, there is a bright and shiny light on the other side of abuse.
- She did not lose herself; she did not lose her sense of humor. She did not lose her laugh. Oh how I looked up to that.
I know that some people out there who might be reading this might be in a similar place to where I was when I first met that woman. I speak and write about my experience because I want them to know that there is life on the other side. That it is possible to laugh and to find yourself again.
And for everyone else, I want them to know that the effects of domestic violence don’t end just because you leave the relationship. I am grateful that I can still come to support group, and that someone from REACH still comes with me when I have to go back to court. I am thankful to everyone who supports REACH, because by doing that they have helped me find my voice again.
*name changed for confidentiality