I had a glimpse last night of something I never thought I’d see. I’m so grateful that I was paying attention. For most people, it won’t seem like a big deal, but that’s okay, because I know from whence we came and I also know how far we’ve traveled.
For many years I’ve wished for normalcy for my children. When we were with our abuser, and living in isolation, that hope was pretty much gone. He controlled everything in our lives — and things like teasing and joking around were verboten. Laughter was not something we heard in that household. We subsisted in an environment that was so oppressive, it was like a physical weight upon us. It took a physical toll on each of us, in different ways.
Escaping the situation did not immediately make everything better or different. But it gave me hope that with the proper help, we could one day be normal. Now here we are, two and a half years away from our abuser. For most of that we’ve lived in hiding from him and his family. It’s not a pleasant way to live, but it gave us the time we needed to learn to stand on our own…and eventually to start walking forward. It’s slow going because we fall down a lot. Escaping our abuser doesn’t mean we’ve escaped our past. We still carry the memories, and the children, unfortunately, still carry a lot of the abusive programming from their dad. Even with regular counseling, it has been difficult to even begin to overcome.
Two and a half years may seem like a significant amount of time, but we are really just at the beginning of the journey. It took quite a while for me to find the right help. At first we were all seeing individual counselors, and it did help, to a degree, but it didn’t seem like it got us very far. Last year, God brought a group of counselors into our lives — and our home — that is slowly making a difference. It took a while for them to grasp what we came out of so that they could tailor a plan for my family. The greatest thing they’ve done, though, is force us to interact. Therapy is most often a communal event. Sharon, the therapist, is helping us learn to be a family. It’s not as easy or obvious as it sounds.
An issue arose a few months ago regarding the mother of our abuser. She sued for visitation, and it caused major upheaval in our home. My children really don’t know her and hadn’t seen her in 8 years. Their family spokesperson had already made it clear that they wanted to ‘get their hands on the kids and set them straight’ – and that caused quite a bit of anxiety with my kids. They decided they didn’t want to see their grandmother, at least not until they had completed their counseling and were emotionally ready to handle it. They made their wishes clear to her, but she decided I was forcing them to say that. So she got pushy and it upset the kids even more. They don’t like being pushed and refused to see her.
I’ll always be the first one to fight on behalf of my children. I want what is best for them. Always. But this wasn’t a fight that was going anywhere because the grandmother didn’t really want to hear. So I suggested that the boys talk to Sharon and make a plan they were comfortable undertaking. Last night they decided to call her with Sharon present, to see how it would go.
And that’s when I heard it —
They sat around the table laughing and joking with each other as they made their first attempt to break the ice with a grandmother they don’t know and don’t trust. They told her about school, their friends, their interests — they shared a bit of their lives in an honest attempt to build a relationship. But what struck me so profoundly was the laughter and the ease with which it finally comes to us. Yes, there are times when we are fighting and angry and hurt and we just want to lock ourselves away from each other. But more and more, we are finding situations like last night — where it’s a blessing to be together — to sit in the comfort of the knowledge that we are loved and that we can laugh at ourselves and each other and it’s okay and normal.
There’s still a long way to go…and I’m not sure yet that we will make it to the other side with an intact family…but for now we’re still together. My goal is to have more of the laughter and less and less of the anger. I don’t even know yet how to make it happen — except to be the first one to laugh. Maybe if I keep feeding my children joy and laughter, eventually those will be their first responses. Anyway, it’s what feels right.