When I was in my mid twenties, I was in a dysfunctional marriage. I was also a brand new stay-at-home mother at this time and had just given birth to my first child. I was young, in the prime of my life, and miserable. The husband and I fought day and night, in private and public, and about any topic that came up, including his binge drinking, and all-nighters where he just wouldn’t bother to come home or call. I was isolated from friends (because the husband didn’t like them), and playing the victim role to a tee: I blamed him for everything wrong in my life. This relationship spurred so much hateful argument in my every day life that I lost laughter. I took everything very seriously because I felt the husband did not.
I became a very angry individual. My close friends (those two I was able to sneak telephone conversations with when he wasn’t home) confided they had never seen me so unhappy in my life. I wasn’t even allowed to keep a journal because he was jealous of it.
I couldn’t see it at the time, but all this anger began to have an affect on my physical health. I began to have severe anxiety attacks where I couldn’t leave the house all day. I was physically ill, no appetite and dropping weight rapidly. Many office visits, and three ER visits later (with the husband screaming at me all the way to the ER because it was out of his way), my doctors could find nothing wrong with me. They prescribed anti-anxiety drugs and sent me home sad and ill.
My turning point came at the cash register at a local Blimpie restaurant that the husband and I had stopped at for dinner one evening. I’m sure we had been arguing in the car before we entered the restaurant. The husband gave his order and stepped aside. I was glaring at the menu trying to decide what to order. The jovial teen working the cash register looked at me for a moment and asked me, “Why do you look so angry? You’d be much happier if you smiled.” I was shocked someone, a complete stranger, would notice my unhappiness let alone comment on it. I could see he was happy by the peaceful look on his face and the smile that donned his lips. He meant no harm by the comment.
That night and for days afterward, I found myself looking at my face in the mirror. I was only twenty-something, yet I had the frown lines, furrowed brows, and eye squint of a sixty year old. I saw a very sad girl looking back at me. How long had I been so sad? I tried to lift my brows and straighten out the frown lines on my forehead. I even attempted to smile just to see what it felt like. These efforts were strained, to say the least. It felt so foreign to pose my face in such a way. It felt like it took more facial muscles to smile than carry the screwed up face I had come so familiar with.
Somewhere I realized I had placed myself in a situation and given up all my life’s dreams, travel plans with friends, aspirations for college, and settled for this empty, lonely, angry existence where I had given all my personal power away to an unworthy individual. Somewhere along the way I had lost the ability to laugh, and not take life so seriously. My short-term goal was to smile every day at least one time.
Over the next several years, I made it my mission to take back my power I had given away, find my individual voice once again, resume the things I love, not take life so seriously, and most importantly laugh every day.
Today, I’m exactly where I want to be. I have regained my independence and self worth. I’m pursuing my college, career and travel dreams. I’m in a healthy, happy relationship and my physical illness disappeared. Most importantly, I laugh every day. My ultimate happiness comes every day witnessing, through my example, my son who is now able to thrive in a loving environment that nurtures his own love for laughter and keeps the world in healthy perspective.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.