January 18, 2006


I Can Thrive, I Can Smile

Smile! Some days, as a sexual abuse survivor, it is hard to smile. If you wonder why, visit my website, survivorscanthrive.com. I used to get so annoyed because, over the years, I have been a target for the people I call "The Smile Police." I can laugh about it now, but it used to really bother me.

I recall the man I will always think of as the most abusive smile cop I've ever had to endure. I was in a store, looking over the products on the shelf and trying to make a purchase decision. I admit, I could easily have been dissociating (I did that a lot, out of pure habit, back in those days), but I clearly remember that I was not irritated or in a bad mood at the time. Suddenly, this stranger--this man--is in my face. "Smile!" he orders. "It's not that bad!" Many times in the past I've wanted to tell these people where to go. On this occasion, however, I was in a fairly tolerant and cheerful mood. So, I smiled and told the man, "Oh, I guess I'm tranced out looking at these shelf tags and trying to decide which item to buy." I thought he'd empathize or simply smile and walk away. No! To my great discomfort, the man became angry and accusing. "No!" he insisted. "You were frowning. I saw you!"

Oh, how many times--especially that particular time--I wanted to tell these smile cops what I really had to frown about. I wanted to scream out about the sexual abuse, violence and torture I had endured. Didn't I deserve to scowl for the rest of my life? How dare these people! I wasn't doing anything to bother them. Why couldn't they just leave me alone? I admit, at this point, I got pretty irate with this strange man. I looked him straight in the eye with what was now a definite glare of hatred on my face. "You know what?" I asked him. "It's none of your damned business!" That shut him up and gave me the chance to storm away. I was so upset about this bizarre interaction that I almost abandoned my shopping cart and left the store. I composed myself, however, and continued my shopping trip.

An encounter like this is something that I am sure fueled my long-held belief that I had "FREAK" stamped on my forehead. I am still convinced that predators of every type look for people who seem to advertise their victim status. This is one of the reasons why I decided, "No more!" No longer will I accept being a victim. Gone are the days that I am willing to be satisfied with simply being a survivor. I am now a thriver and I believe living well and thriving is the best protection and the best revenge.

If you are a survivor of abuse, you may be able to relate to the "freak tattoo." I think all survivors can have the tendency to isolate or hide. In the fourth stanza of my "A Day of Thriving" poem (located in the archives of my site's "Meditations" page) I state, "I don't isolate." This is a big change for me. On days when I'm thriving, I can use it as a barometer. On days when I'm feeling good about life and about myself--when I'm thriving--I can feel good about doing exactly what the poem says: "I go out and greet the day and others...With a smile!"

Don't smile because someone tells you to. Exercise some positive self-care, pampering and indulging in fun. Your smile will come out naturally. You'll feel good and you'll smile for the person who deserves it--you!

Copyright 2006 by Marj McCabe. All Rights Reserved.

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