Can you tell us about your journey towards self love?
Becoming a mother has opened my eyes to the importance of self love. How can I ask my daughter Tay to love herself; every part of herself, if I can't do the same? Self love for me right now is acknowledging how my history of emotional abuse impacts my life and working to overcome it. I'm doing it for me and I'm doing it for Tay.
My upbringing was incredible. My parents reminded me I was loved and worthy of love every day. Things changed when I reached high school. I was happy, had a bunch of fun friends but somehow developed the underlying feeling that I wasn't worthy of love. I constantly compared myself to others and felt like I wasn't pretty or cool enough to have someone love me in the relationship sense.
After high school I met a guy. He was sweet, charming, gentle and kind. He loved me quickly and intensely. I remember feeling like "holy shit, I got a boyfriend". It meant everything to me. My best friend Becky told me from the beginning that she didn't like him. Even though I didn’t listen for a long time, she remained a solid support throughout.
Emotional abuse doesn't always happen from the get go. You don't meet someone and they hurt you straight away or else so many people wouldn't have been through this. For me, the abuse slowly crept in. At the beginning, I let down my walls and shared insecurities and fears and he did the same. Once the manipulation began he had so much ammo on me to bring me down whenever I attempted to be strong or to leave.
I found myself having to prove my love for him. When I spent time with friends, he would text non stop thinking I was cheating on him. Eventually I cut down that time to prove that I was faithful to him. He was extremely jealous of one my best guy friends and was sure he was in love with me. I spent less time with that friend to make him feel secure.
Then the abuse intensified. He would threaten suicide I would be running all over town to find him, save him and again prove my love. He would drive erratically; threatening to kill us both and I'd stay to de-escalate him and make sure he didn’t go through with anything. It got to the point that I was terrified to not be around him in case he hurt himself. I was so sure that I was the only one that could fix him and I carried that burden heavily.
He started breaking my possessions. Anything I cared about he would destroy. He spent a lot of time playing the victim and manipulating me into feeling sorry for him. He’d bring up something from his past, he’d cry, he’d beg me not to leave him. The cycles got so continuous that I just started to grow cold to it. I’d see the beginning of one of these cycles and just try and hurry through it until it got back to the part where everything was good again and we were in love and happy.
One day he came to my house and demanded sex. I refused and he shoved me to the ground, stole my car and drove it into a power pole. I called my friend and he came around right away. We locked all the doors and windows and sat in the dark house. Then Becky came home and sat with us. Sitting there with two friends who loved and cared for me unconditionally and made me feel safe really opened my eyes. That single act showed me I was worth more than this and that people that love you, treat you gently, with care and with respect.
I’ll be honest, it was hard to cut contact. I still believed I had to save him from himself and that was a difficult belief to break. I remember someone saying to me "because of who you are to him, you can't be the one to help him". I often repeated those words to myself whenever I thought about responding to texts or answering the calls that continued for the next year after the final break up.
The following two years after fully stopping contact were truly the most happiest, carefree times of my life. This is when I began the journey back to self-love, supported by people who truly love me. My friend Becky was nonjudgmental, caring and supportive whilst being totally straight up about what she thought about my relationship. Including a three page letter on why he couldn't come to Fiji with us, thanks Becky! Knowing she had my back the whole time made it so much easier to leave. I knew I wouldn't be alone having a friend like that.
Now I also have the language to describe what happened to me back then. I understand how a person acts when they’re traumatised. I know the cycles of abuse and how incredibly difficult it can be to leave a controlling relationship. And thanks to the MeToo movement and some honest friends; I know I’m not the only one that has been through this. All this new knowledge has helped me to be a lot more compassionate to myself.
What does self love mean to you?
Self-love means loving all of me - that includes the young Laura that went through all these things. It’s treating myself as I would a dear friend. Acknowledging that self-love is a journey that with work will reverse some of my old thoughts, patterns or behaviours.
It means being clear on what makes me happy and ensuring I prioritise these things. For me that’s having a laugh with good friends, surfing, having a glass of wine in the sun, hanging with family, spending time alone and planning adventures with my partner.
Without the basics of self love I can’t function properly. I’ve martyred myself in the past in order to save others and that only resulted in major burnout. To sustainably help others over a longer period of time I need to check in with myself and make sure I’m ok too.
Mirroring self love and confidence to Tay is hugely important too. I want us to give her the tools to be self assured and have a healthy mind.
Tell us what makes you proud of the woman you are today:
Today, I’ve stopped avoiding my past and am facing it head on. I’m still working on the shame part of it; but the fact that I’m working on it is huge. This is self-love.
I have a baby that loves me. She gets so excited to see me and we have a tonne of fun together. She’s teaching me so much about having joy over the little things in life.
I surround myself with really great friends that care about me a lot. I can be totally honest and vulnerable with them and they with me. I started a business and it is going really well. I started it myself; without anyone’s help and for me that has been huge for my confidence. I’m stoked with the way I’m juggling motherhood, being my own boss and maintaining my friendships.
What values are important to you when it comes to love?
I think my friend Becky showed me what it’s like to love someone within a friendship. You stick by them, speak truth and be there for them when they need you. We love a good heart to heart on the daily and encouragement from her means the world.
My parents showed me what love is in a family sense. They continued to love me when I ran from them and waited for me to come back with open arms. Sometimes you’ve got to love people through the tough stuff too. They’re incredible role models to me.
My partner has shown me the importance of a deep friendship as the foundation to love. Feeling safe is vital to me and I had to communicate a lot of my past to help him understand things that make me feel unsafe. He has been really responsive to those needs because that’s what people do when they love you.
A short chat with any of these people feels like home no matter where I am.
What does a healthy relationship look like to you?
My partner is confident and self assured. He loves me and trusts me; I don’t need to constantly prove it to him. We want the best for each other and are always encouraging each other when good opportunities pop up. We are understanding of each other - especially in the sleep deprived state of parenthood. We’re not afraid to be honest with each other and to say sorry when we need to say sorry. The most important thing for me though is that we have so much fun together. We are always laughing, planning adventures and dreaming of the future. I feel totally safe with this gentle, hilarious and kind man. He’s one of my best friends.
If you could give one piece of advice to our readers what would it be?
If you’re in a similar situation to this or have been through it - seek help. It took me ten years to admit that the things that happened to me actually happened. I’ve been amazed at my brain’s ability to lock things away and to live with the effects of trauma and its triggers in my life.
Part my healing journey has been to learn more about the dynamics of violence. Having the right language to describe what happened and how it got to that point has been vital.
At first just sharing with one person feels massive but after a while you’ll find courage and strength in sharing it with more. For me, the more I’ve shared it the less it has had a hold on me and the more I can move on with my life. The flow on from that has also been that others feel comfortable to share their stories with me. That’s the ultimate resolution for me; knowing that something positive comes from everything in life.