NEBRASKA: As I pondered this blog there were several angles I could have approached it from. I could share my treacherous story of the actual abuse beginning with the emotional abuse, mental abuse and all the way up to the actual physical abuse.

I could have discussed how I got out. How I devised a five-year plan and then was given the gift of freedom after two years consisting of a lot of financial plotting and planning. How I figured out how much money I would need to live on my own without being financially dependent on him as he would have used it as a tool to control me.

I also could have spoken about my healing process. How even after 21 years of happiness in my current marriage I still feel the pangs of the emotional abuse. I could have spoken about my nervous breakdown and how I finally faced the truth of who I am and how I took ownership of my past in order to live in the present and enjoy each day for the gift it is. What I settled on is this:

Whenever I tell my story to someone I have a tendency to minimize it. I think of what I went through as a victim of domestic abuse as “nothing compared to what others went through”. I recall the first time I caught myself down playing it by saying to a friend “I didn’t get it like others have, I didn’t end up in the hospital nor did I ever feel it bad enough to call the cops.” My friend touched my hand and said “a hit is a hit, either way he still hit you.” It was at that point I started to truly analyze what I went through 23 years prior to this simple but profound statement.

Recently, I told my husband of 21 years about the feisty young girl I was prior to meeting my first husband. I shared instances of taking no shit from any man, I told him before I met my ex I spoke up and said what was on my mind. I had no fear of breaking up with a boyfriend if he did me wrong. It was then I realized the outspoken tiny-but-mighty girl had disappeared after the first “I do”. After 8 years in an incredibly unhappy marriage I had lost my voice. Even after another 23 memorable years in a beautiful relationship with my soulmate, my partner in life, my husband of 21 years, I realized I still had not gained my voice back.

My friend who previously participated in The Vagina Monologues asked if I was interested in reading for monologues. I immediately replied with a strong “absolutely!” I saw this as an opportunity to check the “play a part in a play onstage” off my bucket list and saw it as a way to be a voice for someone, little did I know the voice would be mine.

I immediately downloaded the e-book and audio book. I watched videos on YouTube and I selected three monologues I was interested in reading. On the first night of reading rehearsal the producer handed me “Crooked Braid”. I was sitting at a conference room table with 10-15 other enthusiastic, bright, beautiful women and I started to read the first few lines of “Crooked Braid” silently to myself.

The first few words, “He wanted to go out”, “you stay home”, “you have a baby”, all of those words brought back the memory of me sitting on the couch in our cheese box of a mobile home at the age of 19 with my 6 month old son as my abuser husband got ready to go out. “I won’t be home tonight” were his last words as he walked out the door. I knew he was going to be sleeping with the girl he was seeing. The pain of his words as he walked out the door was worse than being slapped in the face. That night I cried as if someone had died, the enormous feeling of emptiness was the worst feeling I had ever felt in my life. . . . I knew I had to read “Crooked Braid”.

“American Indian women residing on Indian reservations suffer domestic violence and physical assault at rates far exceeding women of other ethnicities and locations. A 2004 Department of Justice report estimates these assault rates to be as much as 50% higher than the next most victimized demographic.The Crooked Braid monologue was created after Eve Ensler interviewed women from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in my home state of South Dakota. “Crooked Braid” is the voice of many Native American women who have been victims of domestic abuse.

I am American Indian. I am an enrolled member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska. For me “Crooked Braid” became personal. I couldn’t allow it to become personal. Each time I read through the monologue I had to mentally prepare myself to allow the voice, my voice, become the voice of the Lakota winyan (Lakota woman), the UmoNhoN wau (Omaha woman) the voice of far too many American Indian women.

Each time I read through “Crooked Braid” I was the woman told to stay home by the man who was going to go out drinking and who knows what else. Like the woman in Crooked Braid I was the woman who was tossed around in a parking lot like a rag doll. I was the woman who quietly hated her husband and wished the worst wishes ever, who feared her son(s) would inherit the abuse as the victim and eventually the abuser.

During rehearsal I couldn’t help but cry while I read through the monologue. Until the day of my first reading in front of an audience I had no idea how I was going to get through it. On my drive to the theatre I could feel the nerves going crazy. Every car in front of me moved at a snail’s pace. It seemed as if the Gods were telling me to slow down. I stopped in the middle of a parking lot, looked at the clock, I had 45 minutes to get to the theatre which was less than a 10 minute drive away. I immediately took a deep breath and said to myself, “everything will be fine. This is your moment. Tonight your fears and reluctance will disappear for you are going to get on stage and say the words of “Crooked Braid” out loud and you are going to TAKE YOUR VOICE BACK! He is not here (my ex that is) and he can’t hurt you ever again. He’s a coward and you are so much stronger than him. The roads seemed to instantly clear and I made it to the theatre calm and ready.

Unfortunately my husband, who was out of town, couldn’t make my first reading. He arrived after I was finished. He felt bad for not being there to support me. When we got home I was high on the emotions and elated from the release. I told him “It wasn’t meant for you to be there tonight.” He said he would have wanted to help me through the words, he wanted to rescue me, but the words of Crooked Braid were meant for me to get through on my own, without him being there to rescue me. I had to take this step on my own, it was my step and my step alone, my step towards healing.

It’s astounding how the after effect of the trauma remains in your blood stream. Since my divorce there have been occasions when individuals have confronted me and tried to intimidate me. When I felt them trying to overpower me with their words or their look of disapproval I felt the same feeling I had when my ex-husband would take his stance of power and control over me. I would feel my blood rush, my heart pound and my mind would be working on overdrive trying to figure out how I was going to take flight. I can’t call my reaction instinctual but it is definitely a bittersweet learned behavior.

Presently, with each day that passes, with each lesson I learn I feel mentally stronger. I’ve learned to let things go, I’ve learned to pay attention to my instincts. I’ve grown into someone I never knew I could be. For me this amazing opportunity to be a part of The Vagina Monologues was far more than I could have ever imagined.

What do I hope for other survivors and victims? I hope and pray they find their voice. They need to find somewhere deep within themselves the strength to say stop. I pray they have the support system to help them find their way, their way to a safer future and when they are ready, find freedom through forgiveness.

Years ago I forgave my ex-husband for being the abusive beast he is, I had to in order for me to move forward. I forgave him but never forgot. I also forgave the girl he was sleeping with. I saw her a few years ago. She didn’t recognize me but I knew who she was. Once she passed me in the park I sat down and I cried those same hard tears I cried the night he spent with her and I let it all go. His existence in my life had long been over and it did nothing for me to hold onto the anger and hatred. She didn’t need to know about the forgiveness as I did this for me. My healing process has consisted of a lot of release so I could make room for my future.

Everyday I count my blessings. I am grateful I didn’t get beaten unrecognizable. I am grateful for my lessons in life, for my husband, for his ability to understand I needed the freedom to grow into me. I am blessed to have 5 sons and one step-son who know how to treat their woman with love and respect. I was able to find personal success and now I am able to use my own voice. I survived.

American Indian women are two times more likely to experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime. Another statement is domestic abuse can happen to anyone, men, women, children, elders. We each need to use our voices to protect those who are unable to protect themselves. We need to advocate for those who need someone on their side. We need to be the support system for those who require a little help. We need to continue to support organizations such as V-Day and make people aware of the person next to them for they may be going through the struggle of domestic abuse.

(Onna LeBeau is an enrolled member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and resides in South Dakota in the land of the Lakota.After performing the spotlight monologue Crooked Braid* in a 2016 production of The Vagina Monologues, Omaha Tribe member Onna Webster LeBeau wrote to V-Day to share her experience of participating in the play and performing the piece for an audience full of many strong women including many Native American women. Her blog is a reflection on her continued path of healing and strength.

(*Crooked Braid is a spotlight monologue that Eve wrote as part of the 2003 V-Day Spotlight on Native American and First Nations Women)