Some years ago I remember hearing Al Gore speaking about the environment and our role as humans in its slow destruction.
He used an analogy of a frog being boiled to death. He said that if someone were to throw a frog into a pot of boiling water it would jump out immediately.
Of course it would.
It is the frog’s instinct to protect itself. If someone were to place a frog in a pot of shallow, lukewarm water, however, and slowly heat up the water to a boiling point the frog would remain in the water until its demise. It would allow itself to be boiled to death, unbeknownst to the frog.
Sound gruesome? It is. But this story strikes a very loud chord.
I doubt anyone plans to enter into an abusive relationship. I am guessing that if you were to poll 100 people that have experienced abuse of some kind in their lives, at least 99 of them would tell you they didn’t see it coming. Maybe there were signs—red flags if you will—that were noticed in the aftermath. But most likely, the person who has been through any type of abuse was sitting in a shallow pot of warm water, being slowly boiled.
I had visions of what a marriage should be, and looking back I never had those images of what a healthy relationship was become reality—ever. It wasn’t that he was mean, it was more neglectful. At least it was in the beginning. I was never a priority in any shape or form and while I felt this, I had a streak of stubbornness running through my veins and I shook those feelings off and claimed I was independent. I didn’t need validation. I didn’t need courtesy.
It was all good.
As time wore on, the gap of giving and receiving widened. I gave. And I gave. And I gave. But it was never enough and I was constantly reminded of this.
And this hurt me so much because I just wanted him to be happy—so much that I thought if I could make him happy, then I would be happy too.
Out of the blue (or maybe not quite completely out of the blue) he entered the picture. The whole thing seemed to come from nowhere—like a puff of smoke that seeps into your nose and stings your eyes and sometimes even burns your lungs just a little—yet looking back I can see that it didn’t.
I was so vulnerable.
I was tired, run down, unappreciated and being torn apart with words almost everyday.
This new person showered me with attention. And in my fallen state, I gulped every last bit of it up. I opened my eyes to the years of hurt and the years of neglect and began grieving this loss of that younger me that entered so willingly into an unhappy marriage. He said all the right things and he listened when I talked.
And I began to feel a shift. The scales began to tip more and more—me moving away from the crumbling marriage and toward this…relationship.
My husband sensed it. He noticed my need for approval fading and he pressed to figure out what was happening. The harder he tightened the reins, the more I pulled back. This pushing and pulling went on and on and escalated more and more. I no longer recognized myself in the mirror, nor did I recognize him. Our eyes had become sullen and dark, like faded and yellowing pictures from an old photo album. We were ghosts of the people we were, floating around in a boiling pot that was ready to blow.
We began arguing about everything.
I couldn’t leave the house without an explanation. If I spent longer somewhere, he wanted to know why. If I went to a store and returned without something, he gave me the third degree. I found myself making excuses for no reason, defending simple acts.
But something else—something behind the scenes—was slowly beginning to happen.
This person that I leaned on for support suggested that maybe I should not sleep in the same bed as my husband anymore. He said it was for his own good, because he was so neglectful after all. It seemed an odd request, yet in a way made some sense.
And I listened.
He helped me set up social media accounts and he had my password. He gave me his too, because he wanted me to “trust”him. I felt important. And trusted. And loved.
He helped me set up a new bank account so that I could have financial freedom and even deposited some money into it for me. He knew all of my account information and balance at all times and how wonderful it was that someone worried about my finances.
When my marriage had been strained past the point of fixing, I left. He helped me find a new place to live and made sure he had a key too (just in case). I felt so cared for and protected that someone wanted to be sure they had access to my house if needed.
Yet there were small things—little things—like splinters in the skin that rub and poke and always seem to be there yet are unable to be seen. There were the times he would get upset with me if I finished eating before him. He wouldn’t yell, of course, but would joke and tease and make me feel kind of stupid for scarfing down my food. There were the times he would get angry when I would walk ahead of him. Why was I in such a hurry? Didn’t I have the courtesy to wait? How rude I was being—how unkind.
This felt horrible because I never wanted to be unkind. I would apologize. I would walk slower.
And then there was the questioning. Who was this guy I friended on social media? Was he an old boyfriend? Did I have sex with him in the past? The taunts would go on and on until I was near tears. I avoided friending men so as not to upset him. I ignored messages from men and sometimes women that appeared to be too supportive of me and if they did message me, I would often delete them before he saw them.
When former friends suggested meeting for lunch with me, he became irritated. Why did I want to spend time with them and not him? When I finally did make a lunch date with an old girlfriend of mine, he texted relentlessly during the lunch and became angry afterward for taking so long. Again I apologized, feeling tremendous guilt for taking the time with my friend and avoided chatting with her in the future.
The pressure grew and grew, the water became hotter and hotter, and yet I sat unmoving, as I was being boiled.
I can’t tell you what happened exactly. I can’t give an exact point where things began to tip, but somehow I started listening to my heart. The warning bells began clanging a little louder and my gut started surging at some of the comments he made.
I began to pull away. I changed some of my passwords. I remember the drive after I had done it so clearly. Sitting in his car, hands soaked with sweat, my fingers shifted around in my lap as he pressed to find out why I would do such a thing. What was I hiding? Why didn’t I allow him access anymore? Why had I no longer trusted him. He huffed and he sighed and I sunk lower and lower in the passenger seat. My heart pounded fast and heavy as he drove faster.
Each act of independence was met with frustration and anger. He threatened suicide. One night, in confusion and worry I tried calling him and he didn’t respond. My mind raced as I began thinking he would do it—that he would go through with it. The guilt overwhelmed me and I got in my car to look for him. Driving all around aimlessly—hopelessly—I realized there was no way I could find him. Returning home in sobs and tears I collapsed onto the floor.I felt like this was all my fault.
But he didn’t kill himself.
It was then that I started to see the manipulation. I started to see how easily my actions could be changed and shifted with just a flip of a switch from him.
Little by little, I disentangled myself. One thread by one thread, one word by one word, one choice at a time, I slowly made a break for my freedom.
There are things that still haunt me, today. There are thoughts that seem to bounce around in my mind—questions as to how I got to this place of being so controlled. Doubts about my lack of self preservation. These pictures and memories haunt my dreams at night and the quiet blocks of time when I am left to my own mind.
I told someone that as it was happening I didn’t see it, but when I wrote down all of the things in one place and stood back to see the whole picture I was horrified.
I have heard that our memories are not always exact and we sometimes skew the things that happen to us, like one of those mirrors that bend and distort your reflection. I know this and have gone over and over the things that were said and done. I don’t have a clear answer. I don’t have a perfect statement to make. I only have the things I documented to remind myself that I wasn’t crazy. The picture I took of his email he received from the mobile spy software. The notes I made on my phone of some of the comments he made.
And there was more—too much to go into. There are so many stories that sometimes I wonder if they really happened. Or maybe they happened to someone else—a person far away. Maybe they happened to someone so distant and small that she has faded away into nothing.
But that is not the point of this story. The point is, that it happened so slowly, so quietly that I just didn’t see it coming. But one day, I did. I felt the water boiling and I finally jumped out.
And you can too.
One small step at a time.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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