By Guest Blogger Eileen Martin
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
Frog in Boiled Water Syndrome: A Slow Death of Self
Much like a blue light special at Kmart, I imagine my younger self having a flashing light targeting me as an easy victim for perpetrators. Feeling emotionally broken and so desperately wanting to be loved, I ran smack dab into my future husband at a basketball game at my high school where I was a cheerleader. He was almost 8 years older and quickly began promising me the world. He loved me, he said. I was beautiful, he said. I was smart, he said. He was almost 25. I was 17.
I quit college after my first semester to marry this man who promised me the moon and showered me with affection and gifts. He made me feel so good by saying all the right things and I was pretty sure at that time that no one else would ever want to marry me.
Two days after we got married we began our cross-country journey to our new home. It didn’t take very long to find out who I was really married to. We got caught driving in a major downpour and I asked him if we could please pull over because I was scared. I remember begging and pleading. He told me that if I didn’t shut up he would take me back home and leave me with my parents. He then told me they didn’t want me either. I believed him.
This was not the same man that courted me for 9 months.
I spent 25 years never quite knowing when the other shoe would drop. The reality is that some days he would make it clear that I was an object to be used and disposed of at his whim. There were also times where he would put me on a pedestal and shower me with niceties and affection. He was violent in both words and actions. I was punched, held hostage in my own bedroom and car, and threatened both in body and soul. I lived in a perpetual state of fear and confusion. I walked on egg shells and was always trying to figure out how to do or say something that would be “right.” I started losing my sense of self and any sense of safety in that cross-country car ride. I internalized his words and actions as being markers of my unworthiness as a human. Shame hung over me like a dark cloud and I felt untethered and uncertain as to who or what was safe.
Waiting to Exhale: The Untangling
Crazy, too sensitive, too moral, asexual: A few statements that he had on repeat to keep me second guessing myself. One day I googled “am I crazy” and began reading about emotional abuse. I couldn’t stop reading. Then a family member died and I flew to the funeral solo. It was there when I felt safe enough to call and set up my first counseling session. I had pleaded for years for us to go to couples counseling. He always said I was the one who needed counseling, not him. So I went. And so began the great untangling. The first step in a journey of a thousand miles. It has been one of the toughest, yet most rewarding challenges I have had to face: loving myself. Yes, maybe tougher than living in my abusive marriage. I became adept at that, knowing when to dodge and duck, and how to apologize so he felt satisfied that he had me right where he wanted me. Pain is a powerful motivator.
Leaving was hellish. His abusive behavior intensified and so did his “love and affection.” He was losing control of me. This is the most dangerous time for a victim of violence.
Counseling saved my life and let some light shine in. It was the first step forward in reclaiming a sense of who I really was, not what I had internalized for so long. Counseling provided a safe space to share some hard truths and to examine some old and unfair stories I had been believing about myself. Counseling helped me to exhale.
Thriving: Living with Meaning and Purpose
Eleven years later I have created a meaningful and purposeful life. I went back to school the summer after I left my marriage. My mission was to become a counselor so that I too could provide hope and empower others. I have accomplished this goal and the journey has continued to provide healing and growth opportunities for me. I am grateful for my counselor who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Now I can pay that forward in my own work with clients. I am getting married this summer to a man who is kind and supportive. I am experiencing a relationship where there is enough space for us to be individuals. That is powerful indeed.
Click here for guidance on what to do if you are in an abusive relationship.
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