Warning: Some strong language and adult themes ahead!
Do you know the boiling frog story?
If a frog is placed in cold water and the heat is slowly turned up, the frog does not realize that it is in danger—until the water reaches the boiling point, and then it is too late for the frog.
I have been the frog in cold water, with the water slowly heating up.
I’m lucky. I got out before it reached the boiling point.
There is no way I am going back in.
Abuse is not always physical and it is not always obvious. Emotional abuse leaves scars that are silent and hidden.
My experience of verbal and emotional abuse left me feeling worthless and hopeless. My already low self-esteem diminished even further. I spent most days confused about what it was I had actually done wrong. I walked on eggshells, attempting to avoid tension and conflict. I tried to make sense of my relationship; I tried to fix myself. I put on a mask to navigate the outside world.
I retreated further into myself to avoid seeing my reality. I felt off-center. I no longer knew who I actually was.
My experience did not involve black eyes, broken bones or bruises, but what I did experience wounded me on the inside. Most of the damage lay with losing all sense of self.
Wounds have become scars. Occasionally, the scars still bleed.
They are a reminder to call on all I’ve learned since I walked out the door.
To bring myself back to center and trust in myself.
I am healing.
Not only from the years of being in a domestic violence relationship, but from my experiences since birth that led me to stay in such a toxic union for so many years. The experiences that led me to believe I was not worthy of love and respect.
My relationship did not begin with my being called a useless bitch, a fat lazy cow and a worthless piece of shit.
If that had been the case, I doubt I would have gone out with him.
He loved me. He whispered words that made me feel cherished and secure. Worthy. Worthiness based on his approval of me. Approval I had never given to myself.
I loved him. We laughed together; I felt comfortable and safe with him.
I did not listen to the quiet voices in my head—the sick butterflies in my body that quivered and tried to make me aware.
No. I was the tough one who proclaimed that if anyone ever hit me I would leave.
Except he never actually hit me.
Pushing someone isn’t hitting.
Besides, I pushed back.
I yelled back. I fought back.
The abuse crept in slowly and stealthily.
It was subtle.
I was in an abusive relationship and didn’t know it.
I was not aware of the depth of the trauma and damage I experienced until months and even years after I left.
My reasoning for all the fighting, for being so desperately unhappy?
“I wasn’t being abused, because I wasn’t being hit.”
My feelings were denied and minimized.
I was told it was all my fault.
I was told I was ungrateful for what was provided.
I was told I did not deserve affection and that I had to earn it.
I was told I did nothing all day.
I was told that I was the one destroying our relationship.
I was told I was useless. I was told I was useless. I was told I was useless.
Over and over and over and over.
And I stayed.
I believed him. I believed his version of truth.
I stopped fighting back.
I stopped pushing back.
I stopped calling him names.
I became numb to my experience.
Numb to stop the anxiety, despair and frustration I felt.
Depression was my protection.
There were days my body collapsed when I got out of bed. The physical pain in my feet and legs stopped me from walking. From supporting myself. From facing the day ahead.
I did not trust myself and my inner voice. I stopped listening to any whispers that remained.
I succumbed to what I believed I deserved.
I believed this was how I would live my life forever.
I did not plan to leave this relationship. In the months before I did leave, my thinking had slowly started to shift. There were moments of clarity. Moments of questioning.
I was in counseling, and I believe that this support was the pathway out of my confusion.
I also opened up to a couple of trusted people close to me. I revealed to them the reality of my relationship. Voicing my reality helped me to see it with more clarity.
I approached a women’s refuge for advice. I was fully expecting to be turned away. I thought, “I’m not one of those women who are hit.”
I was not turned away. These two women sat and listened to me. They spoke with me about what a domestic violence relationship was. I opened up even more that day. My thinking shifted again.
The facade was starting to crack.
I was using my voice, and I was being heard.
My new life began when I left my relationship. When I finally realized I was living with a man who—still to this day—believes he is entitled to exert power and control over me.
I can still be pulled out of my center and into his reality, but the majority of the time I live with my truth. I live with the knowledge of my own power and freedom.
It has taken every ounce of strength and courage within me to be able to look at myself and the role I played. And I did play a role. My low self-esteem, my lack of self-love, my belief that I did not deserve more than what I was receiving. It took honesty and authenticity to face myself. To bring my healing back to me. To change me. To love me.
I am proud to see my growth in the years since I left my relationship. I am able to recognize when I am being a victim.
I witness myself.
I have owned and taken responsibility for what is in my awareness.
I have learned to set boundaries.
I have learned I cannot always control what happens to me but I am in control of my reaction.
I acknowledge my darkness and my light.
I have discovered my worth.
I recognize my value.
I am compassionate with myself.
I give myself permission to get it wrong.
I forgive myself for the times I did not get it right.
I am learning to trust my truth, my inner voice, my intuition.
I honor my feelings and allow myself space to drop into what I feel.
I continue on my journey of healing.
Most of all, I continue on my journey of learning to love myself—all of me, including my shadows.
I am lucky. I did not become a frog in boiling water. I got out.
Many women don’t.
I hope that in sharing my experience I will give another woman the courage to trust her inner voice.
To question if she is living her reality, or another person’s.
To open up a pathway out of the confusion she feels every single day.
To find the freedom to be happy and live without a knot in her stomach every morning.
To find her voice and share her experiences.
The clarity to see that abuse does not always involve physical violence.
The right to live a life without abuse in any form.
I want you to know that you are worthy and you deserve to live your life without fear and confusion. You deserve respect, love and kindness.
Your voice matters. Your feelings matter. You matter.
To my Secret Tribe: How to Leave an Abusive Relationship.
Author: Lisa Ambrose
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Ajith U/Flickr // Simon Turkas/Flickr
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