I get a lot of questions about how I found myself in an abusive marriage. How did I let it get there? In other words, how did I end up in the deep area of the water, completely isolated, and barely surviving. I came from a middle class, well respected family. Supportive, for the most part, and very close. I had always been independent minded and fairly outspoken. I was lacking in one particular area that isn’t that unusual for the age that I was. I had zero confidence in myself. I felt like my own worth was wrapped up in who wanted to be around me. That I had to be more than I was in order to be lovable and worthy. It’s like swimming in circles. You never really get anywhere, you only get depleted.
When I first met Joe I was 18, naive, and completely insecure. He was in the Army and home on leave. A mutual friend introduced us and there was an instant attraction. He was good looking, tall, funny, and had a deep voice and the best hands. His hands just looked strong. Little did I know how much I would fear those strong hands in later years. I was at a moment in life where I had just started college and came home from break to find out that my parents were divorcing. I was devastated. In looking back, I already felt like I was drowning. I was too unsure of myself to know that I could swim on my own.
Joe took me right to that beach. He was super attentive, romantic, and complimentary. I had rarely heard that I was beautiful and he poured out the compliments like rays of sun. I soaked it all in. It was within that first week of talking that the first cloud appeared. It was my first red flag. I missed it. I was in college and made the unfortunate choice to pick up smoking cigarettes. I knew it wasn’t good for me, but I had a bit of a rebellious streak and went about my business. When I first met Joe, he knew that I smoked and said on that first day he was used to it because his parents did. No big deal. After our first date and a few days of talking, that suddenly switched. He very seriously, with a forceful tone, looked at me and said, “It’s either me or cigarettes. Make your choice. I’m not putting up with it.” There it was, the cloud. The warning that a storm might be coming. Gone was the relaxed approval from the first day. Naively, I thought that he was cute and cigarettes weren’t that important anyway. I’ll choose him. He approved.
In that moment, I could have looked at that two ways. I could have seen it for the cloud that it was; a chance for him to test his level of control over me. Instead, I looked at it as a pleasant source of shade. After all, he said all of these wonderful things about me and was so attentive. Obviously, he was looking out for my well being, right? For me, I failed that first test. For him, I passed. That’s when we began to venture into the water. My journey was beginning and I was completely unaware of how little say I would have in how far I was taken into the deep water.