I began to think I couldn’t survive without him. I didn’t know at the time that that was because every day with him was stealing a little more of my independence. The longer I was with him, the more I hated myself. The more I hated myself, the more I believed I didn’t deserve better than him, that all the abuse was my fault.
My sense of worth disappeared without a word. There was no goodbye from it, no sign that it had ever existed. I never noticed when it shut the door behind it. I believed I was the same woman I’d been when I met him. It was only after he’d thrown me away that I realised how very much of myself I had lost to his cruelty.
I told my friends boiling frog syndrome wouldn’t happen to me. I was too smart, too strong. One morning, someone showed me a tiny flash of empathy. That was when I realised how very far my standards of compassion had dropped. I felt as grateful for that friend’s kindness as I might have felt a year before if you had bought me a diamond. I was stunned that someone would care enough to listen so intently to how I felt. It was as though he had bought me the moon. He took my gratitude as enough of a sign of how far I had fallen, so he came to see me the next day as well. More friends followed.
BDSM makes life dangerous for a sub. You have to learn to tell the difference between a dominant who loves and a dominant who takes the role because they’re pathological. Personality disordered people are domineering, so it’s far too easy to land yourself in hot water.
As a boiling frog, you only notice how dangerous your situation is when it’s too late, and I had escaped being burned alive with very little intact. Sounds, smells, even times of day, took me all the way back to the days when he had torn my psyche apart with his cruelty. I had no idea emotional abuse could cause that much trauma, but it had.
With each visit, each email, each phone call from friends, I re-learned what ordinary human compassion looked like, what it felt like to be heard, to matter. It was like learning all over again how to write or speak. I began to see that my expectations of others had sunk so low that principled behaviour had started to surprise me.
I had forgotten what it felt like to be with people who always told the truth. I had forgotten what it felt like to be given something without seeing it added to a scorecard. I had forgotten what it felt like to be loved.
I’m not sure I could climb out of that kind of crisis in one piece again in my lifetime, but I’ve learned a little more how to spot empathy gaps in others. I will never again say “It can’t happen to me.” It can, and it did. A boiling frog doesn’t know a damn thing about water, but if we escape, we do get a little better at spotting people who have a preference for that kind of cuisine.