Living in the Lion’s Den

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By: Christina Conoly

Image: Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash


“The lion is most handsome when looking for food.”

— Rumi


The moment I thought I was going to die was peaceful and still, in the midst of chaos and violence. My throat collapsed between his hands in what appeared to be satisfying ease. Like wringing out the warm sensation of a swollen washcloth after a hot bath, the air escaped from my lips luxuriously over his strong grip- without a sound or a source for replenishment.


Time: 4:06 PM CST


My eyes locked with his and began to close.


How I used to adore his brown eyes. In them, I once saw the telling affection of unconditional love, and a gaze from across the room that offered assurance and belonging.


In those fleeting moments where the world spun in slow motion, dragged beneath the weight of his body, pinned to our closet floor- I saw only the blackness of a lost and angry soul who was filled with hatred toward himself and anyone that got in his way.


“He was a killer, a thing that preyed, living on the things that lived, unaided, alone, by virtue of his own strength and prowess, surviving triumphantly in a hostile environment where only the strong survive.”

Jack London, The Call of the Wild


The closet was beautifully cluttered and unkempt. Each shoe that was out of order and every shirt that was out of place, revealed the level of comfort that comes from sharing a space with the person you intend to share a life with. It held the dress I carefully selected for the charity gala we attended with his colleagues; one I knew would make him proud to show me off in my new engagement ring; one I’d remember as what I wore when I met his mistress.


The closet held the Halloween costumes we picked out together to match for my best friend’s annual gathering; the party where he didn’t say a word; when he made us leave early, to close the night by hitting me across the face for the first time with his kids on the other side of the door.


The closet housed a leftover bag of plastic Easter eggs from the first Easter in our new home; the ones I’d excitedly purchased, in bulk, for my new stepchildren to hunt down that Sunday morning; the ones I’d stuffed with candy and coins by myself in our bedroom after begging him, to no avail, to help me.


That closet was our life, but in a single moment- it was our final death.


“…A lion is made up of lambs he’s digested…”

– Giorgos Seferis


How did I get here?


This is not what that three-year-old little girl (in a watermelon dress) dreamed Prince Charming would look like.


Yet, there I was.


Beneath him.


Losing consciousness by his very hands.


I finally admitted to myself, in that moment, that the man I loved was abusive. I was currently being, and had continuously been abused by him. In questioning myself over and over, it finally dawned on me that abuse (narcissistic abuse, particularly) doesn’t happen in one singular moment. It’s not something that is easy to leave.


How many more times could I try to leave?


“The truth is like a lion, you never have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.”

– St. Augustine


The biggest challenge of recognizing deception is accepting that everything you knew to be true is, in fact, not. It is deciding whether to remain in an uncomfortable comfort or to start over and accept being plain uncomfortable.  


What would you do if you were faced with the ultimate choice of ruining your own perception of reality, your own world, and your own life- for the sake of what others say is the real one?


Abuse is like the process of hard-boiling an egg. It is the slow death of a trusting soul, one degree at a time.


Abuse is hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in your new home and hoping the unpredictable Texas weather stays cool so you can wear a long sleeve shirt to cover the marks on your arms.


Abuse is the caveat to an insanity plea, the beginnings of a suicide note, and the agony of laughing as you blame your bruises on the dog while praying your family and friends believe you.


Abuse is loving a lie so completely that you have no idea how to deal with the facts when the lie is exposed, since it is all you’ve ever known.


Abuse is desperately needing someone to talk to but never telling a soul.


Abuse is deception.


Abuse is manipulation.


Abuse is lonely.


Abuse is the result of an open heart that is full of love and wrongly misused- held captive by a tyrant and a thief.


Abuse is death by a thousand cuts, seemingly small, but destined to cause total annihilation.


Abuse can be survived.


Time: 4:13 PM CST


He let me go.


The air returned to my lungs as he stormed out of the soundproof room.


I slunk toward the door and latched it shut.


I released what was left of my emotions in and overwhelming heave of sobs and disbelief.


Then, finding my resolve, I stood up. I wiped my tears, grabbed my suitcase, and began packing my things.


Time: 5:13 PM CST


I left him once and for all.


“The journey was brutal, the results were glorious.”

Bruce Lengeman, To Kill a Lion

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