Marielle Krogh starts out our interview by saying, “My story is probably going to sound pretty unbelievable, but it’s the truth.”
I don’t want to tell her that in six years of reporting on survivors of domestic violence, after hearing hundreds of soul-wrenching, courageous, unbelievable-but-entirely-plausible stories, I’ve probably heard some version of her story before.
And then she tells it. And I get what she’s saying.
Krogh met her husband when she was 19. She uses phrases like “a whirlwind” and “too fast” to describe the start of the relationship, which, in hindsight, screams abusive red flag. They married at 22 and, after one short month of normalcy, her new husband began to use intimidation and belittling to control his new wife.
It started out with nitpicking—questioning Krogh’s every move, berating her over her choice to buy a pack of gum. She felt monitored at every turn. And then the isolation began. “There was this insinuation of outsiders, that they couldn’t be trusted,” Krogh says. He’d tell her, it’s us against the world.
And then there were the acts of intimidation, like attempting to suffocate Krogh’s dog. “We ended up putting him to sleep because he had such horrible PTSD,” she says. “He was in panic mode nonstop. He would try to jump through windows.”
Krogh’s abusive husband also sexually assaulted Krogh on an almost-daily basis. But Krogh wasn’t exactly “there” for that part. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Her Brain Tried to Protect Her
Some part of Krogh always knew she would be a target for this type of man. She was raised in an extremely abusive family. Her violent and abusive father tormented both her and her mother.
“She had never been able to leave,” says Krogh of her mom.
As for the types of abuse Krogh endured, she only says she was “directly abused, every form” beginning as far back as she can remember—age four, maybe earlier. An uncle raped her at 14. Somewhere during childhood, her mind decided it couldn’t take it anymore and it split. She didn’t realize it then. In fact, Krogh didn’t realize it until less than a year ago, at the age of 36, with the help of a psychotherapist and a type of therapy called integration: Her brain had split into over 100 personalities. She was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. DomesticShelters.org received confirmation of Krogh’s diagnosis from her doctor.
“I was completely blown away. My body and mind went through so much trauma that it wasn’t until I got to a safe place … [that she found out]. This entire time, all these different parts had been talking to [my therapist],” says Krogh.
Through therapy, the psychotherapist was able to identify dissociated voices coming from Krogh, all telling different parts of her story. Each voice has its own name, its own way of speaking, a distinct handwriting. Each, says Krogh, has their own history and perception of events. Some were children. Krogh says her therapist helped her to hear the different voices and process and accept that they were actually all parts of Krogh.
“Once I heard that … I started regaining the memories that were once separated from me.” She describes it as almost a “flickering in and out of the present.” She knew it was happening, but didn’t feel the full weight of the trauma at the time, a way, she believes, for her mind to keep her from giving up, an integral part of how both she and her daughter are still alive.
Trapped and Isolated
Krogh’s daughter, Beth, was born in 2007 when Krogh was 24. The couple lived in Stanislaus County, Calif., an area with a population of just over 10,000. They rented a home from Krogh’s mother and still-abusive father, who lived just around the corner. Krogh begged her husband to get further away, but her husband just taunted her: We’re not leaving and you’re not going anywhere.
From her daughter’s point of view, there was no realization of her mother’s split personalities. Krogh’s “alters,” as she calls them—all answered to “mommy.”
“In order to protect me,” Krogh explains.
Krogh’s husband was jealous of the attention his wife bestowed on their child from day one. To terrify his wife, he would take Beth and leave the house for hours at a time, refusing to answer his phone or tell Krogh where they were or when they’d return. He’d do the same at public places, too, like a park, leaving Krogh to wonder if this was it—would she ever see her young daughter again? Time after time, he’d terrorize her by kidnapping his own child, says Krogh.
At the same time, he’d tell Krogh, “I just want to let you know that if anyone tries to take my kid, I’m going to make them pay.” Krogh knew she was trapped indefinitely.
Krogh’s husband’s abuse took a more sinister turn after that: He began to control the food Krogh and her daughter were allowed to have. In essence, he began to slowly starve them through psychological control. Krogh told DomesticShelters this side of her story in 2017, under a pseudonym, when she was still going through custody proceedings.
It’s Time to Go
When Krogh got down to 92 lbs. she was covered in bruises and could hardly walk. Beth was 8. In order to care for her daughter, she’d crawl on her hands and knees. She knew it was time—either they escape now or they will both die. She turned to the only support she had: Google. DomesicShelters.org was one of the sites that popped up. Krogh calls what she found “a blueprint for leaving.”
“Here was the explanation of some of the things I was going through, and all these other people were going through them. I realized, okay, so this isn’t a reflection of my self-worth. And if they can get out, so can I.”
She began to pack boxes. She planned on leaving in the early morning, as soon as her husband left for his job. But the combination of malnutrition and stress was too much—that morning, she collapsed face-first onto the kitchen floor. This is when she says an alter, named Dagger, picked her up and dragged her body to the back of the house where her 7-year-old daughter was, telling her to call 911. Paramedics showed up and loaded her in an ambulance, but told her that her daughter couldn’t ride with them. Someone would need to come get her. The only person she could call was her abusive husband’s mother.
In the hospital, a staffer informed her that her husband was on his way. Krogh says she panicked. She called the only girlfriend she had in town and begged her to go get her daughter and hide until Krogh could get out of the hospital. Within days, Krogh and her daughter were at a domestic violence shelter.
Krogh’s mother, who until that moment had no idea of the peril Krogh was in, and who had also recently escaped her abusive husband after 25 years, made her daughter promise: Never go back to that house again. Krogh swore she wouldn’t.
It’s been four years now and Krogh’s body and mind are slowly recovering from the trauma. Her identity disorder diagnosis, she says, was a double-edged sword. It saved her life, but bringing it to light also means reliving all the parts of trauma that her brain helped her to block out for so many years.
Unfortunately, her story is far from over. Krogh’s husband was never charged with domestic abuse, child neglect or child endangerment despite medical records showing Beth was diagnosed with failure to thrive, when a child has slow physical growth due to any number of conditions, including neglect or trauma; and PTSD. In fact, the custody court judge declared Krogh and her advocate, Barry Goldstein, a DomesticShelters.org expert advisor, had “piled on evidence to substantiate domestic violence,” says Krogh, and determined he was not going to rule a finding of abuse.
“We had too much evidence,” she says. The judge ruled for split custody of Beth.
For a while, Krogh went into hiding with her daughter, who began having panic attacks at the thought of returning to her father’s house. Then, Krogh considered returning with Beth to her abusive husband.
“If he’s going to kill her, at least she won’t have to die alone,” says Krogh. She recalls Goldstein telling her, “If you go back, you’ll both die.”
Eventually, Krogh had to allow the abuser to see his daughter. She claims he alternates spoiling her with extravagant gifts—much like he did for Krogh when they first met—while continuing to control her food. After a recent hospital stay, doctors prescribed Krogh's daughter nutritional protein powders for bone growth but Krogh says her ex convinced their daughter she didn't need it anymore.
The first time their daughter was hospitalized two years ago, Krogh says her ex and his family allowed her daughter to swim at the family cabin the day after her release, ignoring strict bedrest rules from the doctor. Krogh also says her ex gave her daughter smoothies made from soda and strawberries while encouraging vigorous exercise, causing her daughter's weight to begin to dip back down.
But swimming laps and giving soda to a child isn’t breaking any laws. Her ex knows this. Abusers know this. So Krogh has only one other option: Speak up. She’s currently working on a memoir, or rather a series of memoirs she's titled, The Guardian’s Daughters. There is so much to tell, she says.
“My strategy for protecting my daughter is releasing this book.” She hopes someone will listen.
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