Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Spiral Staircase of Recovery

On January 28, it will be exactly one year since I broke up with narc. I thought I would feel really excited and ready to crack open the champagne when I finally reached this important milestone but instead, to my surprise, I have been increasingly missing aspects of him.

At first it was confusing, then frustrating, but now I’ve come to realize that recovery is not a straight line; it’s not a series of doors that automatically lock behind you when you pass through them.

Instead, the way I see it, recovery seems to be more like a spiral staircase.

When you first set foot on the staircase, fresh out of the breakup/discard, you work hard to lift yourself up, one small step at a time. Often you have to stop to rest, and sometimes you slip back a step or two before you manage to lift yourself up over those same steps again. Progress feels slow and hard, especially at first, while muscles that were never used before struggle to build up strength. You look up and the view is daunting, a seemingly neverending series of steps towering over you, but you know you can’t go back so you have no choice but to keep hauling yourself up.

Eventually, though, you gain enough distance between yourself and ground zero that you reach a level where you can start to enjoy a little bit of a view. At this point, because you now have some sense of the effort and discipline required in climbing the steps and you’ve built up some muscle strength, the climb starts to feel a little easier and a little more like a part of daily life instead of the monumental effort it once was.

staircaseThe days pass and gradually you pass one level after another –  3 months, 6 months, first birthday alone, first trip alone – and eventually you reach this level: Break-up Anniversary. I guess I had secretly hoped there would be an exit door here, where I’d finally reach the last step and would get to leave this staircase once and for all, but there isn’t.

Instead, I just get a different view.

Looking down, I still see the memories and the pain of it all but I no longer need to be afraid of it because I know there is nothing in the world that could get me to go back to ground zero – no text he could send, no unexpected phone call he could make that would convince me it’s worth it to have to start over. I’ve climbed enough steps to know I never want to climb them again, and that has taken away a lot of the power he once held over me.  That’s some pretty sweet and substantial progress.

Looking up, I can see there are still steps to climb. He still enters my mind every day, and occasional reminders of him still bring me that twinge of sadness that he turned out to be nothing more than a manufactured mirage; the good parts weren’t real, and the bad parts were more real than I could have ever imagined at the time. I suspect the steps I have yet to climb will have more and more to do with issues from childhood than to do with him and in a way that’s reassuring. I like the idea that the whole staircase isn’t all about him – he doesn’t get to have his name on all of the steps; it’s slowly transforming into a staircase of personal growth and self-discovery.

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about being at this point in the staircase, though, is the view. At this height, in addition to looking down and looking up, I can look out and see the larger landscape. I can see opportunity out there – opportunity to be able to trust again, to consider dating again, and to have days when he won’t cross my mind at all.  I remember in the darkness of the early days I never thought any of that would be possible, but now I can see so much possibility that it gives me hope.

So I’m going to be gentle with myself for missing him a bit these days, because it doesn’t matter if I look down once in a while; as long as I keep climbing the view will keep changing, and I really, really like the view.

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