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.

Mining the Good

If I could go back in time and change history, I wouldn’t wish myself to have never met my narc. I would go back to before I met him, before even the previous relationship maybe, and take the time to get to know myself like I’ve been doing for the past 11 months.

I would have mustered up the courage to ride out difficult waves of feelings instead of seeking immediate shelter from them, so I might have learned sooner that, no matter what, I can soothe myself and be ok; I don’t need someone else to fix me.

I would have dared to ask other people for favors or help, like watching my pets for me while I’m away, so I could have realized sooner that I’m not a burden on others; as much as I’m willing to do helpful things for them, they’re willing to do them for me too. It’s ok to ask for and accept help.

I would have allowed myself to reject offers of friendship if they felt like they were draining more than they were replenishing in my life, so that I could actually live what I fundamentally believed to be true – that what matters is quality, not quantity.

I would have given myself the gift of being alone, and seen it as a gift instead of as shameful evidence of being unlovable. In spending time with myself, I would have learned how fun and joyful I am, and I would have fallen in love with myself instead of with people who mistreated me.

I think I spent the first few decades of my life just trying to survive in a world where I didn’t feel loved, and trying to manufacture the love as if it was something I could create if I just worked hard enough at making other people believe I was lovable even when I didn’t believe it myself.

I have come to learn there is truth in cliches. It’s true that you have to love yourself before you can love another, and love does have to come from within. I can see that now. And it’s also true that you have to trust your gut, whether you like what it’s telling you or not.

I am not glad about my time spent with narc; I would never wish that kind of pain and unhappiness on anyone. However, the lessons I have learned through this process are lessons I wouldn’t want to live the rest of my life without having learned. My life is so much richer as a result of them.

I think when bad things happen to us, we need to mine or create our own good to take from the bad, for the sake of our own well-being. For some of you who have survived abuse, it’s your children. You can look at their faces and feel their love and know that their existence in the world is something precious and wonderful you wouldn’t want to be without.

For me, the good that’s come of it is me, just plain old awesome me. I’m finally finding myself, and as much as I wish I could have done that in a way other than this abusive relationship, I don’t believe it would have happened any other way for me. I had always avoided pain before, but I think I had to live through the pain to get to this point. And I think this growth will help me be stronger and smarter next time I cross paths with someone manipulative or abusive.

So I’m grateful for the good I have been able to mine from this experience. I wish for every other survivor that you will find your good too, and that maybe you will fall in love with yourself, even just a little.

xo

The Power of Words

Words have power, even after their sounds have long dissipated in the air.

Recently, I saw a post on a Facebook group that prompted NPD survivors to share the favourite words and phrases their narcs used. Responses included “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” “That’s just your opinion,” “You can’t change the past,” and the perennial narc favourite “You’re crazy.”

Some were so familiar I could hear them in my ex’s voice, others were new and I was grateful I’d never heard them spoken to me.

This morning, at work, a disgruntled former client posted scathing posts on my organization’s Facebook page that ended with “Lame.” This is a word she used frequently when rules were enforced that she didn’t like. Once when I’d had to sit in on a mediation with her, she had used this word often. Every time she’d said it I had felt irritated, but I’d been so focused on the situation I didn’t give it much thought.

Until today.

Today, after being triggered by a movie last night, and after 9 months of No Contact,when I saw her comment ending with “Lame” I felt absolute rage toward her; rage that was disproportionate to what she had done, so I knew I was being triggered.

It’s all coming together.

“Lame” was one of my narc’s favourite ways of shutting me down. Whenever I was happy about something, he would call it (or me) lame. If I made a joke, he just replied “lame.” If I proposed an idea I was excited about, of course it was “lame.” Every ounce of confidence and happiness was drained out of me with a door-slamming, soul-deflating “lame.” Over and over and over again.

And today, after 9 months of healing and growing, that one single word still has this much power over me.

It reminds me to be careful with my words when I am speaking with others, and it also reminds me not to have any tolerance for people who aren’t careful with their words with me. We’re all old enough to know better – those who don’t can go learn it on their own time.

words

Certified Narc-Spotter

Even though I’m done with online dating, there is one small online dating site from which I haven’t bothered deleting my profile. Every once in a while I go back on to read messages that have been sent to me in order to practise my narc-spotting skills. After all, we know online dating sites are their favourite feeding ground so where better to hone our skills?

Today I went on after a long time and read the following message:

“So, how do I get you to say hi? Humor? Wit? Romance? gimme a hint, and I’ll do the rest”

Sure, DurhamChad. I’d be more than happy to train you upfront on how to best lovebomb me and pretend to be the man of my dreams.

But hey, maybe I’m being too hard on the guy. Let’s take a look at his profile to see if maybe he does a little better there:

“Never really know what to say here … Im a single dad with 3 amazing kids, I have joint custody 50/50.
Ask me whatever you wish I’m an open book… I’ll fill out more if I think of something funny n witty to throw in here :)”

Mr. Single Never Married has 3 amazing kids. Um, ok.

But isn’t it great that he’s an open book? It’s just too bad there are no words in his book because apparently in his quest for his future partner he can’t think of anything to say (conveniently leaving all his options open to move in whatever direction his unsuspecting prey should choose).

That’s a pretty familiar profile, wouldn’t you say? I remember my narc writing something similar in his last profile – not knowing what to say, wanting to say something funny, and coming back later to write more. Yeah right.

In the past, I gave guys the benefit of the doubt and a chance to explain their way out of little red flags that caught my eye. Not anymore.

To me, this dude is a perfect example of a narc fishing online. Buddy, you’re busted!

certified narc spotter

That’s Not Giddiness, It’s Fear

This morning I woke up to a message from narc’s female friend, who I haven’t been in contact with since February, asking if I’d like to get together for dinner or drinks.

When I saw her name pop up, my heart started racing, my body starting shaking, and I felt dizzy and panicked. It’s the same feeling I used to have every time I heard from narc after a period of separation.

At the time, I had thought that what I was feeling was excitement. I thought I was giddy and nervous to hear from him because I was so in love with him. And even though I had been in love before and knew what that head over heels, butterflies in the stomach feeling feels like, I convinced myself this was a different more passionate love and that was why I was shaking so hard that it was a struggle to even type a reply.

Now that I’m on the other side of things where I have a much clearer perspective, it’s obvious to me that this whole-body hyperarousal is and was my fight or flight response.  Every subconscious part of me was screaming out that I was in danger, and my body was activating every part of itself trying to pull me away to safety.

This reaction literally only ever happens in situations related to him, and now here it is again when I hear from his friend.

Our bodies are quite amazing, complex systems designed to survive. If we can learn to trust our guts then I believe our intuition can do an impressively reliable job of steering us clear of danger.

So, if you are still involved with your narc and you get this same physical response, or if you’re dating and your body is responding with shakes and anxiety instead of butterflies and heart expansion, please recognize that this is a sign to you that you are not safe. Heed the warning! Fight the urge to romanticize it or rationalize it, and walk away.

After all, your gut has only one agenda and that is to protect you. It has no ulterior motives, ever, and it deserves your trust more than any other human being ever will.

it's not love if you're afraid

———————————————————————————————-

Read more about trauma and the fight or flight response:

The Little Things

Looking back, it’s the little things narc did that still amaze me, the subtle ways he undermined me, destabilized me and tried to make me look crazy or controlling to others. At the time, I could feel in my gut that it was unacceptable and un-partnerlike behaviour, but it wasn’t until this healing and recovery period that I finally came to understand just how calculated and purposeful his behaviour was.

One night that keeps coming to mind was in the last month we were together. We had started talking about a trip to France for his friend’s wedding. Because the wedding was going to be not too far from the France-Spain border, he suggested we go to Spain first. I was ecstatic. Spain is on my bucket list, as is the La Tomatina festival which we would have been right on schedule for. While I had been hesitating to go on this trip with him, Spain sold me on the idea and I started to let myself become excited.

That week, on a Friday night as we were driving to a karaoke bar to meet up with a group of his friends, he suddenly started a fight saying that I was taking over the trip, and that I should be excited about his friend’s wedding instead of being excited about Spain. I was confused and defended myself that Spain was his idea, and I don’t even know this friend of his so how could I possibly be excited about her wedding, but of course he just became more insistent and angry. I told him it was like somebody offering someone a box of chocolates, and then getting mad at them for taking the chocolate. It made no sense.

By the time we arrived at the bar (a 15 minute drive), we were barely speaking. This set the stage for an evening of escalating little things to put me back in my place.

In his first attempt, he tried to make me look like I thought I was better than his friends. One of his friends had been telling the group about a weird phenomenon that had happened here in the cold winter. I had heard of it too, and nodded along. He looked at me and asked ‘Is she right?’ and asked me to explain it the way I understood it. So I said yes she was right, and explained the same thing using different words. He said, ‘that’s what she just said, why would you just repeat what she said?’ and then looked at all his friends as if I was ridiculous. I was dumbfounded. I responded, ‘Because you specifically asked me to explain it to you because apparently you didn’t understand it when she said it.’ I gave him a weird look, turned away and struck up a conversation with one of his friends instead.

A little while later, while he and his female friend were looking at their cell phones together, and everyone else was engaged in conversations with each other, I pulled out my cell phone and responded to a text. He immediately gave me a vicious look and mouthed “Stop that. Put it away.” I was confused and looked back at my phone. He kicked me under the table and angrily mouthed at me again to put my phone away. It made no sense to me. Why could everyone else be doing their own thing, but I was expected to just sit there and do nothing? I stayed on my phone for a little while longer just to make a point and then put it away. He was livid.

A few minutes later, we all got up to move to a different table. He and I arrived at the table first, and as I reached for the chair beside him he physically blocked me and said he didn’t want me sitting beside him. I asked why not, but he couldn’t give a reason so I sat beside him anyway, determined to win him over with my love that night (smh). Of course he proceeded to flirt with the girl who sat across from him while ignoring me, and then denied that he was flirting with her.

When he finally did decide to acknowledge me, it was by pretending he was going to hit me (he was not typically physically violent towards me, this was meant to appear as more of a play fighting thing… I think). As his hand came towards me, I grabbed his wrist and pushed it towards him instead, so he actually ended up punching himself in the face (lol!). Of course he didn’t think that was funny. He lashed out and scratched my face, drawing blood. Then he got mad at me, saying that I had punched him in the face. I just held onto the side of my face and tried not to cry. I couldn’t help thinking we were starting to become that obnoxious couple at the table.

I waited a minute or two, then went to the bathroom to clean up the scratch and try to collect my thoughts. When I came back, he was laughing with a pretty girl who had been siting on the other side of me, and then went up on stage to sing a song with her. Oh, how they laughed together. I couldn’t help feeling he was so full of hate for me and purposely trying to hurt me. He had never once asked me to go up with him, but he sure looked pleased as punch to be going up with her.

That was it. I was done. I silently endured the last 30 minutes, drove him home, walked into his house to grab my overnight bag, and walked out. Of course, he was mad about that because I was “abandoning” him, just like his mother. (blah blah blah)

We ended up still staying together for a few weeks after that before I finally ended it, once and for all. I’m pretty sure he only let me end it because his next one was finally ripe for the picking. A week after we broke up, she left her husband. Poor stupid girl.

When I think back on all the craziness over the years, this is one of the nights I keep coming back to. I was so worn down by this point that, despite all the little things he did that were actually huge red flags, I only had the strength to stay away for a couple of days before I slid right back in. It’s amazing how all our perceptions become so distorted over time when we’re subjected to constant abuse.

I’ve learned that so much of our process of healing and recovery is about self forgiveness. Yes, I wish I had cut him out of my life sooner, but at least I did it eventually. Thank goodness I did! In two days, it will be 8 months of freedom from all those little things he did, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not deeply grateful and happy to be free.

I know now that the little things with him were actually big things, really big things, and the little things in my life now – going to bed without a knot in my stomach, feeling proud of myself, dancing in my living room, kayaking alone on a quiet lake – those are the real treasures of life.

 

its-the-little-things-3

What Should I Do About Mother Dearest?

I have been pondering how to proceed with my relationship with my mother for many months (years?), so thought I’d put it out to you fabulous peeps to see if you have any advice. First, a little context.

My dad is definitely a narcissist, my mother I’m on the fence about. She’s very self-absorbed, and when I was growing up her abuse was primarily in the area of emotional incest and parental alienation. I was made to feel responsible for her feelings at all times, and constantly expected to show that I was on her side and against my father. I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t so. I also don’t remember ever feeling really loved. (However, I do remember constantly going to my mother as a young child asking, “Do you love me?”)

In my twenties, I went through a period of trying to be an awesome daughter, loving, understanding, supportive, whatever i thought it would take to build that Hollywood family I craved. In my mid-thirties, I started to become aware that I had grown up in an abusive home, and in the last year I’ve really come to learn about narcissism which has changed the way I see my parents.

My relationship with my father is ok now. I understand who/what he is and expect very little from him emotionally but, because he has been able to acknowledge the difficult childhood my sister and I were given, I feel able to move forward with him in some capacity, albeit with quite limited contact. (Easy to do since he lives on the other side of the world.)

My mother, on the other hand, isn’t open to the conversation of my childhood and instantly became defensive when I tried to bring it up a few years ago, and continues to be very self-centred in all her behaviours. She expresses an interest in what I’m doing only to gather enough information so she can brag to others. She always speaks at me or over me, and I’ve noticed that every time I’ve had an emotional fallout, she has immediately made it about herself and provided no emotional support whatsoever.

I understand that being married to my father would have been brutal, and that probably the emotional incest etc was her way of surviving in a very unhappy marriage. Part of me feels like after everything she’s been through in her life, I should be able to suck it up and spend a little time with her once in a while; after all, I don’t think she’s a bad person, I just think she’s a bit ignorant and incredibly self-absorbed. The other part of me thinks spending time with her now has no bearing on the past, so her past shouldn’t be part of my decision making process today.

For the last 8 months, I haven’t really spoken to her other than when I had to drive her to my niece’s birthday party in May, and even then I barely spoke to her in the car. I haven’t missed her in my life, and I have no desire to see her or want to be around her. She asked if she could stop by last week because she was going to be in the area, and I said no. 

As we’re heading into family gathering season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.), I feel I need to start planning ahead for how I’m going to handle this. I’ve already started thinking I’m going to bail on Thanksgiving which means she will spend it alone. (My sister bailed on most family gatherings years ago, leaving me last woman standing.) I can handle the guilt of that.

My quandary is this: should I try to look at this relationship as a further opportunity for personal growth and work at keeping her in my life because she’s my mother, or should I gradually this relationship erode as I’ve already been doing, recognizing that I don’t feel she actually adds anything positive to my life anyway? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and maybe how you’ve handled adult relationships with your selfish parent(s). If you’ve previously written a post about a similar kind of quandary, please include a link in your reply so I can pop over to read it.

Thanks!

 

mother