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Today is exactly one year since I cut off contact with Narc. Yahoo!
A year ago I couldn’t even imagine being at this point. I was drowning in darkness and pain and utter confusion, reviewing every moment of my 4.5 year relationship within the context of NPD.
Looking at it from this side now, I thought I’d take a moment to highlight the ten things that were most helpful for me in getting through the last year, in the hopes that they may help someone who is just starting out on their journey of recovery.
1) Online Support. People in real life generally don’t understand NPD, people online understand it all too well. Wherever you ‘live’ online, build your support group. Survivors are everywhere – twitter, facebook, here, everywhere. Don’t be shy to reach out and write about whatever you’re going through – there is always someone there to listen and offer support.
2) Education. I spent countless hours reading about NPD, sociopathy, psychopathy, watching videos about it, reading other people’s stories – matching up all the information to my own experiences, analyzing his hoovering tactics to spot all the techniques I was reading about. Like they say, knowledge is power, and practice makes perfect. If we learn it and practice spotting it, we’ll stand a much better chance of avoiding falling into it again.
3) No Dating. In those early days, we are so hurt and confused and we want someone to make the pain go away, but the only way to really heal ourselves is to work through the pain. We don’t know who or how to trust, we need to slowly make sense of our lives, of our selves, and that will not happen with the distraction and added confusion of adding new people into the mix. Plus, narcs can sniff out vulnerability a mile away so dating before we’re ready just makes us easy targets for them (I believe). Take a break from dating for a while and focus on yourself.
4) Feel Your Feelings. So what to do with yourself when you’re sitting at home, not dating? Ride the waves of feelings – cry when you need to, for as long as you need to. There will be little rhyme or reason for when or why you cry, but you need to get all that accumulated pain out of your body. Grieve the lies, the loss of the relationship, the loss of your belief that the world is a good and safe place. Feel the anger, feel the hate, every feeling is OK. You have spent too long suppressing your feelings to try to keep the peace in your relationship, it’s time now for all those feelings to come out. It probably feels like they will never end, but they will.
5) Take Your Time. There is no formula for this, no timetable for recovery. Don’t let other people pressure you or guilt you into doing anything you don’t feel ready for – dating, hanging out with friends, acting like you’re ok. This is your life, not theirs, and you need to live it your way. Give yourself permission to do whatever you need to do to get through each day. I ignored some friends, I cut off others. The ones that really matter understood that I needed to go through this in my own way and they are here on the other side, telling me how proud they are of me. They’re not mad that I was a hermit for months. So take your time and do things your way for as long as you need to.
6) Exercise. Yes I know sometimes all you want to do is lie in bed and either starve yourself or eat crap and drink wine, but make sure that once in a while you force yourself to exercise. Endorphins are hugely helpful for your mood, and exercise is great for self-esteem. Even if all you can do is go for a walk, it will make a difference. I always say to myself, ‘something is better than nothing’ and it’s true. Every little thing you do to take good care of yourself makes a difference.
7) Journal (or blog). When a memory hits you hard, when a tidal wave of feelings starts to drown you, when you feel tempted to break No Contact – write about it. Sometimes you have a lot more to say than you feel you want to say in a facebook group or you can fit into a tweet. Get all those thoughts and feelings out of your head and heart by writing about them. The more you can get out from inside of you, the less you will carry forward, and that’s a good thing.
8) Investigate Your Past. This is going to get messy, you may want a therapist/counsellor for this. We need to understand why we accepted being in a relationship with an NPD for any amount of time. Why we chose to set our needs and feelings aside to keep the peace with him (or her), and loved and supported him (or her) at our own expense. We need to look at family of origin, at past relationships, and work through unresolved pain. They say if we don’t do that, we’ll keep repeating patterns, and given my history I’m inclined to believe them. Two books that I found helpful: Dr. Phil’s Self Matters and Dr. Karyl McBride’s Will I Ever Be Good Enough?
9) Trust Your Gut. As you analyze your whole relationship, you’ll start to realize you had lots of red flags early on and throughout the relationship. There were lots of times your gut was telling you something was not ok, and you set it aside to try to make things better with narc. The good news is, your gut is in perfect working order! Now you just need to start trusting it. Stop talking yourself out of it and making excuses for other people. If you trust your gut, you will naturally have better and stronger boundaries and reject unhealthy people even if you can’t put your finger on why you need to reject them. Your gut doesn’t need labels for things, it just knows “safe” or “unsafe” and ultimately that’s what really matters.
10) Tell Yourself “I Love You” – A Lot. We’re pretty good at being hard on ourselves, and we’ve heard a lot of not nice things said to us throughout the relationship (and probably throughout our lives). Let’s start changing the soundtrack. When you wake up, tell yourself “good morning, I love you”. When you do something well, or make a healthy choice for yourself, tell yourself “good job, I love you.” When you’re going to bed, whisper “sweet dreams, I love you.” Even if you don’t really feel it right now, the more you say it to yourself, the more you will start to really feel it on the inside. And besides, isn’t it way nicer to hear that than all the other self-critical stuff you say to yourself? You’re an awesome person and super lovable, so you may as well tell yourself so!
I hope this has been at least a little bit helpful. Somehow, day by day, things do get better and eventually you find yourself celebrating an anniversary you never thought would come.
I wish you all love and strength in your journeys. xo
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.
The 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.
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.
It’s true, breakups are hard, but anyone who is recovering from a relationship with a narcissist/sociopath (or other type of abuser) knows that this statement doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what we’re going through.
We’re not just heartbroken, we’re soul shattered. We’re not just sad, we’re completely lost. We’re not just grieving the loss of a partner, we’re grieving the loss of trust, hope, and the belief that people are fundamentally good.
We are stripped of every happy memory we thought we had as we slowly come to realize and accept that every moment was a calculated lie, a fabrication with the singular purpose of increasing our ‘loved one’s’ control over us.
When my best friend said to me on the weekend “yeah, breakups are hard,” I was stunned. It was such a trite, non-empathetic, borderline ignorant response to my telling her how much I still struggle some days. That one sentence confirmed for me that she just doesn’t get it.
I replied, “Yes, but this isn’t a regular breakup. This is so much more than just a breakup.”
I feel like we’ve had this conversation before, and I now give up. She is well-meaning, but she doesn’t understand and clearly never will.
One of the most frustrating things about recovering from narcissistic abuse is that people don’t really seem to be able to understand it unless they’ve lived it themselves. At best, they will try to offer sympathy and support but no matter how much they may love us and want the best for us, their failed attempts at empathy like “breakups are hard” are painfully minimizing and isolating in this recovery process.
I remember a therapist once asking me, “When did you realize your father was never going to be the father you wanted him to be?” She thought I would answer ‘When I was x years old.’ I answered, ‘Two weeks ago, in our last session’. She was surprised, then she laughed and said, “That’s cute.” I’m still learning.
I think that learning to really get through life on our own is part of the growth we experience in recovery – learning to love and comfort ourselves, and not rely too much on others to rebuild us. After all, isn’t that over-investment and reliance on others part of what made us vulnerable to the narc in the first place?
This weekend I finally learned that my best friend is never going to be the friend I want her to be, and maybe that’s actually a positive sign. I’m growing and healing. I’ve got this.
I’ve never really liked roller coasters. They make me nauseous and I hate that out-of-control feeling, trapped, bracing myself for an inevitable fall. For a brief while as a teenager, I was able to surrender to the experience and just allow my stomach to drop and enjoy the rides, but that ability disappeared after one fun-filled year and I’ve since given up on roller coasters completely.
Lately, I’ve had that awful, out of control, rush and drop feeling again. One day I’m peaceful and stable, the next day I’m crying uncontrollably all day long, and the next day I’m excited about my life and my future and feeling full of energy and possibilities.
I’d love to say that the good days come as a result of employing really effective coping strategies and taking awesome care of myself, but the truth is, I don’t really know how or why they happen. Sometimes I can pinpoint the root cause of an awful day to something specific — like learning something newly hurtful about narc, or feeling sorry for myself that the last of my single girlfriends are getting married, or even just good old fashioned PMS — but sometimes I just have no idea why a day becomes a bad day. All I can do is ride it out.
As I brace myself for what I suspect will be another stomach drop this weekend (visiting a friend’s cottage that narc and I visited together last year), I’m trying to rediscover that feeling of surrender that once allowed me to enjoy roller coasters… letting the ups and downs be what they will be, trusting that I am safe, knowing that – like all rides – this one also will eventually come to an end.
In fact, that seems to be the one good thing that is coming from this persistent seeming randomness of my emotions: it’s reminding me that eventually all things pass. While not so reassuring on the good days, it’s tremendously reassuring when I’m perched at the top of the cliff, heading for another free fall.