As a child, I imagined I must have been adopted……...
I crafted these beautiful intricate storylines in which I was magically swept into an impossibly beautiful, kingdom. There would be singing, dancing, all the food I could eat, and apologetic explanations of how you had somehow stolen me away.
This, to me, made sense.
At the time, the manifestations of your cruelty felt almost surreal. As a child yearning for genuine approval and affection, I didn’t – couldn’t – realize how dark and bizarrely twisted some types of love are.
After all, love isn’t supposed to be insidious, but the terrible truth is…. sometimes it is. It isn’t supposed to be angry, impatient, and riddled with potholes, loopholes, and conditions. But sometimes it is. And when it is, what is the solution?
Do any of you know what you would do in such a circumstance? Anyone?
Because you see, I don’t. I didn’t know then and I still don’t know now. But what I’ve learned is that I can survive. Yes, surviving is something that I can do. Surviving is a tool that has always been in my toolbox but lately, I have sharpened it, honed it, nurtured it, and held it up as a badge of honor. Emotional devastation, physical exhaustion, and spiritual ruin were all common states which just had to be endured, tolerated, and withstood until you tired of the amusement at my expense.
Ah! But really Moira I suppose I should thank you. Because were it not for those casual encounters of sheer unpredictable violence, I would not be the person I am today. I may not have learned to comfort myself through wandering stories of my own imagination. I may not have learned how strong I am. I may not have broken down the barriers that I have and built up the resistance to hatred and pain that I have.
Of course, I also might not have this anxiety, depression, and personality disorder but there’s no need to split hairs. Not now. The point is surviving you has been the start of my own personal victory. Learning to thrive, explore, and expand my boundaries are the next steps.
It has been exactly 7 months and 6 days since we last spoke. I know this because I saved the last text you sent me. I save all your texts. I miss you. What a strange thing to admit but I am a survivor and I believe that all survivors to an extent miss something about the person that made them who they are. Not that I know exactly who I am or who I’m supposed to be. But the person I was when I was with you - when we saw each other regularly, spoke to each other daily, poisoned each other secretly - wasn’t me. I know that now. It took so long but that fact has finally been firmly beaten into my brain. I wish I could have somehow avoided the actual beatings or figured out a method of circumventing the emotional wounds but maybe that’s what I needed for my consciousness to understand that your type of toxicity doesn’t blend with mine.
Yes, I too am toxic. Whether that is a learned behavior in response to your behaviors or something innate within myself, I recognize that I have many miles to walk before I am okay with the person I am. Indeed, I am deeply flawed and each day I must do what I can to understand my shortcomings and work to correct them. It’s okay to be flawed. It’s not okay to tear down others because of your own inner demonic turmoil. I wish I could find a way to tell you just how much these seven months and six days have forced me to wrestle with this fact.
I can’t. I won’t. Because weaning myself away has been (and continues to be) a horrible scary climb up a wrecked cliff in wicked darkness. People always say don’t look down when you’re up high. I imagine that would be even more true if you are clinging to jagged rocks in a tornado of chaos and fighting your way upwards through emotional debris. Don’t look down. More importantly, don’t go back. While I will look back on that time – while I will reflect, examine, cry, pray, write about it – I won’t go back to what led me here.
What I learned in the first month is that I shouldn’t do drugs. Because if the withdrawal from you is any indication, I would probably die if I got myself addicted to anything else. Neither crack nor heroin is in my future. I craved you, Moira. How I craved your love. You doled it out sparingly – a kind word here, a shared moment of amusement there – and I lapped up these scraps. Eagerly, hungrily, desperately – only to be rudely slapped back into reality when you tired of pretending love. Love shouldn’t be a pretense. It shouldn’t be something you shrug on like a fur coat on a blustery day only to discard when you find yourself suddenly in the tropics.
The second and third months taught me how to breathe. You would think this would be instinctual. After all, I came from your womb, breathing on my own. But life under your tender care ripped this simple skill away from me. I watched video after video, all focused on the act of drawing in and expelling air. I learned that breath shouldn’t be dependent on someone’s emotions, especially not someone outside of myself. Oh, the techniques. Breathe in through one nostril, blow out through the other. Breathe in through your nose. Blow out through your mouth. Count your breaths. Breathe in time to your heartbeat. Do you know how still you must be – how in touch with your body and your inner self – to match each breath to your heartbeat? Yeah………. before I found the strength to sever myself from you, I didn’t either.
The fourth month….to be honest, I don’t remember the fourth month. It was an alternate reality in which the only constants were helpless fury and empty desolation. What I do remember about these months is how normal everything else was. People got up and dressed, poured coffee, went to work, made dinner, made love, fought, laughed, engaged, interacted, and shared…… all as if I were not falling apart. All as if I were not learning to live a life minus trauma and doing my best to adapt to a life without the abuse that had been my reality. I hated those people and their happiness. How dare they be coping so well with life when I was stuck in a cycle of separating myself from the person who had ruthlessly broken me. How dare they appear so together when I was nothing more than lost puzzle pieces stuck haphazardly together to form an awkward and incomplete picture. The worst of it all was when people announced to me that they were tired or having a bad day.
“Really?” I would bob my head in sympathy but reply soundlessly with unvoiced evil and cutting words.
What did they know of being tired? Had they been up all night, obsessing over their failures, picking apart every sentence, every action, every moment in a fruitless effort to determine what had resulted in the cruelty I couldn’t seem to escape? Did they too hear the echoes of your screams and curses when I failed to please you?
Then my inner playback would rewind those thoughts and I would hear how horrid they sounded. No wonder your love had conditions. I truly was a selfish, disgusting, disappointing lump of a human, unable to summon compassion and caring, incapable of thinking how others felt. I hadn’t reached for a razor in years but to my shame, I took a blade in my hands. Without you there to punish me, lacking the sharp edge of your tongue, or the sting of your weapon, I had to return to punishing myself. I don’t have to wonder what you would have said. I already know my weaknesses would have served as kindling for the pyre you happily constructed for me to burn.
Moira, how twisted I became. How vicious against myself I was in my battle to become something different than I had been.
It is hard when you are a child of a narcissist.
No. Not hard.
It is lonely,
The fifth month blurred because to avoid feeling, I filled my days. Packed them full of stuff to do, places to be, things to try.
I taught myself embroidery, started a journal, went bar-hopping every weekend, downloaded a cookbook, tried a new Starbucks coffee every day, joined a gym, began training for a half marathon, and purchased some new clothes that I picked out myself. Maybe I looked ungainly with a nose that was too big, a face that wasn’t quite pretty, and a belly that bulged but they were my clothes and I loved them. And I started to understand that I could love myself in them.
I buried myself in work and earned a promotion. I entered a 5K and ran those three miles in 55 minutes. I ran as if you were behind me. I ran as if I had something to prove. Maybe I did. All I know is high fiving the other runners in celebration was utter jubilation and triumph. What a high.
Buoyed by this accomplishment and the shiny medal I received, I went home and dyed my hair. I shook out new pink locks and made a kissy face at myself. Maybe I wasn’t the poor stupid little useless fat girl. My reflection smiled at me and we high-fived each other in the mirror.
Then you texted me. At that very moment, my phone chimed with a text from you. I don’t remember what you said, some inconsequential thing, but I froze. My eyes widened and my reflection hunched. Terror seized my mind. You have done something wrong. You stupid useless failure. I hadn’t even picked up my phone to read what you’d said but my mind had immediately filled in the blanks. Instinctively I reached for a headwrap to hide my hair.
I forgot that I was in my own home at an address you don’t have, in an apartment in the back of the hugest building I could find, in a city I don’t ever identify by name or picture. How did you know that I was feeling okay at that moment? How did you know I wasn’t hearing your voice grating in my ears while looking in the mirror?
My therapist, found in the sixth month, told me this is how narcissists behave. They measure out love like cowrie shells for barter all while cloaking their ferocious sadism beneath a veneer of civility, even congeniality. That makes sense. Nobody who has met you ever believes my childhood. To be frank, if I hadn’t lived it, I wouldn’t believe it either. I wonder if we could have been fixed together if we had stuck with therapy when I was younger. I recall going once or twice. But maybe not. I think for therapy to work both parties must be held to a rigid standard of honesty. Neither of us were honest – you because that’s who you were - dishonest; me because I had to be. No reason to invite a punishment by saying something I wasn’t supposed to. Punishments were frequent enough even without just cause.
I think of you often. You text me, DM me, email me. If you’re wondering, yes Moira I do read your messages. The hate-filled ones. The sweet ones. The accusing ones. The ones filled with the fake compliments and mocking praise. I just don’t respond. I can’t. You see, that rigid honesty I mentioned? I have begun practicing it or attempting too as best I can daily. I am not always as truthful with myself as I should be, but I have begun to identify my own problematic behaviors, recognize my triggers, and even come to terms with the roles that I played in our sorry tragedy. But you don’t want to let go of this narrative where you were the hero and I the bad daughter, the worthless child, the disappointing failure.
You are naturally allowed to think whatever you want – freedom of speech and all that. But I am empowered enough as a survivor to know that I have to let that go. I’m sorry. I have to. I wish you could too.
If I had even an inkling that you could - that you would - I would......Well. I guess it doesn't matter what I would do because I don't see that happening. All the many things that would need to happen..... I just don't see them coming to fruition.
I muted you last night in a fit of rage. Blinded by tears, drowning in sorrow for all that this wasn’t and never would be, I stabbed at the mute button. I hesitated over the unfollow and block buttons, but my finger refused to move when I tried selecting that option. I can’t make myself block you. Not yet at least. Stubbornly, pointlessly, I cling to this connection, whatever it is, however it may be defined.
I said I am surviving; not that I am doing it well.
I said that I am learning; not that I am learning quickly.
One day, I hope you figure out what love is. Because it's beautiful. It's powerful. It's validating and reassuring and warm. I believe we all deserve it. One day, I hope I quiet the chaos, uncertainty, and traumatic terror that swirls in my soul. Because though I have learned to operate, function, and survive through my anxiety and depression disorders, I am exhausted. Daily, I am so so exhausted.
One day, I hope you are able to understand love is not just taking. It is also giving but freely and unconditionally. One day, I hope I don’t flinch at the sound of a door slamming, a raised voice, or someone’s sudden movements. One day. One day.
I don’t think we will talk again. As time passes, I am becoming more accustomed to that fact, to that almost certain reality.
I am a survivor.
I have survived the past 7 months and six days. One day I will stop counting. And on that day, I will be free.
Narcissistic personality disorder is a real personality disorder. Although it can present in different ways to different people, many of the behaviors manifest very similarly and can be quite harmful to those victimized. We all choose to heal in different ways but if you or someone you know is going through trauma or a traumatic situation, I encourage you to Please Please reach out and seek counseling or other services. There is help out there. Help that you deserve and help that you are worthy of.
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