You Will Get Through This (Pinkie Promise)
If something happens enough, it becomes the norm, you don’t know any different. And of course, as a child, one has no idea what dysfunctional is. Safe to say, most of the significant people in my life were either narcissists or enablers. Each of them with their own particular nuance. My mum and granddad were the two positives of my childhood. I was eleven when just before Christmas, my granddad died in a car crash. His death devastated us all. But grief aside, he was the anchor, his departure broke an already fractured family unit.
All Violence Starts With Disrespect
Bastard. Liability. Fat. Burden. Ugly. Butch. Vain. Worthless. Selfish. Stupid. Swot. Nerd. Frigid. Slut. Tomboy. And so it goes….I was everything and I was nothing.
If asked, given the choice between words or a punch, I’d take the punch. However, you can’t have one without the other. Not only, but also. Surely, like water on a stone, over time, it’s the words that wear you down. The words they say make bruises that don’t fade away and people ask “why did you stay?”
It was mum’s youngest brother that kicked it off. I was five (he was ten) when it started. Whether it was a mean pinch, dead arm punch or a slap to the back of the head (man, I hated that the most). Not to mention, a push or a shove, with enough force to knock me over. Regardless, it would be brushed off as his way of showing me affection or that I was overreacting. He was adept at gaslighting, even as a boy; it was indeed his forte. The damage of such manipulation is something I still manage to this day.
Familial histrionics enabled his behaviour, but worst of all, it left him free to indulge in his favourite past time; Shaming me about my illegitimacy. He repeatedly pointed out I was a bastard because no man could want a child like me. Therefore, I grew up believing this was the truth of me. I was forty-three when I discovered it wasn’t. Then, after my granny’s death, he got everything. In among his empire, a box of photographs with a letter; passed from one conspirator to another, one addressed to me, from my father.
We Repeat What We Don’t Repair
When I met him, I didn’t find him that attractive, but I was so desperate for affirmation; it was no surprise I dated the first man who paid me any mind. But it was also no coincidence that I also attracted another abusive narcissist in my first formative relationship. He was twenty-one, I was a biddable, naive sixteen-year-old, one that couldn’t tell what wasn’t love. I thought he was the answer. He once compared me to a rescue dog, so glad of affection, that no matter how many times you beat it, it will always come back.
When I reflect, the psychological abuse started from the get-go. However, things didn’t ramp up until I went to Uni at 18. Up to that point, I was more interested in my horses than going out. I was studious and introverted, and he was the centre of my world. Until Uni, he’d had me all to himself, and when it changed, he didn’t like sharing.
Initially, it was subtle, almost imperceptible, but as I grew in confidence, so did the hostility and cruelty. Moreover, he could smell weaknesses like a predator. Of course, he’d offer this as his way of keeping me ‘grounded’, but it was because he revelled in my shame. A small town, where everybody knows everybody else’s business. Curtain twitchers, people that know the answer to the question before they ask it. But ask it anyway. At party’s, his friends or their parents, either way, I dreaded the scrutiny, and he enjoyed watching me squirm. To this day, I still struggle with social gatherings. Be in no doubt; psychological invalidation is one of the most lethal forms of abuse; it cripples you.
Regardless, the ‘first time’ was still a bolt from the blue. Nothing prepares you for the shock or the sheer visceral physicality of it. If it had been the only time, it would have been enough. But I was provocative and he was never sorry. Thus reinforcing my mindset, it must be my fault. His moods changed like Scottish weather, there was no way to manage it. Life was a cycle of eggshells and apologies.
Contrary to popular belief, abusers do not suffer from anger management problems. They manage their anger just fine. Whenever there are witnesses. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, he had everybody fooled. He threatened to kill me if I told anyone, but by the same token, convinced me if I did tell, nobody would give a shit. Over time he isolated me away from everyone. I lost family and most of my friends. Such was his control, I genuinely believed I was outcast.
However, and as incredulous as it sounds, it is possible to love someone who abuses you. At times he was the boyfriend I longed for, loving and attentive. But this was a tactic, only deployed when he sensed breaking point. The promise of change, dangled like a carrot. But sooner or later it would all start again, with me trapped down the rabbit-hole of false hope.
Shame is a Soul Eating Emotion
Truthfully, above everything, it was shame that kept me there so long. The stigma of illegitimacy was deeply ingrained. Lost in Hinterland, absolutely petrified, my family and friends would discover the truth of me. Shame is like damp, you can wash the stain away, but no matter how hard you scrub, you can’t quite get rid of the smell.
Recently, I had a conversation about him with my best friend, she said “you know, he always made my skin creep. I couldn’t understand what you saw in him.” Of course, she was right, and in that moment I felt the old familiar disgust at myself, the mortification enveloping me like a wet blanket.
Nature Never Did Betray The Heart That Loved Her
In the Spring of 92, I went to Canada to work, studying the environmental impact of traffic pollution on the Resident Orca’s of Puget Sound. For the first time in my life, I was free. My time there was liberating, and I met some truly wonderful, inspirational people and one guy in particular, Jim.
Jim was a happy, free-spirited dude, and it was instant, and until my husband, the only man to asking nothing of me. Apart from Jim, I’ve never been unfaithful, it’s not in my nature. But oddly for me, I never felt an ounce of guilt. He will never know what he did for me. I owe him a debt of gratitude I can never repay.
Friday Harbour was text-book idyllic, Mother Nature at her finest. My first encounter with the Orca’s was exhilarating. Kayaking out on the Sound one afternoon, the sun twinkling on the water like stars, J Pod came cruising. An adult male, J1 came alongside, his dorsal fin glistening as it sliced up through the water. A magnificent dorsal at 6 ft, towering over me as I sat level to him in kayak. Close enough to see the rainbow spray from his blow-hole. And as he slipped back under the water, in that moment, I felt all my troubles flow with him down into the liquid black.
Native Tribes People consider Orca to be their kin and forefathers reincarnated. I absolutely believe this, and from that day until forever, the Orca will always be my spirit animal. My time on the island not only changed my life, it saved it.
I Woke Up Different
I came back a very different person than the one that had left, and he knew it. In response, there was now a new, darker edge to him, and it was terrifying. Cornered, I began to fantasise about murdering him, to me it seemed my only escape. But he sensed my rebellion, and like two circling alpha’s, the dynamic shifted. Instinct whispered to me I was a survivor, it was either me or him. I was born to run, and it was time to get the hell out of Dodge.
Leaving is only the first step in recovering from an abuse relationship, and is far more complicated than people realise. One of the most dangerous times for a victim, when they are at-risk of being severely injured or killed, is when they try to leave. With something that destructive and toxic, the roots go deep. They don’t let go without a fight. In a moment of sheer stupidity, I returned only to collect the last of my belongings. As soon as I stepped into the house, I knew I’d made a grave mistake. He wasn’t supposed to be there. I thought ‘this is it, this is how I die.’ If it hadn’t been for an unexpected knock at the door, I don’t think I’d be writing this.
In the months after, I was stalked, threatened and harassed. He slandered me to anybody who would listen, and perversely, they took pity on him. Ironically, even though I’d left, the psychological abuse continued. I became scared of my shadow, constantly looking over my shoulder, living in a permanent state of fight or flight. It took me two injunctions and the threat of prison for him to finally do one.
Tell Your Story
Whilst people may have had their suspicions, it never came from me, because I told NO ONE. Bruises or a black eye passed off as horse-riding incident, and the ‘clumsy’ excuses made. Even after I met my husband, I told him the absolute minimum. It’s only in the last few years I’ve opened up to him, such is the legacy of shame.
Unfortunately, even though I’d escaped, I wasn’t free. Whilst I’d returned home, I was still alone, confined by my secret. Six months in and I had a nervous breakdown ( I was to learn I have PTSD) but that was just an inconvenience to the familial narcissists, and it was business as usual. I couldn’t break the spell, so, for the next twenty years, I pushed it all down and remained silent.
Because I had only partly acknowledged the physical aspect as abuse, I never connected the dots. Then two years ago, things changed. By accident, one day online, I came upon therapist Melanie Tonia Evansa Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Expert. Normally, I’m dubious of such things and view them with a cynical eye. But just like that first domino, it only takes one nudge for everything to fall into place. I’m not ashamed to admit, as soon as I’d finished reading the article, I wept.
‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the road less travelled by, And this has made all the difference’
So, I chose a new path and as a result, made the decision to go no contact and cut the last ties that bound me. I was sick and tired of walking down the middle, too frightened to choose my side. I knew putting myself first was a selfish act, but I had determined that I wouldn’t heal in the same environment that made me sick.
Hemingway wrote ‘we are all broken, that’s how the let gets in.’
That said, given my story, it amazes me that I have been happily married to an amazing man for twenty-one years. Asked if I had the luxury of foresight, would I choose this life again? Absolutely. Just like Andy Dufresne in the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption; I would wade through ten tonnes of shit, thousand times over if it meant I’d get to him. He restored my faith that a man can be kind, and he is the surest thing I’ve ever known. But my demons couldn’t relinquish, and for a long time, I’d question what he saw in me, overwhelmed, I couldn’t quite fathom it.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
But during therapy, I read of Post Traumatic Growth, and it all made sense. PTG: meaning one rises to a higher level of functioning after experiencing significant trauma. Essentially, the old adage of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It is where one develops a special kind of resilience, akin to having certain ‘super traits’. In particular, the ability to empathise and have compassion. Equally, the ability to take responsibility for my actions. So, after all these years it was empowering to discover, that being an empath and a survivor kinda makes me a super
“The thing that you are most afraid to write…..Write that.”
Dredging up the past is always tricky, but I know I’m on the right track, as it doesn’t feel like I’m picking the scab of old wounds anymore. It’s healed and become my history, and that’s all history is; scar tissue. Moreover, I write without malice and bear no ill will. Because I now understand the shortcomings of those who hurt me and forgive them. Besides, life is too short to bear grudges; grudges make you bitter. Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
Safe to say I’m still a work in progress, both my physical and mental health have suffered as a result. I still have off days and there will always be triggers. Fleeting memories, a particular song on the radio or hearing cruel words spoken. For sure, I still break out in a sweat when I get a waft of Fahrenheit. But then I remind myself that in spite of the trauma and dysfunction; I defied the odds.
Abuse; Silence its greatest ally. It takes an insurmountable amount of courage to not only leave an abusive relationship but to speak out. When I finally did, people would sympathise but behind their eyes, that hint of crippling scepticism. So, in writing this perhaps my words will help the cynics understand a little of the why? But most of all, it is my wish that in sharing my story, it will give others hope and to remind them that the soul is a stubborn thing. And that no matter what, to always keep their face to the sunshine.
We read to know we are not alone.