Surviving Domestic and Narcissistic Abuse
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?”
All Violence Starts With Disrespect
As a child, one has no idea what dysfunctional is. If something happens enough, it becomes the norm. Most of the significant people in my life were either narcissists or enablers, each of them with their own particular nuance. My Granda was the exception. I was eleven when just before Christmas, my Granda died in a car crash. It devastated us all. But he was my anchor and when he died his death cast me adrift.
Words that leave a welt…Bastard. Liability. Fat. Illegitimate. Piggy. Ugly. Worthless. Half-Caste. Selfish. Stupid. Swot. Freak. Nerd. Frigid. Slut. Butch..I was everything and I was nothing.
I was five and I feared him. Consciously cruel – he was a soul vacuum. His presence enough to make me compress. 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 I’d have to say sorry, and he’d smirk. And sometimes depending on how cruel his mood, he’d disapprove of the way I apologised; it could be months before I got it right. Coercive control; even as a boy he was adept.
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 such as me. Therefore, I grew up believing this lie was the truth of me. I was forty-three when I discovered it wasn’t. After my granny’s death, he got everything. In among his empire, a box of photographs with a letter – addressed to me from my father.
We Repeat What We Don’t Repair
When I met the ex, 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 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 he offered 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 then, he’d had me all to himself, and when that 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 really, he just 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 parties, his friends or their parents, either way, I dreaded the scrutiny. Of course, he knew this. It was a head-fuck, a metaphoric fistful of hair. To this day, I still struggle with social gatherings. Be in no doubt, psychological abuse 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 Svengali, 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 – his hand always hovering over the life-support. 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. I desperately wanted out but at the same time was petrified family and friends would discover the the truth of me. I thought of asking for help – so many times. But then I’d imagine disappointed faces and the humiliation would choke me into silence. Shame is like damp, you can wash away the stain, 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 suffocating 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 Orcas of Puget Sound. From the minute I stepped off the ferry and on to the jetty, it was clear Mother Nature was waiting for me. Friday Harbour welcomed me with open arms.
A place full of fresh minds and warm people. He was uncomplicated and unlike anyone I’d ever known, it was instant; and I didn’t hesitate. It was unconditional, even the sex. He gave without expectation, and until my husband, the only man to asking nothing of me. He will never know what he did for me. I owe him a debt of gratitude I can never repay.
My first encounter with the Orcas was a once in a lifetime. Kayaking out on the Sound one afternoon, the sun glinting off the water like stars, J Pod came cruising. An adult male, J1 came alongside, his dorsal fin sharp 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 meet his eye. And as he slipped back down under the water; my troubles absolved into 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 different person, and he knew it. In response, there was now a new, darker edge to him. Cornered, I began to fantasise about murdering him, to me it seemed my only escape. But he sensed my rebellion, and like two circling alphas’, the dynamic shifted. Instinct whispered to me I’d given enough, and that by fuck he wasn’t going to take any more. It was time to get the hell out of Dodge.
Leaving is only the first step in recovery though, and is far more complicated than people realise. One of the most dangerous times for a victim; when they are most-at-risk of being severely injured or killed; is when they try to leave an abusive relationship. 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.’ However, an animal is most dangerous when cornered. So in that instant I decided to give as good as I got. But if it hadn’t been for an unexpected knock at the door, I still don’t think I’d be writing this.
In the months after, I was stalked and threatened with death many times. 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 two injunctions (which incidentally are about as much use as a chocolate fireguard) and a letter to his mum for him to do one. The threat of prison didn’t faze him, he knew the law was on his side. But a mummy’s boy facing the wrath of a gossipmonger in a small town when the shoe is on the other foot – deal breaker.
Tell Your Story
Whilst people may have had their suspicions, it never came from me. Bruises or a black eye passed off as horse-riding incident, and the ‘clumsy’ excuses made. It’s amazing how creative one can be when explaining away a plaster cast. 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 but that was just an inconvenience to the familial narcissists, and it was business as usual. 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 Evans, a 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, the article broke me.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I chose a new path. As a result, I 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-odd years. Asked if I had the luxury of foresight, would I choose this life again? 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.
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 kind of 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 suffered as a result. I still have off days and there will always be catapults – a melody or cruel words spoken; a waft of Fahrenheit.
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 with sceptical eyes. That glint of cynicism enough to make my stomach clench. So, in writing this, perhaps my words will help the cynics understand a little of the why?
But most of all, I share my story to remind others they too can defy the odds. Just remember the soul is a stubborn thing.
We read to know we are not alone.