I met my husband during a time of my life when I wasn’t really looking to date anybody and I was enjoying life to its fullest. While my life wasn’t perfect, I was happy. I was healthy, I was a dynamic person, confident, assertive, with goals and plans, with a lot of friends, very active, and full of life. I had a job that, while a bit stressful, it was at a company that I loved. I was a team leader and I was volunteering at a world organization to help children and I was also volunteering for a non-profit outdoor organization.
Like I said, I was not looking to date anybody. I was at a point in my life where I felt comfortable with whichever plans God could have for me, even if that meant no marriage. I figured that if marriage wasn’t in His plans for me, He probably had something better for me up His sleeve.
That spring, I met my husband. A week later he asked me out, not a date, he called it; just hanging out. I accepted and we went out. The couple of hours we were supposed to spend together turned out into a full afternoon and then evening. By the end of the day, I was interested in him, intrigued by him.
Looking back in time, some signs were already there. I just missed them. I didn’t know back then which signs to look for. Now I know. Remembering that day when I got basically swept away, there were some signs. But I was at a happy time in my life and I had always been a very trusting person. I always felt people were good and kindhearted until proven otherwise.
The idealization was at full throttle by then. It lasted all the time we were boy and girl-friend and into our engagement period. Two years after we met we got married. During our engagement period, I suffered my first anxiety attack. The attacks would last for the next 4 to 5 years. Since we were two working adults, we were paying for all the cost associated to our wedding. I thought ‘who pays has the last say.’ Unfortunately, his mother thought she could be an exception and she started to make plans of her own that were completely out of our budget. Little I knew back then that my future mother-in-law was a narcissist, as well. Like mother, like son, in this case.
I would talk to my then fiance and he would many times try to make me see her point of view. I started to get frustrated with him since I kept thinking that he should be more concerned about his future wife than his mother. Instead, he was asking me to put myself in her shoes and to try to see it from her point of view. She was just trying to be nice, he would say. I wasn’t being inconsiderate towards her. She was just being obnoxious and outrageous and completely out of place considering that she wasn’t going to help financially at all. How couldn’t my future husband see it that way or even try to see it from my own position? And he kept on giving me explanations of how I was misinterpreting her and not understanding her and how I shouldn’t be feeling that way. Sounds familiar?
The anxiety attack hit me hard. I had no idea what I was dealing with. I almost passed out in the restroom at work. Mistakenly, I chucked it all up to the stress of being engaged and trying to juggle family, my job, and a wedding. I wish I had paid more attention to that big sign. In fact, the devaluation phase was slowly creeping in, that early on. It would not hit harder until after saying “I do.”
Fast forward and we were then married. During that time, I suffered a huge blow to my back that took away from me all of my outdoor activities, which I loved and were so part of my being. The injury also made me miss many days of work. My husband would help me, as long as it didn’t interfere with other plans. Oh, forget about financial help. I provide for my mother and I had to keep providing for her, and me, even on a smaller income due to the missed days.
I would innocently make excuses for him for not helping me when I needed help. He was busy; had to go see clients; he was paying off his tuition loans, his car loan, his place. Oh, but he would be kind enough to bring me a movie or a set of DVDs from the library. Forget gifts or flowers. I would ask him to bring me something to eat from the store or my pain killers from the pharmacy. Poor him! He had to work so late and he didn’t have time to go pick those things up for me.
The list of excuses I would make for him would go on and on and on. I was so in love and I kept on thinking that he was the love of my life, the person with whom I would grow old. I walked down that church aisle with zero doubts in my mind. Therefore, why would I doubt him then? I was so calm that day. Now I refer to it as the calm that preceded the storm.
A year into our marriage and he had already started to gaslight me more in full. This is food for future posts. By the third year in our marriage, between my health issues and the gaslight, I couldn’t recognize myself anymore.
I was constantly crying. I was constantly blaming myself for not being able to communicate properly. English is my second language and many times, he would say to me that I had misunderstood him because of the language gap. Needless to say, I grew up in a bilingual family where English was the other language we spoke. The excuse given to me was that I had learnt British English and it differed “significantly” from American English. Yes, you read that right. If that would be the case, then we would still be fighting over insignificant things with the British and you would not understand a single word of what I’m trying to say in here, right mate?
The other thing that was happening was that I couldn’t remember where my things were. My things were constantly being misplaced. From important things to insignificant things. I was having a hard time finding anything. And I didn’t have those many things anyway since I had moved in with him after getting married and his place was small. So I basically moved with just my clothes and a few other things. Yes, nice gentleman, don’t you think? Didn’t even bother in making room for me in the master bedroom closet. He had emptied the smallest drawer in his dresser for me. And stupid little thing in love as I was, I thanked him profusely for having done so. Now I know that real gentlemen even buy new furniture if they need to, to make room for their wives. In our case, I bought a piece of furniture out of my own pocket, put it together on my own, and he even looked at me when he saw it as if I had invaded his bedroom.
By the fifth year in our marriage and a newborn baby with us, I wasn’t even a shadow of the person I once was. However, depressed, embarrassed, and ashamed of myself as I was by then, something in me stirred up. I was looking at our newborn daughter after nursing her (and still trying to figure out all that breastfeeding thing) and I realized that my life was a disaster and not what I thought it was going to be. It was just the start of my digging myself out of the deep hole I was in.
After our daughter was born, I realized how lonely I was. Actually, I had already realized it many months before that. I had never known loneliness, not even when I was single and with not a lot of friends. I got introduced to full-blown loneliness a good 3 years in my marriage. By then, I had already lost contact with my dearest friends and I had self-isolated due to the incredible shame I felt of not being able to stand up for myself, for second-guessing myself all the time, for not being happy at work, in my marriage… I couldn’t understand. I had a good job. I was married. How could I feel so lonely? Oh, and the guilt. The guilt was eating me inside out. Like I said, I had a good job, I was married, I had everything that I didn’t have while growing up. How ungrateful I was! I had a husband who didn’t hit me. (But he did insult me in other ways and without using bad language.) He wasn’t a drunk. (But he was addicted to the TV and his computer.)
Those first days of my daughter’s life, I had zero help from him. He kept on inviting people over while I was being exhausted. He would hardly ever check on me while I was being confined to my bed. Many women are in cloud 9 after their children are born. I was so desperate, exhausted, alone, hungry, and feeling ugly. I loved my daughter more than my own life. However, I felt I was not going to be able to be a good mother in that state of mind and my daughter deserved better. I wanted to be a good mom and I could not get hold of my own emotions… And the guilt once again, was showing its claws to me.
One day I realized I couldn’t do it alone anymore. I called my mother, who started to stop by on a daily basis to help me with the baby. At that point, I started to climb back up from my deep black hole. Slowly, the fog started to dissipate. I slowly started to find my own voice and started to confront my husband in the weeks that followed. By then, I wasn’t buying his excuses and explanations anymore. Our discussions and arguments would last hours at a time. Eventually, it would be just me talking to the walls because he would just not open his mouth. He would look at me with this stare that was completely empty. It was as if there was no soul behind those eyes. I could no longer recognize my husband, my partner in crime, the man with whom I thought I was going to grow old. In fact, I couldn’t even recognize him as a man anymore. It was more like a child throwing tantrums. And by then, he had already started the discard phase, little I knew by then.
The list of things I gave up for my marriage in an effort to save it is long. Here’s the short list: I gave up 3 jobs, my side business, my health, my relationship with my mother, my family abroad, my friends, my faith, my talents, my dreams, my goals… my self.
A marriage should help you grow as a human being, not disintegrate you little by little. Someone who truly loves you should love you as a whole and not try to control you, belittle you, invalidate you, disintegrate you.
During the maternity leave and then accrued vacation I took, I enjoyed my time with my new baby as much as I could and I restored my relationship with my mother. Not that it was bad, but it was not as good as it used to be and it could definitely be better. I actively looked for a job. I realized that I needed to hold on to my financial independence at all cost. Because that was the last thing he was trying to take away from me. I had some personal goods and a property that he insisted I needed to sell. I even put those on the market and, the day I was given an offer, I almost had an anxiety attack after not having any since I found out I was pregnant.
Now that I think about it, the day I stopped having anxiety attacks is the day that I started to get a glimpse of light from outside the black hole. I realized that I could control them because I realized what was the cause of my anxiety attacks. And believe me that I had sought professional help, which was anything but help because, unfortunately, many therapists try to help with the one symptom you go to see them for—in my case, the anxiety attacks—and they don’t realize that there could be a lot more since many of them are not trained to look for NPD, the actual cause of my problems. The cause of my anxiety attacks was the overpowering feeling of losing control of my life; that I had no control over anything. But then I realized that I still had some control. I could say ‘no.’ The word ‘no’ became the most powerful weapon in the small arsenal I started to build that day. I started to say ‘no’ to his ridiculous claims and attempts to control me. Unfortunately, (or fortunately,) this sealed the end of our relationship, without my knowing so.
Going back to the fact that he was trying to make me sell anything and everything I still had left from my single days, I think the day I got that offer on my house was the day I realized I had had enough. I still had no idea what I was dealing with, but I knew it was not normal. I declined the offer, took everything out of the market, went back home to him, and faced him that very same afternoon saying: “You cannot tell me what to do with my stuff, same way I cannot tell you what to do with yours. Therefore, I’m taking everything off the market until you can show to me that you’re willing to put the same effort and sacrifice as I have been doing all along and all these years. Once you start to show me you are willing to do that, then we can revisit and come up with a plan that it’s satisfactory for the both of us, not just you.”
That night, I finally slept in a way I had not slept in a very long time. I had finally reached the turning point. There was no going back. I started to tell him that I had plans and that he could either join them, or not. It was up to him. Whichever his decision, I was not going to hold it against him. But he needed to be honest and either say that he was in, or out. Not keep me from doing what I wanted to do. It had been long enough of that. If he truly loved me, he would provide constructive criticism, support, understanding, and 2-way communication.
His answer, I got served divorced papers a year and half later. I’m writing this while going through the divorce. I am very worried at this point for my daughter because he sees her as nothing but an extension of himself. He has never really paid attention to her until now. He doesn’t care for her. I had provided everything for her, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He’s just using her to get at me. Because that’s what narcissists do: They learn what is important to us to use it against us.
Speaking of narcissism, I didn’t know that’s what it was and it was called until I finally reached out to a friend to whom I haven’t talked for a few years. Like I said, I was embarrassed and ashamed of what I had become; hence, my not staying in touch with her or other close friends. But there was no going back. I had already realized that was not way of living and that something was very wrong. When I went to see a therapist because of the anxiety attacks, my husband had convinced me that something was wrong with me and that I needed help. Yes, after years of gaslighting me and me feeling so insecure, it was natural that I would cave in and seek help in the form of therapy. But it wasn’t until that I reached out to that friend of mine that I was finally pointed in the right direction.
By then, the little voice inside of me was starting to scream at me and I was finally started to listen to it after keeping it gagged for so long. If there’s something good that comes out of being emotionally abused and subjected to the innuendos of NPD is that you find out who your true friends are. In opposite to what I thought, my friend didn’t slam her door at me. Instead, she listened to me, accepted my apologies for not having stayed in touched with her, pushed more questions, and then she said: “Your husband is a narcissist and there’s nothing wrong with you.” I remember asking her what she meant by narcissist. To me, he was self-centered, selfish, and preoccupied with his own dreams and goals. But narcissist? I had never caught him looking at himself in a mirror. How naïve I was! That’s what I thought narcissist meant.
She added that my husband sounded a lot like her mother, to whom she had not spoken in over 20 years. She then proceeded to send me some links to some really useful and informative web sites. (Click here for the first one she sent me, which was the one that helped me put a finger on it.) I remember I cried when I finally found validation in the reading material she had sent me. That was the starting point to me. And knowledge is power. I was no longer weak. I started to find the power I needed.
I started to read books on the subject. Some of them were useless, but some other ones were life-savers. I will post eventually on these. I found online communities. I was in the middle of looking for support groups in my area when I got served divorce papers. Since I’m still in the middle of that, I can’t dedicate myself to learn as much as I would like to because now I also need to learn about the legal system and navigate through that, as well.
Since time is of the essence for me now, I have to be very selective with my reading. I can’t follow the course I would have liked to follow. I have to jump around sometimes and read about “parallel parenting” (there’s no such thing as co-parenting with a narcissist,) how to deal with the family court system, since they are more concerned about the father’s and the mother’s rights than those of the children; how to deal with a legal system that knows nothing of emotional abuse (there are days when, as bad as this will sound, I wish he had hit me so I could file a police report because now that’s proof for the courts and there’s no way of proving that you have been emotionally damage.)
So this is my story. It may sound long, but believe me, this is the short version. The long version will have to be split into multiple posts that I hope I can share with you one day. Do I feel better now? I do. I still have my days when I start crying for the loss of what it could have been that it wasn’t. I mourn the loss of not being able to grow old with someone by my side. I mourn the fact that everything I lived with my future ex-husband was all a lie, an act during the idealization phase. I mourn the injustice of my daughter not being able to grow up in a normal family. I mourn the fact that my mother feels guilty for what happened to me and blames herself, even when it wasn’t her fault. But there other days when I feel very happy because I’m slowly finding myself again. I’m finding freedom to make my own choices out of the fog. I’m finding that I’m still there; that it will take time, but I will find myself bit by bit. I already am. I’m slowly regaining my physical health. I’m learning to cope with food (I became an emotional eater after being served divorce papers.) I’m listening to music again (I had completely stopped.) I am picking up my studies from where I had left. I am going back to my passions. And I’m looking forward to a future with both my mom and my daughter.
I sometimes feel guilty for having brought a child to this world. God knows that I didn’t want to bring a child to this situation. However, I have to trust that God knows better than me why He allowed for certain things to happen. My faith in God has been horribly tested with all of of this. I’m, to this day, ashamed of having part ways from my faith. All through those years, I still prayed, but my faith was shaken and I didn’t put my heart in my prayers until one day around the time when I got served. I had prayed for a miracle. I asked St. Jude and God for a miracle, either to save my marriage, or to end it. I cried myself to sleep that night. A few days later, they were knocking on the door and serving me papers.
I cried a lot that day, but I also felt relieved. I have now to trust that this is for the better. That God allowed for our daughter to be born so I would be shaken out of the emotional comma I was in. So I would start climbing back up and find myself again. For me, for my daughter, for my mother. My mother is growing old and she will need help in the coming years, more than now. My daughter has a whole life ahead and I promised myself the night she was born that I was going to do everything in my power to help her reach her full potential. I can’t do that feeling sorry for myself. I will still have my days when I will cry. But I know now that I am not alone. That there are other people out there who had it as bad, if not worse, as me. That I am not crazy and that I never was. I wish I had paid more attention to that little voice inside of me. But I can’t change the past. I can only hope for a brighter future starting now. I can only live my present. My future and that of my loved ones depends on what I do today. I still have to learn to do things for myself. I have put myself not second, third, or forth, but like nineteenth for too long. If I want to be there for those who need me and love me just as I am, I need to start now, little by little.
If that’s also your case, do something for yourself today. Whatever it is. Small or big. But do something. Inaction is our worst enemy in this battle against NPD. If you feel that it’s too much to bare, divide and conquer. If you’re suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, of health issues, of depression, of some addiction you might have acquired while under the influence of the narcissist in your life, commit to change one small thing today. Anything that you feel you can do today. Don’t aim for the mountains. You can’t climb unless you know how to do so, you’re in good physical shape, you have studied the climbing routes, and you have your gear. (I’m speaking from experience when it comes to climbing.) Pick a hill. A smooth one. Start one step at a time. You want to drop weight? Go for a 10 minute walk and use that time to listen to your favourite songs or just listen to the birds or let the snowflakes kiss your face while walking. You feel your life is too quite? Pick up a CD or MP3 and sit back and listen to it. Watch a movie, one that makes you laugh. Read an article about something funny or hopeful (we have too much turmoil these days in the political realm, so stay away from that.) Smell a flower. Sounds stupid, but do so. Or buy a bouquet for yourself. Don’t wait for your narc to give it to you; it won’t happen. (Mine is a terrible gift-giver, another topic for a future post.) Meditate. Smile. Yes, smile.
I hope that even reading this long page might have given you some hope. There is hope. We just have to trust.
My wish for you is that you can also say ‘enough is enough’ today and start taking care of yourself. There’s nothing wrong in doing so. We can’t help or love others if we don’t help or love ourselves first. Do it. Now. Today.