It’s been nearly one year since I went no-contact with my ex-boyfriend. I remember the end and what precipitated it and I remember the gravity of knowing in those last moments we were speaking to one another that it would be the end.
I remember the swirling mixture of relief, fear, anger, emptiness, anxiety, and, mostly, disbelief that it was really over. Dissociation threatened to drown me. I felt as if I had thrown myself off a cliff.
I don’t know the exact date I went no-contact. I could try to figure it out, but I don’t really want to dig that deeply into it. I just know that this is near the one-year mark for me.
I should bake a cake and blow out a candle (not really). I did something better. I went on a trip!
Not long after it happened, I booked the trip I had wanted to take for decades. It had always been a someday trip for me, the distant future thing I would do when this or that happened.
But I woke up one morning after going no-contact and had the idea that I should go. So I spontaneously booked the trip for nearly a year away.
That trip finally occurred within the last couple of weeks. I expected it to be the trip I’d always dreamed it would be, but I didn’t expect it to be so life-changing. Yet it was and that was because of what I’d recently been through.
I wrote recently about how I recognized that healing from narcissistic abuse actually seems to occur in phases. I noted that there seemed to be at least three of them, and that I feel as if I have moved into the third stage, which I called Introspection, or turning inward and working through the trauma that has occurred and any personal weaknesses that may have been exploited by the narcissist so it never happens again.
There were things that occurred on this trip that profoundly assisted me with working through some of the trauma, and have also prepared me for addressing further issues.
I want to share what I learned about myself and moving on from a relationship like this one because I don’t think you need to take a trip to do what it did for me.
1. Break Your Regular Routine.
Not long after I started this blog, I wrote an article about how to move on after you had broken up with a narcissist.
I listed things that truly worked for me at that time in moving past the initial stage of no-contact to sweep some of the remnants of him from my physical sphere, and it included things such as actually changing my physical environment like moving furniture around and stocking my cabinets with food I enjoyed.
I recommend that you keep breaking your routine. “Moving on” is not a “one and done.” During recovery, we are constantly changing with new realizations, so the new ruts we get into require breaking on a consistent basis to keep moving forward.
With the trip that I took, I broke my routine big time. Not much that I did was familiar at all. My thinking processes began to change because I was constantly forced to think about my new situation such as how to get places and how to get my needs met in addition to just enjoying myself.
As a result, my competency level rose, the things I usually thought about were pushed to the side, and my perspective on the world and my place in it were forced to change.
This cannot always happen on such a large scale, but I recommend it on any level that you can make it happen. For example, if you are unable to take a total break and leave your environment, do so only outside the bounds of your workday or within the confines of where you live. Make those hours completely different from what they normally are for you for one week, or two weeks or whatever you can manage. If you have children, change up your routine with them as well.
See what creative solutions you might be able to come up with– in fact, the more creative, probably the better! However you can break the chain, please try it. Our thoughts and actions are connected.
2. Visit Somewhere Totally Unfamiliar or Throw Yourself In New Circumstances.
If you are unable to take a trip, is there a museum or other venue in your local community that you can visit for the day? Is there an event coming up that you’d like to attend– a street festival, a holiday party, any other event that you have never been to before? Maybe you’ve always wanted to go or maybe it’s totally foreign to you but sounds intriguing. Just go. This is also part of getting out of your regular routine.
I think this is especially important if we’ve become afraid of interacting in the world again because of what’s happened. Going to something new provides a sense of accomplishment and also reminds us that we are an ongoing, organic part of a world that we can rejoin and be fully part of once again.
3. Interact With the Natural World.
I touched a tree that was over a thousand years old and jumped into a gorge that was three hundred feet high. I did these things mindfully.
Those experiences are extreme, but any experiences in nature can be done with the same degree of mindfulness. I also sat under darkened skies, listening to night sounds and intentionally focusing each individual star. I sat in the sun and let its heat soak into my arms and legs, intentionally focusing on the feeling of the temperature of my body rising in response.
I can’t emphasize enough how spending time outdoors helped to bring me outside of my mind and connect me to the rest of the world again.
4. Use Your Five Senses.
As you can tell from the way I described my interaction with the natural world, I was purposely focused on using all of my senses.
I remained non-judgmental to the world and took in everything around me as if I was seeing, hearing or experiencing life almost for the first time. For example, I tried new foods and really listened when people talked and thought about what I could learn from them.
Doing this helped me to become more grounded in the present moment in general and, ultimately, to feel more alive.
5. Practice Gratitude.
Maybe you can imagine that after having all of these experiences– even the smallest ones– I began to feel a very deep sense of gratitude.
Initially, I attached it to my sensory experiences on purpose, wanting to feel grateful for each moment, but I found myself over time feeling naturally grateful for the peace, the serenity, the beauty, the people I met, and for my life.
It became a very emotional journey for me and my heart felt very full by the time I left. There was no room left for any negativity.
6. Turn Off the News and Get Off Social Media.
Every year, the American Psychological Association conducts a national survey about what Americans are worried about and their general level of anxiety. In 2017, the levels of anxiety rose sharply. People are mostly worried about the same things they usually are, including health, safety, finances, and relationships– they’re just more worried about them, and a new category also made the top five: politics– regardless of political affiliation.
Is your phone constantly beeping with notifications informing you of the breaking news of the moment, filling you with a feeling of dread about the future?
Do you feel guilty if you don’t keep up with every little dramatic nuance of our current political saga?
Have you been triggered by the vitriol, bullying, violence, gaslighting, arguing, blameshifting, references to sexual assault, or anything else going on in the world?
Do you worry about the economy and how what you read in the news about trade wars and the stock market might further affect your economic future in light what you’ve already endured because of what’s happened with the narcissist in your life?
One of the best things that happened to me was that I was unable to have completely reliable access to the Internet all of the time. My mental health improved at least partially because I started to focus on what I could control and take a step back from what I could not.
If you can I encourage you to unplug. For a couple of days or a week. As long as is feasible and possible for you. Turn off the notifications. Resist the urge to read the news or check the status updates. It’s okay to take care of yourself and focus on you.
7. Sit in Complete Silence.
In addition to turning off the news and social media, sometimes it makes sense to turn off everything else too. Netflix and other television shows. YouTube. Other websites we like to peruse for entertainment. The Kindle. Our favorite books. The notebook we like to write in.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to just stop all the distractions. This is one way we become present in the moment, but in this case, instead of focusing specifically on what we are doing, there are downtimes when we might not be doing anything at all and what we really focus on is just being with ourselves. It’s really just about sitting in total awareness of ourselves and our knowledge of where we are at that moment– and being okay with it.
If you find your mind wandering, it’s totally fine. You’re not there to beat yourself up about it. Just practice being aware of yourself being there and being comfortable being alone with your own company.
You are complete and whole in that moment (and every moment) just the way you are, and your mind and spirit really need you to know and accept that as soon as possible after what you’ve been through.
8. Do Something With Your Body That Takes Concentration.
Using this phrase was almost “cringe-worthy” for me, but I wanted to put it this way instead of “get exercise,” for a couple of reasons.
First, I know that when I personally see the phrase “get exercise” in a list, I tend to skip over it. “Yeah, yeah,” I usually think. “Duh. I know it releases endorphins.” It’s almost a cliche to include it in a list like this.
Second, for people who are exercise-averse, it can almost feel like an admonishment. And, obviously, if you’re someone who likes doing exercise, you’re probably already doing it, so you probably don’t need to read about the benefits on a list like this.
I used the phrase “do something with your body” because I mean something beyond “getting exercise.” I think there are some benefits that I’d like to describe that are specific to narcissistic abuse beyond the release of endorphins.
What I really mean is get yourself, the core of you, back into your body by focusing intensely on your physical self. We get pushed out of our own bodies in a relationship with a narcissist and start to dissociate. I don’t know where we go, and explaining that to someone who hasn’t been in this situation is pretty difficult.
But just try using your body and concentrating on whatever it is you’re trying to do: place your feet carefully on a trail so you don’t fall off a mountain; swim in the ocean where waves are crashing over your head; take a self-defense class and focus on getting the moves correct; go to a gym and do some weight-lifting and really push yourself; do something that scares you where you have to overcome a fear.
In a way, this is the opposite of sitting in silence with yourself, but what you are doing in all of these situations is becoming aware of your body in space and time and bringing you back to the space your body occupies using each and every part of it to interact with the world in various ways.
I promise you that you’ll come back to yourself pretty quickly, and there’s no room left for you to ruminate about the relationship and or for the narcissist to occupy with any lingering mind control tactics left behind in his or her absence.
There are two other things that will help bring you back:
Your breath. You’re going to hear yourself breathe. You may not have felt that in a while.
And the sense of accomplishment. No one can take that away from you.
9. Nurture Your Body.
When we were in the relationship with the narcissist, we may have gotten used to being told, in so many words, that we were worthless. At the very least, the actions of the narcissist likely have left us feeling that way at various moments.
One result is that without realizing it, we may have subconsciously stopped taking care of ourselves in one way or another. Patrick Carnes, the author of The Betrayal Bond, calls this “trauma abstinence,” and explains that it is a form of impoverishment and deprivation that corresponds with a core belief we may develop about our own unworthiness.
Perhaps you haven’t even realized you have done this to yourself, but if you have found yourself depriving yourself of the things you used to enjoy, or even not taking good care of yourself, such as ignoring healthy eating habits or not eating much at all, now is the time to tell yourself that you are worth it. Because it’s true.
10. Find What’s Really Important to You and Don’t Let it Go.
There were things that used to be a part of us and matter to us before we met the narcissist and they probably have been lost somewhere along the way.
For me, some were parts of my personality that had been eroded. Others were core values that had been eaten away and replaced by his when I became confused at some point in the relationship about what I even believed anymore. And still others were the goals I had left behind when I lost my sense of self and my health declined.
Somehow all of those parts of me began to rise to the surface again when I started to interact with the world in new ways and using the body I had been forced out of, and started to think in different ways after doing all of that.
And when I found those things again, he began to drift even further into my past as my strength grew. I made a promise to myself that I would never let go of those things again.
* * * * *
In summary, I had no idea when I spontaneously decided to finally take this trip that it would be so important to my recovery, but it became so much more than just a trip because it enabled me to do the things above.
Why were these ten things so important?
- helped to bring me fully back to myself by ending the remnants of the dissociation and empowering me to take charge of myself once again;
- put the relationship in the context of the timeline of my life by moving me out of the past and bringing my awareness to the present; and
- helped me to release emotions that were unhelpful at this point in my recovery and enabled me to feel joy again.
All of these things I learned were so beneficial that I intend to continue them as often as possible. I could not wait to share what I discovered and let others know that there is hope and it is possible to feel good again.
I will be writing and sharing more articles about recovery and growth as my own journey continues along this new path.