Not long ago, I went skydiving for the first time.
The whole ordeal included a long, shaky ride in a tiny plane that zig-zagged 10,000 feet into the air. I had about twenty minutes to contemplate my stupidity as I watched the earth flattening out below us from the clear door shuddering next to me.
But really, I felt not stupid– just accepting of the fate I had chosen for myself. My body intermittently thrummed with danger, then flooded with waves of endorphins that numbed me into solemn silence at what was about to happen.
As my instructor opened the door, he motioned for me to slide out. (Slide out!) I did, and with him behind me, we… fell…
Am I actually out? The airplane–
The disconcerting sensation of feeling the physical security of the airplane move out from under my body as I shot downward plunged me into unreality. I don’t even think I screamed.
Is this happening? Am I really not in the airplane? Oh.. oh no.. I..
There was nothing… no sound… no physical sensation… just floating… no wait… falling… were we falling? Yes, the ground was rising to meet us. Faster now, faster.
I couldn’t breathe and yet I was breathing. I was falling and yet I was still. I was everywhere and yet I was nowhere. I was there but not there.
Suddenly, my instructor pulled the parachute and we were floating for real this time.
“Were you scared?” others asked me later.
“Of course I was scared,” I answered.
“Why did you want to do that?”
I’d always wanted to go, it was true. But why had I gone now? “After what I have just been through… the anxiety, the fear, the suffering, the shock that I didn’t choose… this was nothing.”
I had done it to prove to myself that I could, that what he had done to me was just a blip. I had faced my fears and uncertainty and I had survived. And now, by conquering this, he was not even the biggest thing I’d overcome recently.
Just another thing I’d had to live through.
* * * * *
Those moments of final contact when I knew I had to push my ex-boyfriend far enough away so I could go no-contact with him were like these moments of going skydiving, especially just as I fell out of the plane before the parachute was deployed. They were like going into freefall.
I had no idea exactly what I was walking into, as much as I had begun to imagine life without him because I could not have anticipated all of the thoughts and emotions I would have.
It had reached the point to where I had flipped the switch and seen the truth and there was no going back. I could no longer view him the same way–ever. It was like seeing on the other side of a two-way mirror. I was unable to suspend my disbelief any longer in this never-ending play we’d been performing.
I was not even fully conscious of what I was doing, but I let that part of me take over and act. Like falling out of an airplane and just trying to remember to breathe.
And I don’t know how but I did it– the right combination of pieces came together and he let me go long enough and I pushed away hard enough. The spell was broken.
The moment of no-contact finally happened.
Once I was out of the cage, it took me weeks to realize it. I hadn’t even known how ironclad those bars had been until they were gone. The poison drained out slowly.
I didn’t want anyone to see me in that condition and I kept to myself. I felt alone. Who would ever understand this? I felt a hole inside of me where he had been. I was angry at the chaos he’d left behind and I felt sad to let go of that person I had loved once and for all. I felt disillusioned about the world.
I also felt redeemed. He hadn’t won after all. An empty person who couldn’t be alone with himself for five minutes and made empty promises and had never seen me for me couldn’t decide what I was worth, I decided, much less determine what I could become.
There were times I could step back from the thoughts themselves and just marvel at how my mind became clearer. And then I started forgetting what it was like to be confused and anxious all the time, to be consumed with the things that were hurting me, just trying to keep the pain far enough at bay to maintain daily functions.
I’ve written before about getting to that point– about eleven things that can happen before you go no-contact. Below are eleven things that can happen immediately after you go no-contact that no one tells you about.
1. You Feel Infected or Poisoned With Their Essence, As If You Are Forever Altered.
I didn’t really understand the concept of “identity erosion” until I left the relationship and then kept reading about narcissistic abuse. Only then was I able to actually identify it as the sensation I noted only upon his absence. It had always been present during our relationship, however, because his own needs and desires had been taking the place of all of the parts of me he had scooped out, I didn’t notice my own absence until he himself was no longer there.
You will feel how much you were truly enmeshed chemically and physically with the narcissist after he or she is gone. You may feel physically and emotionally sick. You may feel weak and exhausted, as with a normal breakup, but this is different.
There will be a general inability to cope with some things in the world you used to be able to cope with. Things that still remind you of how he or she treated you– good or bad– may feel traumatizing. You may find yourself feeling as if he or she is still monitoring you or your thoughts, or controlling your actions. You may feel guilty for doing or thinking certain things or for leaving.
And when the narcissist starts to drain away, there will be an emptiness because you will have forgotten what used to be there that the narcissist slowly conditioned or coerced out of you. You will feel half-alive.
2. It Feels Like There’s a Sign On Your Forehead Tainting You With Their Brokenness.
Because you will either feel as if the narcissist has infected you and you are somehow pathological too or you will have an emptiness inside of you because of what they have done to you, you may feel as if you are interacting with the world in a way that is dysfunctional, and not only that, but that you are walking around and everyone knows something is wrong.
There may, in fact, be signs that you’ve been through trauma that may take a while to heal.
3. You Feel Confused and Ashamed for Still Loving Them.
Your love was real and you will always have that. You will never be able to adequately explain that to anyone who hasn’t been in a relationship like this one. So I hope you will stop trying, and instead seek peace and understanding within yourself.
This will entail forgiving yourself and, if you have shame for being in a relationship with an abuser, you will have to let that go too. There is no reason to feel ashamed for feeling love.
The abusive nature of the narcissist was hidden from you, and the fact that you can love shows that nothing was wrong with you, and everything is wrong with the person who took advantage of it.
It will take time to understand how to process the love you had for them and let it go.
4. You May Fluctuate Between Hoping They Contact You and Praying They Don’t.
Just because you have made the decision to go no-contact and done everything in your power to make it as difficult as possible short of moving away for the narcissist to contact you (or, in some cases, you may even have had to do that), doesn’t mean you aren’t human. Because you were deeply in love with this person, there will be moments of weakness when you have a fleeting hope that they will reach out to you.
You even realize the thoughts are irrational. Because you’re past the point of no return, however, you don’t want to be back together with them. You don’t even want to respond to them if they do. Which is why you’re praying they don’t. Please don’t, you think. Don’t make another social media profile. Don’t create an Internet phone number. Don’t show up at my door or workplace. The world seems too small and you know there will always be a way.
For a while, you’re still too close to the metaphorical door you just shut. If they knocked on it at just the right moment, you’d be weak.
That’s why you can’t stand on the other side. You have to keep working on moving yourself forward. You have to stop romanticizing them to avoid being vulnerable to potential future hoovers.
Common sense thankfully keeps you from contacting them– you’ve made your decision. These irrational thoughts are just the dying embers of that raging fire that once burned.
5. You Have Nightmares About The Narcissist.
I had nightmares about my ex-boyfriend betraying me and sometimes the dreams didn’t make any sense. Sometimes I had dreams that he tracked me down and found me wherever I went. Sometimes I even had dreams where he was beside me and things were good, but then I’d turn around and he would be gone. I’d search through rooms in a panic but couldn’t find him.
All of these brought on various emotions that lingered with me throughout the day.
6. You Have Intrusive Thoughts.
At first, I felt his presence everywhere, as if he was a ghost. The memories were everywhere I looked, tucked away– the beautiful ones as well as the horrible ones. My thoughts were often obsessive and I’d get anxious replaying the same scenes in my head, again and again, unable to shut them off.
It’s almost like the cliche about death: the entire relationship passes through your mind. You remember things you’d forgotten, as your mind turns it all over again and again.
7. Everything Feels Like a Riddle You Can’t Solve.
As the fog clears and your mind puzzles over the relationship as a whole now that you’re no longer in it, you start to try to move all the pieces around in new ways. Things still won’t fit into place and it’s driving you crazy.
Did he love me or not? Did he know he was hurting me? Why didn’t he stop? Were all those things I heard true? What was this relationship all about really?
Sorting through all the lies is like sifting through pieces of broken glass to find tiny diamonds and trying not to cut your fingers.
8. You Feel Like You’re Going Through an Existential Crisis.
Why did this all happen? Who am I? What do I even believe anymore– about people? About the capacity for human goodness? About relationships and love? Can I ever trust anyone again?
These will be new questions you may be facing for the first time. You don’t want to change who you are or become cold or hardened by this experience, and yet you are rattled by knowing that there are people with the capacity to do the things that have been done to you.
How should you now approach the world and maintain your own integrity without getting hurt?
9. You Just Want to Be Transported Out of the Present.
Everything hurts and it feels as if there is no end in sight to the pain you are going through. You no longer see the world in the same way and each day is a struggle just to get through. As time stretches out endlessly, you struggle to fill the enormous loss.
The narcissist went to great lengths to make himself or herself very prominent in your life and the agony of becoming a whole person again without him or her will pass only with time. Taking active steps to engage in self-care and do things that you will enjoy speeds this along by sending a message to the self that your life is full and complete without him or her in it.
10. The “Cage” Is Gone, But You Don’t Know What to Do Without It Yet.
Almost immediately, there will be a sense of relief. The anxiety of consistently ignoring your intuition, of being gaslit and stonewalled, of walking on eggshells and waiting for the next explosion or rash of accusations to be thrown your way will all dissipate. You will be left with peace and your freedom to move about in the world without fear or struggle.
It will feel so strange, however, because of the identity erosion, that you will not yet know how to behave. As previously mentioned, you may have feelings of guilt or be triggered when certain things remind you of events pertaining to your ex.
For weeks after I went no-contact, when my phone would buzz indicating that I had a text message, my heart would start hammering, as I would have the feeling that I was about to be accused of cheating or subjected to verbal abuse for being contacted by someone.
11. You Stop Caring What They Do and Start to Think About What Your Future Will Be Like.
You will stop getting the urge or temptation to check on their social media. You will stop wondering what they are up to or if they are ever thinking about you. It doesn’t seem possible, but those feelings do fade.
Your questions might not be answered immediately and you may still need time to recover from the trauma, you may still have emotions that range from grief to rage to fear to doubt, yet you will continue to “separate” from them psychologically because you are growing and changing and will continue to see them in a different light.
Your time with them will begin to feel farther away, almost dream-like. Although you may not yet know what your future will bring, you will begin to orient yourself away from the past.
It helps to keep reading about narcissistic abuse, especially to read from a narcissist’s perspective. As you start to see from their perspective and understand what really happened, you will have a choice that you must seize on to gain control of your life back. You can let go of the narcissist or you can continue to drag him or her with you, where he or she can steal your future happiness in addition to what’s already been taken away from you.
“No hard feelings,” I finally had to say to him, in my mind. “I’m not sure how you got to be the way you did, but I’m not obligated to put up with it and you’re someone else’s problem now. Thanks for the lesson.”
* * * * *
If you have tried to go no-contact before and found yourself feeling any of the above, you are not alone. All of this is a very normal part of leaving a relationship with a narcissist. Although it’s horrible to endure at the moment, it’s a painful part of growing into a new, more empowered person that the narcissist will never have the pleasure of knowing.