This is going to be the first personal post I’ve written in a long time.
For those who have been reading for a while, you might have noticed that many of my posts for months have been more objective rather than subjective, although I often use my own experience as examples because I don’t want to violate anyone else’s privacy.
There was a very good reason for that, I realize.
My recovery has been happening in real time.
In the earliest days after no-contact, I wrote articles about what it felt like to be in a relationship with a narcissist and go no-contact, my confusion over why the relationship had gone the way it had, and questions that were still lingering.
It was my way of trying to cope with the emotional hell of no-contact, the absolute lack of anchoring felt when a person who has made themselves such an omnipotent force in your life, both benevolent and malevolent, to the point that a part of your identity has been eroded is suddenly gone.
It is not just the end of a relationship– it is an escape. But it is one in which you are no longer equipped to deal with the world in the same way you once were, as you have been corrupted in some way you can’t explain with words to anyone who has never been there.
I did not know it, but no-contact has many layers to it. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far.
Stage One of No-Contact: Freefall
Going no-contact sends us into freefall. Everything we know has been violated and we struggle for something to hang onto that isn’t tainted. They have made themselves the only thing that seems worth hanging onto, although they feel tainted too because of everything good we shared with them they have gleefully ripped to shreds.
Breaking that connection is one of the hardest things we will ever have to do, because walking away means living only as the shell where they hollowed us out. It’s a choice between one hell or another.
Sometimes it becomes a lack of choice as they swallow us until we nearly disappear, but that doesn’t make the agony or the emptiness any less powerful once they are physical absent.
They taught us to think as they think, feel as they feel, do as they wanted, defend on their behalf, keep their insane secrets, poison our own souls. When the bars of their prison lift, we have forgotten what it feels like to be free even when a part of us hates them for what they have done.
Being in freefall occurs because closure is not possible. At least not closure as we normally think about it.
Narcissists cannot give you closure because the relationship was never a relationship in the traditional sense to begin with. This means it can never end in a way that will tie up loose ends and provide us with a sense that either of us was anything but a ghost during the time we were together.
The ending creates a spiritual sense in us that we never existed and that they never did either.
And yet, that in and of itself has an explanation. By understanding what passed between us and how, that explanation itself can be the closure we need– even if it wasn’t the closure we expected.
So began my quest for my own closure, in which I sought answers.
Phase One was all about the emotional aspect of struggling through the initial shock of what had just happened, of stumbling out of a madhouse and catching my breath, of letting his distorted views fade away.
Stage Two of No-Contact: Intellectualizing
As my heartbeat finally started to stop thrumming in my chest and the grief over the permanent loss of him was staunched by the soothing calmness caused by his absence, I could finally turn to rational thought.
I intellectualized this subject to death. I read everything I could get my hands on.
I talked to people who are considered authorities on the subject and asked them my questions.
I listened to hundreds of hours of video by experts, both narcissists themselves and those who work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.
I heard hundreds of your stories.
I myself wrote hundreds of thousands of words about my own experiences, sorting through the narrative of what happened to me and trying to put everything I had heard and read together to generate a cohesive picture that made sense, a working theory– several working theories in some cases.
I did all this so I could stop the questions and move on from emotions that did nothing but fell into a void.
It came to me quite suddenly recently. I have reached the end.
There is no more I need to know.
Not about him.
He is gone.
I had felt eroded by him, as what he did was done slowly– one lie, one jab, one cruel word– at a time, like grains of sand being scrubbed from a mountaintop by the wind.
In contrast, I scooped him out from inside me one shovelful at a time, each new understanding gained from a question answered, ripping his connection to me out by the roots in much bigger chunks than it was put there in the first place.
Phase Two was about purging my ex-boyfriend from my being through facing the truth and gaining the understanding behind his behavior I’d never had before.
Stage Three of No-Contact: Introspection
Everyone who has been through this said this day would come: I feel nothing where he is concerned.
He is completely gone.
And yet, somehow, this recovery is not over.
Aptly, it is even now that I have realized that there are phases to no-contact.
I had assumed that when there were no more emotions around him, everything would be back to normal. I would feel differently, having gone through the ordeal of the relationship– but I had expected my life to return mostly back to the way it had been, except I would be wiser and stronger.
In war, when battle is over and the enemy has been disarmed, when the threat is gone and the danger has passed, there has always been a cost, even for the winner. Buildings are burned to the ground, resources are depleted, the population is decimated. Rebuilding begins.
This period is typically called Reconstruction.
This is where I realized I have a choice. I could prematurely have ended my recovery, declared myself healed and moved forward into my new life.
I ripped him out, so there is no more of this narcissist bizarro-programming going on inside me, and I understand why he did what he did, but I can feel the wounds that I still need to heal in myself now.
The choice that I have now seemed painful either way:
- Gloss over the wounds by ignoring them.
- Work through the trauma that has been done in a thorough way, examining it not only from the perspective of the relationship but through anything potentially tied to the traumas that happened before and how they have either been re-triggered or put me in a position to be re-victimized.
Oh, God.. let me tell you just how much I don’t want to do that. And yet it’s precisely what I need to do.
Only now do I even have a preview of how all of my traumas have been tied together, even the ones that seem so completely unrelated and the ones that I have processed long ago.
The thought of understanding myself and the whole of my life so completely, of pulling out all of this from the closet feels so overwhelming, that the hopelessness of defeat has had its moments, as if what I had gone through in this relationship had been too damaging for me to ever recover.
Yet, I know I have to go on living and persisting in the world and if I gloss over the trauma and my wounds, they’d still be there anyway and I would still be guided by them involuntarily.
I couldn’t decide which fate I feared more.
What if I ended up in a relationship with another narcissist, someone who would hurt me in those exact same ways I’d been sliced open before, someone who would know exactly what crevices in which to shove himself to exploit me so those wounds would cease to cry out because they were still my blind spots, but would rip open again and perhaps this time never heal.
Or perhaps I’d just suppress everything, see danger in every act, like looking through one-way mirrors, always an observer and never a participant, too scared to trust anyone, and instead try to bury my pain in solitude, work, or some other vice.
Or I could look inward and fill myself back in– the right way– so no one could ever do that to me again.
The choice was really a non-choice, to accept the pain of facing myself now.
I don’t even know exactly what that will look like, I only know that a lack of honesty with myself would short-circuit my healing and either land me back in the same spot or leave me in a state where I could not integrate what had happened completely and become a whole person again.
When I accepted that, I realized that this is an opportunity.
Never before has someone so cleanly stripped me bare inside and made me question so much.
Instead of reacting, I choose to rebuild.
Instead of weakness, I choose strength.
Instead of subconscious disempowerment by a fire I didn’t set, I choose actively walking into the blaze to finally extinguish it.
This is going to be painful. It already is.
Every area of my life and every period of my life has been passing through my mind on a conveyor belt that hasn’t stopped in weeks.
One of the things I’ve realized is that there are patterns to this I need to figure out, patterns related to me putting myself in dangerous situations, my lack of recognition of many different kinds of predators over the last few years, my focus on one person’s infliction of pain and blindness to how other people were also exploiting me, and an inability to recognize inappropriate behavior on behalf of others elsewhere in other domains of my life.
And my desire to save, save, save, everyone and anyone, instead of myself, while hiding. Always hiding and reserving my true self for my perceived rescuer– who turned out to be the one slowly killing me.
What the hell was that about?
I’m ready to focus on the scorched earth that has been left behind in all this devastation. It’s not noble, nor is it pretty.
I have no idea where it will lead me yet. What comes after this? Is there a Phase Four?
I don’t know.
The only thing I know is that the hardest thing I will have to do so far is to forgive myself.