I’ve officially reached a benchmark that felt impossible when I first started my journey of recovery from my abusive relationship with a man likely on the narcissist/psychopath/sociopath spectrum. I can still remember vividly the day things ended, and how I felt in the first few days and weeks that followed. Time seemed to pass impossibly slow then, as everything caused me pain. Triggers were everywhere. Nothing came easily, not even breathing. And while I felt relief on a certain level from the daily chaos, fear, and struggle of being in a relationship with him, on other levels I felt absolutely miserable. Broken, without any hope of being repaired.
I followed the advice of those in my support group of the time; I started counting “No Contact Days” (defined as the moment you cease communicating in any way, shape, or form with your abuser) the same way I count my sobriety days in recovery from narcotics. One day…two days…three days…and now, this week, I’ve reached the one year mark.
It felt important to recognize this. It’s no small fete, I’ve now learned, to turn off the communication tap and never turn it on again; not when the spigot is connected to such a powerful, manipulative, toxic relationship. In the early days he would call and text and email periodically (‘hoovering’, my support group calls it), and it took everything in me not to respond. Some of his messages were harsh and mean. Some were hard to decipher. A couple times he literally just called eight or ten times in a row without any explanation via text afterward.
And I wanted to respond. I wanted to reply to defend my honor. I wanted to reply because a part of my heart still cried out for the man I had fallen in love with. I wanted to reply to get the last word.
But I resisted, because I knew none of that would accomplish anything. First off, I had to accept the man I fell in love with never existed in the first place; Randall had played a part to get my attention – to get my love – and then his true self had emerged after I was hooked. Communicating wouldn’t soothe any nerves, and in fact would only set me up for more abuse. Logically I knew that, the same way I logically understood that he would trash my name to those who would listen whether I engaged or not, and moreover there would never be a moment when I could get in the last word. Randall always – always – got the last word.
So what was the point?
I clung to that logic the way I might cling furiously to the end of a rope dangling off the edge of a deep abyss. The abyss could easily swallow me whole; it was an abyss I’d just struggled to climb out of. The abyss of abuse. But I refused to let go.
Once the hoovering stopped, then the challenge was filling the days with things to do that I loved and enjoyed; not having Randall monopolizing my time meant I had a far more open, free schedule. And it wasn’t easy at first; I’d almost forgotten what it meant to be at peace with my own company, mostly because retreating to my thoughts wasn’t the safe, comfortable place it had once been. I had work to fill many hours each day, that was true, but that didn’t give me fulfillment emotionally. I had to relearn self love and self respect……perhaps even learn it for the first time, since I’m not sure I really possessed it in strong amounts before if I so easily got swept up in such an abusive tornado that I found so difficult to believe.
But learn it I finally did.
Slowly but surely, days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. Before I knew it, half a year had gone by, and I realized I had much more perspective than I had before. Not so quick to believe his lies or his manipulations, but instead feeling stronger in my own instincts. Business ventures started truly thriving, almost as though the Universe had simply refused to allow me to succeed so long as Randall was in my life, as he would have drained me dry of every success I ever achieved.
Most of it was good…but there were challenging moments too. With perspective came more pain too, because it meant looking at the things I’d been avoiding before. Cringe-worthy memories of times when I was treated like garbage and then went back begging for more. Times when I failed to stand up for what was right, instead slinking into a corner for self preservation and ignoring the part of me that demands justice and fairness for everyone in the room. Times when I felt I could have done more to ensure justice was served, but didn’t, for any number of reasons.
It’s painful; more than enough to haunt me as bad as any ghost ever could. Especially with the PTSD triggers; those are the equivalent of the ghost shouting ‘BOO!’ at the top of its’ lungs and leaving you shrieking and diving under the covers, not knowing how to respond. At first I tried making a list of triggers as they came up, but soon to my discouragement I realized it was in fact better to list things that weren’t triggers and go from there. Not easy, but I coped as best as I could.
My weight has fluctuated enough I probably have a whole new batch of gallstones at this point; gaining and losing rapidly depending on my mood. (I’m one of those people who has no appetite when I’m stressed, but then when I’m feeling better I am tempted to comfort eat….yay for horrible eating habits!) But I’m letting that one go; practicing the self love my therapist encourages. There’s been enough to focus on without punishing myself for what the scale says. The time will come when I can focus completely on those goals again, but for now, it’s been tabled.
One foot in front of the other…day by day…week by week…month by month I inched myself slowly but surely off the end of that rope and closer to the edge of the cliff; closer to being able to pull myself fully back onto safe ground. And now here I am. It’s been a year. One whole year. How about that. One whole year where I’ve done what I never thought I could; I’ve sat with myself, and my pain, and I’ve processed it and dealt with it, instead of diving into distractions or relapsing into using opiates or anything else. I haven’t tried to fill the emptiness with dates or sex (only been on one date, and while it was really nice and the guy wanted to see me again, I ultimately declined because I could tell I wasn’t ready). I’ve just sat with myself. Determined to make my own company pleasant again. I refuse to let him steal that from me permanently.
And it’s coming back. I can live in my mind, with my thoughts, a lot more now than I used to. My writing is changing too, less about the pain and the negativity of my experiences and more about the hope and positivity and strength I now feel as I move into the future; never forgetting what happened, of course, and always sharing to help others in similar situations understand what’s happening and know they aren’t alone. All of that makes me smile. Makes me feel pride in myself.
It’s not perfect. A year in I’d hoped my PTSD triggers would be gone, and they’re not. I still bolt awake in the middle of the night if there’s a particularly loud noise from our neighbor below (I swear it sounds like he’s building things throughout the night), and there are still certain comments that will set me off, or certain situations that throw me right back to where I was. But I’m learning to live with them, like annoying roommates. It’s all I can do for now. As the therapist reminds me, the triggers will go away in their own time, but I can’t force it; forcing only makes it worse.
So I’m living with it.
I’ll feel lonely some days; I’ll wonder if I’ll stay single for the rest of my life. I’ll wonder occasionally if he was correct that I am unloveable by anyone, and that loneliness is a permanent state of being for me. But I’m able to fight back against that ‘observation’ of his much better now, because while I haven’t found Prince Charming, I have at least rediscovered a couple of my dearest friends to reengage with, one of them I’ve gone into a new business venture with that’s panning out wonderfully well, and I’m watching my other endeavors taking off and paying off at long last.
So I’ve got two of his big three declarations that I’ve already proven wrong; I’m successful (he said I’d always be a failure because of who I inherently am), and I have friends (he said I’d never have friends because I’m too weird, awkward, etc). And I can just give time for the third one; because truly I wasn’t ready before to jump into a relationship. I’m getting closer now, but even today, it would have to be someone pretty special to encourage me to leave the cocoon I’ve been hibernating in while regenerating myself.
My point in describing all of that is this: I want to remind other victims of abuse that recovery really does require a lot of patience and time. Abusers drag us down into that abyss, where it’s dark and ugly and poisonous, and climbing out is no easy fete. You have to be gentle with yourself, the same way I’ve learned to be. And don’t measure yourself by others either; so long as you can see progress, see that you’re better than you were yesterday or the day before, even by a little bit, then you’re doing extremely well.
I’m nowhere close to where I want to be, but I’m much closer than I was. And really, it wasn’t that hard. A year actually flew by in some respects. Here I am, still standing. So you can do it too. My story isn’t the worst you’ve ever heard, and that’s precisely why I share it; because in fact it’s just like yours, and I hope by sharing you can see yourself in my writing and know you can succeed too, while recognizing you’re not alone on this journey.
One foot in front of the other, everyone. We’ve got this.
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, investor, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. All people with inquiries, questions, and feedback can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities.