I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I actually made the decision to leave The Narcissist and what my mental and emotional state was like during that time frame. I think that I had my own preconceived ideas of what it would be like when I knew it was time to leave… that it would be some sort of empowering event, that the stars would align and everything would be perfect… that I would feel absolutely sure that I was doing the right thing… yet the reality of that period of time was much different. I think this is an important concept to understand for those people who are still in an abusive relationship and looking for a way out… or even just toying with the idea.
The reality is that it is never going to be the perfect time to leave, there will always be ‘reasons’ to stay, and you are probably going to feel like you are screwing up your entire life in the process. It is going to be one of the most difficult things that you do in your life, and you won’t be able to see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow from where you stand. The healing takes some time, and it takes some effort, and it happens when you don’t even realize it… but eventually you will be standing on the other side and you will look back and wonder how you ever lived that way. You will be so content with your life and so happy with who you are that you will be eternally grateful that you made the decision to leave. It takes strength, but so does surviving in an abusive relationship… you have it in you, you just need to make the first move.
So, here is my attempt to summarize what was probably one of the most confusing times of my life in hopes that it will help give others some strength when I know that you need it the most.
- I reached a point where I felt like I was living two lives. I realized that I was being a completely different person when I was around The Narcissist than I was in any situation where I was away from him. Being at work literally felt like a vacation and I was frequently finding excuses to be “stuck at the office” until 8:00 pm because I absolutely dreaded going home. I felt like I could speak freely, eat freely, laugh freely, converse with whomever I wanted, represent myself however I wanted… all without fear of judgement from The Narcissist. I can still remember one day when The Narcissist surprised me at work by popping in unannounced to visit me… he just strolled into my office and sat down. (Our security guard obviously had no idea what was going on in our marriage, and knew he was my husband so let him into the building.) I literally experienced a feeling of pure panic… I didn’t know what I had around my office that might upset him, or what visits from my co-workers might bring up. It was a feeling similar to having your parent attend a teenage party with you where you just don’t want them to know anything about that version of you. I knew that this was not normal, and I knew it was bad… I just still thought at that time that the problem in this situation was with me and not with The Narcissist.
- I was so depressed I was not functioning. When I was at home with The Narcissist I was sleeping ALL THE TIME. I know for sure that a big part of this was the depression I was experiencing, but I think that I also felt that when I was asleep I could avoid the criticism and the arguments and the endless circles of conversation with The Narcissist. I would get home from work at 8:00 pm, eat something and fall asleep on the couch like 10 minutes later. I was falling asleep a few minutes into a movie I was dying to see, I was sleeping through hair appointments, I would sleep all night and then wake up on Saturday morning and fall back asleep for most of the day. I felt so exhausted all of the time… and I hated being at my own home. I hated that we had no social life, that we were never going out and doing anything fun, that I couldn’t even find the energy to do a workout… yet every time I had the chance at any of these things I would opt out and say I was too tired. I was literally sleeping my life away and enjoying my time in dream land more than in reality.
- I started to entertain the idea that I would be happier alone than I would be with The Narcissist. Somewhere during this time period I started thinking about what I would be doing and how I would be feeling if I lived alone. What would I make for dinner? what would I do with my free time? What would I wear? If The Narcissist was not here and I could do anything I wanted… what would that feel like? I started thinking more and more about this concept and realized that even though I felt like I would die from the pain of losing The Narcissist…. this new reality of having my own freedom might be worth it. This thinking eventually led to me resisting The Narcissist in a number of what now seem like little, insignificant ways… but at the time they felt like enormous rebellious activities. I would stop at the store on the way home from work and buy something I wanted to eat… Thai food or Pizza or a bottle of wine and some cheese. I would come home, prepare my food and go lock myself in the bedroom and enjoy my meal without The Narcissist. I would binge watch the Lifetime channel’s cheesy romantic Christmas movies and ball my eyes out. I would wear the most comfortable and un-sexy pair of sweatpants I could get my hands on…. and it felt GOOD. Even though The Narcissist was playing the victim, even though he was trying to guilt me about being a horrible wife, even with all of the gaslighting he was throwing my way, these acts of defiance felt GOOD.
- I tried to reach out to lost contacts to feel like I had a safety net in place. By this point I was feeling like I could go back to my family with my tail between my legs and tell them that I was leaving The Narcissist and have their support. I was still looking for some other reassurance that people I once knew would take me back… that I would be able to have people in my life. I think it was a way for me to feel safer in making the decision, but I ended up sending Facebook messages to a number of people I hadn’t talked to in years… my former best friend, my deceased high-school boyfriend’s mom, the guy I almost left The Narcissist to be with, my former college roommate… the list was a little bit scatter-brained but at the time it was a way to re-establish some connection to the life I used to have. Their responses and the outpouring of love I received were huge in helping me find the confidence to leave.
- When I left, I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. At that point in time I was the opposite of sure of anything. I was turning my entire life upside down. I was scared… I was not confident… I second guessed myself at every turn… I cried a lot. Mentally I told myself that maybe this would be the action that would save my marriage. That maybe if I moved out The Narcissist would realize what he was losing and he would change his ways, that maybe this would inspire him to take therapy seriously and get help for his issues, that maybe away from him I would be able to fix myself enough to make our marriage work. It was like I could only digest this change in little pieces… I could accept in that moment that I had made a decision to move out of my home… but I hadn’t yet accepted that this decision meant divorce, that it meant never being with The Narcissist again.
- It took about 90 days before I started to know that I was doing what was best. In the early days I went back and forth a lot. I had a few slip ups where I went and saw The Narcissist and even where I slept with The Narcissist. I wasn’t feeling totally sure that I had done the right thing. I was absolutely in mourning and it was a difficult place to be. This experience was different than the normal heart break of a relationship ending… it was an awakening, a shocking awareness that the reality that I thought I had was just an illusion. I definitely felt lost in that time… I didn’t know how to make decisions on my own… I didn’t know how to do life without the filter and perspective of The Narcissist still impacting me… I was lonely… I missed the life I wanted to have but never really had with The Narcissist. The good news is that all of that started to shift slowly. The sad was replaced with new happiness. The lonely was replaced with so many new and old people. The uncertainty was replaced with a confidence in myself that I have never had before. I started to realize that I survived… and that took strength! I chose to leave… and that took strength! I chose to put myself first… and that took strength!
If you ask me today what the most heroic thing I have ever done in my life is… I will immediately tell you that it was leaving my marriage. What I never realized is that sometimes in life when you are doing that heroic thing you can feel your absolute weakest. The point is to just keep going… just keep moving in the right direction… just keep working on the healing.
Everyone deserves to be safe and happy and healthy in a relationship. It doesn’t matter what you have done in your past, it doesn’t matter how unlovable you believe yourself to be, it doesn’t matter if you have settled for being treated a certain way for a long period of time. You deserve better, and lighting that spark inside of yourself is the very first step to creating the life you deserve.