Regression on the Path to Healing

I was nervous about moving in with Tina after selling my Mom’s house. I’d be dependent on her and her mother. I asked Tina several times if she was sure about this arrangement. She continually assured me that it was the best course of action for us, for now – until we began the hunt for our more permanent marital home. I had to make that leap of faith. I was fully committed to our future, together.

Tina kept reminding me to have my mail forwarded to the apartment in Farmington. She figured out what items from my Mom’s house would be useful there, and we moved those things in.

It was when I had made myself the most vulnerable, dependent on Tina for a home that she showed me her most blatant betrayal. I’d provided a kitchen full of groceries, gave her mom a check for more than half the rent for the month and moved all of my worldly possessions to Farmington. No sooner than I had my mail forwarded was I forced to flee the new living arrangement. I found myself homeless and despondent. My only immediate option was a motel, but at $150 a night, it wasn’t a practical long-term solution. I eventually moved into an extended stay motel, which was moderately more affordable, but I was hemorrhaging money.

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When Tina found out how much I was spending on motels, she tried to convince me that I shouldn’t have moved out. “My mom could have used that money,” she said. “It’s not like we kicked you out.”

I was only slightly stunned.

“Oh, yes! I should have paid your mom to stay with my ex-girlfriend while she runs around with other guys – for what? Another week, was it?”

The day I moved out of the apartment, Tina and Maura announced to me that they were moving to Colorado in less than two weeks! That came as more than a surprise. As it turned out, they didn’t move for a few more months, but regardless, there was no way I was staying under those circumstances and my sensibilities were duly offended that my money was Tina’s only motivation for wanting me to come back.

While living out of bags in a rundown motel, my future in ashes behind me, I was too depressed to work much. The complexity of my political work was too much for my bleeding brain to handle at all, so I completely avoided that for months (costing me thousands in income). My part-time driving job was more manageable, since it didn’t require much of my over-taxed brain power, but I only went to work a couple days a week and eventually stopped even that much. I realized I needed to stabilize my living situation before I could start working on stabilizing my mental health and life in general.

I’d also had a pretty big setback in my healing when I learned that Tina was in the hospital. With very little information, I was sick with worry. What little I initially heard sounded dire. It led to attempts to keep in touch with Tina. I was foolishly hoping with continued friendship, maybe she’d begin to get some help for her chemical dependency and deep-rooted psychological problems.

That notion had to be abandoned before I could stabilize myself. I realized I had to forget about her well being, or indeed the well being of anyone was wasn’t named ME. Selfishness is not in my nature. It was really difficult to arrive at and stick with that conclusion, but entirely necessary.

My uncle put me up for a while after I took a little vacation to Miami to see a friend. I paid my uncle a modest sum to rent a spare bedroom, which was far more economical than the motels I’d been staying in and I was very grateful for the help, but, even if I wasn’t fully aware, I needed my own space.

Eventually, a friend in Minneapolis came to my rescue by renting me a condo unit at a good price. I say friend, but really, she was more of an acquaintance – someone I knew from some years-back political activism, but she became a friend in deed by stabilizing my housing situation.  That was an absolutely essential beginning and I was so grateful. I was making a weak effort to find a place, but I was in no state to be truly effective. I was wallowing, near nonfunctional. It might have taken months longer to find my own place.

I moved in October 1st. I occupied myself making the space my own. I spent a lot of money on new furnishings.

I was dealing with acute symptoms of PTSD and I needed isolation. I became a hermit. I did manage to get myself back to work at the driving job after about a month of not working at all. Eventually, I went back to some limited political work, too (that ceased when new revelations about how some friends were co-conspirators in my narcissistic abuse caused another setback), but it took time. It was gradual – over months.

My therapist and a lot of online sources say that isolation after narcissistic abuse isn’t healthy, but I’ve observed that it’s 100% common to victims and I’m convinced that it’s a necessary part of the healing process. Once I finally had my own space, I often just wanted to be left alone in my “cave.” It’s probably not good if that instinct prevails for more than a few months, but for a while, I think it’s natural and helpful.

Sobriety played a major role in my ability to survive and begin healing. I was a year sober when Tina and I split up for the last time, so I was finally able to see the situation with some clarity. When we’d broken up in the past, I was still drinking and the trauma of breaking up spurred even heavier drinking that clouded my understanding of circumstances and opened me up to easier manipulation by Tina. She could practically rewrite my memories when I was drinking. Breaking any chemical dependence is definitely a prerequisite to recovering from narcissistic abuse.

During those initial months of living alone (for the first time in my life), I found myself reverting to an earlier version of myself. My therapist called it “regressing” but I saw it more like restoring the last backup state known to work. I had to go back a ways to get past the traumas I’d experienced – not just with Tina, but from even before. I bought a Play Station and got into video games. I found myself buying Cookie Crisp cereal and Eggo waffles for breakfast and binge-watched old Doctor Who. I re-watched every Star Wars movie. I relived some of the excitement I felt in the late 1970s, re-watching every episode of the original Battlestar Galactica.

I had to rediscover myself in a lot of ways. I had to kind-of re-raise myself. I located and decorated my home with a lot of mementos from my youth. Pictures and artifacts from times and events that had shaped me – the old me, from before the abusive relationships and before I turned, self-destructively to the bottle for solace.

I surrounded myself with bittersweet memories – things that made me happy once. The bitterness only stemming from their loss. Pictures of my mom and grandma went up. A picture I drew of the family cabin before it burned. Leo, the plush lion who used to guard that cabin from atop the mantelpiece went on display. I printed an enlarged photo of an enchanting waterfall I’d seen when visiting Ireland and framed that. Pictures of my nieces and nephews helped remind me of reasons to carry on.

A somewhat more daunting task was locating and disposing of mementos that reminded me of Tina. It was difficult, both because of the emotion conjured by those memories and because those objects were legion. Tina was woven through the fibers of my life. Extracting her was no small chore. Even after a concerted seek and destroy mission, I was still coming across “Tina-things,” months on. The pair of Star Wars boxers she’d given me for Christmas turned up in a bag I’d forgotten to unpack. A brief love note she’d hidden in my briefcase had remained unread until after we’d been separated for almost a year. Odds and ends like that continued to turn up.

As significant as the objects to dispose of, objects missing because of Tina were glaring in their absence. I’d recovered my mother’s dresser from the Farmington apartment after Tina and Maura moved out, thanks to the kindness of the upstairs neighbors, but I also learned from them that Tina callously gave the matching bookcase to one of her side guys. Specifically, my old “friend” Chris. That led to the revelation that she and Chris had been carrying on an affair behind my back (and presumably his wife’s) for years – almost as long as I’d known Tina and it was still going on. That also meant that other friends I used to love had probably been lying to me.

Tina’s mom had promised to get the dresser and bookcase back to me when she and Tina moved to Colorado, but instead, the dresser was broken and abandoned while evidently, my “buddy” Chris showed up in his blue and gray Dodge pickup to collect my mom’s bookcase for himself!

The upstairs neighbors also mentioned that “the revolving door of men” that they’d observed when they fist moved into the triplex had resumed right after I moved out. Chris, who’s married, with children rarely spent the night, I learned. He wasn’t there “during times when people would be with their families,” but there were reportedly at least four other men who did spend nights there in the aftermath of my departure. That’s either pathological or professional. “We always assumed they were running a brothel down there,” the neighbors told me.

Every day, I notice the absence of my mom’s bookcase. Everyday, that reminds me of how Tina turned my own friends into accomplices in her abuse. Astonishment, anger and disbelief eventually gave way to acceptance and a new paradigm of understanding, though.

I also notice the absence of some heirlooms from the old family cabin. While I was working, Tina made decisions about a lot of what to keep and what to dispose of in my mom’s house. She did a lot of the packing alone. I thought she was being helpful.

In my room, I had a box of cabin artifacts – mostly nick-knacks of modest monetary value (a ceramic Paul Bunyan, a brass desk calendar from the 1920s, some bear sculptures and the like), but tremendously sentimental. When I noticed several items missing from the box, Tina said she’d repacked it. She told me she thought such important mementos should be wrapped up safer before going to storage. I thought the box they were in was secure enough, but I trusted her with that.

She designated several boxes to be donated to Savers, a thrift store benefiting Disabled American Veterans and other charities. Some other boxes were destined for the apartment and the remainder were supposed to go into my storage unit.

The box of cabin artifacts was either stolen or donated, because after a thorough search  through every box in my possession, they remain missing. Trusting Tina with anything at all proved to be a mistake.

It’s remarkable how some of these revelations can still reach out and hurt me a year later, but surely I must be reaching the bottom of that unsavory barrel.

Coming to understand my friends’ involvement in the assault on my psyche was a brutal blow to my ability to trust anyone whatsoever. It was a setback in my progress coming out of symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, but only temporary. Regular application of therapy and study of narcissistic abuse victims syndrome helped brace me and helped me more quickly process that new information. I’ve also become pretty jaded. Areas that used to be emotionally vulnerable are callused – which some may see as an improvement. I lament the loss of sensitivity, even if it helps me cope in the short term.

Aside from reverting to my younger, more innocent mind, an important part of healing from narcissistic abuse was learning about it. I studied narcissistic personality disorder (and related cluster B disorders) in depth. I read stories from other victims. I watched their videos. I documented my own experiences in this blog. All of this was essential to making progress towards recovery – towards normalcy. Writing my story was instrumental in unraveling the illusory and massive tangle of lies and confusion I’d been navigating for years.

I’d seen some articles advising victims not to spend too much time plumbing the depths of narcissism, but I’d also observed that every victim does it and concluded that those writers are wrong. It is absolutely an essential part of recovery. It’s also pretty important to know how to avoid being ensnared by narcissists in the future. I can spot them easily, now.  That’s important to protect myself in the future. My own empathic personality makes me look like candy to a narcissist. I can expect more narcissists to try worming into my life. I’m better prepared, now to fend them off. In fact, I already have. I was pretty proud of myself for recognizing the traits and dodging that bullet.

Finally, an ingredient in my recovery formula that I have no control over: Time. Knowing that time is a crucial element in healing helps provide the patience and perseverance to keep going, even when it gets difficult and even when there are setbacks. Each week, each month, each year that passes carries me closer to peace.

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