Part 4 of 4:

As quickly as I could after the nervous breakdown, I kept going because recovery time from violent relationships was not covered by my health insurance. I was a sloppy, hot mess. (My lack.) I was very lucky to have colleagues, bosses, and a mother who understood the severity of my plague and initiated their own research, but the strength it took to get across the difference between this and a “bad break-up” was detrimental to my stamina, never mind tainting to my reputation and work. It was another catch-22 pitfall far beyond what seemed “reasonable” from the outside.

Unable to translate symptoms in extant paradigms

In retrospect, my bravado led to more confusion from my loved ones because I had helped them underestimate my injury. (Here, I am reminded of an oversimplified but useful adage: A psychopath will try to kill you, but a sociopath will try to get you to kill yourself. That the DSM-5 distinguishes patterned behavior from other disorders, but the law refuses to, baffles me.) Unable to translate symptoms in extant paradigms, I held it together the best I could, even while humiliated, weak, and disturbed, the way a witness to a murder is disturbed.

I learned compassion from my mother. Amidst her best understanding and patience, the intergenerational tension of what she knew I endured led us to not speak for a while. Plus, I now have a profound distrust of everyone, especially those closest to me and even those who had nursed me back to health after the final discard. I am working on it. Somehow, even after not speaking to my abuser for 9 months, he was still isolating me, though I take full responsibility for the new qualifiers of my inner circle.

I strongly believe that trauma is not competitive between us, but I can compare it to my own prior experiences: recovering from narcissism was more equivalent to recovering from an assault than my worst nightmare of break-ups,… strangely harder than recovering from an assault. The intimacy of the cut, the depth of the wound. I once wrote to my abuser, saying at least the serial rapist who I awoke in the middle of the night on top of me was honest about his hatred for me. But what do I know? I am (conveniently) a very damaged and dramatic person. It’s bulletproof.

I didn’t want to paint myself as a martyr

I spent 99% of our time together, wanting to know my ex’s concerns because I loved him, but I didn’t want to paint myself as a martyr. Near the edge, I permitted myself to unfurl, and he was the only appropriate direction in which to do that. Drained of empathy, I engaged in an aggressive experiment with what I knew would most disarm my ex: mirroring. I don’t know if he ever caught on to that, but I started doing things that came back to me through the grapevine that I was supposedly doing. Things escalated. Strangely, I am the only one with a mark on my legal record. I wholeheartedly accepted the consequences because appearances are extremely important to him: he’s not allowed to contact me either, and that was the best I could get.

I don’t intend to lie through omission; I’ve made it a practice to be transparent about my retaliations with anyone with the time to listen. But I have also learned to protect it from being further cherry-picked without the details of my provocation. Best behavior is a tall order from someone under such extreme circumstances. If you intentionally disorient a person so that you can continue to harm them, it is reasonable to expect a disoriented response.

I have no solutions to an ancient problem of evil

In my unchartered territory of recovery from intimate narcissistic abuse, I have no solutions to an ancient problem of evil. I’ve read accounts of wise men across millennia stumped about what to do with people who are inexplicably “bad seeds”; the parallels to modern behavioral scientists’ descriptions of NPD are spooky. The most cutting-edge advice I was given was to “grey rock” the narc if I couldn’t run and hide (like staying still enough so the raptor doesn’t see you while not addressing the raptor). Although this advice resonates much more than pop psychology articles that recommend extending even more empathy to a narcissist when that is precisely what they prey upon, I have been asked to do this too much for one lifetime. I wondered if researchers were talking to victims since the logic of NPD is that it hurts them too much to self-reflect. I reminded myself daily that the man I fell in love with and missed with my whole body was a ghost. I told myself this makes sense.

This wasn’t trauma; I know trauma well, and it isn’t a strong enough word. It was brain damage. Yes, the brain is plastic, and it heals like any muscle. But to suggest that my nervous system is separate from my body, that the transgressions against my safety weren’t violations of intimate contract, that the damage I endured was purely “emotional” or “psychological” is stigmatizing and limiting to both victims’ and to an understanding of the sociopathy that caused it.

I don’t know the answer to the unresolved vampirism of narcissistic abuse or its broader societal replication. But I do know that this was not a “bad breakup.” I have been heartbroken before and know it hurts your physical heart. I know it makes it hard to eat or care about anything. I’ve been rejected even when I did my best, and I know how inside out that can make one’s socio-animalistic instincts feel. Regardless of legal mischaracterizations, this was domestic violence. This was a covert and clever series of assaults.

Many survivors of narcissistic abuse report the silver lining of huge healing opportunities of self-growth on the other side. I am beginning to see that on the horizon. I wonder if I fatefully walked into the lion’s den to be able to name an enemy of whom I had been at the mercy since pre-memory. When all else failed, I reclaimed my base instincts of safety by refusing to water it down to what was visible or “logical.” I honored what my body knew and was healing from. I lost a lot of friends in the process (who, thankfully, had shades of frame of reference), but it is only because of this that I am alive and can write this essay. It was only by admitting what my body dealt with behind closed doors that I survived. My fingers type as my brain computes and my soul remembers.

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