I am honored to have been asked to contribute to Shrink4Men. This site has aided immensely with my healing from an abusive relationship with someone who I strongly suspect has Borderline Personality Disorder. I was only in the relationship for a year and my hat goes off and heart goes out to anyone who lasted longer or is still in the trenches. My year felt like 25 years and it literally almost killed me.
As I write this, I’m approaching 2 years of no contact with the ex. I am by no means “all better.” I don’t know if I ever will be. But if I’m not “all” better, I’m at least better than I was two years ago at this time. I hope this post and other posts I contribute will be more like postcards from the voyage. I want to say “the voyage back to wholeness,” but that would be an assumption.
All I can tell you is that I’m on the road and these posts are about some of the things that have helped me on the way. I’m not even close to being a licensed therapist (nor do I have any desire to become one), so please, take my advice for what it is – observations from someone who’s “been there.” Your mileage may vary.
My ex and I originally met on Livejournal. LJ later became a point of contention for her (I was “obviously” using it to meet/hook-up with/sleep with everyone I knew there). It got to the point where it wasn’t worth me posting there anymore, as it would inevitably lead to a fight. Then, of course, me not posting there became equally contentious. “Obviously” I wasn’t writing about her, because I was trying to hide our relationship, so (again), I could meet/hook-up with/sleep with people there. Remember double binds? Fun, aren’t they? When I did post about her, she didn’t like how I wrote and would inevitably nit-pick everything in my post, so I had to make a thousand revisions and disclaimers. You lose some and . . . you lose some.
By the end of our relationship, I’d cut myself off from all of my friends both online and “in real life.” It simply wasn’t worth the hassle of having to defend myself against charges of infidelity if I made the mistake of talking to someone or not hiding before they could approach me. By the time our relationship ended, I had been so beaten down that I no longer knew which direction was up. I likened it to Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984 finally “seeing” that 2+2 did, indeed, equal 5. I couldn’t remember to eat. I couldn’t remember to sleep. I couldn’t remember to get properly dressed for work each day, unless I wrote lists of these things and checked them off.
I needed to know what had happened to me. I needed to know how I’d become a near invalid. I needed to know how I had become the utterly horrible, worthless, immoral, inhuman piece of filth that she had convinced me I was. I needed to make sense of it all. During the course of our relationship, I had surrendered the narrative of my life to her. I knew her version thoroughly and intimately. It was time to reclaim and remember my version.
So I started writing.
I created a new Livejournal account, one that she wouldn’t know about, and invited a small, select group of non-mutual friends to read it; people I had known for years and whom I trusted.
Over the course of several months, I wrote out the complete story of everything that had happened between the ex and me. I wrote about the good times and I wrote about the bad—guess which ones there were more of? And as the months wore on, I began to notice a few things.
What I learned through writing about my abusive relationship.
- My friends, whom I had cut off out of fear, were still there waiting to be my friends again.
- I could begin to see the flaws and the cracks in the façade she had presented to me as her “self.” Things didn’t add up, practically from the beginning (and you know you’ve turned a blind eye just as much as I did).
- My friends were also able to provide valuable feedback that I was not the person she had made me believe I was (the aforementioned “worthless/immoral piece of filth”) and that a lot of things that had gone wrong in the relationship were actually her doing and not mine (and these were people I, again, trusted to tell me the truth, not just automatically take “my” side because they were friends).
- I regained a degree of confidence, and was able to reclaim the narrative of my life. She had stolen that from me, repeating to me over and over again during the countless all-night “discussions” she’d make me have about how I’d done something wrong again, that I “don’t get to” have a reaction, a response, a reason, a say, a thought, a feeling other than one that was dictated by her perpetually warping delusions. By writing it out, I got to. I got to have my say, my response, my reasons, my thoughts and my feelings. After a year of not being allowed these things, I have to say it felt damn good.
- You can begin to track your healing and how much you’re regaining yourself. As time goes on, you defend her less and less.
By the end of it all, I compiled the complete narrative into a 35-page Word document. I printed it out and mailed it to my family, with a brief letter stating “this is where I’ve been, and this is why I’m no longer the person you remember.” With this, I also found that my family (who, like my friends, I’d cut off out of fear) was also still there waiting for me.
Finally, one thing that this exercise also helped me with was confronting false nostalgia. “Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I was really to blame after all.”
When those thoughts come into your head (and even now, they still do for me, occasionally), go back and read the story you’ve written. Remember, this is your narrative – not hers.
Things were that bad.
You’ll remember that pretty quickly—and you’ll never want to let yourself fall into that trap ever again.
Write it out.
And remember: You get to.
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Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting Services:
Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.