During my turn around the table, my meek voice forced out why I was there. “And so you did heroin?” someone quickly asked. No, I said. Another asked “You ended up selling your body?”
“My fiancé cruelly threw me and our life away,” I summed up. “That’s everything, just that.” Several patients remained confused. Straight up gut-wrenching heartbreak was all I had as the reason leading up to my first and only suicide attempt, and why I was admitted to and locked into that psych unit for a week.
How? People ask. How did someone like you – confident, optimistic, balanced, introspective and a fiery no-bullshit achiever – fall so far? When I sent a series of goodbye texts to my closest friends and family members the night I didn’t imagine life going on for me – no one took it seriously. My friends thought I was sarcastic as usual, or just being darkly witty and overdramatic for comedic effect. They had nothing else – no other event or singular incident to believe that I must seriously be expressing a final farewell before I take two handfuls of pills. And – this is the important part of my story – I had never been so happy as I was then, as I had shown and expressed to them all. I was content with life. Really content.
So here’s where I am now. Six months have passed. It wasn’t until a few months ago – after presenting a discharge plan and subsequently being released from the hospital into the arms of my entire family (brothers that came in from out of state) and my closest friends. After they each helped to pack up my entire life from the home that I had with my ex, and handled the logistical pieces to slide me into my new reality, hold my hand, be shoulders and chests and arms and backs to cry and lean on. One day went by, and then another, and then it had been a few weeks, and just about two months when I learned of his new relationship that he was flaunting in the same exact way he used to flaunt me. Not even 60 days had passed since he threw me away and he was part of something that he had made me believe was sacred and uncommon. THAT was when my research into narcissists and sociopaths began. THAT was when the world changed completely from a fair-colored delicate watercolor impression to a jarring, careless abstract rendition of love. When the a-ha series of moments flooded my days for months as I retraced our history, and checked virtually every characteristic off from oodles of checklists describing:
-“Common traits of narcissists and gaslighters”
-“Is your significant other a secret sociopath”
-“Profile of a sociopath”
-“Everything you need to know about narcissists.”
Nodding, speaking “yes!” aloud to computer screens and pages in books, knowing that there wasn’t a doubt the man I thought deeply loved me was incapable of love at all. At first, I was angry, disgusted, sickened. It felt as if my stomach had been kicked in and never recovered fully. It’s difficult to express in words the mix of feelings that come with a relief to have a concrete explanation while at the same time heavy with self-disgust and shame for having been manipulated so brilliantly. Then again, here I was with the thinnest self-confidence because it had been stripped away over our 3.5 years together.
While in the Berkshires two summers ago, we kayaked with my brother and nephews.
“Baby, turn the oar so that it doesn’t splash and rub against the boat.” I said, sitting in the front of our two-seater.
“Now you’re telling me I’m rowing wrong?!” He yelled back. I was mortified that my family would hear him yell at me from a short distance away.
“Why are you getting so upset? I’ve done this before and I-“
“You don’t know when to shut the fuck up!” He yelled louder. I shushed him and paddled furiously towards the closest shore. I was disgusted.
“You treat me like shit!” He snapped back. I should have spoken with more affection, he’d say whenever I gave him criticism. I wrote “gentle,” “with care” and “protect his heart” on post-its around the house as my reminders.
My heart was in his hands. I didn’t know that kind of faux-love would almost end up killing me. With his intense nudging, I actively rode the teeter-totter: landing between being “defective” or the “most incredible woman on earth.”
I wish I felt nothing. Then it would be as easy as it was for him. Like when he actually did leave once before, four months after we got engaged.
“I’ll come back when I can trust that you won’t hurt me,” he said. “This is all your issue, so fix it,” he added. Three months of agonizing, it was the first time I wondered if I could survive without him. I didn’t think I could.