[TRIGGER WARNING] Sitting in the basement, head in hands, I whispered, “Don’t exist. Don’t exist! DON’T EXIST!” over and over to my thirty-year-old self. It was a desperate attempt to quell my needs, my desires, my wants. Natural needs, normal desires, valid wants. The ones the narcissists labeled as bad…unsafe…verboten.
How fervently I wished to be invisible. That would solve everything. Goodness knows I did my best to achieve invisibility. To blend into the woodwork. Since my teens, I’d crept through life, sneaking around the edges, walking cat-like and silent on the balls of my feet. Smiling constantly to keep everyone else happy. Talking so softly no one could hear me. Agreeable. Catatonic. Servant-hearted à la codependence. Non-objectionable.
But it wasn’t enough. I still got into trouble. And each time, I reaffirmed my resolve to be invisible…to not exist.
All The Invisible People…
There are millions of us who fervently desire invisibility. We fantasize about being that tiny mouse behind the baseboard, peaking through a crack to watch the big people. We envy the minuscule spider in his web up in the corner.
To exist is dangerous. To exist means pain. It’s not that we don’t want to be alive. It’s not that we hate life. On the contrary, we’re astute and keen observers of life and other people. Those other people who meddle with us and hurt us. Constantly.
So we smile. Nod. Feign agreement. Laugh companionably. Cover our mouths with our hands. Mumble. Nervously chew on our hangnails. Are too afraid to go to the hospital with chest pains lest we “worry” our dear narcissists.
I even know one victim who compulsively gets rid of all their stuff à la OCD spartanism so any evidence of their existence will have been obliterated by the time they die. Invisibility…on steroids.
Perhaps It Began in Childhood…
When my husband was a boy, he shoved a mattress into his closet and slept in there. It felt safe. A cocoon to protect him from his father’s drunken rages for some minor or imagined infraction. Maybe Michael was late for supper or made a childish mistake. It didn’t really matter. The metal prong of his father’s belt buckle ripped into his flesh over-and-over again as he was unmercifully whipped.
Dogs, horses, the fields, streams and forests were his friends. His only friends. He spent hours in his treehouse. He spent days camping in the woods, preferring to face a wolf or a bear than being kicked unmercifully ’til his sister was exhausted or slapped across the face by his mother merely for chewing with his mouth open.
When he couldn’t escape the house, he spent most of his time in his bat-infested bedroom, too scared to even leave it for a moment to use the bathroom.
He left as soon as he could, graduating high school early to join the Army and later, the Navy. Blending invisibly into a sea of chamo-clad young man.
The Invisibility of Living Alone…
For me, the year I lived alone was the best year of my life. I was finally invisible. The memory shimmers in joyous shades of rose and gold.
Prior to moving out, the bathroom and bed were my two safe places. Theoretically, they were the only two places I could be alone. We invisible people love to be alone and live alone. It’s the only time we really feel safe. We heave a huge sigh of relief. Jettison the perpetual smile. And finally, just live.
After I moved out, no one teased me first thing in the morning. If I got up early, I didn’t hear, “Well! To what do we deserve this honor!?!” If I got up late, there was no, “Wellllll, Good Morning…or should I say, Good Afternoon?”. If I spent all day in bed, no one yelled, “Are you oooookkkaaaay!?!” or ordered me to join the family.
I could eat whatever I liked, whenever I liked. The kitchen was not off-limits after 9 p.m. I wasn’t begrudged the power to cook my food.
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I could use the bathroom for as long as I wanted. It was still my safe place. I hung out in there. Hot showers once, or even twice a day, were my most “hedonistic” pleasure. No one shamed me or lectured me.
My dogs were my only friends. They never criticized. Never pried for information. Never forbade my dreams or accused me of wrong-doing. The worst things they ever did was crap on the carpet and munch ice cubes in my bed.
I could go to bed whenever I wanted, following my own nocturnal circadian rhythm. I only felt good after the sun went down, after I’d discharged my obligation to text mom “G’nite” and knew she was sound asleep. Then I finally felt safe…and free. Nighttime was my friend. Under cover of darkness, no one could see me and no one could judge me. It felt safe.
At last, I was invisible.
My husband achieved invisibility too. He just…left. Disappeared in the middle of the night. It’d be two years before his disinterested family saw hide or hair of him again.
He followed where his heart and feet took him, crossing and criss-crossing this great land on foot during the 1980s. The aboriginal Australians have a word for it: walkabout. When one of their people suddenly disappears, it’s understood that they need a “time out” to think, to recalibrate, to figure life out. No one worries. No one looks for them. Michael’s family certainly didn’t give a shit.
In Colorado, he read his Bible on Pike’s Peak. In Alaska, he encountered polar bears taller than the schoolbus he’d been hired to deliver to Prudhoe Bay (Deadhorse). In Texas, he worked as a cook and survived 120 mph hurricane winds, rain and flooding without shelter on the streets of Galveston. In Utah, he rescued a girl from her abductor and returned her to her ungrateful Mormon family. In Galveston, he watched horror-stricken from a coffeeshop window as rival gangs murdered each other. In Arizona, a pastor treated him to a meal after he’d walked the width of Texas to escape the trauma of seeing that killing. He washed in gas station bathrooms, purchased clean clothes from The Goodwill and got a haircut religiously every fortnight. He worked odd jobs to support himself. And always carried his Bible.
Along the way, he met other invisible people. Like Vietnam veterans so traumatized both by war and their countrymen’s rejection that they’d spent decades on the streets trying to outrun their pain. Honest, down-to-Earth men and women who shared whatever they had with each other so no one starved. But they didn’t take shit from no one.
The invisible people.
It’s All We Know…
For people like us who were either raised and/or married into dysfunctional families with narcissistic or other personality disordered people, it’s all we know. It’s our “normal.” We, naturally, assume that everyone is like them. Everyone is out to control us, criticize us, hurt us.
Logically, we think, act and talk accordingly. Defensively. Invisibly.
For example, when I got married, the only fly-in-the-ointment was that I assumed life was going back to how it’d always been. Being criticized “for my own good.” Enforced bedtimes. Limited bathroom use. No privacy. Constant questions. Accusations. But I loved Michael so much and he was so wonderful, I dove headlong into matrimony anyways.
Four years later, I still haven’t figured out that my worst fears have not nor will they ever be realized. Michael is normal-normal. He loves me and leaves me the hell alone. But…I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around it. It has yet to sink in that I’m still free.
When I “set up shop in the bathroom,” my apologies are effusive. But Michael doesn’t care how long I’m in there.
When I do housework at 1 a.m., I feel guilty. Yeah, guilty! But Michael doesn’t care. He’s asleep.
When I need a “time out,” I worry he may feel rejected. But he’s too busy trying to tune in ham radio operators in West Virginia.
Maybe one day, I’ll figure out that life still has the rose-and-gold glow of my year of living alone. It never ended.
Similarly, Michael sometimes assumes I look askance at his unique hobby and think his mounds of 1920s and ’30s radio paraphernalia piled here, there and everywhere are just “junk.” “Honey, it’s your home too and your shit is really cool,” is my constant theme as he strings antennas through my lace curtains. You see, he forgets that I’m not like the family he went No Contact with last year. Sometimes, oftentimes, I forget he’s not like the family I’ve been No Contact with for almost three years.
We’re learning, and healing, together.
The Cost of Invisibility…
Unfortunately, dysfunctional people’s grip on you dies hard. They don’t cotton to your desire for invisibility and autonomy gracefully. They own you. Controlling and obsessing over you is their hobby, their drug of choice. And in this high-tech age, they have many tools at their disposal.
You may change your phone number, but if you forget to request “unlisted,” they’ll just call 411.
You may ask to be left alone, but they’ll just order the sheriff to do a “Welfare Check.”
You may go “No Contact,” but that doesn’t mean they won’t text, email and send good ol’ fashioned nasty snail mail. Even death threats.
(Hey! Makes your site hits look good for Google regardless how they try to disguise their visits.)
If you put up a website, they pack sleeping bags, pup tents, canteens and set up camp on your website.
If you put up a blog, prepare for a plethora of comments ranging from ridiculous to nasty to outright extortion.
And if you start an online fundraiser for your terminally ill husband, prepare for even more comments of the “I hope you suffer until you die” variety.
Oh yeah…and letters from their attorneys. That’s kinda’ the cherry on top of the steaming shit pile.
Consider It All Joy…
But look at it another way. Every nasty communique is just showing you that hey! You were right! These people are narcissists. They are abusive. Their nasty comments are doing us the tremendous favor of validating our desire for invisibility. They’ve got egg all over their face…and don’t even know it! It strengthens our resolve to remain No Contact (NC)…untouchable….free. (James 1:2-8 J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
Becoming Translucent…Maybe Opaque…
Maybe healing is about learning that it’s okay to be, well, visible! Slowly darkening from invisible to translucent, and then daring to go from translucent to opaque. Daring to poke one whisker after another out from behind that baseboard to own our place in this world. To “speak the truth even if your voice shakes.” Cause we’ve got a lot to say! I’ve yet to meet one victim of narcissists who is not intelligent and articulate.
It’s about surrounding ourselves with only those who like and love us for who we are, warts and all. The hyper-critical must be shown the door. The boundary bashers and meddlers escorted to the nearest exist. And the self-righteous pulpit-thumpers given that eloquent ultimatum from It’s A Wonderful Life: “Out you two pixies go, through the door or out the window!”
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