“How did you survive,” I was recently asked by a friend, “without killing yourself.” My jaw dropped open in that way that makes you look incredibly unintelligent.
“Ah…hmmm…….ummmm…I’ll get back to you on that.”
In recovery (oh! how I hate that word!), it’s vital to tell others what we endured. We may not realize just how shocking and extreme the abuse we experienced really was because we have no normal to give us perspective. We need their outrage to help us see the abuse starkly and honestly so we realize just how bad it was.
Many people don’t survive what you and I bore. They are the silent witnesses to a hard fact: narcissistic/cult abuse kills….but a narcissist is usually too clever to actually get their hands bloody. Oh, no. They simply drive their victim to hopelessness, wreaking so much pain that the victim blames themselves for, that they turn to alcohol, drugs, sex…any tool to anesthetize the agony. Their tools eventually kill them or maybe they hurry the process through suicide.
Then their narcissist wrings their hands at the funeral, basking in every moment of bereaved glory when they drove the Dearly Departed to an early grave. Their hands are red with invisible blood.
But for us, the survivors…how did we do it!?! It took me a couple weeks to really hone in on how I survived but first, a little disclaimer: These are not healthy coping mechanisms. They got me through. Now they’re biting me in the ass. But, back in the day, they kept me alive.
I was cult brainwashed and I was stupid. I believed the lie that it was somehow God’s Will for me to be protected by my Daddy until my husband came along (little hope of that!) to take over the reins of “protection” aka control. I kept telling myself that if I just held on and did the “right thing” now, that God would someday reward my obedience.
I may’ve been stupid, but apparently my faith was well placed. God worked a miracle when my narcissists “allowed” me to leave. Then He worked another miracle in matching up my husband and I on the cheesiest free online dating site. I’d like to think God honored my faith and redeemed my stupidity by giving me everything my little heart desired. Things most people take foregranted because they are so normal: A house, a husband, a bit of soil for a garden and dogs. That’s all I ever wanted. I recently told a friend, “I’m just crazy about sheetrock.” That’s why!
We’re all born with different brains. All I know is, mine just isn’t the type that breaks. It feels like rubber. It stretches but never quite snaps. That’s just luck. But when all Hell broke loose in 1995, my mind did very nearly shatter. The only thing that maintained my sanity was…
OCD is not a problem per se, in my opinion. OCD is a servant. It’s a stress relief, like smoking a cigarette. But, like smoking, OCD can become harmful if it becomes your master and becomes self-destructive.
OCD kept me from breaking. If I hadn’t picked at my skin as a teen, yes, my brain would have shattered. Probably some kind of nervous breakdown. OCD was my savior. By squeezing the yuck out of my pores, symbolically I was squeezing the yuck out of my life. It gave me a sense of control in a crazy life over which I had zero control, zero choices, zero freedom and no escape. The only thing I could control was my body, my skin…and the narcissists even tried to take that away by confiscating my make-up and forbidding me from touching my own face when I was 18.
That’s why to this day I’m grateful for OCD. It’s a good servant, but a bad master. When I didn’t need OCD anymore, when I physically moved 300 miles from my narcissists, when I stopped wearing any skin make-up, when I stopped worrying about having OCD and feeding it with attention, it just kinda’ went away. It thrived on attention; I starved it into submission.
I lied to myself. That’s how I survived. I lied to me. Oh, it was easy. All I had to do was believe the load of tripe I was being brainwashed with by my abusers. I chose to operate as if the brainwashing was true. But always, far back in my mind, I knew there was another narrative: the actual truth.
As a child I survived by living in my imagination. I lived in there for twelve years and never came out. My imaginary world was calm and elevated. Reality was boring punctuated horrible moments when Dad raged. My imagination was a much happier place to live.
Of course, now I allow myself to fully realize what I always knew was going on in my family. If I’d acknowledged it sooner, I would probably have left, fled in disgust, much sooner.
When you’re forced into the Hell of being happy, happy, happy all the time, you learn to look for things that actually do make you happy. You learn to be grateful for the smallest things.
A tiny patch of blue sky. A perfectly poufy cumulus cloud. A frog clinging to your screendoor. A turkey admiring its reflection in your office window. A toe-tapping fiddle tune. Buying yourself just one carnation every week. A kindness from a stranger, a laugh, a shared comment in the grocery store. I was required to be perpetually “happy” so I learned to focus on anything and everything that was happy and pure and good.
When you’re stuck, when life seems hopeless, when there’s no way out, there’s always something to look forward to, even if it’s just Lunch.
As a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, I was allowed enough outings to shut me up. I rarely pushed the envelope. When you’re an adult woman, you don’t want to ask Daddy and Mommy’s permission to go somewhere, to beg them to drive you because their rules made driving myself in my car verboden. It was against my principles to so abase myself. So I settled for the pre-approved outings that required no discussion, no permission, no transportation.
From December til March, I looked forward to the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association’s Winter Weekend. Three days of nonstop jamming. From March til June, I looked forward to going to the Old Log Theater. And from June til November, I looked forward to MBOTMA’s Harvest Weekend, three more days of jamming. On weekends, there were jams during daylight hours and I tried to make it to those too. It helped to keep my spirits up.
Looking forward kept me alive. There is always something to look forward to even if it’s just Lunch.
There’s an old saying Yorkshire farmers say when a farm animal is very sick: “Aye, while there’s life, there’s ‘ope.”
Are you alive? Then there’s ‘ope!
I kept my soul alive by hoping. They said I could go if Mr. Right came along. So I hoped and hoped and hoped. I put all my hopes and dreams on that seemingly unlikely event.
And I was right. It was impossible while I lived with them.
But hope and faith kept me alive.
But, finally, I’ll be honest, in 2011 I did lose my will to live. Oh, I wasn’t going to off myself. But too many bad things happened at once.
It was Winter. I had S.A.D. I was depressed. I got publicly dumped by a co-worker I was semi-romantically involved with. And, to add insult to injury, my narcissists devised a brand new set of rules that affected only me. I felt like I was being punished for going to work to earn the rent money they required. Many times I just sat in their basement, head in hands, saying over and over to myself, “Don’t exist. Don’t exist. Don’t exist.” Seemed like if my self ceased to exist with all her pesky hopes and dreams, all my problems and clashes with the narcissists would go away.
But I just plodded on through sheer bloody mindedness. I just kept going. That’s what you’ve got to do. Suicide is NOT an option. Don’t think about it. Just keep going!
And maybe the unthinkable will happen for you too. You’re reading this article, aren’t you!? Your narcissists would never allow it! You’ve already done the unthinkable. You’ve figured them out. The most unlikely thing…but you did it! You’re over the Age of Emancipation. You are free!
If you’re clever enough to figure them out and thus escape their mental clutches, then you’re also clever enough to escape their physical clutches. There’s the police, domestic abuse shelters, cult survivors groups. Or just pack a bag, climb out the window and gooooooooooo! That’s what my husband did! God always provided. Once, Michael found a fresh, still-warm Subway sandwich laying next to his head on the park bench where he slept when he was homeless. He talks about that blessing to this day.
Don’t worry too much about money. You’re smart and you’ll figure it out. And I bet, like my coworkers, there are people who know you and like you and will be more than happy to welcome you into their home while you get your feet under you.
Just one more thing: Never, ever go back to narcissists!
Cosmos flower grown and photographed by the author.