Surviving Narcissistic Abuse & Gaslighting, While Facing Major Medical Illness
Updated: Jul 1, 2022
I've learned a lot about people as I struggle through months of no pancreatic pain medication and being forced on the "chemo" diet, or one-two smoothies daily, blended food or small amounts of soft food, if I'm lucky and the pancreatic pain and symptoms allow it. Solid food feels like eating razor blades and I can't handle the pain I'm already in. The fatigue and weakness it causes redefine those words, frankly.
It feels like a hellish eternity in pancreatic pain terms, since the feds cut off my pancreatic pain support. Since I first wrote this piece (this is an edit of an earlier piece I wrote in June), I have faced an administrative law judge and now await a ruling. But today, I have a far different story to tell, perhaps, for me, a sadder one. As with most narratives, the "sad" doesn't last always, any more than the night does. The sun always rises eventually and with it clarity and peace.
Many people who I thought would be there for me just haven't been. Then, there were those I never expected to show up in such seemingly valiant ways, such as my 'nex' (narcissistic ex; he is the type I believe the experts would call a "parasitic" narc, one who expects everything, tries to suck you dry, and then plays victim, when he doesn't get it, very generally, as this will become more clear as I tell this cautionary tale).
It isn't difficult to see how hard I've been struggling, but when he re-entered my life, I truly thought our bare-bones, no holds barred conversations about his rage, his desire to get help, to get healthy meant he was not going to engage in any of the destructive behavior that tore us down in November 2020. I thought that seeing me this sick shook him awake. But a dead horse really is dead, as dead as a cold, dead heart.
I am a friend and type of partner who can and does carry her weight, who has a lot to offer but will not stand for being abused, nor watch another be abusive nor commit rageful acts or terrify a child... and he did all that--reenact parts of my own childhood right before my eyes, in November 2020. We were clear and honest, months later, and he spoke many remorseful, devout, and beautiful words, deceitful all. Some might call that hoovering but it was crafty and not so obvious, that time. They are great actors, and I was easy prey, though not as easy as he would hope...
He spoke of wanting to be the kind of husband and father I and his son deserved and said he'd fight to become healthy enough to get there, "if only I...." This time would be different, he said. He'd claimed--vowed--never to put me or his son through anything so terrifying as his rageful and unhinged behavior, again. He vowed never to cause me to feel I had to call a higher authority--in this case, the grandmother, because this is a nonverbal autistic child who would not fair well in any system (I was in foster care, have autistic family members, and later helped to train foster and adoptive parents, so I know a bit).
I was trying to keep this a family decision, and I felt she would be the best person to make that call. The simple act of saying "good morning" in November 2020 would result in him saying, "I'm trying to play this game so I don't kill you." He was on his phone. It was shocking and mortifying, a joke/not joke I woke up to, often, forcing me on eggshells I just didn't expect from someone who claimed to love me.
His home showed signs of depression struggle, and I'd hoped someone would help him, even if, especially if, it could not be me. That child deserved better than how they were living. I could only do so much in one week of cleaning. I stayed for the child but would not go back there without major changes. Not only did they never happen, but he grew angrier and more aggressive. I did not go back, nor did I apologize for calling his mother. I should have called and made a formal report to the authorities right away but did not feel it would have been safe for that particular child; I would not do that without research and a lot of contemplation. In the meantime, I told his grandmother. She was enough, for the moment.
I was a verbal child who was raped in foster care. I have made two child welfare reports in 22 years but each was for children who could speak for themselves. This was a different and delicate situation that needed a delicate touch. I was betting on his grandmother.
This was not a level-headed father in command of anything but abusive behavior. When we started talking again around late spring/early summer, it was first as friends. I was/am spinning out in sickness that was and is hospital-worthy. His conversation started shifting to what he wanted, what he asked me for, for me to move in with him and "coach" him into better health, with beautiful words and empty promises that had a huge catch. To be clear, a partner may not also be a teacher or a coach. That is an unhealthy dynamic. I was not falling in love, but into a trap, his trap. I was too sick and preoccupied with other battles to catch all the problems with this one. But my gut was telling me all I needed to know, not that I listened right away.
In a way, I was his perfect prey. Sick, alone, scared, and seemingly very easy to gaslight. But he would soon find out that was not totally true. I was not the girl he so easily lied to 20 years ago and not the same girl he abused months before. Sickness had not made me dumb, nor weak enough to let him take my will and commonsense.
He slipped one night while conveying a conversation he had with his mother that what he did in November must "not have been that bad." I corrected him, quickly. Throughout our weeks of long conversations, I was proud of everything except that he wanted me to say... that his abusive behavior "was not that bad," just episodic references that I kept dismissing as odd flukes that really were not flukes--all abusive behavior is (always) bad, and I kept saying so. Period. ("I admitted it. Why can't you get over it? And around he went.) He had therapy that week with a neuroscience practice for which he asked me to research and send him information, and a primary care appointment at the end of that month, at my urging. But his aggression and gaslighting--that my boundaries and refusal of his mind games and control was tantamount to abuse of him. NO.
His true self was again exposed. Even sick I helped him, and it was not only insufficient, but he'd happily abuse me more, were I to allow it, and I did not, do not, and will not. He said I am too quick to call the authorities, always.
I responded that anytime anyone, regardless of their mandated reporter status, feels they or another is in danger, they have an obligation to call someone (what I didn't add is "before they or someone ends up dead," because threats and out-of-control behavior can lead to anything, take it from a victim of violent crime who was also a child victim of every abuse.) I do NOT enjoy calling nor seeing police, but bruises and body bags are far worse, which I've also seen, the former sustained. In this case, I wrote his mother and he practically collapsed into a fit. I had actually done more to try to help his child, but his state wouldn't help. More later.
His coercion felt as heavy as his stated 450lb frame he wanted me to help him reduce. Looking back, it could only be doomed, our relationship/marriage, as he could only keep turning on me. I was his polar opposite (clean, organized, driven, etc.) and he indicted me for it. What he could not easily be, he chose to destroy, even as he claimed to admire and say he loved and desire it. Sick, but it is what he did. He wanted me to help him write and build his motivational speaking career, but his online interactions were raunchy, and the opposite of what one would need to rise in that arena. Not to mention, he hid his interactions from me, while claiming to want to marry me. His addiction to cyberporn was pronounced.
While I was with him, for the first time in 20 years, he wouldn't even bathe or brush his teeth regularly but scowled at me for the slighted thing, including his own health issues that impeded his sexual function. He was, to say the least, difficult to be intimate with, in that condition. And being with a man that filthy, whose habits were unknown to me, so foreign to a person, impacted my body in ways I'm too overwhelmed to describe, but I suffer to this day.
Months later, saying he felt depressed, suicidal, that therapists are stupid, he said he wanted me to become "the life coach, and make me your biggest client ever." It was a mistake to agree. Partners are not mothers. Period. He wouldn't do the smallest thing to take care of himself, but we talked enough to get him to important medical appointments; as I was actually dying due to no fault of my own, he declared during one of our last conversations that I should be more concerned with the "dying person on the other end of the phone." He got to be 450lb because he chose to eat junk food. The federal government did this to me in an ill-fated attempt to enforce a penalty against a bad actor dealing opioids. (More on that soon, in a future post.)
I own my damage. He wasn't owning his. He was playing the victim and making nearly everything I said no to a wound he sustained; everything was my fault.
My refusal to comply with his demands to not call authorities no matter what he did, and to recommend small steps toward basic hygiene infuriated him. In fact, he wanted and as much as asked for my complete allegiance to him. He texted in December 2020 during an exchange where I held my ground on what I saw him do that terrible night he terrorized his son and me that he would "retaliate as he saw fit" if I did anything with that information. He told me I had already "crossed a line" writing his mother at all. He was doing his level best to show dominance.
When he said that early in our relationship, "I like to be dominant," I thought it was a joke. It was not. He wants to control everyone else but does not like to be told about himself. I made many mistakes with this man. One mistake was believing that my sickness was enough to change him. That love and honesty were enough now, and 20 years ago. Nope. I was never enough. He was ever a liar and a cheat. I didn't know he was also an abusive narc. Another was believing that it was me he wanted and not a weakness he saw that he was capitalizing on for his personal gain. Love for him was about what I could do for him, not about me. It was red-flagged in our conversations, but his subterfuge was masterful.
One night this last time around, he called me with a story that brought me to tears, "I have to tell you something." I braced. "I have never told anyone. But the day after you left [Sam] looked up and called your name. I just said, 'I know, buddy, Ezzy's not here. He stared blankly for 10 seconds and went back to his tablet. I felt like the worst dad ever," You see, Sam is an autistic nonverbal child who does not call for anyone, not even me, he told me. "He worked hard to call for you." I look back at that story now and realize the manipulative game that was. He was pressuring me to move in with him, as fast as possible, me having no control over how long the legal process will take to restore my meds, and him offering no help. "I guess [Sam] needs you as much as I do."
The nex, by the way, is not just morbidly obese but also financially over-extended, by his own admission, because he bought an SUV he couldn't afford and blew his extra funds on take-out, he said. I live not a perfect life, but a far tidier one. Much like during our visit, when he overdrew his account and compelled grocery money, assurance that I'd pay him when I'd move in, he just kept asking how I could contribute and how much money I could give him, and kept asking me to do things for him, some of which I did, out of kindness and a big dose of sick blindness, emphasis on "sick." But that soon stopped, with me telling him he has to engage in his life, over his whiny objections. He retorted that when I moved, then he would change and "do everything I said."
This sinking feeling I had became a sinkhole that I just could not speak to. I was going to be used and that was the same feeling I had within an hour of entering his presence in November and throughout my week with him, as he raged and bellowed, at one point, shouting at me, "You care more about my son than you do about me!" I couldn't believe my ears. That kid loved me and went out of his way, against the limits of his differently-abled self to show it, and I will always love him for that and in general, my sweet Sam.
No one interacting with me in my current condition is confused at how hard I am struggling. Asking for any labor is cruelty. I have top-end post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and everything that comes with it, on top of it. If I stop fighting? I certainly won't make it. Looking back at his asking me to do his work for his own kid (fill out this form, research that, etc.), I realize that I acted out of love but a measure of stupidity born of his abject selfishness.
I have known that man for 20 years. It will not be for 21. We are not talking because, despite the fairytale he spun, he required that I co-sign his behavior, minimize it in a circular back-and-forth masterfully spun, Narcissist Gold Edition. I didn't know if I was coming or going in our last two talks. It was my fault and flaw if I felt threatened by his threats or dangerous lies or rages and called the authorities for help, EVER. He wanted an unholy vow I could not and would not give him. No one is entitled to that. How about you be a decent, honest human and do not cause anyone to feel threatened in any way in the first place? He was disturbed and upset when even his mother, he said, didn't agree with him, but said she, too, would call the authorities faced with similar circumstances.
His abusive rants of the last two days were horrible, especially, because I refused to give him what he really wanted. Concession and submission. Now he is on the Narc Black Protocol. Blocked everywhere. There will be no contact, nor response. What I thought was redemption was a lie, a chance for him to yet again get from me, not give nor engage in healthy exchange. Empathy or sympathy? Incapable! All about his pain and needs.
I have often said that the most painful thing throughout this entire nightmare has been the silence and invalidation of my friends, family, medical and political communities. That he could know all that he knew and still do this proves him to be a degree of evil I never wanted to believe existed.
He was never a friend, never a true love. He was cruelty itself. He used his son to get to me. It took him preying on me at my weakest moment to see him for whom he really is. So it is true, what Dr. Maya Angelou says, "When people show you who they are, believe them, the first time."
Gaslighting was one of his greatest weapons. My spirituality was "not real." My heartbreak was fake. I was not seeing clearly. The abuse I witnessed was the equivalent of watching a child "stub" their toe. Um, the child was screaming. The dad was raging. A five-old could recount those details and break it down. "Bad." "Scary man." "Boy scared. "Boy crying loud and real bad." It didn't take a genius to describe.
Full disclosure? I did a lot of research to see what would be least harm, because I did not trust this man. That rage was not "stub your toe" category. I called the state after calling every expert I knew on the subject to see what recourse I had. They all said I made a mistake in not calling the police right away. I was so focused on the boy, and stunned by the entire 0-60, stark violent change in this man who, prior to this, sent me two months of sweet texts every morning.
Suddenly, he became a rageful, filthy (8 days of not showering or brushing teeth) ogre of a man-child that caused me to walk on shattered eggshells. The only thing on my mind was diffusing the situation for the boy. This boy, Sam, who used his body to shield me from this dad, took my hand to walk me away from him, was/became my priority. I also slipped into a shock of sorts, not having seen this scene since I was a child. The state in which they live said I'd have had to either call when it happened or file a new report, retraumatizing the child, possibly exposing him to his father's rage and God knows what. I refused to take that chance. I know the two Commonwealths I have lived in would have done a welfare check. Not this state. I took this action at the urging of experts because I discovered that grandparents have no rights where they live. I did as much as I humanly, safely could for Sam. The rest was up to a higher power and the family.
Before I left, the man kept saying he wanted me to move in with him, at points, and that he wanted to be with me forever. Deep down I couldn't wait to leave--I just wanted, during my first visit, to leave his home better than I found it, for Sam. So, he made himself into a prophet. It became about Sam because I pledge no loyalty to abusive, domineering narcissistic men.
Since I first wrote this piece, the gravity of what I had to ultimately do to survive hit me, walk away from him and Sam to save myself. Just because I did that doesn't mean it was easy, that I don't feel the effects of the abuse, or miss Sam. I grieve what could have been, what his dad could have been, what we could have been and never were, what he never was, not even 20 years ago. The truth really does hurt. But it also sets one free. That man will never tell me who I am again, how I feel, nor how much, nor define me, ever again. He won't be telling me anything again.
I won't allow it.
The path to the federal hearing since I first wrote this was brutal and there was no way I could have handled all that, and everything that comes with a man so self-serving and cruel. After all,my peace is in that I understand him, the cracks in that relationship, where it went wrong, and my part in it all. I do my work, spiritual and otherwise, and am healing without attachment to him. I wish him and my Sam better than well.
Healing does not require that I fixate on what happened--I remember, I feel it, and I accept it. I'm OK and walking toward the light of a different day, unafraid of what holds the future.
I edited this piece and posted it in a newly created category, especially for telling stories like this, for women, about women, by women. Initially, I took this story down because I wasn't writing much about my abuse story. But after the first federal hearing and things that came out of it, I realized my online presence would be incomplete without speaking truth to all the broken roads I've traveled. I will write more as time permits.
In my late 20s, I wrote a poem, the last lines, I ever hold deep in my heart, as a prayer and a hope:
"...out of the valley, onto the shore
Free as a sparrow, lost no more."