I repeated the words over and over in my head, hundreds of times. While I was lying in bed, unable to sleep, oftentimes with my abuser lying next to me, his arms wrapped around my body so tightly I could barely move. You have to get out of this.
To an outsider, it would have looked easy to leave. I wasn’t married to him, we didn’t have any children together, we didn’t even live together. There was nothing tying me to him, yet for some reason it was impossible for me to leave. You have to get out of this.
Every time something happened, I would tell myself that the next time he did something to me I would leave. Yet it would happen again, and I would make up another excuse. I just have to make it through the wedding we were invited to next weekend, and then I’ll be able to leave. I just have to make it through the holidays, and then I can end it. I just have to make it through that vacation we planned, and then I’ll be done.
When I met my abuser, I thought I had finally met the man I had been praying for. All I ever dreamed of my entire life was to get married and be a mom. I was 37, never married, no kids. He was also never married with no children, well-educated, and had the type of personality that took over the entire room when he was in it. I really thought I’d finally met my husband. Instead, little by little, my life became a living nightmare. It started so slowly I didn’t even notice it at first.
Something small would set him off and I would think that the anger outburst was just because he was stressed after a long day of work. But the incidents that happened once every month or two soon became more and more frequent, and before I knew it, it turned into a vicious cycle that just kept repeating itself. Sometimes there would be a few days or even a week in between when things seemed better, but it would always end up turning even worse than the time before. I became so caught up in the middle of it all, I just couldn’t get out. You have to get out of this.
He just had too much to drink, he didn’t really mean what he said to me when he called me all those terrible names and said the most hurtful things that anyone has ever said to me in my life. Maybe I really was just overreacting because I am too sensitive. He told me that so many times I believed it. I was the crazy one. It was my fault that he did these things to me. When he pushed me, shoved me, and scratched me leaving marks on my body, I told myself it wasn’t physical abuse because he never actually hit me. I began to dread going anywhere in public because I had no idea what type of humiliation I would have to endure just by being somewhere with him. The abuse became so bad that strangers would come up to me and ask me if I needed help. Numerous times we almost were kicked out of public places because of his behavior and verbal abuse toward me. One night I ended up crying in the back of a police car after he stole my phone and left me stranded downtown in a city I’ve never been to, and still, I didn’t leave. When the police officer asked me if I wanted him arrested, I said no. You have to get out of this.
I tried. I would make it a week, maybe two, but then I would go back. Once I made it a full three weeks, but then he told me that he couldn’t live without me and I stupidly believed it and gave him another chance. Only for the cycle to repeat again, even worse than the time before. It was a year before I realized I was in a relationship with a narcissist, and yet another eight months before I was finally able to leave for good. Now, I realize why it was so hard to leave.
My brain was addicted to the abuse. The thing with being in a relationship with a narcissist is that it isn’t always bad. There are the in-between times, when you feel like you’re more in love than you ever thought was possible. The times when they tell you everything you’ve always wanted to hear. He told me I was the most important thing in his life, we were going to get married and have children. He told me everything I had been dreaming of since I was a little girl. The highs and lows literally cause your brain to become addicted to them. You have to get out of this.
The trauma bond was so strong, I became physically ill when I tried to leave. It felt like I was going through withdrawals from a drug, but it was all from the cycle of abuse. I was manipulated to the point that I began to doubt my own reality and really started to believe that maybe I was making it all up in my head. The gaslighting, silent treatment, empty promises, coercion, and manipulation became normal to me. I was emotionally abused, verbally abused, physically abused, sexually abused, financially abused, and psychologically manipulated, and it wasn’t until after I was out that I finally saw what happened, and realized that it was all abuse.
I remember toward the end, looking at myself in the mirror and I didn’t even recognize the person looking back at me anymore. The woman that I was before I met him was gone. He had so much control over me that he controlled my thoughts and emotions even when I wasn’t with him. I no longer could see my friends, I missed family events, I couldn’t even use my phone without him reading through my messages. Everything became an argument and I was so worn down from it all, I just did what he wanted to try to keep some level of peace. You have to get out of this.
Everything that I used to be was gone. My life became a lie. I became too embarrassed to let anyone know that I had gone back to him, yet again, so I hid it. If I wanted to go somewhere without him, I would have to lie to him so he didn’t know. If I didn’t answer the phone when he called, I would have to make up a story to explain why. I didn’t even know who I was anymore, and began to feel like I didn’t even want to live because things were so bad. Yet still, I couldn’t leave. I don’t know where I found the courage to leave. That day may have been the hardest day of my life. Somehow, I finally found the strength to speak my truth, and I told my family that I was in an abusive relationship. That day, I blocked him on everything possible and never looked back.
It has been almost two years since I made that decision and I have not tried to contact him a single time since. My journey of healing has not been easy. I have suffered from symptoms of PTSD, at times debilitating symptoms of depression and anxiety, long periods of time when I would barely sleep, nightmares, paranoia, and a struggle with alcohol abuse as I tried to deal with it all. Slowly, I found myself again. I did intensive EMDR therapy that completely changed my life. I began to focus on myself, my physical health, and learning to love myself again. I can finally say, almost two years later, that I am in a place I never thought I would be.
I finished my doctorate in clinical psychology, and am happier and healthier than I have been in years. I’m not the same person as I was before I met him, and I never will be. But looking back, I wouldn’t change what happened. What happened to me was awful and I wouldn’t want anyone else to have to go through the pain that I did. But I also learned so much from that experience and I know that it has helped me to become the best psychologist I can be. Being in a relationship with a narcissist has given me a deep and intimate understanding of trauma and how it affects the brain and the body, and my pain has taught me so much more than I could have ever learned in a classroom. You have to get out of this.
I hope that no one else ever has to find themselves lying in bed next to their abuser, repeating those words over and over in their head, unable to leave. And most of all, I hope that through my experience, I am able to help someone else.