I still remember it like it was yesterday. The excitement of a new relationship. The flutters. The nerves. The pounding heart.
It was a cool March evening. We’d had a double date and enjoyed each other’s company. We talked, we laughed, our hands brushed against each other, and the sparks flew. I’d just come from a failed marriage and this felt like an answer to prayer. I was smitten.
Our first kiss took my breath away. Literally, I couldn’t breathe. I was shaking and my heart was up inside my brain. (Maybe it was in that moment that my heart and my brain switched places, leading me down this very misguided path.) That night, he had me. He had all of me, no questions asked.
That kiss took my breath away. Still, 4 1/2 years later, I can’t breathe.
I’ve heard narcissists described as emotional vampires. It’s unbelievably accurate. That March evening 4 years ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. He dazzled me with his charm (for that night), he swooped in while I was vulnerable, and he preyed on my compassion which he viewed as weakness. Still, does.
Interesting his favorite shows are things like True Blood, Big Brother, and The Walking Dead, and he only watches scary thriller type movies. Ironic? I think not.
I ignored the red flags flying everywhere, denied my friends who begged me not to continue this road and defended him to my family who saw the reality of who he was from day one. I was blind. Delusional. Lost in love.
I’d never met anyone involved in the kind of life he lived. It intrigued me; but mostly, I thought it was a weak period he’d grow out of. People in my world up to that point didn’t operate the way he did. It was beyond my comprehension at that time. I dismissed his irrational, abusive behavior as emotional wounds. Wounds I had the power to heal. I excused his lies, aggression and out of control drinking as a phase. A phase he’d soon grow out of because of his love for me.
I was wrong.
He proved me wrong over and over again during our 4 1/2 years together, and he continues to prove me wrong since our divorce.
I am careful not to diagnose him with a personality disorder, particularly because when substance abuse muddies the water, it’s hard to know what really lies beneath it. However, if the shoe fits, sometimes a person just has to wear it, whether they want to or not.
When I got married, I did so believing that I would have a partner. Someone to do life with. Someone to lean on in times of struggle. Someone who loved me for me, not what I could do for him. I believed I was marrying someone who wanted the same things I wanted. Who was ready to support me and his children in life. Who understood what marriage means.
Again, I was wrong.
Marrying an alcoholic with narcissistic personality traits sets you up for a lifetime of frustration, loneliness, and pain. I took many of the things he did and said personally for a long time, and still struggle with the pain it has caused me and that it will inevitably cause my children. However, I have come to understand that it is simply not about me. There is nothing I can ever do or say that will be right. Many things will never make sense. I will have an eternal hole in the place of many unanswered questions. The truth will always remain twisted. And the reality of who he is underneath the image he presents the world will likely never change.
I found myself in a constant loop of trying to explain the truth to someone who was set on twisting it. It was like living in a fun house. Everything was distorted. On the outside, he presented the image of a loving, Christian husband and father. Even I bought into that image many times. Despite the many times he proved that was, in fact, a lie, I still wanted to believe the lie. My heart wanted him to match the image he created of himself. Because of his alcoholic soul and narcissistic heart, I found myself in a twilight zone of manipulation. I was sucked into the vortex, and like a vampire, my emotions were sucked dry.
I spent hours a day trying to get him to be on the same page as me. To operate in the same world as me. To be truthful. To have a genuine emotion and express it. To care more about his family than he did himself.
No matter how hard I swam away from it, I was inevitably sucked down into the undertow of his reality. A reality that left me wondering at times if he was right and if I, in fact, was the crazy one.
Divorcing someone like that is almost worse than being married to them. Especially if you have kids with the person. Kids bind you forever; so even though we need to walk away from the insanity, we can’t ever fully walk away; and in fact, a divorce just brings all the insanity up to the surface. At times, it has felt like I was married to Satan himself. Now divorcing him, it still feels that way.
Dancing with the devil is scary. Initially, all I saw was the glimmer. The light of the fire. The warmth it provided in a time that I was cold. As time went on, I began feeling the heat in a different way. I got burned and then expected the person who put me in that fire to heal my wounds and get me out. The thing is that the devil will never take you out of his fire. He needs you in it.
I have to get myself out of this fire, with the help of God and the people in my life who live in light, not flames. The intensity of a relationship with someone who has substance abuse issues, as well as other personality disorder traits, is much like living in a fire pit. The light is too bright, the heat is too much to bear, and once you’re in, it’s very difficult to get out. Once you do get out, it’s inevitable to escape without some burns and evidence of the hell you just endured.
Here’s the good news.
Wounds heal. There will be scars and reminders of the life you just left, but scars are evidence you survived something. My marriage to and divorce from an emotional vampire left me breathless. I am still learning to breathe again. But I am getting there. I am still early in the process of the divorce, and I know there are many breathless days ahead of me, but I have stepped away from the fire, allowing the pain of that love to die with the fire. The ashes are ugly, and they will always have an effect on me and my boys lives.
But God brings beauty from ashes. He heals the wounds and covers the scars, and because of that, I can breathe again.