So many of us who successfully move on from a break-up with a narcissist still, for various reasons, feel what can best be described as an emotional residue. It’s like an icky feeling that we can’t quite seem to wash off no matter how hard we try or how long this person has been out of our life. Sure, sometimes we think we feel clean but then some benign word or action or – even worse – an accidental run-in with this person will trigger the stickiness. Why would I still get that feeling when I know that I’m so much better without him? What does that even mean?
Indeed, the feeling of emotional residue after the narcissist can cause us to doubt the true progress of our own recovery. Even a person like me – someone who proposes to know an emotional anecdote for each aspect of narcissism that ails you – is not immune from the residual mud bath. No way…really?? You? How is that even possible?
Well…allow me to share something that happened just two short months ago.
In my first book, When Love Is a Lie, I share the details of the journey that brought me to recovery and to create this website. The break-up itself occurred October 3, 2011 and for the first three years that followed, I basically vanished from society. Since both myself and my ex are/were musicians and Tucson is a fairly small town, I knew that to remain within the musical loop would guarantee a run-in so I voluntarily backed off. Of course, my ex – correctly predicting my post break-up behavior – quickly got a band together so that he could flyer my car before his first show. I ignored this, of course, but the seed of envy was planted. Nonetheless, I hunkered down and the eventual reward – this blog, writing my book, and meeting all of you who visit here – was worth every fragile moment.
Anyway, fast forward three years from the break-up to November 2015 when I finally felt secure enough to venture down the hill and back into society. Amazingly enough, not a whole lot had changed while I’d been gone. Within just days, I managed to find my old band mates and maneuver my way into a side project. The fact that I had vanished was forgiven and practice soon began. It was almost too easy. At the time, there were three bands sharing the rehearsal room so eventually my band and one other moved into a bigger room across the parking lot about 75 feet – and just out of eye shot – from the old room. I felt amazingly happy and incredibly grateful for all of it (and still do).
Now, somewhere during those first few months, I began to have an ominous feeling that my “circle of safety” was closing. By this, I mean that things occurred and people appeared that I knew had been – and probably still were – musically associated with my ex. I started feeling anxious before practice, imagining in my mind that one day he might just walk in. After all, this is the kind of guy that he is…that they all are. Narcissists, as we know, have no shame at all so anything is possible. The fact that I wrote a book about him would make no difference at all.
So one day on a break, as we sat out front smoking and talking, I could hear a guitar wailing away from the old rehearsal room. With two months still left on the old lease, I knew that other bands still practiced there so it wasn’t the sound of the music that surprised me…it was something about the sound of that particular guitar.
“Is that…Pat?” I asked casually (and perhaps cautiously). There was an awkward pause in the conversations going on and then Chris responded.
“Uh, no. Actually, that’s Wayne.”
In that moment, I’m sure my head did a Linda Blair 360. Excuse me…what did you say? I just stared at him, not really knowing what to say. Every head in the group turned to look at me. My bass player, sympathetically, made one of those wincing “ouch-like” expressions to no one in particular and at that moment I realized that everyone knew something that I didn’t.
“I was going to tell you at the end of practice last week but you left early. Wayne’s playing with Pat’s band right now until the lease runs out. You know, he hasn’t said anything bad about you at all…he even asked me how you were doing.”
It was then, right then, that I heard the sound – like two trucks running head-on – of my safety circle slamming shut. Yikes! He’s jamming in my old room?? We just moved out! And who told you could talk to him? Don’t you know the rules? Of course I didn’t say those things but it all crossed my mind. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t very well get mad because I had no right… and I certainly couldn’t burst into tears because that would look ridiculous. I didn’t want to come across as a woman scorned almost four years, five books, and an entire website after the fact. All I could do was quietly get up and go inside to get ready for the next set with my head spinning. Wayne – the narcissist extraordinaire, the man who wasted 13 years of my life, the subjector of silent treatments and tester of my sanity, the man whose horrid behaviors were now the core of my livelihood – was standing (albeit behind a closed door) less than 75-feet away happily jamming away on his guitar. Wow. I’d been so busy giving advice on how everyone else should handle such a situation that I guess I forgot that someday it might even happen to me! Whoa…wtf? It was time to put my money where my mouth was. I had to finish out the night as if all was good but believe you me, not a single guy out of the eleven in that room with me ever mentioned it again.
Now, truth be told, the fact that this incident occurred is not that big of a deal. Unfortunately, there will be times when we run into the N after a final break. Living in the same town, it’s bound to happen. I actually consider myself lucky that 3 ½ years passed before it even happened and I’m certain, as similar stories may go, most of you have those that far surpass mine. What was significant to me – and what ultimately inspired me to write this article – was how I felt immediately after it happened and during the week that followed. I felt consumed by a weird emotional residue. Even though I knew, without a doubt, that my recovery was complete in every sense of the word, I suddenly didn’t feel happy.
Thankfully, what I did realize rather quickly after the panic was that neither Wayne – the narcissist himself – nor the guys in the band had done nothing wrong. The only one feeling badly was me and I knew it was illogical. Sure, I’ve no doubt that Wayne knew that this was my old room and that I was around the corner practicing, just mere steps away. When there’s a narcissist involved, nothing is coincidental. Apparently, he’d been at my new room just a day before talking to the guys and borrowing an amp cord. OMG!! What if I had just popped in? Since there was only one way in and out of the complex and my room was in front, he had to have driven by my car each time and even earlier that night. Did he do it with a smirk? Did he not give it a second thought? What the flying fuck!
For a week, I couldn’t shake the emotional residue. I felt cranky, irritable, and slept late every day. Because it’s the very nature of my business to rise above this sort of thing, I had to soul-search immediately. After all, I am a survivor, right? I am a fucking survivor! So why the hell am I feeling like this? Knowing what I know, it makes no sense, right? I admit, my little backslide was quite shocking, but I knew I had to figure it out fast or all of this recovery talk would be for naught. I needed to figure it out for me, for you, for all of us…and I did! And, as I have a propensity for doing on this blog, I have found a way to explain it away. Believe it or not, experiencing the panic of the “OMG-the-narc-is-still-alive” moment is a great thing and we need it to happen. Why? So we can get it over with, that’s why!
What I’ve determined is that this emotional residue thing is not a glitch in our recovery. It is, in fact, part of the process. From here on in, you need never berate yourself because the mere sight of, thought of, or the mention of his name still gives you an icky feeling. This is so, so normal! YOU are and will continue to be okay and your recovery must move forward. This is just another step on the way up. In its own time, it has to happen…it needs to happen…so we can survive it. So we can, again and again if need be, wash off the filth of the memory and get on with life.
So, is Wayne still blasting away on his guitar, mere steps away from me on practice day? No, I don’t think so because it’s been silent ever since. I may very well be wrong and perhaps he’s still there, keeping to himself and avoiding, at all costs, the girl across the parking lot who knows all the secrets. It’s possible, sure, but I don’t care anymore. Like any other addiction, it’s all about willpower and determination. I have it, you have it, and, together, my friends, we can rise above absolutely anything.