Our Post-Narc Life & The Angst of Emotional Residue

zari-ballard-quote-narcissismSo 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!

zari-ballard-consult-supportFor 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.

Love Always,
Zari

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9 Comments

  • Jason

    November 24, 2016 at 3:51 pm Reply

    Hi – I’m a man/gentlemen- co dependant! Having therapy at the mo and have realised with my therapist my wife is a narcissist. Such a shit dynamic as you can imagine!
    I have decided to end it properly after xmas for the kids sake. We’re up ‘shit street’ anyway cos she doesn’t know whether she wants me anymore!! Lol. But yet keeps feeding me crumbs to keep me near and doing what she wants for her life! Anyway – I’m staying at arms length by choice for now – what I want to know is how would you handle the situation of having to deal with her a lot in the future! Obviously we have children and our daughter is disabled – so there’s more communication required than most,,, any advice appreciated.
    Please do keep up the great work! This has been a very enlightening website to read.
    All the best

    Jason

    • Zari Ballard

      November 25, 2016 at 1:24 am Reply

      Hi Jason,

      I’m grateful that you found your way here and find the information helpful. Knowledge is power in these types of relationships and, no matter what a narcissist says or tells you, you have to be confident in the truth that you know. As for how to deal with her regarding the children, start with this article on co-parenting and it will lead you to more on this site. You obviously can’t go no-contact altogether but the concept can definitely be modified. It’s all about showing nothing more than DETACHMENT AND INDIFFERENCE even if you have to fake till you make it.

      Stay strong, brother!

      Zari xo

  • Christine

    October 25, 2016 at 11:30 am Reply

    Yet another great post that everyone can relate to, Zari! Now that I’m happily married to an empathetic and wonderful guy, I really do feel like I’ve moved on. I’ve come to peace with the narcissistic experience as a valuable (if harsh) life lesson, that taught me what really matters for relationships.

    Yet even I still have brief flashes of that emotional residue, once in a blue moon. I recently had mine over the most random thing (the week before my wedding, of all times!) I kept getting random calls from a number I didn’t recognize, from someone who would hang up without leaving a voice mail. For a moment, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, wondering if it was the narcissist–who somehow sensed I was moving on and was trying to screw it up!

    However, then I just made the decision to get on with life. I promptly blocked those numbers, and went on to have a beautiful wedding ceremony (not to mention, enjoy newleywed life!)

    I expect that once in a blue moon, I may still get brief flashes of residue whenever I happen to see or hear anything that reminds me of the narcissist…but, I can honestly say they are only 1% of my life now. The other 99% of my mental energy will be with my loving husband, family and friends, the people who actually matter. There’s no real solution other than to let yourself have that moment…but then, move on with it.

  • Finally Free

    October 14, 2016 at 8:07 am Reply

    Love love love this article! I’ve been telling myself (after the last ‘run in’) with the asshole that it HAD to happen! As hard as it was it absolutely HAD to happen! Why? Because even though it had been 7 months, even though I had ‘completely moved on’, even though deep down the mere thought of him made my stomach turn, I STILL had “nostalgic feelings”, you know, if the rare good moments. A teeny tiny part of me still wondered “could it have been different?” His Mom kept telling me how much he cares for me and “will be happy to just be friends if that’s what I want”. She seemed so sincere (though again deep down I knew otherwise). So when I knew I might bump into him that night, I prepared myself to ignore all his charm and antics however keep it friendly and then all will be well. What a fool I was! Ha! For those who don’t know, he saw me, and immediately grabbed his “new dime” by the head and started making out (in a public place mind you), though he liked that kind of stuff … Blech!! I just stared him down showing no expression at all. He left quickly and emailed me for days saying “she means nothing to me”! I wrote him back “that poor girl, I’m going to pray for her”. That was the end of it. 4 months later and nothing… I thought I’d be fine but the icky feelings you describe were far stronger than I thought they’d be! It was like starting recovery over again (yet much shorter lived this time.. About two weeks of torture) then a month or so of anger. I kept asking myself WHY? Why did it have to happen THAT way? So hurtful! But now I know … Because it HAD to! I needed something as severe as that to suffer just one more time before completely healing! And now I can tell you with confidence I am healed! That’s not to say if I saw him in a store, show or whatever I wouldn’t have a small fallback … I probably would! But just knowing its normal, it’s inevitable and its OK, takes away the fear and I can go about my life as if he was never in it! And THAT is the best thing EVER!!! ?

    • Zari Ballard

      October 16, 2016 at 7:05 pm Reply

      Yes it is and I’m grateful to have you here! xoxo

  • Elena

    October 14, 2016 at 7:22 am Reply

    OMG–another timely post. My 8 year N fiasco ended with the longest silent treatment only to hear from him out of the blue. The email was shocking. Would I be up for a trip along the Oregon coast? He would pay for it all and have a wonderful chance to catch up. What the actual fuck??? The only hitch was I had to plan the itinerary and be the driver. Not only did the creepy feeling come back but all I could think of is something will give and me and this bastard in my Jeep after two years of recovery–he might just accidentally “slip” on a rock and I wouldn’t care, Well, not really. I can’t believe I entertained the idea of a beautiful romantic getaway. I said no. He promptly got mad and it’s been silent again. Yaaay. Thank you Zari. Your experience was a blessed reminder to us all.

  • Rosie

    October 13, 2016 at 11:39 pm Reply

    Wow did i need this atticle right at this time! I saw the ex today after ten months, and it was so weird, I had just told somebody yesterday that i was finally feeling happier and more hopeful, then today – wham! Smiling and waving like we are old friends. I was so shocked I gave him a thumbs down, now I am kicking myself for not ignoring him. And I could feel the immediate emotional backslide, even after all this time. I wanted to curl up into a ball and hide from the world. Thanks, Zari, for sharing your story, it helps so much to realize people understand what going through this is like. Just gotta keep plugging along

  • Bethd

    October 13, 2016 at 10:04 pm Reply

    Oh man Zari. You always hit the nail smack on the head. You know the first time I ran into my ex after my break up I actually made small talk etc. Initially I felt great cause I knew I was over him. But later when I got home I wanted to take a shower and climb into bed with blankets over my head. I felt yucky icky sticky just because I spoke with him. Mind you he was nice, polite, even charming but it was like this evil was there lurking underneath. I started the obsessing thing a little I have to admit. I even got scared he might start contacting me again and what if somehow I got back into the web??? Once you know and educate yourself about these knarly misfits you never feel safe when they are in your vicinity. That icky thing will always be there. Maybe that’s a good thing. Thankfully haven’t run into him since that event months ago. I was fine after that meeting. Partly because I guess it’s getting further out for me. I’ve got 3 year head start on you. ? But mostly because I’m happy. He knows it and he’s still an ass, most likely in his never ending turmoil. I truly hope I never run into him again but as you said, it could happen since we are in same locality. ?

    • Zari Ballard

      October 16, 2016 at 7:07 pm Reply

      Hi BethD! As always, it’s awesome to see you here and it makes my day:) xoxoxoxox

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