A year ago, I sleptwalk out of the apartment of a man who I just started seeing. When I woke up, my heart was racing and I was discombobulated. My entire body shook as I apologized for sleepwalking. What happened next day was like out of a Darren Aronofsky movie.
The zygote relationship ended as quickly as it started. I cried. My hand wouldn’t stop shaking. I could see my body like in an out of body experience. I felt like I just got a stroke. My palms were wet and my pupils were dilated. This wasn’t just for a moment. I was in this state for days.
I just wanted to go home; something was very wrong with me.
The me I remember
I was that girl who went to a gynecologist on my own when I started seeing my classmates getting pregnant one by one. I asked for a prescription for birth control even if I didn’t have a boyfriend yet.
I was that girl who in her early 20s had started drinking a lot. When I realized that I was missing work because of it, I immediately got help and I didn’t touch alcohol for almost five years just to prove to myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic.
I was that girl who cold called one of the most powerful editors in the country, pitching a column even if I didn’t have any writing experience. I just felt like I could do it.
I was that girl that monetized my youth even if I hated being photographed then, just so I could afford to live on my own.
I was that girl.
I did it all by myself. No mommy. No daddy. Sure, I’m a basketcase, but I’m the kind that eventually puts all the eggs back into the basket.
I knew how to save myself.
So why the hell was I saying sorry for sleepwalking? Why did I feel ashamed? Why were my hands shaking? Why did I feel I had to beg? Why did my heart hurt?
Nervous breakdowns feel like they come out of nowhere. But, in reality, it’s when that simmer you’ve been living with for years reaches a boiling point. My walls crumbled, the lies I told myself for years slapped me in the face and the excuses I made fell down like ash.
And it revealed an awful truth.
I have had two breakdowns in my life. One was on January 3, 2010 which eventually revealed that I was bipolar, and which I carefully squared away with pills and a shrink. It took years and hard work to get to where I am. My second one, the sleepwalking implosion, revealed that for almost two decades I allowed abuse in my life.
I’ve always been in love with love. It’s my great weakness. Passion, complication and excitement—I want it all. I entered relationships dreaming up a story in my head, hardly knowing the co-star I was to share my fairy tale with.
I certainly had a type. I’ve dated all types of men with different personalities but the ones I really fell for were insanely intelligent, controlling, and charismatic. I found it sexy that they put me in my place. They tamed the tempest. It was intoxicating.
The thing about being intoxicated is you’re drunk with all the passion and absent from reality. We both talk marriage and children on the first date. We travel the world a week after. It was like the world finally heard my prayers and decided to answer them with this near stranger who, I think to myself, is my soulmate. He gets me. Makes me feel special and precious. Makes me silently cry because I’m so bloody happy.
We share everything with each other like partners in crime. Until he started reading messages on my phone. I told myself, I had nothing to hide, so why not?
He started demanding to know where I am at all times. I told myself, he’s concerned, so that’s fine. All my friends were getting ghosted but there I was blessed with the fortune of having a man who cares.
He started wanting to do everything with just us, everyone else excluded. I told myself, he must really love me to be contented to just to want to be with me.
He started to follow me to the bathroom when I brush my teeth. (I told myself, that’s cute, I guess). He started asking me what I’m thinking when I’m quiet. (I’m so interesting and he can’t help but be fascinated.)
Then one day I forgot to call him because I was having coffee with a friend. He said I’m selfish and spoiled. He accuses me of cheating on him.
This was when I started closing the door when I brush my teeth. When he asks me what I’m thinking, I almost say I can’t breathe around him but I say something else, like “I’m hungry.”
This was when I started keeping things from him. Started getting nervous having tea with my co-workers, even feeling guilty having lunch with my mother and not inviting him. I started hiding my phone—because I have started complaining about him to my best friend.
I knew it wasn’t right, I would tell myself. We needed to talk.
I planned how to bring it up, crafting the script in my head. The words I will use will be careful and loving.
I told him we needed to talk. But I’m hardly on my third sentence when I’m silenced. What happens next is nothing short of a nuclear war. He calls me ungrateful. He calls me unstable. He calls me a bitch. He turns red as I turn white. He hits me on my emotional jugular. He knows me so well that he knows exactly how to hurt me—he’s my soulmate, after all. He made me feel like it was a chore, an extreme act of magnanimity to love someone like me, one ungrateful and unstable bitch.
I apologize and do everything to go back to being his partner in crime. I pray to God silently to make me lovable again. I find myself silently crying again, but this time out of fear and unhappiness.
I start behaving, anticipate his needs. I ask permission to do everything, if it’s okay to brush my teeth. He starts holding me the way he used to when we would talk about the future. He tells me again that I am perfect. He even apologizes. Things are smooth again, and I continue living my fairy tale—it’s just that now my co-star has become my silent enemy. I am intoxicated again, now with poison albeit the same absence from reality.
My friends ask me if I’m okay. I reply like a robot and say I am the luckiest girl in the world. I’ve learned that gaslighting, saying things that will confuse people so as to silence them, is the only way to go. It has tamed the tempest. I gaslight everyone to keep my world still and safe. I stopped asking questions and stopped answering them as well.
This “he” is not just one person. He is one of the number of men I have excitedly included in my life only to run away from them. As I got older, I became familiar with the patterns. I always want to believe in love. Unfortunately, the love I knew is the one that bombs, gaslights, and consumes. I get into relationships hoping this time it will all work out. Then the fights come. The fairy tale that plays in my head once lit by hope and happiness becomes an illness, a pathology of my destructive behavior.
The man who woke me up
I will forever be thankful for the man who finally me up from this dream—by leaving me. Yes, I hated him at first, but he made me see I was living out a sadistic pattern. He made me realize I was broken, and he broke the wheel, the cycle.
He didn’t feed me with the familiar poison that sweetened my despair. I realized I had to stop reliving that fairy tale. I didn’t have to latch on to someone to make it right, to prove that my fairy tale had a happy ending. After all, I was that girl, the one who eventually fixed things.
I used to think that this drama was unique to me, something intimate and personal. No one else would understand it. Then one day my shrink said I was attracted to narcissists and that I was reliving the drama from one relationship to another. I googled the word narcissist and for days I read accounts that sounded like mine. It had the same story but different details, different knights in chinking armor.
My shrink broke my pattern down. It was textbook Psych 101:
Love bombing is when he courts and beguiles. He sees me not as who I am but instead mirrors my own desires. I feel loved and understood. But just like any bomb, it is created to destroy.
Gaslighting happens when my heart suddenly stops bursting and suddenly hurts. My mind suddenly clears and I question everything. I stand up for myself only to be buried in the ground with my lungs filling up with my own bullshit: “I am wrong. I am stupid to question. Isn’t it clear that he loves me? What’s wrong with me?” He drills my head so I stop thinking because it hurts less.
Then at my lowest he comes back to love me. He says he’s sorry, and that he just loves me too much. “See?” I tell myself. “He loves me. You should just stop being silly.” Then that suffocating feeling comes back again, and I know in my heart that I need to get out. But I have started to see myself through his critical eye and take his bits of random kindness and affection to keep my soul alive.
When does passion become abuse? You will know it. Animals in the wild use instinct to survive, and we are animals given the gift of free will and thought. But thinking sometimes supercedes instinct. Sometimes we are weaker beasts because of our gifts.
In my case, I wanted to prove to myself that I am not a victim. As I grew more familiar with my patterns, the more I fought back. “Good job,” I tell myself, “you’re not a victim.” Yet, I cave when he cries and asks for forgiveness. Damn my Achilles heart.
What happens over and over again, is that I assert myself in this cycle. I leave my captor, my intoxicating narcissist, and I choose to run to a kind and gentle man to fix things. For a moment I feel I have won. Here’s someone who loves me. This is what love is. However, when you’re a masochist you tend to see kindness as a weakness. Then without knowing it and really meaning to, I apply the motions I’m most familiar with. I do the three cycles to the kind and gentle man. I have suddenly become the monster. When you have been abused, you will only know abuse.
These emotionally abusive relationships can create misandry, which is basically the female version of misogyny. The man who I choose to save me, I destroy. Then I seek out the devil that I know. Hoping this time I’ll be in control. But the devil I know is always stronger than me. At the end, I am once again broken and once again I’m looking for that angel that I cannot love.
Instinct and Survival
That’s the truth about fairy tales. They don’t really end well. Cinderella went off to marry her prince only to be pecked by birds that her stepsisters brought as a wedding gift. Sleeping Beauty was in reality raped. To destroy a narcissist is to expose them for who they really are. They are predators that feed off what’s good and beautiful in you.
The only way to save myself was to be exposed to the lies and excuses, to stop asking why this is happening to me and to start asking how I can get over this.
To walk away is not hard at all once you get it. I had to step out of the fantasy and live in the real world. The only way I could love was to first love myself, and you can’t do that by feeding and focusing on others. I learned to be alone and be comfortable with the dark spaces in my life. I learned that being with monsters can make you a monster. Emotional abuse is insidious. There are no bruises, but that scar tissue is everywhere in your soul.
When I learned to break my pattern, it was hard. I needed something to wake me up. When you stay with devils for so long, the angels stop harking back. I needed to save myself, with my own thoughts and free will—the very things that dulled my instincts.
It is only then you stop being a victim and you learn to be a survivor.