Sometimes we get to the point where it's time for us to purge some of the fears and emotions that we've been carrying with us. Some of them we carry for only a short time. Others are with us for years.
A video, shot from the cab of a bus, plays out on my screen. An unusual video, you may think, and one that's a little... geeky. You're right on both counts and You Tube is full of accounts that document, and film, the public transport routes of the world. For someone with a hyperactive mind, they're soothing. The sounds are repetitive and unobtrusive. The images; houses, roads, stations, office blocks, relax an overworking brain. Often there is just a computer-generated voice calling out stops or stations. Some are familiar. Others are as foreign as the land that the video is from. Baker Street. Potsdamer Platz. Central Station. Oceanside. Words that are familiar to locals and fascinating to visitors.
But today... Today those videos serve a different purpose.
Several years ago I was friends with a narcissist. I've spoken little about it for fear of reprisal. But enough years have passed and it's time to finally let go of everything that they left me with.
We went travelling together several times. Each time was a nightmare of verbal and emotional abuse. I lived in fear. My body was under constant stress as they berated me for every little thing. The train was delayed; my fault. The flight was delayed; my fault. Their meal was underwhelming; my fault. The hotel wasn't clean enough; my fault. They couldn't find their tickets/passport/glasses; my fault. I had to anticipate every little problem and try and solve it before it happened.
My body overproduced Cortisol, the stress hormone. I spent every moment living on the edge, watching, waiting, and never really taking anything in. When I was around them, even when separated in different rooms, I barely slept, barely ate, barely did anything without their say so. I was no longer autonomous; I was their little slave and my life wasn't my own. I got yelled at if I went out by myself, even though they'd expressly forbidden me from contacting them before a set time. I was dumped in the middle of cities with no knowledge of how to get back to our location (at one point I was assaulted but managed to escape).
Every nerve in my body was frayed. I chain smoked just to keep myself going. I paced to make sure that I knew every inch of my surroundings. I never walked far for fear of reprisal. With no acknowledgement from myself, I'd gone into survival mode, doing the bare basics to keep myself alive and to keep the metaphoric wolf from the door. It was terrifying and I was driven to the brink of suicide several times. On one particular evening, I remember standing on the balcony of a hotel and looking over the edge. I mentally calculated the drop and wondered if it would be enough to finish my suddenly-pathetic existence. I wanted out but I was in a prison that appeared to be solid walls. There was no daylight, let alone a way that I could escape.
Last year I began retracing the steps I'd taken on those trips to see if I could recover any memories. I realise now that, because of the state I was in and the constant pressure that I was under, that some of what had happened could well have been repressed. I wanted to remember. I wanted to feel. I wanted to heal.
So I turned to the likes of Google and You Tube to help me build up a bigger picture. Bus and subway videos have gone some way in restoring some of those long-lost memories. In my mind, I can see the route that was taken. Some of it doesn't completely gel with the memories that I have and some friends have recommended a return to those places in order to heal from what originally happened and to create new memories. That's not financially viable at the moment but maybe, one day, it will be.
I spent a few years with a therapist, processing what I went through, realising that it wasn't me (it was them), and learning how to look out for myself. I also learned how to spot similar people and move out of the way before they could harm me.
I also learned that I needed to talk. To document what had happened. To process the feelings of helplessness, anger, and fear that I'd experienced in those months. Narcissists want you to feel comfortable with them. They “love-bomb” you; compliment you and make you believe that they need your help. They're in constant contact, flattering, and supposedly “listening” before turning everything they know on you. They threaten you, physically, mentally, financially, and spiritually. You know that they're talking about you behind your back because they're often bad-mouthing others to you. But, by that point, they've got their hooks in to deep. You believe that you need them because they've maybe threatened a part of your life. They may know a secret that no one else does and threaten to reveal it to the world if you so much as step out of line. To them, they're doing nothing wrong. But in their wake is a road filled with burned bridges.
You have a choice. You can walk away and heal from it. You don't have to live in fear. Nor do you have to live with the threats or the wreckage of their life. You are much more than they will ever be. Giving them sympathy is just giving them power.
Just writing this is making me feel ill, the prickly sensation of foreboding settling over my skin. But it has to be done. It has to come out. It has to be spoken about so that the healing can continue.
I walked away a few weeks after our final trip together. I had to for my own safety, sanity, career, and life. Since then the universe has blessed me multiple times with new friends, new creative outlets, several books, and a chance to revisit some of those places and create brand new, and much better, memories. There's a few places left to return and, one day, maybe I'll get there. My confidence, my courage, my independence, and my life have slowly returned. I feel much, much better. The healing never really ends; it just gets easier. You can do it, too. Sure, it's terrifying to face up to but there's so much love and support out there. Walk away, live your best life, and don't let anyone else get you down.
If you've been affected by anything in this post, please seek the help of your local mental health services. Their phone number is a quick Google search away.