Tuesday, May 15, 2007

In Sickness and In Health--Narcissists Always Suck

One of the most overt signs that I had been screwed up by growing up with a narcissist parent was the fact I was married and divorced twice by the age of 26.

I've already told you how I was 17, pregnant and too scared to tell my parents so I ran away and eloped. I stayed with husband #1 for three and half years. When I left him my second child, a daughter, was nine months old. Not surprisingly, I had married a young man with some very narcissistic traits and a profoundly screwed up family that he was completely enmeshed with. With all the dysfunction around me eventually my family started to look sane by comparison. My parents offered me a place to land if I decided to leave my husband. As I've explained, they were anxious for this marriage to end. I took their proffered help and ended up living with my family again. This time I lived with my parents and sister for almost exactly a year which was how long it took for me to scrape the money together so I could move out. I slept for that year on the living room floor in a sleeping bag. I was grateful for it.

It was a challenging year. I was 21 years old, but moving under my parent's roof meant they could make rules for my life. Rule one: you can't date anyone until your divorce is final.

It was hard to not rankle at being treated like a child in various ways when I had a child of my own and had been out on my own for almost four years. I chafed as quietly as I could. I was just biding my time 'til I could get out on my own again. I was again being ordered around and wasn't in any position to protest considering my dependence on their good will. My sister was still at home. She was around 18 and damn near insufferable at this point. But that's another story. I was working for 10 hours a day...that helped. I didn't have to spend as much time at home although that meant less time with my baby.

The divorce was finalized some eight months after I moved in with my parents. Now that it was "allowed" I began dating someone. Prior to dating being allowed, I managed to carry on a love life out of sight. I had a job and a car. They couldn't control everything I did. Anyway, my sister brought home a Christian contemporary band of four guys one day. They were all hotties, including the bass player who almost immediately started pursuing me. The attraction between the two of us was intense. My mother really liked him and the other three band members until she figured out Ed was seriously interested in me. She wore her disapproval prominently. I wasn't allowed a one-on-one date with him until after I moved out on my own.

Guess Mom knew what my boyfriend and I were headed for. He and I commenced our sexual relationship within a week of my moving out. My boyfriend was very anxious to marry me. More so now that we'd had sex. He suggested marriage right after we began a sexual relationship. I was amenable to the idea because I felt guilty about our unmarried sex. Ya know, the vestiges of my Christian upbringing in addition to what I knew my family's expectations were. While I had grown up fast in some ways, I was still quite immature in my ideas about marriage. Still having no idea what things were most important to base a marriage on, it seemed like hot sex was as good a reason to marry as anything else. Besides, I really liked how things were set up. He would be gone all during the week and come home for the weekends. This made for perfect marital harmony for me. This allowed it to only be about the sex. Nothing like a week long separation to make the reunions intense so you can tell your self you're in a great relationship.

I was pretty much in the mind set at this point of my life to grab what forbidden pleasures I could. I completely shucked going to church at this time since I'd become a bit cynical about church folk...which would include my mother. I had no examples of happy marriages around me either in the church or out of it. This would be one reason I would consent to marrying on such a shallow pretext. "It's all one big crap shoot anyhoo." to quote Groundhog Day.

When you have married once without your parents approval, it becomes much easier to do it again the next time! Yeah, I decided on having another secret wedding. Only this time I wasn't pregnant. Knowing my parents didn't approve of my boyfriend, I decided they weren't going to know about the wedding until it was over. At 23 years old I wasn't about to give them veto power. Several girlfriends got a nice little garden with gazebo reserved, a cake, decorations, a justice of the peace, and a few other friends, and my boyfriend and I got hitched on a nice spring morning. I actually dressed up for this wedding as opposed to the Tijuana adventure with husband #1.

So, now I was married and could have guilt-free sex, but how to break it to my parents? I wasn't sure. So we kept our secret under wraps for a while. Since my life was completely independent of them it was easier to keep secrets. I was in no way dependent on them. No outstanding loans because I never asked them for one red cent. I would have lived in my car before I asked them for anything. Actually, I wouldn't even ask then. I was barely squeaking by, but at least I owned my life.

A month or so after we married I ended up getting very sick. I had ignored an off and on again bladder infection for months. Finally the pain moved into one of my kidneys and then I was really sick. Too poor to consider time off, I kept working and didn't want to go to a doctor because I had no insurance and no extra money. I endured complete fatigue and spiking fevers (up to 104 degrees) for two full weeks. I finally realized I was getting worse and needed some help. I had lost so much weight I was looking skeletal. I walked into an Immediate Care Clinic after work on a Friday afternoon and got the diagnosis of a severe kidney infection. When the doctor told me he should admit me to a hospital because, "you are a very sick young woman", I cried and begged him not to. I was scared of the bill. So he sighed, said he would give me a very large couple doses of Sulfa drug and if I wasn't significantly improved over the weekend, he was sending me to the hospital.

I'm only telling you how sick I was because of what happened next. I picked up my daughter from daycare and went to my apartment to collapse in bed with a 104 F fever. I was so incredibly weak and sick I felt like I was dying. Thankfully, my husband was waiting for us at the apartment and could take care of my daughter as I waited for the drugs to work. Unfortunately for me, this was the day my mother decided it was time to confront me for "living in sin". Mom had caught wind (my sister dearest tattled on me) that Ed was staying with me on the weekends. She, of course, didn't yet know I had married him (sister didn't know this either). She bangs on my door and husband opens it wearing only jeans and was shirtless. This only infuriated her more. A half naked man in my apartment confirmed to her I was a shameless whore.

She demands to see me. He tells her I am very sick and in bed. This matters not a wit. She pushes past him, storms into my bedroom and immediately launches into a haranguing fit. She is shaking and enraged. She is talking through her teeth at me. She is denouncing my immoral ways with me too weak to defend myself. I can't even lift my head off the pillow. At some point she took a breath and I begged her for a shred of mercy. I asked her if she could see that I was very sick right now, could we have this conversation later? She, in her usual fashion, was disgusted with me for being sick!! Not only was I an immoral hussy, I was SICK. My mother has always acted like being sick was some sort of crime. So, now I was doubly condemned. (When YOU are sick then it isn't about the narcissist. So they usually choose to treat you like a pile of dog doo when you find yourself under the weather. The sicker you are, the worse the treatment gets.)

I have no recall of exact quotes because my brain was fuzzed by fever, but I can see a clear picture of her standing over me and look on her face. Her total rage. At some point my husband told her to leave. She left in a huff. No apology for verbally beating me up while I was practically dying. Shit, no. She was FULLY justified.

I did improve dramatically over the weekend, much to my great relief. The fevers were gone before the weekend was out. I continued to improve until I was fully recovered without further incident. Did my mother ever call to inquire as to my health?? Uh, no. Did she wonder at all if her grandchild needed looking after while her mother was sick? That, again, would be no. The only reality that counted for her was that I was again making her look bad. My "immoral" life could possibly make the evening news and then all her church acquaintances would have another reason to look down on her. Of course, it wasn't really like that, but that was her perception.

I stayed away from my mother for weeks. I was seething with anger. I realize in retrospect that this was a good and healthy thing. I can see now this became an important mile post in my relationship with mother dearest. I mentally drew a line she would not be allowed to cross over ever again. This gave me space to live my life on my terms. I eventually was able to make good decisions and get my life on track. That was no thanks to my mother. Every good choice I made she raised her eyebrow at like it was somehow wrong. Thankfully, time proved my good choices to truly be good choices despite her lack of support for any of them. Narcissists aren't as smart as they think they are.

Many weeks after the "sick bed attack" I finally decided it was time to tell my mother I was a married woman. I drove to her place after work one summer afternoon. This is another time where extreme emotions have blotted out the specifics, but I retain some memories of the encounter. My sister was there as well as Mom. Dad wasn't home from work yet, which is how I wanted it. I went up to her bedroom and announced my presence. I told her I had some news for her. I had married Ed a couple months earlier. Deal with it. She was angry, of course, but I interrupted her and asked her if she remembered how she had abused me on my sick bed...well, guess what, I was married then too. While you were ranting and raving and not letting me get in a word edgewise, I was a married woman. You were accusing me of something I wasn't guilty of. Thanks a lot, Mom.

All I really remember from there is my escalating anger. I nailed her and I nailed her hard. I didn't let her pin shame on me. I hammered shame down on her head. I let it be known I didn't give a shit what she thought of me and how I was completely disgusted with her lack of simple human consideration for me as demonstrated by her behavior that ugly day and her lack of the slightest bit of concern about my health. I told her just how sick I had been and how that obviously didn't matter one little bit to her. I, for the first time in my life, shouted her down. For the first time in my life I left her presence while her lips were still moving. For the first time in my life I slammed a door so hard the house shook. For the first time, I peeled out of her gravel driveway leaving two trenches. That was something for my dad. He used to complain about people who would accelerate too quickly on his gravel driveway and leave tracks. So I left him a present. Here are two 35-foot long grand canyons for you to bitch about, Daddy-O.

As opposed to how I acted after my elopement at 17, this time I took control of the fall-out. I didn't let my Mom get the upper hand on me just because I didn't do things the way she would want me to. This was the beginning of a very cool period in my relationship with my family. I moved almost 800 miles away a couple months later and didn't speak to any of them (Mom, Dad, Sister) for the whole year I was gone. This event was a seismic shift in our relationship. My mother didn't know much of anything about my life for the next five or more years even when I moved back to her city. And even when she was back in my life again I kept my private life completely private and she knew that probing would get her nothing more than what I wanted her to know. She would occasionally pretend like she knew what I was up to even though I was wasn't telling her anything. "Trust me, S, I know a lot more about what you're doing than you realize." she would say with an annoying "knowing" look. I knew this was total B.S. and I didn't bite. I knew she didn't have a clue.

As a side note, I eventually quit living like a rebel and became a sincere Christian again. My life straightened up and I was truly happy for the first time in my life. It was the first time I had peace. It was a new and amazing place to be. My dear daughter was happy that she had a loving, engaged mother again. She was six years old by this time. I was staying away from dating, working at a very good job, had said good-bye to friends who had been influencing me poorly...I had grown up a bit. The school of hard knocks had made an impression. Well, one day after I had been consistently living an upright life for a significant period of time, I told my mother she didn't know shit about what I had been doing during my wild and crazy years. I proceeded to tell her, in broad generalities and a few specifics, about some of the things I'd done. She was startled and taken completely aback. She couldn't disguise her discomfiture. I forced her to admit she had known next to nothing about my life. That was an obviously embarrassing moment for her. It was a satisfying moment for me because she'd been playing this "I know what you're doing, I have eyes on the back of my head" for all my life. I wanted to rub her face in it a little now that I didn't have anything to hide. As it was, I didn't tell her everything I'd been up to. Didn't want to give her too much ammo to use against me. I told her just enough to let her know that she didn't know jack shit and to prove to her that I if I want to hide something from her I can. Guess she hadn't learned anything from my teenage years, eh?

I had made a mistake in marrying Ed. I'm sure that doesn't surprise you. Things started falling apart when he quit his band. He said he couldn't stand to be separated from me all week, only seeing me on weekends. *sigh* It had been working for me, but I didn't have the courage to tell him that fact. He was so sentimental I hated to rain on his parade. The guy couldn't do anything else but wash dishes in a restaurant...and soon that wasn't good enough work for him. So he quit that and spent a year looking for work while I supported him. I lost respect for him. When I found out he was flirting seriously with an ex-girlfriend, I left him. After I left, we spent a year trying to see if we could work things out while we were separated. We parted amicably when we could admit to ourselves and each other that it just wasn't going to work out. At least this second time around I hadn't married a narcissist. We were both immature and unequipped for the requirements of marriage. I'm not sure he if grew up. Within a few months he'd found an older woman with kids, a good alimony and a house and let her support him in better style than I had done. Last I knew they were still together and having a rocky time of it. To each their own.

But the whole second marriage "incident" was a continental shift in the old mother/daughter relationship. It marked a large distancing of my emotions from her control. Forever. It demarcated clearly where some of my boundaries were...and she was intimidated enough by my obvious willingness to live without her to cooperate with some clear boundaries. I was showing signs of a very stiff backbone. Nothing like showing some spine to scare a narcissist. I purchased a very large piece of my life to live without her having a right to dictate or comment. I hadn't yet gained the strength I needed to stand up to all of her manipulations, but I was learning. We at least had an unspoken understanding that I had limits.


noxpennatus said...

Hey Anna. When I read the part you nailed your N-mom... I just wanted to shout WOW. In capitals. I always enjoy stories of triumph over Ns.

That's pretty much what I want to do to my dad (who has probable N tendencies). Except that he'd go on and on about me being "unappreciative" and how he didn't come home to get abused - which is kinda ironic, don't you think? Not that I'd really care, but to put it in mom's words, I shouldn't "rock the boat" that hard. How would mom, my little sister, and I survive?

Problem is, I don't see the point of being nice and polite to someone who terrorizes the family, cheats on my mom and consequently caused serious issues for me. Only that I can't go no contact (or, failing that, shouting at him and slamming the door) as a girl of 14. Drat. I can't wait to turn 18. Maybe then I'll have a life to call my own. I don't want to listen to him ever again.

Cheers, Anna. Thanks for your great blog - it keeps me sane. Keep writing!


Unknown said...

Hey Anna,
Wow....I could relate to many parts of your story, We ALL have defining moments in our lives, it's having courage during those moments that defines who we are!

Hope ALL is going well for you and your daughter