The alchemists of the Middle Ages worked to transmute base metals into “noble metals”, AKA gold. Their work was guided by Hermetic principles related to magic and mythology. The process itself of transforming materials that were common and worth little to ones that were rare and valuable was understood to possess a spiritual aspect.
This week, I spoke with Tracy about my experiences in a narcissistic relationship. As a 30-year-old gay man (I was 28 when the events first took place), I am living proof that narcissistic abuse can happen to anyone. Regardless of our age, race, background, sexual orientation or any other characteristics that define who we are, these relationships all follow the same pattern: they love-bomb us. They build our trust until we believe they are the most amazing, incredible people. We put them on a pedestal and believe we’re so lucky to have them in our lives. We open up to them, we share our deepest thoughts, secrets, hopes, fears and dreams with them. We let them in deeper than we’ve ever let in anyone else before. And then, just when they have this level of control and influence over our lives – things start to go wrong. We are devalued out of nowhere. Suddenly, the narcissist drops all communication and ghosts us (or gives us the “silent treatment”) as if we no longer exist. We’re suddenly left with a gut feeling that something has been off about this relationship all along. We can’t put our finger on it, but something is very wrong, and we start going to the internet for answers. The narcissist’s house of cards is beginning to implode at this stage.
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In my case, my narc charmer was a 50-year old man with long silver hair he swept up into a ponytail and a silver beard. We developed a friendship and a bond that grew and deepened. It all seemed so natural and effortless. He seemed so charming, caring and nurturing. He loved all the same things I did. He loved reading children’s books, including one of my childhood favorites, The Velveteen Rabbit. We would sit and have these long conversations that must have lasted hours. He wanted to know all about my life and seemed to genuinely care about me. He claimed to be very involved with spirituality, attending yoga, Buddhist meditation workshops and ecstatic dance. His whole ethos was peace, love, and yoga.
At the beginning of the summer, Tom took me out to dinner. He told me he was going to be going on a fishing boat with some friends for the summer. He made it sound like they were going out to catch salmon and trout. He also told me he was using the trip as a sort of “vision quest” because he realized he no longer knows who he is after having
invested and wrapped up so much of himself in his deceased wife. Tom’s wife passed away over 10 years ago of a rare, terminal illness. As an empath, of course I cared very much about the pain losing his wife must have caused him. I tried over the course of our relationship to work with Tom through the pain I thought he must be experiencing from this death-wound and show him a lot of love and compassion, going as far as opening up and relating to him my own life’s deepest losses and traumas. When he told me about this fishing trip, I told him I hoped he found everything he needed on the trip and wished him all the best.
It was at this point that I began to notice a change in the relationship. Suddenly, we went from all this intimacy and communication to ZERO communication. At first, I chalked it up to him being out to sea on the boat. Of course he couldn’t communicate with me then, right? But then I began to notice on social media that apparently, there were weeks at a time when the boat would dock and he would be back doing activities on land. In fact, Tom had time to squeeze in visits to a music festival, a Portland city-wide bike ride, AND to start seeing another woman! His social media revealed that she owned a farm and he was making visits to the farm with her and the animals during the times he was docked on land.
I started reeling. Clearly something (or a lot of things) were not as they had been first represented. The complete lack of communication with me for months on end was clearly deliberate and intentional. On top of that, there was this new woman. Was he trying to get a reaction out of me? Was he trying to hurt me? Was he playing both of us at the same time? (In hindsight, it’s a classic case of triangulation, which we know narcissists are so skilled at!) With these questions in mind, the gears started turning. Almost as quickly as he had broken my defenses down, my trust in him began to erode, and I started to need to play detective and find answers. It was at this stage when I accidentally stumbled across my first video on YouTube about Narcissists, and the entire “silent treatment” phase of the relationship. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. There was a name for this behavior? I rewound the video because I couldn’t believe my ears. It was all there. There was even a “love bombing” phase that the narcissist uses to break down your defenses and gain trust and deep personal access. As I watched the videos and found myself diving deeper and deeper into the black hole of narcissism, I still did not want to believe that these videos spoke to what was happening in my relationship with Tom. I needed to believe Tom was who he said he is. Even with the handwriting on the wall, I entered a denial stage.
It was less than a couple weeks later that everything came to a head and erupted in a spectacular way. One afternoon, I checked his Instagram. What I saw made me gasp and my stomach just lurched and fell. There on Instagram, posted without a second thought, were photos of the bodies of dead and dying sharks, left to bleed out and die on the deck of the boat. These massive, majestic animals had clearly endured great pain and suffering in their deaths. As an empath, I felt physical pain just in seeing these photos. It was absolutely horrific. One of the uploads was a video. One of the sharks had been sawed in half. Tom and the rest of the crew were standing around on the deck of the boat laughing. He even zoomed up to expose the guts of the shark where it had been hacked in two. The caption on the video said #Jaws.
The posts immediately prior to this carnage were memes about yoga and healing.
I’m not going to delve into how the relationship ended here. If you’re reading this, you’re likely all too familiar with the mind games, the gaslighting, word salad, flying monkey attacks and all the other fireworks and drama that accompany the grand finale of a narcissistic relationship. I will suffice it to say that it was a devastation and pain unlike any other. Losing Tom, or realizing the entire relationship had been built on a foundation of lies, smoke and mirrors from the very beginning — it just an illusion! — losing him ripped the band-aid off my old, unaddressed father wounds. I was left to confront the pain and agony of a father who withheld love from me, was at best largely absent from my life and at worst, severely and traumatically abusive.
In the intervening time since the relationship ended and going no contact, I have risen up from the ashes of my life. I have found a new strength, assertiveness, and I’ve begun the journey toward remembering who I really am. Like the alchemists who transmuted base metals into gold and trusted that the process was somehow shaping the spiritual fabric of their lives, I have chosen to take my pain and heartache as a survivor of narcissistic abuse and transmute it into helping others. If I can speak to other survivors and let them know there is light at the end of the tunnel, that life can be great and you can become a better version of yourself for having gone through this experience — then my pain has not been in vain.
Together, we can work through this alchemical process of turning the base stuff of our lives into gold. We can address our original core wounds and we can find access to the true strength that we have as caring, nurturing, empathic individuals. Remember: the narcissist chose us for a reason! You have so much to offer, dear ones. Healing is a journey. There are people further down the line in recovery that are cheering me on, just as I am cheering for those of you who are possibly still in the throes of a relationship, figuring this all out, and living with the pain and the aftermath of narcissistic abuse. So much love to you all.
“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A. A. Milne