Going insane: how I got diagnosed with BPD

going_insane

I thought I should explain how I got diagnosed with BPD. Although my out of control behaviors in 1995-1996 were due to prolonged emotional and mental (and some physical) abuse at the hands of my ex (on top of having been a victim of narcissistic abuse growing up), the focus of this article isn’t on narcissistic abuse or the way my ex behaved, but rather on my reactions and how out of touch with reality I actually became.

My memory of this time is sketchy and fragmented, almost dreamlike, so what I’m about to write may not flow together well. I believe my fuzzy memories of these two years were due to 3 things: (1) intermittent substance abuse, including alcohol; (2) being so out of touch with reality; and (3) I may have blocked out some of these incidents or partially blocked them out so they seem sort of grey when I think about them now, like a dream.

In 1995 my ex’s mother could no longer live alone so she came to live with us. At first things went smoothly, but she had Alzheimers and was deteriorating fast, and soon her care was left entirely to me. At the same time I was the stay at home mom to a 2 and 4 year old. My ex had started drinking a lot during this time, and said it was because he hated his mother (a malignant narcissist herself) and his behavior toward her was very abusive. He justified his abuse by saying she deserved it because of the way she had treated him. My children saw this behavior but in my emotionally weakened state due to his constant gaslighting, projecting and triangulating (he had turned most of our friends against me) as well as isolating me from those who could help me, I began to collude in his abusive behavior toward his mother. I didn’t physically attack her (he did) but in my frustration with things like her wetting the bed I would yell at her whenever he did and sometimes even when he wasn’t there. I also didn’t try to stop him when he used to spank her like a naughty child.

My ex was drinking heavily and smoking a lot of pot, and I joined him. At night, after the kids were asleep, we would often both be drunk and high. Sometimes his friends came over, who were all younger than we were (my ex’s friends were always younger than him). Sometimes things got wild. I was no longer attracted to my ex by this time due to his constant emotional abuse, so when I was drunk I openly flirted with his friends. I was unfaithful too, but so was he (I am definitely not proud of any of this, especially because I had young children at the time).

We fought constantly. One night, drunk, he threatened me with a gun. I ran down the street screaming and went and hid in a grove of trees for hours in the freezing cold. On several occasions I called the police and they would show up to fund us both drunk and didn’t know who to believe so they would leave and tell us to sober up. At this time I had no control over my reactions or my emotions. I acted more immature than my own kids sometimes.

I used to sleep during the day and wasn’t as good a mother as I could have been. I was testy, impatient and neglectful. I loved my kids dearly, but just didn’t have the emotional stamina or energy to deal with them more effectively or lovingly. (I tried to make up for that later).

Soon the dissociative episodes began. Sometimes things looked weird. People looked like they weren’t real and they seemed demonic. I began to have delusions of reference. I had the weird sensation of unrelated events or conversations somehow referencing exactly what I was thinking. I felt like I was outside my body a lot, as if I was watching the events of my life unfold instead of being in them. This began to happen when I started distancing myself from my emotions into a “comfortable numbness.” (This is common in PTSD and BPD). But it wasn’t comfortable–it was horrifying. I think I was unconsciously protecting myself from feeling too much emotional pain. The abnormal had become normal, the insane had become sane, the evil had become good. I walked through my days in a sort of fog, but not all the time. Occasionally, when triggered, I would come back into myself and “go off” on my ex and experience a tidal wave of unbelievably painful and intense emotions. Instead of spending my evenings doing quiet things with my family, I spent that time on the computer in chat rooms, talking to men. I imagined I fell in love with one or two of them. My emotional reactions to these online entities I had never met were as intense as if they were actual relationships, but all of it was fantasy. To me it felt real.

I couldn’t sleep at night, but would sleep most of the day away. I didn’t take care of the house and only did the rudimentary necessities for the kids, in between taking care of my ex’s mother’s almost constant needs. I lost patience with both her and the kids easily. We ate cereal and yogurt most nights for dinner because I didn’t have the energy or wherewithal to cook anything.

I started a job after awhile at a hotel. I had a short affair with the disc jockey/maintenance man there. I wasn’t in love with him but I enjoyed the kindness he showed me, that my husband wasn’t giving me. One night he confronted me about it and I confessed everything. He didn’t seem upset but admitted he was having an affair too. Strangely, we did not fight about this. I really didn’t care whether he loved me anymore; I was convinced he hated my guts.

I quit my job on a whim even though we needed the extra income, because my ex had squandered over $100K we got from the sale of his mother’s house. One day I just decided not to go in anymore. I didn’t even bother to call, which normally is out of character for me. I started doing really crazy things. One night after a really bad fight I went into the closet in the master bedroom and sat on the floor crying for what seemed like hours. My ex didn’t seem concerned and went out instead. I don’t know why I was doing this; I felt like I had lost my mind and there was no reason for doing this. I had no idea what I was doing; I was just reacting to my pain like a wounded animal. The episodes of dissociation and delusions of reference became worse. I imagined everything–even voices on TV or songs on the radio–were coded messages that referenced something in my life. This is impossible to explain if you haven’t experienced it but it was very strange and disorienting.

delusions_reference

One day shortly after the closet incident, I left the kids in the house with him and decided to go driving. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing, but I suddenly thought it would be a good idea to drive at 90 mph (the speed limit was 65 mph). Normally I’m a very cautious driver but during this time I had thrown all caution to the wind. I wasn’t suicidal in the sense of making a conscious effort to kill myself and I didn’t even contemplate suicide, but I was taking huge risks with my life. Miraculously, nothing happened, not even a pullover by police. I returned home feeling exhilarated from my crazy drive, but immediately that feeling disappeared and I was hit with the horror of my reality and started screaming irrationally and throwing things against the wall just to hear them break. I don’t even know what set this tantrum off–probably nothing at all, but I had this overwhelming desire to act out my excruciating emotional pain. I had no control over myself at all. When I thought about my behavior later on, I was horrified. I wasn’t even drinking anymore by now, so I wasn’t drunk. I was just insane.

My ex told me I was crazy. He always did anyway. But I really was crazy. He told me I should commit myself to a mental institution–or he would. To his surprise (and mine) I agreed. In that moment of clarity, I realized how crazy I had become (due to his emotional abuse of me, but that didn’t make me any less crazy). I allowed him to drive me to the mental hospital, which turned out to have an excellent program and engaging activities. I felt relief in entering that hospital and spent the next three months there. My Axis 1 diagnosis was Major Depression and anxiety, and my Axis 2 diagnosis was BPD, as well as substance abuse. I was also diagnosed with PTSD. I received daily therapy–both individual and group, as well as DBT classes–and I was put on Depakote (a mood stabilizer), Prozac (for the depression) and Klonopin (for anxiety). I stabilized during my stay but I wasn’t as committed to using the DBT tools I learned there as I became later on. I remember calling my mother from the hospital and telling her what was wrong with me, and her attitude was like, “so what? You need to be a mother to your children.” She didn’t even know I was in the hospital. So much for maternal support.

I had mixed feelings about returning home. I was overjoyed to see my children, but wasn’t too happy to see my husband at all. I really just wanted to stay in that hospital for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to face reality.

Fortunately, my mental state never got that bad again, but his abuse was to get much worse. He used my descent into the madness of severe BPD and major depression as an excuse to punish me for “having gone batshit insane” when I should have been a better mother and wife to him.

I still have a lot of guilt and shame over the way I neglected my children when they were so young and helpless. I wonder sometimes how much my not being there for them may have damaged them.

When I look back even earlier at my life, I can remember similar incidents of being totally unable to control my emotional reactions to stressors and triggers, with periods of almost robotic numbness and dissociative episodes in between outbursts. It was a pattern I was familiar with, but it reached its pinnacle in 1995-1996. I had a relapse in 1997 and spent a week in the psych ward at the regular hospital, and got the same exact diagnosis as the year before. Over the next several years, while I was still married to my ex, I spent most of my time in a state of emotional numbness, living on “automatic pilot.” It wasn’t until I finally got the POS out of my life that I felt safe enough to begin to let myself feel emotions again–but this time with mindfulness and acceptance instead of allowing my emotions to control me. I still have a long way to go.

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Targets and Victims

victim

I found another blog today written by a survivor of a sick family of psychopaths and sociopaths (I’ve added the site to my list of resources under the “Info and Support” tab in the green bar in the header. I know I’ve written about this before, but this is one of the best lists of the traits of potential targets and victims of psychopaths I have seen yet. I have just about every single one of these traits, unfortunately. From an early age, I was trained to be a doormat. I learned that lesson too well.

BEFORE: TRAITS of a Potential TARGET

Below are the traits most commonly attributed to a sociopath’s target. Every person is inherently different, and that includes each target and the traits that are most pronounced in the individual. An individual would definitely not need any of these traits to be preyed upon.

This is not an attempt to diagnose anyone.

Shyness
Difficulty communicating
A lack of self confidence
Wanting to please
A belief that if you love enough the person will change
A belief that if you love enough the relationship will succeed
Difficulty establishing and maintaining boundaries
Not being able to say no
Being easily influenced by others
Wanting to be rescued from your life situation
Wanting to rescue others from their distress
Being over nurturing particularly when not asked
Feelings of shame and self doubt
Low self-esteem
A lack of memories about childhood or periods of adulthood
A lack of motivation from within and being motivated by others

AFTER: SYMPTOMS of a Relentlessly Abused VICTIM

This is a very accurate list of symptoms experienced by someone who has had their psyche brutally victimized by a sociopath. With that said, this list is not all-inclusive, nor is it intended to be part of any diagnostic function, whatsoever. These symptoms can also be triggered by many other conditions or events.

The source of this data is from ongoing research, but the majority of the data is derived and confirmed from personal experience … the key word being “majority” There are some symptoms listed here that I have not experienced at all, though they have been mentioned enough for me to accept them as potentially common.

If you, or someone you know, has experienced even a few of these symptoms, seek professional help. Keep in mind, though, that not all “help” is equal. If the professional you choose does not seem to relate to your needs as you would expect or desire, keep looking.

Emotional paralysis
PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Suicidal thoughts or actions (indirect homicide)
Loss of interest in life
Loss of energy
Insomnia
Anxiety
Depression or Severe Depression
Numbing of feelings
Disinterest in having a relationship
Panic attacks
Irritability
Increased anxiety from being alone
Increased anxiety from being in crowds
Mood swings
Source: sociopathicstyle.com [confirmed by personal experience (50+ years)]

Held hostage: living with the enemy

trapped

Finally, I’m getting around to posting this last part of my story. It will be in two parts, because it’s going to be so long.

After Michael kicked me out of our home in 2003 (which by that time was in foreclosure), I had no job, no place to go, and no friends or family who would take me in. Michael told me I couldn’t take the children with me, and since I had no place to go, it was obvious that for the time being they would have to stay with him.

I had just been released from the psychiatric center for Major Depression and severe PTSD, and I still wasn’t all there. I was medicated too, so that numbed my emotions even more. So I didn’t try to fight his demands, even though I could have. I could have gone to the local chapter of Helpmate, an organization that helps battered women. Even though I wasn’t battered physically (usually, unless he was drunk), the type of abuse I had just suffered was even worse because it was so insidious and soul destroying.

As for the children, I didn’t think there was anything I could do. I had no place to go, and couldn’t them with me to wherever I’d have to stay.

I had 30 days to leave. I wanted to leave right then and there, but my daughter’s 10th birthday was coming up so I wanted to stay around for that. But the next two weeks were torture. Michael and his flying monkey Rachel amped up the volume to full blast on their mind games and gaslighting, and the shitty car I had access to was taken away from me so I couldn’t leave until they wanted me to. Rachel took away my car keys. If I needed something, I had to ask for it. I was a prisoner in my own home. I’m convinced they wanted to keep me around just to torment me.

My daughter’s birthday was miserable. Molly was depressed. Michael and Rachel used her to triangulate against me and my son, who was also treated horribly. I think a part of Molly hated being in this role, but she knew she didn’t have a choice if she didn’t want to become a target herself. It was an awful thing to do to a child.

I left the next day. I had $1,000 in my pocket and the old car. Michael and Rachel didn’t say goodbye. Ethan wept quietly in his room. Molly said goodbye but didn’t hug me. Paul was the nicest. He came over to the car window as I was pulling out of the driveway and whispered “you don’t deserve this.” I don’t know if I was imagining things or not, but I thought he had tears in his eyes. Paul was a nice guy, but was very weak willed and as much under Rachel’s control as I was. The only difference was he wasn’t a target. He had pretty much kept to himself the whole time they lived with us, staying out of the hate campaign but not fighting against it either.

So I drove 11 hours to New Jersey, where an old friend was letting me stay with her for a week. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, I became fatigued and had to find a motel to stay in for the night. In my room, I thought about the gravity of what had just happened. I thought about my children and wondered if I’d ever see them again. I thought about how emotionally damaged they both were by Michael’s mindgames. I thought about Ethan’s love of Twix bars and his silly grin and hair that stood straight up when he got up in the morning. I thought about how sweet Molly could sometimes be and the way she still slept with her threadbare puppy at night. I thought about the way they both ate cereal straight out of the box. And for the first time in many months, I cried.

car

But I had to keep going, somehow. The next day I met my friend in New Jersey and accompanied her on her pet sitting job. I helped her with the animals. The animals were therapeutic for me, and I felt almost happy when I watched them or stroked their fur. I felt like they understood me and what I was going through. I would have liked to stay with my friend longer, but it wasn’t possible, and after a week I drove back to North Carolina, and crashed with another old friend for about a month. Things didn’t work out too well and the friend resented my having so much “stuff” (I had only brought 4 bags out of the car) and finally told me it was too crowded (it was a one bedroom apartment) and I would have to go.

I was almost out of money. In the nick of time, I found a job in a gas station and moved into the local women’s homeless shelter. The shelter actually wasn’t too bad. It was midsummer and there was no air conditioning (and I had a sore tooth that later had to be pulled but the pain kept me up at night), but the rooms were okay, and I only had to share my room with one other woman, a crackhead in her 60s. We didn’t get along. So I stayed out most of the time, if not working, then just going to the library, walking around the mall, or driving around. A few times I went to church to pray. I didn’t have the money or energy to do anything else. There was no room in the room for any of my stuff, so I kept everything in the car. I had to bring up my change of clothes from the car every night and lay it on the bed for the next day.

During this time I had several conversations with my parents. My mother feigned sympathy but offered no help. She kept asking me “what are you going to do about the children?” or saying things like “A good mother would keep her children with her.” Oh, the hypocrisy was stunning–these words coming from a woman who had given up her own two daughters for a man. She knew I could do nothing and had no place to take them. I think she was deliberately taunting me by bringing it up all the time and making me feel like a horrible mother.

It was my father who finally came through. In spite of his drunkenness and physical punishments of me as a child, I don’t think he was psychopathic. Under all that anger, I think he cared about me and the children. But he was deep down a weak man who always allowed himself to be manipulated by narcissistic women. The first time I had asked for his help, his wife (a narcissist who controls all their funds) said no. She told me I was an adult and had to pull myself up by my bootstraps and shouldn’t be asking them for help. I never felt so unsupported. No one cared!

As a requirement for staying in the shelter, I was seeing a counselor, who asked me if my parents would help me pay for a small place I could take the kids. I told her they would not, but she took it upon herself to call my father anyway. Somehow hearing a professional voice instead of mine convinced him, and his wife grudgingly agreed to help me pay for an apartment on a month to month basis.

So I moved into a cute one bedroom. During this time, the kids had been living with Michael, and because our home had been foreclosed on, they had all moved to a rented house in town. I found out my poor son Ethan was required to do all the work and made to sleep in the basement. He didn’t get one of the bedrooms, though everyone else did (even though the two girls had to share). Ethan was constantly taunted about being gay (even though he was years from coming out). When he fell down on his bike one day, Rachel just stood and laughed at him. This shattered my heart.

The kids moved in with me. Ethan was thrilled, even though he had to sleep in the living room (Molly and I shared the only bedroom). At nearly 14, he was developing a love of computers and spent hours playing with the boxy old desktop I had picked up at Goodwill. We had no Internet (I couldn’t afford it, or cable either) but he had loads of games he would play and he opened up Word to write poetry and song lyrics. He was a quiet and well behaved kid, who also loved to ride his bike and sit outside on the tiny deck, watching nature. He was fascinated by weather, and set up a little homemade weather station outside he had put together with a kit.

computergeek

Molly was sullen and clearly didn’t like being with me anymore. She thought I was boring. Molly was then and still is addicted to chaos and all too often, the wrong kind of excitement. She can be a drama queen. She may be borderline or God forbid, even narcissistic, but she, like me, has been diagnosed with severe PTSD.

It was 2004 and Molly was 11, turning into a physically beautiful girl, but preteen angst mixed in with hatred for me, fueled by the brainwashing she had received. Our time together was awkward and forced. When I’d tell her to do something, she’d refuse or make a sarcastic remark, usually repeating something Michael and Rachel had said about me. Most of these things were lies. The worst was when she told me Michael and Rachel had told her the reason I left was because “your mother is selfish and doesn’t love you anymore.” I was stunned by this incredible lie. I told Molly it wasn’t true at all, and I loved her very much and she shouldn’t listen to them, but I don’t think she was convinced. To this day, there’s a rift in our relationship due to their gaslighting and triangulation that made her believe I didn’t love her. It’s gotten better and she does realize now she was lied to and manipulated. But the wounds haven’t completely healed and it’s still having repercussions in our relationship and her behavior today. She is also showing disturbing early signs of being narcissistic. But more on that later.

I wasn’t thinking straight and was making terrible choices. I got back together with the man who had gotten Michael and I in trouble for the marijuana 3 years earlier. This was a huge mistake, as he tried to take over and criticized how I was raising my children, who he thought were spoiled. They both couldn’t stand him, and after a few months, I decided I couldn’t either, and gave him the leave ho. He continued to call me for a couple of years after that, but after a while, I just started hanging up on him. Finally he gave up.

In the meantime, Michael was trying to worm his way back into our lives. Rachel and Paul had thrown HIM out of the house, and he started love bombing me and the kids, acting all simpering and apologetic, even saying he was sorry for everything he put me through. He bribed me to let him live in our tiny one bedroom by promising to be a better dad, and cooking dinner every night. He also had a job and offered to help me pay the bills. Mainly because Molly did seem much happier with him around (and I believed his empty promises) I stupidly conceded.

Michael didn’t become abusive this time, but he became loud. He was never a quiet person, but he was smoking pot constantly and when he was high, his voice became loud and he blasted his horrible music. The downstairs neighbors, who were elderly, complained the the landlord several times, and we were finally asked to leave.

Luckily I had a better place to go with the children, and the timing was perfect. The apartment we were living in had been a month to month arrangement, and my father had told me he could no longer afford the rent payments (actually his wife just didn’t want to foot the bill anymore). I didn’t earn enough at my job at the gas station to pay the whole rent, so we had to leave anyway.

I had been working with an organization called Interlace, which works with single mothers and children who have been victims of abuse. They’re a fantastic organization, and they provide free housing on an 18 month basis. The only thing they required was covering the utility bill, being available for weekly home visits and attending monthly group meetings. The group meetings were fun. Dinner was always served, and after the meeting, there was usually some group activity, usually involving arts and crafts, that both mothers and their kids participated in. They also sponsored group picnics and other events.

So we moved into a clean, well kept 3 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment with more storage space than I’d ever had in my life. There were two levels and there was even a tiny room (really an oversized closet) under the stairs that the kids had a lot of fun redecorating into a little private domain complete with large pillows, stuffed animals (both kids still loved their fluffies) and an old black and white TV that actually worked.

There were rules too. The most important one was no overnight visitors, even family members. That didn’t stop Michael from trying to manipulate and sweet talk his way in. He convinced the kids (even Ethan) that we were better together as a real family and they needed a dad. I told him it wasn’t allowed but he promised to be quiet and never answer the phone or the door. I was so broken down and afraid of him I broke the rules and said yes. Every day I was terrified we’d be discovered (we could have been thrown out), but we never were. Fortunately the weekly home visits were scheduled ahead of time, so I always made sure he was out when the counselor came over. No one suspected a thing, and the neighbors didn’t care.

But Michael didn’t stay long. After a few months, he started acting cranky again, and he was out a lot more. I didn’t mind his absence, but Molly did. She was still sullen and snippy and her grades dropped from A’s to mostly C’s and D’s. She acted like she didn’t care about anything.

It turned out he had a girlfriend. She had her own apartment and asked Michael to move in with him. Strangely, I was jealous. Or maybe just resentful because I felt I’d been duped and used. After all the hell he put me through, he actually dared to leave me? But overall, I was relieved–until one day Molly told me she wanted to live with him and not me.

Molly had been spending a lot of time with Michael and his new girlfriend (I’ll call her Heather) and always seemed in a much better mood after she had been with them. She spent less and less time at home, and there came a point where I hardly ever saw her anymore. Michael and Molly both told me Heather was a much happier and more positive person than I was, and they both preferred her company to mine. Later it turned out she was a drug addict; that probably explains the “happiness.”

Molly said if I didn’t allow her to live with them, she would hate me forever. Oh, she was good at manipulating her mom–she had learned from the best. She actually cried and said if I made her stay she’d be so miserable she might kill herself. I didn’t know what to do or say, so I allowed it.

punkgirl

Finally, in early 2006, the divorce came through. I had agreed to joint custody, not wanting to anger Michael and fearing what he might do if I “took his kids away from him.” I also didn’t want Molly to hate me by not allowing at least partial custody. So although technically we both had joint custody, the kids were allowed to choose. Ethan remained with me and occasionally visited Michael and Heather (when they wanted him around, which wasn’t often–he got on their nerves), and Molly of course got to live with them.

If I had any idea of what was actually going on in their home (I was so naive and trusting back then), I would have grabbed my daughter and ran.

Michael was regularly drinking again, and now mixing alcohol with pot AND pain pills. Heather turned out to be a pill addict and also a heavy drinker, and a number of times Molly couldn’t get to school because no one was sober enough to drive her (and there were no buses in the rural area they lived in). There were parties every weekend, where Heather’s friends, a motley crew of crackheads, meth addicts, drunks and assorted addict, came over to the house. Molly was only 12 going on 13. But that didn’t stop Heather from letting my daughter try “just one pill”or have a drink or two.

The police were called on a couple of occasions because of the fighting. Michael and Heather got into violent arguments. Unlike me though, she wasn’t afraid of Michael. She finally reached her limit and one night tossed him out, along with all his belongings. Molly had to come back home with me, but by now she had developed a taste for both drugs and alcohol, thanks to Heather’s “education,” and became worse than ever.

pills

Michael disappeared after that. I had no idea where he was and none of us, not even Molly, heard from him. Molly hated this and missed her father, but I was relieved and secretly hoped he was dead.

At the gas station, I was promoted to assistant manager, and although were were still pretty poor, I could afford a few nice things now and a new car. Our 18 months in the Interlace apartment were up, and just in the nick of time, our Section 8 came through. We moved into a charming Craftsman style two family house. We rented a three bedroom apartment on the ground floor with a front porch and a deck in the back. Section 8 paid half of the rent. And we were finally allowed to have a pet–one dog only, but that was fine. Daisy, our dog who had been a gift for Molly’s 6th birthday, been living with Heather and Rod (and various friends before that), but she was growing older and was a little arthritic, so she came home to live with us. Daisy was so happy to be home.

Molly’s drug problems were beginning to affect her at school, and her behavior at home was becoming frightening. She started wearing long sleeves all the time and when I asked why, she changed the subject. But one night I saw red marks on her wrists and forearms. She was cutting herself. When she was in 8th grade, she was caught at school with several Klonopins (she said she had gotten from her dad), which she was sharing with her friends. She was caught, and suspended for two weeks. It was at the end of the school year, so even though she got her diploma, she wasn’t allowed to attend her own graduation ceremony.

I was slowly becoming fat. I smoked too much. I was stressed and miserable, and other than work, I had no interests except eating, reading crappy novels, and watching court shows and sometimes movies on TV. I was becoming the “slovenly” mother Rachel had accused me of being several years before. I was emotionally numb, yet also prone to to occasional fits of anger that at times became violent. Either nothing affected me, or it affected me too much and I overreacted. Most of the time I felt like I was an autopilot, just going through the motions of life. There was no beauty or joy in my world, and all I could see ahead was a vast emptiness that stretched out until death. But I plodded along like an ailing cow, accepting that this state of affairs was normal. In fact, I was showing symptoms of unresolved PTSD.

My only ray of hope anymore was my dog Daisy, and my son Ethan, who was becoming a sort of guardian angel to me. By default, he was now the man of the house, and became a responsible teenager, getting himself up for school and always at the school bus on time, and always doing his homework. He had always been a B and C student, but he began to apply himself more and started getting A’s and even on the honor roll. When he was home, he was quiet and spent most of his times on the computer playing video games, posting on entertainment and racing forums, and setting up his own car racing forum. He also started making short films with his beloved new digital camera my father had bought for him. From the get go, it was evident he was talented. Soon he transferred from the regular public school to an adjunct school that specialized in computers and technology.

The more mature Ethan became, the worse his sister got. She was addicted to MySpace (we’re up to 2007 now, and that was still the most popular social network of the time) and without my knowledge, met a man online 7 years older than herself. Ben had been in prison for fraud, but passed himself off as a “good guy.” He wasn’t.

I need to take a break and eat something, so I’ll post the next part of this story in a little bit.

Sleeping with the devil: my marriage to a psychopath

rottencard

The above e-card pretty much describes my ex to a tee (except maybe the commitment issues)–and for the purposes of this blog, I have named him Michael (not his real name).

Another blogger and survivor of narcissistic abuse described living with a psychopath as analogous to the frog in boiling water–a frog if dropped in a pot of boiling water, will jump out, but if the water is slowly heated with the frog in the pot, the frog won’t notice the increase in temperature until it’s cooked to death. That’s what life with a psychopath is like. The relationship always begins great (though there may be red flags we choose to ignore) and slowly, like the boiling frog, becomes abusive. As the victims, we may even mirror the abuser’s psychopathic behavior, doing things and acting in ways we’d never dream of if we were not in that relationship. Another blogger describes this phenomenon very well here in this blog post about mirroring.

So to get to my story.

For the first year or two after we got engaged, Michael and I seemed like the perfect couple. Michael doted on me, bought me gifts and flowers, constantly told me how much he loved me, and continued being very romantic and attentive even after the wedding. We took a couple of short vacations (because we both worked full time) and had a wonderful, romantic time. The fact Michael acted like a bit of a know it all seemed a minor annoyance–it was just one of those little foibles all married people have to deal with in their spouses.

There were a few red flags though, but at the time they didn’t seem serious so I blew them off. One red flag was the way he was about money. At the time we met until shortly after we married, he made little money, but somehow had a lot of credit cards. He charged all the gifts and dinners to plastic, and then couldn’t pay the bills later, so he’d ask me to loan him the money since at the time I made more than he did. It occurred to me I was essentially buying my own gifts, and that included our wedding rings. Soon we were deep in debt and all the credit cards maxed out. The monthly fees exceeded what we were able to pay each month, so we had to juggle a lot of other bills and use other credit cards to pay the ones we were maxed out on. It was almost impossible to keep up–the credit cards weren’t even usable by this point since all we could pay was the interest. We were able to save nothing.

pastdue

Another red flag was his meanspirited sense of humor. He loved to play practical jokes on me, and sometimes this meant “playful” physical abuse, and I don’t mean consensual S&M or bondage during sex play. I’ll give an example. One winter night after a snowstorm we were walking home from the local bowling alley (we didn’t have a car and since it was an urban area, we didn’t need one) and suddenly for no reason, Michael pushed me into a snowbank, and when I tried to get up, he was laughing hysterically and did it again. At first I laughed with him, but I really didn’t like it–and then he did it a third and fourth time. Now I was getting mad, and he just kept laughing and telling me I looked cute when I was angry. Then he smushed snow in my face, and continued even after I told him to stop. There wasn’t any anger in this “play,” but I realized later on this was really a form of bullying disguised as “humor.” Although his sadistic sense of humor wasn’t usually physical, Michael thought he was extremely funny and through our entire marriage would deliberately do things he knew would irritate me and didn’t know when to stop. He had absolutely no respect for boundaries. As a person with autism, I hate loud sudden noises, so he’d deliberately make them. Or keep clicking a pen. Or play his music (most of which I disliked) at the highest volume just to annoy me. Telling him to stop was useless–he’d just play it louder or continue whatever he was doing that set me off. I remember once, several years into the marriage, I finally told him he just wasn’t that funny, and he flew into a narcissistic rage and screamed that there was something wrong with me because “everyone else” found him hilarious, and I just had no sense of humor. Oh, the gaslighting was off the charts with him. But it would get worse. Much worse.

Three years after we married, Michael started drinking again. We had met in an AA meeting (something that’s not recommended) and he’d completely abandoned it (I don’t think he was serious to begin with). And he was a mean drunk too; when he drank any pretense of kindness or civility disappeared and he became a raging maniac. At first his drunken rages didn’t include hitting me, but he’d break things and scream and call me every obscene name you can think of. Neighbors had to call the police on two occasions, and both times I told them it was nothing; everything was fine, and they left. After these drunken rages, he’d usually fall into a drunken stupor and sleep it off. In the morning, he always love bombed me, apologizing profusely and begging me to forgive him. I know his “remorse” was a pretense, but at the time I believed his lies. We’d make up and be all lovey dovey again for a few days.

I was doing fairly well as a medical editor and book reviewer in those days, but the company I worked for folded in early 1991. The timing couldn’t have been better because just before the lay off was announced, I had found out I was pregnant. I was thrilled–unlike some survivors who never want to have children of their own, I wanted them badly, and a big reason I did was because I wanted to give a child the love I never had growing up in a narcissistic home. So anyway, the layoff worked for me because Michael by this time had been promoted and was making a very good income (though we certainly weren’t rich), AND the publishing company I had worked for was owned by a much larger firm that was generous and gave me severance pay for an entire year, as well as maternity leave. This perfect storm of events meant that I’d be able to be a stay at home mom and not have to put my child in the hands of strangers while I worked.

The pregnancy went smoothly, and Michael surprised me because once he got used to the idea of a baby coming, he acted very attentive and supportive, even going to lamaze classes with me. Earlier he had said he wasn’t interested in having children any time soon, but the prospect of a baby as a reality seemed to change his attitude.

My son was born in October 1991. Michael was great with him, and he had stopped drinking again. So for a time, maybe for a year, it looked like our marriage might make it and we might be happy together. Michael still liked to play his sadistic jokes and annoy me to amuse himself, but I shrugged it off as something I’d just have to accept as part of who he was.

At first, Michael was a great father to our son. When Ethan was not even a year old, Michael surprised me by suggesting we have another baby. “A girl this time, Ethan needs a little sister,” he said.
I always wondered what he would have done if our second child had been a boy instead of a girl.

Molly was a more difficult baby than Ethan and more prone to illness, and by this time, our financial problems had gotten really dire. Without my job and with my severance pay long gone (I was doing some freelance editing and proofreading but it hardly paid anything) and with two young children to support, we couldn’t make our credit card premiums any more and had saved absolutely nothing. When it came to money, Michael was always extremely irresponsible, always thinking of what he must have RIGHT NOW instead of saving for the future. So we were forced to file bankruptcy which meant no more living on credit, which made Michael cranky. I was very stressed out and with a new baby who seemed to have all kinds of health problems (none severe, but Molly had terrible allergies like I had as a child, mild asthma, and a tendency to get high fevers) and a son who was late talking and made me worry he might have a hearing or speech problem (he didn’t), and a husband who snapped at me and our son constantly, we fought often. We were also in the process of moving from New York to North Carolina, which created its own set of problems.

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Michael was dishonest and a thief but managed to get me to collude with him on some of his capers. Before the move, we had been renting the downstairs apartment in the duplex Michael’s mother owned. She lived upstairs and Michael had a key to her apartment. Whenever she’d go out, he’d go upstairs and search for any cash she had laying around. When I questioned him about it, he said she was too oblivious and stupid to even know it would be missing. I should have taken this as a red flag because eventually he’d do the same to me and our kids but instead I cooperated with him. My reasoning was that we were so broke it was okay and besides, it was his mother so it wasn’t really stealing. Oh, he had me so brainwashed. His mother (a narcissist herself) never noticed anything missing but her ugly behavior made the thievery justifiable to us.

Ethan, just two and a half, wasn’t speaking yet and as we moved from one state to another, he began to act very strange (my mother would have called it “spooky” behavior)–parroting “mama” over and over but not saying anything else, his face always pale and sad looking, and his eyes huge and dark. He looked so pitiful it broke my heart. His doctor said he was fine, but I knew something was wrong. Later on, I figured out what it was. In the process of moving, we had to save money by making several trips to North Carolina by U-Haul and car because we couldn’t afford a moving van to do it in one trip. Ethan saw our old house become emptier every week as things disappeared and it hit me like a ton of bricks one day after the move that he was too young to understand why everything was disappearing and he was afraid I might disappear too. In fact, years later, he told me he remembers this and that was exactly the reason why he acted the way he did.

Michael was becoming less and less patient with our son, but he showered attention on our daughter. It was apparent that Ethan was an extremely sensitive child just as I had been, and narcissist psychopaths like Michael couldn’t stand sensitivity. Ethan being male didn’t help either. Michael went from being a seemingly loving father to turning Ethan into his scapegoat. He made fun of him and put him down in front of others, calling him “stupid,” “little shithead” “crybaby” and other degrading names. He broke all Ethan’s beloved toy cars in a drunken rage one day and never apologized. I loved my son and hated seeing him being treated this way. It was exactly the same way my own parents had treated me! So I tried to defend Ethan from Michael’s rage and this led to some of the worst fights we ever had, where Michael tried to shift the blame to me for turning our son into a “wussy” and that he was just acting the way he did to toughen him up.

Michael was drinking again, much more heavily than before, and his temper had become violent, especially when he was drunk. And he didn’t apologize the next day anymore like he used to. His annoying habits escalated to the point he was unbearable to be around and he also started to talk in a very hostile way about everything and anyone, even when sober. This got worse over time. He was so full of hate, but I now know he always was full of hate. The earlier Michael hadn’t really been him at all. It was all an act.

Michael’s eyes now looked very cold, devoid of warmth or humanity. When he was drunk his face terrified me. In my earlier post I talked about my mother’s face as I saw it in one of my nightmares–a demon’s face with those solid black eyes. One night while he was slamming me into a wall I saw the same eyes and the same sneer. He looked positively demonic. I was beaten so badly I was taken to the hospital and then stayed in a battered womens’ shelter for a week along with the kids. I still loved Michael though, and one day picked up with the kids and went home in spite of the counselor’s pleas to get away from him.

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The second time it happened I called the police and he went to jail for three months. It was very stressful trying to do everything myself including having to learn how to drive a stick shift, and since there was no money coming in with him in jail and we had no savings, the kids and I sank into poverty. I thought about getting a job, but then I’d have to pay a babysitter out of that, and the jobs in the area that were available weren’t very promising.

One day we got a phone call from Helen’s (Michael’s mother) neighbor, who told us she had fallen down the stairs at her house and broken her hip. She was in her mid 70s and needed someone to look after her. So Michael agreed to move her down with us so we could keep an eye on her, but not without swindling her out of all her money first. Using the charming demeanor I saw so little of anymore, he sweet-talked her into giving him power of attorney over the sale of her house, which wound up bringing in about $160K. Again, I colluded with him on this and didn’t tell him it was wrong what he was doing, even though I always felt deep down it really was. Michael even bragged to my father about how he “outsmarted” Helen, and that was the time my father said he began to realize how evil Michael really was.

So we weren’t poor anymore, but things got a lot worse. In fact, the money became the catalyst that really accelerated things. What was weird before became straight up surreal. Everything fell apart. And I began to lose my mind.

I made suggestions to Michael that we should pay off our house and all our debts, but Michael wouldn’t listen, saying because it was HIS money, I had no say in how it got spent. What he didn’t say was what he was really doing with it. We made a few home improvements, and purchased some medical equipment for his mother whose health was deteriorating and could barely walk anymore. We took a family vacation for two weeks to the beach. For a short time things seemed to get better.

One day I found an envelope on the floor of his closet that must have fallen out of one of his pants pockets. It was a bank statement. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw there was only 8K left–only SIX MONTHS after his shady windfall. I confronted him about this when he got home, and he admitted he’d been playing the stock market. He knew nothing about how the stock market works but he pretended he did. I remembered he’d started talking about stocks and bonds several months earlier, and a couple of times I saw financial web pages on the computer screen. Once when I asked him if he was playing the stock market he swore he wasn’t and assured me I shouldn’t worry. But he lied, and now most of the money was gone. None of our debts were paid and on our current income it looked like we’d lose the house too. He no longer had a job because he had quit when the money came in, assuming he’d get rich investing. He was so deluded and so was I, believing him. He spent the remaining 8K on lottery tickets, pot, and baseball cards. I kid you not.

Michael was back in AA now, but decided he could be in AA and smoke pot. He grew pot in our outbuilding and recruited my 8 year old daughter (who he used as his mini flying monkey and slave) to water the plants when I wasn’t around to do it (and of course I was completely clueless he was using our daughter this way). He continued to berate Ethan and never had anything nice to say to him. Michael had Molly wrapped around his finger (she was his Golden Child), and she was old enough that he began to use her to triangulate against me, and told her what a horrible wife and mother I was, undermining any authority I had. Soon Molly began to turn against me too. When I tried to discipline her, Michael would step in and say I was being mean and unreasonable, and sometimes even blamed me for not loving her enough. Talk about gaslighting!

Michael decided he wanted a dog (we already had one). I objected to this, because of all the work I already had to do, but Michael wouldn’t listen and brought the dog in anyway. He refused to discipline him, or housetrain him, and I was constantly cleaning up dog messes. When I complained he told me I was just an “animal hater” even though that was an absolute lie. My “animal hating” over pets he brought home without discussing with me first was a theme that would be repeated on several other occasions.

Helen was becoming sicker and Michael had another job (one that paid far less than the ones he’d had before); a nurse came in once a day to check up on her vitals but her daily care fell on me. She was a difficult woman and a narcissist herself, but she had Alzheimer’s and her mind was going. She could no longer walk without a walker and also had diabetes. Getting her to eat was frustrating to say the least. I was overwhelmed with my duties and dreamed of escape. But I was never mean to her the way Michael was. She frustrated me but Michael’s hatred and anger was off the charts. In front of the children he’d hit her and call her names, He didn’t care that they saw this; he said it was okay because “she was a horrible bitch.” It occurred to me that the fact he treated his mother like this meant he might someday treat me this way too (in fact he already did) but as always I believed (or wanted to believe) his lies. Eventually she entered a nursing home and Michael rarely went to visit her or let the kids see her. She died in 2002.

Neither of us were faithful anymore. There was no marriage to speak of left. I’m ashamed to talk about this, but I’m leaving nothing out of this story. Anyway, one day when I was drunk and the kids were sleeping over at friends’ houses I had my boyfriend come over. He was a sneaky man and also turned out to be a psychopath (but I won’t get into that here). Somehow he found out about the pot plants in the outbuilding. A few weeks later I broke up with him because I felt guilty about cheating (and because he was as intolerable as Michael). To spite me he told the police about the pot plants. I was home alone when the cops came, and we were both charged with felonies due to the amount of pot found, even though I had never approved of the plants being there in the first place. In court my felony was dropped to a misdemeanor but Michael was stuck with a felony. When he found out it had been my lover who tipped the police, he went ballistic. I understood his anger, but he’s a world class grudge holder and to this day blames me for “giving him a felony” even though it was HIS idea to grow the plants and on many occasions I’d begged him to get rid of them.

In 2003 Michael brought in the flying monkeys. A couple at his job who had a daughter Molly’s age had been evicted and without talking to me first he invited them to move in, which meant Ethan had to move out of his room and sleep in the master bedroom and Michael and I slept on the couch (we had a three bedroom house). It was a huge upheaval and very crowded, but that doesn’t even begin to explain the horror about to ensue.

At first Rachel and Paul seemed very nice (actually Paul was, but he was an enabler and very weak). But soon Rachel took over the house, cleaning it top to bottom and redecorating it to her liking. She disapproved of the way I was raising my children and didn’t like the foods I bought for them (I didn’t feed them junk food, but it wasn’t “organic”). She threw away all the food I had and brought in all organic foods and would not allow her daughter or my children to eat meat or sugar anymore. Soon I found out she was colluding with Michael, who had “converted” to her way of thinking and several times I heard them talking about what a slovenly and careless mother I was. Rachel was hateful to Ethan, as was Michael. They bullied him incessantly. Ethan’s grades slipped and he became depressed and sullen. She called him gay and a sissy. She was alright to Molly, but I could see she was an extremely controlling mother to her own daughter who seemed terrified of her.

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I became severely depressed and once I stupidly told Rachel I wanted to kill myself. I hated her, but there was no one else I could talk to and I didn’t dare talk to Paul because I knew I’d be blamed for flirting with him. Rachel smiled at me in a very strange way with a weird gleam in her eyes and said “after what you did to Michael, killing yourself would probably be a very good idea.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She also blamed me for “coming on” to her husband Paul, even though I had barely spoken a word to him. Michael and her both called me a “whore who can’t keep her legs together” RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY CHILDREN. It’s not as if he’d been faithful himself.

I was almost suicidal and beginning to dissociate. Most days I’d sleep all day on the couch and only venture out if I had to. I was sick all the time and barely ate. I started to drink a lot and take pain pills. Rachel and Michael’s gaslighting and triangulating was unbelievably crazymaking and was finally taking its toll on my sanity, and of course they laughed and said I was just paranoid and crazy. I really don’t know how I survived this insanity.

One day I went out I drove at 90 mph not even realizing I was driving that fast, and by some miracle didn’t wreck. I got home and hid in the bedroom closet and stayed there for hours in a kind of catatonic trance. It’s hard to explain now, but I was so profoundly depressed I couldn’t feel anything anymore. I felt dead, like I had no soul. In fact I was living with an emotional vampire who was sucking all the life out of me. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the hospital and was there for a month, then continued as an outpatient for another two. They diagnosed me with Major Depression, PTSD, and Borderline personality disorder (this was later changed to Avoidant PD). To this day, Michael complains about “everything I put him through” by becoming ill and requiring hospitalization and that it was all just done to get his attention because I’m such a “drama queen.”

When I came home, Michael sat me down and almost immediately started crying. This surprised me because I hadn’t seen him cry in years. Then he dropped the bomb–Rachel and him decided I was “too sick” to live there anymore and a bad influence on the children, and I had to be out of the house in 30 days. Of course he said he didn’t want to do this but I was just too unstable (and selfish!) to be around children and oh, this broke his heart so much, boohoo. In my weakened mental and emotional state I went along with this and didn’t even bother to argue–even though I also wouldn’t be allowed to take the children. I was offered no financial help but he did say I could take one of the two cars. The crappy one. I left two weeks later. I didn’t want to miss my daughter’s birthday. My father paid for an attorney so I could file for divorce. With nowhere to go and no money, no job, and no friends or family willing to help me out, I was forced to move into a homeless shelter. So that was the end of the marriage. But my story’s not over yet.

I know this has been VERY long. I’ll stop here for tonight. I’m exhausted.