Therapy has taught me how to cope with complex emotions left from suffering through the death of my husband from stage 4 colon cancer and the abusive relationship I found myself in shortly thereafter.
Watching someone you love fight for his life and die a slow death is torture. There is no other way to put it. It’s an out of body experience. There were times that I felt like I was hovering above the situation watching it unfold in slow motion, unable to fix what was happening in front of me. I fought for my family. I fought until we heard the words “I’m so sorry, we feel that hospice care is the right choice at this time. You’ve done everything you could do”. We would’ve gone to the ends of the earth to save Matt’s life. We left no stone unturned. I do find peace in knowing that we did everything we could, but that doesn’t negate the pain of losing him at age 35. The problem with fighting so hard and so long is that everything feels like war. Normal things feel abnormally hard. I am constantly battling a war in my head between letting go and fixing what’s wrong. I’m a fixer by nature. If I can make someone’s life just a little bit easier by sacrificing in my own life, I’ll do it. I used to think this was an attribute. Now I see it as a major character flaw. I also acknowledge that, when I entered into the first relationship after Matt’s death, I was deep in the grief/acute sorrow phase.
I was preyed upon by someone who pretended to not know who I was. He said he had never heard of me, my husband, or my loss. I now know that was not true. I believe there are people out there who seek out people at their lowest point and forge relationships with them because that’s just who they are. They feel more capable manipulating people at their weakest moments because we’re easy targets. This doesn’t always have to come in the form of someone who lost a loved one. In his case he likes fresh divorcees, too. It gives him an immediate upper hand. Truthfully, I would’ve never given him a second look had I been further along in the grief process. I was using everything as a distraction to pull me away from the pain I was feeling and make me feel good. When you meet someone and they shower you with attention and affection and you’ve felt so bad for so long, you love it. You crave it. Who I met was an extreme narcissist that used my grief to his advantage. He crossed boundaries that I should’ve enforced from day one, but I wasn’t capable of enforcing those boundaries. Mentally I was not ok. I was getting up every day, going to work, taking care of my child- shuffling through life like normal. I clearly remember things he said and did and they make my blood boil and my skin crawl now, but at the time he made me feel really good so I allowed them. When you’re suffering from acute sorrow you will grasp at anything and everything that feels better than that.
I remember the first time he called me to come out with him late at night. We had been out before closer to where I live and work, but it got back to his ex wife and, once people found out he was pursuing me, they came out of the woodwork to try and protect me from him. I was angry that people would have the audacity to try and interfere in something I thought was so good, but I regret not taking the warnings now. It could’ve saved me months of heartache. He knew nights were the worst for me, that’s when the dread set in and the bad thoughts flooded my brain. It still is. I had suggested we just hang out at my house and he had said not tonight, so I was surprised when he called. I met him at a bar close to his house at his request. He introduced me to his bartenders and we spent the evening drinking beer and laughing. It felt so good at a time when everything else felt so bad. He was the same overtly charming man I met that day in Starbucks that I wish I could just wipe from my memory forever. I remember everything about the way it felt when he touched me, how he smelled, what he was wearing.. I was floating. He kissed the window of my car when I rolled it up. I left the bar that night with his lip marks all over the window. They stayed there for months. I remember the way it felt when he kissed me that night. I felt equal parts horrible because it felt like cheating on my husband (who had been dead for months, but I still felt very much married) and equal parts amazing because who doesn’t want to feel wanted after feeling horrible for so long?
This started the cycle of nights with B. I became his constant bar buddy. He would comment that this was best because we couldn’t have “privacy” if we went out close to where I lived and worked. He introduced me to friends as his girlfriend. I had no reason to believe that I wasn’t in those moments. That’s exactly how he treated me when we were away from “prying eyes”. Every time I would take my daughter to my friend for the night to go spend nights with him she would gently try to tell me that this wasn’t normal behavior. I would gush over him and how he made me feel and go anyway. I lived for those phone calls or texts telling me where to meet him next. It was fun and exciting. There were nights that we spent brainstorming big ideas together and I felt like, in those moments, I saw a glimpse of who he really is behind all the narcissism and misogyny and anger that came out later. I’ve never in my life met someone that has so much potential but chooses to continuously do the wrong thing and hurt people, but that’s just who he is. And when he would break down and open up to me about his own struggles he was almost childlike and I felt sorry for him. I’ll never know what was true and what wasn’t, but my love for who I met and what I saw was genuine. I didn’t know I was being had. I didn’t know anything about narcissistic behavior and I sure did not identify him as a predator. When I was with him, everything felt better. At a time when everything felt horrible, I needed that.
I’ve heard that you shouldn’t make any big decisions or enter new relationships within a year of a big loss. I didn’t think that was true or fair. I didn’t understand the grief cycle or even the process of grief. I had anticipatory grief through the loss of my husband because we knew it was coming so I was further along than someone who had suffered a sudden unexpected loss, but I was sitting firmly in the “acute sorrow, helplessness, hopelessness, depression, and despair” section. The man who preyed on me found me at my very lowest moment and proceeded to take full advantage of my grief.
I didn’t even realize I was being manipulated, but I was. I am normally a very strong person mentally and emotionally, so I didn’t see what was happening because I was at my most vulnerable and most fragile. I didn’t identify that I had been in an abusive relationship with this man until months after it was over. I suffered greatly at the hands of this man and so did my child.
So what happens when you are deep in the grief cycle and someone comes along and uses and abuses you for their own personal gain? Grief magnified by a thousand.
I somehow survived watching Matt suffer from cancer with only one attempt at taking my own life. One day, when Matt was going through treatment and we found out that the chemo he fought through did not work, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went on a drive to clear my head and found myself sitting at an overlook with a gun in my hand. The stress and anxiety of watching him suffer was too much. I felt hopeless and like a failure because I couldn’t save my family. I wanted to end my own pain. I never understood suicide before, but I do now. No one who considers it wants to hurt anyone else, they just want to end their own suffering. I put the gun in my mouth and right before I pulled the trigger my phone rang. It was my daughter asking if she could have ice cream. I unloaded the gun and sobbed. She saved me that night.
Finding out I had been used for personal financial gain, cheated on, lied to, and manipulated by an extreme narcissist sent me right back to that place. I didn’t want to wake up. Every day felt like a nightmare and the shame was overwhelming. I tried to breathe through it, but panic attacks were a daily occurrence. I tried to numb the pain but nothing worked. I didn’t want any of it to be true- the other woman he had been seeing since a month after I met him- none of it. At one point I actually said to him “Just stop it! Act normal! I don’t even know this person you’re acting like!” I was in denial, because the person he was showing me is exactly who he really is. I got angry. I begged. I pleaded. I bargained. I found myself right back in that all too familiar grief cycle, except this time I was grieving someone who purposely set out to destroy me because of his own mental issues.
When I met him he told me his ex was “crazy, delusional, and obsessed with him”. She is not. She is strong, capable, and -like me- barely survived him. In the end of our relationship he used those same words on me. He called me crazy and told me everyone was going to think I was crazy. He called me delusional and told me that dates and times that things happened didn’t happen even though I had proof. He said I was delusional and that he never told me he loved me, never told my child he loved her. He said no one was ever going to date me again because I was obsessed with him. He shamed me for feeling normal human emotions because he is incapable of feeling any of those.
When you’re already suffering and someone causes you more traumatic suffering, it’s really easy to just shut down. Through therapy and writing I have managed to keep going, but only because I have a healthy outlet. I see why people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. I see why people choose suicide. It’s very easy to feel completely helpless and hopeless.
But you have to keep going. Surrender to it, feel it instead of trying to hide it out of shame and fear that people will view you in a different light. Faith, hope, and serenity are on the other side of everything you’re afraid of.
I wish so badly I could go back to that day in Starbucks and shake some sense into myself. I wish I knew then what I know now about narcissism and how common it is for these people to prey on grieving widows. I didn’t know any better. But when you know better, you do better. Speaking out about it is imperative to my healing process and, if it helps someone else not suffer, I’ll keep writing about it as long as I can.
Words matter. The words you say to people matter, the promises you make, and the words you say to children matter extra. I will continue to use my words to reconstruct what my new life will be. I’m stronger now and am done replacing bad feelings with good just to distract myself. I understand fully that to get to the “new life” part of the cycle, I have to walk through the pain of what broke me in the old life.
There is hope. You have to just keep it moving.