Trigger Warning: As a fellow survivor of narcissistic and emotional abuse, I know the relief of hearing someone else's story and no longer feeling so alone. During sessions, I will sometimes share, in a sentence or two, a bit about my toxic relationship so that my client feels that bond of shared experience. Every client needs to feel heard, seen, and believed. Sometimes sharing about my past helps facilitate this. But I very carefully judge, based on my knowledge of the client, what stories to share, and how much detail. I never, ever want to retraumatize a client. As a Trauma Recovery Coach, this is akin to a medical doctor's "first, do no harm."
But here on my website, you are not known to me – so I must trust that you will carefully consider the impact reading my story might have on you. I beg you to take a moment to check in with yourself and your body before continuing
My Journey through the Madness of Narcissistic Abuse to the Promise of Trauma Recovery Coaching
As a teenager, I became involved with a man who I thought was my "Knight in Shining Armor." Those first few years were like a Disney fairy tale. He was charismatic charming, and it seemed we were a perfect fit. People called us a "Golden Couple." I thought I was so lucky to have found my "soul mate" at such a young age.
Then something changed. It happened so slowly, incrementally, and seemingly without provocation -- moments of cruelty and vicious rage, stunning me as if I'd been slapped. I couldn't understand this shift in his behavior, and he would always declare that it was my fault -- something I did or didn't do. I learned that only a tearful apology and promise to change would bring back the man I thought I was in love with. This cycle repeated over and over, slowly building in intensity. I know now that this is the intermittent reinforcement of grooming that creates a trauma bond. He was ever so slowly eroding my boundaries so that I would always accept responsibility for any behavior from him, no matter how cruel.
Those Miserable Middle Years
If you look at pictures of me during that marriage, you'll see a smiling, happy woman on vacation with her husband. But look more closely, and you'll see a hollowness behind my eyes, that my smile is a bit forced. By the time I was on my honeymoon, I was well-versed in what it took to (mostly) avoid his wrath. The young wife on his arm laughed at his jokes – even when his words were a secret code for "you'd better not misbehave" delivered with an "affectionate" squeeze of my hand. In front of friends and family, we appeared to be madly in love. But at home, behind closed doors, it was altogether a different story. The unpredictable switch between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a daily occurrence. I lived in a state of anxious hypervigilance -- walking on eggshells and forever trying to predict his moods. It was utterly exhausting.
The Turning Point
Seventeen years later, I had a moment of sudden and unexpected clarity during one of his wild rages of anger. For the first time, I saw him for the soulless monster he was - and knew that I was DONE. If I stayed, I'd soon be dead. Over the next seven days, I carefully planned my escape, all the while maintaining the appearance of life-as-usual with him. I couldn't sleep, so I closed my eyes and pretended every night as he slept beside me. I'd finish eating a meal and quietly excuse myself to the upstairs bathroom when my stomach refused to hold anything down. I was 39 years old, but I genuinely feared I'd have a heart attack from the stress before I was free. In spite of how jumpy I was, he didn't catch on. In his arrogance, he assumed my loyalty was beyond question. But I knew, on a deep intuitive level, that to be discovered would mean death. Although he was never physically violent with me, there had been layers of implied threats, including his brutal mistreatment of our cats.
The day before my planned escape, I gave him a plausible excuse to leave the house so that I could see a therapist for the first time in my life. I sat in her office and told her I was there for only one reason: for her to tell me if I was crazy or not; to confirm for me that it was abuse, or that I was imagining all of it and should go home and resume my life. When I left 45 minutes later, I had scheduled another appointment with her for two days later…when I would be on the "other side" of whatever was to come.
The next day, he had a doctor's appointment. As he left, I sweetly waved goodbye to him from the front porch, like I always did. Then I flew into action. My whole body shook hard as I loaded boxes into the car in fear he'd return home much sooner than I predicted. I scrawled a note to him, saying I had lived in fear for 23 years but was DONE. Forty-five minutes later, with my cats in their crates on the back seat and the car fully loaded, I sped away from my "Old Life." Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts" blared from the speakers as I cried tears of terror and relief. I promised my cats they would never again suffer the torture they had endured. The three of us were free.
A New Life
I won't deceive you – the next weeks and months were some of the hardest of my life. The challenges I faced made that last week in my "Old Life" pale in comparison. He left more than a dozen voicemail messages in the first three hours that I was gone. At first, he cried and begged me to come home, promising he would do anything if I'd just come back. When I didn't respond, his messages took a darker tone, and his rage emerged. He never made a clear threat that anyone else would understand -- it was all in the secret coded way he had conditioned me to obey voice commands. I knew better than to take the bait.
The first obstacle I faced was to make an initial break in the trauma bond with my soon-to-be ex-husband. Back then, I didn't know that was the name for it, and I certainly didn't know that a trauma bond mimics dependency on drugs or alcohol. The first three days after I left, I stayed in bed, physically ill and desperately fighting the urge to call him, to fall back into the conditioned behavior of taking all responsibility and begging for forgiveness. I honestly do not know how I managed to stay the course, but I believe it was Divine Deliverance. On day four, I rose from the bed, still tired beyond measure but no longer in danger of undoing what I had done. The trauma bond wasn't severed completely, but that tenuous resolve gave me just enough forward momentum to keep me moving toward my "New Life."
I continued to work with therapists and a Trauma Recovery Coach to resolve the after-effects of the narcissistic abuse and my childhood trauma, including Complex-PTSD, depression, suicidal thoughts, toxic shame, panic attacks, social phobias, and suffocating exhaustion. I gained clarity about my past, reclaimed my voice, and started making my own choices. For the first time in decades, I felt hope for myself and my future as I began to live the life I wanted.
Update: March 29, 2022, will be the 11th anniversary of the day that I left. Back then, I could not imagine the complete and happy life I live today: Professionally, I am doing something I love that brings me great satisfaction, and I'm married to an amazing man who supports and loves me just as I am. One of the two kitties I brought out of my first marriage passed to the next realm several years ago, but the other one, Cassi, happily scampers around like a kitten, even at 15 years old! She and my new husband have a sweet and loving bond that brings tears to my eyes, remembering how terrified she used to be of men, thanks to my first husband. Today, my "boundary motto" (as I've adopted from a sage friend of mine) is, "Do no harm, but take no s**t."
Trauma Recovery Coaching: Coming Full Circle
I felt a growing desire to help other women like me early into my recovery. I trained as a Victim Advocate with the local domestic violence network and volunteered at the shelter. I met so many amazing women there! Most of them were fleeing direct threats of physical violence, escaping with their children. As much as I valued that experience, it never felt like I was doing "enough." The program trainers had been very clear that advocates never disclosed that they were survivors, much less to share our story. As I was not a therapist or counselor, I felt my ability to help was restricted. I considered getting a Master's degree in counseling but never felt a strong urge to follow that path. While I credit the handful of therapists that I had for offering excellent mental health support, I knew the traditional therapy model wasn't what I was looking for, either.
I had begun to feel that therapy was no longer helping -- in sessions, I talked about my life and my choices, but I felt "stuck" and yearned to experience real growth and more profound healing. Then I discovered a Trauma Recovery Coach on a social network, and, intrigued, I contacted her. We talked about her life-changing work with her clients and answered my questions about the education path. Suddenly, it was as if my heart expanded to fill my entire rib cage! Not only had I found what I needed for my healing journey, but also the professional path I had been searching for to help other survivors like me.
I've wondered what it felt like to feel a Calling to pursue a specific path all of my life. Now I know.
Thank you for reading my story. I tried to balance giving details that might be disturbing with my hope you'd feel that we have a shared experience -- that I do understand what you've been through.
It bears repeating that what might have been suitable for me on my healing journey might not be right for you. I know myself, Narcissistic Abuse, and complex trauma. You know your own story, needs, and priorities. In sessions, I will be a source of knowledge, encouragement, validation, and, especially, support when you feel overwhelmed and/or lost. I will always honor your voice and choice.
The Mental Chaos and Fog of Narcissistic Abuse
Narcissistic Abuse is an insidious and unique form of psychological and emotional trauma. It is abuse by mind control. Allow me to step in beside you, help you make sence of events that don't make sense and gain language for what has happened to you. You're not crazy -- it's abuse. I understand and will believe you.