Last November I reached out to a woman who I heard on a radio podcast because everything she said resonated – she was kind enough to talk to me for a while and then send an email of what we talked about. I want to share her advice because it’s helpful and a reminder of what I need to focus on since it’s obvious I have fallen off the no contact wagon. Last week I called and left messages crying and frustrated for not being a 100% – I am also extremely scared waiting to hear if my ex-husband’s cancer is back.
What I learned from the process though is that the pattern between he and I is that when I’m doing well he does things to suck me in, and without knowing it I take the bait, for example in late November after he added songs to the Spotify playlist that he had made for me, coupled with his “blog” professing how much he missed me was enough fuel to cause confusion and led to my breaking down and reaching out asking why he was doing “this” to me. Why was he torturing me and asked that he get rid of everything because it was all a lie. He didn’t get rid of it until early January and then I was mad and once again felt discarded. This was our relationship for 5 years – he would show vulnerability but then throw me under the bus. I realized this was exactly what was keeping me traumatized because once I engaged I was back in the cycle. He purposely conned me into asking the DA to remove the no contact order from his plea agreement. After I agreed because I was stupid and believed his lies, he waited 3 hours after his hearing to look at me and tell me I needed to get a life and find other interests then him. That’s who this monster is. Afterwards I made several requests that he not contact me but he always did. Whether it was sending a card or an email or liking a picture on our iPhoto gallery. He managed to get back into my heart. He did this right until the end. I actually began saying no to his invitations so he came on strong emailing me most of August grateful emails. Once that didn’t work he told me he was blocking me and then started the blog and Spotify playlist. He did it to me again – I reached out and was shocked that I wasn’t blocked and when I said something he didn’t like he blocked me. He gets off on reeling me in and then…he’s a sick Fuck.
I re read her letter tonight and it helped to remember the cycle – I keep myself traumatized each time I reach out because I am so afraid of him and never know what he may do.
So, I’m back to no contact and hope this time I never break it because he was never real.
I hope that you are feeling better today and that you felt more hopeful and less alone following our conversation.
I do need to state that I am not a licensed therapist or physician and I am not qualified to diagnose or give medical advice. Please seek out your clinical psychologist or physician, as appropriate, and by all means share my suggestions with them if that helps. The suggestions that I offer are based on my own personal experiences and nearly two years of extensive research on this type of abuse as well as the conversations that I have had with many trauma-informed professionals. You may want to print this out and share with your psychologist.
Here is the information that I promised:
1. No Contact – The reasons given for No Contact are often vague, suggesting that limiting contact has more to do with simply moving on, forgetting what happened, and focusing on yourself because continuing with contact is not healthy and often retraumatizes you.
a. This is not what No Contact means. You must go No Contact because when you have experienced this type of abuse it is a type of addiction, no different from gambling or heroin. During the seduction/grooming phase of the relationship, you were subjected to intense levels of pleasure (both emotional and sexual.) These intense positive experiences flooded your body with pleasure hormones and conditioned you to seek that level of intensity long after your partner withheld affection from you and became abusive. These hormones are the same hormones that cause the mother/child bond, as an example.
b. Every time that your partner abused you and then intermittently meted out small doses of pleasure or happiness and security, you were further conditioned to seek to restore what was lost, to restore equilibrium and experience the “highs’ of the early stage of the relationship. The cravings you now have, the desire to stalk him online, the obsessive compulsion to revisit every detail of the relationship and analyze what went wrong, have to do with both the addiction and cognitive dissonance.
c. Every time that you visit his website, or read old email or text messages, or in any way stalk him online, you are getting a “hit” of the “drug” and so the cycle of pain continues. When I was at Sabino, which is a trauma specialty center, I was told that the withdrawal from this type of an abusive relationship, and the addiction to the abusive partner, are as excruciating and powerful as withdrawal from a heroin addiction; sometimes even more so because unlike a heroin addiction, there is a tremendous emotional trauma bond to the abusive partner. An addict is not emotionally “attached” to heroin in the way that you are to your former partner by sex and your feelings of “love.”
2. Cognitive Dissonance: holding two strong yet conflicting beliefs simultaneously. We remember how it felt in the beginning, we believed that our partner loved us and was a good person. We want to believe this because the “soulmate” experience we had was so intense that it has become almost magical, the stuff of fairy tales, in our memory. Our dreams were coming true, we thought. . . The other belief is that this person has been abusive, is cruel or has been physically violent, and seems to derive pleasure witnessing our suffering. These two beliefs cannot exist side by side and yet they do. It is mind-shattering to experience this.
a. You must force yourself to accept that the person that you loved, that existed in the beginning does not exist.
b. The real person is what he became – someone who physically assaulted you and has left you so traumatized that you have Post-Traumatic Stress.
c. Discuss cognitive dissonance with your psychologist – have her devise ways to help you resolve this conflict. This will help tremendously with the feeling of going “crazy.”
d. Feeling “crazy” is a normal response to this situation.
3. Why you must focus on yourself and healing: the endless cycle of pain and feeling crazy and hypervigilant will not stop so long as you continue to focus on the abusive partner and not yourself. I know this from experience.
a. Move his emails to a folder and title it ZDANGER so that alphabetically it falls at the bottom of your email folders.
b. If you find yourself looking at old photos transfer them to the cloud or to to an USB flash drive.
c. Continue to block him everywhere.
d. Delete apps from your phone that you obsess over.
e. Quit social media – if there is anyone that you want to try to stay connected to, do something very simple and basic like meeting for a half hour for coffee. Just little doses of normalcy without forcing yourself to do more socially than you can handle will help restore your sense of normalcy. I was compelled to tell everyone who would listen what had happened to me and I made a fool of myself often and came away demoralized and even more humiliated. Limit such experiences only to safe people but do try to have some social engagement as I just described – coffee, etc. – just to help you feel connected and alive again. Discuss with your psychologist.
f. Do the healing activities and exercises that your doctor/neurologist has prescribed to help you restore brain function.
g. When you want to do unhealthy activities, remember my voice, me warning you not to do it, because it will harm you and continue to hurt you.
h. Do anything positive that distracts you, anything! Color in a coloring book, take a bath, take a short walk, sit in nature, have some tea, interact with your children, give yourself a home facial, read a little, if your children are young let them brush and style your hair. Stay busy to the extent that your physical health will allow and do resist the compulsions. This is not easy. I know this. I understand how hard it is!
i. It is important to understand what happened to you but at some point researching the nature of the abuse and trying so hard to make sense of what happened becomes a retraumatizing exercise. Resolving the cognitive dissonance will help you here. I spent almost two years researching this stuff. Now I know I must stop in order to continue the healing process. There is little I do not know at this point but that doesn’t make it any less painful.
j. “Support groups” where there is a lot of anger, venting, and pain may be retraumatizing you. Discuss with your psychologist. I, personally, do not think it is healthy and believe that it causes more harm than healing. It would be better to find a social outlet that is positive. For me, I joined The Dailey Method, which is a barre exercise studio. I don’t talk much to people there, and certainly not about my trauma, but when I am there I feel “normal” for an hour, and it is a positive, cheerful, happy place that makes me feel human again. I would suggest finding something that you can afford and can physically handle to get out in the world.
I felt like a freak in public for so long because I was so broken. Everything felt surreal. This is a result of trauma and is normal. You are not crazy or weird. You have been severely abused. It will get better.
4. Core Wounds – Shame: Like you, when I hit rock bottom and my relationship ended, I was a single mom with not a single friend that I could turn to and no family to support me. This was/is extremely embarrassing, humiliating, degrading and painful, and only confounded my feelings of worthlessness, and deep shame. I totally get how you must be feeling about this. It’s NOT YOU. You are a deserving and worthy person. I saw your picture on LinkedIn and you are so beautiful, like a supermodel. You will recover from this and be happy and whole again.
a. Ask your psychologist to discuss your core wounds around this. Explore the reasons why you got to this point. This is very hard work and can be extremely painful.
b. Your psychologist will completely understand where I am going with this and I will let her explain further to help you. She will know exactly what I’m referring to. Just show her this.
5. Rage: A huge component of PTSD is intense rage over what has been done to you and the havoc it’s wreaked on your life.
a. With your psychologist, explore this in a safe place and have her help you find ways to release the anger.
b. Somatic Experiencing and EMDR are two modalities that I found very useful for dealing with both the grief and anger I have experienced. Ask about these.
6. Grief: It is okay to still feel the love you feel for your partner. This is a tough one. The love you feel is not about him, it’s about you. You brought your love and an open heart to the relationship. You offered love. At one time, you believed that he loved you and for you it was real. Allow yourself permission to forgive yourself for loving someone you now “hate.”
a. There is no set timeline for grief. I was in so much pain and cried so much and for so long that I couldn’t even swallow. I lost 16 pounds and dropped to 88 pounds – and resembled a Holocaust survivor (my normal weight is 104-106. I’m really petite.)
b. Again, this relates to cognitive dissonance. It is easy to feel self-loathing and shame for loving someone who now seems like a monster. Accept these feelings and forgive yourself.
c. Try not to punish yourself for hanging on to the feelings of love you think you still have. This will take time to resolve. Your psychologist should totally understand this and be able to help you focus on these issues.
d. I am horrified to admit that I still often long for, miss, and feel like I “love” my abusive partner. Intellectually, I totally get that he is not the man I thought I fell for but emotionally it is very hard to accept. I try to forgive myself for this daily.
e. Core wounding and shame contribute to this – the feeling that we somehow don’t deserve better. You do. I do.
Okay, Vesta, I think that this is everything that we covered. Thank you for reaching out to me and for having the courage to do so. You are a beautiful, worthy person who deserves happiness and you are on the pathway to healing. I cannot offer much more than this as I am still focused on my own trauma and healing, but I sincerely hope that this helps you to feel some hope and that it answered some of your questions.
If I leave you with one parting thought, it is don’t do what I did. I have suffered so much by focusing on my ex and not myself. It is easier said than done but it is possible. Take each day, each hour, each minute, and force yourself to turn away from it and do these positive distracting things. You will recover much sooner and with far less pain.
I hope this helps and I wish you well.
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