Freedom through bleeding

So, of course this is a new blog at the time of me writing this and it makes me think of the famous quote:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

It is actually how I felt most of my life, embracing my passion for writing from the earliest age of my literacy-able life on, to this very day. Like there was something to be somehow drained and all I had to do was put pen to paper or touch a keyboard to allow the flow. It has always been about the decision to allow – much more so than an intent to create a written piece.

Staring at a blank page and pouring words on it, in a process that, honestly, often seemed to require less intellectual effort, than emotional connection on the level or capacity of the intended writing. Yes, even the professional written production for magazines, companies and blogs, had significant traces of this element at their core, although editing is, no doubt, a necessity. This won’t be the case here. This particular blog post is intentionally, ridiculously long, raw, unedited. I don’t expect people to read the entire thing. But for those who do, hopefully the reason for this will be self explanatory.

More often than not for me, the writing process has had an autonomous quality to it. Having the memory of the blank page, then of the complete written piece – and a blur in between. Not being quite sure how I went from point A to point B. Did I really write all this?? Indeed: once the connection was triggered, it all came alive on its own.

Bleeding words: it’s what I do, it’s who I am, I was born this way. It’s for coping, for story telling, communicating, connecting, helping, working. It never gets old. Now, whether I do it well or not, that’s really not the point here. It’s my expression of self, a symbol of freedom and it’s tied to my core.

And then, 10 years ago, my life took a turn. It looked as though it was going to be the beginning of that time in my life I would look back at and be able to say “this was when all my dreams came true”. It ended up, however, becoming the materialization of a living nightmare.

It didn’t take long. In fact, in a matter of about 20 minutes after I left my house, into the journey of creating a whole new life, I had this odd, warning like feeling in the pit of my stomach, telling me that there was something terribly wrong and I shouldn’t proceed. How contradictory!! Trunk filled to the max in my car with suitcases, and yet I started crying for no apparent or justifiable reason. My intuition had never failed me before, so what the hell was that all about??

I suppose I could have gone back. It wasn’t a satisfying option by any stretch of the imagination, but it was an option nonetheless. Instead, I decided to brush it off, attribute the alien feeling to unaddressed anxiety about making such a significant change in my life and leaving everything I knew behind. I wiped off the tears, told myself that those were tears of joy, while full well knowing that wasn’t the case. Ironically, and unbeknownst to me, I was at that very moment beginning my training in the art of “brushing it off”, or “justifying” – however you prefer to call it.

Three weeks went by and I was struck with terrifying news. My father had passed away. I was in utter shock. This wasn’t anything anybody could see coming. Unimaginable grief came over me as I experienced the loss of a parent. I got down on my knees in disbelief and acknowledgement that I should have listened to my sixth sense after all.

The narc was supportive at first. It looked like empathy. I say “looked” because no longer than two weeks after the fact, as I was trying to process the loss, I learned that the rest of my grieving process would have to be done in silence and under the pretense of its non existence. How this happened was actually through a very simple, though soul crushing statement. It went like this:

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but your father dying is ruining the beginning of our life together.”

Silence…

To this day, I’m still not quite sure what the “right way” of taking this could have possibly been. All I know is that, from that moment forward, all the crying was done in the shower behind a locked door or when I knew for sure I was alone. And the public appearances, even those of a “one on one” nature with the narcissist with the subtlety of an elephant, were filled with attempts to temporarily push the grief to the back burner and display a smile I couldn’t emotionally connect with, internally justified by the fact that I didn’t want to be the one who ruined everything.

It was a complicated grieving process to say the least, I’m not quite sure I’ve ever been able to process it in a healthy way, to this day.

But, you see, this precedent set the tone for all the other “upcoming attractions”. It became an unspoken understanding that none of that life together was really about me, or even about us. I’ll take responsibility for my, apparently, crazy assumption that we were a couple consisting of two separate people, both entitled to their own feelings and opinions. This assumption made me misunderstand my true purpose in that arrangement. Had I known better, I probably would have listened to my gut instinct, turned around and gone back to the less satisfying alternative from where this story began.

But I didn’t know better, so the narcissist cleared that up for me from the start, so there would be no misunderstandings down the road. Because nobody likes misunderstandings, am I right? And I got it, clear and crystal: it was really about what would work for him, his opinions, feelings and perceptions and if anything failed in that relationship, it would be my fault. And nobody likes being at fault, as I’m sure you’ll understand. So I quickly learned that, in order for things not to be my fault, I would have to be compliant to this set of unspoken rules that were gradually being laid out.

And let me tell you, I got really good at this. I’d feel proud, if it wasn’t for the fact that this is one of my biggest sources of shame. But brushing things off and justifying are actually art forms that demand diligent discipline to master. It takes time and practice, but there was no shortage of opportunities for me to exercise those abilities and I must say, I got pretty proficient at both. And I would badly need these skills shortly after, when three months later I found out I was pregnant. This is a story that deserves its own spotlight, so we’ll skip it for the time being. For now, just take my word for it: it’s a horrifying story that didn’t end well.

So, a couple of significantly traumatic events and losses down the road, within a period of 6 months, I found myself all alone during his temporary, though long work related absence, and sat down at the computer to see if maybe I could do that thing I’ve always done and bleed on a blank page. I knew this wouldn’t change anything, but I didn’t know what else to do to alleviate the pain.

Somehow, this time – the first in my life – it simply didn’t happen. Instead of the usual pressing feeling that something needed an outlet to flow out, I felt dry. Like I had some sort of food poisoning, but couldn’t throw up (excuse the graphical analogy). Staring at the blank page for an uncomfortable amount of time, I came to the scary realization that I couldn’t bleed my words out anymore. Nothing came out. No-thing!! I was numb inside. I had been forced to push the grief so deep, it seemed like I no longer had access to it. It was really strange: there was so much emotional content, I knew for a fact it was there!! There was no telling me otherwise – and yet, it felt stuck to the bottom, like a meal that had been left on a lit up stove for way too long and turned into this unrecognizable crust you couldn’t get off if your life depended on it.

I’m not really sure what I did for coping instead, I guess the days just kept coming, completely outside of my control, the sun kept rising every morning and I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. But there was this numbness about those months, my introspection was all I had – and this is as literal as it gets. I was far, far away from home, family and friends and with the challenges I had faced in the first six months of my new life, I hadn’t yet made any friends at this new location. Not that it would have mattered if I had anyway. Because later, when I did, those friendships weren’t a part of the narcissist’s agenda, so they were severed into oblivion. But I digress…

One day, the numbness and sameness of the situation made me try to reconnect myself with the work from home activity I had going on prior to the move, one I had been very successful at. It was, not surprisingly, related to writing. And so I did: I took all the necessary steps, I knew it would take some time to see any actual results, but I kept moving forward. Now, here’s the interesting fact: I was going through the motions, but it didn’t feel like it was a reflection of me. It felt quite soulless. I was having such a hard time connecting with what I was doing. No one could probably tell; in fact, in a matter of only a few months, it was looking very promising. But I knew: I had lost my touch. The quality of the writing was there, the feedback was positive, but it was nothing but the result of a mere mechanical, learned behavior.

I figured “I’ll go with this for the time being. I’ll fake it till I make it, it will come back”. Well, it never fully did, but what (or, rather, who) came back was – you guessed it – the narcissist.

When I look back at this, I feel like I shouldn’t have celebrated his return like I did. The amount of pain and destruction he had already inflicted was so severe, I should have been the one to have left – and disappeared. Instead, there were balloons, a bizarrely personalized cake (not  my doing! I overestimated the cake designer.), a beautifully decorated table, more welcome signs than I had room to store them. I welcomed him back with open arms. For those of you reading with knowledge on narcissistic abuse, I was way entangled in trauma bond.

The days still kept coming and I assumed I would keep the working routine as it had become, again, usual: afternoons and evenings. I still didn’t feel that connection, but I kept pushing forward. I’ve always been quite the night owl, as is common to a lot of writers, who produce their best work in the absence of the noises and distractions of the day. My peak creative and productive hours were late at night.

This was a known fact about me, so it never crossed my mind that when the narcissist went to bed at 9pm, religiously, it would be my obligation to do the same, regardless of how tired I happened not to be and what I had on my schedule for the evening, including Skype conferences.

Of course this wasn’t communicated to me just like that, these were pills he wanted me to swallow gradually, in daily increments

The first time, it was a casual comment in the morning about how lonely he felt in bed because I didn’t go to sleep with him. The following night, I was interrupted during my work with the question about if I was going to leave him alone in bed again – and a long stare from the door, as if he was waiting for me to stop what I was doing and go with him.

“What are you doing up?”
“I’m waiting for you to come to bed”
“Oh… I’m in the middle of writing something, I’ll be there as soon as I’m done.”
“So I’m going to have to sleep alone again?”
“Uh… I thought you were fast asleep already. Just let me finish real quick and I’ll be right there with you.”
(I face back the computer and have this odd feeling of still being watched. So I turn back around, he’s still there.)
“Aren’t you going back to bed?”
“I told you, I’m waiting for you to come with me. Come on, I missed you. I want for you to fall asleep with me”.

At this point, it still sounded sweet, right? But I was guilt tripped into interrupting my thought process, leaving my work unfinished and, well… I went to bed. Didn’t fall asleep, but I was physically there.

The following day, I explained to him that I didn’t feel tired at all at 9pm, and that the night time writing was when my productivity was at its highest. That as much as I wanted to go to sleep with him, 9pm was way too early for me and we just happened to be on different schedules at that point. That it didn’t mean I didn’t want to go to bed with him, just simply that I had been working hard to get back on track. I didn’t get much of an answer, other than “ok”. So, that night, I was up again working, assuming it was… ok. This time around, however, when he had something to say about this, yet again, it sounded more like an actual complaint and there was nothing sweet about it. It was quite passive-aggressive. I was still reluctant, it had taken me a lot of time and energy to get back in the flow of things and I knew that messing that routine up wouldn’t do me any favors.

In all honesty, even more important to me, was the fact that a lot of that effort was an attempt to cope. I may not have been 100% aware of that at the time, but I did believe the daily writing habit allowed me to exercise myself back into the ability of bleeding on a page. I desperately needed to be able to do that, to make all the pain, grief and confusion more visible, structured and, therefore, manageable. I was also trying to feel more autonomous and proactive, to regain a sense of purpose after those many months of numbness.

So his insistence in taking those hours away from me was meeting reluctance.

But he wasn’t planning on letting this go anytime soon. So, eventually he moved into a passive aggressive stage. Then started distancing himself. No amount of rational explanations seemed to trigger the empathy and understanding that this was important to me and had nothing to do with my desire, or lack thereof, to go to bed with him every night.

So I proposed an alternative solution: going to bed with him and, once he had fallen asleep, I’d get up and work for a couple of hours before going to sleep myself. He agreed.

On the second night of this arrangement, he got up two hours later to question me about why I wasn’t in bed. I was confused. Hadn’t this been agreed upon? And for the love of God, what’s the big deal anyway??

This wasn’t working, no matter what I tried. On stage 4 of this process, in came the behavior based messages. Those were things like softer versions of the silent treatment (talking to me only about essential stuff, ignoring me the rest of the time), drinking more heavily then picking up fights… The type of things I couldn’t exactly point the finger at and say “why are you punishing me for trying to work while you sleep?”, because that would have been met with “you’re really paranoid! I’m just tired and don’t feel like talking. What, you’re going to tell me how much I can drink now?”. In other words, he was getting his point across through covert manipulation, combined with plausible deniability.

For this reason, two weeks into this having been blown completely out of proportion, I finally gave up and gave in. I’d lay in bed wide awake, from 9pm to 1, 2am every night, mind boiling over with ideas I couldn’t even write down.

It didn’t take long for this to affect both my work productivity and the advancements I had made in my efforts to process my grief and pain. They were both shoved back down, where they stayed for years to come.

Later down the road, as other aspects of the relationship were in even more serious turmoil, I was still trying to work from home – in the afternoons – and, admittedly, struggling with it a bit. The financial results were slow to come. Why? Because I was constantly in that emotional roller coaster, jumping hoops trying to keep some level of peace with the narcissist and the consistency of my work was gone. I was struggling with the writing itself, with coming up with ideas and having proper focus and energy to work at a normal flowing capacity. One day, I decided it was enough. He wanted me to stop in the middle of a work in progress and I had a deadline on a piece I was writing for a magazine. I told him no, I had to work. His reply?

“Work? You call this work? Your work is a f*****g joke!”

Silence…

I felt like crying. Why was it a joke? Because it was done from home? Because the money wasn’t enough? Because I had the option for a flexible schedule? Because there was no boss in the picture?

I was struggling, for sure. My past experiences in that industry had been nothing but positive and significant – yet, this time, for some reason beyond my discernment, despite que quality content I was producing and the positive feedback, the financial return itself was taking longer than I originally predicted. I didn’t understand why. The industry had changed, I was trying to make sense of the new rules, but in the process, my confidence in being able to pick up where I had left off was taking a little bit of a hit. So, his comment stung like salt on an open wound.

I couldn’t see it for what it really was at the time. But, in hindsight, I’ve been able to get a much better understanding of the full picture. Despite the roadblocks, a few rather positive things were, indeed, happening:

  1. My work was getting noticed again, I was gaining attention and doors were starting to open. Magazines would arrive in the mail, with my picture on the first page under the title “international columnist”. It didn’t pay well, but it was a solid springboard.
  2. My work was making some of my best qualities visible to the world again.
  3. My work was putting me in touch with many critically thinking individuals. That, in and on itself, was a threat.
  4. My work was getting in the way of his agenda.
  5. My work was that one thing about me he couldn’t control.
  6. Writing made me happy. Writing kept me sane. (God forbid, right?) My non financial related accomplishments made me feel good.

Note that, despite undeniable, widespread recognition, never ONCE has this man acknowledged my ability to write well to my face. He would sometimes do it when other people were around, probably because of how well that reflected on him. In private, this was always treated with a certain level of disdain, almost like he was intentionally holding his comments back to avoid hurting my feelings through his opinions – which, of course, made it only logical that he didn’t think very highly about my writing skills. He walked around the subject and dismissed it as quickly as he could.

Unfortunately for him, the writing itself was the ONE area of my self esteem he was never able to break down. I had a life history of successful, accomplished writing, enough mentions and awards to prove it. This is the one thing my ability to brush things off worked in my favor: I brushed it off as his inability to comprehend what was obvious to everyone else. He wasn’t much of a reader, you see… He’d rather have his fingernails pulled out than having to pick up a book. God forbid he’d invest any time in self improvement or cultural activities. Beer can lifting was his activity of choice. Oh, the irony… As I’m desperately trying to come alive, back from the numbness of my soul and mind, day after day he was trying to numb his. The drinking never skipped a day. And, of course, even that was my fault. He created situations that inevitably led to arguments. Then pointed the finger at me for arguing. And justified the drinking on the fact that all I did was fight. All that, as if the heavy drinking hadn’t been an issue long before I came into the picture – to include a DUI about a decade earlier.

In his inability to break my confidence in my writing skills, he pushed it up quite a few notches and got as close to breaking me completely as a human being as it gets. So, I still had skills, but I could no longer write. My hands shook too much.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then and the aftermath was nothing but destruction. I’ve been on my healing journey for 3 years now and I’m grateful to say that, though far from healed, I’ve made very significant progress. And today, before I started writing this, I understood the magnitude of this progress. I was reading another survivor’s story and suddenly it hit me: it took me a really long time. But I’m finally able to bleed on a blank page again. I’m reconnecting. I’m not quite sure how it will all come out, but it actually doesn’t even matter anymore, because I’ve made the decision to allow and, glory to God, now I can. All those years in silence? I’ve got a whole lot of flowing to allow. And there’s an unexpected silver lining in all of this: being pushed down into silence gave me a much deeper platform to spring back from. And a more powerful voice to help those who have been silenced as well.

Yes, this was quite long. A bit all over the place, admittedly, with a few tangents thrown in, but also with a coherent narrative. That’s what my writer’s brain acknowledges. And it’s fine. God, it’s fine!! Because the part of my soul that still grieves doesn’t care about any of that. All it sees is the beauty of finding freedom through bleeding.

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