I had experienced an incredible moment one morning in 2015 when I set out to have a word with God. I was at the end of my rope in trying to deal with events that had happened in my life and I desperately needed to know that I was not going through this crisis alone. I not only wanted reassurance from God, but I also wanted tangible proof that I was being heard. I had asked for a very specific item to be presented to me in a very specific way, and I was not leaving that beach until I got it. And I most certainly got it, or as I now like to say, “God” It. It was a morning that I will, and can, never forget.
Having my faith restored in such an awe-inspiring manner and having opened up the lines of communication once again, I made another “call” to God. I now wanted to know WHY the events that brought me to the beach that morning had happened. Over two years had passed and I had still been grasping at straws, pushing the mental rewind button over and over again; past the breaking point, and still coming up with nothing. I desperately needed clarity and closure to what had taken me into the “dark night of the soul”. How could I possibly learn any lesson, (if this was what the experience had been meant to show me) if I couldn’t figure out what caused this to happen in the first place? How do you right a wrong if you can’t figure out what the wrong even was? Confusing enough? Sounding like an Abbot & Costello skit? “Who’s on 1st?” “What’s on 2nd?” Imagine being in my ruby slippers…. Let me take you back a bit….
(Fade in Dream Sequence Music)
July 27, 2013 was a morning like any other. I woke up, made my coffee, grabbed a cigarette, the computer, and checked emails. There was one from my boss, which I assumed was the reply to the email I had sent him a few days earlier, asking for the “ok” in arriving a day later for initial preparations to a project getting ready to begin at the end of September. I had already run this by 2 other colleagues who had expressed no concerns, as well as the management office, since the prep date had already changed several times. I opened the email, expecting the ok, as well as possibly some other notes for an upcoming event overseas. Nothing prepared me for what I was about to read. Oh my God. I had just been fired.
For a nanosecond, I thought it was joke (albeit a cruel one), but judging from my body’s reaction, this was anything but a joke. Oh my God. I kept reading it over and over, even out loud, seeing if I had somehow misread what was on that page. This was insane. I couldn’t understand it. I was absolutely devastated. My brain kept racing back to only a month and a half before, to when we had finished our last project. We had left off still bouncing ideas back and forth for these upcoming events. There was nothing that I could come up with as to why, what, and how this could possibly be happening now. No. This wasn’t real. I had all of my flight information for the trip overseas. I had finished up my agreement with management only days earlier for the September project, even agreeing to yet another pay-cut, to boot. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING could’ve prepared me for what I was reading on that screen. It just didn’t make any sense at all. Zero. Not even the reasons WHY I was being fired made any sense. This was NOT happening. If this was a nightmare , PLEASE God, wake me up. I’d been there for nearly 20 years; 20 years of what I knew to be loyal and faithful service to the company, going well above and beyond my duties.
Yet there I was, frozen in front of my computer; relegated to not only being fired out of thin air, but to add insult to injury, being fired in an email. An email that had been sent out late in the evening; the end of the work week, most likely to spare management the inevitable barrage of calls I’d be making to them this morning. The voice of “You’ve Got Mail” became my fond farewell. The push of a “send” button became my official send-OFF. Welcome to The Twilight Zone (fade in accompanying theme song…)
My pleas and “PLEASE tell me what I’ve done wrong” went unanswered. The response from most of my now former colleagues were, for lack of a better word, their condolences. I mean, what else can you say to someone on the other end of the phone who was a blubbering mess? It was horrible. Absolutely horrible.
The aftermath and subsequent fallout that swiftly followed was like a domino effect; affecting not only my professional life, but every other aspect of a life that I had come to know until that Saturday morning. I had all of my “eggs” in that “basket”, so to speak, and one by one, they were breaking, and breaking me in the process.
There would be much more “fallout” and “aftershocks” that followed that initial blow, but I’m going to fast forward now to get back to this particular part of my story; back to the big question. WHY did this happen to me? Too much time was passing me by. Too much time watching everyone else’s lives going on all around me, while I felt powerless to even make a move. No. I’m not going to keep on playing the same scenario in my head anymore. I needed an answer now.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I never, EVER expected what I was about to discover. Truth is stranger than fiction and, in this case, stranger than SCIENCE fiction. (Insert Twilight Zone theme again)
Remember that old Toyota campaign slogan, “You asked for it, you got it” ? Well, I asked for it and I most certainly “God It”….Again. Take a bathroom break, grab a snack, and have a seat. We’re off to see the Wizard…
My Mom and I had just finished a grocery shop. We were literally steps away from activating the exit doors when my mother suddenly said, “Oh my God, Patti, I think I’m going to faint.” I immediately grabbed her, saying (or more like yelling), “Ma! MA! What’s wrong?!” She had just gone through aortic valve replacement surgery a few months earlier, which only made the unfolding situation even more frightening. Suddenly, it felt as though someone had clicked one of those movie plate “thingys” and yelled, “Action!”, as a man instantly turned around from checking out, grabbing my mother’s other arm, saying, “ Are You Ok?” A neighbor who lived in my Mom’s complex suddenly walked into the scene. “Suzie! Oh my God! What’s the matter?” Enter supermarket employee. “Can I get you some water? (I asked for a juice.) I’m not sure who brought over a chair or if it was already there, but , nonetheless, I got her in it while someone handed me the juice.
It was all happening so fast. The man and the neighbor opted to stay with my Mom while I bolted out the door with all of the groceries, raced to the car, shoving everything in it, and drove back to get her.
Obviously, I was a nervous wreck, yet when I came back into the supermarket, the three of them were, surprisingly, laughing and chatting away. I wanted to take Mom to the hospital but she kept insisting that she was fine. I helped her up from the chair, while the neighbor formally introduces me to this man. “Patti, this is so and so. Wasn’t that nice of him to help your Mom?” I was caught off guard in the confusion, saying something like, “Oh, uh. Sorry. Thank you.”, shaking his hand. I also thanked the neighbor and probably anyone else within ear shot, said goodbye, and made our way out to the car. (Quick note: discontinued medication was to blame.)
My Mom had to sit in the back seat in case of an accident. Air bags can save your life, but if you’re healing from open heart surgery, airbags can kill you. I got behind the wheel and gave my Mom a quick glance in the rear view mirror. She had this funny look on her face, like the cat that ate the canary. “Paaaaattti,” she said in a “sing-songy” kind of tone,, “that guy likes you.” ( Insert cartoon head shake with accompanying sound effects. ) “Wh-What? What are you talking about?”, I half-asked (new phrase), pulling out onto the main road for the quick ride home. I think the neighbor must’ve either been following us ,or Mom had her number on speed dial. Nonetheless, they were soon on the phone; her asking if my Mom was okay, as well as chatting up about the guy in the supermarket and what was now becoming evident to be a “Cupid Coup” conjured up in record time while I had been shoving groceries in the trunk. Seriously? I thought I was going to be taking her to the hospital after that spell in the store, and now here we are, at home, with my mother going on and on about this guy. He even managed to slip her his business card, which she was now holding up and fanning around like Eddie Murphy’s stand up skit on getting ice cream from the “Ice Cream Man”. My God (head shaking), you couldn’t make this up…..
Look. I get it. All Moms want to see their daughters married off. I came close a couple of times, but I guess I’m just a “Runaway Bride”. For me, I was married to my career, and we all know how THAT “happily ever after” went down.
“He seems like a nice guy, Patti., she said, AND he’s a lawyer, too!” Ok. I see where this is going. In her eyes, he ticked all of the boxes. He was good looking, an attorney (insert $$ signs in Mom’s eyes), dressed nice, wealthy, single, wealthy. What Mom wouldn’t work on her daughter with this one, right? But like Shania Twain’s lyrics, “That don’t impress me much.” And it didn’t. I had enough going on in my life without having to even think about anything else, let only this little bubbling brew. Please, God, make her stop.
But she didn’t. She wasn’t hearing or having any of it. She didn’t let up and she didn’t COME up for air, insisting that I at least call and thank him again for what he had done for her. (Italian Mothers. Catholic guilt. You don’t stand a chance.) This went on for quite awhile. “Alright, alright!!! I yelled. “Give me the God-damned card!!” (Sorry, God….)
Of course I googled his name from here to Timbuktu before I made the call. And yes. he was who he said he was, with photos to corroborate. He was even a cancer survivor, which I must say DID impress me much. He had gone so far as to write a book about his diagnosis and recovery. I read it. He was very candid, almost to a fault, given the type of cancer he had. Still in all, I really didn’t want to be bothered, yet Mommy Dearest kept on and on and on and it was beginning to wear me down. What the hell. What do I have to lose? Maybe this was some sort of sign. Serendipity. After all, It’s not like he was trying to pick me up in a bar? What were the odds of meeting someone this way? And yes, he did offer his help. So I made the call, which ended with him saying the least I could do was join him for dinner that evening. Again. What the hell. I guess I’m going to dinner…
(Scene cut to Mom doing backflips. Insert Handel’s, “Hallelujah” for added effect.)
Now I have yet another question for God.”Who is this guy and what is he doing here?” My friend, Gladys, kept saying this was fate; God’s work. My other friend, Luke, whose ear I’d repeatedly chewed off since the fallout, kept going on about my need for stability and that this was a sure starting point. I couldn’t argue with either one of them and to be honest, after becoming a caregiver for my Mom since her surgery, as well as for my Great Uncle, who SHE had been caring for, a night out really didn’t sound that bad.
The evening was pleasant, though I’m sure that on more than one occasion, I had that look on my face: the look one of my former colleagues called the , “I smell sh*t look.” Go on. I’ll wait. Look in the mirror and pretend you’ve just smelled “it”. Yep. That’s the look. I let him do all of the ordering and I basically take over the conversation. He certainly had no problem talking about himself. He was worldly, I’ll give him that. But then again, so was I. I nodded and listened, occasionally joining in with one of my own stories, but my mind was anywhere but at that table.
We ended the night with him asking if he could call me again sometime.
Sure. Why not.
One call turned into many calls. “Let’s go to a movie!” “Wanna go surfing?” He was pulling out all the stops. He also had a dog. Oh no. Target hit. Weak spot. I’m a HUGE animal lover. “Come on! Just meet me for lunch. You have to eat, don’t you?” “Come on, let’s go here! It’ll be fun! We’ll take the dog!” There were proverbial plates spinning everywhere and I didn’t know where to look before another one went up. It was dizzying. I will admit that all of this new attention was doing wonders for my self-esteem. It was nice to hear compliments. Nice to be noticed. Nice to get out and about for a change. Yet as nice as it all was, I was still in a lot of pain and my heart remained “closed until further notice”. Of course he knew that I was broken. (Clue #1) He said he had understood this because he,too, had also been broken. So we now have something in common. (Clue #2.)
My “advisory committee”, (Mom, Gladys, & Luke,) were doing their best to convince me to not toss in the towel. “Just see where this goes, Patti.” I don’t want to see where this goes. “You’ll learn to like him.” I don’t wanna to learn to like him. Honestly, he was nice and all, but there was nothing there as far as I was concerned and he knew that. He even called me out on it on more than one occasion. I guess I now had that “I smell sh*t look” seemingly frozen on my face and he was doing his best to chip it away. More and more plate spinning followed and I was getting a bit woozy watching them all turning. “I’m a rescuer!”, he told me. “Forget the past. That’s all behind you now.” Before I even knew it, I was off having dinner with his parents. Whoa! I hardly knew this person and now I’m meeting his parents? What IS going on here? It was fast and confusing at the same time. (Another clue). Yes, he was paying a lot of attention to me, jumping through hoops and spinning all of those plates.
But almost from the very beginning, little “things” started popping up. Things that were just a little bit…. well, off. A bit too much information about a relationship. A bit too much about what this person or that person had done to him. Compliments that, at times, didn’t quite come out as compliments. “Did he just say that?” “Did I just hear that?” No. Something wasn’t quite right and I couldn’t figure it what it was. I had become a bit skittish and unsure of myself since the fallout and to be honest, I didn’t quite trust my own judgement. (Clue)
I needed another set of eyes and ears to see and hear what I was talking about, so I decided to invite him around to one of my family’s famous Sunday dinners. The usual gang would be there, of course, but I also needed Gladys and Luke there as well, as the others would be oblivious to the situation, mostly due to cultural and language barriers, as would be my Mom, who was still looking at all of this through rose-colored glasses.
He, unexpectedly popped over an hour earlier; his reason being to drop off a plant for my Mom. I know that may sound like a nice gesture, but It felt very weird. Weird in even how he stood away from the door; handing it to me as though I had a cold he didn’t want to catch. And why didn’t he just bring it with him later? (Clue.)
Anyway, fast forward to dinner. It was a full table of 8, and I was quite busy with the ever changing courses being brought on and off the table to actually sit for more than a few minutes at a time. Conversations were abuzz in English, Italian, and Spanish. We were just getting through dessert, when he suddenly got a phone call that he took outside and out of ear shot. The rest of us inside were giving each other the eyes. Mine were “saying”, “See what I mean?” to their nodding heads. They couldn’t NOT “see” it. Some of the things that came out of his mouth were, well, off-putting; even more so, given the fact that he’d only just met some of these people. If I’m not mistaken, I believe I saw the “I smell sh*t” look” on both Gladys AND Luke’s faces at one time or another during dinner. He’d been outside for quite awhile by now. When he finally finished his call, he told me he’d just heard about his friend who had just been diagnosed with cancer and who was also caring for a wife with cancer, and how he needed to go and see him. I told him to do what he needed to do and he said his goodbyes and left.
He phoned up the following day, inviting me to lunch, but firstly wanting me to see what his dog had learned at service school. I said I’d meet him there , but he insisted on picking me up.“Go out in the backyard and hide and let her find you!,” he told me. I don’t know who was the bigger idiot here; him for asking me to go out to the “backyard”, which was basically, the INTRACOASTAL, or me for actually DOING it. (I was the bigger.) Ok. That was strange. Now what? When are we going to lunch? Apparently lunch wasn’t ever part of the plan as I’d soon come to realize. No. He brought me there to tell me, and I quote: “There’s to be a change in our relationship status.” (Cartoon head shake ) I had seen myself to be more of a therapist; an ear, which is why my response was: “Hey. Ya gotta do whatcha gotta do.” Caused him to clumsily reply with (you’re gonna love this): “Oh my God,you are SO wise.” (Insert hooting owl with wavy dark hair.)
It was either later that evening or the following night when I received a frantic text from him, saying that he had made a horrible decision! She had tricked him yet again and that by him becoming a victim yet again, he had inadvertently caused me to be a victim! (Cartoon head shake) Could I possibly find it in my heart to forgive him!
What the __??!! This was a grown man, a man with more than a few credentials, I might add, acting like anything BUT that.
Why did we ever go to that supermarket, Mom…..
My phone started blowing up with calls and texts. This went on for quite awhile. I finally I picked up. “Which one of you am I speaking to now? You’re like a friggin’ Jekyll & Hyde! What the hell is wrong with you?! Please leave me alone.”
Months later, and having long since changed my phone number, I got an email from him. I expected it to be some sort of apology for all of that plate-spinning nonsense. No. He only wanted the name of a club. Wow. Who was that guy???
Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to have closed up my “practice”. It was a diversion, yes, but it was more work than fun, and at times, mentally exhausting. (I do miss the dog, though…)
That being said, I was a little ticked off at God for putting all of this in my path. What was the point in having to deal with even more confusion on top of everything else? Did I really need to go through this?
Apparently, I did.
Getting that email and what it contained, or rather didn’t, got me to thinking about all of the plate-spinning and cartoon head shakes. Who are these people and why do they act this way?
I hit the internet and started digging around. I googled “Jekyll & Hyde personalities”, which took me from one site to another, until I suddenly “God it.” I stumbled on a word; one that I had never even heard of before, but as I read on, was soon becoming an eye-opening and jaw dropping revelation:
All I kept saying was, “Ho-Ly. Sh*t. Oh. My. God. My voice kept getting louder and louder each time I said it. I kid you not, I jumped off the couch so fast that I almost dropped the laptop from my lap! Gaslighting; “An extreme and dangerous form of emotional and psychological abuse most often used by narcissists and sociopaths as a way of controlling, confusing, and ultimately debilitating someone. Oh my God. This sounds WAY too familiar. Was this even possible? Had my question of questions just been answered? Courtesy of the marathon plate-spinning experience?
Yes, yes, and yes to all of the above.
The more I read about it, the more everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, started making sense. It was as if that one word, Gaslighting, had been some sort of secret password that had instantaneously opened up a part of my brain that had been closed off since the fallout. One by one, all of the “blue sky puzzle pieces” were fitting perfectly. There were so many, “Oh My God” flashback moments popping up in my brain that I couldn’t keep up. It was too much to take in all at once. Inevitably, rationale kicked in and I began a bit of mind war with myself. This can’t be true. This couldn’t POSSIBLY have happened to me. This DIDN’T happen to me. Yet, try as I did, I couldn’t fight it nor deny it. The more I read, the more I realized just how spot on this was sounding. There were hundreds of stories and testimonials that I could have easily been written by ME. It scared the hell out of me, but I got busy learning everything that I could about this “under the radar underworld” known as narcissistic abuse. It was mind boggling. (Pun intended)
I learned about how these personality disorders come to be: learning about my own in the process. How polar opposites personalities, better known as empaths & narcissists, are continually drawn together. I learned the secret language of narcissists. Words like “projection” and “triangulation”. Diversion tactics such as intimidation, denial, rage, smear campaigns; about “flying monkeys”: a “must have” in any narcissist’s survival kit. I learned about the cycle pattern every victim will endure when entering into any kind of relationship with these personality types.
This was a world completely unknown to me and I was learning far more that I had ever wanted to learn. It was frightening and fascinating at the same time. Frightening just how easily an unknowing mind can be molded like a piece of clay, ever-shaped and reshaped depending on the mindset of the “sculptor.” Fascinating in how these personalities have mastered this insidious art of deception. Unless you’ve actually experienced this kind of abuse (which I now know that I have), you’ll have a hard time understanding it.
It took me awhile to come up with a suitable comparison in only a few words, but I think this comes close. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) abuse can best be described as a “Psychological Ponzi Scheme.”
I wanted an answer and I wanted the truth. Yet truth can hurt, as this has been an extremely painful truth to swallow. Extreme in every way, shape and form. After the initial shock had worn off, I became extremely angry. I felt violated; violated because I WAS violated. There were no bruises on the outside to accuse or call anyone out on, but I had suffered a massive assault to my very core.
There’s a scene in the Wizard Of Oz (which, by the way, is filled with narcissistic references), where Dorothy says, after waking up from this “dream.” “But it wasn’t a dream. It was a real, truly live place. All I kept saying was I want to go home.. Does anybody believe me? Do you believe me?”
I could so relate to what she was saying in that moment. She set out with a kind heart and good intent. She didn’t sign up for the rest. And neither did I. So. What lesson did I learn from this whole experience? What was the “silver lining?”
Well, for one thing, I’m still here and I’m still standing. There was a moment when I thought about getting my very first tattoo to mark the “occasion” but I was like, “Hang on.I don’t need a tattoo, I AM the tattoo.”
I learned so much about myself while navigating through this “mind field” and how my own personality, molded and formed since childhood, gravitated me towards these types of individuals and situations. Knowledge is power and I feel empowered to share it. I have been able to connect the dots to nearly every “red flag” or “ah-ha” moment from the inception of this ruse to the “grand finale”, known as the “devalue & discard phase” of NPD abuse.
It has been both cathartic and equally saddening to look back again; knowing what I know now, and seeing all that I had experienced from a completely different perspective. A painfully different perspective.
Maya Angelou once said: “There is nothing more painful than a story that has yet to be told.”
Well, my story is now beginning to be told, both here and in my upcoming book.
Again, knowledge is power. I have lived through something that has been life changing and I can not keep that experience for myself alone. If by telling my own story, I am able to reach out to someone who may be going through a similar situation: at work, in a marriage, in their family, whatever the circumstances. If what I have said here sounds anything like what they’re experiencing in their own lives, how could I not share what I know? This type of abuse thrives on fear, confusion, and secrecy for its existence. I’m only following Toto’s lead in pulling away the curtain.
How could I have ever imagined that day in the supermarket would have sent me down my own “Yellow Brick Road.”
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my……God!
With Love & Thanks,