Opinion by Richard Bleil
Or did I?
On my social media platform, I belong to a “closed group” dedicated to survivors of narcissistic partners. I think I may be the only male member, but it’s fair as my regular readers are all too aware of my so-called beloved ex-wife and her antics. But on this page, one of the members posted something along the effects of “‘I made it!’ How I long to be able to say these words.”
I left it alone, since I really don’t want to bring anybody down, but it made me wonder…does anybody ever truly “make it”?
When I was in middle school, I decided I wanted to be a chemist. Yes, that far back. I worked towards this goal since I was about twelve, never looking back (although I added “physicist” to my interest at some point, and today I am more of a “chemical physicist” than a chemist). It was my goal as I completed middle school, and went through high school. It was my major in college, where at some point I had decided that what I wanted to do with my chemistry degree was teach at a college or university. I earned my degree in chemistry, worked for a couple of years as an environmental analytical chemist before returning to school to graduate school to earn my doctorate (since this was the degree required to teach in higher education). After earning my Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry (the chemists’ name for “chemical physicist”) I was a research assistant in three rather prestigious institution, worked as an “associate professor” at a private college, hired as an “associate professor” at a state university where eventually I was promoted and earned the rank of tenured full professor, the highest title one can have in academia.
I made it. The goal I had set for myself twenty some odd years earlier had come to fruition. But, somehow, it was anti-climatic. There had to be more. Where were the trumpets, the parades, the cherub messengers from God?
Okay, I really didn’t expect any of that, but it did almost feel like a let-down. I became restless, wanting more, but suddenly…I just didn’t know what “more” was. Without that goal, I ended up making some pretty stupid mistakes, like marrying a narcissist and quitting my job because she didn’t trust me around my female students.
Personally, I’m not convinced that it is human nature to “make it”, and be satisfied. If there are those who have reached this summit and are enjoying the view, then I am truly envious of them. But life is struggle. It started as a struggle for survival, to find food and shelter, to protect our family. As societies developed, it became a struggle for the society to survive, to pay the lord of the land, to fight against invaders. Today, those struggles are things of the past, but we are still geared for struggle. Now it’s a struggle to find happiness, a struggle for success, and a struggle to make money so we can pay the lords of the land. But, let’s not go there since I really don’t want this to turn into a post about modern society.
And in our struggles, sometimes we are injured. I took a terrible fall, lost everything, and today suffer from my own form of PTSD. I find it difficult to think about how to move on, to trust again, and can’t believe that love could ever come my way. Heck, I even wonder if it ever really did.
So what do we do?
There’s an old movie called “You’ve Got Mail”, starring Tom Hanks. In a scene where he is on the phone with a radio talk-show host he sums it up pretty succinctly. It’s been many years since I’ve seen it, so the best I can do is paraphrase, but it goes something like: I’ll get up every morning. I’ll put on my clothes, make breakfast and go to work. I’ll go to bed every night, and repeat it every day. And, hopefully, some day, it won’t hurt so much.
I know that’s wrong. He mentions something about having it perfect and wonderful, but it’s just as well. That part of the quote doesn’t fit into a blog about living with a narcissist.
I’m told that there is a psychological trick to dealing with bad memories. It’s been described as like putting the traumatic images into a little box. They’re still there, but they’re easier to handle. I guess that’s what time is. The longer I’m divorced, it seems like the less often I dwell on her. It’s not entirely true, some days are worse than others, but on those days, I put on my clothes, and I go to work, and I do my job. Will the trauma ever really be gone? Probably not for me. I doubt that I could ever really get over what happened as long as I’m alone, and I expect to be alone forever. But, if I were to get married, if Sarah were to eventually fade away into that little controllable box because there is somebody new, I still would not have made it. I would want to keep working, only instead of on survival, on being the best husband (or fiancee or boyfriend) that can, on being the best man because she, whoever she would be, would deserve the best version of me.
The struggle is real. And never ending.