I’m finally beginning to properly ‘get’ the age-old adage that life is a journey not a destination. Let me assure you, my particular journey continues to be filled with the most bizarre ups and downs, and I’m coming to realize that truth really is stranger than fiction – well, in my case at least.
Many peculiar happenings and coincidences have been going on over the past few weeks, most of which I am not currently at liberty to share. When the time is right I will put pen to paper, but until then I’ve decided to fulfill my urge to write by focusing on my own personal experiences around the subject of love after the sociopath.
As you’ll know if you read my last post, I am now in a relationship with a wonderfully caring soul who is the polar opposite from my ex-husband. He’s been through his own tragedies, losing his previous partner to breast cancer. He is real, he has feelings, he cares and, most importantly, he is human. That means that like me, he has his failings. It means that his responses are not always perfect. Along with letting me know how much he loves me he also freely shows his confusion, demonstrates his hurts, and tells me when he feels in any way upset.
My own responses though, I am coming to learn, often stem from learned behaviours that I came to know from my time with my so called soulmate. Life with him was so darned perfect that there was never a cross word nor anything that caused me to even consider that our relationship was anything other than a dream come true. That dream, of course, turned out to be a living nightmare – but I didn’t know that at the time.
So when Patrice (my Frenchman who speaks no English) becomes quiet or reserved, I instantly question his motives – wondering whether he, like my ex, is trying to manipulate or control me. Of course when my ex was around, I had no such internal guidance or red flags. I just took everything that he showed me to be true, and I continued to shower him with unconditional love. By the time his mask was slipping, I was so far hooked in to his trap that I believed his strange behaviour must be due to something I was doing wrong. And I responded by showing even more love and understanding, opening my heart and soul even wider to embrace and reassure him, so that he would know without question that I loved him wholly and completely. I thought that was what marriage was all about – my ability to love him through whatever issues or problems he was facing, choosing to show more love in the face of his increasingly irrational put-downs and snide remarks.
Trust Without Naivety
From the beginning, the only thing I have promised Patrice is complete honesty – and that is what he gets. In barrow-loads! I continue to do my best to explain to him why I am no longer that naively trusting soul. To clarify why when there is something that happens to concern or rattle me – no matter how small – I will not brush it under the carpet. Instead I will meet it head on, gently in the most parts, and get to understand what it is all about.
The first few times this happened, I felt myself shutting off to him – and I told him so in no uncertain terms. I guess in hindsight mine was probably a pretty harsh comeback when all he was doing from his point of view was sharing his frustrations. For me, it was also incredibly challenging to really speak up for myself. To ‘go there’ when the circumstances seemed in many ways to be fairly petty. But I did it because I felt there was no point if I kept quiet – where is the honesty in keeping a painted smile?
And I’m pleased that I’ve learned to do this. I’m proud of myself for questioning every tiny misunderstanding, so that together we can understand, learn and lay solid foundations. This is the first time in my life that I’ve felt able to behave in this way with someone who is so close to me. So what has changed?
Courage To Be Real
Well, I think that once again it’s an opportunity for me to feel gratitude for all the unpleasant and sometimes downright ghastly experiences that I’ve encountered over my life so far. When I became an orphan I quickly learned how to fit in, shut up, put up and stay quiet – in short how to become invisible. I learned to ignore my own cries for help, and to push down my feelings of pain and loneliness. In their place I chose instead to focus on understanding and helping others – little realizing that through doing that I was simply pushing my own identity further and further within me, until I didn’t even know who I was. Oh yes, I had a mask of my own. But my mask, unlike that of the sociopath, was one created for survival. One that hurt nobody else but myself.
The mask of the sociopath, on the other hand, is a carefully crafted guise of love and devotion, designed to disable their target so they bend to their every twisted whim and manipulation. Is it any wonder that I fell so completely, hook line and sinker, for his practiced act of adoration and love? Having been starved of such connections for so many years, my ex was like a breath of fresh air. I truly felt that I had come home, and that life would be forever rosy. Looking back I can’t help but have a wry smile, realizing that I must have been a particularly easy target for him. They talk about rose-coloured spectacles… well, mine must have caused me to be blind, deaf and dumb to his scheming ways. I was so wrapped up in the dream of finally finding happiness that I simply couldn’t see what was right under my nose.
It’s only in recent years that people have shared with me their own views on my ex-soulmate. I’ve heard many words to describe the man I thought was handsome, charming, charismatic, and the life and soul of the party. Opinions such as ‘cheesy’ ‘fake’ ‘annoying’ ‘a braggart’ and many more are now being voiced by the people who knew him. When I ask why they didn’t tell me at the time, I receive the perfectly reasonable reply that they didn’t think it was any of their business. That I was quite clearly in love and happy with this person, so they didn’t want to rain on my parade.
I Still Believe In Magic
Hmmmm…. My own worst enemy? Well, perhaps so… but only now with the insights I have learned through my own journey to recovery. Do I blame myself? Far from it! I am deeply proud of what I have survived – and I also believe that it was because of my stubborn belief in magic that I didn’t allow myself to go down when all around me was falling to pieces. Ironically, I now believe that it was those very same characteristics that kept me so blinkered to his ways (including my innocent belief in love and happy ever after) that eventually proved to be my salvation. Through the bleakest days weeks and months following the meltdown, I still held strong to my conviction that everything would work out in the end – even though there were many times when it would have seemed the more sensible option was to just give up and give in.
I remember consistently telling people that if I could feel so in love and so fulfilled with someone who was nothing more than a conman, then when a real man came in to my life, the experience could only be many times better! I confess that for a long time this was more of a mantra than a strongly held conviction – but you know what? It has worked wonders for me.
Because now, in the company of Patrice, I am able to check and double-check on everything that happens between us. I can ask what’s wrong when he seems to be less bouncy than usual. I can speak up for myself if I feel he’s being unreasonable. I can ask what he’s feeling when he seeks reassurances. I can tell him I need space when I feel too squashed. And I can let him know every time he makes me feel like a princess – and that feels great.
So, no, it ain’t always easy being in a ‘real’ relationship after the false perfection that I knew for so long. But goodness knows it’s healthy and it’s honest. And through continued talking, sharing, hugging and learning about each other, I am feeling more settled, safe and loved than ever before in my life.
Does it mean I’m going to become a pushover with him? Heck no! I shall probably keep questioning even the smallest details for however long we stay together. I refuse to say ‘forever’ anymore, because the last time I did that I lost any hope of remembering who I really was. Nope. This time it is day by day, and let me tell you that right now, with each day that passes, this particular relationship is more fulfilling, exciting, rewarding, challenging, and loving than anything I ever experienced with my ex.
As I said at the start of this post, I am finally appreciating the joys of life’s journey. I do not need to focus on a destination, because I will never be ‘there’… I am here. And here is exactly the right place for me right now. However long this particular ‘now’ lasts doesn’t even matter in the grand scale of things. Because whatever happens in the future, I know I am at last able to be true to myself and to those around me.
So in actual fact the real love I’ve found is love for myself – and with that, no-thing and no-one can ever harm me again. As Patrice keeps saying to me “que des bonnes choses maintenant” which means “only good things now” – and you know what? I fully agree.