“From ro­mance to hell and back again”

How Louise Carver sur­vived the most dan­ger­ous love of all

Glamour (South Africa) - - Glamour 2017 April -

where are you go­ing? At least, let me drive you to your par­ents’ house.” It’s a mo­ment I’ll never for­get: that busy Joburg road at 1.30am, and me try­ing to con­vince Jim*, my part­ner of two months, not to leap out of my car into on­com­ing traf­fic. How had I come to be this des­per­ate, shocked and heart­bro­ken?

For the an­swer to that, I would have to go back to the night I thought I’d met my dream man. Rugged, un­ex­pected, ad­ven­tur­ous and child­like in ways that ap­pealed to my need for fun, Jim* was not at all like the suave, high-pro­file men I’d dated be­fore. He showed me pic­tures of him­self in the great out­doors. Most of all, he seemed like some­one I could truly con­nect with, some­one who would see the real me – sen­si­tive and in­tro­verted be­hind the pub­lic per­sona.

And it seemed I was not the only one who was in­ter­ested. I came home from the party to find a Face­book mes­sage – an in­vi­ta­tion to go out for a drink.

And so be­gan two won­der­ful months. Jim* wasn’t ex­trav­a­gant. In­stead of gifts and fancy restau­rants, he gave me en­dear­ing ex­pe­ri­ences: pic­nics in the park, long sen­sual baths, backgam­mon marathons and hours of talk­ing. Here was the sense of fam­ily I’d longed for.

And so, when he told me that he lived in his par­ents’ spare room, drove his mom’s car and was “be­tween jobs”, I was de­ter­mined to over­look the bright red flags and to see beyond his sit­u­a­tion. By the time he’d ad­mit­ted to be­ing black­listed, I was so in love that I didn’t even ques­tion what this might mean. (It emerged later that he’d been jailed for fraud, in­for­ma­tion he never shared when we were to­gether. Funny that.)

If anyone had told me I was about to com­mit three years to a man with Nar­cis­sis­tic Per­son­al­ity Dis­or­der (NPD), I’d have said they were mad. As I saw it, nar­cis­sists lived at gym, pulled duck-face self­ies and loved mir­rors. But while this van­ity is an as­pect of a cer­tain type of nar­cis­sism, it has very lit­tle to do with NPD, which is about find­ing some­one to ma­nip­u­late, de­stroy and dis­card when their uses run out.

Love bombed

True to NPD be­hav­iour, Jim* be­gan in what is known as the Love Bomb phase – the stage when the per­son with NPD says and does won­der­ful things to hook his prey. Hence the ded­i­ca­tion and en­tic­ing talk of long-term plans. He re­ally lis­tened to me, too, although, in truth, this was just his way of gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion for fu­ture ma­nip­u­la­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to psy­chol­o­gists, the Love Bomb phase lasts two to six months, but I be­lieve the phase I ex­pe­ri­enced was on the shorter side be­cause of my work. Peo­ple with NPD hate to see some­one else get at­ten­tion and will think noth­ing of sab­o­tag­ing an event, hol­i­day – or, in my case, per­for­mance – to re­gain the spotlight. Hence the night of my show and Jim’s* threat to jump out of my car.

Un­be­knownst to me, he’d talked loudly through­out my per­for­mance, even when my man­ager asked him not to. And he drank heav­ily when we went out to cel­e­brate. But things seemed fine un­til we drove home. That’s when he went quiet and dived for the door. “I can’t do this,” he screamed.

Shocked and sur­prised, I begged him to let me drive him to his par­ents’ place, and I thought he’d agreed un­til we reached a sub­ur­ban stop street. With­out a word, he got out and walked off. All I could do was go home and lie in the bath, feel­ing numb. What on earth had hap­pened? And on a night that should have been a won­der­ful com­bi­na­tion of my new love and a ca­reer high­light!

Of course, I should have ended things then, but I’d fallen for Jim* in a big way. And the crazy thing was that he SMSD to say he didn’t need the “ad­min of our re­la­tion­ship”. Was this the man with whom I’d shared so much? I asked if he was ab­so­lutely sure? Yes, he said, he was.

As it hap­pened, I was leav­ing for Rus­sia that day and I knew I had a long trip ahead of me. What I didn’t know was that I was about to ex­pe­ri­ence the first part of a vi­cious cy­cle in which the per­son with NPD sees how badly he can treat his part­ner and still have them come back, begging for more. If this was a self-es­teem test, I tanked.

“His eyes were so hate-filled they seemed to have changed shape.”

Hoovered up

Af­ter a suc­cess­ful mu­sic ca­reer since my teenage years, I saw my­self as con­fi­dent. But I’d con­fused self-ef­fi­ciency (be­lief in fu­ture ac­tions, per­for­mance or abil­i­ties) with self-es­teem (how we per­ceive our value to our­selves and oth­ers). Deep down, I be­lieved I only de­served love if I was suc­cess­ful. All of which made me per­fect fod­der for a nar­cis­sist: fod­der bet­ter known as a code­pen­dent.

Code­pen­dents will do any­thing to avoid feel­ing aban­doned, a les­son of­ten learnt in child­hood where it’s eas­ier to bury feel­ings than go head on with a dif­fi­cult par­ent. And while I don’t want to de­tail my child­hood, let’s just say I was groomed for a dif­fi­cult man. My feel­ings stayed safely in my mu­sic and although I’d been un­happy in re­la­tion­ships, fear of aban­don­ment kept me in abusive cy­cles, the worst by far be­ing with Jim* and his NPD.

No sooner had I landed in Rus­sia then he mes­saged: “How was the flight? Hope you’re safe?” Gut in­stinct and sense told me this was weird. Who leaves a part­ner dra­mat­i­cally, then acts as if noth­ing hap­pened? But my code­pen­dency kicked in and I had a rush of ex­cite­ment and re­lief. My love was still in my life!

And with that I was wide open to the clas­sic NPD tac­tic known as hoover­ing. As its name im­plies, hoover­ing comes into play af­ter a breakup, row or silent treat­ment (all of which would fol­low), and it may come as an ap­par­ently sweet mes­sage, call, email or ro­man­tic so­cial me­dia post. What­ever the method, its aim is to lure their prey back into the cy­cle of courtship, abuse, ma­nip­u­la­tion, rage, re­jec­tion and se­duc­tion.

Why did I fall for it? The an­swer is one Jim* must have seen at the start: code­pen­dents are ad­dicted to drama, as if the vi­cious cy­cle were emo­tional crack. Deeply in love, I was also frozen in fear.

Tri­an­gu­lated

Back in SA, we met for cof­fee and af­ter a few weeks of hoover­ing, we be­gan again. That was when he made two an­nounce­ments that should have had warn­ing bells go­ing off like a sym­phony.

First, he said, “women find me re­ally at­trac­tive, so don’t be sur­prised if they pick me up.” Then there was his ex. “My best friend,” he said. “You’ll have to ac­cept her if you want to be with me.” Shocked at my­self, I agreed. It was only later, af­ter re­search­ing NPD, that I learnt that there was a name for this ma­nip­u­la­tion: Tri­an­gu­la­tion.

Tri­an­gu­la­tion forces the NPD’S part­ner into ex­cus­ing flir­ta­tions – and into blam­ing oth­ers for it. (‘He can’t help it if they pester him,’ is what I was sup­posed to think.) It also worked to make me feel jeal­ous, in­ad­e­quate and lucky to have this charis­matic, hand­some genius in my life.

Ready for com­mit­ment and hav­ing in­vested huge emo­tional en­ergy in

Jim*, I showed off my code­pen­dent skills again and ac­cepted his ex. In the process, I cre­ated a re­la­tion­ship free of boundaries and self-pro­tec­tion.

And it wasn’t as if he would ac­cept any­thing else. We went away for what was sup­posed to be a ro­man­tic break, and on the drive back, I tack­led their re­la­tion­ship. “At least, don’t walk the dogs with her,” I begged, for walk­ing the dogs had been a spe­cial thing we shared. But he was adamant. “I’ll do what I like. You can’t con­trol me.”

Even as I agreed, I knew some­thing in­side me had died, but he pulled over and gave me a huge hug. “I’m so happy you’ve ac­cepted every­thing,” he said.

You’d think things would set­tle af­ter that, but the next day he an­nounced that my “prob­lem” was that I didn’t pri­ori­tise him while he pri­ori­tised me. I ten­ta­tively replied that if this were so, he wouldn’t in­sist on see­ing his ex. It’s hard to ex­plain his rage. All I can say is that it was ter­ri­fy­ing. “I thought we’d sorted this! You lied,” he screamed. His eyes were so hate-filled they seemed to have changed shape.

Gaslighted

The shocks kept com­ing. He would binge drink, go AWOL, give me days of silent treat­ment. But he could be so charm­ing that many of my friends thought he was great, and those who didn’t were re­luc­tant to com­ment, see­ing how in love I was.

The amount of weed he smoked also caught me by sur­prise. I’d be work­ing, while he spent most af­ter­noons at the ex, smok­ing. I knew this was not ac­cept­able, but my self-es­teem was shat­tered and I was in survival mode, des­per­ate for hap­pi­ness again. And when I dared to tackle his habit, the fury that rained down was un­bear­able.

But of all the tac­tics ap­plied by those with NPD, the one that re­ally turns once-con­fi­dent peo­ple into an anx­ious, con­fused, de­pressed wreck is the psychological abuse called gaslight­ing. Slow and de­lib­er­ate, gaslight­ing echoes tech­niques in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives use to en­sure that their cap­tives no longer trust their own mem­o­ries and judg­ment. And be­cause it is sub­tle and used over time, it’s hard to spot un­til you find your­self walk­ing on eggshells, sure you’re los­ing your mind.

There were con­stant ac­cu­sa­tions that I was self­ish, never lis­tened and didn’t un­der­stand him. The down­grad­ing might be jok­ing or ag­gres­sive, but time af­ter time, I was pet­ri­fied by his cold blue eyes – and apol­o­gis­ing for things that did not re­quire apolo­gies.

One event stands out par­tic­u­larly clearly. It was to­wards the end of our re­la­tion­ship, af­ter yet another breakup, and hav­ing been with­out him for three weeks, I was ded­i­cated to fix­ing us. When he sug­gested tak­ing the dogs for a walk, I was keen. I came home early, but he wasn’t there and his phone was off. I waited for ages, then left a cheery mes­sage to say he shouldn’t worry.

Well over an hour later, he called to say he would meet me in 10. Con­fused, I asked if he’d heard my mes­sage, as I was al­ready walk­ing the dogs. He screamed so loudly that I held the phone away from my ear: “I never lis­tened! I was wrapped up in my­self!” On and on. Des­per­ate to end the abuse, I of­fered to keep a record of our ar­range­ments, so I wouldn’t mess up again. And that, ladies and gen­tle­men, is gaslight­ing in ac­tion. Like be­ing fed small daily doses of ar­senic, so you have no idea why you’re slowly dis­ap­pear­ing.

It all ended three years af­ter our fate­ful first meet­ing. Jim* ca­su­ally men­tioned that he would be go­ing to a mu­sic fes­ti­val with his ex, as agreed. “I’m sure I would have re­mem­bered,” I replied, elic­it­ing the usual ac­cu­sa­tion that I didn’t lis­ten.

When I told him I would have loved him to come for lunch with friends, he sim­ply walked out and drove away. As usual, I sent a mes­sage: “I’m so sorry. Where’ve you gone? I shouldn’t have tried to get you to come.” His re­ply: “I’m sick of this.”

By this stage, I was on anti-anx­i­ety pills, so I popped one and went for lunch, feel­ing so sad. I called and called, but he was giv­ing me the silent treat­ment and ig­nored them. He fi­nally re­sponded the next day – to say we were “done”.

I don’t know how, but I drove to the stu­dio to find refuge in work. But my pro­ducer, Mark, took one look at me and put his foot down. “You need help,” he said. “Call your mother.”

Re­cov­ery

My mother had been wait­ing to help and she flew to Joburg im­me­di­ately. In lioness mode, she made sure I ate and got me into ther­apy. And my friends gen­tly picked me up and helped me on.

A week later, Jim* be­gan hoover­ing, but thanks to my mother and ther­a­pist, I blocked him. In fact, my ther­a­pist said it would have been al­most im­pos­si­ble to res­cue me from his abuse if I hadn’t got help when I did. I also re­searched NPD – and learnt how hard it is to es­cape the cy­cle with­out sup­port­ive fam­ily, friends, a good pro­fes­sional and self-education.

I’d al­ways used work for dis­trac­tion and so­lace, but I learnt med­i­ta­tion and mind­ful­ness and al­lowed my­self to re­ally feel the mas­sive pain, sad­ness and con­fu­sion un­til it passed.

NPD hasn’t had much at­ten­tion, and peo­ple with the dis­or­der get off on other peo­ple’s pain, cause havoc and move on to the next vic­tim. That’s why I’m shar­ing my story: to shine a light for oth­ers. If I help just one woman, that will be an achieve­ment.

Nine months have passed since I ended it with Jim* and re­cov­er­ing from the dam­age is the hard­est thing I’ve done. But re­cov­ery is pos­si­ble – and there is peace and hap­pi­ness at the end of it. I am liv­ing proof of that.

“It’s like be­ing fed small doses of ar­senic, so you have no idea why you’re slowly dis­ap­pear­ing.”

“If I help just one woman, that will be an achieve­ment.”

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