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Survive, Transform, Soar! - Issue #52
How To Lose Yourself Without Really Trying:
A Peek into Dawn’s Toxic Relationship
Article by: Dawn Aegle in SurviveTransformSoar.com | Friday, March 9, 2018
A new subscriber wrote in last week saying that she would like to hear the story of my toxic relationship. It seems appropriate since this is the final issue of Survive, Transform, Soar!’s first year in publication.

As I’m sure is true for you, it’s hard to know where to start and how to focus. What helps me put it in perspective for myself is to remember that in 2002, when I met the tall, attractive, charming man I’ll call Brian, I was a happy, self-confident, emotionally and financially independent woman with a responsible, interesting job as an executive vice-president.

Ten years later when I finally got myself out, I prayed to God to take my life because I couldn’t envision a future that I thought was possible for myself that I cared about living. Although I don’t believe in taking matters into my own hands, all I could see left for me was just going through the motions of life.

Not the First Time
Of course, it wasn’t the first breakup. In the first couple of years, he broke up with me several times. I’d spend two weeks with tears every night after work and about the time I’d start to calm my emotions and accept it, he’d find an excuse to get in touch and tell me I ‘misunderstood’ and he hadn’t intended to break up with me at all. Once, it was storing turkeys in my freezer; I should have offered to put him in there, lol!
There were lots of warning signs, but I didn't know how to interpret them.
I finally realized I was being trained; I told him it was dysfunctional and if he ever broke up with me again, he better be sure because I wouldn’t take him back.

I was stronger then, but I didn’t honor my own word. The first affair happened…and the lies…and the attempts to blame me when I found out. He was insanely jealous, but I excused it because of the purported infidelity of an ex-wife (there were three of them, but he hid the first one until we’d been together over 5 years).

Are you counting up the warning signs yet?

He was uncomfortable with me being happy. If I expressed that, or if anything good happened to me, I would be figuratively ‘kicked in the gut’ with sarcasm or criticism, so I learned not to express those positive feelings…and of course that tends to make them go away.

Once when he was talking about how miserable he was, I asked when was the last time he felt happy. He said, “In my 20s,” which was 30 years before that. My reaction at the time was to feel sad for him and want to help make his life better. Now I know that this was not my responsibility, nor within my power.

As I know is true for each of you, there are so many illustrative little stories, but in the end, it’s all about gaining control and feeling superior. It seemed he could only show affection after he had hurt me. The result for me was a gradual descent into a loss of self--what I now refer to as ‘the decade from hell.”

Why Did I Keep Going Back?
We all get asked, but I’m not sure any of us ever understand this really well. I certainly went through the “How could this have happened to me?" questions. But here are a few of my realizations about myself:

1. I knew I was inexperienced - I gave his opinions more credibility than my own.
2. I never fully committed - I was wary about many things. But I strung together a whole bunch of short-term reasons to stay...until I was deeply trauma bonded.
3. Suicide threats - “I can’t leave him now.” “She is too negative to help him through this.”
4. One more chance – When I refused to go back after a breakup…he "held the gun in his mouth, decided he wanted to live and decided he wanted to be with me.” Isn’t looking death in the face what it sometimes takes for a person to change?
I couldn't let go of hope...or find my way out of confusion.
5. Compassion – the last two years especially, I knew he would be homeless, living in his van, if I asked him to leave and I couldn’t bring myself to do that.
6. Confusion – I truly had come to believe that the problems were my fault, or at least that if I could fix something in myself, that things could work out.
7. Fear – Was he right? Was I really too old for anyone to want me again? Would I never have a relationship or even good friends because once they got to know me, they’d see who I really am? I had used up most of my assets—even though he had nothing, he did buy the food (on credit)--could I make it financially without him?
8. Hope – Ah, this was my biggest Achilles Heel (and I plan to write an article about it later this year). Why is it that we see so much potential for a really wonderful life…”if only”? And I had to learn that I might not survive the wait to the “if only.”
9. There were good things too – He was smart, a good cook, able to engage in complicated conversations, a talented musician who touched my heart…I wanted the relationship to work.
10. Missing Out – After all the time and emotions and waiting and hoping, would I be breaking up with him just at the moment when he was becoming able to love me, to feel better about himself, etc., etc.—and was some other woman going to get everything I had always hoped for because I just gave up too soon?

What Made Me Susceptible?
Brian was my first relationship after a 25-year marriage. I met my husband when I was 18 and a virgin. I didn’t date much after my divorce for about 4 years until my children were off to college and then I dated for about nine months before meeting Brian. Needless to say, I was pretty naïve.

I knew there was a lot I didn’t know…and so when Brian would tell me things—about myself, about women or men in general, about how I was “too conservative,” I assumed he was right and knew more than I did. He was so adamant about his 'facts,' that I often ended up believing him and letting go of my own opinions.

One exception was politics and economics, which were my college focus. If he began losing an argument—with me or anyone else—he would revert to personal attacks. Once when the discussion had devolved to that point, I asked him, “Why can’t you accept that we just think differently about this and have that be OK?” He replied, “Because we are together so how you think is a reflection on me and I don’t want people to think I’m an idiot.”
I felt like a child...I think I was giving up on myself and any possibility for self-determination.
Eventually, I just stopped talking to him about politics. In fact, I realized that over time, one-by-one, I took subject areas off the table until I just wasn’t talking very much anymore. And then, of course, I worried that I had become boring to him.

Toxicity Sneaks Up On You
It happened to me bit by bit until I was confused, unsure of myself and devolving into the mirror of how I thought he saw me. Eventually, I began to feel like a child and realized I needed to get away and figure out how to be a woman again. I thought it was all my fault and if I just left for 6 months, ‘grew up’ and got some self-confidence back, when I returned he might like me again and if the relationship didn’t get better, then I’d know I had to end it.

There’s a lot more to the ‘break-up story’ that I don’t have room here to tell, but the bottom line is that I was in complete ignorance about what was happening to me. The trauma bond, coupled with empathy for him after learning about narcissism and that it couldn’t be healed, had me go back into contact ‘to see if we could be friends.’

That was a disaster and led to losing my best friend—the one person who had been my lifeline and urged me to get out of the relationship—and I felt I would be alone and isolated the rest of my life. Without the incredible support of a Hospice counselor I saw because of my father’s death a year before, I’m not sure I would have survived. (If you missed my related story about getting cancer at this time, you can read it here.)

Now – Learning to Soar
Yet, the lack of information at the time about narcissism and other personality disorders is what ultimately led me to create Survive, Transform, Soar! I wanted to bring information, support and hope to people in a concise way that didn’t require them to research at a time when it’s so hard to concentrate on anything.

I wanted to show people that they aren’t alone; they aren’t going crazy and their reactions are normal given what’s been happening to them. My greatest purpose is to convey that there is reason to hope. I, having been where you may be now in a place of no-hope, created a life that I am happy to be living. A new Dawn is possible.

So, what does that life look like now? Because this article has become too long for one issue, I will return next week and share with you why, for me, it has been worthwhile to have a future “beyond toxic.” 
*  *  *
Dawn Aegle is the publisher of "Survive, Transform, Soar!" After surviving a 10-year relationship with a narcissist, she is learning "how to turn trauma into tremendous."
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