It’s no secret that my favorite songwriter of our generation is Taylor Swift. The album “Lover” came out in August, 2019 and I was hungry for her new music. I was with my abuser then, we’ll call him Monster; he bought me the cd so I could play it on repeat while I was stuck in traffic on the Los Angeles freeways. It was one of the few things he did (for me) to look like a good boyfriend. I was then expected to take a picture with the album and post the picture on social media immediately to keep up the facade that I was and we were happy. We even had our own hashtag to go along with every post and appear as the perfect couple of the LA stand up Comedy scene. Yuck.
I remember the disc came to the door and I immediately opened it, put it in the cd player and hit play. The first track “I Forgot That You Existed” blared through the speakers and I felt like I couldn’t look him in the eyes. We had been together for two years at that point and I already knew I wanted out; I just didn’t know the details of how or when yet.
That song did permeate from the windows of my car as I waited on the 101 freeway to get to work; one of the few moments in the day that I was alone and free and completely happy. The lyrics circled my brain…it’s like Taylor and I were living parallel lives. “Lived in the shade you were throwing til’ all of my sunshine was gone, gone, gone…and I couldn’t get away from ya.” This was my relationship, my entire existence felt like I had to live it for him. And as I listened, I prayed that one day I could sing that song and really mean it. Well, today is that day.
The past two years I’ve wrestled with myself about coming forth and discussing the abuse and mistreatment I endured for far too long. So when I took to Instagram Stories to discuss the latest torture, and talk about what happened to me for the first time, I was surprised with how many people replied how grateful they were that I shared. That they weren’t alone in their isolation, trying to heal, trying to navigate their own separation from an abuser, attempting to find and forgive their part in their own mess. How are we supposed to find peace when we think we’re alone? There is comfort in knowing you aren’t the only person healing from trauma, or at least trying to anyway.
So I meet you here dear reader. I’ve kept journals almost daily since I left my abuser and want you to know that you are not alone. The abuse is not your fault. But the trauma is your responsibility to heal from. And you can!
This story is not about Monster, my narcissistic abuser. This is not a “Me Too” report either; rather, I write this in an attempt at sharing my healing journey so that you may find comfort in knowing that the process is not linear. The road from surviving to thriving is messy and you are not isolated in your grief or your healing. You do not have to be quiet. I will give you this trigger warning: there may be some graphic details interwoven throughout this essay, but I did not do this to paint him as a monster (for I recognize I have my own part in this also), instead, it is to give context as to why or how I dealt with the pain. So here I go:
It’s been two years since I left my abuser. Two years of relief, isolation, crying, silence and a bit of torture. But ultimately, it has been two years of growing. Two years of building a new existence that is completely my own with friends, family, new experiences, renewed curiosity, full of choices and consequences that I am proud of. I look at my life now and I wonder how I even let myself fall in love with a narcissist in the first place.
My latest piece of passive aggressive torture came in the form of a hard drive that contained a movie I wrote and directed in 2018. It was completed and ready to upload to film freeway (a website dedicated to independent filmmakers to connect them with film festivals all over the world) to start collecting awards! In our business, this is how you network and gain exposure as a novice creator.
In my haste to escape my abuser, grabbing my harddrive was the furthest thing from my mind while I was packing up my belongings in the middle of the night, hoping it would all fit in my 4-door Honda Civic so I could escape while he went to work the next day. This movie was the biggest loss for me of the breakup. I prayed for months for its return. I prayed I could still muster up courage to write and make another film. Ultimately, I had to grieve the loss of my intellectual and creative property. This was the most expensive lesson I’ve learned to date. When I went to pick up and sign for my surprise package, I cried in the parking lot for what must have been 15 minutes. This couldn’t be real! Did he actually do the right thing? Why now? What do I do even do with this now? I had already grieved the loss of my art. I don’t want my name tied to his any longer so I just left it in my back seat for weeks.
I found myself on IMDB a few weeks later trying to update my own profile and noticed that I had won an award! It was a dream come true! To my surprise, my film was submitted to, not one, but three film festivals and won one award! Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to win, but angry and not surprised that I wasn’t consulted on the matter. I didn’t get a choice in how this was distributed or to where. The hard drive came to me shortly after Thanksgiving, but the project was awarded before Halloween. He had this “finished” over the summer (I learned in a typed note with a few vague details about its contents and the story of how he heroically corrected one tiny detail). He used my art, my property, my work, to make himself look good. Typical.
It was a Friday when I left. We broke up late on Wednesday and I called my sister Sabrina who said “Are you sure?” Because this would have been our 4th break up and she didn’t want to fly to Miami to take a road trip with me to escape if I wasn’t sure this was a forever break up.
This had to be a forever break up. Monster and I lived together during the pandemic in Los Angeles, both pursuing dreams of stand up comedy and acting. Things didn’t seem to be looking any brighter in Los Angeles so when his job offered to move us to Florida, we jumped at the chance to get out. I suddenly, however, found myself very isolated. This is what all of those articles warn you about: the narcissist will separate you from your friends and family. The pandemic already did quite the number on me so this felt like it was turning into the nightmares of Lifetime movies.
At least in Los Angeles I had a network of friends and colleagues to crash on couches if I needed, or distract me from the torture going on inside our home. But, not in Florida. I had no one. Sabrina said “I booked a flight into Miami Friday morning, hang tight, I’m coming to get ya.” One more fight on Thursday morning led me to a lockdown in the second bedroom to prepare for my departure the next day.
Sabrina lives with her family in Austin, Texas. In fact, on the journey from Los Angeles to Florida in a 26-ft UHaul (because heaven forbid Monster downsize anything), we stopped at their house for a one night visit where we could be fed and loved-on and spend time with my nieces. That’s the best kind of love there is really…kid love. While I was downstairs enjoying family time and laughing and filling my cup for what was already an exhausting move, Monster stayed upstairs in the guest bedroom. He used the excuse that we “got in late” and that he “had a very important phone call with an investor.” Both were true, however, the family did not see Monster until 6pm that evening when it was time for dinner.
Like normal families do, we teased a bit to lighten how awkward his arrival to the party felt. But narcissists aren’t normal people and can’t handle anything but loving adoration. He had become very sensitive and threatened me to leave early. I just wanted peace, but I also wanted to spend as much time as possible with my family (for what I assumed was going to be the last for a while.) This was the first time he had gotten to meet the family and I was mortified at his behavior. Ultimately, it was this experience that really planted the seed that I could leave and be okay.
So I did. I drove to Miami airport early Friday morning to pick Sabrina up with my car loaded and we drove. We escaped Florida. A 2 ½ day road trip from Miami, FL to Austin, TX with nothing but snacks, stories and scenery ahead of us. This was the best drive of my life. The best weekend, in fact. I got to share my ugly, awful, painful secrets to my sister and best friend. She hated Monster and for her, this was better than any true crime podcast. She was getting her best friend back AND all the yucky gory details about how incredibly awful he had been. And not just in the last month I spent in Florida. She got the chisme about being stalked and filmed during a walk with my bff in Los Angeles, Julia. She got the dirt on how he didn’t pack or unpack a single thing while moving. She was disgusted at the details of how he dangled an engagement over my head by saying he only wanted to propose if we could make it six months without arguing, but then how he confessed he wanted children with me (despite my insistence that I did not want them…at least not with him.)
Sabrina and I both got exactly what we wanted: I got to vent openly about all the awful things that happened to me, and she got the validation that she was correct, without ever having to say “I told you so.” And we both left it all on the road.
I cry now thinking about that trip because that was the first time I got to be really angry and simultaneously heard. I kept repeating how I wish I was embellishing these details. I wish I was making this stuff up. I wish I was just one of those girls who wanted to further her career so she takes someone down for attention. If only. That weekend was the single most important part of my healing journey. Because at least I got to say it all once. Someone else knew the ugly truth and it wasn’t just inside of me anymore.
This is when I started really leaning on my journaling. In an age of social media, it would have been so easy to just get online and vent my frustration and share the drama. But he did that. He got online and started making these huge love proclamations missing me, claiming he couldn’t understand why I’d leave. What went wrong? He was seeking attention and affection from the sea of strangers online. I said nothing, because I firmly believe that he who speaks loudest has the most to hide. So I kept quiet. Those who knew me, knew I was finally safe, sad and was about to need a lot of support.
I landed in Austin, my new home, and really had to cocoon. I stayed in my 5-year old niece’s bedroom and worked my voice over gigs out of her closet. I tried to be the best house guest and helped clean dishes, fold laundry, entertain the kids, cook dinners, run errands, and be mostly invisible while normal life had gone on all around me. I hurried to find an apartment, to get a license, registration, health insurance and all the things that qualified me to be a Texas resident. I stayed busy to avoid social media and tried not to cry when I just couldn’t help myself and looked at his page just to watch him parade around the next victim, his next supply.
This was more difficult than I’m leading you to believe. Every article I’ve ever read about breaking up from a narcissist says, go no contact. But I felt like there were still things to work out. How much of the upcoming December rent I’d pay since I left without any notice? How would I retrieve the remaining belongings? (I did not anticipate grieving my things too…I left beautiful coats, some of my favorite books, Christmas and Hannukah decorations I’ve collected since I left home at 18, and my movie ). I couldn’t go no contact, yet. I had to resolve a few last bills in my name. Plus, I needed my things. The things that made up my life! They weren’t burned to the ground in a fire, they still existed and I wanted and deserved them. But Monster was going to hold them over my head as a bargaining tool for my return.
In fact, in our many conversations over the next few weeks, he did reveal to me that he bought a plane ticket and was just going to show up with a suitcase full of my stuff so we could talk. This was the first time I felt afraid for my safety. I was four states away but I realized he was still accessible. He still had access. And therefore dangerous. I couldn’t get into my new apartment and away from him fast enough.
My thoughts when I wasn’t busy trying to build my new life circulated around him. In my journal I recount feeling strong until Sabrina started pulling out Christmas decorations. It’s that time of year for celebrating those you love. And the person that I loved, couldn’t love me, at least not in the way I wanted or needed. I think he did the best he knew how, but his love was conditional. I cried and gave up on the idea of my own family. But I did have family and how lucky am I to have little kid love? Without ever knowing it, my two nieces saved me in ways I hope they never understand.
The holiday season came and went pretty quickly. I was busy and quite eager to get back out to be social and start learning the comedy scene in Austin. After all, nothing changed for Monster except that his rent was about to go up. He freely went to open mics and shows and posted them online. I, on the other hand, had to save money for an apartment and all of the things that a new home requires: a bed, couch, cups and a shower curtain liner. Bandaids and laundry detergent, towels and a trash can; all of the annoying and relatively inexpensive things that add up quickly. I didn’t want to do the mundane life stuff! I wanted to post on Instagram about my comedy shows in Texas and make new friends! I wanted to show him how great my life was too!
Sabrina would always reassure me that I would get there. I can tell you with certainty, dear reader, that I did get there. I post regularly now without thinking about him or if he can see. I went to Europe twice without thinking about revenge or being better than him. I got to perform all over the country and did 6 stand up comedy tours that actually paid me! And not once did I consider how this might hurt him. Because I would spend these next two years breathing, trying new things, processing and grieving.
Therapy, for me, wouldn’t come until a year later. Instead, I was pursued by a lovely man whom I met on New Years Eve that year at a comedy show. (Living!) By Valentine's Day we would have gone on our first date and by Easter we would become exclusive. I only posted about him a couple times on Facebook, but this relationship was mine. It was for me to have and enjoy and no one else really needed to know about it except the friends we both kept.
Let’s call him Aaron. Aaron was sweet and slow and quite intentional. He was kind and patient with me if my ex ever came up (which I really tried to keep to a minimum). Aaron was not Monster and I was grateful for how slowly we moved. I had trouble trusting anyone, let alone a man. But Aaron was so good for my self confidence. He has big broad shoulders and would envelope me in long hugs. He let me sleep in with his dog while he got up early for gym workouts. He encouraged me to come over after stand up comedy gigs to just cuddle on his couch, rather than follow me to ensure he was the only man in my life. And he was. He was exactly what I needed to believe that it's “not all men.” Because it really isn’t.
After Aaron and I broke up, I got directly into therapy. I intrinsically knew that I had some deep wounds that needed more healing because I was still angry. Angry for the things I lost, the time I can’t replace, and most importantly, I was angry at the woman who let people treat her like that. I didn’t want to be that woman any more. I wanted to exude joy and share experiences to help others feel comfort in their own pain.
By venting with my therapist, I was able to connect some major dots in my life. I could go in depth about how my childhood upbringing inspired my codependency; it all seems rather obvious to me now. But I’m grateful that I was able to really let go of those tendencies and stop randomly spying on Monster’s Instagram to call my best friend Julia (who had a front row seat to the drama) and complain about how he looks like a psycho online; which he does. Instead, I wrote a song about it!
Rather than vent about one more thing Monster did or didn’t do, I tried calling new friends and went exploring secret pockets of my new city with people who didn’t know anything about my past (or their new home too!). I got busy. Living. Breathing. Loving myself.
I looked up music venues and met people who showed me how to two-step. I let myself try shooting a gun! I performed stand up comedy in new cities, I mustered up the courage to start new shows. I signed up to play my own music and found myself romanticized into creating my own album. I let people be themselves and show me their favorite coffee shops and restaurants, all without expecting anything but my company in return. I found myself in Austin.
I want you to know my dear reader, that healing is not linear. While it has been over two years since our split, I still hold on to fear about what others think. Monster and I work in the same industry, and those folks that knew us both…well, I still worry that he has influenced them to stop talking to me, not book me, or paint me as an evil witch. Some people did unfollow and ignore me. And that’s okay. These are not the kind of people I want in my corner in the first place. Social media makes these kinds of break ups extra messy, so I found myself eventually blocking all of his friends and family. I hated doing that because I did love so many of them; but my piece of mind is more important and I didn’t want him to have any access to me whatsoever. Why run the risk?
Today, his name so infrequently comes up. If it does, it is because a family member is trying to remind me how, although I am still single, I’m happier and healthier than I ever was with him…or its a girl friend just laughing at his ridiculous antics because he showed up to an open mic during a “break” one time to confess his love for me on stage. At a show I ran, produced and hosted. So, I had to go onstage after him and make my audience feel at ease. Life is not a romcom man, but also, that’s partially on me because I wasn’t ready to let go of my codependency and kick him out the second he showed up.
I can’t say I never think of him day to day while I’m busy enjoying my cozy apartment with magnets on my fridge of places I’ve visited. (Our fridge when we lived together was full of pictures of him with “coworkers” from his time at the Playboy Mansion…it goes without saying I never felt sexy in this relationship...but I also could have just taken them down.)
The only time he comes up in my thoughts now is when I’m on the road, driving to my next stand up comedy gig, sometimes I think I wish he knew how much money I was making doing this. I’ve leveled up in my career and I hope it eats him alive. One time during an interview we were asked if we ever felt competitive. He immediately answered “no!” for the both of us which was a surprising response since I distinctly felt the opposite. I remember throwing my sets, pretending not to remember punch lines so we wouldn’t argue in the car on the way home if heaven forbid I had a better set than him.
So here I am today. I’m not perfect. Monster is a part of my past, my pain, my struggle, but he’s also a part of my growth. For that, I cannot be upset. I look around my place (that now hosts a podcast and has hosted and helped so many friends escape or visit) and I thank god everyday for the strength to speak the truth and the courage to keep going and growing. I am positive Monster cannot say the same; I pity him.
But you, my new friend, are on the path to healing. Two years may seem like a long time but it goes quickly. Get busy buying new journals. Take a weekend trip with your best pal to vent about all the crazy. Let new friends see the new you, the you without your monster. Check out the new restaurant downtown or go dancing or glass blowing or two stepping. Do something new. Try to let someone love you and give them everything you’ve got.
Go slowly. Breathe. Love yourself and I promise you, one day you’ll wake up and realize that Taylor Swift was right all along. “But then something happened one magical night….I forgot that you existed! And I thought that it would kill me but it didn’t. And it was so nice, so peaceful and quiet. I forgot that you existed.”
Maggi Mayfield - Comedian and songwriter explores the power of sharing pain for other's comfort in a personal essay about healing from narcissistic abuse.