Loving a Narcissist: Speaking Ill of the Dead

He was a big good looking man. Not tall, but broad, his shoulders seemed to go on for miles. His hair was sandy brown, and his eyes were a deep laughing blue. One of his front teeth was chipped, and that just gave his smile that perfect devil may care spark. A big good-looking man. And I’ll be the first to say he was way out of the league of my homely ass. I never understood why he started paying attention to me, but he did. And I fell in love with him so fast, so hard. The internet itself is bogged down with the pages and pages I’ve written about how much I loved him. This is not a page about how much I loved him.

He told me he was a ‘recovered heroin addict.’ I did not know then that a ‘recovered heroin addict’ is a junkie who hasn’t been able to score for a few days. I know it now. He told me I was the love of his life. I believed him. But now I know at least three other ‘loves of his life.’ He told me never to worry about him being unfaithful, that I was all he’d ever need. Except for his insatiable appetite for cocktail waitresses, bus stop boys, and bimbo real estate agents. He said he’d protect me, keep me safe. He pushed me down a flight of stairs. He blacked my eye. He shoved me into walls and bookcases. He tried to close a car door on my arm once. On purpose. And I could still bog down the internet writing pages about how much I loved him.

TomThe heroin finally killed him. I always knew it would. After all those times I sat through those stupid meetings, all those times I crammed him into rehab, all those times I ‘saved’ him. He up and died anyway.

And I was devastated. I still am devastated. Even after all these years of life without him, I’ll still catch myself crying that he is never coming home again.

But there is another chapter to this story.

You see, I wasn’t the perfect lover. I didn’t appreciate the heroin. I didn’t appreciate those bus stop boys, and I sure didn’t appreciate that realtor. I wasn’t properly grateful for being pushed down those stairs. And I never did like those stupid meetings. The hard visitor’s chairs of rehab units bruised my tender ass. The reproachful eyes of a woman who I had called a friend-the ex- before me-those great brown eyes shamed me. I guess I’m never satisfied. What woman would not be delighted by such delectable offerings?

The truth is he was a dyed-in-the-wool son of a bitch. The truth is is spent just as much time praying that the heroin would kill him as I spent praying that I could somehow save him. The truth is that I always felt guilty about being glad that he was dead.

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know his name came up in therapy. Not shocked? Oh, go on.

The first time his name came up, I was still being perfect. I kept telling the therapist what a great guy he was. But, then I couldn’t tell her a single great thing about him. I tried to think of all his many wonderful qualities, but I drew blank after blank. The things I could think to tell the therapist were not wonderful things, and the wonderful things, I could not think of. At a loss for his wonderful qualities, I produced a photo. The therapist took the photo, and said the only unprofessional thing I’ve ever heard her say. She said, “Oh, myyyy…” like that, with the ‘my’ all drawn out at the end. Nearly a decade in the grave, and the looks are still turning heads.

The second time his name came up in therapy, I quit trying to be perfect. I tried to tell the good and the bad. Not all of the bad, though. Some of the bad, I will take to my grave. But I tried to tell a more balanced truth. There was still a lot more bad than good. But in telling the bad, and my guilty feelings, I was able to remember some of the good, too.

Sometime between therapy appointments, I stumbled across this article. It’s not the sort of thing I would generally read, but a close friend went through Hell after being abused by a narcissist, and I was seeking a way to have greater empathy with her. But the article was like looking in a mirror. I was shaken. Badly shaken. I threw up a couple of times. I tried to tell myself that I was wrong. But I knew I wasn’t wrong, or not too far wrong anyway.

At my next meeting with the therapist I asked if she thought he might have been a narcissist. She said that a personality disorder had crossed her mind. Of course, it is really impossible to diagnose the deceased, but you can make an educated guess. And our educated guess is that he was some kind of abusive narcissist. But he is past all help of this world now.

Which is fine, because it looks like I need all the extra help I can get.

A Woman of Little Substance

Serious mental health issues go hand in hand with serious substance abuse problems. It is an accepted fact in the mental health community. By some miracle, I have steered clear of the morass of drug and alcohol abuse and the long slow slide into addiction. Except cigarettes. I could eat cigarettes, I swear it. And I know that smoking is a nasty habit, and a very dangerous addiction. I fully expect to die of some disease caused by smoking. I’m okay with that. If I die of smoking, remember that I loved to smoke, remember that I used cigarettes to manage my anxiety, and remember that I said that I own those consequences, both the foreseeable and the unforeseeable.

But my mental health team is never worried about the cigarettes. They worry that I might be drinking, or smoking crack, or shooting heroin. Because substance abuse and schizophrenia are damn near like Siamese twins. If we throw a party, I might get drunk. It has been known to happen, but I’m talking about 3 or 4 times a year, not 3 or 4 times a week. I have had a long and glorious track record with psychedelics, but my body is no longer a fan, so I don’t eat acid or mushrooms anymore. And I never even used those drugs in a big huge way, except when I followed The Grateful Dead around for a while, but drug experiences while following The Dead are sort of like drug experiences in Brigadoon-great while it lasted, but no real world implications.

But I have watched the other patients over my years of treatment and group therapies. I have seen their struggle with substance abuse. I’ve seen them get clean, get sober, fly right for a time, and crash right back into the gutter. Amazingly addicts have taught me a lot about my own journey. I have learned that when my own life goes thundering off the rails that first and foremost I need to forgive myself. Then I need to earn the forgiveness of those I have harmed in my self-destructive cycles. Then, and only then can I stand up and start over at square one to rebuild my life. Addicts always come around to facing down their addictions, it is an amazing thing to watch.

I know that being in relationship with an addict is awful. I lost one of the great loves of my life to heroin. I know the lies, the broken promises, and the sordid dirty needles of living with an addict. I know that an addict will go to a NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting just to make a dope connection in a new town. But that same addict can hit rock bottom, skid through the gutter, do the strong hard, and awful work of regaining trust, fight the demons of withdrawal for the billionth time, and get back on the right track.

I thank my myriad shining Gods daily that I do not have to battle substance abuse along with fighting schizophrenia. I really really do.

Obatala y Oya
Thank you, my myriad shining Gods! Thank you!

But the addicts in our lives are a terrible, but precious gift from God. From the addicts we learn the strong, bitter lessons of trusting someone again after they have behaved in an untrustworthy manner. From the substance abuser, we learn to listen to the stories of an invisible war. We learn the art of compassion, and the art of letting go. From dead junkies, I learned how to behave at the funeral, how to identify a body, how to address a police detective, how to grieve with every cell in my body. It was truly an addict that forced me into a corner where I learned and accepted that unconditional love can really heal any horror. I don’t care who your God is, from gentle Jesus to raving Kali to the intellectual glimmer of Humanism, your religion still tells you to forgive, to help the less fortunate, to turn the other cheek, and to love thy neighbor, and if you struggle with the teachings of your religion, then make friends with an addict, they’ll take you all those places that I can not.

Sadly, we live in an addicted age. The social pressures upon us here and now are so great that many many souls seek the escapism of substance. From the middle aged woman with her boxes of chardonnay to the crack whore to the mid-Western kid bombed senseless on meth. And I’m not saying that addicts are heroes, and I’m not saying that addicts are victims, really I am not saying those things. In the throes of addiction, the user is a terrible person with a terrible and dangerous problem. Any sane and sensible person will avoid the addicted person at any cost.

But as spiritual persons, we need to expect more of ourselves. And most of us know an addict of some kind. So when the drunk or the junkie that you know comes to apologize, at least listen to them. If you can forgive them, do it. If you can’t forgive them, tell them why you can’t, and offer them a road back to your forgiveness. And try to be aware that people who are addicted are often fighting with a mental health issue; if they are not getting help, urge them to get help and do what you are able to facilitate them getting help. I can’t think of a single God who loves best His children when they are hard-hearted to the downtrodden. So try to forgive, try to accept and try to love them. That is a good way of doing God’s work, and we both know it.

My nurse friend gently, ever so gently nags me about my cigarettes. I don’t get mad or resentful when he does this. I know he is doing God’s work, too.