Victims of narcissistic abuse share a common language; the understanding of which is based on the unfortunate experience of narcissistic abuse. Mentioning the "loop" is a sure sign that someone speaks that language; that they understand the difference between racing thoughts, which so many many of the population experiences, and the incessant stream of conscious that replays a few bombarding seconds of the most painful and unjust moments from a mentally abusive situation.
In the beginning, my loop was constant. No matter what I did or practiced, it wouldn't stop. This was exacerbated by the fact that my body was so pumped with adrenaline from being stuck in fight or flight for months.
Each night, the loop was a guaranteed bed hog. Hours sometimes went by before I connected with my body enough to recognize the bundle of knots that had formed in my stomach, or the headache that had grown from the vice grip on my jaw as I unconsciously ground my teeth. On these nights, I was better off jumping out of bed and finding something to distract myself.
My loop repeatedly ran three painful clips; one of my ex's sister yelling at me from the stairs at my home, "You're homeless! You can't afford to live here! This isn't your HOME," despite the fact that I was on the lease and had lived there for a year and a half. The second clip was of the female Fullerton PD officer yanking on my breasts during the search after my arrest, after making clear to her that I was very uncomfortable with my breasts being touched due to having been molested as a child. My hands were cuffed, and my body, having been violated by this officer, flung itself across the room, landing face down between a metal bench and a wall. This officer seemed to find sheer joy in torturing me. She did not know that my accuser had lied. She did not know that I had spent months being gaslit. She didn't care that I was innocent, despite that in the eyes of the law, we are "innocent until proven guilty." The last loop clip was a montage of the devastating betrayal by my partner; conversations we had about his toxic family, his hope to move far away from them, his encouragement that we were in it until the end, that I didn't have to live in fight or flight every time we had a disagreement, and a dream he shared with me about a year before the ambush; that he stepped in front of me to defend me against a group of people who intended on hurting me. The very same people he later led straight to my apartment to ambush me.
These three clips spent the better part of six months on fast and furious replay in my already pounding head. At one point, I wished that the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind treatment was real so I could rid myself of any painful memory. Later I would discover EMDR, but not before physical tics and other involuntary behaviors seized my body and made me feel irreparably broken.
The thoughts all stemmed from the same pit in my stomach. A place where the injustices against me festered and brewed. The dark sensation of people getting away with their horrible deeds while the minds and bodies of victims continue to suffer long after the abuse has ended is enough to send a wounded human spiraling downward. It infects the festering and boils the brewing. It drives hopelessness and defeat. It fuels anger and the need to be vindicated. It erodes life force and dims a once shining light.
In June of 2020, I took a brief trip to Oregon. My friend's daughter was staying at a friend's so I slept in her bed. I can't be sure how long I had been trying to fall asleep, but the entire time was spent looping two of these clips over and over and over and over... When I became present with my body again, I realized a physical uncomfortableness in my stomach, as if it was churning cinderblock knots. Then my attention went to my jaw, which I had to all but pry open. My liver area began to hurt. The loop was so strong that I had not noticed how utterly stressed my body was for at least an hour. "I can't live like this," I thought. "I can't let these images kill me."
Remembering that not always so welcome platitude, "everything happens for a reason," I made a decision: Every time one of those clips plays in your mind Vanessa, you will acknowledge it, then replace it with gratitude.
YES, gratitude. The Universe, quite dramatically just to make sure I got the message, yanked me out of that family. In the short time I was in the picture, I experienced and witnessed so much toxicity, hypocrisy, lying, physical altercations, alcoholism, and manipulation. These people lived in a complete state of dysfunction, and rather than talk with one another, they talked about one another. They plotted and schemed. They called each other crazy. They ran as if the laws did not apply to them. I was in a constant state of worry because my partner was too afraid to stand up to them, and I (which I thought was a 'we') just hoped we would get away as soon as he completed his degree. Of course, his mother got to him first, waving her money round, so he joined the plot to destroy any ounce of esteem and strength I had left.
This toxic environment is what my life would have looked like: Ongoing concern that his sister would instigate fights with her family members or drive drunk with her children in the car. A mother-in-law who couldn't cut the cord with her son and instead retaliated against my need for privacy with him by ignoring me for weeks, then creating an ultimatum for my partner.
This would have been my life.
Does the substitution of gratitude work every time? No, of course not. I still loop here and there, but after months of actively processing and implementing different healing treatments, I am much more connected to my body. It doesn't take an hour for me to lift the needle off of the scratched mental vinyl. Now, as soon as the thoughts enter, I catch them, before they can get into my body. Nights are the worst, and still sometimes I have a night (or a week) where the loop is winning. I get so angry that I have to get up and do something. A puzzle. Walk on the grass under the moon. Journal. Anything just to silence the noise. Those nights are awful. The looping is worse when I have been triggered, either by one of the lawsuits, or when I think of applying for work and what people will see about me on the internet, and then everything snowballs. And then my body...
Those nights are few and far between now. I imagine that in a couple more years, with continued therapy and self-care, they will be even fewer and further between. For now though, I summon gratitude, and the courage to summon gratitude, because being grateful for such a horrendous experience is not easy. Trusting that God and the Universe did not have me walk this path in vain is the ultimate surrender. Everything I went through was for my Higher Self, so that I can serve others by sharing this story and creating the Escaped Goat campaign.
I don't want to be overly optimistic, but I yearn for a day when the only thoughts that loop in my mind are ones of joy, good memories, and the overwhelming appreciation for everything that I overcame, and survived.
In the meantime, gratitude, and good riddance.