My son’s last text message to me ended with “I’m not speaking with you and I will never forgive you for what you did.”
What I did was decide that, after 23 years of narcissistic abuse, I was done. I wanted a divorce. Despite being two decades in the making, it all happened very suddenly — I’m sure even moreso from my son’s perspective. And unfortunately, soon after I left, my husband was arrested for criminal harassment, for which my son also blamed me.
The sequence of events was this:
On a Saturday, I asked my husband for a divorce.
Monday morning my husband tried to rape me, so I left the house with our 10-year-old daughter to stay with my mom.
Later that week, we decided to tell the kids that we were, indeed, going to get divorced.
Thursday, I called our 20-year-old son at college and gave him the news. I stuck to the vanilla script his dad and I had agreed to: We’re getting divorced…do you have any questions…we both love you and your sister very much and are here for you.
Friday, my husband visited our son at school, took him out to a cigar bar, stayed the night, and when he came home Saturday, our son told me to — and I quote — “Fuck off.”
True to his narcissistic nature, my husband visited all of our family — including our son and my mother — and launched a smear campaign against me. I have no idea what he told our son, but my mother took notes. According to him, I’d be long dead had it not been for him being my savior. He was armed with my journals from high school to support his claims about how crazy and unstable I am.
After doing a little research about “adult children of divorce,” I pleaded with my husband to leave our son out of it — that although he was, technically, an adult, the worst thing my husband could do was use him as an emotional crutch and treat him as a confidante and friend through this time. His response: “I’ll tell him whatever I feel like telling him.”
There was nothing I could do.
It has been seven months since I was told to Fuck Off, and my son has blocked me on every social outlet. Two weeks ago, my daughter (his sister) and I went to Denver to see the Broadway production “Spongebob Square Pants The Musical.” The theater venue was directly across the street from his apartment building, and I’d sent him a short email telling him we were coming down, where we planned to have dinner, and that he was welcome to join us. He didn’t.
Losing my son has been the most painful, heart and gut wrenching part of this process. I’ve often questioned in teary sessions with my therapist and conversations with my mom if it was worth it — was leaving my gaslighting, emotionally abusive husband worth losing my son? Should I have just sucked it up and trudged through the rest of my life instead?
To answer that question, my therapist always asks me to think about my daughter. If she were in the same situation — muddling through life with a controlling, emotionally abusive husband — would I have wanted, and even encouraged, her to leave? Of course I would!
But there’s a big part of me that feels like I made a deal with Rumpelstiltskin; I gave up my first-born child to save myself.
As in most codependent/narcissistic relationships, I was the parent who did everything. Had I kept a tally, I could probably count the number of diapers my husband changed with my own 10 fingers. When our son wanted to play hockey, I was the parent driving him 60, 120, 300 miles to games. When he wanted to play baseball and our small rural school didn’t have a team, I was the parent who drove him six days a week 45 miles to the neighboring high school to play. I helped him study for the ACTs. I helped with his college application and helped him select his prom date’s corsage.
So in the early weeks of the divorce, I expected him to be angry. I expected him to be sullen, and hurt, and to lash out. But I also expected both me and his dad to be targets. Never did I imagine that he would choose a side — and that when he did, it wouldn’t be mine.
Having binge watched pod casts about narcissistic behavior on YouTube since September, I now recognize that my father-in-law is a narcissist. And that his cold, often physical abuse of his sons, combined with my mother-in-law’s distant, self-centered-ness, nurtured my husband’s own narcissistic tendencies. I fear that my son is a third generation narcissist.
Looking back on the last 20 years, I have hundreds of memories of my husband taunting or teasing me in a not-so-nice way about gaining weight, something I said, an outfit I was wearing or a new haircut. In many of those memories, my son is right there with him — laughing and agreeing with his dad, piling on to the veiled insult.
Many of the articles I’ve read about adult children of divorce study the long-lasting effects divorce has on 20- and 30-somethings. The most glaring effect is that, despite being raised in two-parent households, the adult children often struggle with their own relationships.
And for this, I feel guilty. Really, really guilty. But also angry. I would love nothing more than for my son to participate in therapy sessions with me and vent his own hurt and anger — to allow me to help him heal. I’m probably never going to get that chance.
I have learned that I cannot speak about my son in public. When friends ask me how he’s doing, I have to just look away and squeeze my lips together to bite off the pain as tears fill my eyes. Inevitably, I am told “he’ll come around.” I’ve heard those words from my therapist, my mother, my son’s former high school teachers and coaches, friends, acquaintances…quite literally everyone.
But, honestly, I don’t think he will.
My daughter recently participated in a mini cheer camp. The week was capped off with the pint-sized cheerleaders performing at half-time of the high school boy’s varsity basketball game. I had not been in the gym at a basketball game since watching my son play. And when a boy hit the court who looked just like him — short, cropped blonde hair, a tall but stocky build, and wearing a long-sleeved white shirt under his uniform like my son always did — I lost it. I couldn’t hold myself together. Thank goodness my mom had come with me to watch the mini cheer performance, and she quickly gathered my things, took me by the arm, and escorted me to a quiet corner of the lobby.
It was there, while I sobbed for most of the first half that I realized I am grieving the loss of my son as if he died. Because to me, he did. I had 19 and a half years with him — to teach him, to learn from him, to cheer his accomplishments and to suffer with him through the disappointments.
And now, he’s gone.
I have come to understand in my very core that I will not be invited to his college graduation. I will not be informed about his post-collegiate plans. I will not know where he’s living. I will not be told if he has a girlfriend, or plans to marry. And it breaks my heart.
But as with everyone who loses a loved one, my life will go on. And it will go on with me being a healthier version of myself. It will go on with me modeling to my daughter what self love and self respect look like.
So was it worth it? Was losing my son in the process of divorcing my husband worth it?
Yes. Because not only am I saving myself, I’m saving my daughter from following in my footsteps. I want her to grow into a smart, independent young woman who seeks a healthy, interdependent relationship with a man who walks beside her, supporting her dreams equally as much as she supports his.
I may have lost my son to a generational pattern of narcissistic behavior. But I’ve also given my daughter the chance to see what she should expect from the person who vows to love and cherish her.