Time frame: sometime around 2009-2010
It started innocuously enough. It was a few days before Christmas. I had started drinking alcohol again. Not in the addict sense, but in the social sense of having a glass of wine or beer at special occasions with no intention of getting drunk – pretty typical Australian culturally-accepted behaviour.
See, I grew up in the brand of Aussie culture that sees quality wines as a gourmet special occasions drink, something to be enjoyed and discussed and shared with friends. Not a secret drink for secret alcoholics.
In my years of early parenthood, pregnancy and breastfeeding, I had gone without any alcohol as per all the normal health recommendations. Then I had become a volunteer leader at The Husband’s Pentecostal church and at the time they had a strictly no-alcohol policy for all staff and volunteers. They later changed that after acknowledging the fact that Jesus never said “thou shalt not have wine.” These days I go alcohol-free every Lent.
The annual pre-Christmas argument with the Narcissist Army was precipitated by a facebook post. I have lost count of the number of times in my life I accidentally started dramas by following the “honesty is the best policy” approach to facebook.
I made a far-too-honest status about how I find Christmases stressful but that a glass of wine would help. In hindsight I wish I’d made screenshots because it turned out to be one of the most stereotypical illustrations of a NPD dynamic operating in the family. I just didn’t know that there was a name for the ensuing drama.
About 30 seconds later on of the family, N2 (narc number 2) made an angry status on their own facebook wall/timeline (written here from memory as closely as I can recall it):
“I’m fuming! I have never been more furious!”
N2’s own friends rushed to offer support for the passive-aggressively expressed thoughts, asking what was wrong with lots of sad face emoticons. N2 does a great job garnering sympathy.
I very nearly commented to ask what was wrong until a voice in the back of my mind said, “This is probably targeted at you.”
Now whether that was a self-preserving instinct, or the voice of God Himself warning me to stay away, I’m open-minded. I watched the thread unfold until suddenly N2 deleted it. As I wondered what that was about, a message flashed up on The Husband’s phone. He was outside mowing the lawn, so I quickly glanced at the lit-up screen, assuming it would be his mum asking him to bring some sort of dessert or whatever to Christmas Eve dinner. I don’t make a habit of reading his messages, but I caught a glimpse of the first line of this one, realised it was about me, and marched outside to demand The Husband read it immediately, no matter how uneven the couch grass lawn was at this point.
It was a strongly worded message from N2’s husband, N3. (I haven’t worked out if N2 or N3 are both Ns, or one N and one Enabler, or simply the Golden Children of their own N families displaying strongly narcissist learned behavioural traits without a full-blown disorder. I’m not a psychiatrist so in the end it’s all just guesses based on what I’ve learned and discussions with more qualified professionals who’ve only heard my side of the story and of course can’t make a diagnosis by proxy.)
To paraphrase, from memory, what I recall the message to have said:
“You’d better get your wife in order. She is ruining the integrity of our family name. I expect you to tell her to watch what she says.”
See, there’s a trio of people in my life who flip out nearly every single Christmas since I’ve met them. I shall address them by the unimaginative names of the Narcissist Army: N1 (female), N2 (female), N3 (male). This aggressive message from N3 and passive-aggressive message from N2 were typical of their pre-Christmas fight-starter.
I don’t know why they choose Christmas. It is one of the only times of year I ever see them, at least these days, and it’s almost like some morbid ice breaker. But instead of maintaining even a vague semblance of involvement in our lives, and instead of breaking the ice like normal people: “How’s this weather?” or “My the year has flown” they choose to come in swinging punches at imaginary slights.
I also don’t know what it is about some types of Pentecostalism that give men the impression they can tell each other to “get their wives in order.” It’s a relatively common thing to hear. It’s assumed that women can’t be responsible adults of our own accord.
The Husband called N3 to try to smooth things over. He had to explain that I didn’t mean to insult them, etc. etc. This was an era when The Husband still hadn’t quite realised that when his back was turned, the army of Ns scapegoated and targeted me with some cruel intensity.
(Examples: N2 openly blamed me for a series of devastating circumstances she’d faced, even though that had started before she even met me, and declared that if God was just then He should’ve given me a miscarriage. N3 regularly claimed that I was ruining his future career prospects through my facebook statuses that were entirely unrelated to him in any conceivable capacity. N1 had a whole battery of creative ways to make me feel horrible about myself.)
So, as too often happened, The Husband fell back into his well-trained role of mediator-pacifier of the Golden Child and N2 while more-or-less agreeing with them that I was the bad person.
Now it was my turn to feel furious. But where N2 would write a passive aggressive status, I instead burst into tears yet again trying to work out what I’d done wrong. I re-read my status: it seemed so benign to me. Was it the fact I admitted I find Christmas stressful, or the fact I like wine? Was it both? Did they somehow perceive that it reflected badly on them that I found it profoundly exhausting trying to attend eight separate family events in the space of two days? Not that they cared – if you pressed them it was as if I didn’t exist in the context of a much broader social network outside of their own immediate connection to me. As in, my own feelings, extended families, traditions and experiences were so irrelevant to the Narc Army that I may as well have not existed when they weren’t looking at me.
Eventually I texted my sister, one of the few people who actually believed me when I tried to describe the crazy inner workings of this cultish group of people I’d landed in. And I messaged a friend who had gone through similar unasked for dramas in the past. In the midst of gaslighting and questioning of my reality, it was the real friends who rose to the occasion by reminding me that I wasn’t imagining things.
And to top it off, N3 said, “The last thing I want to do is make our Christmas dinner awkward.” Maybe he should’ve thought of that before he told my husband I was ruining their lives by admitting that I liked a glass of wine.
That basically marks the last time I chose to spoke to N3. I realised that I could almost set my watch by the annual attack from the N Army. It was as if they worked out among themselves whose turn it was to pick a fight with me.
I spent that Christmas dinner staring at my phone. Rude, sure, but not as rude as the regular vitriole to which they had subjected me. Not that they’d likely admit it if I ever confronted them about it.