If you’re anything like me, you won’t have come in to contact with the terminology ‘sociopath’ until it happened to you. For my part, I had never even heard the word. It created an earth-shattering jolt in my consciousness when a dear friend of mine shared her opinion that the man I had called my soul mate was in fact a sociopath.
So for my second post I thought I’d share what happened to me when the truth suddenly dawned on me, because that moment marked the beginning of my healing.
It was nearing midnight on Thursday 9th July 2009. It was a typically warm summer’s night that found me in my bed at home in France, distractedly checking through my emails on the iPhone for the umpteenth time. Anything to try and quieten my mind and bring me back to normality. I was mentally and physically exhausted but my tortured mind and aching soul refused to let me sleep. No matter how much I tried to rationalize the past ten weeks, or how much I attempted to make sense of the situation, I simply couldn’t find any answers. Peace seemed a very distant memory as I continued to search for clues. What had happened? Where had I gone so wrong? What had prompted my beloved husband of 10 years to lie to me for so long? Why did he need to create so many other lives? What had I done to make him stop loving me? How had I missed the signs? What could I have done differently? The questions circled, round and round my head like the mythological embittered Harpies – snatching at my rising fears, cackling at my confusion, their cruel wings fanning the flames of despair that threatened to engulf my soul.
I am a motivational coach and leadership trainer, known for my ability to quickly get to the heart of the issue. I am employed for my skills in reading and understanding people, so how had I been so blind to my husband? We were a team, we worked together, lived together, loved together and had spent nearly every day and night in each other’s company since the day we met – and I loved him totally; heart, body and soul. Only the year before we had celebrated our ten-year anniversary together, and just a few weeks before Christmas we’d spent his 40th birthday together on the beaches of a beautiful Caribbean health spa. Our life together, as I thought, was perfect!
And yet now, here I was, alone with my son in the beautiful French farmhouse we had lovingly restored over the past 6 years, betrayed and deserted by the person I truly believed was my soul mate, left alone to deal with the enormity of the emotional and financial wreckage caused by my husband’s double life. It had all happened so suddenly – the chance email just three months earlier that led me on a trail of discovery to uncover the horrifying truth that I was married to a stranger. Cold, hard, black and white proof that my idyllic life was in fact a total sham – and the equally cold hard fact that my husband had simply vanished out of our lives the second he knew he’d been rumbled, leaving my son and I to deal with the fall-out. Disappeared without a trace just as quickly as he’d arrived in our lives more than ten years earlier.
Around and around the questions turned in my head. The Harpies I had named “Who” “What” “Where” “When” and “How” mocking my stupidity, berating my gullibility, and piercing ever more deeply in to my already broken heart.
And then I saw it. It was an email out of the blue from an old friend Mandy, which naturally pricked my interest. It was a kind and thoughtful message of support, the contents of which seemed harmless – the very same email that had me shaking to the core just a short while later as I explored the following words:
“…Interestingly, you may or may not know that I am doing my masters degree in forensic psychology at the moment, and recently have done loads of work on sociopaths. Lets put it this way – he shows all the signs – in retrospect of course! So in fairness, he was highly skilled at fooling everyone. In fact, not just skilled – it was natural to him. Therefore, who would have known? He has no conscience. And before long, he will find another place for himself, and will never feel any remorse, because he doesn’t know how to…”
Sociopath was a term I had not come across before and so, after a quick scan for more information on the internet, I discovered that a sociopath is also known as a psychopath. My brows furrowed as disbelief and comprehension entered my head at the same time. So I asked the question out loud to see if it made a difference: “You mean to tell me that my husband is actually a PSYCHOPATH?” Chills ran through my body, my mouth went dry, and the Harpies were suddenly very still and very quiet.
Random images of famous psychopaths came flooding in to my head – Norman Bates from Psycho, Peter Sutcliffe the Yorkshire Ripper, America’s Ted Bundy and Heath Ledger as The Joker – the absurdity of the idea prompting nervous laughter to erupt from deep within me. And then silence again as I truly began to consider the enormity of this new information. The room was still. My mind was quiet. My heart started thumping loudly in my chest. Holding the iPhone in my left hand, and hugging myself with my right arm, I read yet another ‘checklist’ for sociopathy and realized with absolute clarity that my ex’s behaviours actually ticked each and every one of the boxes – to a tee. I shuddered, forcing myself to breathe, and blinking wildly, hoping that I had somehow misinterpreted the information.
And that was the precise moment when the archetypal psychopath, Dr Hannibal Lecter made his sudden and unwelcome appearance in my mind – crystal clear and standing just a few feet away from me in the corner of my bedroom. Sucking air through his teeth and smacking his lips, he held me hypnotized with his ice-cold beguiling stare, clearly enjoying my confusion as I quietly considered the overwhelming evidence that my estranged husband, the man I had loved with all my heart and soul, was in fact a text-book psychopath.
“But surely I’d know if I was in the company of someone like that?” I reasoned to myself, the dank smell of Hannibal’s cell now beginning to permeate my senses, his chains rattling my imagination. “I’m an executive business coach! I’ve been working in the field of personal development for over 13 years! I’m wise to the ways of different personalities and what makes people tick!” I tried to rationalise, becoming more aware that my bewilderment was arousing the curiosity of my uninvited guest.
I was hooked. And as I read further, uncovering facts, examples of typical traits, and stories from other victims of a sociopathic relationship, I was gradually coming to the horrifying comprehension that my friend’s prognosis was correct. In equal measures of horror and relief, I also began to understand that I was not alone. That there were literally thousands of women with stories just like mine – many of which I found on this very site. Intelligent, professional, and successful women who had willingly succumbed, fallen in love, followed their dreams and been thwarted by the malevolent charms of the skilled and charismatic sociopath.
As we all now know, these people are predominantly men. Charming, witty and attentive – the life and soul of the party. Men who can sweep you off your feet, make you believe that you are the most precious person in the world. Men who let you dare to dream that all your dreams have come true and convince you that you’ve found your true soul mate. Men who make you feel that anything is possible, and encourage you to live life to the full. Men who slowly and deliberately bleed you dry, suck out your soul and leave you for dead, without even a backwards glance – but by the time you realize this, of course, it’s too late. Much too late.
Suddenly I began to see things from a different angle. Suddenly things started to make sense. Dr Lecter faded safely back in to the darkness of my imagination, as I began to replace his image with strangely comforting feelings of relief. Because it was finally dawning on me that the experience I was living, my own personal living nightmare, was not something I could have foretold. So I was not to blame for what had happened – there was nothing more I could have done. In fact, I’d had a lucky escape.
This marked the beginning of my journey towards understanding what had happened to me. How I’d found myself in such a horrific and unimaginable mess. After three long months, April’s hurricane of discovery that had all but broken me in its relentless force to destroy all that I had believed in, gradually started to loosen its grip in light of this new information.
At the same time I also realized, with frightening clarity, that in order to truly comprehend what had happened, to come to terms with how I had come to find myself in such a horrendous situation, I was going to have to embark on a journey of self-discovery. I would need to find out more about what had happened to other people. Understand the true meaning behind the word sociopath, or psychopath. Recognise the traits within myself that allowed me to be the perfect target – dig deeply in to my own psyche and explore my own choices in life. Examine how I’d got here, what I’d believed about myself and others and my own deeply held personal values. And, most importantly, to find my strength and finally to heal.
My years of experience in personal development told me it was not going to be an easy journey. Some of the deeply buried feelings and experiences of my past would need to be re-examined. I would need to dredge through parts of my life I thought I’d already dealt with. Old scars I thought I’d healed would need to be re-opened and treated anew. It would be painful. It would mean re-visiting old chapters of my life. Re-living the hurts of the past in order to truly understand what was going on.
And I would also need to venture in to the depths of this murky world that I was just beginning to discover. I would likely need to stand in the shoes of these soulless people I now knew existed for real, and who live and work among us. Because unless I could comprehend the workings of a sociopath, I would neither be able to heal nor protect myself in the future.
I was alerted to the sounds of Dr Lecter once again shuffling around in the back of my mind, his interest clearly intensified by my growing fear at what lay ahead. And I heard a barely perceptible laugh – or was it a cackle – coming from the darkest corners of my imagination. The unpalatable solution hit me like a steam train, and I understood at that moment that he would need to become an ally in my journey; for who better than the archetypal sociopath, Dr Hannibal Lecter himself to help me understand the twisted workings in the mind of a psychopath?
“If I help you, Melanie, it will be “turns” with us too. Quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things. About yourself. Quid pro quo. Yes or no?”
His perfect and calculated logic slithered towards me, the words and the consequences of what I was about to do sending shivers through my body. I would need to let Hannibal Lecter inside my head if ever I was going to become free. It was the only way to regain my sanity and claim my life back. And, surely, this couldn’t be any worse than the real life experiences I had already survived?
So I nodded my silent agreement and the deal was done. I would allow the specter of Hannibal to steer me as I unravel the past and make sense of my pain. A smug sneer crept across Dr Lecter’s face, as he pulled himself upright and acknowledged my consent “Brave Melanie. You will tell me when those lambs stop screaming, won’t you?”
So this was the beginning of my recovery. I started preparing for my own personal voyage of soul-searching, education, self-questioning and personal discoveries right through to the eventual victory I knew was waiting for me. I’d have to return to the innocence I once knew, and in returning there I knew I’d have to face some ugly and painful memories. I’d have to rearrange them to make sense of what had happened, and to ensure that I would never again be taken in by anyone whose sole intention was to hurt me.
Hannibal fixed me with his steely stare, the rest of his face shrouded in shadows as he slowly wound his fingers around the bars in his cell.
“Clearly this new assignment is not your choice” he hissed “rather I suppose it is a part of the bargain but you accepted it Melanie. Your job is ultimately to craft my doom. So I am not sure how well I should wish you but I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun. So let’s start at the beginning – tell me everything you know”
With that his image once again faded away, and I felt that I had just made a deal with the devil. But at the same time, I knew that my journey to freedom had begun.