She plans to run across New York in a wedding dress to "symbolize the silent victims who fall prey to abuse at the hands of their domestic partners."
Content warning: This story contains details of intimate partner violence that readers may find disturbing
A survivor of narcissistic domestic abuse is preparing to embark on an ambitious journey across New York this month. Vanessa Reiser, a licensed clinical social worker, plans to run a whopping 285 miles across the state in a wedding dress to "symbolize the silent victims who fall prey to abuse at the hands of their domestic partners." According to PEOPLE, she'll embark on the lengthy run on May 17 from Oswego, New York, and plans to finish on May 29 in Manhattan. The distance she aims to cover is the equivalent of running nearly 11 marathons, which means Reiser will be running approximately 23 miles—or close to one marathon—each day.
Reiser explained that she's taking on the challenge to raise awareness for narcissistic domestic abuse after experiencing it firsthand. "What I want the world to know is that narcissism is not about selfies. As a psychotherapist, I know the clinical criteria someone has to meet to be diagnosed as a narcissist, but I did not know the true meaning of what narcissistic abuse was and what it was like for the victims who lived with it until I started to research," Reiser said in a news release, reports The Washington Heights-Inwood Patch. "I am now part of a tribe; a group of special superheroes who have survived it."
Prior to dedicating her life to raise awareness for this "insidious form of domestic violence," Reiser was engaged to "a diagnosed narcissist sociopath" who had a history of abusing his partners. "Narcissists generally will use the wedding or an engagement as a form of control and manipulation. They entangle you. And so, [the dress] is a representation of how they do that," she told PEOPLE (the TV Show!). "He left me in Cape Cod and then I had to rent a car to get home," she said of her ex. "He padlocked me out of the house. A few months later, I left him and he spit on me, called me a bunch of really awful names, told me that my dead father was a loser — my father died when I was 18 — and then he bleached all my clothing."
Reiser's ex-fiancé allegedly even attempted to get her kicked off the board of the Domestic Violence Center by claiming she was abusing him. "There was a lot of pain," she said. "I had to stay at my mother's house for three months. It was really awful." Reiser explained that although as a clinical therapist she knew something was not right with her relationship, she couldn't quite figure out what the problem was.
It was only when she had to withdraw from many of her favorite activities due to her former partner's demands that she had "a wake-up call" and realized she was in a relationship with a narcissistic domestic abuser. "The day I figured it out, I left," Reiser recalled. According to MedCircle, narcissistic abuse refers to "the emotional, physical, sexual, or financial forms of abuse that a narcissist inflicts on others. This abuse can range from mild putdowns to severe, life-threatening violence." Those in relationships with narcissists may "frequently feel angry, confused, or alone" and "might even question your own reality and wonder if you're the 'crazy one,'" the website states.
"It's very confusing. Everything is confuse and control," Reiser explained. "It's very much like a cult leader... that manipulation." After calling it quits on the abusive relationship, Reiser went on to receive life coaching and created the nonprofit Tell A Therapist, a nationwide telecommunication service that connects people who have experienced narcissistic abuse with specialized clinicians. "It is becoming more evident that this is something a lot of people are experiencing. Certainly, with the pandemic, the rates in domestic violence have gone through the roof," she said. "We have a major, major problem that we need to address... this is an issue that people don't know a lot about."
Reiser hopes to raise $200,000 through her run, which she'll donate to domestic violence centers in each of the counties she runs through. "I'm trying to raise as much as I can get," she said. "Running is my passion. It's my therapy, so I'm excited. I'm looking forward to crossing the finish line and seeing all of the support there." Sharing a message for the thousands of survivors who may hear her story, Reiser said: "I believe you. We believe you. Get safe. Try to find some courage, clarity, and confidence. This is part of my own healing. And so, if you have something that you want to do... lean into that. One of the things that a narcissist is afraid of is power. So look for that power and if you have a hard time finding it, explore your passions, figure out what you're good at, what you enjoy, and go for that."
If you are being subjected to domestic abuse or know of anyone else who is, please visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522.