Woman to Run 285 Miles in a Wedding Dress to Raise Awareness for Narcissistic Domestic Abuse

Vanessa Reiser is a survivor of narcissistic domestic abuse, which is a form of domestic abuse by a narcissist

A woman is setting out to raise awareness for narcissistic domestic abuse by running a nearly 300-mile journey across New York — and she'll be doing it all in a wedding dress.

Vanessa Reiser tells PEOPLE (the TV Show!) that she'll embark on the lengthy run on May 17 in Oswego, New York, and plans to finish on May 29 in Manhattan. The journey will amount to 285 total miles, which means Reiser will be running approximately 23 miles, or close to one marathon, each day.

Though it seems like an exhausting feat, Reiser's reason for running is an important, and personal, one.

She's taking on the challenge to raise awareness for narcissistic domestic abuse after experiencing it firsthand — and to symbolize her mission, she will be wearing a wedding dress.

"Narcissistic abuse is an insidious form of domestic violence," she explains on Tuesday's episode. "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."

Vanessa Reiser
Vanessa Reiser running in a wedding dress. George Pejoves

Long before she was advocating against domestic abuse, Reiser — whose story was first reported by The Washington Heights-Inwood Patch — says she was engaged to "a diagnosed narcissist sociopath" who had a history of abusing his partners.

"He left me in Cape Cod and then I had to rent a car to get home," she explains. "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 claims her ex-fiancé 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 says. "I had to stay at my mother's house for three months. It was really awful."

Vanessa Reiser
Vanessa Reiser. Vanessa Reiser

As a clinical therapist, Reiser knew something was not right with her relationship, but couldn't quite figure out what the problem was.

It wasn't until she had withdrawn from many of her favorite activities, due to her partner's demands, that she had "a wake-up call" and realized he was a narcissistic domestic abuser.

"The day I figured it out, I left," she recalls.

According to MedCircle, narcissistic abuse is characterized by "the emotional, physical, sexual, or financial forms of abuse that a narcissist inflicts on others." Not all abuse is physical and many survivors often feel angry, confused, alone and as if "you're the 'crazy one,'" the site states.

"It's very confusing. Everything is confuse and control," Reiser explains. "It's very much like a cult leader... that manipulation."

After Reiser called it quits, she went on to receive life coaching and later created the nonprofit Tell A Therapist. The nationwide telecommunication service connects people who have experienced narcissistic abuse with specialized clinicians.

Vanessa Reiser
Vanessa Reiser with an "I dodged a bullet" cake that was given to her by a friend on what would've been her wedding day to her abuser. Vanessa Reiser

"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 explains. "We have a major, major problem that we need to address ... this is an issue that people don't know a lot about."

Along with increasing awareness about the cause, Reiser is hoping to raise money during her run, which will go toward funding recovery services. Her goal is currently set at $200,000.

"I'm trying to raise as much as I can get," she shares. "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."

With only two weeks to go until her departure date, Reiser has one message for the thousands of survivors who may hear her story.

"I believe you. We believe you. Get safe. Try to find some courage, clarity, and confidence," she says. "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," she adds. "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 experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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