Why am I just not “getting” it?!?!?

I write about this a lot, but it’s so important, so, here it is again.

You know this relationship is no good for you, and you know you shouldn’t keep calling him. Your brain gets it. By why don’t you stop? Why can you understand something on an intellectual level but not follow through and make intellectual decisions about it?

Well, here’s my take.

You have two brains (actually three, but we’re only going to focus on two): your logical (adult) brain and your emotional (child within) brain. The part of you that does not operate on an  intellectual level is your emotional brain. It is the animal in you, or more euphemistically, the child within you. Your emotions think and feel with no rhyme or reason, and when you’re healthy, your emotions tend to be balanced and not too demanding. The child is satisfied. And so you begin to trust them, listen to them, ignore them when necessary, or allow them to guide SOME (not all) of the decisions you make in your life, all the while using your head as well.

When you’re a love addict, however, you are guided by your emotional brain. And that wouldn’t exactly be a problem, except that  your emotions are pure chaos. Untrained emotions, running rampant, demanding immediate gratification are not the best guide when it comes to managing your life. They can’t be trusted. They tend to lead you down paths that are fine if you’re a toddler (insert hand in dog’s mouth; cry, kick and scream for attention; spit food out if you don’t like it, etc.), but, as an adult, they lead you down a rather frustrating,  inappropriate path. Why? Because your emotions, though once designed to help you survive in the wild and become human have really become obsolete except when used for purposes of instinct. Psychology Today, in fact, writes that, “The old fight-or-flight system is inadequate to the modern threats. You can fight a tiger; but you have to work hard, for a long time, to fight a financial crisis or the threat of terrorism.” How does that apply to you incessantly calling a man who doesn’t treat you well or love you back the way you’d like to be loved? Well,  your emotional brain perceived your situation as a threat and so, you try to deal with that threat on a rather animalistic level. To obsess over it. To chase. To hunt.  Your emotional brain forces you to kick and scream and demand IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION (I’m hungry; I need food), but, your logical brain pulls you back, or at least allows you to be aware that this doesn’t make sense, or that it’s wrong. Rationally you know your PoA is no good, and rationally, you know your behavior (obsessing over someone) is futile, but your emotions don’t care. They are greedy, hungry and want to be fed.

My suggestion: begin to listen to the two “dictators” inside you. Allow your logical brain (the adult in you) the opportunity to take the lead every once in a while. That means following a logical path and listening to reason from time to time (today, I’m choosing to not call him because, let’s be honest, he doesn’t call me). Also, pay close attention to when your emotional brain (the child in you) takes over, or makes decisions for you (reaching out to a PoA when you “know” it’s not a good idea.) When you are able to see and feel the distinctly different decision-makers inside you, you have a better chance at allocating which one gets to make the decisions and which one doesn’t. And here’s the deal: the more you exercise your logical brain, the stronger it gets! That being said, in early recovery you want to bring yourself to a point where your logical brain is making more than 70% of the decisions. Why not 50/50? Well, if you’re anything like me, when you are in love addict mode you are completely off balance, ruled by emotions. In order to bring the balance back you have to tip the scales in the opposite direction for a while. Your logical brain will guide you to safety. Eventually, when you are in a healthy place, you can give your emotional brain a little of her power back. But by then, hopefully she will have calmed down :)

 

Conquering anxiety & depression

As some of my readers know, I was fighting through some pretty serious amounts of anxiety and depression back in the spring.  When your need to fill your life worrying over someone else  goes away (you’ve recovered from love addiction) there’s only so long you can rest high on the hog before that need creeps back in to worry about something. It almost seems like it’s part of our nature. And who do you start to worry about when you have no man, woman or relationship to worry about? Yourself.Or worse, made up stuff!

And guess what, the amount of worrying you do (over anything, really) is in direct proportion to how much time you have on your hands! And so, in the spring, when I had loads of free time and wasn’t doing much of anything, there was only one thing left to do…sink deep into anxiety and depression. And I did. And it was miserable.

And so I would like to share with you what I did to “get out.”

  • Got a check up.  Or, if you’re like me, a true hypochondriac, I went to every medical specialist I knew and I got every test done imaginable to rule out cancer, heart disease, and other possible signs of impending death. Test results came back: all good.
  • Threw myself back into therapy. This was a hard one for me. I was supposed to be happily married and perfectly cured from love addiction, and here I was suffering mentally and emotionally. The truth was; er, the truth is we all have moments of weakness, sadness, pain, etc. Recovering from love addiction does NOT guarantee a life without suffering. It does guarantee that you better know how to manage your life so as to avoid self-made suffering. At any rate, not only was I dealing with personal issues of not having a “purpose,” I was also dealing with a teenage son who was extremely difficult at the time and business/job related issues that were ripping any shred of happiness from me. I had every right to crawl into a hole and seek help from a therapist. And while she didn’t entirely blow me away or impart any magical knowledge, she did help me to realize that my biggest problem was that I needed to find a life and a career of my own.
  • Left my job. Well, not entirely. Because it’s a family business, I am in it whether I like it or not. But I redefined my role and cut out having to deal with the toxic people who were bringing me down. WHAT A DIFFERENCE! Sometimes running away from your problems is the best choice. Ever!
  • Went to Europe. While I do understand that not everyone has the luxury of having their own personal Eat, Pray, Love soul-searching experience in Italy, India and Bali (or, in my case, Paris, the French Alps & Barcelona, with kids in tow), I cannot stress enough the need to escape your life for a while to a calm, stress-free environment and take time off to just think, heal from your wounds and regroup. This could mean taking a mini-vacation to the mountains, the seaside, the next town over! Whatever you can afford (financially and time-wise), do it. Your state of mind depends on it. While in Paris I did a lot of soul searching. And, I made a lot of firm promises to myself while there that would change the course of my life and point me in a new direction.
  • Found a solution. If you are filled with anxiety, depressed, in pain, suffering, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM. And what do you do when you have a problem? You find a solution. The solution could be anything: leave a relationship, find a new job, lose weight, etc. Whatever the case, you need to figure out what that solution is. Chances are the solution is not “take anti-depressants” or “just tolerate the pain…” Chances are it’s something that includes change and taking action.My solution was to find meaningful work.
  • Kept the promises I made to myself/followed through. This is the hardest part. We so often have these healing, soul-searching retreats somewhere, come back to our old life renewed and strengthened, and then just go right back to doing what we always did without making the necessary changes that inspired strength to begin with. And let’s face it, sometimes you just need a break and you CAN go back to your life because nothing really needs to be changed. But in my case, action needed to occur and I needed to follow through on the promises I made to myself while in Paris. If, while you’re soul searching, you decide you need to get out of a toxic relationship, then when you come back to reality, start planning and plotting to get out. If you decide you need a new job, start searching. In my case, I needed to find work I love, and a purpose for doing that work.
  • Took action. Nothing is more powerful than action. Once you make a decision, don’t stop there. Follow through and then act. In my case, I ultimately realized that I needed to be busy so as to keep my mind from getting into trouble with “worry” thoughts. My job had changed to the point where I lost my position and my power (which was a good thing, because we became successful enough to hire a pro, instead of me!), so all my energy was spent worrying about my teenage son and then, worrying about my health.  My solution to this: start my own business. This act alone has been curative. Not only am I busy as heck, I feel good about what I am now doing with my life and it leaves little time to worry. This action step however, was a very, very, VERY long time in coming because fear held me back. My last bit of advice, therefore, is do not let fear hold you back from taking rational action.

Easy way out of love addiction?

Someone on the boards this morning wrote:

I wish there was an easy way “out” of the sadness/longing/”needing” but there isn’t.

But, there is.

There is an easy way out. In fact, letting go of all the pain and sadness is far easier than you think. It’s as simple as one tiny *belief.* Trouble is, we complicate things. We think to get from point A to point B takes years of struggle, chaos, long rambling journeys and mountain climbing. When in actuality, it usually takes us humans that long to arrive at something that was right in front of us all along. And what is it? What is this one tiny belief? It is this: it is the belief that YOU ARE WORTH MORE THAN WHAT THIS SITUATION OFFERS. 

Poof. There it is. And it takes nothing more than a blink to arrive at that belief. It is the same belief you have within you that allows you to choose a nice car over a clunker; a pretty dress over a mediocre one, and a better piece of fruit in the produce aisle as opposed to one that is dented and bruised. And if you think there’s anything more to it, or years or learning, or a secret path known only by the illuminati, you’re wrong. It is accessible to each and every one of us. It’s right in front of our faces for the taking. 

And here’s the best part: when you deeply believe you are worth more than a particular situation, and your actions back up that belief, things start to look a whole lot different. If you believe you are the type of person that should not be shopping at Wal-Mart, but rather at Macy’s, then you most likely don’t shop at Wal-Mart. If you believe you are worth more than eating at a McDonald’s and that your body deserves better than that type of food, then chances are you eat at better restaurants with cleaner, healthier ingredients or you cook for yourself. If you believe you should have a better job than cleaning out bathrooms at a rest stop, then surely, you seek out a better job.

If this example sounds elitist, it’s because it is. It is the kind of mentality that separates the privildged from everyone else. They grew up believing they deserved better.Do they technically deserve better than anyone else? No. But they BELIEVE they do. And that belief is the driving force of all their actions. It drives them to choose better restaurants, better colleges, better jobs, better lovers, and better friends. Do they always “win” or never suffer? In the big scheme of things are they worth more than anyone else? No. They suffer like the rest of us. They lose like the rest of us. And they are no better or worse than the rest of us. But their belief in themselves is the one determining factor that sets them on a different path than someone who lacks belief in themselves. 

And while the Wal-Mart/Macy’s example of priviledge clearly requires money, our personal struggle with love addiction does not. We do not need a dime to BELIEVE we deserve more than the miserable place we put ourselves in. We do not need a penny to BELIEVE we have value. We can create that value from within. We can create value out of nothing more than a passing thought that we choose to hold on to and embrace.

So…when you look back at your relationships, or feel that this is all you’ve ever wanted or the only thing you’re capable of getting, the “easy way “out” of all that is to BELIEVE in yourself. To stop in your tracks and say, I AM BETTER THAN THIS SITUATION. The PoA is McDonald’s and I don’t eat there anymore. Why? Because I now BELIEVE that if I feed myself with better food, I will be healthier and stronger. Saying goodbye to McD’s, therefore, becomes an act of self love. Saying goodbye to the PoA becomes an act of self love.

And you, my friend, are a rare and beautiful gem. Not to be bet on during a hand of poker among a group of gambling fools. You belong in the hands of someone who recognizes your value. But, in order to place yourself in these caring hands, you must first recognize your value yourself. When you do, the longing for crumbs disappears. The sadness of that loss is replaced with a feeling of joy and accomplishment for choosing a healthier way. And the needing is met from within and from your interactions with real, substantial, healthy people that feed you, not just stuff you with empty calories. Not the junk you’ve been living off of for so long.

So, whenever you lose your way, remember WHY you are blocking this person from your life or trying to move on: Because you BELIEVE you deserve better. Because you BELIEVE you are worth more. This belief is your beacon. Let it guide you. It’s that easy.

 

Dream home or love shack? What does your “house” look like?

This is the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

-Mother Goose

The House that Jack Built is a cute little child’s nursery rhyme. But to me, it is a fabulous allegory for a rather chaotic house. Not to mention a great way to bring to light the idea that our houses are actually WHO WE ARE. And what we place in our houses, what we build our houses upon and who we invite into our houses are all representative of who we are and what we have control over. So… I want you to do this little exercise in visualization today. It has helped me immensely, to remove negative, anxious thoughts from my brain and remember that my head and my heart are my house and I am in control of what I let it. I hope it helps you too, to remove obsessive thoughts of the PoA or to realise who you might be letting in and who might want to keep out.

Let’s start…

Imagine your perfect home (and let’s face it, love addicts are GREAT at imagining things that don’t exist!). It can be your all-year-round home, or your vacation property. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you decorate it in the fashion you love best.

Pay attention to every detail.  What paintings or objects will you hang on the wall? WHat will the floors look like? The kitchen? The living room? What style makes you happiest? Is your sofa a plush, comfy leather sofa that you can curl up on?  Or is it a soft, pillowy sofa that you can sink into? What does your backyard look like? Is there a pool? A lawn?  A garden?

Is your home in the mountains? By the sea? In Paris? Overlooking a lake? On the beach? Where in the world is your house?

Remember, you are working on your house all by yourself. No one is able to add any input here. It’s all you. YOU have complete control. And, since YOU ALONE have created this house, it is a SACRED PLACE,  a reflection of who you are and what you desire the most. So, it should be totally acceptable and comfortable to you and filled with things that not only make you happy, but make you feel alive. Is there a yoga studio in your home? A sauna or a spa? Can you ride horses? Lounge by a pool? Is there an element of spirituality in your home? What is it? A special room to meditate?  What books do you have on your shelves? What music is playing throughout the house?

Once you have created your home, imagine how long it might have taken you do so. Did you find this home through a realtor? Or did you build it from scratch? How much time did it take you to find the right fabric, the right furniture? The right location? The right building materials? The right plumbing? Remember…YOU and only you are in charge of every detail. And while this may seem overwhelming, the end result is that you get everything your way. And you have a place that amazes you and brings you great joy.

Now, imagine your house is finally just as you like it, and you are enjoying your house, doing what you love, and a knock comes at the door. It’s your PoA. And while you are happy to see him, he (or she) comes in and starts doing what he does best…avoiding you, cheating on you, calling you ugly and fat, telling you he doesn’t love you, or conversely, telling you he loves you but then not following through with loving actions, thus, confusing you, and generally DISTURBING THE PEACE THAT YOU HAVE BUILT AROUND YOU.

He also walks around your house with muddy shoes, tells you you made a mistake by spending so much money, tells you he doesn’t like the style of your house and then leaves, slamming the door and trampling over the flowers in your garden.

End of fantasy.

Now, the reality…

The house you built all your life is the YOU you’ve built all your life.  It  is your heart. It is your brain. It is your spirit. It is essentially YOU. In reality, how did you build your “house”? Does it match up to the fantasy version you just created? Who do you let into your house ( into your heart?) WHo do you allow to occupy your time (in  your brain?)? Do you allow anybody into your house? Do you allow people to walk through your house with muddy shoes? Do you allow people in who do not appreciate or at least respect the work and the beauty you built into your house?

Is it a shack or a dream house?

Start to assess who you are as if YOU were a house. Do you need to tear down the old house and rebuild with better materials? Do you even have the materials to build a solid house? If not, where can you get those materials? That might mean educating yourself, learning what dignity means, learning self-control, letting go of fear, learning to love yourself or learning how to be nice to others. Knowledge about healthy living is one of many tools and building materials you need to build well.

What was the foundation built upon? Maybe it’s time to repour the concrete and make a more solid foundation. Are you renting your house out to others? Who’s in there? Why aren’t YOU in possession of your own home? How do others perceive your “house”? Do they think it looks run down? ramshackle? Built with straw? Maybe even built with iron gates and no windows? Do others feel comfortable enough to visit your house? How could you make it more comfortable? What does that entail? The more questions you ask yourself, the more this exercise brings to light a truth about who you are and what you could become if you just take the time to build it.

 

 

 

Addicted to Paris

ParisAt 10pm tonight I am hopping on a plane with my two sons and flying off to Paris amid airline strikes and rail strikes and increased taxation on tourists and god knows what else. Red flags galore. But, oh, my heart! And all I can think of is, get me there as fast as you can before I explode.

I lived in Paris in 1989, when I was 21-years-old and a full-fledged love addict. Nothing meant anything to me back then if I didn’t have a man, except the city of lights. I stayed there about 5 months studying French at the Alliance Francaise and working as an au pair,  and while I did fall in love, it was more with the city and the Parisian culture than with any one man. After I ran out of money though, and my mother forced me on a plane back home, I carried a torch for France for many, many, many years, and was never able to go back until 2011 when I was flown out to Amsterdam for the IDFA Film festival for my role in the Love Addict documentary. That I am able to go back again so soon is a miracle. Or rather, more likely, my addiction kicking in, which leads me to confess that I may have been wrong all these years– we are never fully “cured” of our love addiction.

I remember a woman on the forums a while ago who was addicted to a famous dead poet or writer. She couldn’t stop fantacizing about this “imaginary” man, and as odd at it seemed to me at the time, I realized I had had the same fascination with a city. I mourned the loss of Paris just like any other PoA. I felt abandoned, lost, miserable. I felt it was an unrequited love. But I couldn’t really put my finger on who gave up on who. Did Paris give up on me, or did I give up on Paris? I went into a very deep depression for a couple years after this and never fully recovered. Nor did I muster the strength or courage to get back. I allowed other dreams to get in the way.

And yet I didn’t. I remember back in 1993 I was poised to marry an American who was deeply in love with me. I was more in love with the idea that he loved me. And so, when I posed the question, “would you be OK if we tried to move to Paris for a while?” and his response was a resounding No, I tweaked the course of our lives forever and left him. Only after  I had bought the white dress and put a down payment on the catering hall, of course. A small price to pay in order to get my “dream” back.

But as the years went by, my dream soon faded. And Paris became more of a memory, then a recollection, and lastly, a regret. I could have gone back. I should have gone back. Why didn’t I go back?

When I touched down on French soil in 2011, D was with me. I could barely catch my breath. He had to hold my hand tightly. We exited the Gare du Nord, caught the Metro and came up and out of the ground under a starry sky. The amber glow of night-time Paris is indeed why it is known as the City of Lights. And as I stood, basking in the frenetic blaze  between the rue de Rivoli and the Tuileries garden, I burst into tears. It was all too much. It was too good to be true. And it is what every love addict dreams of. The moment they are not only reunited with their love, but that that love is reciprocated. Paris hadn’t forgotten me. She welcomed me back as if no time had passed between us and she was every bit the lover I had waited for all those years.

And yet, she was gone in an instant. Once again out of reach when I flew back home and back to reality. A new but  familiar ache to take her place. Being in Paris after all those years was glorious. And yet, what was it? Eating cake fulfills momentarily. It takes the edge off, temporarily. Until you can find that next big hit.

 

In less than 24 hours, I will get it. Another whopping hit. And possibly another. Just last night in fact, we met our new neighbors, one of whom is an artist who travels to Paris twice a year for trade shows. We clicked over wine and good conversation and she’s already put out the invitation to join her on one of her trips. But will it be enough? Is love ever enough? As a recovering addict who has learned a thing or two, I know it’s not.  I know that love, all by itself, is a rickety chair with wobbly legs–whether it be love for a man, woman, bottle, country, city or a dead poet. Love needs substance. It needs the fortification of rationality and purpose. And it needs to come from both ends. I can’t keep taking from Paris like a love sick succubus. Perhaps, I need to give back to make this romance work.

For now, I plan to teeter on that chair and see what I can see without toppling over. When I get back, however, I need to reassess if I can turn this achy addiction for Paris into something a little more meatier, healthier. Perhaps I could return to school and take french lessons. Perhaps I could try to see if my company wants to market our product there. Perhaps I could write about my travels for a travel blog or magazine. Whatever the case, my addiction for Paris is another hurdle I need to learn how to deal with or overcome or succumb to. Sure, I could be content to travel there on vacation from time to time. Like a normal human being. Take my stroll around the Eiffel Tower, have my cafe au lait and be done with it. Or can I? Addicts can’t really be content with just one little drag off the cigarette, one hit from their PoA. We sometimes just can’t be normal. We need to burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, as Jack Kerouac wrote in On the Road.  And for that, addiction is tricky. It can make life seem, at once, intoxicating and tragic.

But let’s not go there. Tomorrow morning,  I reunite with an old love. Let me bask in the euphoria of my temporary insanity. Just for a moment. 

A bientôt!

Top 5 self-defeating beliefs

There are certain things people will say or do when going through addiction recovery that simply drive me insane. I want to shake these people and say, “do you hear yourself?! You will not recover with that kind of thinking!” Of course, the reason these things drive me insane is because I am or was guilty of ALL of them. That which you do not like in others is really what you don’t like in yourself. So, as I post these comments and false beliefs from others, let it be known that they are really a reminder of my own unhealthy thinking at a time in my life when I just didn’t think I could get better. Here they are…

  1. “He took away my self-esteem and ultimately my dignity.” No he (or she) didn’t. No one takes away either of those things from anyone. You give them away, willingly for the sake of having a relationship, and then, when you realize the relationship has failed, you blame others for the loss of your personal characteristics, because, let’s be honest, taking ownership and responsibility for holding on to your self-esteem and dignity is much harder than you thought. It’s easier to blame a “bad guy.”
  2. “I can’t move on.” Yessssss you can! Sheesh. You moved on from becoming a toddler to a tween, didn’t you? You moved on from being a teen to an adult, right? When things are too tough, or too impossible or too hard or we “can’t” do something, it’s because we do not believe that we CAN do something and that we CAN change and create a new life for ourselves. Can’t works more efficiently for people who never learned how well Can works. And believe me, it’s a hard thing to learn if you weren’t raised in an “I can do it” family. But it takes a little pain and pressure and action in the opposite direction to make this change. Start training your brain to think like this: your hand is resting on a hot plate and you can stay there all you want by saying “I can’t move,” but turn the hot plate on high to the point that it burns you and I bet you CAN move pretty quickly. Be your own hot plate. Be your own spark  under your arse that gets you to move and change your behavior.
  3. “Why does he like her better? Why doesn’t he love or want me?” You’re asking the wrong questions. Instead of focusing on him and his needs, and his wants and choices, start focusing on you by asking, Why do I want to stay with a man/woman who neglects me, disrespects me, avoids me, uses me, [fill in the blank]? Ask yourself what role you play in your own destiny. And try to realize that when someone chooses you or rejects you, it’s NOT PERSONAL. Why do you like strawberries but not blueberries? Does this mean that all blueberries are bad or unloved or inadequate? Of course not. It means people have personal preferences for one thing (or person) over another and it really has nothing to do with who you are or what you offer. It has to do with the fact that this particular person doesn’t like blueberries. Go find someone who likes blueberries. And then, be the best blueberry you can be!
  4. “He was the only one for me. He was my soul mate.” Oh, the stories we tell ourselves to make something right and good. Oh the insanity of “soul mate” thinking. In some Native American cultures, soul mates are usually your children, or favorite animals. They aren’t boyfriends or husbands, which, according to some tribes, are a dime a dozen (if English isn’t your first language, that idiom means that men are everywhere and can be found relatively cheaply and quickly). When we think with “soul mate” thinking, we are telling ourselves that our options are extremely limited. That NO ONE ELSE can fit the bill or be able to love us like this person can. And more importantly, we are telling ourselves that we are difficult and hard to love, and that only one person can seem to do it. Soul mate thinking (because there can only be one soul mate), fits in nicely with low self-esteem thinking. The two work together nicely. But the truth is, if you are loveable, if you BELIEVE you are loveable, then you can be loved by MANY people, not just one. Yes, it takes lots of work to throw yourself back out into the world to meet people, and it often seems like there’s no one out there. But there are 7 BILLION people on this planet. And according to the US Census Bureau, there are 96 million singles over the age of 18 living in the USA alone. My point? You’re a love addict. Soul mate thinking is not realistic thinking. Now that I’m 46, I can no longer count on two hands the number of “soul mates” I thought I’d met. Doh. 
  5. “If only he would [fill in the blank: stop cheating, focus more on me, not be so anti-social, spend a little more time with me…].” It’s not going to happen. He’s not going to change. Why? Two reasons: you allow and permit his behavior. Oh sure, you may whine and complain that he doesn’t give you enough attention, and you may scream blood murder that he hurts you every time he cheats on you. But you stick around anyway. And that fact alone allows him to continue his behavior. What’s a little confrontation from you if he gets to be an asshole AND keep you around at the same time? And second, you can’t change your behavior for your own benefit, so, what makes you think he can so easily change his to suit YOUR needs (not his own)? If there’s one lesson you learn in life let it be this one: you cannot change people. You either accept what they’re offering and be happy about it, or move on. A bird will never be a fish. Have realistic expectations of people. And, believe it or not, there are people out there who are more compatible for you. You just need to believe in your own self-worth enough to trust that this is so.

 

Socially acceptable addictions

So, I made my re-entry back into the world of coffee without much of a glitch, save a bit of shame for being such a hypocrite, telling the world I would never drink “the crap” again. I had originally quit because of headaches and a near-complete dependence on the stuff, a la a pure substance abuse. I couldn’t wake up without it. I couldn’t get through my day without a second hit. And I didn’t feel a part of American culture if, like everyone else, I couldn’t have a tall soy latte in my hand while coursing my way through an intersection.

But hey, I made it an entire month without it, and felt pretty good, despite some migraines the first week, for which I needed to see a doctor.  I substituted with green Kombucha tea, Yerba Mate and red rooibos–all of which did weird things to me. But, soon enough, I felt cleansed, unpolluted, alert, and mostly, free from the shackles or addiction and of course, the ritual of having to hunt down a Starbuck’s at 3:30pm, no matter where I was, so as to recharge and make me feel part of the human race again. But my digestive tract had become so dependent on the caffeine (from roughly 300 mgs per day down to about 25 mgs or less) that for the entire month, horribly unmentionable things were happening to me. OK, I’ll mention them: burping, belching, farting, constipation, IBS and so on.

But here’s the hitch. Without my daily caffeine fix, I craved bad foods.  Usually my diet is very healthy: slow-cooked oats for breakfast, salad for lunch, chicken, veggies and a starch for dinner. Every once in a while  I’d have a sweet. But when I stopped drinking coffee, there was that nagging toxic sensation of needing to “fill the void” well known to love addicts, and so…as if I had this Get Out of Jail Free card I started eating mountains of burgers, fries, potato chips (something I NEVER eat), cookies, and other junk. It’s as if there was this yin and yang within me…pulling at me to do something bad to counteract all the good I was accomplishing. I mean, let’s be honest. There’s only so much green tea and Andrew Weil a girl can take, you know. I was too cleansed, too pure, too unpolluted. Not to mention all my friends were on my case, insisting that I needed at least one vice. “Live a little,” they said. As if drinking coffee, and vices in general are the mark of a satisfying life.

Sheesh.

But, in a way, they’re right. Unless we are holed up in a monastery at the top of a mountain in Nepal with virtually no human contact, we need to experience the world in all its divine and no so divine glory. And we’re talking coffee. Occasional sweets. A shopping spree here and there. The lighter side of addiction that doesn’t rob you completely of your soul. As addicting as it is, a cup of coffee in the morning is something I can live with. Coffee, I suppose,  keeps the bad girl in me alive. It keeps me a little sullied, a little uninhibited, a little wild, without stripping me of my dignity and my values.

My sis-in-law was over last night and we were discussing the documentary “Babies.” She was saying that too much care can cause an individual to weaken. Too much hand sanitizer, for example, can keep us over-protected from being able to build up an immunity to viruses and bacteria. In that sense, I’d like to think that my coffee addiction keeps me dirty enough that I can actually exist among society.

But the truth is, I’ve decided to try quitting again, after the summer, when I can spend a month or two alone, isolated and insulated from the rest of the world. Detoxing is a slow, meticulous process, which needs time and patience (a metaphor for love addiction recovery perhaps?). And the fact of the matter is, that despite my addiction to it, I feel better without it, physically and mentally. And though I’m sure to substitute my bad girl coffee habit with something equally bad (shoplifting?  loitering in front of the “No Loitering” signs around town?), at least I will no longer be a slave to the ritual or dependent upon a substance that has a little too much control over my life.

But for now, the coffee maker is brewing my usual french roast and my Starbuck’s card is fully loaded and ready to be swiped.

 

3 Tough lessons we all need to learn

It occurred to me after five years of a rather successful, peaceful recovery, that recovery and change were not going to be the pieces of cake I thought they would be. When I started to slip back into a bit of a mess that I will now call My Life, I noticed that all I had learned five years prior, seemed to have, poof! disappeared and become unlearned. For those five years, as I went around, resting on my laurels,  insisting that love addiction can, in fact, be cured (and don’t get me wrong, I definitely do still believe that new, healthier behaviors and thinking patterns can replace unhealthy ones, permanently), I forgot three maddening facts:

1. Time, and therefore life, is not linear. You don’t just move in a straight line up or down or left or right. You don’t just choose to recover and when you do, you move in a straight line upward, and just keep getting more and more perfect. It’s not that easy. Sometimes life is circular. Sometimes you make the same mistakes over and over again. Sometimes you take two steps forward and five steps back. You fall. You get up. You standstill. You roll over. You play dead. There is no simple movement forward or special force that acts as a lubricant to ease you up and out of the mess you’re in. Sure, there are shoots and ladders available, that propel you in one direction or another with speed and effortlessness. But, the reality is that Life, and being human is complicated, disorganized and sometimes you get sidetracked. And that fact alone, should tell you that in order to be successful at it, you might have to let go of your preconceived notions of what success is. Because it’s certainly not linear.

2. If I am to be realistic, I have limitations. All that made me the person I am today, all the pain, suffering, goodness and beauty that flowed through me and taught me how to “be” is all still there–good and bad. And many of those traits and behaviors and shortcomings and strengths that now make me who I am, much like my eyeball or my elbow, are here to stay. Sure, I can tweak my behavior here and there. And I can work damn hard to force my brain to think more positive thoughts. But,  I cannot ignore the fact that my brain is prone to anxiety and worry, that I have a tendency to be a control freak, that I have trouble retaining new vocabulary words, that I just don’t like being away from my family for too long, and that I am totally OCD when it comes to food, house-cleaning and my coffee intake. I can’t  just ignore these things that, like it or not, can often get in the way of progress, just as I cannot ignore the head on my shoulders or the caps on my knees. They are there. For better or worse. The question is, how to work around them.

3. Life is a surprise. Expect the unexpected. The moment you think you have it all figured out and everything is under your control, you get bitten by a rabbid dog. Or you lose your job. Or your 16-year-old son gets his girlfriend pregnant.  Or your parent dies.  Or you come down with the bubonic plague (suggestion: get on antibiotics quick for this one). The list goes on and on. The world is unpredictable and filled with good surprises and not so good surprises and whole lot of chaos. And while, sure, you can stop adding to the chaos by not creating drama yourself. But you can never fully protect yourself against the ebb and flow of the unknown. You only have a finite amount of control. Thinking you’re in total control is an illusion you have when everything just happens to be going right. And so the trick, at this point in my life, is not only to figure out how to live my life (that was my very first lesson as a love addict, by the way, –to figure out what kind of life I wanted because I never really knew), but to also figure out how to maneuver my way through The Fun House without being too surprised when something jumps out at me from behind a corner. There’s only so much I can be prepared for without driving myself crazy.

Perhaps all that I have learned has not disappeared, but rather, perhaps, new lessons and challenges are now upon me. These three are toughies. They are not lessons I ever really wanted to learn. I don’t really like change as much as I thought I did! But, the responsibility of recovery, and ultimately growing up,  is to face life, not run away from it. And to never give up. And while I may have taken a few steps back this past winter, this post is proof that I am working hard at leaping forward. In the past, I would have believed that leaping forward meant “Make no mistakes.” Now, I think it means, “Embrace what you’ve got (unless you’ve got a really bad situation that YOU can actively get out of), expect the unexpected, and let go of hanging on so tightly.” Easier said than done. But I’m going to give it my best.

Problem management

steps-to-problem-solveHow do love addicts deal with their problems? Easy. We avoid them. We bury our head in the sand or, better yet, we bury ourselves in whatever relationship we happen to be in, good or bad. The worse the relationship the better. Why? Because the more we are forced to focus on some problem or issue outside ourselves, the more we can avoid facing our own personal problems, which are actually far scarier than any other facet of life. Our problems, and our lack of ability to manage our problems, is what drives our addiction. Love addiction is a problem solver. Or rather, a problem eraser. It removes the pain of life and it removes the idea that something big and scary needs to be managed.  Ah, love!

Well, guess what… this method only works temporarily. And as soon as the relationship is over (God forbid!) the pain and suffering we think we feel for the loss of our PoA, is actually the pain and suffering of being exposed to Our Problems, which are staring us in the mirror, laughing maniacally, saying, We’re back!

They actually never went away. They are still there and we have still not figured out how to manage or cope with those problems, because instead, we’ve been focused and busy and working hard at our addiction. And here’s the thing… when you learn how to manage your problems a certain way (like avoiding them, or covering them up with love, or sex or food or alcohol or whatever), you get really good at! In Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, he says it takes about 10,000 hours of practice in your field to become a master. By the time I hit 40, I had logged so many hours of love addiction and avoidance, I was a professional. And I can’t help but wonder, if there was an actual service-oriented company specializing in Avoidance, would I have been their CEO? Of course, I probably would have never showed up for the job…

So, my question, is this (which I hope to answer): if in your state of addiction and acting out, you’ve spent a gazillion hours devoted to avoiding your problems and you’ve become really good at it, how do you switch “fields” and suddenly start to manage your problems in healthier ways?

Well, for starters, you face whatever life throws at you. And that’s probably the biggest hurdle to jump over. But how about this: when you realize why you don’t want to face any given problem, then it makes it a little easier to face because you now know what you need to work on first, before your problem solving skills improve on their own. In my case, I had four things going against me that created in me a need to avoid:

  • I was never taught what healthy problem-solving looked like from parents and caretakers– many members of my family were alcoholics and co-dependents who also avoided
  • I had zero faith in myself or in my ability to handle problems–a direct result of super low self-esteem and zero confidence
  • I was not a risk taker. If I made a mistake or I failed at something, I never tried again. I gave up. And when you do that, you don’t give yourself the opportunity to figure out how to do it the right way, and so, you never become good at problem solving
  • I probably also relied too heavily on others to resolve problems for me, and when no one would help me (Oh Rhett! What’ll I do? Where will I go?!) I would avoid

So, taking those three issues and working on improving them independently, has personally helped me become a better problem solver. And yet…I still have very far to go. Here are a few other tips to help you manage and cope with more strength and courage…

  • You don’t need to dive in and deal with some issue as soon as it crops up. Taking a step back, waiting a few days, assessing the problem once your emotions have cooled might put you at a better advantage of knowing what to do or how to do it.
  • Problems seem to be managed most effectively with logic and reason. Not impulsively with emotions. Again, wait until you regain a sense of logical thinking to determine how to handle an issue.
  • Know your place: Is this my problem? Is this someone else’s problem? What role should I play in the resolution of this problem, if any? Sometimes we take on certain problems that are not even ours to take on.
  • Ask for help or advice, but know what part of the problem you need to solve on your own, and what others can “help” you with. Are you being too needy? Or do you really need someone else to carry you through.
  • Don’t take problems personally and don’t think God or the world is out to get you. A healthier perspective is that EVERY LAST STINKIN’ ONE OF US HAS PROBLEMS, not just you.
  • Lose the worry: Worry complicates things. It NEVER solves anything. Worry is an emotion, not a functional tactic to resolve a problem. If need be, take a course on anxiety and panic management. Because until you get rid of your anxiety you will not be able to deal with problems logically.
  • Know the stages of problem solving. Many businesses rely heavily on people with good problem solving skills. I have also included them above in the diagram.
  • Ask God for three things: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Lastly, if you feel you are once again avoiding some issue or problem that you need to face (or that you’ve never faced before), write it out. Get to know it. Face it in ways you’ve never done. Talk to God about it. Confess to a friend. Write in a journal. Try to talk about it and work it into your life so that it doesn’t disappear into the background. And then, when you are ready, you will be more able to face it and deal with it. Easier said than done, I know. I have had a nagging problem for YEARS that I cannot seem to find an answer to, despite the fact that I face it all the time. Perhaps what’s holding me back is not so much a decision or action I must take, but rather, a change in perspective. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

 

Warriors unite

Since my visit to the ER a few weeks ago, I have kind of (kind of) snapped back. I signed up for a few online anxiety and panic attack coping strategies sessions, read all about the six human needs, found a buddhist therapist who is teaching me mindfulness, got back into cycling every other day–ah exercise– and got my portion of the insurance bill for the ER visit. If anything makes you feel instantly healthy, it’s an insurance bill.

I also started reading Carry On, Warrior, the New York Times bestseller written by the woman who writes the Momastery blog. This book came to me by way of a mother’s day gift (along with a card) from my husband’s ex wife. She has never given me anything before, with the exception of a portable round cake carrier that I felt was one of those things every mother needs, but something I never actually wanted to pay for. I still have it, and every time I break it out, I think of her.

When I got the book and card, I really quickly wrote a thank you card back.  I was deeply touched by the gesture, and so I wrote: “I am so deeply touched by the gesture.” And then I wrote, without having read one page of the book, “This book looks hilarious.” Or something to that effect.

In retrospect, I should have read the book first, and then commented on it. Because, much to my shock, while the book does have its moments of hilarity, the essence of it is not hilarious at all. In fact, it is written by a recovering alcoholic and bulimic who got pregnant then married, then wanted a divorce, etc.  and through it all, has written about her “messy” life in the hopes of inspiring other women to not be afraid to admit to an imperfect life.

The first couple days I read it, I wondered if D’s ex thought I was a recovering alcoholic.

The second few days I wondered if she thought I thought my life was miserable. Then I wondered if she wanted me to know that her life is miserable.

And when I got to the chapter “Easter” where the author writes about her intimacy issues with her husband, I was thoroughly confused. Was she sharing with me her past with D? Did she still miss him? Or did she think we were having intimacy issues right about now, at the five-year-mark and she thought I needed to read all about it.

Of course, I’m over-thinking this. Her gesture was probably not as deep as I am making it out to be. It was an act of kindness and I need to take it as such.

But, I can’t help but wonder if she knows about this blog, if she reads it, or if she even cares. Chances are that she doesn’t. But if she does…

Here’s a direct message:

You’re a lifesaver. I have been going out of mind dealing with my teenage son with whom I caught smoking twice, and learned that he’s been getting drunk with friends as well. My position at work was phased out, and while I still have the luxury of receiving a paycheck, I have no “career,” and that kills me. Finding a new life for myself is scary as hell. ANd I don’t want to do it. On top of that, I feel physically run down. Thankfully, the one thing that is going right in my life is D. And while he can get on my nerves from time to time, and I can surely get on his (chapter: Easter), I feel as though I’ve found the promised land with him. He’s not the problem. I am. But this book has given me courage, and I thank you for “pouring the first glass of wine” and reaching out of your comfort zone to give it to me. Not only did you offer me a gift I can really use, you exposed yourself and let me in. That says a lot about your character.  And I thank you again.

Six human needs

So, as you may or may not know, I have been dealing with a lot of depression and anxiety lately. Winters are generally tough on me, but this winter kinda knocked me down and out. My anxiety and depression used to come out in the form of anger–whatever relationship I was in I would lash out. That huge release of emotions would tied me over for a while and I’d be calm, until the next flair up. But now, I am not in a relationship with someone who triggers anger in me. SO, who do I lash out at? Well, me. I get sick. I have health problems. I end up in the ER with chest pain. I cause so much drama with my colds, flus, aches, and pains that it ends up getting the job done just as anger did. Only, I’m only hurting myself, not others.

And I suppose that’s a pretty big accomplishment. But, it’s not good enough.I am still addressing aspects of my life in unhealthy ways.

So, I threw myself back into therapy and once again started reading, reading, and reading to try and resolve this issue. And while I have a long way to go, I do want to share with you some info that has given me a small *lightbulb* moment.

I came across Tony Robbins’ video on the Six Human Needs. If this link evaporates, do a Google search for “six human needs” and “Tony Robbins.” The info will pop up. In a nutshell, these six human needs are the driving force behind all our behavior, as we try to meet most if not all of these needs. Here they are…

According to Tony Robbins, there are the following six needs we all have:

1. Certainty – the need to be safe and comfortable
2. Variety – the need for physical and mental stimulation
3. Significance – the need to feel special and worthy of attention
4. Love & Connection – the need to be loved and connected to others
5. Growth – the need to develop and expand
6. Contribution – the need to contribute beyond yourself

The first four needs are essential (we all need them!) and the last two are optional, but as Robbins puts it, they are the driving force behind having a complete life.

The trouble with these needs is not that we need them (that’s normal and healthy!); it’s how we go about meeting these needs. We have a choice. We can either meet these needs in a healthy way, an unhealthy way or a neutral way. And depending on our upbringing or our nature, or even our frame of mind, that’s how we determine how these needs are met. For love addicts, the need for “Love and Connection” is met in unhealthy ways. We take anyone who will have us, we put up with abusive or neglectful treatment, we manipulate, we cry, we stalk, we beg, we suffer…we do unhealthy things all in pursuit of our need for love and connection. Whereas a healthy person might fulfill this need in healthy ways, we fill it in unhealthy ways.

But here’s my lightbulb moment: because my need for love and connection was so all-consuming in the past, it took over my other needs too. I (falsely) (and subconsiously) believed that my need for love and connection also filled my need for significance, for growth, for variety and for certainty (remember the love addict mind? It thinks: A loving relationship will save me and protect me and be everything for me!) But love and connection, while it can to a lesser degree fill other needs temporarily, those other needs and the need to fill them still exist separate of any relationship you might have, healthy or otherwise.

What’s happening NOW, however, is that I have finally fulfilled my need for love and connection in a healthy way (and I believe you will too!), but I seem to have forgotten that my relationship cannot exactly fulfill all those other needs. And, duh! What relationship can? There is no relationship that can do that. Remember, when you meet someone in a healthy state, you have to be complete. You have to have most or all of your needs met from within! ANd so, my anxiety and depression is coming on so strong now because I am at the point of deep realization that  I can not fulfill all my needs through my relationship. I still must address them on my own.

Shockingly, I still have the same problems I had before ever meeting D. But you see, while D offers me love and connection and that need is met, I have five more needs that I am still avoiding. Where once love addiction stood in the way of me meeting my needs or rather, seemed to be the answer to meeting all my needs), now health, depression and anxiety do. I am still avoiding insteading of facing.  A little discouraging, but a challenge! So…what’s a healthier way to meet my needs that are still screaming to be met? Well, hard work ahead… I need to take the risk I continue to avoid by finding a satisfying career. Or, I can create a life for myself separate of my relationship with D or my kids. Anyway I look at it, my relationship ain’t gonna meet all my needs or solve all my problems. I thought I learned that lesson, and perhaps I did for a while. But, I suppose I need to relearn and better apply this lesson so it really sticks this time. :)

Bottom line: if you think finding someone will solve all your problems, think again. While a loving relationship can and will meet your need for love and connection, it cannot meet those other needs that YOU and ONLY YOU must work to fill.

Back to the drawing board for me!

Black & White Thinking

Addicted, obsessive thinking is black and white thinking. Here’s what it looks like to a love addict:

  • A relationship is the key to happiness.
  • It may not be perfect, but having a relationship will make my entire life worth living
  • Love conquers all
  • Love will save the day
  • People in a relationship are so lucky.
  • People in a relationship are never lonely
  • As bad as it might be, a relationship is better than being alone
  • Being alone is the opposite of being in love and with someone
  • Once a person is in a relationship their life becomes easier

These, of course, are all overblown generalizations, most of them not even true, or which do not represent reality fully. And yet, whether we come out and state them or not, as love addicts, we still feel them and secretly believe them to be true. If we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t be love addicts!

But black and white thinking leads to having a hugely unrealistic understanding of the world we live in, and skews our perspective on the experiences we have. I also call this kind of thinking superlative thinking. For example, a superlative in the English language is a word like “always” or “never” or “best” or “worst.” In other words, superlatives are an exaggerated mode of expression in one direction or another, usually good or bad. All or nothing thinking.

Again, this kind of thinking can deter a more positive, well-rounded, balanced perspective on things and keep you from moving forward. So, this week’s advice: try to get rid of the black and white thinking and try to remove superlatives from your language.

Instead of: “I was only happy with him” try to be more realistic and replace it with, “I was often happy with him, but not always.”

Instead of “Love conquers all” try “Love is one part of a whole picture. I also need food, shelter,  money, peace of mind and security.”

Instead of, “I am always going to be alone” think instead, “I may be alone now, but I do not know where I might be a year from now.”

Challenge yourself to be more realistic. Express yourself with your logical/rational mind instead of your emotional mind (that always wants to think in extremes!).

I am challenged with this daily. I will sometimes say to D, “you never do laundry; I always do it.” But this isn’t true and it’s not fair to him that I am falsely accusing him. And more than anything, when I remove the superlative thinking, I gain a little more clarity on my situation and it suddenly seems manageable.

Try it! Change some of these false beliefs into more realistic beliefs and watch how the “gray” areas of life raise your mood!

Timeline of ups and downs

 

We so often think of recovery as an upward motion. A staircase that is climbed, bringing you higher and higher to a state of personal self-love, awareness and success. And yet,  as I approach the 10-year anniversary of my dad’s death, I can’t help but look back over these years and see the ups and downs that have been my life. For better of for worse, this has been been ME for the last 10 years:

April 2004

  • Father died
  • Received small inheritance
  • Filed for divorce
  • Got my undergrad degree in Journalism & English Lit (after 16 years)

May

  • Had nervous breakdown
  • Did not take job I had applied for, but rather, started to work for my father’s company, after a few months on Paxil!

July

  • Took my 4 and 6-year-old sons cross-country to Utah, a dream come true.
  • Bought my own house
  • Officially divorced

January 2005

  • Started dating G

September 2005

  • Broke up with G
  • Got back together with G

August- October 2007

  • Broke up with G for good
  • Dated M, very briefly
  • Went to psychics and mediums several times
  • Quit smoking, and started to “live clean” and think differently about what I put into my body and “who” I hung out with

March 2008

  • Began this blog
  • Dating S
  • Realized I was a love addict and read voraciously on the subject
  • Placed some very important boundaries around myself for the first time in my life
  • Created values for myself, for the first time in my life

October 2008

  • Went on Prozac because once a month I would yell at S and not trust him (in the end, I had good reason)
  • S broke up with me and chose pot over me
  • Went off Prozac
  • Went into hibernation for 4 days, crying
  • My uncle died
  • D sent me a Facebook friend request

November-December 2008

  • Began to make peace with my single life for the first time ever, instead of looking forward or “waiting” for another guy
  • Pangs of loneliness

January 2009

  • Hugely creative time for me
  • Began dating D with the “let’s keep this organic” mantra (no waiting for the phone to ring, no trying to push this relationship to work if it wasn’t working, etc., no fantasy, no day-dreaming)

January 2009-May 2013

  • Moved in with D, got engaged, bought a house, sold my house
  • Lived for the most part in pre-wedded bliss, with a bump here and there, but no real health issues, no real emotional issues, no period-related hormonal issues, and no doubts

December 2012

  • Was sick for 2 months after working very strenuously for a non-profit

May 2013

  • Got a dog; incurred a SEVERELY negative emotional reaction to the dog and my attempt to get rid of the dog (which D would not let me do for a couple of months, but then finally came around). This seemed to be a turning point for me, as I felt as though my freedom was in jeopardy and D cared more about the dog than my happiness. But we overcame it.

August 2013

  • Had a bad bout of vertigo 2 weeks before my wedding, in ER
  • Got married
  • Had tiny episodes of vertigo throughout my honeymoon

September 2013-March 2014

  • Was sick nearly every month for the entire year
  • Because of changes made internally at work, my “job” was pretty much phased out
  • My two-year commitment to running the non-profit ended

April 2014

  • Began dealing with depression– a first! And anxiety (the usual).
  • Rushed to ER for chest pain and strange pain around left breast (chest pain may have been panic, but pain within left breast is real but unidentifiable).
  • Teenage son caught hanging around friends who smoke pot
  • Finally selling a vacation house that has caused me and my family a lot of disruption; my one brother still won’t talk to me
  • Still unable to figure out pain in chest area that won’t go away
  • Tried to apply for an MBA but my company won’t pay for it. I’d have to pay for it myself ($$$)
  • Started gardening and meditating to calm my nerves
  • Looking into grad school or starting my own business–need to do something to keep myself busy and active

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off to Arizona

Up at 3:15 am to leave the house by 5am with my kids, to pick up mom and step dad and head to the airport. We’re heading out to Arizona for 4 heat-soaked desert days, and I can’t wait! I really don’t like early morning flights like this, but I do like arriving in Arizona at 10:30 in the morning with the whole day ahead of me.

I’ve had a terrible two days, most of which were spent in the ER suffering with chest tightness and stomach pain. Luckily last night, I was able to sleep a decent 5-6 hours uninterrupted. I’m not sure that’s enough. Yet, it’ll have to do. I felt very weak yesterday, but happy to go home. And I wasn’t so weak that I couldn’t get what I needed to get done—finish packing a few items, making rice for dinner, picking up meds, etc. By 7pm, I felt almost normal. While in the shower, feeling every little ping and click and ache and weird sensation I told myself I will drive myself crazy if I continue to listen to the clatter that is coming from my body. My body is trying to HEAL. It’s not perfect. It’s going to makes somewhat of a racket as it works to get me back to feeling better. My goal is to STOP paying attention to all these sensations (unless of course there’s something serious) and just recognize that my body is doing its job. And that I WILL get better. Period. Enough with the doomsday thinking. Enough with the heart attack thinking. I am HEALTHY. I eat well. I exercise.  I simply fall prey to stress. But, when I get back from Arizona, I think I am going to look into therapy again. It’s been a long time that I’ve needed that, but I need to work on this issue of how to deal with stress and anxiety. It’s causing me a lot of suffering. I also need to find a life of my own.

What does any of this have to do with recovery? Not much! But I thought I’d post a dear diary entry today to share. And when I get back I would like share my insight as to why I think I have been so stressed and physically ill when by all appearances my life is seemingly perfect!

Until then, wish me luck and lots of stressless fun and peace on this vacation! I need it :)

Essential laws of love addiction recovery

So, on a previous post, I threw out there that I was breaking “two” of the essential laws of healthy recovery by not taking care of myself and not having a life of my own. And while that wasn’t entirely true, it was partly true (enough for me to notice it). But more importantly, there is no law book or list of rules for love addiction recovery, except my own very vague notion of what recovery laws actually are, created as I go along.

That being said, I thought I would create these laws, and post them so that others can share in the knowledge of what they should strive for. So, here they are…

Law #1: Thou shalt strive to be a mature, responsible adult: love addiction is all about stunted growth; recovery is all about growing up.  To successfully recover you really need to give up childhood survival mechanisms like addictive behavior, acting out, manipulating to get your way, chasing after unhealthy fantasies, and burying your head in the sand by focusing on your PoA instead of your adult responsibilities. In other words, learn healthier ways to manage your life.

Law #2. Thou shalt not avoid thy personal responsibilities: love addiction is not about loving your PoA, it’s really about using your PoA as an emotional distraction so that you can avoid yourself and that which you fear the most. Find out what you fear, and face it.

Law #3: Thou shalt take care of thyself: you are your best investment, so treat yourself as such. Eat well, exercise, challenge your brain, be an integral part of your community and block harmful people from your life. Your body and mind are temples. They are sacred places. Do not pollute them with bad food, negative people and defeatist thinking. If you can care for and love others, why not you too?!

Law #4: Thou shalt exercise thy logical brain more than thy emotional heart–at least until you “get” how to use your logical brain. But, love addicts tend to reside in their heart and emotions. They allow their emotions to make decisions for them, and do not enlist the help of their logical brain (which can detect red flags and recognize safety). Let the pendulum swing in the opposite direction for a time. Give up “thinking” with your heart and try to think with your brain. Can you see the difference?

Law #5: Thou shalt have a life of thy own: It’s time to quit depending on others for your happiness. Why is it everyone else’s responsibility to make you happy? What role do you play in your own happiness? Search for activities and emotionally and spiritually stimulating pursuits that you can do on your own in times of solitaire. This is how you begin to like yourself

Law #6: Thou shalt learn to accept and if necessary, forgive thyself: Look in the mirror; what do you see? Do you wish you saw someone far more perfect? Flawless? Wealthy? Famous? Get over it. You’re not perfect nor will you ever be. But that does not mean you are not loveable. Even the most handicapped, disadvantaged, challenged people in the world are still worthy of love. And so are you. But  if you think you can just waltz out into the world and expect to be validated and loved by others, you’re in for a bit of disappointment. When you do that, it’s hit or miss. You never know who will like you and who won’t. But guess what, when the love and validation comes from within YOU, you always know what you’re gonna get. Make peace with the mistakes you made in the past, and move on to being your best source of love and strength.

Law #7: Thou shalt not participate in harmful or hurtful behavior, to thyself and others: no affairs, no sleeping with or becoming emotionally bonded to a married or otherwise unavailable person, no cheating, no stalking, no physically, mentally or emotionally harming others for your own personal benefit, no acting out in ways that may harm or hurt yourself or others.

Law #8: Thou shalt abandon obsessive fantasy in exchange for reality, and stay in the now: obsessing over every Tom, Dick and Harry you meet, falling in love hard and fast (in your imagination), and becoming hopeless to addicted to someone is all fantasy-based. About one percent of what’s going on might be driven by reality. Let all that go and stay in the NOW. What does that mean? It means every time you catch yourself “wondering” or “day-dreaming” or fantasizing about someone new (or even your current PoA) STOP, and bring yourself back to what you are physically doing. If you’re doing nothing, find something to do. But stay present in only that which is happening now. Love addicts create their addicts, and FANTASY is how they do it. (More on this at “Tips On Dating“)

Law #9: Thou shalt be true to thyself and thy values: most love addicts do not know what a value is, let alone what theirs might be. If there’s one thing you learn in recovery, learn your values. They are your map. They help define who you are, what you need, and who to look for and connect with in the world (when you’re ready).

Law #10: Thou shalt no longer be a victim: chances are that many of your dysfunctional behaviors were learned from dysfunctional caretakers. They may have even physically abused you, mentally abused you, or even neglected you. But, as an adult, you not only have the responsibility to care for yourself, you have the FREEDOM to care for yourself in much healthier ways than ever before. So, quit blaming your parents, and the world for what you don’t have and be grateful for what you do have: the opportunity to learn healthier behaviors. Right now. No need to forgive your parents for their faults (although it helps), but do recognize that you’re the captain of the ship now, and YOU are in charge of your own destiny.

Law #11: Thou shalt live and let live: stop trying to control everything and everyone. It’s too much of a task to take on. It is said that people who have had traumatic or chaotic pasts tend to be very controlling in their adult life. As adults, even though we may have the power to control our own lives and our immediate environment, we cannot control everyone and everything. Every person we are in a relationship with is beyond our control. That’s why it’s essential to surround yourself with people who address your inner most needs. If you don’t like chaos, don’t fall for a guy who is impulsive and unpredictable. If you like excitement and spontanaity in your life, don’t fall for a girl who prefers to be at home watching back to back episodes of Downton Abbey. Accept what you cannot change; but ONLY if you can handle it in your life. If you can’t, don’t accept it. Move on and reconfigure the players in your life.

A “slip” doesn’t always look like a slip

In love addiction recovery, “slips” tend to look like one thing and one thing only: you, hitting a weak point and crawling back to your person of addiction (PoA) when you should be maintaining “no contact” (NC). But in advanced recovery, where there are no more PoAs or compromising situations (like affairs, etc), and you’ve managed to bond in a happy, healthy marriage, what does a “slip” look like? Well, a slip can look like virtually anything, but mostly, it looks very personal and my guess is it is typically based on a long held fear which caused you to become a love addict in the first place, and to find ways to avoid that which you have been fearful of. If that sounds a little complicated,  let me explain…

For the past several months (maybe even a year), I have noticed that my only goal for any given day is to clear everything off my calendar to the point where I have zero work to do. And once I’ve acheived that goal, and have literally nothing on my plate, I freak out from boredom and try to figure out why I have nothing to do. This pattern is a slip for me. This behavior of not working or wanting to work is usually followed by a period of incredibly taxing work or phases in my life where my job or even my social life has become so strenuous and exhausting that I have a near nervous breakdown and start to cloister myself. I quit working, I don’t go out, I don’t do any projects that once made me happy, and so on.

With all this time on my hands, you’d think that I would feel free to do any number of things I’ve always wished I had time for (go back to school, get involved in volunteer work, take on a new personal project, start my own business, etc.). And yet, I don’t budge. I stay indoors. I create excuses. I find fault in all my ideas: I’m not healthy enough to take on a big project, I’m too old, I’m afraid of getting locked into something only to want out in a year or two, I don’t have the time, I don’t have the money, I don’t have the proper education).

This extreme response to stress, driven by fear and a need to avoid, is a slip. Plain and simple. It may even be a relapse.  Whatever it is, it is an issue of poorly managing my life.  And while I am still able to maintain other areas of my life– raising teens (this is huge!), maintaining/enjoying a healthy marriage, working on/caring for my home, taking care of myself physically, eating well–I am breaking two of the most essential laws of a healthy recovery: always be able to take care of yourself; and, have a life of your own

Because we are so dependent in our state of addiction, because we use “love” and relationship to hide behind as a means of avoiding the stuff in life we do not like, in recovery we must try our best to have something to fall back on. We must be able to take care of ourselves, so that we don’t find ourselves dependent or without the means to care for ourselves.

I know I am being hard on myself here, but I am disappointed in myself. I feel as though I have done such a wonderful job in so many other areas of recovery, and overcome such huge hurdles. But, I have spent a lifetime avoiding work and I still feel as though I have never really faced this fear or accomplished anything. I have still never faced my biggest fear. And I think it’s time.

What’s my point in sharing this with all of you? So that you learn to recognize that a slip doesn’t always look like a traditional slip. Love addiction, afterall, has virtually NOTHING to do with your PoA. It has to do with  what you use that PoA for–what are you avoiding? What can’t you face? Why do you need to hide behind love and relationships? What is it that you simply cannot accomplish but know that you must?

Something to think about. And hopefully, when you’re strong enough, work on.

Recovery is not boring, but maybe, you are…

boringOne of the last things I did online the other night was type up a response to some girl’s venting post on the LAA site that basically said, “I want to go back to my PoA because that relationship was filled with passion, and recovery is boring.”

It drives me batty when people say “Recovery is boring.” It’s a cop out. And it’s spoken as a last ditch effort to hang on to the addiction and convince yourself that all that “passion” (aka: chaos) was real and better than the loneliness the person is feeling currently.

I think too that most people confuse long-term successful recovery with withdrawal or early recovery. Early recovery is not pretty. It’s usually inundated with a lot of fear, pain, loneliness, reckoning, confusion, awkwardness and instability. It’s a time when “NC” (no contact) seems more like a loss than a gain. And it’s a time when you grapple with your own person for the first time and realize how very little you invested in yourself all these years, in exchange for the amount of time and effort you devoted to your drug. Looking at yourself in the mirror with a clear head for the first time in years, if ever, is insanely scary. It’s disturbing. It’s shocking. And when that happens, most people would prefer to crawl back into the hole they crawled out of, or bury their head in the sand, back into their addiction.

Early recovery is a precipice. You are literally on the brink of moving forward, teetering on the precipice, or turning back. That’s a very complicated and confusing place to be and it’s very easy to assume that that place is all there is, the final frontier. Well, it’s not. And here’s why…..you haven’t done any of the work of recovery yet! Some haven’t even taken a class. Love addiction 101. You’ve merely showed up. And showing up, while part of the process, doesn’t usually impart upon you any magical sense of accomplishment. Until you actually do the work. And even then you’re in for a rough ride.What I mean is, don’t put your life into compartments like that. Life after addiction does not mean that you’re sitting around alone and lonely without a PoA who, at least spent time with you some of the time. Giving up the PoA doesn’t simply mean the absence of a PoA. It means embracing and making peace with a whole new way of living, without dependency and obsession.

Anyway…

Here’s a quick list of helpful tips to get you through early recovery. But remember, early recovery is NOT the end result. It’s NOT even a good example of your new life. It’s the difficult phase of getting from addiction to REAL recovery:

1. Be patient with yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither were you.
2. Imagine the cycle of one year and all that the earth accomplishes in that time. From the dying in the fall, to the harsh, cold standstill of winter, which, without out would not bring forth the birth of the spring and the maturity and abundant life of the summer. You too need your (symbolic) fall, your quiet, cold, seemingly empty winter, so that you can have your awakening in the spring.
3. If your recovery is “boring” then you are boring. Recovery isn’t a separate entity outside yourself. It’s not like a party you attend. It’s not a state of nirvana either. It’s progress, and right now, in early recovery, you’re not at the fancy cocktail party part of recovery. You’re at the up late, work hard, study for your brain surgeon’s exam part of recovery. This is the hard work that comes before you can reap the rewards of success. And honestly, if you are that bored with life, that’s part of your problem. The addictive personality has loads of trouble finding fun and excitement in the world. Why? Because we’ve focused so long on our drug of choice, we have closed down our ability to to find joy in anyhitng outside that which we are addicted to. If you feel as though you are stuck here, it’s time to focus your attention on self-help books that guide you to enjoy life more. What worked for me was taking action with something I kind of liked (road cycling). My normal habit was to quit after the first or second try, but during recovery, I forced myself to do it every day. After months, it became a great joy to me. But I worked for that joy. It did not just show up at my doorstep.
4. You’re learning to manage your life better. Period. Recovery, doesn’t of its own volition, take care of you. It is the act of you taking care of you and you learning how to do that. And whatever tools you pick up, or however many lessons you learn and thus apply is what determines the look and feel of your recovery. If it leads you to climb mountains, become the CEO of your own company, or create in you the peace of enjoying a quiet, simply home life, then so be it. Your recovery is personal.
5. Take heart. This too shall pass. Early recovery is a phase. Just a phase. Like being being a toddler. Or a teen. You don’t stay there forever! You move on (if you are willing). Try to recognize that this less that ideal place you’re in right now is only temporary.

The winner versus the loser

On August 24th I tied the knot. D and I had a big wedding, but we kept it local and had the reception at our home. It was a wonderful “party,” but it took an overwhelming amount of planning, money, time and dedication. All worth it, mind you, but strenous nonetheless. Simultaneously, I was working two demanding, time-consuming jobs, not including mother of two teenage boys.

A week or two prior to the wedding, I came down with a bad case of vertigo. If you’ve ever had straight-up, long lasting vertigo, it’s not pretty. You cannot balance, you cannot walk erect without feeling like you’re about to fall over, and once you’re on the drugs for vertigo, you basically cannot get out of bed.  What the hell. Why would this happen just days before I was finally about to marry the only man I ever loved and who treated me so well?  I almost started to feel as though I was sabotaging myself. Now that it is behind me, I think it was pure stress.

But a strange thing happened to me shortly after we were wed. I had a dream that I married my PoA instead. And it felt both good and awkward. When I awoke I felt guilty and I questioned my loyalty and my heart to D. But then I had a deep revelation. I was not dreaming of my old boyfriend, nor that I wanted to marry him or go back to him or anything like that. Instead, I was dreaming of the “loser” inside me. And it occurred to me that we have both a loser and a winner inside us all. When we finally choose recovery, we allow the “winner” in us to take over. And it has. I have been quite successful these past 5 years and DO feel as though I have graduated. But the “loser” is still there. ANd every so often it calls out and says, Remember me? And honestly, sometimes I miss her. She was lazy, and didn’t care about herself, and could hide and shirk her responsibilities. She was a chronic underachiever who had the luxury of running away from her problems as opposed to facing them becasue she didn’t have much self-worth. And she settled. She settled all the time, scraping the bottom, taking whatever was given to her, so long as she didn’t have to work too hard.

It is when I am most overwhelmed by responsibility that I miss that old girl the most. She was a wreck, but she was always so comforting.

It has been seven months since tying the knot and since I have been overwhelmed with work. Since then, my life has calmed down  almost to a dead stop, mostly becasue I continue to clear things off my plate and avoid stressful situations. I no longer work either of those two jobs, I am obviously no longer planning a wedding, and what little work I do, it’s uninspiring, but mindless and easy. I can’t help but wonder if this is a good thing, or if the underachiever in me, the girl who never liked responsibility is trying to come back and gain control again.

If that’s the case, then I have another battle before me. Yin versus yang. Good versus evil. Self versus Avoidance of Self. And as we all know, self-avoidance (which is basically letting the “loser” in you take over) has no place in recovery. It’s a relapse. And while it doesn’t come out in the form of a PoA, it does make itself known in the person I am and in the quality of my life. And while I will never be able to completely remove the loser, I can strike a balance, and tell her who’s boss…the winner.

 

This old Cherokee legend about two wolves sums my dilemma up nicely, and what I need to do to overcome…

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

 

 

Tips on Dating, for the love addict

It’s Spring! And many of my dear friends on the LAA boards have started to date again (or want to date), after a long winter of introspection and recovery work. But are they ready? Are you ready? If this wasn’t a love addiction blog I would definitely say, Carpe Diem! Seize the day! Go for it! But a recovering love addict is a totally different, unique individual who has to approach dating with far more precaution than the average guy or girl. Just as a recovering alcoholic has to reconfigure the people, places and things in his sober life, so too does a recovering love addict. And when you know this, the safer and more successful you will be. So, without further ado…

1. Know when you are (really!) ready to date. You may think you’re ready. You may even fantasize about the hot guy or girl at the office who gave you a “look.” But when it really comes down to it, and the question gets popped (How about Saturday night?), some of us are simply not ready, emotionally, mentally or physcially. How do you know? You know when the idea of dating doesn’t scare the hell out of you to the point where you simply cannot make the date, when it sounds “scary” but exciting too, when you don’t curl up into a ball and start crying hysterically after a first date because all you can think about is your ex, when you start to feel comfortable around strangers (not 100% but enough to have the courage to do so), and when being alone is not a bad thing, but you’re ready for something new…

Many love addicts who still have a person of addiction (PoA) on their brain long after the relationship has ended (this is a torchbearer, by the way) do so not because they still love them or think they will get back together, but as a form of protection. If you are still emotionally attached to a person, it keeps you safe from having to date someone new, and thus, experience the possibility of new pain and rejection. Some love addicts become emotionally or sexually “anorexic,” which is a form of sex and/or love addiction also. Lastly, there is the issue of replacing one PoA with another, diving from one relationship into another, thus being “ready” for the wrong reasons. In this latter case, the person is not ready to date. He or she is simply looking for their next “fix.” How do you know the difference between being ready and looking for your next fix? See Tip #4. Otherwise, these areas of emotional  and behavioral unrest need to be resolved first, before you’re ready.

2. A date is JUST a date. Learn to put dates into perspective. A date is not romantic, it is not your future, it is not love, it is not a dreamy Hollywood story of passion and ardor. And while a date may have elements of all those things IF there’s chemistry and attraction, don’t get too hung up on the chemistry and attraction. A date is a meeting. Someone finds you physically attractive (or you find them physically attractive, or both), and they want to get to know you a bit more. They want to talk to you, maybe they even want to kiss you at the end of the night. Who knows! Whatever the case, treat it like a meeting. It might be fun but it might be awkward; it might make you happy, but it might make him never want to call back. Who knows! Your first date will most likely not look like this black and white photo (posted above!). WHen you meet up with someone for the purpose of getting to know you, and vice versus, you have to try and remove the romantic element, otherwise, you leave yourself open to fantasy and high expectations, which brings me to tip #3…

3. Lose the expectations. If you go into a date looking for your soulmate, you will probably be sorely disappointed. Why is that? Because you’re expectations are far too high for an unsuspecting stranger who doesn’t know what you want or need and basically owes you nothing but a little common courtesy–that’s about as much as can be expected on a first date. Any more than that and you’re barking up the wrong tree. You see, understanding the concept of expectations is probably a love addict’s biggest hurdle. We have high expecations too soon, or of the wrong people, and then, once we see that our expectations are not getting met, we whine about it, but settle anyway. But there’s a simple formula for expectations: we can only have high expectations of people who are healthy enough, interested enough and capable of meeting our expectations. And we also have to be willing to expect the same from ourselves. You can’t go on a first date and expect to be treated with basic human kindness and respect from someone who is not a kind and respectful person. You can’t go on a first date and expect that a person will call you back for a second date, if that person is not interested. And you can’t go on a first date (or a second or third) and start expecting that the two of you are automatically a couple. These are all unrealistic expectations and you are setting yourself up for a huge let down. Expect NOTHING. And be happy. Don’t expect a call back! Don’t expect a text! Don’t expect a second date! You are owed nothing. You didn’t go on this date “expecting” for a second or third date. You went on this date to simply ENJOY this person now. That’s all you get. (P.S. Having high expectations like, “I will be respected,” comes under “Values” in #10)

4. Know the difference between dating and desperation. Are you ok with just you? Or are you looking for someone to save you? Can you handle being alone? Or do you hate your life because it’s missing a soulmate? Is it a combination of both of these things? Knowing what is driving your desire to date can have a huge impact on WHO YOU CHOOSE to date. If you are OK within yourself then you can be far more discerning with whom you choose to date. Why? Because you have nothing to lose. You’re not dating out of need or desperation to fill a void. You are simply dating because you would like to meet someone that you can enjoy.  Period. A love addict has to be on constant alert of his or her personal motives. If you feel a void within you, you may pick and choose prospective dates for the wrong reasons. You may be willing to overlook red flags, put up with abuse or neglect, or date “down,” all for the purpose of stuffing that void within you. Remember, when we date, we are not looking for our second half. We are not looking to be “completed.” We must begin to understand that we are complete, as is. And if we don’t feel complete on our own, we need to bring ourselves there first. Healthy dating is about meeting other people who are also complete.

5. Let things happen organically. Letting things happen organically means removing the fantasy…100%. That means that when the date is over, it’s over. You can think about the wonderful feeling of his touch, but do not try on his name and imagine the two of you on an Alaskan Cruise as Honeymooners. You can certain enjoy the thoughts of her that pop into your head the next day, but don’t imagine what your children will look like. Letting things happen organically means living in the now. If he  hasn’t called, he hasn’t called. Gently push those wanting, needing and fantasy thoughts from your head and replace them with thoughts on your work, or what you are presently doing. Remove the ruminating! If he doesn’t call in two weeks, let it go. The more you fantasize, or obsess the more you remove the organic nature of what is meant to happen versus what is not meant to happen. This is hard work, but in the end, it’s EASIER this way!!!! Trust me.

6. Step away from the computer. One of the most important steps a recovering love addict can take is to abandon any idea of online dating. DOn’t do it. Say goodbye to it. Online dating sites are a petrie dish of toxicity for the love addict. Why is that? Because they are filled with three things: the hope of instant gratification (finding someone with one click), the promotion of fantasy-based exchanges (when you don’t have a clear picture of someone you are free to “fill in the blanks” and create what you want that person to be), and the almost complete removal of  the crucial human necessity to judge someone realistically, in person, FIRST, before getting emotionally attached to them. Because love addicts need to learn to defer gratification,  control their susceptibility to fantasy, and  be able to judge people realistically, online dating is a bad idea. It’s like an alcoholic hanging out in a bar after he has given up drinking. It’s only a matter of time before he will slip. Online dating may be great for healthy people, but not for love addicts.

7. Don’t have sex on the first date. Cosmopolitan magazine recently wrote that not having sex on the first date is “outdated.” In other words, go ahead, girls, that rule is “antiquated and harmful” and produces “unnecessary anxiety and shame about something normal and natural: dating and sex.” Unfortunately, they were NOT talking to a love addict. Like it or not, you need to play by the antiquated, SAFE rules from days of yore. I say this not just to the women, but the men as well. Sex to a love addict is never taken lightly. It means something. It usually means a full blown commitment and an excuse to obsess over someone. That’s why it needs to be put on the back burner for a significant amount of time (3 months? 6 months?). A love addict’s job is to learn to defer gratification. To sniff out a person for red flags FIRST, before making any heavy duty commitments, physical or otherwise. And here’s something Cosmo won’t tell you, what’s the hurry? If you’re into someone, and they’re into you, and you plan to spend your lives together, why not wait? You’ve got all the time in the world. Why not make it about other stuff first? Sex on the first, second, third, etc. date is Russian Roulette to a love addict. Put it off. It can wait. He/she’s not going anywhere. And if he/she does leave, they weren’t worth it anyway and you were able to hold on to your dignity. More than that, it might save you from obsessing more than you would if you did have sex.

8. Do keep a journal. The perspective and instincts we have before we get to know someone intimately are amazingly sharp. I am convinced that every red flag a person might have pops up on the first or second date, if we really pay attention. Trouble is, when we something bad enough, we are willing to ignore the red flags, and ignore our gut instincts. Keeping a journal helps us to stay on track and remember how we felt and what we sensed in those first hours. Be sure to write down your first impression, how you felt, if you noticed or felt anything funny, if something didn’t add up. What was your logical brain picking up on, versus your heart (emotions)? While this may seem like overkill, it will help you in your process and your ability to “learn” to date healthily. Looking back we always see with perfect vision.

9. Don’t trust your emotions. I know. It sounds counterintuitive when talking about dating. But it’s not. A love addict can’t trust his or her emotions. Not yet, anyway. Why? Because we tend to be ruled by our emotions and our logic goes right out the window. We are imbalanced in this way. Our logical brain will pick up on abuse, red flags, neglect, shame and general danger. Our logical brains are screaming at us to leave a bad relationship. But our emotions are screaming back, “Never! I love him!!!!” This is an extremely unhealthy way to make life decision. You cannot be ruled by emotions only. You need a balance of both your head and your heart. Trouble is, because we have been off balance for so many years, we need the pendulum to swing in the opposite direction. We need to depend more on our logical brain so that we begin to trust it again. Only then are we able to allow our emotions to “speak up.” Once our logical brain has first determined that we  are safe and secure. So, all those emotions howling at you, telling you that they are convinced 100% that it’s love,  after the first or second date. IGNORE THEM. Focus on the brain. On the logic. Turn back to your journal. Check for red flags. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to seek out the possibility of red flags. And don’t be afraid to walk away if you unearth something that you know in your head and your heart you probably cannot or should not live with if it doesn’t agree with your set of values.

10. Know Your Values. Attraction, chemistry, passion, flirtiness–those things are fine and good and all. But they can’t shake a stick at something called values. Knowing your values is critical to dating. If you don’t know your values, how can you know if someone else’s values are right for you? How can you tell if someone has the same belief in loyalty, respect or kindness as you do? Does he or she share the same work ethic, family values, or relgious beliefs? Where does he or she stand on marriage, affairs, children, parenting, age, eating, working out, drugs, sex, and so on. Most of these things seem world’s away from a first-time meeting. And I do not suggest you try to find out what your date thinks about child rearing on date #1. But I do suggest that you know what YOUR values are on all these things so that you know what to look out for and how to assess the other person.  Case in point, I went on a date many years ago with a good looking guy who, on our very first date, asked if I wanted to get high. I said, no thanks, and despite it bothering me enormously  (because it’s something I can’t handle) I kept dating him. I kept dating him because I didn’t know my values. I knew I didn’t like drugs and I knew I didn’t like being around people who did drugs. But I didn’t know it was SO IMPORTANT to me that the relationship would not work. And it didn’t. I eventually couldn’t take his smoking. Had I known my values, I would have saved myself a lot of time and emotional angst.

You need to hold people up to the light and really look at them and not be afraid of what you might see. Your happiness depends upon you being honest with yourself. And while I do not suggest scrutinizing people too early on in the dating process, I do suggest being open to communicating, and being patient in cultivating a relationship. You will not get to know someone over night. It takes months, years. You cannot rush things. People who fall in love fast are red flags. That goes for you, and for your date. It is a sign of instability. Healthy people are cautious, curious, protective with their emotions.  They don’t call every two seconds, they don’t profess love right away. They don’t drink like a fish or do drugs or try to sweet talk you into bed after a 2.5 hour date. Know the signs of healthy partner, and be one too.

Good luck!

A Love Addict’s Guide to Growing Up…Again

One of the great challenges of love addiction, believe it or not,  is not breaking up with your PoA or even making peace with just yourself, all alone, trying to figure out how to live and be happy with no one but yourself. And while those things are enormous feats, one of the greatest challenges for a love addict is to, well, love another human being and be loved in return. Mutually, with balance, not obsession; with reason, not fantasy; and with dignity, not desperation. Finding someone that meets that criteria is only half the equation though. The other half (the most important half) is you and your behavior.

I often wondered, back in those low days when all I could see was the mess I’d made of my life, if I had it in me to not only have a successful, healthy relationship but sustain it. Not only find a healthy partner, but remain committed and in love. It seemed like an impossibile  task. In the end, I made peace with the idea that maybe this is who I was–someone incapable of having a long lasting, successful relationship. Not everyone can be successful at everything, you know. Maybe this is who I was– a failure at relationships.

What I didn’t know at the time, was that I was closer to success than I realized. I also didn’t know at the time that love is learned. And while varying degrees of personal space and personal intimacy exist, and varying degrees of preference in looks and personality traits exist…everyone can learn to love and be close to the right person.  In fact, the way you love today is what you learned from your parents, caretakers, brothers, sisters and anyone else who heavily influenced your life. Did your parents fight all the time? Was your dad distant and avoidant? Was your mother a narcissist who never paid you any attention? Were you sexually abused, ignored, trampled on, physically beaten, manipulated?  Or maybe you didn’t have any of those issues. Maybe you grew up in a household with a loving single mom or dad who didn’t have a relationship of their own, and thus, never taught you what a healthy, romantic relationship looks like. Chances are, you lacked a good teacher, if you are reading this blog.

But do NOT for one second believe that you “don’t have it in you” to succeed at a healthy relationship. You merely need to be taught. It doesn’t matter what age you are. It only takes a serious student to learn and change and grow.

So…where do you begin??? Well, you begin where you think you’re stuck…

CHILDHOOD

Are you stuck in your toddler years? It’s possible. Take a look at your behavior when you don’t get what you want.  Recognize that the little girl or boy in you might not have had his or her full chance to grow up. and thus, is still there, and still, most likely acting out and causing trouble. You need to reign him or her in. Susan Peabody, the co-founder of Love Addicts Anonymous, once said of our inner child, “Give her love, attention and care, just don’t give her the keys to your car.” In other words, many of us still operate as little children. We act out when we don’t get our way. We cry when we don’t get what we want. We want immediate gratification. We act on impulse. And we don’t always use mature, adult judgment when it comes to seeking out a partner or making adult decisions (like who to marry or who to have sex with). This screaming, kicking, tantrum-throwing inner child needs a time-out. AND a lesson in growing up. SO, who better her to give her that lesson than you. You can begin by being your own parent. Now, that’s not to say you have get in touch with your inner child and dig up all the dirt in your life that made you who you are. You don’t have to analyze to death your youth to the point of complete exhaustion. But you do have tweak your behavior a bit.

But how ? Here are several ways:

  • Read books. Taming Your Outer Child, by Susan Anderson; Addiction to Love, by Susan Peabody; and, Grow Up, by Frank Pittman can all help teach and inspire you to, well, grow up!
  • Copy, copy, copy. Children are parrots. You need to be now too. Seek out healthy people. Surround yourself with them. Learn from them. And copy their behavior, just as if you were a kid learning all over again. Water seeks its own level. The more you elevate yourself, the better you become.
  • Take the time to get to know you. If your childhood was frought with trauma or neglect, give yourself what you were denied as a child. If you didn’t get enough love, hug yourself, treat yourself. Hug your friends. Hug strangers (maybe not dangerous ones!). Do not look for this in a romantic relationship though! You’re not there yet. If you do, the relationship tends to take on one purpose and one purpose only: to give you what you lacked as a child. You will be a bottomless pit, seeking validation and affection any way you can get it. Chances are you will not be able to give, but just receive.  Or, you will give TO receive. Yuck.
  • Take naps! Kids need lots of naps from all that learning. Rest. Relax. Take a day off and pamper yourself. You’re condensing 12 years of childhood learning into a few short months! You need to take a break and rest. :)
  • Do what it takes to grow up. Love addiction (any addiction, for that matter) stunts your growth. It takes away your ability to grow, learn and experience the reality of the world in all its harshness and glory. The world is a great teacher, but if you hide behind your addiction you cannot grow to be a healthy adult. Addiction is like the extreme case of the child raised in captivity and social isolation. Luckily, we can regrow and relearn and unlearn bad habits. If growing up means getting into recovery for your addiction and moving away from your PoA (person of addiction), do it!
  • Don’t date. You’re not emotionally ready. You’re still a kid! Give yourself a defined amount of time to just BE (six months? one year? Whatever amount of time, make it count!). Potential partners aren’t going any where. There will be plenty when you grow up! If you’re married, ask for extra time alone (you may not be able to avoid feeding the kids, but you get my point!).
  • Forgive yourself. Many of us grew up in shame. If we made a mistake we were punished, yelled at, beaten, ignored. Emmulate a healthy parent. If you did something wrong, hurt someone, made a mistake, be that healthy parent and say to yourself: “OK, so you made a mistake. We ALL make mistakes. I still love you. I will always love you, no matter what.  Just try a little harder next time. And if you need help, I can help. Others can help. “

TEEN YEARS

Are you stuck in your teen years? We always talk about the inner-child but fail to talk about your inner teenager–that wild, free-spirited, somewhat reckless awkward sixteen-year-old that also needs love, attention, boundaries and a lesson in growing up. So, how do you address your inner-teen? Well, it means taking risks, being couragous, learning a skill or trade, going back to school, dating and being all about you! A word of caution: many addicts, in their adult life, DO act like teens. They are stuck in their teen years. And getting through this phase is tough because it means giving up a little “perceived” freedom to gain true freedom. Getting through your teen years means taking on more responsibility and taking action. Our heads are full of dreams and fantasies of careers, marriage, adventures, and so on. Now is the time to stop dreaming and start doing. Gaining experiencing. Becoming the intern. Honing your skills. So…here are several ways to reignite your teen spirit for recovery…

  • Be All About You. I know, easier said that done. But, if you are single and do not have children, now is the pefect time to be as selfish as you wish–at least temporarily. In fact, early recovery is a very selfish stage of recovery. Just don’t take it too far for too long, or it turns into narcissism. But the idea behind making a portion of your life all about you is because you most likely missed the egocentricity necessary to help you grow up. Teens are all about themselves! And well they should be. They are learning their limitations, their boundaries, what they are capable of, and what they are not capable of. They are learning to take risks, even if it means getting hurt, they are learning how to manuever their way in the world and face it, not hide behind the safety of an addiction or a fear. And lastly, they are learning how to love and forgive themselves at this stage. If you are married or have children, obviously I do not advise that you become completely selfish or date anyone other than your hubby! Use common sense. Try to make a couple hours in the day all about you. Start a journal. Take classes at a community college. Break outside your shell and live a little–go to the movies by yourself. These are all things we so often fear to do, but in the long run, will help us grow.
  • Analyze Your Behavior. Teen years are all about introspection and self-analyzing of your behavior. Don’t be afraid to look in the hypothetical mirror and discover who you are and why you do what you do. Heck yeah, it’s scary. That’s why teens are so hysterical, moody and unpredictable all the time. They are shocked and awed by their own humanness. Take a good look at your behavior. Why did you call your PoA when you know it hurts when he rejects you? Do you think it might be because you are simply seeking validation? Are you repeating the pattern of you and a parent? Why did you demand that your friends accompany you to the dinner party? Is this being mature? WHy can’t you go alone? Are you scared of being alone, and thus, relying too heavily on your friends for support? Analyze, delve, search, dig. Now’s the time.
  • Take (Calculated) Risks. I’m not talking about having unprotected sex or trying a new drug with friends. Those teen-associated risks are, well, better left back in your youth. Second time around you should be taking healthy, calculated risks. I am talking about signing up for a class at a local college. Meeting a new friend or associate for lunch. Trying a new yoga class at the gym even though you feel awkward and out of your comfort zone. Part of the reason we are love addicts is to avoid life, avoid responsibility, and avoid ourselves. Why do we avoid? Because we are afraid. We must have tried to take a risk when we were teens and it scared us to death, so much so, that we retreated and hid behind our addiction for the past however many years. Well, we will never heal or grow up if we don’t give it a second try and experience the world. And don’t just do something once. Do it 3, 4 or 5 times before deciding if it’s something for you. When I first hopped on a bike and road one mile at the age of 36, it felt WEIRD. I didn’t like it. But I forced myself to do it again and again and again. And now I LOVE riding. It takes a while to figure out what we like. But we need to take risks to figure it out. It’s part of growing up.
  • Date. Yes! Go on a date! If you’re married, that means a date with your spouse. If you’re single it means another single, available person that you can meet face to face over coffee or something. And I said “date.” I did NOT say fall in love, have sex,  get married or start to fantasize about this person. Remember your a healthy teen this time around. A date is just a meeting. It is typically not romantic, but can be fun and exciting if the two have chemistry. And even then, it is moment to enjoy, NOT get hot and heavy. You’re still not emotionally mature enough. Keep it light. And lose the expectations.
  • Figure Out What You Love. You were supposed to figure out what you wanted to do Senior year of high school. You were supposed to either choose a major in college or find a job that appealed to you. If that was done with any success (and it may have been) then that portion of your life is being managed well. But if you’re anything like me, you went through the motions, but skipped the part about you “loving” what you do and instead,  just did whatever it took to get by, so that you could spend all your time chasing boys. Well, ditch the boys and focus on what you love without them. This is VERY hard to do because so often, love addicts choose environments where there is more opportunity for dating. Ask yourself this: If dating were not an option, and I could only choose something I loved based on pure enjoyment, what would it be? Now learn how to do it or be it.

MATURE ADULT

Are you stuck in the role of adult care-taker, or are you such an old, frail soul that you are the one who needs care? Well guess what? Neither of those apply to a vibrant, healthy adult and you need to challenge your core beliefs that this is who you are. There is such a thing as being “too” old and too inter-dependent on others–not like a child, but like a needy old person. It’s called co-dependence and it’s a trick. The trick is that we “appear” to be mature and caring for others around us, but in actuality, we are merely trying to hold on for dear life to the people whom we care for so that they do not leave us or let us go. We are filled with anxiety, worry and stress over our own health and the health of others. We see the glass half-empty, not half-full. And if we aren’t monitoring our every step, and the steps of others, our life seemingly spins into chaos. It’s a control issue and we tend to turn out this way when , as children, we were forced to take care of ill or addicted parents. Well, here’s what’s necessary to turn back the hands of time and stop caretaking and being an old fart…

  • Let go. Holding on so tightly does nothing but give you arthritis. And it doesn’t keep people in your life. It strangles people. And it strangles you. Your biggest lesson is in learning how to let go of control and experience the world as it is. The world and everything in it is not your responsibility. It is a shared responsibility. You have carried the weight of the world on your shoulders for years now, and it’s time to give all this responsibility (well, most if it) over to your higher power and say, here, you carry this for a while. I need to live!
  • Learn to laugh and be childlike. When you are the “Mature Adult” you never had time to be a child, to enjoy life without the weighted responsibility of taking care of everyone. At least you didn’t think you had the time. But you did. And you do! And even if you are taking care of people now (not co-dependently, mind you), you still need time to experience the world without the shackles of constant toil and labor. Watch cartoons, go on an adventure, put yourself in (safe) situations that you need to trust others, or trust the universe, where you are not in control. Try to find enjoyment in the sensation of not knowing what comes next (a comedy show? a walk through a haunted house? a rollercoaster? a hot air balloon ride?). Start to look at the world anew, as if through a child’s eyes. Get back in  touch with your senses. How does this experience feel, what does it look like, smell like, taste like?
  • Give up your co-dependent behaviors. Recognize that when we “take care of” adults who are otherwise perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, we do so not out of a sense of altruism or love (although we may very well love them), but rather, so that we can control their behavior as it suits us. We try to control the chaos. And, we fear that if we do not do for them, or care for them, they will leave or wander off down a path where we can no longer control them. But adults are not to be controlled. Kids are to be controlled. And the dynamic of your relationship is hugely imbalanced if there is codependence. Allow people to make their own mistakes, allow people to fall, to leave, to wander off… Experience people for who they are, not what you want them to be. And be sure to read Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie.

Failing at recovery is easy. Here’s how…

failing-at-cro

Success versus failure is not always black and white. There’s no distinct “finish line” to success, that, once crossed, leads to bliss, perfection and the absence of failure. But, there are bad choices that if you continue to make will hold you back from progressing in recovery and feeling better emotionally and mentally. So, if it’s failure at recovery you’re looking for…do these top 10 things. I gaurantee you will continue to feel crappy, unfulfilled, frustrated and miserable!

1. Continue to talk about/analyze your PoA: Like it or not you’re obsessed. And talking about or analyzing, or stalking the PoA is confirmation of your obsession and your addiction. If you really want to wreck your chances of getting healthier, this is the top best way to do it. Also, when other people tell you to focus on yourself and institute no contact (NC) with your person of addiction, ignore them and continue to pine away and ask, “but why doesn’t he love me.” You’ll be able to spend a lifetime trying to figure out the answer to questions like that because, guess what…there is no answer! At least one you’ll never be fully satisfied with.

2. Vent (about how miserable your life currently is): I’m convinced that venting is an art. The longer you do it, the better at it you become. And the irony of venting, is that, as you become better at it, the worse you feel. Yay! Why is that? Because venting, although helpful for blowing off temporary steam, accomplishes absolutely nothing. It’s just another way to obsess over someone or something that is completely unhealthy for you. It’s just another way to stay anchored to your addiction.

3. Blame the PoA (and everyone else) for your problems: Of course we all know that none of your problems relates to you but rather to all the jerks who messed up your life, took advantage of you, held you back, never loved you, lied, cheated and broke your heart. You didn’t ask for any of this, right? Heck no. So…when it comes to really assessing the situation at hand, and your ultimate happiness, don’t take any responsibility. Blame others! And depend on others for your happiness. Happiness, afterall, is something that comes from outside sources, not within. And you have no control over your own attitude, your own behavior or the fact that you have to deal with this situation in the first place. Right??? Oh, and one more bit of advice: blaming others is so much easier too and will never challenge you to think that maybe, just maybe you do, afterall, have responsibility for your actions. So, if you really want to just take it easy and continue depending on others for happiness, blame them for not being what you need and want them to be.

4. Trust your fantasies: When you were a kid, you dreamed up big dreams of love and happiness and castles and unicorns. None of it was real, but it was a necessary process that either helped you begin to identitify dreams that would eventually shape your reality, or it was a defense mechanism that protected you from a reality that you could not manage well, or that scared you. Chances are, if you’re a love addict, those “fantasies” you still carry with you are defense mechanism that served (past tense) to protect you, but now, only stunt your growth and wreak havoc on your ability to face life and deal with what’s really in front of you, as opposed to what you wish were in front of you. The more you spend in la la land, the less time, knowledge and experience you will gain in the real world, learning real world skills to help you actually achieve your goals. So, if you plan to get a big fat F in recovery class, trust those fantasies in your brain and keep telling yourself that they speak the truth. Of course, they’ve never steered you wrong before, right?

5. Remove all boundaries, let everyone in and say or do anything you please: Yay! Freedom! Who needs or wants boundaries?! They have such an unappealing reputation, especially if you’re a child of the 60s or 70s. And while good, healthy boundaries serve to protect you and those around you (they keep bad, unhealthy people out of your life and likewise, keep YOU from saying or doing things you really shouldn’t), let’s face it, they hold you back, make you responsible, and deny you that childhood fantasy that believes that everyone will love us and be good to us if we just give them a chance.

6. Cause lots of drama: When you were a teenager in high school…oh, the drama! Remember? Well, don’t give it up. Continue to gossip, manipulate, and act totally histrionic at the smallest sign of strife. Because, guess what, who needs to grow up and act rational? Not you. Acting like a teen, making mountains out of molehills and getting involved in other people’s problems, which then in turn, affect you beyond all comprehenion is exciting! Or dangerous! Or riveting! Heck, it’s your own little slice of Hollywood. It gives you the perfect excuse not to face your actual problems, or work on them, let alone interact with grace and dignity.

7. Don’t change anything: Don’t change your behavior (notice I used the word “behavior,” I didn’t say change YOU). Keep doing exactly what you’ve been doing (notice I used the word “doing” not “being”).  Continue to hang around toxic people, and of course, keep pursuing your PoA (how’s that working for ya?). Keep frequenting places that compromise your desire to be healthy and safe (bars, online dating sites, your PoAs street). Really, why bother changing? Change is hard! It’s actual work! It requires the meaningful attempt to alter or modify one type of behavior for another, for the sake of improving one’s situation. And you have no interest in improving your situation. You like things as they are (that’s an educated guess, or you would be on this website), so…simply ignore this entry and keep doing what you’ve been doing. The definition of insanity, afterall,  is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. But then again, you don’t want different results, do you? You want exactly what you’ve got, er, except you want HIM to change. But not you.

8. Don’t reach out for any help or take any advice: There absolutely IS a light at the end of the tunnel, but you need to know how to navigate that tunnel. It’s not a straight line. It’s more like a maze. And whether you turn to reading books, chatting on a Love Addiction forum with others, or attend LAA meetings, one or all of those things will help guide you. Why? Well, for starters, you never learned how to love in a healthy way ( love can be learned!), you most likely have low self-esteem (self-esteem can be improved with more knowledge), and what you’ve been doing up to this point obviously isn’t working (people with more experience, with years of recovery make great guides!). But, you’re an adult and probably know it all. You probably resent advice, and hate to be told what to do. Well, take my advice, doing it on your own, without the coursework or without help from teachers will most likely get you a D or F. Try doing brain surgery without any prior learning. Coming out of love addiction is equally as challenging!

9. Replace your current PoA with a new PoA: This one always works so well. When you can’t have a successful relationship with your PoA (for whatever reason), at least you can go out and replace him or her with an equally bad choice. And you can continue to do this until hell freezes over because there’s an infinite amount of bad choices out there to be made. If you want an “F” for recovery, this is the way to do it. Repeat the same mistakes of the past without ever changing and without ever recognzing that real change doesn’t mean just changing the players around and expecting different results, it means redefining what you find attractive, acceptable and meaningful. We so often tend to thing that we will get different results from different people, and we’re always so flabbergasted when different people treat us exactly the same as those who have come before. Does that tell you something about human nature? That while there are subtle differences between us, we still react to people one way: the way we teach them to treat us. When you teach people to treat you differently (healthier) than you did in the past, you tend to attract a different (healthier) caliber person (those who can step up to the plate and provide the kind of relationship that you expect), AND those, like your PoA, who start to notice that you expect more of them usually cannot step up to the plate. Change must come from within YOU, not the player. Unless you want an F.

10. Never find out what your values are/Continue to believe you’re worthless: Why are you in this situation to begin with? Well, 99.9 percent of it is because you have low self-esteem. How do I know? Because the very second (well, maybe a little longer) a healthy person with healthy self-esteem recognizes they are not being treated decently, kindly and lovingly in a relationship, they don’t stick around. Period. Love addicts do. Why? Because love addicts don’t have the same level of intolerance for things  like neglect, avoidance, physical, mental or emotional abuse, manipulation, and so on. And whether it be because they were never taught self-esteem from their parents, or simply don’t have a healthy perspective on their own lives it doesn’t matter. What matters is that there are certain components to self-esteem that you need to possess in order to change and be healthier. The most important component of self-esteem is to have VALUES. A value is a thing we regard as super important that we believe we deserve in our lives for no other reason but that it is something that will make us feel alive, comfortable and happy. Being treated with kindness is a value. Believing that you should never be physically beaten is a value. The trouble is, either we don’t know what our values are, OR, more importantly, we have a vague idea of our values, but  don’t stick to them. We walk around and puff out our chest and say “No man will ever hurt me again!” and then we hop into bed with the first hot guy we pick up at a bar and only later find out he’s a player. Having self-esteem means having values, and sticking to them! We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk. If you know in your heart that every time you date someone who drinks heavily or does drugs it makes you feel uncomfortable then that means you have a value that says: I do not want drugs or alcohol in my life. It also means you don’t listen to that value. Success is recovery means you put your values ABOVE your need for a man. Self-esteem means you put your health and safety ABOVE your desire to get laid, above your desire to connect to someone as quick as possible and above your desire to feed your hunger for anything so that the pain goes away. Don’t write down your values or stick to them if you want to fail at recovery. Believing you are worthless, or going through life without a “Values” road map is a surefire way to guarantee a unhealthy, unhappy life.

What if we actually liked ourselves?

What if we just looked in the mirror and said, for once, “I like what I see”?  What if we allowed ourselves to be happy or in love with our appearance or who we are on the inside?

What do we LOSE by liking ourselves? What do we sacrifice by daring to validate and value who we are? Why do we think we need someone else to do that job for us, when we can’t even do it ourselves?

Think about it.

This is what I thought about in the shower the other day. D and I have an ensuite bathroom and our shower has no walls or doors. It’s just a wide open space with a floor drain and a shower head in a tiled corner of the bathroom (it’s quite lovely actually), and almost inevitably, he will come in while I’m showering so that he can shave or do whatever. In reality, he’s coming in to get a “peak” of what he considers his sexy wife in the shower. But in my mind, I am horrified to be so exposed and try to cover up my flaws by turning away from him. I feel very awkward in the buff and despise the harsh fluorescent lights (what woman doesn’t?!). And every time this happens I can’t help but ask myself, Why can’t I just relax?!

In his mind, and I am going only on what he tells me all the time, I am sexy and beautiful. In my mind I see cellulite, flabbiness, fat and wrinkles. When I look at my face, I don’t see what he sees. I see ugly, worn out and old.

How can two people, looking at the same object, have such a different perspective? More importantly, why do I insist on carrying around this negative attitude and poor self-image when I logically know that it’s not true?

I began to think that perhaps our negative self-image gives us something, is a comfort to us or holds some kind of value. Why else would we maintain such a desctructive and irrational point of view? So, I asked myself, what does it give me? And what sense of comfort might I lose by getting rid of it? When I was brutally honest this is what I came up with:

  1. Assimilation: By confirming that I am ugly, or imperfect, it validates that I AGREE WITH and CONDONE the western cultural belief that beauty is Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell. And that anyone with any sense of self-confidence who doesn’t look like a model is just fooling herself and is thus, laughable (case in point: any overly confident reality TV show personality who fancies herself  “hot” but, in reality, or rather, by Hollywood standards,  is overweight, flawed, a bad dresser, average or generally unattractive). By agreeing with this notion of beauty, by feeding into this falsity, I am nonetheless, fitting into my culture. I am able to not only judge others like the westerner that I am, but I am able to judge myself as well. And that makes me feel good to be accepted by my culture and to know that I am capable of assimilation.
  2. Humility: In many religions (Christianity in particular), we are taught to be humble and to shun over-confidence; “for whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 14:11).  I am able to use my humility as a positive part of what I, as a whole person, offer as part of my package. I am clearly not a narcissist and my low sense of self worth is therefore a virtue.
  3. Judgment: People bond together over shared values and, unfortunately, over shared judgments. My friends and I (and even my husband and I) will sit in a cafe and people watch, and of course, whether we’d like to admit it or not, we judge. Look at her…who does she think she is…and so on. When I am part of a group that shares the same judgments, I can clearly see how others are “ranked,” myself included. And while my friends will never insult me or call me fat or ugly, they will look at strangers with a similar body-shape as me and judge and laugh and make fun. By joining them in their judgments of others, not only am I bonding with my friends, I am also adopting my group’s point of view, whether it be right or wrong. And since many in my group are harsh and judgmental, and have a very closed-minded and narrow definition of beauty, I will too–especially when it comes to judging myself.
  4. Progress: IF I accept myself as is and love the person in the mirror as she is, it means I am done changing. That no progress or improvements need to be made and that I accept that THIS IS IT. Well, that’s a bit scary because America was built on progress. Even in recovery, we say, progress not perfection. My less-than-perfect self-image allows me to accept that there is room to grow and become an even better me. Unfortunately, that kind of “room to grow” ends up being more of a dangling carrot than a satisfying motivation to become “better.” Why? Because there is no end to how much better a person can become. Even if I lost 10 pounds and toned the hell out of this bod, got a boob job and a facelift, there’d still be more progress to make…
  5. Validation: Lastly, my poor sense of self gives me what many unhealthy people seek to make themselves feel good: pity and lots of verbal compliments. Every time I feel crushed under the weight of my own low self-esteem and I make it known, people pacify me by telling me that I am beautiful, thus, validating and valuing me. By having this sort of validation come from an outside source, as opposed to from within me, it makes my job to love myself a heck of a lot easier. I don’t have to do the work, others can do it for me! Thing is, it only lasts so long. People change their minds, you change. I would have to keep seeking fresh validation in order to feel loved and that’s hard work.

So…now that I know the reasons why I hold on to my poor self-image, I can work to bust through all these myths, these FALSE beliefs. Today, I will try my hardest to look in the mirror and say, it’s OK to like myself. Even if I go against my culture, refuse to see being humble as a virtue, get a NEW more open-minded sense of judgment, scrap the whole progress not perfection mentality, and validate myself, it’s OK to see myself as beautiful.

 

 

 

Fear of abandonment or enmeshment?

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Despite my own issues with enmeshment (fear of becoming trapped in a relationship), there’s another issue far more popular–abandonment (fear of being abandoned). These two lovely dichotemies are the yin and the yang of childhood trauma. One is brought on by co-dependent, love-addict-like, emotionally involved parenting, and the other is brought on by neglectful, avoidant  parenting. Depending on which one you exhibit more, depends on who parented you and how.

If a love addict parented you, you might have enmeshment issues and grow up to become an avoidant.

If an avoidant parented you, you might have abandonment issues and grow up to be a love addict.

If you’re lucky, like me, you had the best of both worlds (and many of us do because a love addict woman, for example, is typically attracted to, and thus marries,  an avoidant man (and vice versa). In that case, you tend to exhibit both qualities of love addiction and avoidance, better known as ambivalence, which further means that you have both fear of enmeshment and fear of abandonment.

Too confusing?

OK, then let’s not get too deep into analyzing where our fear of [fill in the blank] came from, and instead, let’s talk about what to do about it.

For individuals who suffer from fear of enmeshment, our typical reaction to intimacy is to run, or push away. Intimacy scares us. It’s not something we learned to accept or deal with in a healthy way because, chances are, we were smothered by it–not real intimacy, mind you, but neediness disguised as love and attentiveness. So, we learned that intimacy means loss of freedom, emotional incest, crossed boundaries, and too much of the wrong kind of attention. In order for us to learn how to deal with our fear of enmeshment we need to:

  • trust that we can set our own boundaries, and that others do not determine what level of intimacy we can handle, we do
  • believe in our own sense of autonomy and that love does not have to feel overwhelming or claustrophobic
  • date people who don’t smother us, demand too much attention from us, or make us feel closed-in, over-analyzed or overwhelmed. When that happens, we are more apt to not be so afraid, and thus, can open up and get a little closer to those we ulitmately want to become intimate with
  • surround ourselves with people who allow us our alone time. When we are with people who recognize our need for alone-time, it sets a safe boundary for us. WHen we feel safe, we are able to come out of our “shell” so to speak, and feel rejuvenated and clear-headed
  • avoid love addicts. People who suffer from feelings of enmeshment are attracted to love addicts (the parent who raised them???) but need to date someone who has a far greater understanding and tolerance for space. Love addicts do not.
  • explore healthy levels of deeper intimacy with someone who does not threaten our freedom. WHat that means is that even though you may be scared of deeper intimacy, getting closer, and more involvement, try to take baby steps to closeness with someone you feel comfortable with. If you feel safe with someone–generally, speaking–but an argument or an intimate moment makes you want to run, sit with it for a bit. Go into a separate room. Get some breathing time to think and be alone. Ask yourself if it is a real or imagined threat. When we give ourselves time to be alone and figure things out, we are able to deal more healthy in situations.

For individuals who suffer from fear of abandonment, our typical reaction to real or perceived intimacy is to latch on for dear life and never let go. Intimacy also scares us, but for different reasons: we do not trust that it will last, so the more doubt we have, the tighter we hold on. We were raised by an avoidant mother or father (or both) who may have neglected us, or at least, did not do a very good job making us feel as though we could depend on their presence and love. We learned that intimacy is something that feels physically and emotionally wonderful when you have it, but that it’s something we can’t rely on. In order for us to learn how to deal with our fear of abandonment we need to:

  • trust that we are loved and important and valid, if for no other reason than we exist
  • learn that we have control over ourselves, but not others and that we cannot force love upon someone else
  • understand that fear of abandonment is an illusion. Children can be abandoned, but adults cannot. The reason we think we can be abandoned is because we are still “thinking” like a child who has not yet grown up to learn that he or she can take care of her himself or herself, and thus, feel secure.
  • date people who live close, have a reputation for being stable, reliable and trustworthy, and do not trigger feelings of abandonment (i.e., avoid people who tend to go out and party all night, with friends of the opposite sex, and don’t feel as though they should have to check in)
  • avoid avoidants. People who suffer from feelings of abandonment are attracted to avoidants (the parent who raised them???) but need to date someone who has a far greater understanding and tolerance for closeness. Avoidants do not. (Read: How to Avoid the Avoidant)
  • explore healthy levels of autonomy with someone who doesn’t threaten to leave the second we stand on our own or do something alone. What this means is learn to enjoy time alone without feeling threatened by it. Baby steps. Take walks in the park alone, take a class. Learn to build trust moment to moment with a new partner who is willing to allow for your personal growth. More importantly, start to build trust by refraining from love addict behavior (in other words, checking text message or emails constantly). If however, you start to feel threatened or the feeling of abandonment creeps in, self-talk “If this is meant to be, it will be. I cannot control it. I can only watch it unfold. Everything will be revealed whether I look for it or not.”

Pie Chart of a Happy Relationship

Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 8.04.49 AM

A pie chart? Really? This may seems superficial and a waste of time. But I assure you it’s not. When I was in my 20s I believed  that a happy, good relationship was perfect and that you never had any problems.  When I was in my 30’s I believed that all relationships were screwed up and frought with pain and suffering. I was wrong on both accounts. Being in a happy relationship and witnessing the plotline of two more healthy happy relationships (my mother’s and my brother’s) I now see that a good, healthy relationship looks more like this (see pie chart!) If I break it down, overall, the main chunk of our relationship has been happiness. And that includes peace, laughter, getting along, working together, sharing positive time and so on. The blue section represents absolute passion– that time in a relationship when you are just head over heels in love and can’t think of anything else but the object of your affection. As a love addict, I was either in this phase or I was breaking up (or wishing to break up). There was no in between. As you can see, it doesn’t take up a very large percentage of the pie chart. In fact, as the years go by, it will most likely shrink!

Then you have the green section for arguments and disputes. And trust me, D and I have had our fair share. We argue about sensitivites mostly. Someone has hurt someone else’s feelings. Or maybe we argue about parenting styles (I am a firmer disciplinarian and he is far more laissez faire). Mostly, our arguments arise when we are tired or not feeling well or we’ve had too much caffeine or not enough.  But the important thing here is twofold: what are we arguing about and what percent of the time are we arguing. The percentage is obviously low. But here’s what we’re NOT arguing about: money, love, sex, loyality issues, lying, cheating, avoiding, and so on. None of those things are present in our lives and so, we argue less.

Lastly, I added a section for “feelings of doubt and misery” because, believe it or not, I went through those feelings a tiny bit at the beginning of our relationship (normal when you first meet someone and are unsure, or still getting over an ex) and then again when we got a puppy. Yeah, I know. How can you feel mysery with a puppy??? But the truth is, we got a puppy for the wrong reasons. I didn’t want one (too busy, I work from home, all the burden would be on me, etc.) but D really wanted one. So…I agreed to make him happy (always a bad idea!). From day one, my mood changed. Up until that point I LOVED my life, and suddenly, I felt overwhelmed with mysery. When I tried to tell D that I wanted to get rid of the dog, he said no. That I would adapt and get used to it. I gave it a few more weeks, but I only got worse. I cried EVERY DAY, and what’s more, I started to blame him for not believing that this pet was causing me so much pain. To make a long story short, eventually he saw that it was making me upset and hurting our relationship and so, we found another home for the dog (one close by, where we can still visit). But during that period, a lot of what I had experienced as bliss and happiness went out the window. If the dog had stayed, I often wonder if I would have! Was it that bad??? At the time, it was.

What’s important is knowing that there are times in every couples lives where challenges come up–much bigger than a puppy– and depending on how healthy the relationship is, how good the communication is, that will determine how well the two can get through the difficult time. Sometimes, couple can’t. Sometimes, problems arise that become so big that the relationship cannot outlive the problem (having an affair is a good example).

At any rate, let this pie chart be a good example of a healthy relationship. And make your own pie chart. What does it look like? How chunky is the section of happiness versus the section for arguments and disputes? How big is the section for “mysery”? This is a great way to evaluate the health of your relationship and put things in perspective.

The mystery of ambivalence revealed

Come closer…Go away, I need space: When you’re wondering why you’re being pulled and pushed…

I so often remember the state of being ambivalent over some guy. And by ambivalent I mean that sometimes I loved the person and wanted to be close to him, while other times, he repulsed me and I wanted nothing to do with him except to break up. I learned to accept this behavior as part of my “fear of intimacy.” The pushing away then pulling closer behavior was a sure sign that I was simply scared of commitment and closeness with another human being. In fact, at one point in my life, I was engaged to be married to a guy that my family really liked. It was at first a very passionate affair, but as soon as we moved in together and got engaged I had what everyone assumed was a typical case of “cold feet.” Trouble is, it didn’t go away, it nagged at me and it got stronger to the point where I felt I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

My ambivalence usually went like this: I’d meet someone, clearly see red flags right away (I’m very good at detecting red flags), push the guy away, and once I pushed, he generally liked me even more, so he would insist we were meant to be together. When he’d pursue me more aggressively that was always such a turn on for me (I thought that aggressiveness was a sure sign of true love). And then I would give in. I would fall madly in love with him a week or two into a relationship, promise my devotion and we’d have this whirlwind affair. And then………I’d come to my senses, but keep quiet about it because I was embarrassed. How could I have made such a mistake? Maybe I didn’t make a mistake. Maybe I’m just scared.

Once the initial chemistry of love wore off, I was faced with what I believed was the real nitty gritty of the relationship (the unglamorous living day to day stuff), something I couldn’t handle no matter how great the guy. And so, I believed I was incapable of true intimacy with someone and that everyone I would ever meet would have this same effect on me. I believed my lot in life was to overcome my fear of intimacy and so I tended to force myself to remain with someone longer than I normally would (hello marriage!) so that I could learn what intimacy was.

But there was a much larger (and simpler) issue at play that caused my ambivalence, and it was something I remained in denial about for MANY YEARS (sadly, when we put ourselves into a box, we deny ourselves other possibilities): Shockingly, my ambivalence was caused by the simple fact that I just didn’t like the guy. Sure, I liked him in certain situations, in others I even loved him, but clearly I had an unnatural aversion to parts of his core that I simply should not have overlooked, but did. What I craved and wanted was the relationship, not the guy.

Aside from ambivalence, this is relationship addiction and I believe it comes into play when we force ourselves to love someone whom we inherently, naturally do not love just for the sake of maintaining a committed relationship because the relationship is what we truly crave. Ambivalence, too, can be tricky because love or friendship may exist in part, and so we tend to believe if we have this small amount of love for a person, then we truly do love them and should be in a relationship with them. Mentally and emotionally you might even tell yourself, I’m  just scared, that’s all, or I’m being too picky. 

But here’s the deal, there’s good, healthy fear or trepidation about moving forward with someone and then there’s red flag-scared. And if you’re not being true to your body mind and spirit or paying attention to your own red flags, your body will start screaming at you to listen. If that happens, the problem of ambivalence can turn into physical and emotional pain, hatred, anger or resentment.

Below is a list of the bad kind of ambivalence that generally means there’s something wrong and you may be staying in the relationship that you shouldn’t:

  • Having  trouble looking someone in the eyes (not in the beginning, mind you. In the beginning when all those juicy chemicals are coursing through the veins, you can do and feel virtually ANYTHING).
  • Being turned off consistently with someone’s breath.
  • Having an aversion to their style or the way they dress (I would always suggest other outfits or buy them clothes that suited me).
  • Becoming sexually anorexic after a time and not wanting to be touched.
  • Finding their jokes, or topics of conversation consistently uninteresting.
  • Wanting to avoid them more frequently than not.
  • Having strong positive feelings for them over the phone, computer or through e-mail, but not in person (or vice versa).
  • Dreaming or fantasizing about someone else “better” or “sexier” or more “passionate.”
  • Feeling momentarily happier at the point of break up.
  • Constantly preferring to be alone.
  • Having consistent feelings of disgust, anger, frustration, hatred, ambivalence, apathy, or coldness within the relationship
  • Having little or no respect for the person.
  • Feeling “ashamed” or embarrassed to be out with them in public
  • Feeling uncomfortable around this person.
  • Feeling physically sick or weak around this person.

I think because we so desperately want something (a loving relationship), we sell ourselves short. We deny our instincts and don’t listen to our gut. We think that there must be some secret meaning behind our behavior, so we analyze ourselves and the relationship to the point of ignoring the basic truths. But sadly, the truth (as I have found) cannot be denied, and the longer you stay in a bad relationship, the more your body will start screaming at you to pay attention. Staying in a bad relationship can cause physical ailments, depression, frustration, a loss of belief in yourself and your instincts, and overall pain and suffering.

So, is there such a thing as healthy ambivalence? Yes! Ambivalence is necessary in the beginning of a relationship when you are trying to decide if a certain person is right for you. Remember, ambivalence means “doubt.” And doubt is healthy when you do not know what you’re getting into. It’s when you are STILL having a lot of doubts after a longer period of time. After 6 months to a year you  should know when someone is right for you. You may not know them completely. But you should have a pretty good sense.

If you’re still ambivalent, here are a few signs that you may be in a good relationship:

  • Having  no trouble looking someone in the eyes, long after the chemicals have worn off
  • Being turned on by someone’s breath.
  • Accepting and feeling comfortable with their style or the way they dress
  • Having a healthy desire for sex (pay attention to the idea of cycles; our sexual desires wax and wane, and there will be times in both your lives when you have less of a desire to have sex. But your attraction to the person never changes).
  • Finding their jokes, or topics of conversation consistently interesting.
  • Wanting to be with them more frequently than not.
  • Having strong positive feelings for them both over the phone, computer, through e-mail, and in person (or vice versa).
  • Absence of dreaming or fantasizing about someone else “better” or “sexier” or more “passionate.”
  • Feeling sad at the idea of  a break up.
  • Sometimes preferring to be alone, but not always.
  • Feeling the full range of emotions within the relationship, but for the most part feeling love, peace, stability, warmth, etc.
  • Feeling proud of them when you go out in public
  • Having respect for the person.
  • Feeling comfortable around this person.
  • Feeling physically healthy around this person.
Always remember to be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to question your feelings or thoughts.

You’re done hearing advice…

Some of us are done with receiving advice. We have read every book, we have heard every parable, we KNOW exactly what it takes to be healthier. And yet, we’re still stuck. Why is this so? Is it because we are still missing a key piece of advice or wisdom? No, not at all. What recovery entails now, is action. Enough learning. Enough soaking it all in. Enough analyzing. For some of us, it’s time to sit up, stand up, and put one foot in front of the other. We’ve graduated. It’s now time to get a job.

Many year ago, right before I took my recovery to the next level, I lost it. Meaning, I hit bottom, and I almost pulled my hair out. I had read, in yet another self-help book, “You deserve better.” GOD!!!! I KNOW THIS!!! If I read this one more time I’ll explode. But, I couldn’t seem to understand why I was still paralyzed and didn’t feel any better, and my life certaintly wasn’t any better, despite knowing this truth. The answer was simple, I may have known what was best for me, but I didn’t know the next step. I thought “knowing” was the end of it. I was wrong. It’s not! The next step is to take action. Oh hell, maybe I did know that the next step was taking action, but I was scared to death. I was scared that if I changed or did something unfamiliar, I would fail. And I did fail! But mostly I succeeded. Still, I didn’t exactly know what actions to take.

And really,  what kind of action do you take when all the lessons in every book you’ve ever read simply end at “you deserve better”? How exactly does “you deserve better” translate into action?

Well, unlike all those self-help books that meant well, but kinda left me hanging, I will offer three actions you can begin to take to get your recovery to the next level:

  • Start to practice using boundaries: Well, when you believe that you “deserve better” in life, you do not allow yourself to hang around with or be in the presence of people who harm you, bring you down, insult you, ignore you or make you feel bad about yourself. So, think about the people in your life. DO you know someone, a friend, a family member, a partner who might not bring much goodness into your life? Start to limit contact with that person. Start to create a boundaries to protect yourself from that person. If they text you, maybe this means not responding. If they invite you out, maybe this means you decline. Creating boundaries is an action you can take to start keeping the bad vibes out and the good vibes in. Surround yourself with healthier people instead. 1
  • Do something you love: Don’t be “all talk and no action.” Reading, writing, dancing, singing, horseback riding, bike riding, painting, drawing, etc. There is something in this world you love to do (that does not include other people!). And if you don’t know what it is, TRY different activities until you find something that makes you feel at least remotely interested. It took me at least 5 times before I started to like cycling. The first time I tried it I hated it and was right ready to quit. But someone told me, give it another try, and I did. And the better I became at it, the more I liked it. If you think you will instantly fall in love with a hobby or activity you are wrong. Just as it is impossible to fall in love on the first date, it is also impossible to fall in love with an activity on the first try. You may really like it–but it takes a while to really feel love for that activity.
  • Begin to teach people how to treat you by creating values: If you don’t like when your PoA cheats on you or flirts with other women, just complaining about it or fighting about it does not teach him or her anything IF you continue to stay in that relationship. The only thing you are teaching your partner is that you’re a complainer. Chances are, he can handle that. And because he knows you’re not going anywhere, he will continue to cheat. You need to teach that you do not accept infidelity and the way to teach that is not to threaten or cajole or manipulate or beg. But to leave. People who do not accept infidelity leave the relationship. Period. Why? Because fidelity is part of their value system. Know your VALUES and stick to them. Form relationships with people who share your values and limit your exposure to people who don’t share your values. Example: I do not believe in taking drugs. I think it’s dangerous, scary, and self destructive. I have taught people who have come into my life that they will lose me if they do drugs. ANd I have stuck to that value. I have lost boyfriends because I have this value, but I was able to retain something far more important.

Learning and reading about addiction and who you are and what you deserve is a necessary, blessed first step to recovery and getting healthier. But it does not end there. It can’t end there. What would be the point? It’d be like a student graduating with a degree in engineering only to refuse to look for a job and continue to live with mom. What a waste of all that education!

Got withdrawals?

I wanted to comment on the idea of withdrawal, that horrible state, right after a break up where you feel like you’ve been ripped to shreds and beaten to a pulp. You can’t stop crying, you can’t focus, you can’t get up and go to work, you can’t eat, or maybe you’re eating everything in sight! WHatever the case, withdrawal is not pretty.

With anything  (food, alcohol, coffee, nicotine, drugs, love, sugar) our bodies react to things in a chemical way. When we repeatedly put a chemical like caffeine into our bodies and then suddenly remove it, Ouch! we withdrawal (obviously on a much smaller scale) and tend to incur the typical no-caffeine pounding headache. But, coffee aside,  the human body takes time to readapt to any new chemical state we put it in, and it especially takes time if it happened abruptly, as opposed to slowly, over time. Going “cold turkey” ain’t for the faint-hearted.

In love addiction recovery this is important to know. Too often going through withdrawal seems like a never-ending state of mystery, and so, what does the love addict do? He or she goes right back to the PoA to put out the flame and feel an immediate sense of calm. Of course, that sense of calm, brought on by “going back” to your drug of choice, is an illusion.

Instead, we need to know that withdrawal is temporary and we need to have patience with the “process” our bodies and minds need to go through. Love and the high we get from a PoA is also a chemical reaction and when it’s removed, our physical body and mental state need time to readapt to the withdrawal as well.

I know it’s hard, but this is the time to have patience with yourself. This is the time to wait. It’s incredibly hard for LAs to wait because we want immediate gratification. Like a child, we want what we want and we want it NOW. But adults understand the need to wait. They understand that deferred gratification brings joy. That blowing the pay check week to week gets us no where, but saving our money, offers security for those times of economic uncertainty.

Remember too that withdrawal is the first step in the process of HEALING. And that after it, comes a much more realistic, well-earned sense of calm and an ability to think more clearly.

So, wait. Hang on. Do whatever it takes to get through this. There’s a list of “Tips” here on this website that can help you.  More than anything, be patient with yourself. Don’t allow the “trick” of withdrawal to lead you to believe you will always feel this miserable. You will NOT. The body heals itself, but needs the time to do so….

Dating Daddy?

Little girls love their dads. And if they’re lucky, their dad’s love them right back in a healthy, safe, abundant way. And so, when girls grow up and go out into the world of dating, they look for that man. It’s the only man they know, really. For a very long time. And whether he be the perfect guy or not, compatibility-wise, it doesn’t matter. That’s the guy every girl wants. Eventually, if a father and daughter have a healthy relationship, the daughter will feel safe enough to realize that her dad’s not going anywhere, he’ll always be there for her, and so, she is free to find someone that suits her personality and type a little better, without the guilt of feeling like she’s abandoning her dad. And so, she stops looking for her father in everyone she dates and that gives her the freedom to find a heathy partner.

That, to me, is the ideal if you had a healthy dad. But what if you didn’t?

What if, like me, you had a father who was neglectful, avoidant and also addicted to drugs and alcohol. Who was a narcissist. A gambler. And a sex addict. A man who was more into making money and becoming rich than having an adult relationship with his children.

Well, you love that man too! How could you not. He is the first, the only man you know. And so when you grow up, you go out into the world and look for that type of man. BUT, what if you had a mother who warned you incessantly not to find a man who was an alcoholic? You’re getting two messages and you are open to choosing which one is right for you. So, without feeling like you are betraying your dad, you go out and find men just like him, but who don’t drink. Problem solved, right?

Wrong.

Because now comes the point where a healthy person would say, “I love my dad, but in spite of that, his personality doesn’t mesh with mine, and so, I need to let him go because he’ll always be there for me, and this will allow me the freedom to find someone who is more compatible for me.” But YOU can’t say it. Because you know that if you abandon your dad, he will not come back. You know if you find another “type” of guy, your dad will disappear forever and that scares the crap out of you. So…whether your dad’s type is good for you or not, you try to find him in every man you meet.

I did this myself for years, without realizing it. Almost every guy I ever dated was avoidant or addicted or just plain weird. And when they weren’t, they scared me to death and I ran.  And despite the fact that they never looked like my dad or drank (I thought I was so clever) they were indeed treating me the same way he did.

Eventually, when I started to do a lot of soul searching and recovery from love addiction,  I realized something: as children we have no choice in what parents we get. We get what we get. And whether that person be a loving father or an avoidant, mean, abusive or neglectful father…we STILL LOVE HIM, unconditionally. Until, of course, we get older. Then we get angry and withdrawal if he wasn’t all that great etc. But the child in us simply LOVES people no matter who they are, and as adults, if we do not grow up with loving parents, we learn that it’s OK to love avoidant, neglectful, drug addicted people because, heck, we’ve been doing it all our lives. That it feels frustrating to us is just part of the equation!

But, it doesn’t have to be!

We need to realize that it’s OK to let dad go. And that he will still be there, just not as we would like. He will still be the neglectful, avoidant dad you always had, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Except this: find someone who isn’t like him. To begin to make this change, it has to come from your brain and the way you think, more so than from your heart, and the way you feel. You have to start to believe that it’s NOT OK to accept avoidant, neglectful people in your life. It means that YOU yourself must be committed to higher expectations (even though that’s scary). And it also means that, while a child cannot choose her parent, an adult CAN CHOOSE what mate he or she has. Being with neglectful people doesn’t feel good! It doesn’t make you happy! You didn’t like to experience when it came from your parents, so why drag that yucky feeling into your adulthood?! Why on earth would we CHOOSE the same kind of character as an avoidant parent if it didn’t work for us as kids? That sort of frustration and loneliness does NOT go with the territory of love. It may have been what you learned, but I am telling you, you had bad teachers.

But why do we keep finding ourselves attracted to the same character over and over again? Simple. Because we look for what we know and what we recognize as love. If you had an avoidant parent, you will search out an avoidant parent in your adult life because it is what you know. And more importantly, you are making choices with your heart, not your head. So, how do we CHANGE this dysfunctional pattern?

It’s easier than you think…

We start by making decisions with our head, not our heart. The child in you inherently believed it was OK to love your parents unconditionally, no matter what they did to you. A child loves unconditionally for survival. And because she doesn’t know any better. But as adults, we cannot love this way or we’d always be in grave danger. For example, most of us have the condition that we will not date anyone who has murdered someone else. That would be preposterous, right? And yet, we tend not to think of it as a condition of a relationship, but it is. Just an extreme one. Subconsciously, we know, “I will not date an axe murderer.” Easy. But what about something a bit more ambiguous? What about the condition that you will not continue to date someone that hits you, or cheats on you or is married? Not as extreme as murder, but now we’re getting into an area where more people would overlook that condition, while others wouldn’t. How about the condition that you will not continue to date someone who ignores you? Ouch. Most love addicts lack this condition. It is here where we say to ourselves, “I need to love him unconditionally.” This belief in “unconditional love” is 100% FALSE. We all have conditions, some of us just don’t have enough!

We must set conditions (I also call them values, or expectations) for everyone we meet. You have them already and probably don’t know about them because you never gave it much thought. But the truth is we learned from our parents how to set our conditions, our values and our expectations of others. And if your parents were neglectful, abusive, unloving, you learned to accept those conditions. Well, guess what, if you want to get healthier, it’s time to add a few more conditions. For more on this read More on Values, and Unconditional Love.

Lastly, I am glad that you realize that you’re own sense of availability is at play here. When you grow up with an unavailable parent, there’s little to no expectations put on you for intimacy. You didn’t learn it and others certainly didn’t expect it from you. If that’s the case, all the meditation and mindfulness in the world won’t help. You need to, instead, take an inventory of your friends and start to see what kind of friendships you have. Are they longterm? Solid? Loving? Intense? Short-term? Happy? Fraught with difficulty? Are they intimate???? However your friendship are, that is a window into how your romantic relationships might be. If you’re not happy with the state of your friendships, it’s time to work on them. If you are happy with your friendship, it’s time to put your romantic expectations on the same level.

Lastly (really lastly this time), when we are addicted, when we are obsessed, when we ruminate, it’s not so much as a way to “cope” with our relationship as it is a way to avoid ourselves, avoid our fear, avoid growing up. All that drama and obsession and hyper-focus on the relationship or the person, does what? Does it bring you any closer? No. What it DOES do is DISTRACT you from your crummy, lonely, sad, unfulfilling life. And that is what this is all about. The void you think you feel and how to fill it.

Are you diving into a shallow pool?

When we want something bad enough, and we’re in a hurry to achieve it, get it, feel it, secure it, we sometimes put blinders on, and dive in. Our desire for immediate gratification can be all encompassing depending how hungry we are.  And with Valentine’s day tomorrow, this could mean rushing out to find “the one” within the next 24-hours. Loneliness, in fact, is one of the major motivators for risky behaviors. But, sadly, it never pays to dive into something quickly and blindly.

Here’s a rather ugly metaphor for what I’m talking about:

You are told by a stranger that there’s a pool at someone’s house in town. You LOVE, love, love swimming and you haven’t swum in years, so, without missing a beat, or asking any questions except “where’s the pool?” you run home, get your bathing suit, your towel, your sun block, your goggles and head on over to the address. 

On the way over, you envision the water, the warm air, how wonderful the rush of the plunge will feel against your skin. You fantasize about how good it will all be–just the way you remember it. Maybe you’ll do laps. Maybe you’ll do the butterfly. Or the side stroke. Oh, the possibilities! It’s been so long!!!

You finally arrive at the door of the owner, knock, meet and say, “I’d love to use your swimming pool.” But before waiting for his answer, you waltz right passed him to his back yard. Without actually looking at the pool though, and sizing it up, you then proceed to put a pair of blinders on. You feel your way to the diving board, bounce a few times with exhilaration…and then….jump into a shallow, dirty pool of water and not only break two arms and a leg, but your nose as well. 

How could this have happened, you think? How could I have dove into this filthy shallow water when I “envisioned” the water so perfectly?

This, of course, is a rather far flung story, and yet, the love addict does this every time he or she gets involved in a relationship. We fall helplessly in love–some of us within hours–only to later realize that the object of our affection was a shallow pool and now that are blinders are off, we are broken.

When we are willing to put blinders on and turn our lives and our safety over to someone we do not know well enough, it’s because the “fantasy” for a perfect love far outweighs the importance of what is real. And what is real might be too ugly or scary for us. So…we close our eyes, we throw caution to the wind and we dive in. Chances are when we do that, there will be enough water in the pool to catch us. But when we are blind, how can we be sure? We can’t, because there’s no guarantee UNLESS we make such a big decision with our eyes wide open, fully aware.

My advice:

  • Take your blinders off. When you refuse to LOOK at things as they are, you run the risk of diving into a shallow or empty pool!
  • Stop the “fantasy” in your head telling you that that guy you just met online is your soul mate. He’s not. At least you have no way of knowing that until you spend months, YEARS getting to know him first.
  • Be open to seeing, acknowledging and, if necessary, taking action toward avoid people with red flags (don’t just avoid the flag! Avoid the person waving the flag!!!)
  • Use common sense when dating. Would you dive into a pool blind-folded? No. Then why go home with someone on the first date? It’s the same thing. Why allow your emotions to lead you to the sensation of “falling in love” when you just met someone? That’s not realistic. You may feel a chemical “attraction” to someone immediately, but don’t confuse that with LOVE. It’s NOT!
  • Ask the right questions. Don’t just ask “where’s the address of the pool” ask if the pool actually has WATER. In other words, when you are dating, don’t just focus on a person’s good looks, or pick up lines. A relationship takes a long time to form and while I don’t suggest interviewing anyone on a first date about all the skeletons in their closet, it might be a good idea to think of dating someone as taking a college class. Educate yourself about this person through a series of dates. Don’t be afraid to hear info like, “I’m already dating someone.” WHen you Value yourself and love yourself, chances are you will want to protect yourself from getting hurt. Learn as much about the people who enter into your life as you can. The more you know, the better you will be able to make decisions about  keeping them in your life or letting them go.
  • Never trust your fantasy. In your mind Jack the Ripper or Charles Manson could be turned into the perfect mate if you’re creative enough (and trust me, love addicts are!). When you open yourself to reality and what is right in front of you, you can SEE the truth, and while it might not be what you want it to be, it is real and will allow you to make healthy decisions.

Donut or apple? How will you choose?

There is a truth that you will need to accept, grasp, understand, make peace with and use as tool to move you forward, if you want to recover. That truth is this: We love and allow hurtful people into our lives because the hope and need of being loved far outweighs the need for taking care of ourselves. Why is that so? Well, chances are we learned that our parents didn’t take very good care of themselves, so why should we? We also learned that impulsivity feels better immediately. So, why wait?

It’s like choosing a donut over an apple. We make that choice by virtue of what our parents taught us. We make that choice based on our own internal perception of who we think we are. Are we a person who’s little voice inside our head says: Who cares about me or my health?! Let’s have fun and party now! I just want the immediate gratification of that donut!!!! Or does that voice inside our head say, My body is a temple. I really don’t want to pollute it. I’ll have a donut every once in a while, but I prefer to be good to my body and so, I choose the apple. When we choose the donut day, after day, three to five times a day, what happens? We become overweight, unhealthy; we may even become stricken with a preventable disease like diabetes. When we choose the apple, we live a longer, healthier life and we live with the pride in knowing we took care of our health. It’s the same with love addiction. Love addiction is choosing the donut.

So, how do you go from a diet of donuts, cookies, fast food and junk–stuff that might taste really good at the moment, but doesn’t do a darn thing for us, except make us miserable, fat and unhealthy in the long run–to one of fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds that can literally transform our entire being???

The answer is both simple and complex.

When you want to make a change of any kind, you need to change the way you BELIEVE in something. In order to give up the junk food, you have to train your brain to believe that fake, orange cheese in a can is NOT FOOD, and while it may taste good to you now, it is a trick. When you’re a love addict you need to train your brain to believe that the PoA is NOT FOOD FOR YOUR SOUL. He might feel good for a minute or two, but it’s a trick. He will do the same amount of damage as that can of cheeze.

When you recover and want to date people who are good and healthy for you, you must learn to give up the need for immediate gratification for love and protection from someone else. When you do that, and you take your time searching for someone healthier and the priority changes from expecting love from an outside source to protecting yourself and enjoying your life as it is now, only then will you start to allow healthier people into your life. This takes longer, it’s harder to do, and it’s not instant (even if you have chemistry!) It takes putting down that deliciously tempting donut and having an apple instead.

Getting to that point is hard too. Some people see no value in deferred gratification. They see no value in the apple. But sometimes what it takes is detoxing from all the sugar and sweets you’ve been eating so you can finally see clearly! What I mean by that is this: when we are getting a hit of the PoA (person of addiction), we only know the value of that immediate pleasure that comes after days, weeks or months of pain and agony from abuse, neglect or suffering. And so we get brainwashed or trained into recognizing that our pain is temporary because there will be a hit of pleasure, no matter how small, at some point, if we just hang on. To get out of that cycle and retrain your brain to believe there is a different way to exist is very difficult. But there are two ways this can happen:

  • If you’re lucky, you could be struck with a life-altering experience that changes you. The complete rejection of an avoidant PoA, the death of a family member or friend, hitting bottom, seeing the light, and so on, are all examples of an outside force that propels us to change.
  • If you’re not so lucky, you have to follow the harder route: changing your belief system from within. That takes months and possibly years of reading about recovery, reading about your addiction, learning new ways to live, to think and to be. It takes finding a better model of love and copying that. It takes giving up your old, unhealthy ways by learning to replace them with healthier ways. It takes many months of being alone, of trying to figure it out, of making sacrifices.

Eventually what happens is you start to see more value in the apple than the donut. You start to see more value in healthy people than you do in the “bad boy.”

When I was younger, I ate french toast and pancakes for breakfast. I ate donuts like there was no tomorrow. McDonald’s was on my list of places to eat at least three times a week! And since I never got fat or felt any negative reaction from all the junk I ate, what did I care? Only when I got older and wiser did I start to see the damage I was doing. Only when I got wiser and love myself more did I realize that much of what I was doing was having a dangerous affect on the parts of me that could not be seen. The same wisdom came to me regarding my love addiction as well. I finally realized the truth! We love and allow hurtful people (and things) into our lives because the hope and need of being loved and having immediate gratification far outweighs the need for taking care of ourselves over the long haul. This idea must change if we are to change.

So…start to see the value and the power in that little apple. Choose substance over taste. Your life depends on it.

Where is she now, in 2013?

Me, a couple days ago, standing on our lake.

Me, a couple days ago, standing on our lake.

One of the things that I don’t always write about on my blog or on the forums is where I stand now in recovery, in my life and with my relationships. I think we (me included) tend to think a person who recovered X amount of years ago is all better. They’re done.  “Nothin’ more to see here, folks.” And while I personally believe that’s partly true, it’s not entirely true. It’s always good to do an inventory to see if you’ve reached goals. And to remind yourself of what recovery is, so that you stick to it!

I liken the experience of recovery to growing up, and becoming an adult. Because let’s face it, that is, essentially, what recovery is. When you are not recovered and you are in the throes of your addiction, you’re acting out, avoiding life and responsibility as a child would, and ultimately refusing to grow up. When you recover, you pass through the stages of psychological development and hopefully reach your potential, whatever that may be. SO, while you are not growing at such a rapid rate anymore, as an adult (as a recovered person), you are still making choices about your life, you are still choosing roads and you are still deciding what kind of perspective you would like to hold on to at any given juncture in your life. A successful recovery, therefore, means that you find your identity, you learn how to be intimate, you begin to contribute to the world and you feel a sense of accomplishment in your life.

But here’s the tricky part…

Can even the healthiest among us know the entirety of their  identities when an identity is a constantly evolving human experience?

And can anyone really experience intimacy to the fullest, once and for all, despite the fact that people change all the time, and close up and bottle up and the open up again?

And must we reach a definitive point in our lives where we only contribute to the world, and no longer have occasional bouts of weakness where we must once again be the takers?

And despite feeling a sense of accomplishment for certain achievements, is it possible (or necessary) to feel a sense of accomplishment for every darn thing?

I guess what I am saying, is that while advanced recovery teaches you to not make critical mistakes anymore and gives you the tools to live an overall healthier life, you still face the human experience, you still must evolve and make decisions, you still must take risks and make mistakes, and you still must deal with other people who push your buttons, who challenge you, and who create in you a sense of wonder. So, while I no longer deal with the concept of PoAs or addiction, or doing horribly regretful things, I do deal with procrastination, avoidance of work, challenges within my own personality conflicting with others, challenges with my expectations of others (namely people I work with or family members) and from time to time frustration, boredom, anger, blame, and (my most recent) lack of interest in my job–after working to the point of near exhaustion from June to end of December, I collapsed and have been sick nearly the whole month of January. I want nothing to do with work and I am instead more interested in doing laundry and dishes!

Here’s more. Personally, I think I will always deal with my lack of ambition. I probably could have been far more successful than I am, but I never had any ambition, nor did I have a focus. I think I will always deal with my own version of ADHD in that, I can get bored with the direction I am heading in and change. And because of that change, I end up starting all over again. At the beginning.

Lastly, I wish I were better at spending less money.

So, at the moment, work and money is not working for me. That is where I am struggling. Should I continue with this particular volunteer work, or should I let it go? And if I do let it go, what will be the consequences?

On the flip side, my relationship with D has been wonderful. Aside from the past month where we were both sick and miserable with the flu, and a bit short with each other, our overall relationship is right where I’d hope it’d be after 4 years. My feelings for him still grow. He still amazes me with his kindness, love and respect. ANd I still have deep emotions for him, backed by the fact that he never hurts me. When you find someone who you love and trust and who shares your same values,  AND they never hurt you, the relationship becomes such a healing one! Are we lovey-dovey and shmoopy every day? Hell, no. He makes too much noise at night when I am trying to sleep. He’s oversensitive about my tone of voice (I’m Italian! I’m a little louder than the average girl!) He more often than not feeds his kids junk food. But these are issues I can handle! We are planning our wedding for August 24th, 2013.

My relationship with my kids is also strong. I am growing prouder and prouder of their accomplishments and the men they are growing into (well, they are still boys!). I spend lots of time with them and they mean the world to me. Do they act out and whine about cleaning up their rooms and doing chores? Yes! Every day. Do they get straight As; are they picture perfect students? No (well, the youngest one is!). Do I spoil them? Probably a little bit. But I am learning to let go and let them grow up in a healthy environment. I am creating a peaceful, loving world for them, and for that, I am proud.

My health and diet is going well. I decided to lose a few pounds back in October, and I accomplished my goal. Now to maintain! I am eating extremely healthy too, which makes me feel better and more important, regulates my mood so that I am happier, calmer, less moody. I’m telling you folks, try to cut back as much as you can on sugar, caffeine, drugs and alcoholic. When you do, you can clearly see what a large role those chemicals play in affecting your mood!

My relationship with my mother is wonderful. It usually always is, but now, she is newly retired and lives close, so we have been spending extra time together.

My house is a wonderful place to be. We’re under construction and that’s hugely exciting!

SO, that’s where I am now. How about you? Take a look at where you were five years ago. Are you where you thought you’d be? Are you where you want to be? What goals can you set you achieve those outcomes?

Perception

I’ve been thinking a lot about perception lately, and so I decided to create this image to show how our vision can sometimes be skewed. We desperately want to believe in our fantasy of a perfect relationship, so much so that we are willing (willing!) to distort our view and overlook some pretty major flaws. And while this image is a little extreme and based on physical looks alone, the bigger picture is, as love addicts, we sometimes refuse to see serious, internal red flags like abuse, neglect, infidelity, manipulation, narcissism and worse. So…my advice for the day? Be honest with yourself. Keep your eyes wide open and don’t be afraid to see things as they are, not as you wish them to be. Remember, when you love yourself, you do everything in your power to protect yourself. And most of the time that means staying grounded in reality.

distortion

Children of alcoholics

Originally published January, 21 2009

I’ve been talking to someone new. We are clicking mentally, that’s for sure. But there’s a flag waving in the distance and I cannot tell if it’s red or white. We’ve discussed his alcohol consumption, which comes up from time to time in that he tends to talk about it more than usual sometimes. I told him I thought he drank too much and he quickly defended himself and said that he enjoyed a good scotch here and there, but otherwise, all his talk is just that- talk. And yet, I don’t believe him. At least not yet. He could be telling the truth, or he could be doing exactly what my ex did- saying virtually anything to keep me in his life.

Keep in mind that I am hugely sensitive to alcohol consumption as my father was an alcoholic who died basically drinking himself to death. I mean, there are people whose drinking does not bother me in the least- others, not so. But I’m  hard-wired to detect it. I can sense the slightest nuance or change in behavior when someone is drinking (or doing drugs for that matter). I can even tell when you are about to drink or smoke or that you had something within the last three days. This is both a blessing and a curse. It makes me at once super-humanly perceptive and horribly annoying-but annoying only if you’re the kind of person that’d like to drink in peace and not be told “I think you’ve had too much.” It’s definitely part of my father’s legacy-  and something in me which is probably here to stay.

My last two bfs started off this same way. They were both cured of the desire to smoke weed when I met them. They were done with it. And I believed them. But, things changed and as is so often the case, they both went back to it.

But the issue is this: when you are raised by at least one alcoholic and you go through all the ups and downs with that parent and watch him struggle through interventions and AA and rehab centers, you always BELIEVE, number one, that once he goes through the 12-step program he will be cured. And number two, that you will never have to deal with it again. Poof! Problem solved.

When you grow up, you carry that same belief with you. You are  time and time again, willing to accept an alcoholic or drug addict in your life because you’re convinced that they will change, recover, be cured.

Sadly, this is false. But no one ever teaches you this. Instead, programs like Al-anon and Al-ateen teach and  instill hope in the program, convincing you that it works. This isn’t to say that 100% recovery isn’t possible or that it doesn’t happen. But the disease and/or the recovery that ensues is no easy road. Ever.

I have to come to terms with this as a grown woman. And believe me, that in itself is not easy. Think how people must have felt when they learned the earth was round! It’s a shock to the system. I too am just learning  that I must look at things as they are, not as I wish them to be.  And most importantly, I must know when to stay away from the fire even if it’s just smoke.

Update 1/20/2013: I absolutely love looking back and re-reading some of these old blog entries when I had first met D. I was so mistrusting, and I am very proud of being that way. When you live your entire life in abusive relationships, it takes months, even years to start trusting people again, and only then, do those people have to be FULLY worthy of your trust. I remember Susan Peabody telling me once, “You can heal and you can trust again within a relationship, but only if your partner NEVER lies, or NEVER does anything to lose your trust.” I thought, Are you kidding me?  That is an impossible standard for any man. All men lie, I thought. I will most likely never heal. But I was wrong. I have been with D for 4 years now and he has NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER broken my trust or lied, and when he said he really doesn’t have a drinking problem, and that it was “all talk,” he was right. But it took many months, even years to believe him. Not only did he never lie, he allowed me to be suspicious. Not overly suspicious, of course. But he was patient with me, and  understood that for me to fall in love with him, he would have to prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he was worthy of me. Because he believed I was worth that kind of effort. Anyway, if I had known then what I know now I may have been far more trusting. And yet…I pride myself on being so cautious. No one knows a person’s character in the first few months of dating. It takes years to know someone. Be patient and keep mistrusting! And  look at things as they are, not as you wish them to be.

Has your PoA turned into your own form of cancer?

The PoA still on your brain? Can’t shake him? Of course he is still there. And he will be until you do what you fear most…kill the thoughts and let go.

Think of it like this: we carry our addictions around in our heads and our hearts so frequently, it gets to the point where our whole body adapts to those thoughts and we essentially grow a new limb, or more appropriately, a tumor. The PoA becomes part of us–a physical manifestation of who we are, an ugly, outward growth that wreaks havoc on our lives and our health.

So…..any hope of changing at this point means drastic measures. It means surgery. It means severing the limb. It means slicing off the growth. That’s a hard thing to do, because guess what, at this point, it’s not like popping a pimple. Whatever measure you take to remove this thing, it’s going to HURT. It’s going to be MAJOR. Cancer doesn’t spread overnight, folks.

So, you have to ask yourself….is the growth that has formed on your body and soul jeopardizing your health? Your inner and outer beauty? Is it endangering your very existence? If it is, then the risk of REMOVING the GROWTH is worth the potential pain, if it means saving your life.

Recognize the PoA (or any type of addiction) for what it is. Cancer! And then, take the appropriate action to fight it and get healthy.

Living a tragic life?

Theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy. Mosaic...

Theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy. Mosaic, Roman artwork, 2nd century CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Up until about a couple years ago, shamefully late in life, I realized that life does not need to be tragic. Some lives can be lived without event, without drama, without a tragic twist to an otherwise peaceful, good life. There are people that are born, grow up, meet someone, marry, and die at 87 without the slightest bit of disaster. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying there are people who never experience pain, or loss, or suffering. We all experience that to different degrees. What I am talking about is the love addict’s natural inclination to believe that life, and love in particular, is “tragic.”

Our belief in tragedy (drama, omens, symbols) comes from the way we were raised, the movies we watched or the books we read. And since most love addicts are prone to fantasy, it’s no surprise that they begin to believe that tragedy is a natural part of life. When every dramatic movie has a tragic element, it’s hard not to start to think that real life must be the same. And yet, it’s not.

Being a literature major, didn’t help. After having read things like Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet, Tropic of Cancer, The Sheltering Sky, Madame Bovary, The Red and The Black, how could I want anything less than that same amount of passion for my own life? There was a bitter sweetness to the utter bliss of having found someone, and the agony of knowing I would lose them. In fact, at certain points in my life, I was proud that my life was so tragic. I was, after all, an artist. And an artist must live a tragic life.

The trouble is, when I recovered and wanted to live my life without all that drama (and art!), and find a stable, healthy relationship, I maintained an enormous sense of mistrust for the universe. I could never be completely “happy” or comfortable in my relationship because lurking around the corner, was tragedy disguised as a “perfect life.” It was only a matter of time before tragedy would strike and my love would be struck down and taken from me or vice versa. Isn’t that the way the world works?

Again, a resounding No. Life can indeed be a tragedy. But, depending on your perspective, and circumstances, it can also be a story with no point. It can be simple. It can be complex, but manageable. It can be average–not like Hollywood at all. How do I know? I see it now that I look for it. My mother lived a very chaotic life when she was with my father, but in 1986, she met and eventually married the man she is with now. If I look at their life together it is a simple, happy one. Although she has overcome some huge hurtles (lost her brother, survived cancer) for the most part, her relationship with her husband has been steady, stable, loving, and strong. No extreme ups and downs. No craziness. No tragedy…for almost 30 years. That’s a long time to live a peaceful life with someone. And what I need to start to believe in.

So, the next time you’re sitting alone in your room, crying over the tragedy and drama of your life, remember, that’s Hollywood. That’s literature. It is the fiction that YOU are creating for yourself as part of your need to fill the void, to distract, to numb. To experience something bigger than you are. Life doesn’t have to be that way.

The WHOLE picture

"Under the horse chestnut tree", 1 p...

“Under the horse chestnut tree”, 1 print : drypoint and aquatint, color ; (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes we date people like our parents because we have no other model of who might be appropriate for us to date. When we don’t have an identity of our own, we tend to let others (like parents) dictate what is best for us. That’s not to say our parents, when we are adults, interfere or tell us who to date. It is to say that we, subconsciously, think we need to follow that same model of love that they set for us. When that is the case, we tend to only allow people into our lives who are familiar to us, never realizing we don’t have to “choose” people like our parents. We stick with what’s familiar, instead of questioning whether we might want and need something completely different.

And here’s the thing: if you have/had a good relationship with your parent(s), then, it’s all good. You can date someone who reminds you of your dad or mom and the relationship will most likely work out well. But if you had a bad relationship with a parent (despite loving him or her) you should not date them. That’s when we begin to confuse the big “L” (love) with “healthy relationship.” The two don’t always go hand in hand.

Case in point. I loved my father. I was entertained by many of the crazy things he did. But I inherently didn’t value the way he lived his life and he always made me feel uncomfortable and mistrusting. Yet, I always dated men based on the two things positive qualities I saw in my dad: love and entertainment. Well, guess what? That won’t get you very far. You need to like a little more than just a limited number of qualities. And “love” should not start off being one of them. That comes later.

And yet, we tend to see the “purpose” of people as having two sides instead of seeing the WHOLE picture. WHat I mean is this: your PoA has all these great qualities and you love him, but he’s a narcissist, a manipulator, and doesn’t pay you the attention you want. You’ve split your PoA in two. You stick around for the half good, but are in pain or suffering for the half bad. Essentially, you do what you did with your parents– you overlook the bad, so that you may love.

But that’s not how a healthy relationship is built. In order to have a healthy relationship, you need to think about and search for the whole picture!  You can’t cut people in half and say: I like these qualities and I will focus on them, and then I will ignore the other stuff. Nothing’s perfect, after all! Well, guess what. You don’t have to do that anymore! You had to do it with your parents, but you don’t have to do with the person you choose to be your partner.

We have no choice selecting our parents. We have to love them, despite their shortcomings. We have to find a way to adapt to them, accepting their negative qualities and love them at the same time. We do this as children to survive. But when we are adults, we DO NOT. HAVE TO DO THIS. We have a choice as to whom we select.

This brings me to the ultimate lie we tell ourselves in the game of love–that we will never find someone who FULLY satisfies us. There will always be issues, or problems. And while that is true, for the most part, there is a HUGE piece of that truth missing. You can, and must find someone with whom you share most of your same values. And you can and must find someone who does not cause you pain. That is not what love is about. ANd that is certainly not what a healthy relationship is about. There are degrees of discomfort and here are two examples:

-You love playing sports or working out at the gym, but you don’t particularly like a few of the exercises the instructor makes you do. The big picture is that you love the exercise class, and while you don’t like a couple of the exercises (who loves ab workouts!?), in the end, it’s a positive thing for you and your body and your peace of mind. Most of the class is worthwhile and so you can overlook the discomfort of what you don’t like because the class as a whole (and even those parts you don’t like) are in perfect alignment with your value system: to be healthy and fit.

Second scenario

-You love playing sports or working out at the gym, but the instructor is a total bitch. She belittles you, she reprimands you if you don’t do the exercises the right way and you don’t particularly like anyone else in the class. In fact, even though working out is good for you, you feel completely mentally and emotionally beaten down by your experience in the class. So, why do you stay? Well, you BELIEVE exercise is good for you and that you’re doing a good thing. But what you’re failing to see is the whole picture and the fact that you do NOT have to tolerate that kind of belittlement or pain just to reach your goal.

See the difference? I hope so!

Review of last night’s Huffpost Live Segment

If last night’s segment on Huffpost live was any indication,  I am far more at ease (and happier) as a writer behind the screen, as opposed to on it. And yet, I would do it again if it meant that I had the opportunity to help someone realize the key most important points to love addiction:

  • That it’s NOT about love
  • That it’s an avoidance of the self
  • And that you CAN change and have a healthier life IF you not only have the will, but the right tools. 

Overall, I feel the segment failed to do anything but offer a bit of light entertainment.  Everyone had their own agenda. I would have liked to talk about the solution, not just the “disease.” The therapist, obviously, want to talk (and talk, and talk, and talk) about things like “comorbidity” and the science behind what he had learned in his textbooks. And the writer of the article, Kelly Bourdet, wanted to talk more about the culture of addiction, not so much the individual, personal plight of someone suffering with addiction. She pegged addiction as “an interesting topic” to write about. I grant her that. But hasn’t America talked enough about the culture of dis-ease? Isn’t it time to start offering solutions?

What Kelly did do was bring up the point of addiction as a lack of agency. I think if you buy into the 12-Step philosophy of “Powerlessness,” or if you buy into the science that addiction is a “disease of the brain” more so than just a harmless behavior, then you’re right. It leaves you free to say, “Oh well, this is just who I am. I can’t do anything about it.” But, you do yourself a huge disservice believing that. When it comes time to get healthier–when that very behavior really starts to wreak havoc on every aspect of your life–then what? Take drugs? Treat the symptoms? That’s so typical of American medicine and why there is an underlying belief that addiction cannot be cured.  

And while I agree that you may not be able to cure your nature, you absolutely can cure certain undesirable behaviors. You simply stop doing them. It’s hard as hell. It takes years. Oprah didn’t get where she is overnight. I didn’t get healthy overnight. You have to relearn healthier ways to live.  But it can be done. People are not powerless over addiction until they are taught to be. And that is definitely a cultural phenomenon–helplessness. 
 
Pernille, the director of Love Addict, also brought up the point that Pia Mellody believes it should not be called love addiction, but rather “fantasy addiction.” And yet, I still think that misses the mark. Love addiction may be more about fantasy than love (I don’t know one love addict that is even close to doing any real loving). But if you dig down and unearth the bigger issue of why a person chooses fantasy (or anything else for that matter) as a repetitive, obsessive behavior that distracts them to the point of  their  life falling apart, then you have to be open to the idea that it may be more an issue of  Self Avoidance as opposed to anything else. When you are so focused on chasing after love, and this action is causing pain, suffering and more chasing and more obsessing, what happens? You disappear. You are neglected.
But why? Why would you neglect and avoid yourself?
Because you’re afraid. Of what is your job to figure out.

Comment if you have a different POV. But that’s what I believe should have been discussed in those 20 minutes.

http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/5074b92c78c90a78ff00023e

The Lovely Addict on Huffington Post LIVE

Hey Folks,

I will be on HuffPost LIVE  this Friday, October 19, at 6 pm PST with Pernille, the director of Love Addict, to talk about, what else, love addiction. I am a little NERVOUS. Thousands will be watching. My goal is to try to steer the producer of the segment to talk about the SOLUTION rather than to sensationalize the actual addiction.

Oooh, juicy love addiction.  Stalking, crimes of passion, crazy obsessed women chasing after some hapless chap.

Please.

One of the biggest impediments to getting healthier is this kind of mentality. American culture places down and dirty behavior on a pedestal, if only for the sake of perverse enjoyment, of being entertained by it. Think  Hoarders, Intervention, Snapped, Cold Case Files. Think any American movie. Think the nightly news. Think, dare I say it, The Huffington Post.

Confessional blogs, in fact, tend to get far more readership than recovery blogs.  And it’s much more mainstream to talk about disease, as opposed to treatment.

It’s no wonder the American propensity for labeling people with disease and disorder is so pervasive. And why we can take “slightly abnormal,” put a label on it, and have it suddenly be something that needs treatment, a drug, therapy.

The percentage of men and women love addicts who participate in more extreme behaviors like physical stalking, crimes of passion, attempted suicide is very low. What’s far more pervasive is the woman who remains in an abusive relationship because she can’t bear to leave. She’s addicted to the repeat pattern of drama, pain, suffering, and the highs and lows of love.  Or the woman who doesn’t recognizing neglect, verbal abuse or physical abuse as a reason to leave. Or the woman who thinks (foolishly) that love is a reason to stay, no matter what kind of unhealthy behavior is occurring. Or, the woman who becomes obsessed with fantasy in her own mind over the love she believes she feels for someone who doesn’t pay her any attention, or who just keeps her hanging on for sex, or doesn’t actually exist.

That obsession, of course, can bring a person to do irrational, inappropriate things, based on their personal value system. But more than committing actual crimes, most addicts tend to simply expend all their valuable time and resources focusing on their obsession to the point of not living their lives to the fullest. They check a person’s Facebook page repeatedly, call or text too much to check up on their “person of addiction,” scream, cry, throw a tantrum, feign pregnancy, date married or unavailable people, sink deeper into depression, dive deeper into fantasy, have an affair, try to fix a broken partner, threaten to leave, and so on.

Hopefully, you get my point. We’re not all Fatal Attraction woman chasing after our object of desire with a butcher’s knife.

I do implore any new readers of The Lovely Addict to read as many pages on my blog as you can. It’s not timely. Go back through older posts. Most entries are advice on how to become healthier. The most popular posts can be found on the right side bar under “Top Rated.” Start there. If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment or email me at thelovelyaddict@gmail.com

Who’s got the baddest addiction?

Mary G is a sex addict. Her partner at work and longtime friend Glen B is an alcoholic. They’ve just met me– a recovered love addict. Glen goes to AA, but claims, because there are no other meetings in his hometown, that a meth addict, a cocaine addict and a gambling addict also attend.

He told me that no one takes the gambler, who sits quietly in a corner with his styrofoam cup and listens, seriously in these meetings.  There’s this underlying sense of We’re worse off than you’ll ever be, buddy.

And I suppose therein lies the brunt of Who’s Got the Worst Addiction mentality and why we classify to begin with.

Well, we classify addictions like any other social group– by interest. The sewing group in my town is a far cry from the gardening club, the choral singers and for that matter, the needlepoint ladies who meet in the church basement after service on Sundays. It’s natural to want to classify “what” you’re addicted to by interest. But that’s as far as it should go.

And yet it doesn’t.

At a screening for the new Love Addict documentary, an artumentary by Danish filmmaker PERNILLE ROSE GRØNKJÆR I overheard, “Alcohol and drug addiction do so much more damage than the lesser addictions. ”  An hour later, a guy says to me, “You really can’t compare apples to oranges. To compare heroin addiction to cigarette smoking or gambling is ridiculous.”

Is it?

The argument of “physical” substance addiction (heroin, alcohol) no longer seems to hold more weight than the “process” or behavioral addictions (sex, gambling, watching TV all day) simply because there’s a substance involved. We now know that our behaviors–repetitive, addictive ones– can cause chemical changes in our body akin to ingesting a substance that drives us to want more and take another hit. A recent piece on addiction in The New Statesman called, Addiction, The Key to All Mythologies states, “In a process addiction – to sex, for example – a person may well be addicted to the biochemicals she shoots up in the privacy of her own body.”

Nonetheless, I felt like a pariah, like I had no right attending a recovery festival. It was as if he was implying that love addiction is a joke compared to what most had been through in that room. And maybe he’s right. My “bottom” was mild compared to many . And yet, I can only speak for myself. Some love addicts jump off bridges, driven by obsessive jealousy for someone they are addicted to. How much “less” of an addiction is that?

Isn’t suffering relative? Haven’t we all been through the eye of the needle?

The Addictive Personality

My father was replete with every addiction imaginable. He was an alcoholic, a Rx drug addict, a sex addict, a gambling addict, a workaholic, a shopaholic (when he had money), and a chronic liar, which I believe should be classified as one among the many varieties of addictions simply because he could not stop doing it–even when he knew I knew he was lying.  Strangely,  he only identified with the alcoholism. In retrospect, that was the least of his problems. I say this because, when he was sober from alcohol, faithfully attending 12-Step fellowship, he was either popping so many pain-relievers or gambling all our money away that there was no clear delineation of better behavior after removing the substance. Tolerating his irresponsible, reckless behavior was a challenge to us all the same. At one point, he lost his mother’s house on one hand of poker. He made bad choices drunk or sober.

In the early 80’s there was a study done by lan R. Lang, a psychology professor at Florida State University. He determined that all addicts–from drug to alcohol to chronic TV watchers– had several “personality factors” in common:

- Impulsive behavior, difficulty in delaying gratification, an antisocial personality and a disposition toward sensation seeking.

- A high value on nonconformity combined with a weak commitment to the goals for achievement valued by the society.

- A sense of social alienation and a general tolerance for deviance.

- A sense of heightened stress. This may help explain why adolescence and other stressful transition periods are often associated with the most severe drug and alcohol problems.

With these in-common personality traits, we can begin to define the addictive personality. And yet, within the real world of recovery, there still exists an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) competition among addicts as to who has the baddest addiction, who caused the most pain to himself or others and who has suffered the most.

When I would go to my dad’s AA meetings back in the day, I remember the members within the group all struggling to outdo each each others’ stories. Stories of throwing broken beer bottles in an empty parking lot, were quickly topped by stories of someone throwing a beer bottle at someone’s head. People who told stories of cheating on spouses while under the influence always got a lot of reverence. But there were also those who told stories of beating up a friend, stealing money, abandoning children, driving into trees or others on the road, passing out at the Thanksgiving dinner table and robbing a bank (this latter feat was my father’s claim to fame, and the one which set him as the Alpha male of the group).

I remember too, as a teen, joining my mother in her 12-Step group: Al-anon. While my father, who seemed to be causing all the trouble, was over on his pulpit, dramatizing the pain he had induced within our family, getting lots of support and pats on the back (and even a few laughs at some of the “funny” antics he had caused), my mother was in her group, crying the entire time, along with everyone else. Her meetings had no sense of rivalry for who suffered the most. We all just suffered; we all just felt pain. It was collective hopelessness.

Picking and choosing between the two groups, I naturally gravitated toward my father’s group in AA. They were having more fun. And I loved the stories that played out like Hollywood movies. It was evident that these people were bad asses. And I loved it. And the more dramatic the story, the more evil the doing, the more pain inflicted on others and the more under the influence the person was, the higher their rank among their peers.

The Extreme Side of Addiction

But let’s get back to the gambler in the corner with his styrofoam cup, who’s also trying to tame the beast that is his pathology. Who’s to say his addiction is a “lesser” addiction when he has brought his entire family to live in a cozy cardboard box on the streets of Philadelphia? Sure, the alcoholic is pickling his liver, and the heroin addict is now schizophrenic and the crack addict is dead from an overdose. But the gambler has brought himself down to the grittiest, most impoverished facet of life–abject poverty–and he brought everyone in his family down with him.

Addiction is suicide, homicide or a combination of both. No matter what the addiction. And how’s this for bad ass:

  • Romeo and Juliet committed a double suicide for their obsessive love of each other.
  • In contemporary culture, a talented singer named Amy Winehouse killed herself with drugs because of her love addiction to then boyfriend Reg Traviss, who “dumped” her a year before.
  • Crimes of passion, “passion murder”  and suicide are all degrees of love addiction–albeit extreme ones.
  • AIDS, unwanted pregnancy, lifelong sexually transmitted diseases, prostitution, imprisonment, and death are all possible consequences of sex addiction.
  • Unemployment, bankruptcy, forced home sales and imprisonment can all be consequences of gambling or shopping addiction.
  • Diabetes, heart disease, amputation, invasive surgery, health issues, lack of mobility, morbid obesity can all be the end result of a food addiction.

I could go on. But I won’t. My point is this: the deeper rooted issue is not to what we are addicted, but rather, to not being able to manage our impulsivity, not having healthier values, our tolerance for deviance, and our sense of heightened stress. It’s not about the bottle, or the drugs or the lover or the money. It’s about our internal addictive personality and how to tackle the enemy within.

I can tell you that Psychology Today has a list of the seven hardest addictions to quit and love, cocaine, cigarette smoking and eating potato chips all made the list.

Here’s a quick story for you. Before I realized I was a love addict, I was a smoker. I smoked one to two packs of cigarettes a day (OK, I’ll give you that cigarette smoking is a lesser addiction, unless you’ve seen the graphic images of its ultimate consequence). Sick of being a hypocrite and trying to exercise while smoking, and simply because I knew it was bad for me, I was desperate to quit. I joined the online group quitnet.com and basically brainwashed myself for a few weeks, sitting in front of my computer screen, talking to other quitters who helped me learn not just how to stop smoking, but why I needed to. It was not, as I previously thought,  because smoking was bad for me. That would be too easy. That’s the argument that makes so many of us rationalize smoking. We can tell ourselves, “Well, it’s not like we’re smoking crack or something. Because that’s really bad.” No, instead, it was because I was too good for it. What a concept! That I was worth more than the junk I was putting into myself– no matter what it is, I am better than that. My body is a temple. And upon learning these core values,  I started to respect who I was and what I put into myself and what I allowed the world to do to me. But here’s the clincher. When I learned this lesson, I quickly applied it to every other addiction in my life, namely, my love addiction. And that’s when it all made sense.

It doesn’t matter what you’re addicted to. Once you recognize your own personal worth, you immediately stop identifying with the addiction of choice and start to see ALL obsessive, addictive behavior as toxic and irrational. Because now what you’re doing, is simply protecting the gift that is you, against any kind of harm.

Competition within the world of addicts or recovering addicts, for that matter therefore makes no evolutionary sense. Does it really make a huge difference in the big scheme of things how you kill yourself, whether slowly or quickly, whether by pills, slitting your wrist, drowning, gun shot to the head or jumping off a bridge? Dead is dead. Life is wasted all the same. And does it really matter, in the big scheme of the things, the degree to which you choose to wreck your life or the lives of others? Are we really basing what is ultimately our own level of stupidity or naiveté on the laws of gravity? That the harder something drops the higher up it bounces back?

When my father was 57 he walked into the ER with stomach issues. Six days later he was dead. The drama, emotion and intensity  of those last days were extreme. At the time, his death was a mystery. We scrambled, looking for clues as to how he could be here one day and the next, gone. We wondered if he was murdered, we looked into any enemies he had. We interrogated the doctors. Were they guilty of malpractice? Was it suicide? The questions haunted us.

In the end, there wasn’t much of a story. In fact, it was the unHollywood, unglamorous story that befalls some addicts. A year before, he had been diagnosed with a mild form of leukemia that, as the doc put it, “If you’re in good shape, you could live with this for 10 to 20 years…” My father wasn’t in good shape. In the last year of his life he was drinking more heavily than ever, popping Oxycotin like candy and even crushing it and swallowing it. His liver was so damaged from his drug and alcohol use, that when they went to treat him with chemo for the leukemia his liver was unable to flush out the poison and he went septic. Within hours, organs shut down and we were left with having to pull the proverbial plug.

For the longest time,  I couldn’t help but wonder if all that drama was part of his ego-driven need for attention. One last posthumous craving to be able to say, “I told you I was the baddest.” And he was. But it didn’t really matter much in the end.

Alannis Morrissette and love addiction

You go girl! I am always deeply grateful when people (celebs included!) are so willing to talk about their humanness and not try to look perfect. And I am especially grateful when they tell the entire country on CNN that they’re a love addict. Good job in your recovery Alannis! Thanks for standing proud. And if you ever read The Lovely Addict blog, spread the word!

 

Alannis Morissette and Love Addiction

 

Dear Love Addiction

On the forums, one of my favorite posters decided to write a letter to her addiction. I thought it was a good idea, and so I appropriated it. The above is my letter. Simple. To the point. Others may not have such a peaceful letter to write, and that’s OK. Write your own personal letter anyway, and have it come from your heart (and your head). Whatever you do, use it as an exercise in healing and awareness.

 

Dear Love Addiction,
You are now an old friend I revere. I am no longer angry or hate you or mortified of my past, because I see in you a teacher. I didn’t want to learn, but you showed me the way. I didn’t want to grow up, but you taught me the shame in remaining stunted. I didn’t want to accept the ugly side of myself, but then you taught me to forgive myself. These are the lessons I learned from what, at the time, felt like a horrible education.

Many times I asked, “why would you make me suffer like this?” But now I see you had plans for turning me into a whole, beautiful person, who has many gifts to offer the world. I came to you with nothing. And I left full. And for that, I am grateful. Without you, I would not be the woman I am today.

-Tracy

 

Why does he still call me but doesn’t love me?

If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience.~Robert Fulghum

It was only when I put my suffering into perspective that I started to really recover. I learned that I was making myself suffer more than necessary. That in the big scheme of things, my love addiction was small. I was making it worse because I had no life. I had nothing to do. I didn’t believe in myself. I was afraid to live my life. I hid behind my suffering and bad relationships for years because underneath, I was scared to be me. We create chaos to balance out the loneliness in our lives.

S0, when you suffer and worry and wonder about someone else’s actions like, “why does he call when he says he doesn’t love me.”  or “Why does he come over to visit but then not want to sleep with me or be in a relationship?” you are creating chaos out of something you already clearly understand. You have acquaintances that call but don’t love you. Does everyone who calls you have to love you? You have co-workers, or people you know visit you from time to time, yes? Do they all want to sleep with you? No. When you witness this kind of behavior in others, you are clear about it.
We can accept wishy washy behavior for what it is in others, but as soon as it comes from the object of our desire, it’s confusing. It’s complicated. In reality, it’s not complicated at all.

Learn to remove the emotions from your situation and focus on what is LOGICALLY happening. Love addicts tend to push aside their logic and function solely on emotion.  Logically, what does it mean when some calls you or visits you, but doesn’t want anything more? It’s called a friendship. It’s called an interaction. No mystery.

More than anything, put yourself in the equation. Instead of trying to figure out what he or she wants from you, figure out what YOU want. What do YOU want? Do you want a wishy washy guy who doesn’t love you but tries to keep his foot in the door and call occasionally? If the answer is no, then take LOGICAL steps to move on. Wishy washiness is what you will get from this person. If you don’t like it and it hurts, leave. Not because HE says so, because YOU say so by way of knowing, LOGICALLY, what you want and going after it.

Love Addict Documentary- available in USA

Many of you have waited for the availability of the Love Addict documentary. Well, it’s here! Almost. D and I will be in NYC on September 29 and 30th for the screening of Love Addict. It’s being presented among hundreds of other documentaries in the “Reel Recovery Film Festival” on 34W. 13th St., New York, NY 10011 and runs from September 28 – October 4, 2012. The entire film festival is dedicated to films about addiction, which, in and of itself seems a bit murky. And yet, the harsh reality of addiction is countered by the Hope of recovery. This same film festival is also coming to Vancouver, Los Angeles and Ft. Lauderdale. For more information go to Writers in Treatment dot org.

Trouble

“Trouble comes cheap and leaves expensive”- Richard Ford

Here are two sides of the same coin. Two interconnected quotes. What do they mean when you put them together? Don’t let the trouble that enters your life temporarily cause you to make a permanent and expensive mistake.

Often we get into “trouble” or date people who are bad for us because we don’t take the time to calculate risk. Calculating risk takes a higher level of functioning. And by higher level of functioning I mean being more mature, using your logical, adult brain instead of depending solely on your emotions.  It also means having a deeper appreciation for who you are what VALUE you have. When you recognize your value, you tend to want to protect it at all cost; so, you adopt behaviors and l traits to protect your own value and worth: you learn to use instinct, time, patience and calculated risk to assess situations and people. What becomes important is YOU, not the sex, or the fantasy, or the intensity, or any ‘ol relationship just for the relationship’s sake, or wanting to be saved at any cost. All those things would be nice. But they are secondary to your importance.

Just something to remember.

Giver or Taker?

I want to share with you something that D and I were talking about the other day…

The difference between givers and takers.

I had forgotten that you can generalize people into one of these two groups. Of course nothing is black and white, and no one is all of one and nothing of the other, but some people tend to lean more to one side than the other.

So, this week’s topic is givers and takers (let’s compartmentalize!). But, this exercise is about YOU! I don’t want you to look to your PoA and define him or her as a giver or a taker. I am sure you could do that in under a second. It’s so easy to look at other people and define them (yet another reason we may be love addicts–it’s difficult to face who we are). Instead, what I’d like you to do is look at yourself and answer that question. Are YOU a giver or taker? If you can’t, right off the bat, figure it out, or if you’re unsure as to which side you lean, try writing a list of instances where you may be a giver and where you may be a taker.

And further, do you know the difference between these two characteristics? Here’s a look:

-A taker is always looking for someone to help him.
-Her hand is always out.
-The world “owes” him something.
-She tends to manipulate people to do things for her
-Perhaps the taker will even give something simply in order to get something back.

-A giver gives and expects nothing in return
-A giver does not do favors or offers help only to martyr themselves, complaining that they always give
-The world doesn’t owe anything to a giver; in fact, a giver recognizes his or her responsibility to give back to the world
-His hand is always offering, not asking for favors or short cuts
-Work is enjoyable to a giver. She recognizes the benefit to herself and others because of her commitment to what she does.

So………are you a giver or taker? Comments please!

Go ahead, go back…

Go ahead. Go back to your PoA (person of addiction)! You know you want to. ANd if you want to and feel as though you should, surely that means it was meant to be, right? Why not! Every emotion you have, even a burp or a fart has huge significance. Right? A sign from God. So follow it and go back to him.

And when you go back….enjoy! And be happy! Be happy that he’s IGNORING you. You don’t deserve to be paid attention to anyway. In fact, everyone including friends and loved one SHOULD ignore you. Because what you have to say is not very important. Other people (who ramble on about nothing and do nothing with their lives) are so much more important than you.

And when you go back….feel the amazing feeling of the CONFUSION. It’s fun and exciting to never know what to expect from one day to the next. She’s running hot and cold! One day she loves you, the next she doesn’t? Perfect. Instability is probably just what you’re heart desires.

And when you go back…feel the intense love that, let’s face it, you are most likely creating on your own, because, let’s face it, half the time he’s off with another woman. Oh the LIES, of the BETRAYAL! WHen I was a child. I always dreamed of having a loving relationship filled with these things. I also wanted a guy I had to fight for. Nothing comes easy! Love is meant to be painful and filled with suffering.

And when you go back….celebrate the good times! Because they are few and far between and erratic as heck. And well…they don’t exist anymore. Because she’s gone. But who cares! She comes around every so often, and isn’t that a sign from the Gods that she’s still hanging on and wants to come back? Because people who love you want to spend as little time as possible with you. Ah…the memories! They will keep you warm at night.

And when you go back….rejoice in the REJECTION and the SCRAPS that he’s feeding you. Why take anything else? You are not ready for anything better. Rejection and scraps are right up your alley and you are worth it! There’s no way you could handle a decent, warm meal. Not you! You’re too rugged for that. You prefer to eat your meals out of the garbage can.

SO yes! Next time you wonder if NC is just getting in the way of this great relationship of yours, if NC is not worth it, if NC is just a waste of your time…then I DO suggest going back. And maybe then, you’ll remember why you left in the first place.

What’s your Vibe?


This week I wanted to talk about your VIBE. We all have one. What’s yours?

When I was younger, my mother used to tell me that the reason I never attracted a great boyfriend (today we would use the word “healthy”) was because I was giving off the DESPERATE VIBE. When a guy would approach me, I got very serious and wanting and well, desperate. And as hard as it was to hear that, and ugly a connotation as it was, it was true!

Trouble was, I never knew how to change my vibe. No matter how hard I tried, I always gave off the “desperate” vibe. That vibe, sadly, always attracted other desperate people. Or worse, it attracted weirdos.

So then, I would try to fake my VIBE. Guess who I attracted? Fake people!

Finally, much later in life, I gave up trying to attract anyone and I simply enjoyed my life without a guy. Guess what kind of vibe I gave off? A HAPPY CONTENT VIBE. And guess what kind of guy I ultimately ended up attracting? A happy, HEALTHY, content one.

The moral of this story is to not go out and try to attract a mate per se. It is to be aware of the VIBE you might be giving off. Others can read you and know what you’re all about within the first five minutes. And so, what are giving off? What atmosphere, what energy, what vibration are you exuding? Is it something that others will want to be around or avoid? Do you give off

a PARTY VIBE,
a GET AWAY FROM ME VIBE,
a DESPERATE VIBE,
a NEEDY VIBE,
a NEGATIVE VIBE

Or a HAPPY, HEALTHY PEACEFUL VIBE???

And if you don’t like the vibe you’re giving off, how can you CHANGE it? Well, for starters, you need to understand that you are not your vibe. I know this because, on a good day, when I would focus on something that interested me and got really into it, there would a small window of time where I was giving off a happy vibe, and others took notice. Thing was, I couldn’t sustain it. I would quickly sink back down into depression and desperation because I would lose focus on this task (that created in me focus and contentment) and I would revert back to my previous task of seeking out a boyfriend and being rather disappointed in life that I didn’t have one.

When that happened, the desperate vibe would return and I would be miserable again.

So, from my own experience, the only time I was capable of permanently changing my vibe was when I gave up hoping and dreaming for that very thing I wanted so much. And instead, I focused on what I had and said, “let me be happy with this!” At the time it wasn’t much. But I made the best of it. And when that happened, my whole disposition change. My energy changed. And I began to attract happier, healthier people.

This concept comes from The Law of Attraction. Read about it. There are several books on that topic.

Until then, what’s YOUR vibe? What would you like your vibe to be, and how do you plan on changing it?

Expectations

One of our biggest downfalls as humans–(healthy and unhealthy alike) is our level of expectation of others. To put it to you plainly, we tend to expect too much too soon from the wrong people.

What do I mean by that? Well, would you expect a baby to talk? Of course not. Would you expect a fish to walk on two legs? Pure silliness. And yet, everyday, we expect avoidant people to be intimate and close, we expect people who clearly are not showing much interest in us to be interested, and we expect love from a source that is incapable of loving us.

When we look at people and accept them for who and what they are, it means giving up unrealistic expectations of them. For years I dated (or married!) men who were avoidant and the entire time I was in the relationship with them I expected them to be in love and attentive and treat me like men treat women in the movies. It wasn’t that my expectations were high. It was that I had set unrealistic goals for this particular person, who could not meet my higher expectations.

But I thought we were supposed to have high expectations of being treated well and good!?!?!

YES! We are supposed to have high expectations of being treated well and good—BUT FROM THE RIGHT PEOPLE. You cannot expect a man who has a track record of cheating on all his girlfriends to suddenly stop cheating once you’ve come along. Your expectations will never be met. But you can have high expectations for YOURSELF that you will not date men who cheat (and if you don’t find out until later into the relationship it means that you don’t stick around and demand they change; it means YOU LEAVE). See the difference?

Set high expectations of and for yourself, and expect them of people who can meet them. Otherwise, you are basically expecting the impossible.

How to keep your love addiction check: if you have reasonable and basic expectations of all people, i.e  that they will treat you with respect, that they are kind to you, that they do not hurt you physically or mentally, that they do not lie, steal or cheat from you, then apply these same expectations to your partner.  If he/she can meet them, then you may be able to reasonable expect that he or she will meet higher expectations, if you two embark upon a romantic relationship. If he/she cannot meet these basic expectations, then it’s time to move on. Why? Because these expectations are basic!!!! They are the bottom level of expectations. They are the bare minimum. If your PoA can’t meet them, he surely cannot meet higher, more demanding expectations. And here’s something too: if he cannot meet them and you stay anyway–no matter how much you gripe about it–you are telling him by your actions that he DOES meet your standard, which of course, in that case, is very low.

Major Change

It’s time for an inventory! This week’s topic asks you to delve into ways you have changed since you’ve begun your recovery journey–or since you’ve been coming to these boards. What have you learned? What is now different about you? What subtle changes have you made to your behavior for better (or worse!)

I will start by listing a few of the major changes I made that have shifted my behavior since beginning recovery (I have a very long list, so I’ll keep it to only the top most important, that have had the most impact)

1. I learned that my “idea” of my perfect mate was a childish one and no longer fit the person I was. I was always attracted to the single, dark haired ‘bad boy’ but I wasn’t bad, I had kids, and I was a very stable, simple girl. These were qualities about me I didn’t recognize. I also did not want to recognize that I should have been looking for someone more like me who was also interested in family, stability and a more simple life. Once I let go of my childhood image of the perfect mate, I was more open to different, healthier men.

2. I learned that when a relationship was not “right” I would get physically sick or emotionally moody. I could not just blame it on my period or something I ate, which I tended to do (it must be something else that’s bugging me). Although periods and certain foods would definitely exacerbate my moods, the reality was, I was in a bad relationship and didn’t want to face it. When something was not right, my whole body would SCREAM at me. I finally started to listen, and became honest with myself– even if it meant change. 

3. I learned that my love addiction was not exactly about love. At the root of my love addiction (at the root of ALL addictions) is a very strong desire to AVOID something that you really don’t want to face. In my case, it was my responsibility to work and financially support myself. I DREADED the idea of work and finding a job. So much so, that I got married to avoid it. That I’d date and fall in love to avoid it. Once I faced my fear (forced myself to do things alone, took myself out of my comfort zone and experience awkwardness, etc.) I suddenly had a much healthier ability to pick and choose boyfriends. Because I was not choosing them to care for me or to help me avoid something, I was able to choose a mate on other qualities like friendship and kindness.

4. I learned that Water Seeks Its Own Level. As messed up as you may think your PoA is, you are equally messed up (hard to face!). As “healthy” as you think your hubby is compared to you, look again. We seek out people who balance us. Who match us. Only when YOU are healthy will you be able to find someone equally as healthy and well-adjusted. This lesson was a hard one to accept. I always thought I was better than everyone else, and so I would get angry when they didn’t live up to my expectations. Boy was this an eye opener to recognize that I was just as bad. Well, I didn’t want to be on the same level as my PoA!!!! I was better than that!!! And so…the “water seeks its own level” was a lesson in self-love. If I thought I was so great, I needed to prove it by connecting with healthier people. Not just PoAs…but friends and family too! I changed many people in my life and improved my circle of friends. 

5. I learned that as deeply as I delved into my past for answers in the end, what mattered the most was what action I was willing to take at that time to change my behavior. Dr. Phil said once, “It’s one thing when you’ve suffered as a child from abuse or neglect; it’s another thing entirely when you drag all that suffering into adulthood. Let it go!” So…this lesson was about getting out of my head and actually taking physical action. When I would catch myself sitting around doing nothing but thinking and analyzing whatever failed relationship, I recognized that this too was a form of avoidance. So…I would get up and go for a bike a ride (even if I did not want to! And that’s the key). Remember, as love addicts it’s very hard for us to take any action outside ones that draw us closer to our PoAs. 

6. I learned that, for years, I believed that my ideal mate was the image of my father. I felt as though I would be betraying my father if I liked any other type of man. But the thing is, he may have been an OK father, that I had no choice in selecting. But he did not make the perfect model of the man I should date. I didn’t have to repeat history. I could change it. I could find someone with whom I was more compatible. Sometimes we feel anchored to our past. We feel obligated to stick to our tradition. You don’t have to! In fact, in order to break the chain of dysfunction in families, you must do something different than your forefathers.

7. I learned that once you do find someone healthy, your old ways of communicating, and working out problems will not be tolerated by a healthy individual. Especially if your old ways are dysfunctional. I had to change many of my dysfunctional ways of communicating. How did I do this? I read. A lot. I learned what manipulation was and that I was doing it. I learned what blame was, and that I was doing it. I learned about complaining, and decided I no longer wanted to do (that I wanted to be a grateful person instead). I REPLACED bad behavior with good and I continued to do until it became a habit. 

8. I learned that communication, negotiation, compromise, sharing and respect are the foundation to not only bonding with someone but living with them successfully. Sure, we can all fall in love and operate on our emotions for a brief time. That doesn’t take anything but animal instinct. But it takes learning to communicate well, learning to respect others, and learning to share and be kind for a healthy, longterm relationship.

9. I learned that for most of my life I was operating on my Emotions. I made decisions with my emotions. Just like my mother, and most of our society said. “You will know in your heart…” and that’s what I did. I based decisions on my heart, not my head. HUGE mistake. We are given both a brain and a heart and we need to use both. I never knew what that was like until I actually applied it and experienced it. Making decisions with your brain, not just your emotions,  takes different strategy. It takes writing out lists of what is logically the right thing to do, versus the wrong. It takes calculating, strategizing, and it takes recognizing and facing RED FLAGS. The emotional side of us wants nothing to do with red flags. The logical side only focuses on the red flags. When you are using BOTH your brain and your heart to make decisions, you don’t have that confused “should I stay or should I go” feeling. You are in perfect alignment and both your head and heart are happy, not pulled and frustrated.

10. I learned that I was, indeed, capable of change. But it wasn’t when I had hit my “bottom” or when I became so sick and tired of my life and the way I was living it. I was like that almost from the beginning and I never got anywhere. Reading one book after another on love and relationships was just another way to avoid facing the real issue! It was ONLY when I decided to take ACTION that real change occurred. Instead of staying in my head, dreaming of change, instead of reading yet another self-help book about how to break my addiction to a PoA, I got up and actually DID SOMETHING WITH MY LIFE that had nothing to do with the PoA. And it wasn’t exactly what I thought it should be (action to get rid of the PoA).It was to start working on facing my underlying fear of working and doing and being a grown up. And when I did that, there was no need anymore for the PoA.Sometimes we focus so much on what seems to be the “big problem” in our lives (our addiction to someone) that we cannot see that there is another, deeper, more costly problem occurring. That we are denying ourselves an authentic life.

We don’t live forever. Where do you see yourself in 2 years? Five years? What haven’t you accomplished in this life that you always wanted to accomplish? What are your fears? What are they keeping you from achieving?

 

What if you placed value on something other than “love”…

Romance Stories of True Love No 50 Harvey, 1958 SA

Romance Stories of True Love No 50 Harvey, 1958 SA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What if you were stranded on a deserted island with only your family or your friends (people you loved, but could not date) and there was NO ONE else in sight, nor would there ever be. And for the remainder of your life, you had to live this way.

Keep in mind that the island would be tropical and filled with beautiful plant life and abundance. There might be tons of books left on the island for reading, and there were an abundance of activities. Life could be FULL with the one exception that you could not find a romantic partner.

To a love addict, at the height of his or her addiction, this might seem like certain doom. But in recovery, how do we deal with this idea? If you think about it, it’s a “sink or swim” situation and when you face it, and really imagine it, you find out what kind of person you are and what kind of recovery you will continue to have.

When I did this little exercise I had just been dumped (ouch!) I was 40 years old and I TRULY believed there was no one else out there in the world for me. I believed that S was the last. Faced with such a seemingly depressing future, I had CHOICES as to how I would react to that situation.

I could have easily sunk into a permanent depression. I could have run out to the nearest bar and tried to pick up any guy I could find that might want to have sex with me, and lived like that. I could have given up and become a hermit. OR I could have started to look at the world in a different way and started to believe that I was put on this earth for more than just romance. Maybe, just maybe, there areother things in this worldthat i could be focusing on and enjoying.

I chose the latter.

I started to see the world in a different way. Before, I always believed it was supposed to give me stuff and introduce me to love. But when I changed my perspective I started to believe that maybe it was my time to start to give back to the world. To enjoy my children. To be grateful for what I did have, NOT cry over what I didn’t have.

This change in perspective came not when I imagined being stranded on an island. I already felt like that! It came after seeing a documentary on a man with no arms and no legs. He was born that way and he was in his 30’s and his expectations of the world were very different than mine. He could not expect to casually meet women and fall in love like I could. He could not expect that one day he would get married and have children and live a NORMAL life. He couldn’t expect to play football or attract women like other men could.

But wait, he COULD expect these things from life (and if he did he would be MISERABLE because chances are, he would not meet those expectations, nor would anyone meet those expectations for him). But he DIDN’T expect those things. He didn’t consider any of those things to be a viable part of life. He chose to see his life as valuable and full WITHOUT those things.

How was that possible, I thought? How can anyone be happy or feel fulfilled without romantic love?! But then I realized that that was my addict brain thinking. Needing my drug of choice. How can an addict live without his or her drug?

But it IS possible. Millions of people live without romantic love and are perfectly content. They have found VALUE in their lives despite what they lack or do not have access to.

And so, I am asking you to think about your own life. I am asking you to think about who you are and what your value is without a significant other.If you could never date again, what would make you happy? Who would you be? WHat would be your joy in life.

Answer these questions and you can heal. Answer these questions and live your life as if they were true, and a miracle will occur.