There’s a reason love addicts are attracted to sex addicts, avoidants and narcissistic types. What do all these types all have in common? They offer very little in the way of true intimacy, and that, my friends, is something a love addict cannot handle either.
Instead of focusing on the sex addict, the avoidant and the narcissist, focus on yourself. Ask yourself this very difficult question: if I crave the intimacy of a relationship so desperately, why is it that I keep going after people who cannot give that to me? If I crave an ice cream cone, why on earth would I go to find it at the hardware store????
Love addiction is a paradox. It is not about love. It is about avoiding the self and avoiding true intimacy (with yourself and with others). At least sex addicts and avoidants can recognize their intimacy disorder. It seems that many of us can’t. And yet, we are the same. We are opposite sides of the same coin.
Don’t be fooled by the “love” in love addiction. There’s not much love in a love addicted relationship. What is there instead? Fear (of abandonment), need, desperation, drama, pain…
So, I’ve created a new body of work called The Break-Up Journal. Many of you, throughout the years, have asked me how I recovered and what happened, and so, instead of “telling” I am showing.
The Break-Up Journal is an actual account of my last love-addicted relationship, the break-up that ensued, the withdrawal and my ultimate struggle into recovery. Because this is an actual account, transcribed from hand-written journals, nothing is held back. But, because of that, reading can often be cringe-worthy. There are ridiculously stupid lapses in judgment on my part, huge slips, relapses, and several stellar losses of dignity. At times, reading is painful. And trust me, when I re-read this journal, I want to whack this girl over the head and say, What are you an idiot? Don’t you see?!
Fortunately that girl is long gone, but her story remains, and hopefully it can and will add insight into your own struggle with love addiction.
I am planning on posting five entries per week. It is meant to be read chronologically, so that means starting with May 31 (on bottom) and reading up.
Be sure to check out the About the blog page and the Cast of Characters, so you have better insight into the story line. And while names and dates have changed to protect identities, if you are familiar with my blog, you will probably be able to figure out who’s who.
My guess is, if you’re a love addict, the concept of “discipline” either makes no sense to you (that’s only something the military needs to practice, right?), or you recoil from the mere mention of it (sex dungeons, disciplinary parents and hard work, oh my!). Either way, love addicts have virtually zero self-discipline. At least when it comes to relationships.
How and why we tend to be less disciplined people is a mystery. From my own experience, I was raised in a somewhat unruly environment. I would certainly get into trouble if I did something wrong (I used to sneak into my mother’s closet, pull out a dress of hers, and then take scissors and cut it up into pieces so that it fit me. Needless to say, I got into trouble from time to time). But on the whole, I would have to say my parents were not disciplinarians, nor was their parenting very consistent. I grew up, in fact, believing that discipline was a bad thing for creative individuals and that people “like us” should be without boundaries or rules, simply living free so as to express themselves…
Those beliefs, as idealistic and freeing as they seemed at the time, were not very realistic. They translated into a rather directionless, undisciplined adult who ended up not really knowing the benefit of boundaries, rules, self-discipline and deferred gratification. And who certainly never had the self-discipline to make many of her creative ideas come to fruition.
Only now, after years of recovery, do I truly understand how faulty and self-sabotaging those beliefs were. And they were all based on a lack of understanding about the idea of discipline. To me, it was “bad.” Discipline was for non-creative, military-types. Period.
I was so wrong.
Setting the record straight, here are three powerful definition of discipline, taken from Wikipedia:
- Discipline is the assertion over more base desires, and is usually understood to be synonymous with self control. Self-discipline is to some extent a substitute for Motivation.
- Discipline is when one uses reason to determine the best course of action that opposes one’s desires, which is the opposite of Fun.
- Self-discipline—what many people call “will-power”—refers to the ability to persist at difficult or unpleasant tasks until they are completed. People who possess high self-discipline are able to overcome reluctance to begin tasks and stay on track despite distractions. Those with low self-discipline procrastinate and show poor follow-through, often failing to complete tasks—even tasks they want very much to complete.
For a love addict wanting and needing to become healthier, self-discipline is a must. We must learn to overcome obsessive thoughts, stop reaching out to our PoAs, change our current behavior, and change the way we think about certain big ticket items like love, relationships and who we are. All this takes loads of self-discipline.
So, how do you become more disciplined? There are a few resources on the internet to help. Forbes magazine gives a leadership version here. And then there’s Pick the Brain that offers tips for self-discipline when it comes to things like getting to the gym. Both set of tips can be applied to love addiction. But my personal favorite resource on self-discipline comes from Uncommon Help, a site designed for self-help and awareness. Read the 7 Self-Discipline Techniques. Then, print it out. Read it daily. Repeat.
Discipline is not scary. It’s the internal force that allows you to choose the apple over the donut, get up and go to the gym when you don’t feel like it or make decisions based on reason and logic, rather than emotion. Discipline is often a trait you’re born with, but it can be a learned behavior. But it is one concept that many love addicts fear. Why? Because discipline means change. It means giving up something in the short term to get to something far greater and far more rewarding in the long term. It means kissing the safety blanket of your addiction (i.e. your person of addiction and your addictive behavior) goodbye by stepping up to the plate and taking control of your life. It means having the willingness to take the risk to be a better person.
If you need a motivating mantra to start being more self-disciplined, use this: Enough already. I need to grow up. I need to stop being a little child, acting out, getting what he/she wants and crying when I don’t. I need to see value in disciplined behavior. Especially if it means living a more authentic, happy life.
Now, go get ’em!
All the self-help books tell you you have to meet your own needs. And while, for the most part, that is true, it’s not entirely true. If I break my leg and get rushed to the ER, there better be a team of competent doctors there to meet my needs because heck if I have to operate on myself.
Love addicts have a rough time figuring out which needs they can and should meet themselves, and which needs they believe should be met by others. I believe that much of the confusion over this choice stems from an inability or refusal to see one’s self as an adult versus a child. Love addicts tend to need attention and care that would normally be bestowed upon a child. But we’re not children. We are adults. And as an adult here’s how you figure out what needs you should be meeting yourself, as opposed to which needs others can meet for you…
YOU are responsible for meeting your basic needs: water, food, shelter (that means taking care of yourself financially), and clothing are all examples of basic needs. Basically, you need to be at the least self-sufficient.
YOU are responsible for meeting your own mental, emotional and physical needs: this means taking care of yourself, making healthy choices, keeping fit, eating well, incorporating spirituality into your life, filling your own void (if you think you have one), and working through or resolving any mental, emotional or physical issues you may have. This is no one else’s job but yours.
YOU are responsible for meeting your higher needs: higher education, finding and cultivating appropriate and rewarding friendships, finding a partner who is kind, respectful, loving, and compatible, being happy, finding and having a fulfilling career, entertaining yourself and being the person you aspire to be are all examples of higher needs. YOU are responsible for meeting those needs. No one else.
So, what needs of yours are others responsible for meeting?
The need to communicate & be social
The need for intimacy
The need for common human decency: Whether you know it or not, you have a human need for respect, tolerance, decency and to be treated humanely. Everyone is not expected to love or even like you, but they (and we) must meet the need of every human to treat others with dignity and respect. Many love addicts ignore this kind of need in exchange for other seemingly more important needs (sex, companionship, etc.), never realizing that you should not ever have to give up this need. We all deserve respect. Period. If you’re not getting it from certain sources, you need to reassess why that person(s) is in your life. You need to recognize that this is a valid and essential need, and that it should be met by yourself AND others. If it is not, you move on.
The need for friendship: while you are responsible for going out and trying to make friends, those friends, in return, are responsible for meeting your need for a compatible friend. If, however, they cannot meet that need you should move on, or stop expecting them to be a friend.
The need for intimacy with another human being: while you are responsible for going out and trying to find a mate, that mate, in return, is responsible for meeting your need for a compatible, respectful, intimate and loving partner. If, however, they cannot meet those needs you should move on, or stop expecting them to be your partner.
Lastly, I think it’s important to note that no one owes you anything, once you are an adult, except for respect (and sometimes you don’t even get that). And while you are able to expect that some of your needs can be met by others, you, my friend, are responsible for the bulk of those needs being met. If you are not meeting them, today is a great day to start!
I want to talk about healthy as a culture, not a singularity. To be healthy is not to find one way of being and then, do that behavior (not drink, not act out, not see the PoA, etc.). That is often not enough. Creating a healthy person means surrounding yourself with healthy people, healthy work and healthy activities. In AA when recovery is underway, they suggest you “change people, places and things.” Don’t hang out at the bar anymore, ditch the drinking buddies and get rid of the alcohol bottles from your home. When you make choices like that, you stand a better chance of recovering.
For love addicts, we need to do the same. We need to find healthier people to hang around, we need to create a better home situation (one of peace, respect, kindness, happiness). We need to take our work, job and careers more seriously and if necessary, find work that is meaningful and positive. Working in a fitness center or a bar where the atmosphere can be superficial and meat-markety might not be the best career choice for a love addict.
The same can be said about our interests. Reading romance novels, listening to love songs, watching love stories in films is not the best way to shake yourself free of romantic/fantasy notions of what a real, healthy relationship can and should be. Finally, if part of your unhealthy lifestyle entails staying home, filling in your time with hours of fantasy, you need to get out of the house and “do.” Put down the cell, quit checking your text messages and social media sites and walk, swim, shop, drive…Do. Be.
Surround yourself with healthy activities and people.
And lose the excuses. If you can’t quit your job or leave a marriage, try to create a healthier atmosphere right at your desk or in your home where you live and work. Go to therapy. Take a different route down the hall. Hang out with a more positive crowd. Create a space in your home that is “sacred” and only let positive things and people in this room (including you!). Figure out a way to improve your environment so that your environment is a healthier one.
If you think I give a lot of advice in this blog, you should see me as a mom. I dole out advice like a factory conveyor belt lined with Peeps at Easter. And one of the best responses I always seem to get in response to all my wise advice is “I know.”
You need to wear a jacket, it’s cold out.
You shouldn’t hit your brother.
You were supposed to take the trash out.
My kids say “I know” to almost everything. They know it all! It’s become a knee-jerk response to a question they know the answer to. And yet, in reality, they plan to do or have already done something else entirely.
Love addicts often have the same response. We know what’s right, but we tend to do something completely different.
You shouldn’t stay in a relationship with a man who hurts you.
Don’t go crawling back; have some dignity.
Stay away from bad boys.
Oops! So, if you KNOW all this stuff, why do you still do it? If you KNOW you are worth more than scraps, then why aren’t your actions proving that you know this?
I’m not sure I have the answer, but I do know (I know!) that better health comes when our words and actions sync up. When we stop with the childish response, “I know.” Who cares if you know! Don’t just tell me (and don’t just tell yourself) that you know, PROVE that you know by your actions. A head full of “knowing” but not “doing” is fantasy. In recovery, we need our actions to be louder than our “I knows.”
The words just slipped out. I could feel them clinking around in my head for moments before letting them loose: If you’re so mad at me then divorce me! Who needs this shit! And yet, divorce was the last thing on either of our minds. No issue, no fight, no behavior nor secret-thought has ever led to either of us wanting a divorce, and yet, there they were. Cold words that fell upon silence and couldn’t be reeled back even with the most sincerest regret. We were fighting about who knows what. But we were fighting long and hard with our emotions. Logic was long gone. It was late. We were weary. The words came out as a form of manipulation. But, I know this only in retrospect. They were designed as a challenge, not to receive the response, “OK, I will divorce you!” rather, to receive the response, “No! Why are we fighting? I love you and I’m sorry. I’ll never leave you.”
Sadly, manipulation rarely bestows upon you the hoped for outcome. If anything, it causes more trouble, especially if you’re arguing with someone who doesn’t subscribe to manipulation. Which is my husband’s case. And yet, there I was, reverting back to scrappy love-addict tactics that really only worked in my unhealthy relationship, and, if I’m honest with myself, didn’t even work then. And so, the night raged on. He became even angrier with me, which led to us sleeping in separate rooms, which led to us having a huge fight in the morning, which led to loads of crying and sadness and emotion and drama and shame and fear and…wait…Was I back to living that ‘ol life of chaos again?
Say it isn’t so.
OK, it isn’t so.
But, if I am to be realistic, arguments happen even in the best relationship. And we ultimately worked it out and went back to our happy selves. But my eyes opened to how much I needed to improve in this department. And I definitely realized, that night, I needed to change a few of my bottom line behaviors from here on out if I was going to fight fair and be a responsible, loving grown up. I especially needed to stop engaging in “love addict tactics.”
So, here’s my 8 points to help you argue with your partner in a healthier, more dignified way. But, a word of caution: this list is written for healthy relationships, or rather, for individuals who have each others’ best interest at heart. It’s not a way in which to negotiate or “fight fair” with an unhealthy individual whom you can’t seem to get a long with in any way. If you find yourself arguing incessantly, that’s another blog with different advice. And while you can (and should) certainly change and improve your arguing skills with darn near anyone, for your own sake, you may not get a matching result from your partner. If you do, this is a good sign! It means you are both moving in a similar direction and are equally working towards peace. If you don’t, it’s a sign that you are moving in separate directions and it may be time to reassess the value of the relationship.
Without further ado…
- Lose the drama: love addicts love drama. They say things and incite problems simply to drive the drama up to heightened levels. And for what reason? To feel alive? To release built up anger or emotions? Or simply because drama is something their chemistry craves. I don’t know. What I do know is that drama doesn’t equal dignity. Reassess your goals (in your head, while you’re arguing) by asking, what’s my hoped-for outcome? Is it self-centered? Is it to just yell and scream and blow off steam? Or is it to ultimately work towards peace with this person?
- Argue conscientiously: as hard as it may seem to switch off your impassioned, emotional brain and switch on your logical one, it can be done! I can clearly hear the rumblings of logic in my head when I am arguing, and in the past, I would often push those rumblings aside and opt for some crazy emotional response. Now, I try to focus. I take pauses. I breathe. And I use my logical brain as much as possible to get my point across. Arguing doesn’t always have to be hot and fiery. It can be approached from a level-headed, cool perspective. You’re in charge.
- Don’t manipulate: Saying or doing something to incite a response in your partner is manipulation. The classic example of this is the individual who screams, “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself!” That’s manipulation and quite frankly, it’s evil. My example, above, though not as extreme, is still manipulation. You cannot control people, and what’s more, people don’t want to be controlled. That’s the goal of manipulation, and it will only get you so far. Remove it as a communication skill. It’s an unhealthy one.
- Be honest: I read somewhere that truth brings you closer to people, whereas lies keep you apart. For love addicts, as much as we crave love, we often fear intimacy, and so, we lie to keep a “safe” emotional distance between us and the object of our desire. If you’re in a healthy relationship, or simply changing the rules from unhealthy to healthy, you need to lose the lying and as scary as intimacy might seem, it’s your responsibly to yourself and to your partner to be honest.
- Listen: Arguing inevitably entails two people trying desperately to be heard, albeit screaming their point across to the other, trying to grab center-stage and win over the other. Fight fairly. That means give the other person a chance to get his or her point across, to speak his or her mind. Don’t sit there and think of all the things you plan to say when he’s done. Really listen. You’d like it if he listened to you, yes?
- Put yourself in her shoes: people are different. They want different things and they respond differently in different situation. No matter how much of the time you’re on the same page, you and your partner will approach things differently. And oftentimes, they will seem like aliens to you! As hard as I try, I sometimes can not understand why D does certain things. But if I love him, I have to try to put myself in his shoes and trust that he knows what he’s doing. This is very hard to do. But worth it.
- Keep it real and keep it in the now: How often in an argument do you find yourself dredging up the past? If you’re anything like me, a lot. Well, don’t do it unless it’s part of the current landscape of discussion. There’s no need. You’ve forgiven for past transgressions and there needs to be a clean slate. I’m not talking arguing over chronic abuse that continues to happen. If this is the case, why are you arguing to begin with. You need to get out. And speaking of getting out, you need to keep your arguments REAL. What I mean by that, is don’t argue from a fantasy perspective, rather a reality-based one. Are you trying to change your partner? Get him or her to do what you want him to do? Are you unsatisfied with his or her behavior, but, if he just stops doing this one thing, it’ll all be alright? This is called fighting for the fantasy. And it looks like shadow boxing. You’re merely swinging hits at your own shadow and will not accomplish anything, especially not changing him. When we argue it has to be from a personal perspective, not a “I know what’s best for you” perspective. You are not dating your son or daughter. You are dating a grown adult. Keep it real. Accept his or her reality.
- Bow out gracefully: Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who knows! Take some cool down time to think it over. Apologize if you need to. I know I have a very hard time with this (I think I’m always right!), and so, apologizing feels like defeat. It’s really not. It’s deferring to the relationship, not always the other person. Letting go of a belief that you hold dear (as long as it’s not a value, big difference!), is tough. But, sacrifices and compromising are an occasional requirement of a healthy relationship. Ask yourself, what is the higher good? Being right, or sharing happiness between the two of you?
I heard the term “sexual communicator” many years ago, though not exactly in that form. My mother used to say that I had to be careful not to “communicate sexually” with people I was not sexually attracted to, otherwise, they’d get the wrong idea. Looking back, I definitely communicated on a sexual level, but I didn’t see it as a problem, until I got into recovery.
Sexual communication most often has three associations:
- communication that is sexual in nature and appropriate between two people who are or who plan to be sexually intimate,
- narcissism as it applies to the narcissistic personality disorder, and
- excessive flirting as it relates to the sex addict
I do not want to talk about any of these types of communication, although the last one might be closely related to this discussion.
What I’m talking about is far more subtle and difficult to recognize. Here are some of the signs you might be a sexual communicator:
- Difficulty talking to men as “friends” or “acquaintances” on a non-sexual level (especially men you are not attracted to or who are unavailable)
- Not feeling comfortable in clothing unless it’s “sexy”
- No interest in going out with friends unless the potential for flirting or meeting and talking to mates is present
- No interest in people, places or activities that don’t have a sexual element to them
- Feeling most comfortable only when able to flirt or speak using sexual innuendos or behavior
- Averting eye contact with people, unless there is sexual communication
- Displaying sexual body language or leading the conversation in a sexual, flirtatious direction with almost anyone
- Consciously or unconsciously wondering if the person you are talking to finds you “attractive.”
If any of these points sound familiar, you may be a sexual communicator. But here’s the thing: communicating sexually with someone you are intimately involved with is acceptable and healthy; communicating sexually with your married neighbor, your co-workers, your boss, your friends, your friend’s boyfriend, or people you do not intend to have an intimate relationship with is, well, dangerous and unhealthy.
Communicating sexually puts all conversations –even platonic ones– on a heightened sexual level and removes the possibility of knowing people on many different levels, thus narrowing the scope and experience of relating to the world. When you remove sexuality from a conversation, what do you have? To a sexual communicator, you have a boring conversation. But to a healthy person, you have the potential to understand and know people on an intellectual, emotional or spiritual level. You also have the potential to create non-intense relationships that you are not instantly bound to. Sexual communicators tend to become intense and locked into close relationships with people, cross boundaries, date people with many red flags and hop into relationships they later regret.
So, how do you change the way you communicate if you’re a sexual communicator?
The first step is to be aware of these signs, aware of your motives when speaking to people and aware of your ability (or inability) to change your behavior.
I was a sexual communicator nearly all my life–until one experience changed my life. I was in grad school and took a part-time job teaching at a community college. As many of you know, male students can and will flirt with their teachers. And nearly all my life, I was very used to flirting and getting male attention. But, I knew it was my responsibility as a teacher to create clear boundaries between me and my students. I noticed, however, that any time I spoke to a male student I would wonder, as I always had, “Is he attracted to me?” Almost immediately, I felt this wasn’t a healthy way to relate to my students. I was nearly 40, I was professional, and these students were here to learn, not to flirt with their teacher! It was at this point in my life I forced myself to communicate another way and block my sexually communicative nature. By doing that, it opened up a whole new world of relating to and understanding people.
I sexualized men all my life. Every man I would meet I would only be able to relate to him on a sexual level. This was so narrowing and limiting. Now, I communicate with men as friends and am able to have a better understanding of who people are on a personal level, not a sexual one. More importantly, was removing my habit of communicating sexually while dating. This allowed me to get to know my husband as a friend first. And while we are free to communicate on a sexual level now, it’s not the ONLY way we communicate. How nice.
As badly as most of us want a healthy relationship, we’re simply not ready for one. I liken it to wanting to hop into a career before getting a degree. And I am reminded of a story I read recently in the news where a woman was arrested for practicing law without her law degree. She had taken a few classes at law school, but dropped out because she couldn’t afford it anymore, and instead, lied on her resume, got a job as a law clerk at a courthouse and then opened her own practice, taking on clients. Eventually, she was found and arrested. And while I’m not sure if her clients were pleased with her work her not, she was still a fraud. She operated through layers of deception and deceit and in the end, she had nothing to show for herself.
We often make this kind of misstep in our love life. We are not out of one relationship before diving into another. Or, we don’t have a decent model of a loving relationship, and so, we grab whatever comes our way.
Here are a few examples of not being “ready” for a healthy relationship and what you can do about it.
- No model of a healthy relationship: If you witnessed your parents fighting all the time, or your dad ignored your mom, or your mom was an alcoholic, these are not the best models to follow. And yet, we go out into the world and find mates based on how we learned to love as a child. As an adult, however, you can learn to follow a new healthier model. I wrote a blog about it here.
- No proper grieving period: When a relationship is over, whether you called it or not, you need to grieve. Period. You need to spend a decent amount of alone-time trying to put your life back together, figuring out who you are and finding your center. Without this period of coming to terms with the end of that relationship and self-centering, you risk choosing a new relationship based on flimsy things like loneliness, neediness and sadness. A mate is not supposed to “fill the void” in your life, he or she is supposed to compliment your own awesomeness. Not grieving is also a sign that you were not exactly in the last relationship for intimacy with the person, per se, but rather, for the intensity of any relationship. This relates closely to the next point…
- Jumping into a new relationship before the old one is officially over: Like I said above, when you do not have a healthy amount of alone-time in between relationships, it tends to be a sign that you were not exactly in the last relationship for intimacy with the person, per se, but rather, for the intensity of the relationship. Almost anyone with chemistry can create that intensity, so replacing him or her is relatively easy. The healthier option, is to spend some serious time looking back at the person you broke up with to see where YOU might have gone wrong. What you might want in a new partner and what you might want to avoid.
- Choosing the same unhealthy person over and over: My mother used to say “God will give you the same problem until you learn to fix it.” If you’re dating the same “type” over and over (especially one who tends to hurt you, frustrate you or create suffering) you have not learned to “fix” this problem. Read more about love addiction, build your self-esteem, learn what your values are. Learn what it takes to change. These are all ways in which you can grow out of repeat patterns that hold you down.
- Not being a healthy person yourself: How do you expect to attract a healthy partner if you, yourself are manipulating, lying, cheating, acting out, abusive, angry, miserable and so on? You can’t do it. Well, you might be able to attract a healthy partner, but you will not be able to sustain a relationship with a heathy partner if you possess these qualities. Why? Because, forget what you were told about “opposites attract.” Not in this situation. In this situation, like attracts like. Water seeks its own level. You need to be the healthy person you want to connect with. And that means building self-esteem, being able to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, financially and physically, and be able to enter into a relationship as an equal partner, not someone who is looking for a fix or a hole to fill.
- Expecting too much from dating: I’ve added this in because let’s be honest, dating is something you need to learn. It’s not exactly something that we all inherently know how to do. And for love addicts, who tend to set expectations way too high when it comes to dating, a book or two on how to date, what to expect and what not to expect is helpful. You can read my “Tips on Dating for the Love Addict” as well as Judith Sills “A Fine Romance,” which will really put dating into perspective.
Bottom line: A healthy relationship is a fantasy, unless you put lots of hard work into yourself and into your “career” as a healthy person!
We often think that big change is black and white. That for growth and change to occur, one must become completely different. This isn’t exactly true. I watched some silly Lifetime movie on love addiction the other night and the character who played a counselor says to the love addict, “the addict must die, so that the healthy person inside can live.” I’m not sure I believe that. For years now, my addict has lived side by side with my healthy self. Thing is, my addict changed in order to live in peace and harmony with healthy me. Addict Me now defers to Healthy Me because it knows that Healthy Me makes better choices and there’s less pain than when Addict Me was in charge. So, the addict inside has transformed itself; it has become subservient, tamed. But she’s still there. And while she no longer has the power she once had, she can still poke her head out of the ether and demand attention. Addict Me makes herself know when I long for “longing.” She rears her ugly head when I am ladened with anxiety and panic, or when I allow myself to turn completely co-dependent with my kids. She sometimes keeps me from making adult choices, and is always there when I can’t cope with stress. Most of the time though, she is a shadow self that follows me around dutifully and stays out of Healthy Me’s business.
Anyway, my point in relating this is that change doesn’t have to be so massive that a part of you must die. Unhealthy behavior can act like a shape-shifter. It is malleable. It can be taught to do better. Addict You doesn’t have to die. But it does have to be put in its place and told who’s boss…
1. The biggest and most successful change I made in my life was to grow up. That’s something I never really wanted to do. Being an adult scared the pants off me. It meant being responsible, working, being accountable, taking risks I didn’t want to take and facing fears I didn’t want to face. And while becoming a mom helped me to overcome some of my resistance to growing up ( a lot of it actually), I still remained emotionally anchored to my youth. That all changed in 2008 when the pain of remaining immature finally outweighed the fear of becoming a grown up. And I have news for you, while being a grown up is hard, it’s not that hard!!! The longer you do it, the better at it you become. Stunted growth happens when we AVOID ourselves. Period. We use relationships and sex to avoid (we also use drugs, money, shopping, food…) Once you realize that, it’s over. Your love addict can take a back seat, because you now know that the one thing it can’t have in order to be all-powerful, is self-growth.
2. The second biggest change was facing my fear of intimacy. In the past, I had always dated emotionally avoidant men who tended to be mentally, physically and emotionally unavailable. I did this as way to protect myself. I did this because I was unavailable. As much as I wanted love and a relationship, I was too immature and too afraid of exposing myself to someone who might have high expectations of me, to someone who might demand too much from me in the way of intimacy. I’m not a very intimate person. I can go “deep” every once in a while, but typically, I prefer to have very superficial relationships that don’t tie me down. I am this way because I have entrapment issues. My fear of entrapment ultimately led me to hop into relationships that were overly simplistic, where there was no real communication or intimacy (but lots of intensity). Getting over this meant finding someone who could love, respect, and show kindness to me, but didn’t trap me. Knowing yourself means knowing how much intimacy you are comfortable with. The more you experience intimacy with others and recognize that they will not “trap” you, and that YOU are in control to move about the cabin, so to speak, the safer you feel and the more intimacy you can handle. You also don’t want to confuse intimacy with intensity. Two different things. I could always handle intensity because it was a high that surged temporarily and gave me that feeling of connectivity with someone, but then it was over and I was free to remove myself from the intensity and recover. Many women experience this “roller coaster” of emotions. They experience the intensity of love and sex, then they crash and burn. I believe i subconsciously chose mates I knew would be this way (run away from me or neglect me) because I needed that recovery time to heal from the intensity. Surprisingly, I am still this way. Instead of a partner putting me on this roller coaster, it is my health and workout routine. I become intensely healthy and run and bike and workout to an extreme, and then I crash and desperately need to lie on the sofa and do nothing but recover for three weeks. Very strange!
3. I learned what it meant to really love myself and have self-esteem. And while I don’t have nearly as much self-esteem and confidence as I would like (believe it or not you don’t need a slew of this to have a successful relationship) I found out that having just a little more than I had before was just enough to create beauty in me to the point of becoming attractive to a healthy partner. How much self-esteem did I find? Well, enough to know these few things: I’m not perfect. No one is. I have a right to a good life. I have a right to be respected and loved. I may not be the most beautiful woman on the planet, or the smartest, but I am the ONLY one on this planet with this particular combination of traits that make me unique in all the world. That means that I am a gift to others and that it is my job to surround myself with people who appreciate my gifts and see me as a gift. Being a “gift” to the world has very little to do with superficial beauty, intelligence, color, class, etc. It has to do with recognizing the importance of that unique combo of traits that only you possess. What do I lack? I don’t think I’m very pretty, or smart. I sometimes feel fat (although I only weigh 125 lbs at 5’4″ and am fairly athletic), I make a ton of mistakes as a mother, friend, wife, sister and daughter…I don’t always believe in my knowledge and experience…I feel shame a lot, and it is still hard for me at times to be intimate with my hubby and kids. Oh well! Like I said, I changed just enough for it to matter.
4. I said goodbye to fantasy and put action in its place. What does that mean? Well, to a love addict, it means that for most of my childhood and adult life I was very fantasy driven. I would dream of becoming a writer but not write. I would dream of falling in love with a Prince, but I wasn’t a princess. I would dream of great careers as a movie star or public speaker, but I would’t go to college. I had zero experience, I built up no wealth of knowledge in any field, but my dreams and fantasies about what I could be were enormous and elaborate. My rich fantasy life comforted me, UNTIL I was about 25, and UNTIL I actually had to socialize. And if anyone remembers back to being 25 what’s the one thing we all talked about? Or, rather, I should ask, what’s the one thing that HEALTHY people talked about? Their education. Their careers. Whether they were going to go on to grad school or if they were trying to find a job. Me? I was waiting tables at a beer and shots joint and trying to hop into bed with the first man that paid me any attention. This was not action. This was stunted growth. This was a refusal to grow up. My marriage was also a refusal to grow up. I felt protected from having to grow up while I was married. My husband would go to work and I could have babies and continue to feed my rich fantasy life. I could AVOID life. Trouble was, since I never did anything or became anything or gained any experience in any particular field (because I never invested in myself), I had a very limited pool of men to choose from who would want me as their wife. Who wants someone with ZERO responsibility and stunted growth and an inability to be intimate and mature? Well, someone who is EQUALLY stunted and immature. It wasn’t until I was about 36 years old that I realized the whole fantasy-world wasn’t sustaining me. And it wasn’t until I was 40 that I finally said goodbye to fantasy and was able to stand on my own. I went back to college, got a degree, even invested one year in graduate school. I rarely, if ever fantasize now. What I do now (duh! I could have been doing this all along) is make goals. Making concrete goals where action is required is the adult’s version of fantasy. You dream it, you plan it, you prepare for it, then you DO IT. Wow. What a difference. Since I gave up fantasy and became goal-oriented instead, I have had many accomplishments. And all these accomplishments are investments I have made in myself.
5. I realized that my failed relationships and the bad boy-avoidants that broke my heart did not CAUSE my love addiction. I did. The bad boys were a symptom of my love addiction. We often think that love addiction is about love. Not getting enough of it, wanting too much, etc. It’s not about love. It’s not even about other people. It is about self-avoidance (torchbearing keeps you from living a realistic life; ambivalence keeps you from making important decisions; straight up love addiction keeps you from growing up). It is about using love and relationships as tools to help you soothe, cope, defend and avoid. Therefore, the object of getting healthy cannot be found in solving the issues of your current relationship. When the torchbearer’s dreams come true and she finally has the object of her fantasy, the reality will never be as rich and she will need to hold a torch for someone else; if the ambivalent love addict ever makes a decision to stay or leave a relationship, more ambivalence will follow, etc.) As I’ve written about before, your unhealthy relationship serves a perfectly functional dysfunctional purpose: to keep you from avoiding yourself and growing up. When you “fix” it (without fixing yourself), the relationship will no longer serve its purpose and the PoA must go and another put in its place. This is why I continued to repeat the same patterns and be attracted to the same character over and over and over.
6. I finally determined that I no longer had to “date daddy.” This was a big change for me as my idea of a perfect mate was wrapped up in who my dad was. Freud was right. A daughter’s first love is her father. And whether that love is reciprocated or not, betrayed or not, healthy or not, it doesn’t matter!!! A daughter will still see the combination of traits in that man as ones she must look for in a man of her own. If she gets along well with her father, respects him, and has a healthy relationship with him (and vice versa), her chances of finding a healthy partner are high. If, on the other hand, he neglects her, abandons her, does drugs, lies, cheats, steals, etc., and she loses respect for him and learns to mistrust him, her chances of finding a healthy partner have been sabotaged. I knew the psychology behind daughters dating their father. But I honestly thought that if I avoided men who did drugs or were alcoholics, I would avoid the problem of being stuck with a man like my dad. Wrong. It didn’t occur to me until much later that I was picking men with much subtler comparisons to my dad. Men that avoided me. Once I learned this lesson, I was able to finally recognize the avoidant and…avoid him :)
7. Equal in weight and importance to numero uno, was that I learned what values were and I made them more important than anything, even my relationships. Values are the most important thing in your life. Well, at least they should be. If you want to say goodbye to love addiction learn what your values are and choose them over anything else. When you do that, you change. You become healthy. You become true to yourself. Eight years ago, I could not tell you what a value was if it came up and slapped me in the face. You know how all those self-help books tell you “you won’t ever find the perfect man” and “you need to learn to tolerate a few bad traits” and “no relationship comes without problems”? Well, those books are right. But, they are preaching some very dangerous information without full disclosure. Let me explain: as a woman who learned that info, I never knew which traits were acceptable and which weren’t. Sure, I knew to stay away from big ticket items. I wouldn’t remain in a relationship with a serial killer. But there’s an equation to this information that I had all wrong. I thought that if I “loved” this man, and he, in turn “said” he loved me, and if I could write down more positives about him than negatives, I should stay. And yet, using this equation caused huge amounts of ambivalence. I would see on paper with my very own eyes that this guy only had four problems and about 100 positives. What was wrong with me? What I never in a million years understood until much later in life, was that the groupings of positives and negatives that we all come with are weighted. Picking your teeth at the table might be a negative but it may only hold a weight of one point, compared to smoking pot, also a negative, but that weight might be worth 50 points. This system of weights is not arbitrary. It comes from one source and one source only: your value system. You have a system of values already in place that you either use or don’t use. Either way, it’s there and it’s functional. And it weighs things all the time. For example: every time your PoA cheats on you and you feel like your whole body is on fire? That’s a value speaking directly to you. It’s saying: this is a quality or an action that I do not like and which causes enormous pain. Wether you listen to that value or not is the key. And when you don’t know your values or that you have to choose them over a relationship, you lose. A value you tells you if certain qualities are acceptable or unacceptable. If some traits weights one point or one hundred. If it is, in fact a value, or simply a want (not a must have). It tells you this through your emotions and through your logical brain–if you listen. When I realized what my values were I was no longer ambiguous. I was able to clearly see that while some guy only had four problems, their weight was too enormous for me to bear and they went against my value system. Once I learned this, enormous change occurred. I operated in a different way. My old ways of figuring out if someone was right or wrong for me became outmoded. This new values-based way of determining someone’s staying power in my life was a much healthier approach. It taught me to look for people who SHARED my same values. Once I did that, relationships became less painful.
Our inner love addict may be part of our true self, but it is the part of us that just doesn’t get it. It is the hungry, lonely, tired, angry, scared side of us, that makes unhealthy decisions out of fear and self-protection as opposed to health and happiness. It is the yin to our yang. The Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekyll. It is Pygmalion: the bedraggled, vulgar, uncivilized flower girl that I believe we need to educate in order to turn her into a duchess–not just on the outside, but the inside as well. So, no, your Addict doesn’t have to die. But she definitely needs to move over and let Healthy You drive from now on.