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.”