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.
When you look at your Person of Addiction (PoA) who do you see? Describe him or her. Write it down. Good qualities and bad. Is he avoidant? Careless? Disrespectful? Dishonest? Happy? Kind? Funny? And then…(surprise, surprise) know that you are looking at YOURSELF.
If you are with a disrespectful man…it is YOU who is disrespecting yourself.
If you are with an avoidant man…it is YOU who is avoiding yourself and your deeper problems.
If you are with a dishonest man…it is YOU who is not being honest with yourself.
Furthermore, ask yourself, are you angry with him? Frustrated? Disappointed? Unfulfilled? When we take responsibility for our lives and start to deeply love ourselves, we realize that this is known as projection. We are angry with ourselves. We are frustrated with ourselves. And so, we attract partners that allow us to express these emotions, without having to put the blame on ourselves. If I am with an avoidant partner, it’s not my fault. It’s his! If I am with a man who does not give me what I want, it’s his fault, not mine! Right?
Like attracts like. Water seeks its own level.
In order to be healthier and attract a healthier partner, YOU need to be everything you’d like in a mate. And you need to find the source of frustration and anger within yourself and heal it. It’s not, after all, his fault he’s avoidant, disrespectful or dishonest. It’s yours for staying with him.
Now that I have been in a stable relationship for six years (longest passionate, loving relationship EVER. Thank you very much.) that feeling of initial urgency, deep passion and lust has naturally faded– the longing and feeling of “I can’t wait to devour you” is no longer there. This, by no means, means I’ve lost love for my husband. In fact, I love him more now than ever before. But the teenage puppy-love feeling has definitely…poof!…disappeared. Reality has set in. Fantasy over. And I am quite content with that. Life is good. And yet, every once in a while–randomly– the sensation of urgency and lust creeps back in, and I feel so overwhelming “in love” with my husband that it almost seems like we’ve been thrown back into some time machine and it’s January 2009 again. Did he do something especially different? Did we bond over something important? Did something in me change and realize some deep meaningful truth?
Nope. I probably ate spicy food.
Really. No joke. This fleeting sensation of heightened passion is a clear window into brain chemistry and how food, beverages, drugs and hormones can alter your emotions. It is also a clear window into your own emotions and what you believe about that. We humans, not just love addicts, can so easily be misled to believe we “feel” love, when in fact we merely feel the effects of the drinks we had the night before, or the coffee we are ingesting or a change in hormones during our menstrual cycle. These random chemicals can transform an average Joe into the love of your life in a split second, if you happen to have eaten too much sugar at the right time, thus, making you “believe” there’s chemistry between you and good ‘ol Joe. This is kind of a sad reality for those of us who would love to believe we are making rational or even spiritual choices about people, but, at first sight, we’re kinda not. At least not all the time. My point is, we need to be aware of this phenomenon. If we are not aware of it, we can easily be fooled into thinking that we are on the right track with “Joe”, only to, days later, feel strangely ambiguous about him and wonder what the heck we were thinking.
Think about it. How often have you met someone out at a club or a party when you were drinking, hooked up, only to wake up the next morning (with or without him beside you) and thought, “What have I done?!?” The alcohol instance is an obvious example of brain chemicals influencing our behavior and, importantly, what we believe to be true. But it happens with much subtler, unexpected chemicals too–sugar, caffeine, aspirin, chocolate, high fat foods, low-fat foods, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs. Instances of these chemicals at work are when you wake up in the morning on the “wrong side of the bed.” Or suddenly just feel sad. Or laugh for no apparent reason. These are all examples of the chemicals at work in our body. And one of the most important things to realize, is that what we ingest has a huge effect. During our menstrual cycle our brain chemicals change too. Without us even knowing.
And, what is love but a chemical reaction in the brain. Endorphins; neurotransmitters firing neurons. Sure, we can have what’s called “chemistry” with people. And sure, we can rest our eyes on a person we find beautiful thus causing a physical, mental and emotional response. But is this because this person has done something to cause us to feel this way? Or is it merely a force within us that has created meaning and significance from a visual cue?
Lesson to be learned: be wary of emotions that seem fleeting, quick to come and quick to go. Look instead to the foods you recently ingested, even a few days prior. Know the difference between fleeting emotions and “feelings” about something or someone that linger for a very long time (even when they too seem to come and go). These latter types of emotions are much stronger indicators of something going on, on a deeper level. MOST IMPORTANT, try not obsess or assign any deep meaning to emotions that seem to hit you out of no where. More than cupid’s arrow, they could be indigestion. ;) I always think of a newborn baby when it smiles. We so often want to believe that they are smiling at us, but the truth is, it’s probably just gas.
I hope you don’t go see this movie. There, I said it. And I know I’m probably too late. You’ve already read the book (as did I). But here’s the thing: IF you do see the movie, I would like you to be very aware that this is a film about a narcissist and a love addict. And the reason it’s so darn popular–even among the healthy crowd– is because, while many of us may have a fantasy about being devoured by a hot, wealthy narcissist, who, in the end, falls madly in love with us and finally becomes normal, we recognize that it is NOT REAL, or for that matter, SAFE.
And I am certainly all for the *fun* aspect of this film. All for the parody. All for the lighthearted play that it elicits. Heck, the book has already proven to be quite an aphrodisiac for many women who were on the brink of sexual starvation. But I am only for all these things so long as the person (woman) reading or watching or participating in this phenomena is healthy minded and can easily see the difference between safe and sorry.
GOOD Magazine has a fabulous slideshow depicting “movie posters” for 50 Shades, but they’ve added abusive lines from the book to really drive home the idea that “abuse is not romance.” I couldn’t agree more. Moreover, they are promoting a campaign called, 50 Dollars Not 50 Shades, where you donate $50 to battered women’s clinics and opt OUT of seeing the film.
In the end it’s up to you whether you view it or not. Love addicts need to be especially careful not to get sucked into the emotional bondage being offered, and the FALSE promise of love. This movie is not about love. It’s about control. And as we all know, control’s a cheap imitation for a real, meaningful, respectful relationship, and, what poor, misguided Anastasia could have had instead, if she held out for someone less self-absorbed. Anyway, have fun with it if you can; and, if you can’t, watch any of these non-romantic movies instead.
Are you writing out your New Year’s Resolution with your Love Addict brain or your recovery brain? Here’s the difference!
Love Addict’s Resolutions:
- Teach him to pay more attention to me.
- Show him how to be a better listener and friend
- Convince him to stay
- Help him love me and remain present in my life
- Change his “bad” qualities so that he loves me more
- Demand more affection
- Set an ultimatum on all his affairs
- Obsess more. The more I obsess, the stronger our relationship grows…
Recovering Love Addict’s Resolutions:
- Write out a list of my Values and learn what it means to stick to them
- Get better at putting up boundaries, and/or respecting those that are already in place
- Read a page of theLovelyAddict.com’s blog every day OR any reading material on love addiction
- Look in the mirror every day and find something beautiful. No matter what.
- Spend 10 minutes every day doing a soul searching activity–ask, “What am I trying to avoid by putting all my focus and energy into thinking of this relationship or this person?”
- Figure out what I love to do, without any special person in my life. Just me. Do not allow myself to say, “nothing.”
- Every time I get the urge to call, text, visit, stalk, or see the PoA, I will go to the LAA message boards and post and wait for someone to respond with a VALID reason I should make contact. If that doesn’t happen, I remain in NC.
I write about this a lot, but it’s so important, so, here it is again.
You know this relationship is no good for you, and you know you shouldn’t keep calling him. Your brain gets it. By why don’t you stop? Why can you understand something on an intellectual level but not follow through and make intellectual decisions about it?
Well, here’s my take.
You have two brains (actually three, but we’re only going to focus on two): your logical (adult) brain and your emotional (child within) brain. The part of you that does not operate on an intellectual level is your emotional brain. It is the animal in you, or more euphemistically, the child within you. Your emotions think and feel with no rhyme or reason, and when you’re healthy, your emotions tend to be balanced and not too demanding. The child is satisfied. And so you begin to trust them, listen to them, ignore them when necessary, or allow them to guide SOME (not all) of the decisions you make in your life, all the while using your head as well.
When you’re a love addict, however, you are guided by your emotional brain. And that wouldn’t exactly be a problem, except that your emotions are pure chaos. Untrained emotions, running rampant, demanding immediate gratification are not the best guide when it comes to managing your life. They can’t be trusted. They tend to lead you down paths that are fine if you’re a toddler (insert hand in dog’s mouth; cry, kick and scream for attention; spit food out if you don’t like it, etc.), but, as an adult, they lead you down a rather frustrating, inappropriate path. Why? Because your emotions, though once designed to help you survive in the wild and become human have really become obsolete except when used for purposes of instinct. Psychology Today, in fact, writes that, “The old fight-or-flight system is inadequate to the modern threats. You can fight a tiger; but you have to work hard, for a long time, to fight a financial crisis or the threat of terrorism.” How does that apply to you incessantly calling a man who doesn’t treat you well or love you back the way you’d like to be loved? Well, your emotional brain perceived your situation as a threat and so, you try to deal with that threat on a rather animalistic level. To obsess over it. To chase. To hunt. Your emotional brain forces you to kick and scream and demand IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION (I’m hungry; I need food), but, your logical brain pulls you back, or at least allows you to be aware that this doesn’t make sense, or that it’s wrong. Rationally you know your PoA is no good, and rationally, you know your behavior (obsessing over someone) is futile, but your emotions don’t care. They are greedy, hungry and want to be fed.
My suggestion: begin to listen to the two “dictators” inside you. Allow your logical brain (the adult in you) the opportunity to take the lead every once in a while. That means following a logical path and listening to reason from time to time (today, I’m choosing to not call him because, let’s be honest, he doesn’t call me). Also, pay close attention to when your emotional brain (the child in you) takes over, or makes decisions for you (reaching out to a PoA when you “know” it’s not a good idea.) When you are able to see and feel the distinctly different decision-makers inside you, you have a better chance at allocating which one gets to make the decisions and which one doesn’t. And here’s the deal: the more you exercise your logical brain, the stronger it gets! That being said, in early recovery you want to bring yourself to a point where your logical brain is making more than 70% of the decisions. Why not 50/50? Well, if you’re anything like me, when you are in love addict mode you are completely off balance, ruled by emotions. In order to bring the balance back you have to tip the scales in the opposite direction for a while. Your logical brain will guide you to safety. Eventually, when you are in a healthy place, you can give your emotional brain a little of her power back. But by then, hopefully she will have calmed down
This is the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
The House that Jack Built is a cute little child’s nursery rhyme. But to me, it is a fabulous allegory for a rather chaotic house. Not to mention a great way to bring to light the idea that our houses are actually WHO WE ARE. And what we place in our houses, what we build our houses upon and who we invite into our houses are all representative of who we are and what we have control over. So… I want you to do this little exercise in visualization today. It has helped me immensely, to remove negative, anxious thoughts from my brain and remember that my head and my heart are my house and I am in control of what I let it. I hope it helps you too, to remove obsessive thoughts of the PoA or to realise who you might be letting in and who might want to keep out.
Imagine your perfect home (and let’s face it, love addicts are GREAT at imagining things that don’t exist!). It can be your all-year-round home, or your vacation property. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you decorate it in the fashion you love best.
Pay attention to every detail. What paintings or objects will you hang on the wall? WHat will the floors look like? The kitchen? The living room? What style makes you happiest? Is your sofa a plush, comfy leather sofa that you can curl up on? Or is it a soft, pillowy sofa that you can sink into? What does your backyard look like? Is there a pool? A lawn? A garden?
Is your home in the mountains? By the sea? In Paris? Overlooking a lake? On the beach? Where in the world is your house?
Remember, you are working on your house all by yourself. No one is able to add any input here. It’s all you. YOU have complete control. And, since YOU ALONE have created this house, it is a SACRED PLACE, a reflection of who you are and what you desire the most. So, it should be totally acceptable and comfortable to you and filled with things that not only make you happy, but make you feel alive. Is there a yoga studio in your home? A sauna or a spa? Can you ride horses? Lounge by a pool? Is there an element of spirituality in your home? What is it? A special room to meditate? What books do you have on your shelves? What music is playing throughout the house?
Once you have created your home, imagine how long it might have taken you do so. Did you find this home through a realtor? Or did you build it from scratch? How much time did it take you to find the right fabric, the right furniture? The right location? The right building materials? The right plumbing? Remember…YOU and only you are in charge of every detail. And while this may seem overwhelming, the end result is that you get everything your way. And you have a place that amazes you and brings you great joy.
Now, imagine your house is finally just as you like it, and you are enjoying your house, doing what you love, and a knock comes at the door. It’s your PoA. And while you are happy to see him, he (or she) comes in and starts doing what he does best…avoiding you, cheating on you, calling you ugly and fat, telling you he doesn’t love you, or conversely, telling you he loves you but then not following through with loving actions, thus, confusing you, and generally DISTURBING THE PEACE THAT YOU HAVE BUILT AROUND YOU.
He also walks around your house with muddy shoes, tells you you made a mistake by spending so much money, tells you he doesn’t like the style of your house and then leaves, slamming the door and trampling over the flowers in your garden.
End of fantasy.
Now, the reality…
The house you built all your life is the YOU you’ve built all your life. It is your heart. It is your brain. It is your spirit. It is essentially YOU. In reality, how did you build your “house”? Does it match up to the fantasy version you just created? Who do you let into your house ( into your heart?) WHo do you allow to occupy your time (in your brain?)? Do you allow anybody into your house? Do you allow people to walk through your house with muddy shoes? Do you allow people in who do not appreciate or at least respect the work and the beauty you built into your house?
Is it a shack or a dream house?
Start to assess who you are as if YOU were a house. Do you need to tear down the old house and rebuild with better materials? Do you even have the materials to build a solid house? If not, where can you get those materials? That might mean educating yourself, learning what dignity means, learning self-control, letting go of fear, learning to love yourself or learning how to be nice to others. Knowledge about healthy living is one of many tools and building materials you need to build well.
What was the foundation built upon? Maybe it’s time to repour the concrete and make a more solid foundation. Are you renting your house out to others? Who’s in there? Why aren’t YOU in possession of your own home? How do others perceive your “house”? Do they think it looks run down? ramshackle? Built with straw? Maybe even built with iron gates and no windows? Do others feel comfortable enough to visit your house? How could you make it more comfortable? What does that entail? The more questions you ask yourself, the more this exercise brings to light a truth about who you are and what you could become if you just take the time to build it.
At 10pm tonight I am hopping on a plane with my two sons and flying off to Paris amid airline strikes and rail strikes and increased taxation on tourists and god knows what else. Red flags galore. But, oh, my heart! And all I can think of is, get me there as fast as you can before I explode.
I lived in Paris in 1989, when I was 21-years-old and a full-fledged love addict. Nothing meant anything to me back then if I didn’t have a man, except the city of lights. I stayed there about 5 months studying French at the Alliance Francaise and working as an au pair, and while I did fall in love, it was more with the city and the Parisian culture than with any one man. After I ran out of money though, and my mother forced me on a plane back home, I carried a torch for France for many, many, many years, and was never able to go back until 2011 when I was flown out to Amsterdam for the IDFA Film festival for my role in the Love Addict documentary. That I am able to go back again so soon is a miracle. Or rather, more likely, my addiction kicking in, which leads me to confess that I may have been wrong all these years– we are never fully “cured” of our love addiction.
I remember a woman on the forums a while ago who was addicted to a famous dead poet or writer. She couldn’t stop fantacizing about this “imaginary” man, and as odd at it seemed to me at the time, I realized I had had the same fascination with a city. I mourned the loss of Paris just like any other PoA. I felt abandoned, lost, miserable. I felt it was an unrequited love. But I couldn’t really put my finger on who gave up on who. Did Paris give up on me, or did I give up on Paris? I went into a very deep depression for a couple years after this and never fully recovered. Nor did I muster the strength or courage to get back. I allowed other dreams to get in the way.
And yet I didn’t. I remember back in 1993 I was poised to marry an American who was deeply in love with me. I was more in love with the idea that he loved me. And so, when I posed the question, “would you be OK if we tried to move to Paris for a while?” and his response was a resounding No, I tweaked the course of our lives forever and left him. Only after I had bought the white dress and put a down payment on the catering hall, of course. A small price to pay in order to get my “dream” back.
But as the years went by, my dream soon faded. And Paris became more of a memory, then a recollection, and lastly, a regret. I could have gone back. I should have gone back. Why didn’t I go back?
When I touched down on French soil in 2011, D was with me. I could barely catch my breath. He had to hold my hand tightly. We exited the Gare du Nord, caught the Metro and came up and out of the ground under a starry sky. The amber glow of night-time Paris is indeed why it is known as the City of Lights. And as I stood, basking in the frenetic blaze between the rue de Rivoli and the Tuileries garden, I burst into tears. It was all too much. It was too good to be true. And it is what every love addict dreams of. The moment they are not only reunited with their love, but that that love is reciprocated. Paris hadn’t forgotten me. She welcomed me back as if no time had passed between us and she was every bit the lover I had waited for all those years.
And yet, she was gone in an instant. Once again out of reach when I flew back home and back to reality. A new but familiar ache to take her place. Being in Paris after all those years was glorious. And yet, what was it? Eating cake fulfills momentarily. It takes the edge off, temporarily. Until you can find that next big hit.
In less than 24 hours, I will get it. Another whopping hit. And possibly another. Just last night in fact, we met our new neighbors, one of whom is an artist who travels to Paris twice a year for trade shows. We clicked over wine and good conversation and she’s already put out the invitation to join her on one of her trips. But will it be enough? Is love ever enough? As a recovering addict who has learned a thing or two, I know it’s not. I know that love, all by itself, is a rickety chair with wobbly legs–whether it be love for a man, woman, bottle, country, city or a dead poet. Love needs substance. It needs the fortification of rationality and purpose. And it needs to come from both ends. I can’t keep taking from Paris like a love sick succubus. Perhaps, I need to give back to make this romance work.
For now, I plan to teeter on that chair and see what I can see without toppling over. When I get back, however, I need to reassess if I can turn this achy addiction for Paris into something a little more meatier, healthier. Perhaps I could return to school and take french lessons. Perhaps I could try to see if my company wants to market our product there. Perhaps I could write about my travels for a travel blog or magazine. Whatever the case, my addiction for Paris is another hurdle I need to learn how to deal with or overcome or succumb to. Sure, I could be content to travel there on vacation from time to time. Like a normal human being. Take my stroll around the Eiffel Tower, have my cafe au lait and be done with it. Or can I? Addicts can’t really be content with just one little drag off the cigarette, one hit from their PoA. We sometimes just can’t be normal. We need to burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, as Jack Kerouac wrote in On the Road. And for that, addiction is tricky. It can make life seem, at once, intoxicating and tragic.
But let’s not go there. Tomorrow morning, I reunite with an old love. Let me bask in the euphoria of my temporary insanity. Just for a moment.
There are certain things people will say or do when going through addiction recovery that simply drive me insane. I want to shake these people and say, “do you hear yourself?! You will not recover with that kind of thinking!” Of course, the reason these things drive me insane is because I am or was guilty of ALL of them. That which you do not like in others is really what you don’t like in yourself. So, as I post these comments and false beliefs from others, let it be known that they are really a reminder of my own unhealthy thinking at a time in my life when I just didn’t think I could get better. Here they are…
- “He took away my self-esteem and ultimately my dignity.” No he (or she) didn’t. No one takes away either of those things from anyone. You give them away, willingly for the sake of having a relationship, and then, when you realize the relationship has failed, you blame others for the loss of your personal characteristics, because, let’s be honest, taking ownership and responsibility for holding on to your self-esteem and dignity is much harder than you thought. It’s easier to blame a “bad guy.”
- “I can’t move on.” Yessssss you can! Sheesh. You moved on from becoming a toddler to a tween, didn’t you? You moved on from being a teen to an adult, right? When things are too tough, or too impossible or too hard or we “can’t” do something, it’s because we do not believe that we CAN do something and that we CAN change and create a new life for ourselves. Can’t works more efficiently for people who never learned how well Can works. And believe me, it’s a hard thing to learn if you weren’t raised in an “I can do it” family. But it takes a little pain and pressure and action in the opposite direction to make this change. Start training your brain to think like this: your hand is resting on a hot plate and you can stay there all you want by saying “I can’t move,” but turn the hot plate on high to the point that it burns you and I bet you CAN move pretty quickly. Be your own hot plate. Be your own spark under your arse that gets you to move and change your behavior.
- “Why does he like her better? Why doesn’t he love or want me?” You’re asking the wrong questions. Instead of focusing on him and his needs, and his wants and choices, start focusing on you by asking, Why do I want to stay with a man/woman who neglects me, disrespects me, avoids me, uses me, [fill in the blank]? Ask yourself what role you play in your own destiny. And try to realize that when someone chooses you or rejects you, it’s NOT PERSONAL. Why do you like strawberries but not blueberries? Does this mean that all blueberries are bad or unloved or inadequate? Of course not. It means people have personal preferences for one thing (or person) over another and it really has nothing to do with who you are or what you offer. It has to do with the fact that this particular person doesn’t like blueberries. Go find someone who likes blueberries. And then, be the best blueberry you can be!
- “He was the only one for me. He was my soul mate.” Oh, the stories we tell ourselves to make something right and good. Oh the insanity of “soul mate” thinking. In some Native American cultures, soul mates are usually your children, or favorite animals. They aren’t boyfriends or husbands, which, according to some tribes, are a dime a dozen (if English isn’t your first language, that idiom means that men are everywhere and can be found relatively cheaply and quickly). When we think with “soul mate” thinking, we are telling ourselves that our options are extremely limited. That NO ONE ELSE can fit the bill or be able to love us like this person can. And more importantly, we are telling ourselves that we are difficult and hard to love, and that only one person can seem to do it. Soul mate thinking (because there can only be one soul mate), fits in nicely with low self-esteem thinking. The two work together nicely. But the truth is, if you are loveable, if you BELIEVE you are loveable, then you can be loved by MANY people, not just one. Yes, it takes lots of work to throw yourself back out into the world to meet people, and it often seems like there’s no one out there. But there are 7 BILLION people on this planet. And according to the US Census Bureau, there are 96 million singles over the age of 18 living in the USA alone. My point? You’re a love addict. Soul mate thinking is not realistic thinking. Now that I’m 46, I can no longer count on two hands the number of “soul mates” I thought I’d met. Doh.
- “If only he would [fill in the blank: stop cheating, focus more on me, not be so anti-social, spend a little more time with me…].” It’s not going to happen. He’s not going to change. Why? Two reasons: you allow and permit his behavior. Oh sure, you may whine and complain that he doesn’t give you enough attention, and you may scream blood murder that he hurts you every time he cheats on you. But you stick around anyway. And that fact alone allows him to continue his behavior. What’s a little confrontation from you if he gets to be an asshole AND keep you around at the same time? And second, you can’t change your behavior for your own benefit, so, what makes you think he can so easily change his to suit YOUR needs (not his own)? If there’s one lesson you learn in life let it be this one: you cannot change people. You either accept what they’re offering and be happy about it, or move on. A bird will never be a fish. Have realistic expectations of people. And, believe it or not, there are people out there who are more compatible for you. You just need to believe in your own self-worth enough to trust that this is so.
It occurred to me after five years of a rather successful, peaceful recovery, that recovery and change were not going to be the pieces of cake I thought they would be. When I started to slip back into a bit of a mess that I will now call My Life, I noticed that all I had learned five years prior, seemed to have, poof! disappeared and become unlearned. For those five years, as I went around, resting on my laurels, insisting that love addiction can, in fact, be cured (and don’t get me wrong, I definitely do still believe that new, healthier behaviors and thinking patterns can replace unhealthy ones, permanently), I forgot three maddening facts:
1. Time, and therefore life, is not linear. You don’t just move in a straight line up or down or left or right. You don’t just choose to recover and when you do, you move in a straight line upward, and just keep getting more and more perfect. It’s not that easy. Sometimes life is circular. Sometimes you make the same mistakes over and over again. Sometimes you take two steps forward and five steps back. You fall. You get up. You standstill. You roll over. You play dead. There is no simple movement forward or special force that acts as a lubricant to ease you up and out of the mess you’re in. Sure, there are shoots and ladders available, that propel you in one direction or another with speed and effortlessness. But, the reality is that Life, and being human is complicated, disorganized and sometimes you get sidetracked. And that fact alone, should tell you that in order to be successful at it, you might have to let go of your preconceived notions of what success is. Because it’s certainly not linear.
2. If I am to be realistic, I have limitations. All that made me the person I am today, all the pain, suffering, goodness and beauty that flowed through me and taught me how to “be” is all still there–good and bad. And many of those traits and behaviors and shortcomings and strengths that now make me who I am, much like my eyeball or my elbow, are here to stay. Sure, I can tweak my behavior here and there. And I can work damn hard to force my brain to think more positive thoughts. But, I cannot ignore the fact that my brain is prone to anxiety and worry, that I have a tendency to be a control freak, that I have trouble retaining new vocabulary words, that I just don’t like being away from my family for too long, and that I am totally OCD when it comes to food, house-cleaning and my coffee intake. I can’t just ignore these things that, like it or not, can often get in the way of progress, just as I cannot ignore the head on my shoulders or the caps on my knees. They are there. For better or worse. The question is, how to work around them.
3. Life is a surprise. Expect the unexpected. The moment you think you have it all figured out and everything is under your control, you get bitten by a rabbid dog. Or you lose your job. Or your 16-year-old son gets his girlfriend pregnant. Or your parent dies. Or you come down with the bubonic plague (suggestion: get on antibiotics quick for this one). The list goes on and on. The world is unpredictable and filled with good surprises and not so good surprises and whole lot of chaos. And while, sure, you can stop adding to the chaos by not creating drama yourself. But you can never fully protect yourself against the ebb and flow of the unknown. You only have a finite amount of control. Thinking you’re in total control is an illusion you have when everything just happens to be going right. And so the trick, at this point in my life, is not only to figure out how to live my life (that was my very first lesson as a love addict, by the way, –to figure out what kind of life I wanted because I never really knew), but to also figure out how to maneuver my way through The Fun House without being too surprised when something jumps out at me from behind a corner. There’s only so much I can be prepared for without driving myself crazy.
Perhaps all that I have learned has not disappeared, but rather, perhaps, new lessons and challenges are now upon me. These three are toughies. They are not lessons I ever really wanted to learn. I don’t really like change as much as I thought I did! But, the responsibility of recovery, and ultimately growing up, is to face life, not run away from it. And to never give up. And while I may have taken a few steps back this past winter, this post is proof that I am working hard at leaping forward. In the past, I would have believed that leaping forward meant “Make no mistakes.” Now, I think it means, “Embrace what you’ve got (unless you’ve got a really bad situation that YOU can actively get out of), expect the unexpected, and let go of hanging on so tightly.” Easier said than done. But I’m going to give it my best.