Addicted to Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

A bientôt!

Top 5 self-defeating beliefs

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

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

 

3 Tough lessons we all need to learn

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

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

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

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

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

Problem management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Warriors unite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a direct message:

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

Six human needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the drawing board for me!

Black & White Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.”