The Lovely Addict

Are we built to avoid love?

The longer you’ve been reading my blog, the more you get that it’s not exactly love addiction that’s your problem (oh sure, that’s the outward manifestation of it!). It’s self avoidance. Plain and simple.

The more you chase after a toxic, unavailable, abusive partner and focus on fixing something that will most likely never be fixed, the more you are avoiding yourself. The more you commit fully to a fully non-committed individual, the more you are refusing to focus on meeting your essential needs. And the more you remain anchored to fantasy land (he’ll come around someday...), the more you are denying yourself reality worth living. Worse, you are avoiding taking care of yourself, mentally, emotionally and physically. You are avoiding making responsible, safe choices for yourself by choosing people who respect you, who are kind to you and who really deeply want to be around you.  And you are avoiding growing up and all that entails.

That you love him is merely a distraction.

So, the other night, while I was devouring my new book Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, PhD, I came across a few paragraphs about avoidance and where it comes from. Hanson writes that our “brain is built more for avoiding than for approaching.” Yikes! He says that’s because “it’s the negative experiences, not the positive ones, that have generally had the most impact on survival.” He goes on to give examples. For example, if you miss your opportunity to hook up with a sexy excruciatingly, you can always find another one. But if you miss your opportunity to dodge a charging sabertooth tiger, you’re dead. No second chance. But, how does that prehistoric behavior apply to today’s world where there’s virtually no threat of charging tigers?

Well, according to scientific research, we still desperately try to control and protect ourselves from perceived threats. It’s almost as if our brain doesn’t distinguish between a charging tiger or a partner who is placing a pretty serious demand for commitment on us. Our brain doesn’t see the difference between an attacking mammoth and a nagging heap of responsibilities that overwhelm and distress us. In the avoidant brain, these scenarios are all seen as equally unpleasant threats that need to be avoided.

The reality is, however, that while we may be prone to our biology, we have evolved enough to know better. And we now have the tools to change and re-evaluate what is truly life-threatening versus what is merely uncomfortable (excruciatingly uncomfortable for some). The first step towards avoiding avoidance is, like it or not, to face your fears and recognize that they won’t kill you. Being alone is a big fear. Many people avoid getting out of a bad relationship simply because the fear of being alone is overwhelming. Finding a job and supporting yourself financially is another. The fear of entrapment in a nine to five job can really keep people paralyzed from seeking out any work. And let’s face it, when we are obsessing over a chaotic, toxic relationship, we have little time to focus on our responsibilities.

If this sounds remotely familiar try “exposure therapy.” Expose yourself little by little to that which frightens you, that which you are avoiding. If it is fear of being alone, then, while still in a relationship, schedule one day of solitude per week. Go see a movie by yourself. Go out to a restaurant by yourself. Curl up on the sofa and binge watch your favorite Netflix series. You might find that during your alone time you learn more about who you are and what you like. You are also strengthening your survival skills to be able to emotionally handle time on your own.

Procrastination is one thing; complete avoidance is another. Whatever you are trying to avoid won’t go away. Chances are, it’ll get worse. More than that, obsessing over your relationship won’t help you resolve the real problem: self avoidance.

It’s (not!) all about you

The other day, as I sat in a cafe in Philly having no plans, I took out my cell and checked Facebook–my all time worst time-waster. Among a gazillion other posts, I came across one that snapped me out of my lighthearted mood: “Very hard to accept the death of a friend who was just diagnosed five weeks ago with cancer.” The sentence made my spine grow hot. A wave of fear overtook me. My first thought: that nagging back pain I’ve had this past month is probably cancer. This is going to happen to me.

My second thought: Did  I just make that person’s suffering about me?

How often do we do this? We hear about a tragedy half way across the world and then, make it our own. If a plane crashes, our flight next week will crash too. If a relative comes down with an illness, we immediately take a health inventory of ourselves. Me, me, me, it’s all about me.

This is not compassion, or empathy or sympathy, but rather, a form of situational narcissism. It’s not that you aren’t concerned with others’ suffering, per se, it is that you are overly concerned with your own suffering and how everyone else’s problems relate to you.

Enough.

This same type of situational narcissism can easily be applied to your toxic relationships. How many times have you taken his avoidance of you, or absence, personally? How many times did he say he was coming over and when he didn’t, you blamed yourself. How many times has she said she loved you, only to end up with someone else while you’re left wondering, “what did I do wrong?”

Individuals make choices, they have experiences, they exist. For most of their lives (no matter how much you’d like to believe otherwise) they think and exist outside the realm of YOU. When we write ourselves in to other people beliefs, actions, behaviors, circumstances and choices, we ignore reality and instead, opt for a fantasy world where we are the main attraction in everyone else’s existence. I have news for you, you’re not.

So? What is about you? Well, your perspective. Your choices. The decisions you make. If your partner is repeatedly choosing to make other plans outside of seeing you, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to stay and tell him to make more choices about you? To stop hurting you? Ignoring you? How long will you choose to live with someone who doesn’t make you a priority at least part of the time?

Stop writing yourself into other people’s script as if it’s all about you. Stop thinking that others are somehow in control of your fate. They are not. And just as my neighbor’s cancer has nothing to do with me or my fate, your PoA’s choice to stay home and watch video games instead of be with you has nothing to do with your value or your worth. You do.

 

Rest in peace, Prince

prince-purple-rain-ws-710I have to say something about Prince’s death yesterday because, honestly, he was probably my first PoA. I remember when Michael Jackson died and everyone went crazy. People were crying. I thought, “Are you kidding me? You act like you knew the guy…” Well, now I understand.

I think I cried all day yesterday. No, I mean, I sobbed. I had devoted so much fantasy time to that man for a good ten years–I had every single solitary one of his albums, his 45s, his cassettes and his CDs; I knew every song, I could tell you which album each song came from; in high school, my walls were painted purple with the big EYES from the Purple Rain album; I even lost my virginity to Purple Rain with a kid who I believed was the closest thing I could get to Prince–I devoted so much emotional time to that man that when I heard the news, I felt I had lost an old love. I lost a part of my identity that took years to build.

Aside from my father, Prince was probably the man who influenced me most, good and bad, and fueled my love addiction. Everything I was running away from, everything I wanted to be, everything I couldn’t attain was wrapped up in that man. He held all the answers for a girl who was clueless and afraid of love and life. What’s more, I think he changed the chemistry of who I was the night I first saw him in concert. As he sat at his piano, screaming the lyrics to The Beautiful Ones, “I gotta know…Is it him or is it me…” Prince reconfigured my DNA that night, and there was no going back. Without him, I couldn’t tell you what I would look like today, what I might have become.

Ironically, or coincidentally, both my father and Prince died at age 57. And ironically, or coincidentally, they both died on the same exact date–April 21. This is significant. There has always been a mystique about the world for me–an innocent belief that the universe aligns certain major events in your life–as if someone behind a curtain is trying to tell you something–I may be invisible but there’s a purpose and a plan, and I’m going to drop little clues to keep you guessing. I may or may not have picked that belief up by stitching together a myriad of the lyrics Prince wrote–but, his spirituality imbued with sexuality was the perfect message of inspiration and validation I needed to ultimately know that it was OK to be me.

Thank you, Prince.

Reports are trickling in. They think the “flu” scenario was a hoax. They think, instead, that he overdosed. And that when his plane made an immediate landing last week, it was not because of dehydration, but rather, to be rushed to the hospital to receive the “second shot” (Narcan) because of opiate overdose. If that is the case, then both my father and Prince died in a similar fashion. My father’s addiction to prescription opiates was well-known. We just didn’t think it would kill him at 57. Like Prince, my father was iconic to me. Immortal. It’s a little shocking to lose someone when you’re belief in them is so unrealistic. Yes, that’s a direct message to the love addict in us who believes the guy we’re with, the one who emotionally ignores us, treats us poorly or even abuses us is not who we think he is. He’s no prince of perfection. He’s no god.  That is to say, it’s time to get real with your perceptions.

A girlfriend of mine sent me a poignant quote. I leave you with this:

Prince was so utterly, effortlessly enshrouded in mystique that he seemed other-than-human, to the point where mortality never figured into our calculations.

Amen. I’ll leave it at that.

Love addict’s wishful thought #47: if only he went to therapy…

Who hasn’t had this thought pop into her head: If only my boyfriend saw a therapist, everything would be different.

I can’t tell you how many times I wished this exact thing. And why did I wish it? Because I believed that after all the self-help books I’d read, therapy was the answer.  Not to my problems, of course, but my boyfriend’s. And if my bf would just go to a therapist, said therapists would back me up and convince my guy that he needs to change, (just like I said he should) or he would risk losing a relationship with me.

Looking back over all the men I dated, only two were willing to go to therapy “for me,” my ex husband and G. Both therapy sessions went horribly wrong.

The first time my ex husband and I went to a therapist he lied about his cheating and had no real interest in changing his behavior. He merely did it to appease me, and probably because he felt bullied by me and just gave in. I was desperately trying to save my marriage, singlehandedly, and the only advice we left with was “You two need to date again.” This didn’t exactly resolve anything. But, it did delay the inevitable. And the inevitable came with a flip flop. It was now me who wanted out of the relationship. And so,  the second time we went, it was on his instance to save the marriage. But, by the time I got to therapy, I was completely unable to be “convinced” to stay in the marriage and we divorced shortly after.

When I dated G, I was in therapy because I was unable to accept G’s “flaws” and I was trying to figure out why I was always so frustrated and depressed. He always said he loved me, and he called all the time. What was my problem? Well, my problem was he smoked pot and never wanted to have sex with me. So, I thought if I could get him to meet with a therapist, she would convince him these things were interfering in our relationship and he should change his ways to save the relationship.

This didn’t work. He liked smoking pot and he had an extremely low libido (most likely because of the pot), and he had no desire to change.

So what did these men learn from therapy? Probably nothing. What did I learn? That’s more important here. I learned that just because a well-educated relationship specialist understands what it takes to have a healthy relationship, they could not convince someone to love me or to BE what I wanted them to be. Just because my therapist and I agreed that my boyfriend’s behavior was not acceptable, it didn’t mean he also agreed or even cared. And therein lies the problem.

Therapy doesn’t convince anyone to love you, especially if they don’t want to be convinced. And believing in therapy as a way to “fix” a relationship that is founded on neglect, disrespect, avoidance or any other ingrained behavior is wishful, unrealistic thinking.

Therapy ONLY works when two people are committed to each other and when those two people share the same value in working on the relationship. More importantly, what we learn from therapy is often something we don’t particularly want to learn: that we cannot control or convince others to love us. And the “everything will be different” fantasy typically comes when you ditch the guy who clearly doesn’t love you and replace him for one who does. And, surprise! When that happens, you typically find yourself not needing therapy at all!

Healthy problem or toxic one?

My life has been somewhat chaotic for the past several years. In 2013 I quit working with my brothers at our company because I felt I was being treated poorly, and so in July 2014, I started my own business (a smoothie bar inside a fitness center). But, after a year, I felt trapped and wanted to do more with my life. So, I sold the business in September 2015. From September to the beginning of November I had no job and so, my goal was to return to grad school to get my Master’s in Counseling. During that time of no work I was sick almost every day, fought with my husband, felt depressed and was bored out of my mind. But, on November 6, the president of our company died, which thrust me right back into having to work with my brothers. While I was once again in a situation where I was being bullied, mistreated, ignored and hated, I eventually felt as though I had a greater purpose–to save my company. All the whining I did in between jobs, all the panic attacks and anxiety and yelling at my husband, all vanished once I had a huge problem outside myself–once I had something to overcome.

I see my love addiction the same way, and you, as well, should consider the idea that your love addiction, or, at the least, your PoA (person of addiction) may fill a much needed purpose. He or she might be helping to distract you from yourself, so you no longer have to deal with JUST YOU. So often we create problems or hold on to problems as security. No matter how bad they get, they seem to offer a painful “thrill” to an often humdrum existence.

I don’t know how to resolve this need in me to have a “struggle” or a problem. And, I am not so sure it’s an entirely bad thing IF I work towards solving the problem and making the problem my life’s work. Despite the pain I must endure from my one brother who regularly attacks me,  I am struggling to help rebuilt a company. And when I focus on that, I feel good about myself.

So, ask yourself, if your problem or struggle is a dead end or has a worthy purpose.  What parts of it are you in control of? What is out of your control? If you are struggling to convince your PoA that he should love you but you continuously find yourself being ignored or neglected, this may not be a “healthy” problem to solve, but rather a toxic one that could be draining you.

If my only problem was to fight with my brothers, I would say this problem of mine was a toxic one. In fact, that’s how I felt in 2013. I was unable to make any changes in the company (because the president was still alive), and so, the problem of dealing with my brothers was mostly beyond my control. This time around, my brothers are still beyond my control, but I now see a PURPOSE hidden within the problem. I only see this purpose because I am able to see REAL AND POSITIVE  RESULTS from the work I am doing. So, for now, I will take on this problem as a healthy one. Yes, it is distracting me from myself, but it is also giving my life purpose.

Is your love addiction giving your life purpose? Or is it sucking the life out of you? Choose your problems wisely.

The Break Up Journal: Lies

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August 6

Drab and humid.

I’m supposed to go down to my sister-in-law’s tonight. I almost want to drive up to Brooklyn to see Marie. It very well might save me from doing something destructive like calling C.  Every time I get pissed off with P and think he’s lied about something, I want to run to C where all my problems were apparently resolved. I don’t believe P worked last night. I think he wanted to make sure I didn’t expect him over. Then again, he’s usually able to voice that and say, “I need my sleep tonight,” or something else. Maybe he wanted his excuse to seem out of his control. Read More…

The Break Up Journal: Breakthrough

Last night was pitiful and divine. I read my journal from September 2000 when Liam was born up until we moved into this house. It was triggered by Marie and I talking about New Orleans, so I went back to research my 24-hours there and my rather brief affair with Randy the male nurse when I was separated from R. I had met Randy online playing one of those ridiculous roleplay games that R wanted me to get involved in, but then, basically moved out and dumped me. I was left playing alone until I met Randy.

Reading through those days sickens me. I was a loser. I was married to a loser, and I was dating a loser. The only flowers rising up out of that ugly evil bad world of darkness were my two beautiful sons.

After hours of reading through those pages, I realized I’m sick of men. Of trying to please them, of not being treated with dignity and respect. I’m not sure I will ever get over the trauma that R caused. No one should have to put up with that shit, ever. There is no where to turn for consolation from that sad life, and yet, here am. I am still standing.

But am I? The more I thought about it the more I realized …Read More

Are you worthy of love?

I recently read another love addict’s blog online and felt compelled to comment on her post about worthiness. This is basically what I said to her that I would like to share with you:

You only need one reason to be worthy of love. To exist. Nothing more. But here’s something I would very much like to suggest, as a fellow love addict. At first it may sound hopeless, but trust me, it’s not: what if you lived your life and appreciated everything you had in it but ONLY what you had in it now? That doesn’t mean you don’t already appreciate your life. It means, what if you removed the idea that you are complete if only you had a relationship? What if you simply resolved that you are perfect as you are now, and you removed the prospect, the hope, the wish for romance? What if you pretended that romantic love were not a possibility?

And, what if you were not so much worthy of love, as in, you should be given something that is owed you because you are worthy of it, but rather, what if you were simply perfect as you are now, not owed anything, just alive and grateful within yourself for that life?

Losing the hope of romance or finding someone may sound completely depressing, but for love addicts it’s a fear we all need to face in order to truly find ourselves and heal. For some of us, it’s our greatest fear. I know it was mine. The thought of dying “an old maid” horrified me. It made me scared to be alive. It made me chase after anyone I could get my hands on. And yet, when I finally faced it, it had the opposite effect that I assumed it would have. I didn’t die. I didn’t collapse into oblivion.  Instead, a deep sense of relief washed over me. The searching was over. The against-all-odds effort that went into longing and hoping and wishing and dreaming was finally over. It had all been so draining. It had all been so life-zapping.

Accepting my life and only what I had in it at that moment in time–and being grateful for just that, and removing the wants and the needs for all the things I didn’t have– was enlightening. 

Seem impossible? Well, swap out the longing and perseverance for love with, say, money or fame? Could you imagine if your biggest and most important dream was to be a millionaire? Or to be famous? That, as the law of attraction states, if you think it, it will be yours? And if you don’t achieve that goal you don’t feel alive? Fulfilled? Accomplished? What kind of a fulfilled life would you have if you couldn’t achieve this goal no matter how hard you worked at it? Sure, you’re worthy of being a millionaire, sure you’re worthy of being famous, but will it happen?

What if it doesn’t? And if it doesn’t, can you be happy anyway?

The lesson is this: happiness is in the now. Not in hoped for outcomes. Be the best YOU you can be, and whatever the universe gifts you, be grateful for it. Work hard. Live. Challenge yourself. But remove longing.  And use hope in its intended purpose–as the potential for possibility, not the guarantee of it, and not as a crutch to support your loneliness or dissatisfaction with life.  And worthiness doesn’t mean we receive something in return for our worth (love). It means we recognize that we have value and we live our lives according to that value. And, if someone doesn’t recognize that along with us, it means we value ourselves enough to move on.

Hooked on a bad boy?

Deep down, I think love addicts are attracted to the bad boy type because he is the type we relate to. He is what we see in ourselves. I always fancied myself an independent artist and writer, traveling around the world, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine in smoky bars, with my rebel attitude and free spirit. But, the truth is, that’s not exactly who I was. When I really took a look at myself, I was a mother of two sons. I drove a minivan. I liked to bake pies and spend time with family and travel every once in a while. Did I like the arts? Sure. But I wasn’t even an artist! In fact, any time I hung out with my wilder, artist friends they all stayed out late, smoked, drank, partied, and ignored their kids, if they had them.  I couldn’t handle any of that stuff. What’s more, I didn’t believe in any of that. And yet, I was still going after these badboy types, driving them around in my minivan with my screaming kids, baking pies for them. Oh sure, it’s funny now.  But back then, I was angry that they didn’t want to go to family events, sit around with my kids or bake (they all loved eating the pies, though!)
Anyway, the trick to a healthier relationship is KNOW THYSELF. And when you write out your list of descriptions about who you are, don’t describe yourself as you wish to be, but as you truly are. This is hard. But, take a look at your world around you. Don’t write down what’s in your head. Write down what you SEE. Minivan = person who drives minivan. You may, in your heart of hearts want to drive a Ferrari but you’re not driving one.  That’s not who you are at this moment. The minivan is. Sorry.

Second, look for people who share those similarities (and values). Partying and living the rockstar life only lasts so long. Eventually, we all want stability, warmth, comfort and even a little predictability. And, if you’re not into partying, why date someone who is? You’ll just end up frustrated, trying to pin him down. It’s not going to happen. Instead, what about searching for a good, stable, healthy man with some adventurous, slightly “wild” or even quirky traits (if that’s who you are, that is)? Bottom line, look for qualities similar to your own. The whole opposites attract thing doesn’t hold over very well as far as values are concerned.  You want to be similar on that front.
Lastly,  stop thinking in black and white. Giving up the bad boy doesn’t automatically leave only “boring” types in the dating pool. That’s ridiculous. People are not ALL bad boy or ALL boring. What’s more, there are some pretty boring bad guys, and some pretty exciting nice guys!

When I first started dating my husband D, I initially feared that he was boring. Why? Because he was nice, had a professional job, wore suits to work, had a family and lived a very normal life. In my mind, those were the traits of a boring guy. But, I was so off the mark. He also played guitar and drums, was in a band in college, loved the arts, and was kind of a bad boy in the bedroom (TMI?!). Plus, he had a fantastic sense of humor, which is really important to me.  Sold!

And while there were still times early on when I actually mourned the bad boy fantasy I was holding on to (gosh, I had held onto it for so many years), I eventually grew up, made peace with who I really was, and got real about the qualities a healthy partner should have, not the qualities I wished he had.

Read more on the LAA forums

The Break-Up Journal: June 23, 24, 25

Three new entries have been posted on The Break-Up Journal. Don’t forget to scroll all the way down on The Break Up Journal’s main page and click the “Follow this Blog by Email” link so that you receive notices of new posts.

My favorite entry of these three is June 24th. A lot of soul searching and a perfectly formed description of what I now understand to be introversion:

…As I drifted through the streets yesterday and took in all the people and their sad and lonely faces and their bad smells and rotten circumstances I came to the conclusion that I do not belong in a city. I am too delicate. Fragile. Too easily influenced by the energy of others, both good and bad. Actually, too drained by the energy of others, good and bad. I don’t have a way to shut the world out and be peaceful within myself. I let everything in. I would like to learn evasiveness. I would like to imagine a wall around me where I can look out, but not let anything in to disturb me.