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.
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.
At the suggestion of my husband, who watches everything under the sun, I thought I’d check out the Netflix dark comedy Love. He kept insisting I watch this show because the main character, played by Gillian Jacobs, is supposed to be a love addict a sex addict and an alcoholic.
Well, for someone who doesn’t watch TV, let alone comedy series’ on her iPad, I spent the whole day binge-watching Love and got through the entire first season.
And while I liked the show–the characters are quirky and unmanageable but well developed and believable–there is still a long way to go before Hollywood can truly capture the love addict in all his or her chaotic glory without presenting a typical scripted character.
Yet, Gillian Jacobs does a pretty good job. I have to say, there were moments I cringed watching her fumble through some awkward moment, cross boundaries, have sex out of manipulation and not love, hurt her friends to feed her addiction and embarrass herself by stalking her main love interest.
Perhaps the most interesting reaction I had was to Paul Rust’s character–Paul Rust plays Gus, a goofy, “nice guy” who follows the rules but has an edgy side to him. I found myself unable to see him as a love interest for Mickey and was turned off by the idea of the two hooking up. In fact, it brought me back to a time and place where I would date a guy simply because he liked me, not vice versa. And no matter whether I found him attractive or not, I would have sex with him–almost as a “gift.” Within months, however, I would come to my senses and run away out of disgust and shame for dating someone I was so unattracted to. But as the show progressed Gus grew on me. There was a cuteness to him simply in how “nice” he was to Mickey.
I guess I could liken this love story to my own–though it’s quite different. I met D after I had a good deal of recovery behind me. And, I thought D was pretty damn hot. But, he wasn’t my type. That’s for sure. Whereas Gus and Mickey meet when she’s still in the clutches of her addiction. And let’s be honest, that’s where the show takes somewhat of an unrealistic turn. Water tends to seek its own level, and Gus is definitely the “healthier” of the two characters. Or is he? Being able to cross-date–a love addict with a healthy person– is extremely rare. This is where Season 1 leaves you. At the end of the beginning where they decide to be a couple. Well, it worked for D and I. Let’s see what happens with these two.
Gentle warning: while I didn’t find this show overly romantic or triggering, you need to judge for yourself. My advice to a newly recovering addict is to stay away from all TV and film until you have a little time behind your belt. If you’re in a good place, this show will have its intended effect–to make you laugh. If you’re in a bad place, sex, love and lifestyle could leave you longing for a fantasy life.
I just came home from my son’s high school production of Peter Pan–a great show all with flying harnesses and magical light fairies dancing across the stage. But as I sat through and really listened to the characters’ lines, Peter’s and Wendy’s in particular, it was eerily reminiscent of relationships past.
To refresh your memory, here’s a very short plot summary: Peter Pan is the story of a magical boy who refuses to grow up and, instead, lives on the island of Neverland with his buddies, the Lost Boys. All together they get into boyish scrimmages and adventures with a Pirate (Captain Hook) and a band of Indians. One night, Peter visits the nursery of The Darling children, Wendy, John and Michael, where Wendy takes a liking to him and tries to get a kiss from him. Peter has no clue what a kiss is and so he gives her a thimble instead, for which she takes and puts on her necklace as a keepsake. Peter convinces the children to fly away with him to Neverland, which they do, and while there, they determine that Wendy will be their mother. She agrees, under the condition that Peter be their father. He hesitantly agrees, but only if it’s “pretend.” Not wanting to commit to anything more serious, he humors Wendy playing the role, but says he doesn’t like the responsibility of being grown up. At times he even gets angry with her when she imposes too much emotion or responsibility onto him:
Wendy: I think you have, Peter. And I daresay you’ve felt it yourself. For something… or… someone?
Peter: Never. Even the sound of it offends me.
[Wendy tries to touch his face, and he jumps away]
Peter: Why do you have to spoil everything? We have fun, don’t we? I taught you to fly and to fight. What more could there be?
Wendy: There is so much more.
Peter: What? What else is there?
Wendy: I don’t know. I guess it becomes clearer when you grow up.
Peter: Well, I will not grow up. You cannot make me!
When she finally asks him about his “feelings” for her he says, “I feel for you like a son feels for his mother…” In the end Wendy chooses to leave Neverland. She asks Peter not to forget her…
While Peter promises to come back each “Spring cleaning” he forgets and time passes. Wendy grows old and the story ends with Peter eventually coming back to take Wendy’s daughter to Neverland.
The story of Peter Pan is, of course, that of the love addict and her avoidant boyfriend. The motherly, doting, codependent grown up woman paired with the fun, exciting, but immature “boy” who, when emotions get too serious, tends to run away. In The Break Up Journal I refer to “P” as a Peter Pan; in fact, I chose the letter P for the parallel of my ex to Peter. When I began dating P (who was 40 at the time), he had never had a serious relationship, never been married, no children, still lived at home, could barely pay his bills and would hang out in the basement of his parents’ house and listen to Grateful Dead records as if no time had passed between now and when he was in high school.
P suffered from severely stunted growth, a bit of narcissism and an intimacy disorder which kept him from being able to truly become intimate with people, specifically women. In retrospect, I couldn’t see him for who he was. I was too wrapped up in how “fun” he was, and how good looking I thought he was. I suffered from a Wendy-syndrome–a desire to attach to Peter Pan and mother him, versus be his equal. Essentially, I had refused to grow up too.
As I sat awestruck at my son’s play, I told my very grown up husband how deeply affected I was by the story. He squeezed my hand and said, “It hits too close to home, I bet.” Yes. I suppose it does. That was my life circa 2008. I was Wendy. I was in love with Peter. But, then I grew up.
Love addiction recovery is like leaving Neverland. It’s about choosing to grow up, whether you want to or not. It’s about recognizing that you cannot change the Peters of the world and letting them remain in their fantasy land while you make a forward leap into reality.
August 14: Wow! What an amazing night of crazy dreams. I spent the whole day at the shore and laid on the beach from ten till two. At 3ish, we got off the beach and I went over to say hi to Guy Petersen who was setting up to play guitar at the Shell for his weekly gig. Chit chatted with him for a while about C and then left and went out to dinner, then arcade with kids, then shopping. At about that point, I got horrible pains in my stomach. Anyway, we made it home by 7:30pm and I was even able to shower, finish up some work, and write P back some silliness about Che Guevera.
So, the dreams…Read more
August 13: I have to say that yesterday was the closest I felt to P in a long while. He touched me all over, and massaged my neck, and took care of me, all because I had an excruciating headache. And I mean excruciating. He called me in the afternoon and asked if I could come down and eat with him since he didn’t have to be at work until 10:30pm. I said sure, but once I got there, the headache turned ugly and I felt horrible. And yet, it felt so nice to have his hands on me like that. He even insisted on driving. We ended up at Applebees eating bad food that we regretted eating. Before that, I…Read More
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.
August 12: God! I have never wanted someone to quit his job more than I wanted P to quit his job at the supermarket. It’s stressing me out as much as it is him. He has actually apologized for taking on this job and the stress it’s caused us both. Even though I said, “no need,” I kinda do feel like I should have an apology. It would be validation. It would mean that at least he realizes what a crummy situation it’s put us both in. Basically, this new part-time job has created a man-made wall between “us.” And I can’t help but wonder if in its dysfunctional appearance, it serves a function by playing into P’s increasing avoidance of this relationship. A protection of sorts, sold to me in the following language: “I really need this job; it’s the only thing I can do to pay my bills,” etc. Read More…
August 11: Cool, damp, cloudy. There were thunderstorms all day yesterday except while we were in Brigantine. The sun and sky were beautiful over the ocean and I got some sun. Elaine’s house was beautiful. Joe really did a lot to it. Nice materials too—stone, granite, tile, etc. And he did it all himself. If only P were so handy. How nice would that be. Well, he’s got his beautiful garden.
Mom and I talked a bit about my relationship to P. She said that my personal emotional issues are probably not as bad as I make them out to be. That I have good reason to be mistrusting and scared in a new relationship (based on what I experienced in my past relationships) and that any man who loves me needs to understand…Read More
August 10: Ten months no smoking! I can’t believe it’s only been 10 months. It seems like a lot longer. I feel like, on the one hand, I made great strides in the quitting smoking department, but on the other, I relapsed and returned to my other addictive behaviors. Now, I have to start all over. Of course the “C” addiction is not yet (and hopefully will never be) full blown. Yet, I leave P and go back to C and entertain fantasies of marrying C. Dear Lord. What happened to that strong Quit Mentality of 10 months ago? And the genius of applying it to all other addictions? I can’t just say, “Oh well.” I have to reestablish my boundaries and reaffirm my commitment to quit C once and for all.
C IS a cigarette…Read More
August 9: Martha Wainwright was great last night. I was so high on life and P and I both looked so cute. Him in his suit and me in my 1950’s yellow dress. We laughed on the way down to AC, then talked to some woman sitting in the row behind us. Martha was fabulous. I practically cried when she sang BMFA. It has always been such an empowerment song for me. My divorce theme song, actually, you bloody motherfucking asshole…Read More…