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 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
Most people know a red flag when they see one. And I don’t care how healthy and grounded you are, responding to subtle signs of incompatibility once you notice them is really hard to do. And yet, that’s what sets healthy relationship seekers apart from unhealthy ones. A healthy person will ultimately choose to walk away from a potential partner if the “signs” warn danger. An unhealthy person will most likely see the signs, but ignore them. The reason we do this is because being in a relationship–any relationship–is often more important than the quality of the relationship, and, because being alone is perceived as far more unpleasant than being in a relationship with a mate who might not be good for us.
That being said, here are 10 warning signs, or red flags to look out for when dating. When you see them, detect them, notice them or confirm them, he (or she) is most likely not the best catch. Move on!
- They have one or more episodes of cheating in their past Many people are on the fence with cheating. Some say, once a cheater always a cheater. Others say, people can change. I’m not sure which side I’m on. Personally, I’d like to know that the guy I am about to date has never cheated and has my same values. I think if they mentioned that they cheated in their distant past but they have proof of a long-term stable relationship where no cheating took place, there may be hope. Keep an eye out on this one.
- They’re married If you meet a hot guy out at a club who is clearly giving off “the vibe” only to find out he’s married, this is the red flag of all red flags. Honestly, unless there’s proof that they moved back in with their parents, or have completely severed ties with their ex and divorce/settlement agreement has already been registered with the courts, this is one guy or girl you need to stay away from. Heck, if he’s interested and you think there’s a chance, tell him, When your divorce is finalized, then you can call me.
- There’s more secrecy than you feel comfortable with She said she’d be going out for the weekend, but wouldn’t tell you where. You’ve never met her friends. You don’t know where she lives or, for that matter, where she works. Red flag, red flag, red flag. People who are available are engaged in sharing and opening up to you. Maybe not all at once. But, enough for you to feel like there’s definitely a willingness to be somewhat vulnerable.
- They do not speak well of their past relationships, and/or it was always the other person’s “fault” that the relationship ended. One of the things that I loved about my current husband when we were first dating was how kindly he spoke of his ex, even though she had left him. She was, in his mind, the mother of his children and even though he was hurt by her, she still deserved the respect of not being talked badly about. Granted, this hurt a bit. Sometimes we want to clearly be the center of someone’s world and we want to be elevated while everyone else is demoted to bitch, or monster, or most hated. Some of us feel “safer” when our love interest speaks badly about others. It’s as if we are the only one they love. And yet, the way your date speaks about people is a direct clue into his own personality. So, unless he is putting his ex on a pedestal (not good), you don’t want to date someone who trash talks his ex.
- They continue to impose strange restrictions after a decent amount of time dating (i.e. “Don’t call me at the office,” “Don’t show up unannounced,” etc.) People who like you typically want to be around you. And, unless you are coming on too strong and showing up unannounced all the time (not good), this type of restriction is a bit strange. Case in point: I was dating this guy for five months. By this point we had slept together, said, “I love you,” and we were even leaving clothes and toiletries over the other’s house. I had very clear boundaries (never showed up unannounced, never called his office, unless he specifically said it was OK). At any rate, one afternoon, I happen to be passing by his house and thought, “Let me just pop in.” Bad idea. He opened up the door, barely let me in and I felt immediately uncomfortable. No, no one was there. He wasn’t cheating on me per se, but he was smoking, something he said he had quit. Anyway, you don’t want to ever just “show up” unannounced. Not a good dating move at all. But, you also don’t want to date some guy who imposes those types of restrictions when it’s not warranted.
- They fall in love with you almost immediately Most people don’t see this as a red flag, although, heck yeah. It’s a biggie. People who value their heart and know the seriousness of commitment don’t “dive in” so quickly. That’s not to say they won’t feel passionate or hugely emotional towards you. But they will refrain from things like moving in, saying I love you, proposing marriage, or even having sex.
- They’ve never had a longterm, committed relationship. OK, so, anyone around the age of 25 might not fit this particular red flag. But, if you’re dating someone 30-years-old or older and they have not had a longterm committed relationship this could be a sign of social anxiety, intimacy issues, avoidance, emotional unavailability and so on. One of the best signs of a healthy partner is that he or she has had healthy, relatively successful relationships, or it’s something he or she is working towards. People change, there is hope. But, for love addicts, you want to stay away from people who cannot commit. It’s too much of an oil and water relationship.
- They say one thing and do another; they lie This is a classic move of Miss or Mr. Unavailable and a red flag if ever there was one. It is essential that a healthy relationship be built on trust and honesty, and the only way for that to happen is if a person’s words align with their actions. If you are detecting lies, then, you are most likely embarking on a lifetime of distrust and feeling hugely distance from your partner. When a person lies, they want to put distance between you and them. When a person tells the truth, they are seeking closeness.
- They do drugs; drink too much Whether you partake in recreational drugs or drinking or not, you definitely want to stay away from someone who does to excess. What’s excess? That’s up to you to decide. But here’s the bottom line: drugs and alcohol use is a relationship barrier. While “a few drinks” may loosen you up and help you relax, it ultimately keeps you from experiencing true reality (especially the uncomfortable kind) and worse, true, deep intimacy. Not only that, but no one has EVER had a serious conversation when they were stoned, drunk or on drugs. You need to see and experience people as they really are, and if your date is always drunk, then, who are you dating? You’ll never know.
- They treat people poorly, take pleasure in hurting others (including animals) or express an unusual amount of hate and anger toward people, placed or things. Always be on the look out for subtle clues of a potentially violent, sadistic or disturbing past. These are the types of red flags that, when ignored, can be very dangerous.
When our desire for a relationship, love or sex overcomes our capacity to think logically, rationally and to take care of ourselves, we may be a love addict. Take a look at the people you’ve dated in the past. Can you clearly see their red flags? What did you do when you noticed them? Ignore them, or leave? How does your current partner sum up? Does he or she have red flags? Are you just “dealing with” those red flags in hopes they go away, or are you working toward getting out of the relationship? Red flags are warning signs. If a potential partner or date is waving a red flag, pay attention and take action. That doesn’t mean work to change him. It usually means moving on to someone with no red flags.
Part of the recovery process for any addiction is grappling with what we want versus what we need. We may want the donut, but we need the apple. We may want the “bad boy,” but we need the “nice guy.” And this is a very hard emotional trigger to overcome. It requires a level of maturity that we previously never had, as well as a complete overhaul in thinking.
Want and need are wrapped up in several things, the first of which is the concept of immediate gratification versus deferred gratification: I want the pain to go away immediately, so I will call him and break my promise of no contact (NC) even though it’s not in my best interest. We place a higher value on feeding our emotions and getting what we want right at the moment as opposed to putting it off until there is a more appropriate (but often more difficult) way to deal with the pain. When you think of immediate gratification versus deferred, think of saving money versus spending it. When you hold off on buying stuff you want right when you see and you save your money instead, you are able to buy bigger and better things that have more value. My son is learning this lesson now (or not!). He had saved over $2000 for a new car. He needed only about $1000 more to get the model he wanted. Instead of waiting and working a little harder, he ended up blowing almost all his savings on t-shirts, food, and other stuff over the course of several months. When school started, and everyone was driving their car, he had to ask for a ride. Because he didn’t invest in a car, he is now dependent on others and has less freedom to go where he wants, which was his ultimate goal.
You need to see yourself as an investment. You need to see that the more you invest in yourself, the more hard work, love and education and experience you put into yourself, the more rewarding life becomes for you. The more valuable you become. Not only to yourself but others.
The second thing want versus need is wrapped up in is emotional thinking and logical thinking. Somewhere along the line, I don’t remember where, I learned that you think with two brains! Your emotional brain (which is ruled by your inner child), and your logical brain (which is ruled by your inner adult). To be a healthy individual means that there is a balance of power between these two brains, AND that both brains think in a healthy way. Most love addicts are ruled almost entirely by their emotional brains. And what’s worse is that their emotions are not very healthy to begin with. An emotionally-thinking individual tends to want what feels good. A logically-thinking individual tends to want what is rational, right and what makes sense. The conflict comes in when the two brains are not in alignment and desire different things. I am sure most of us can relate to this scenario: we are dating an avoidant person, someone who causes us a great deal of pain, yet we stay. Part of us doesn’t want to give him or her up (the emotional part), whereas the other part of us (the logical part) was driven to seek out help and knows the relationship needs to end.
Know that when something is right both the emotional brain and the logical brain are on the same page. They are in alignment. They want the same thing. When want and need are in alignment, both brains want the same thing. The trick is to give value to your logical brain and start to take it a hell of a lot more seriously than you have been. Many of us over-glamorize emotional and creative thinking. We tend to put a very ugly spin on “logic.” We see logical people as cold, rational, unfeeling, unemotional people who have no heart. Whereas we see emotional people as the salt of the earth. They are warm, passionate, loving and more “fun.” Not only is the kind of black and white thinking grossly untrue, it is detrimental to your health. You were given logic AND emotion and it is important to use both. By only using your emotional brain you cause a huge imbalance. “Want” wins out over “need” and the price becomes evident in the fact that you are not investing in yourself or caring for yourself properly. I do want to clarify that I do not think emotions are bad. But I do think that during recovery, a love addict cannot and should not trust or depend on their emotions. In order to balance the imbalance, use your logical brain most of the time. Until your emotions learn to feel in more healthy ways.
Want versus need is wrapped up in your personal belief system and level of maturity. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “It’s better to spend money today than save it for tomorrow. Tomorrow might never come.” And yet, if you don’t plan for the future, and tomorrow does come, then what? What do you have to show for yourself? While this personal belief in immediate gratification has some merit, it is an immature belief. While it addresses the human need for immediate comfort and to enjoy the now, it does not address the equally important need to protect oneself for the future. This plays heavily into self-care. In order to take care of one’s self, you need to set goals, plan, save, and protect yourself by postponing things you want.
While the “bad boy” might seem like a great option now, and while he may make you feel wonderful and sexy now, what can he provide in the future? What’s his staying power? How will he benefit you a year from now, five years from now? Twenty? When we choose a partner, we need to have some bit of forward thinking and that comes from a level of maturity and an ability to see people as healthy choices or unhealthy choices. Choosing the bad boy, for me, was based on an immature notion I had had in my younger years of who I thought I was and what I thought was best for me. I learned that rather late in life that what I want did not match up to what I needed. I needed a family man. I needed a professional man who could take care of himself. I needed someone I could rely on, trust, and respect. More than anything, I needed someone who did not cause me pain and suffering. You tend not to think of any of those things when your goal is to find something you WANT.
So, my advice:
- Recognize the importance of deferred gratification. Oftentimes postponing pleasure as a way of achieving something of more value is the better option.
- Turn off your emotional thinking. At least for a year or two. Make logical decisions about things. Choose options not on how it “feels” but on its logical benefits. This is how you train yourself to align emotional thinking with logical thinking.
- Tweak your personal beliefs. Stop believing in things that don’t serve you in the long run. If you want to spend a little money now, that’s fine, but save a larger portion of it. If you want to satisfy a craving for love and emotional attachment do it in small doses with healthy people. Stop believing that expending all your emotions on the first date is healthy. It’s not. Think of the impact and consequences of your actions.
- Strive for maturity. That means making logical decisions, based on long-term outcomes. It means not empowering your demanding, needy inner-child by giving her free reign. Put her in a time out. It’s not all about her. Besides, she can’t make healthy decisions anyway (has she ever?!) And recognize that want is temporary; need is permanent. Lots of things in life are worth waiting for….
Once you have made a commitment to start to depend more on yourself versus the guy or girl you were once heavily depending on, you go through four main phases.
At first the world seems too big, life seems too overwhelming, and your problems seem insurmountable. Because you have turned a blind eye for so long and hid behind your love addiction, finally opening your eyes you often see a mess. And that can be scary as heck.
But the longer you remain recovered, grow and progress in your ability to take care of yourself, the stronger and more adept you become. The mess of your life, when you begin to address it, starts to look more and more manageable. So, in phase two your new found strength gives you a high, a state of feeling empowered and free from the chains of whatever obsession held you in its grip. There might even be feelings of grandeur, or a sense that you’re perfect now and “cured” of love addiction. Perhaps your circumstances can you lead you to believe that you are done with love addiction, especially if you are in a new healthier relationship. That inner strength and belief in yourself is healthy and necessary to propel you forward in recovery. But then there’s a third phase.
Once the high of recovery, or feeling “reborn” is gone, life may overwhelm again, or seem mundane. Reality settles back in and stress increases. It is in this third phase that many love addicts relapse, slip, or even recognize, perhaps, that the previous two phases were not genuine, and what they thought might be real recovery, was instead more avoidance in dealing with life’s issues. It is at this phase that you really need to work hard to manage your life and in particular, stress. And, more importantly, your ability to get through this phase and manage stress is your true determining factor as to whether or not you are successfully healed and on your way to a deeper recovery.
The trouble with phase three is that we have spent so many years managing our stress by essentially running away from it. Love addiction, after all, has always helped us manage stress. That was and is its purpose. And it is a rather immediate and efficient defense mechanism for dealing with stress, despite it being hugely unhealthy. When the bills are piling up, or the husband is ignoring you, or the kids are uncontrollable, or you don’t seem to want to grow up and deal with grown up issues, something in your brain has determined that if you create either a fantasy or a real life situation based on love it takes the edge off and immediately de-stresses you. Love addiction is like Calgon. Remember that old commercial? Calgon take me away!
But, while fantasy and other similar techniques (like massages, zoning out, eating comfort food, exercise and even bubble baths!) are absolutely necessary to de-stress, there is a fine line between using these techniques from time to time to take the edge off, or, in the case of love addiction, to completely avoid and submerse yourself in that avoidance. It, thus, becomes your job in recovery to know three things:
- that your nature (or what you’ve been taught) is most likely to avoid problems,
- that in order to be a successful adult, you have to fight against that nature and face problems,
- but, that you still need to learn acceptable forms of managing stress, because facing all kinds of stress coming at you without having a healthy buffer can also be unhealthy.
What are acceptable forms of managing stress?
Managing stress without the “protection” of love addiction can be daunting. You feel exposed, naked, vulnerable. For many, it will be the first time as an adult that they will face stress in a healthy way, after many years of avoiding it. And so, it’s important to face things at your own pace and not to pile too much on your plate too soon. Just like a runner needs time to heal a serious injury before hitting the road again, so too do you need time and patience with yourself. In my case, I decided, in my “empowered” state (phase two), to pile huge amounts of responsibility on my plate. Too much! I became very ill and rundown. I falsely thought that it was my responsibility to take on every opportunity that came my way (I used love addiction to avoid finding and having a career; what do you use love addiction to avoid?). I had no ability to know what I could and could not handle. And so, buried under the weight of too much pressure and stress, I ended up collapsing and turning inward–once again avoiding life’s stress and avoiding the very thing that love addiction always helped me avoid. Not good. I felt like I was back to square one.
That being said in order to make it to phase four, which is defined by your ability to manage stress in your life consistently, over long periods of time, here are a few acceptable ways of managing stress:
- Figure out what your love addiction was protecting you from. What was the secret purpose of your love addiction? To figure that out, answer the question, What am I trying to avoid? Is it facing an unhappy marriage? Being alone? Finding a career and taking care of yourself financially? Making friends? Learning to be intimate with others? Growing up and taking on responsibility? Once you figure that out, move toward what you were trying to avoid.
- Educate yourself. If you are trying to avoid facing an unhappy marriage, start by going to therapy, or reading books on marriage therapy or talking with your spouse about the choices you both need to make moving forward or end it. If divorce is something you fear, but remaining in the marriage is painful, then start to learn what you might need to do IF you were working toward a divorce. You don’t have to make any decisions, but you might want to seek out info on important issues like how much it costs to live on your own, or what you need to do to find child support if you go back to work. The more strength you build up through educating yourself, the easier it will be if and when you do face the issue.
- Set goals for yourself. List five small decisions you can make over the course of one year (if you have the luxury of a year to deal with your life’s issues) to face your stress. In my case, I was avoiding taking care of myself financially and thus, finding a career, so, my goals, despite my fears, were to finish college, find an internship to gain experience, apply for a job in my field, and go to work. As I worked my way through each of these goals my addict brain thought up very clever ways that I should bail out. My kids need me, so I should not be away from them. Or, This job doesn’t satisfy me, I should quit. And my all time favorite: OK, I proved that I can get a job, so, now I can go home and never have to work again. Remember, you’ve been taught or it’s your nature to AVOID, so watch out for ways in which you try to run away.
- Monitor and track your behavior. If you are setting goals, and facing your stress but it starts to become unmanageable do you automatically want to call your PoA? Do you find yourself going online to chat with single men every time your tired? Lonely? Stressed? Or do you now use other ways to avoid stress? When you’re overwhelmed do you crawl into a ball and cry? Or do you go to the gym, exercise, work through the stress and then go back to the problem. Your behavior is a clear window that allows you to determine whether you’re facing stress or avoiding it.
- Read about and practice “Coping Strategies.” Learn little (but hugely beneficial) tricks like breathing, meditating, self-soothing, positive self-talk and exercising when under too much stress. Learn to add as many of these strategies to your daily routine until the stressors have quieted down or been addressed.
- Eat well and avoid high stress foods. Did you know that foods can soothe and relax and they can also cause exorbitant amounts of stress, anxiety and physical pain? Foods high in saturated fat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and even gluten can and do increase stress in the body for multiple reasons (caffeine, for example, is a stimulant that is a known trigger for anxiety and panic attacks; alcohol is a depressants and can increase depression and your brain’s ability to manage stress; saturated fats can leave you sluggish and tired, etc.)
- One thing at a time. Codependant individual especially have to be wary of doing too much too soon, especially for others. In recovery, we need to know what we can handle and the only way to find that out is to start adding responsibility to your plate, and dealing with your stressors as they come. If, for example, you are currently dealing with a divorce and it’s not finalized yet, don’t add any huge projects to your calendar just yet. Wait. Diving into one thing when another isn’t wrapped up doesn’t signals that you might be avoiding facing one thing and trying to cover it up with another. Recognize this and try to deal with one big issue at a time.
- Take time to avoid your problems. Yes, I said it. Avoid your problems. Not 100 percent. Not half the time. Just a fraction of the time. Just for a little while each day, perhaps. One of the worst things we can do in between setting goals, taking action toward managing our stress and tackling problems is worry and ruminate. So, release yourself from the obsession of worrying about your problems by positive self-talk, or, dare I say it, slipping into fantasy for a little while until you can face stress again. Despite wanting to take on the world, we still need to protect ourselves from too much stress. And avoidance is, after all a safe way to do it–if only for a little while and in a very controlled setting. Set a timer for 20 minutes and allow your brain to go anywhere it wants. This freedom to wander and ignore life’s troubles can actually have a healing affect and renew you. When the timer goes off though, it’s time to refocus on life’s more unpleasant issues.
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.
One of the things that I don’t always write about on my blog or on the forums is where I stand now in recovery, in my life and with my relationships. I think we (me included) tend to think a person who recovered X amount of years ago is all better. They’re done. “Nothin’ more to see here, folks.” And while I personally believe that’s partly true, it’s not entirely true. It’s always good to do an inventory to see if you’ve reached goals. And to remind yourself of what recovery is, so that you stick to it!
I liken the experience of recovery to growing up, and becoming an adult. Because let’s face it, that is, essentially, what recovery is. When you are not recovered and you are in the throes of your addiction, you’re acting out, avoiding life and responsibility as a child would, and ultimately refusing to grow up. When you recover, you pass through the stages of psychological development and hopefully reach your potential, whatever that may be. SO, while you are not growing at such a rapid rate anymore, as an adult (as a recovered person), you are still making choices about your life, you are still choosing roads and you are still deciding what kind of perspective you would like to hold on to at any given juncture in your life. A successful recovery, therefore, means that you find your identity, you learn how to be intimate, you begin to contribute to the world and you feel a sense of accomplishment in your life.
But here’s the tricky part…
Can even the healthiest among us know the entirety of their identities when an identity is a constantly evolving human experience?
And can anyone really experience intimacy to the fullest, once and for all, despite the fact that people change all the time, and close up and bottle up and the open up again?
And must we reach a definitive point in our lives where we only contribute to the world, and no longer have occasional bouts of weakness where we must once again be the takers?
And despite feeling a sense of accomplishment for certain achievements, is it possible (or necessary) to feel a sense of accomplishment for every darn thing?
I guess what I am saying, is that while advanced recovery teaches you to not make critical mistakes anymore and gives you the tools to live an overall healthier life, you still face the human experience, you still must evolve and make decisions, you still must take risks and make mistakes, and you still must deal with other people who push your buttons, who challenge you, and who create in you a sense of wonder. So, while I no longer deal with the concept of PoAs or addiction, or doing horribly regretful things, I do deal with procrastination, avoidance of work, challenges within my own personality conflicting with others, challenges with my expectations of others (namely people I work with or family members) and from time to time frustration, boredom, anger, blame, and (my most recent) lack of interest in my job–after working to the point of near exhaustion from June to end of December, I collapsed and have been sick nearly the whole month of January. I want nothing to do with work and I am instead more interested in doing laundry and dishes!
Here’s more. Personally, I think I will always deal with my lack of ambition. I probably could have been far more successful than I am, but I never had any ambition, nor did I have a focus. I think I will always deal with my own version of ADHD in that, I can get bored with the direction I am heading in and change. And because of that change, I end up starting all over again. At the beginning.
Lastly, I wish I were better at spending less money.
So, at the moment, work and money is not working for me. That is where I am struggling. Should I continue with this particular volunteer work, or should I let it go? And if I do let it go, what will be the consequences?
On the flip side, my relationship with D has been wonderful. Aside from the past month where we were both sick and miserable with the flu, and a bit short with each other, our overall relationship is right where I’d hope it’d be after 4 years. My feelings for him still grow. He still amazes me with his kindness, love and respect. ANd I still have deep emotions for him, backed by the fact that he never hurts me. When you find someone who you love and trust and who shares your same values, AND they never hurt you, the relationship becomes such a healing one! Are we lovey-dovey and shmoopy every day? Hell, no. He makes too much noise at night when I am trying to sleep. He’s oversensitive about my tone of voice (I’m Italian! I’m a little louder than the average girl!) He more often than not feeds his kids junk food. But these are issues I can handle! We are planning our wedding for August 24th, 2013.
My relationship with my kids is also strong. I am growing prouder and prouder of their accomplishments and the men they are growing into (well, they are still boys!). I spend lots of time with them and they mean the world to me. Do they act out and whine about cleaning up their rooms and doing chores? Yes! Every day. Do they get straight As; are they picture perfect students? No (well, the youngest one is!). Do I spoil them? Probably a little bit. But I am learning to let go and let them grow up in a healthy environment. I am creating a peaceful, loving world for them, and for that, I am proud.
My health and diet is going well. I decided to lose a few pounds back in October, and I accomplished my goal. Now to maintain! I am eating extremely healthy too, which makes me feel better and more important, regulates my mood so that I am happier, calmer, less moody. I’m telling you folks, try to cut back as much as you can on sugar, caffeine, drugs and alcoholic. When you do, you can clearly see what a large role those chemicals play in affecting your mood!
My relationship with my mother is wonderful. It usually always is, but now, she is newly retired and lives close, so we have been spending extra time together.
My house is a wonderful place to be. We’re under construction and that’s hugely exciting!
SO, that’s where I am now. How about you? Take a look at where you were five years ago. Are you where you thought you’d be? Are you where you want to be? What goals can you set you achieve those outcomes?
Sometimes we date people like our parents because we have no other model of who might be appropriate for us to date. When we don’t have an identity of our own, we tend to let others (like parents) dictate what is best for us. That’s not to say our parents, when we are adults, interfere or tell us who to date. It is to say that we, subconsciously, think we need to follow that same model of love that they set for us. When that is the case, we tend to only allow people into our lives who are familiar to us, never realizing we don’t have to “choose” people like our parents. We stick with what’s familiar, instead of questioning whether we might want and need something completely different.
And here’s the thing: if you have/had a good relationship with your parent(s), then, it’s all good. You can date someone who reminds you of your dad or mom and the relationship will most likely work out well. But if you had a bad relationship with a parent (despite loving him or her) you should not date them. That’s when we begin to confuse the big “L” (love) with “healthy relationship.” The two don’t always go hand in hand.
Case in point. I loved my father. I was entertained by many of the crazy things he did. But I inherently didn’t value the way he lived his life and he always made me feel uncomfortable and mistrusting. Yet, I always dated men based on the two things positive qualities I saw in my dad: love and entertainment. Well, guess what? That won’t get you very far. You need to like a little more than just a limited number of qualities. And “love” should not start off being one of them. That comes later.
And yet, we tend to see the “purpose” of people as having two sides instead of seeing the WHOLE picture. WHat I mean is this: your PoA has all these great qualities and you love him, but he’s a narcissist, a manipulator, and doesn’t pay you the attention you want. You’ve split your PoA in two. You stick around for the half good, but are in pain or suffering for the half bad. Essentially, you do what you did with your parents– you overlook the bad, so that you may love.
But that’s not how a healthy relationship is built. In order to have a healthy relationship, you need to think about and search for the whole picture! You can’t cut people in half and say: I like these qualities and I will focus on them, and then I will ignore the other stuff. Nothing’s perfect, after all! Well, guess what. You don’t have to do that anymore! You had to do it with your parents, but you don’t have to do with the person you choose to be your partner.
We have no choice selecting our parents. We have to love them, despite their shortcomings. We have to find a way to adapt to them, accepting their negative qualities and love them at the same time. We do this as children to survive. But when we are adults, we DO NOT. HAVE TO DO THIS. We have a choice as to whom we select.
This brings me to the ultimate lie we tell ourselves in the game of love–that we will never find someone who FULLY satisfies us. There will always be issues, or problems. And while that is true, for the most part, there is a HUGE piece of that truth missing. You can, and must find someone with whom you share most of your same values. And you can and must find someone who does not cause you pain. That is not what love is about. ANd that is certainly not what a healthy relationship is about. There are degrees of discomfort and here are two examples:
-You love playing sports or working out at the gym, but you don’t particularly like a few of the exercises the instructor makes you do. The big picture is that you love the exercise class, and while you don’t like a couple of the exercises (who loves ab workouts!?), in the end, it’s a positive thing for you and your body and your peace of mind. Most of the class is worthwhile and so you can overlook the discomfort of what you don’t like because the class as a whole (and even those parts you don’t like) are in perfect alignment with your value system: to be healthy and fit.
-You love playing sports or working out at the gym, but the instructor is a total bitch. She belittles you, she reprimands you if you don’t do the exercises the right way and you don’t particularly like anyone else in the class. In fact, even though working out is good for you, you feel completely mentally and emotionally beaten down by your experience in the class. So, why do you stay? Well, you BELIEVE exercise is good for you and that you’re doing a good thing. But what you’re failing to see is the whole picture and the fact that you do NOT have to tolerate that kind of belittlement or pain just to reach your goal.
See the difference? I hope so!
On the forums, one of my favorite posters decided to write a letter to her addiction. I thought it was a good idea, and so I appropriated it. The above is my letter. Simple. To the point. Others may not have such a peaceful letter to write, and that’s OK. Write your own personal letter anyway, and have it come from your heart (and your head). Whatever you do, use it as an exercise in healing and awareness.
Dear Love Addiction,
You are now an old friend I revere. I am no longer angry or hate you or mortified of my past, because I see in you a teacher. I didn’t want to learn, but you showed me the way. I didn’t want to grow up, but you taught me the shame in remaining stunted. I didn’t want to accept the ugly side of myself, but then you taught me to forgive myself. These are the lessons I learned from what, at the time, felt like a horrible education.
Many times I asked, “why would you make me suffer like this?” But now I see you had plans for turning me into a whole, beautiful person, who has many gifts to offer the world. I came to you with nothing. And I left full. And for that, I am grateful. Without you, I would not be the woman I am today.
What do I mean by that? Well, would you expect a baby to talk? Of course not. Would you expect a fish to walk on two legs? Pure silliness. And yet, everyday, we expect avoidant people to be intimate and close, we expect people who clearly are not showing much interest in us to be interested, and we expect love from a source that is incapable of loving us.
When we look at people and accept them for who and what they are, it means giving up unrealistic expectations of them. For years I dated (or married!) men who were avoidant and the entire time I was in the relationship with them I expected them to be in love and attentive and treat me like men treat women in the movies. It wasn’t that my expectations were high. It was that I had set unrealistic goals for this particular person, who could not meet my higher expectations.
But I thought we were supposed to have high expectations of being treated well and good!?!?!
YES! We are supposed to have high expectations of being treated well and good—BUT FROM THE RIGHT PEOPLE. You cannot expect a man who has a track record of cheating on all his girlfriends to suddenly stop cheating once you’ve come along. Your expectations will never be met. But you can have high expectations for YOURSELF that you will not date men who cheat (and if you don’t find out until later into the relationship it means that you don’t stick around and demand they change; it means YOU LEAVE). See the difference?
Set high expectations of and for yourself, and expect them of people who can meet them. Otherwise, you are basically expecting the impossible.
How to keep your love addiction check: if you have reasonable and basic expectations of all people, i.e that they will treat you with respect, that they are kind to you, that they do not hurt you physically or mentally, that they do not lie, steal or cheat from you, then apply these same expectations to your partner. If he/she can meet them, then you may be able to reasonable expect that he or she will meet higher expectations, if you two embark upon a romantic relationship. If he/she cannot meet these basic expectations, then it’s time to move on. Why? Because these expectations are basic!!!! They are the bottom level of expectations. They are the bare minimum. If your PoA can’t meet them, he surely cannot meet higher, more demanding expectations. And here’s something too: if he cannot meet them and you stay anyway–no matter how much you gripe about it–you are telling him by your actions that he DOES meet your standard, which of course, in that case, is very low.