As I walked out of Qigong class yesterday, I took notice of a poster clinging to the wall.
It said, “The curious paradox is, when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” ~ C. Rogers
I’ve had two epiphanies in my life. Two moments of awakening—light bulb on, eyes wide open, my jaw the same, punched in the gut by the fist of awareness—breathless: a donated flash of clarity to bear witness to my own being and embrace the opportunity to hold myself accountable for my actions.
My first epiphany came when my daughter was about nine months old. The second, a week and a half ago.
As a writer, I tend to write of my experiences in hindsight, like a historian. It is safer this way. It is less of a threat to my ego to tell the story of disease, addiction or an experience I ‘went through.’ It affords me the luxury of being an observer, instead of a participant. I disengage and detach from the label, the stigma and the judgment from myself and others. This is the easy way out. The tone of my work touts, “That’s how I used to be, but that’s not me anymore, because I am now a better version of myself.”
It has been a while since I have felt this trepidatious and (pardon my language) scared shitless to share a piece, but I feel the need to do this for myself and for the other women who have been courageous enough to open up and admit their experiences too. I am divulging details of my present experience to illustrate how addiction can cause people to deviate from their normal behavior patterns and act out in ways they never thought themselves capable of. The key to recovery, to encouraging change of our behaviors is owning our actions despite how foreign our reactions and responses may appear to us. If and when we are brave enough to hold ourselves accountable, then and only then are we able to change, adopting healthy, functional behaviors and thought patterns.
My intention with this article is to set an example of transparency within the darkness, to stand tall and say, “This is me. In sickness.” Maybe it will allow others to come forward, raise their hands, expose their hearts with willingness to admit their sickness, too, and begin the process of healing and recovery.
The level of mindfulness in a person is measured by his or her ability to observe themselves in the present (to witness his or her actions, behaviors and thoughts from an outsider’s perspective, as an insider).
Right now, I am in it and I am thankful for it. I am not ashamed, because my circumstances have brought me here, to this breakthrough.
In the last day, I have been hesitant whether to write my story because it involves the actions and life of another; however, it is my story and one I believe needs to be heard.
I’m not a drug addict or an alcoholic.
I’ve smoked pot a total of 10 times in my life. In college, I ate mushrooms at a Phish show in Oswego, New York. I was hungry and my friends were using them as garnishment in their PB & J wraps. I was young, curious and I never turn down a good PB & J. It left me with a five hour aftertaste of illiteracy and perfected shadow puppet skills as well as a distaste for the idiocy the drugs evoked.
I never did it again.
I drink wine socially. I like a good whiskey on the rocks when I’m feeling sexy. I’ve never been interested in drugs. I’ve never been a partyer. I’m not an addict, or so I thought.
I’ve been in denial, completely oblivious to the sickness that has ravaged me for years. I have been suffering from the worst addiction there is, love addiction.
My name is Rebecca and I am a love addict.
Love addiction is a behavioral condition which manifests itself in men and women who have felt a lack of control and/or experienced neglect and abandonment during childhood. (Neglect and abandonment are not solely defined by poor living conditions or a lack of basic human needs, rather a deficit of attention, support, nurturing and love necessary for healthy cognitive and emotional development). Love addiction is a self-soothing/coping mechanism to alleviate the pain of unfulfilled emotional needs, which presents itself symptomatically in obsessive-compulsive behaviors, co-depedency, and chronic feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth.
Love addicts (me) attach to another who remind us and perpetuate the relationships we bonded with as children. The drug of choice for love addicts is a person who is shut down, withholding, emotionally unavailable and unable to reciprocate the affection and validation we crave. We search for this type of relationship because it is all we know and it is comfortable, even in its destructive nature.
We convince ourselves we are in love because our relationships are passionate, volatile and exciting. We are obsessed with falling in love and the euphoric feeling it brings, despite the exhausting and draining effort the relationship demands. The relationship itself disables our ability to participate in the rest of our lives. This is false love. It is a distraction and a survival tactic.
The relationships love addicts engage in ultimately end catastrophically in an aftermath of shattered self-worth and an inability to function. There is never a happy ending in love addictive relationships because we will never be able to functionally connect with another who is incapable of loving us back. Love addicts are attracted to ‘Love Avoidants’ or another ‘Love Addict’ (Pia Mellody, (expert on love addiction, gives individuals with such behavioral patterns these diagnostic labels). Once the relationship ends, the love addict and avoidant enters a withdrawal so severe, it mirrors the withdrawal symptoms of a recovering heroine addict.
How do I know?
I’m going through it right now. I am a love addict and until last week, I thought I was just an unlucky in love, idealistic romantic with a hyperactive imagination.
Since I can remember, I have been a dreamer and a fantasizer. I created fairy tales (as a young child) so vivid I would live within them. I didn’t know until this week that I did this to escape the severe lack of control I endured in my young life. It was the only way I felt okay, that allowed me predictability, because I was the creator of my future in a world which was inconsistent and out of my control.
As I grew, I became a storyteller, an architect of fantasy to flesh. I projected my fantasies onto my relationships whether they were casual or long term. From the time I was 14 years old, I have been obsessed with love and finding true love.
I convinced myself, Prince Charming would save me, swoop me up and care for me. I know ‘intellectually,’ he does not and will never exist. No human being can live up to my unrealistic expectations of love perfected, yet I preserved hope, “Maybe, just maybe he really does exist.”
Through my teens and into my adult life, I drowned in fantasy on a daily basis. Almost every man I came in contact with, I injected into a plot of a movie, “Maybe he’s the one. He could be. He is everything I’ve ever wanted. We would be so happy together.” I molded ‘our’ story. Even if he was clearly not right for me, I would ‘make’ him right. I would do anything to be what he wanted me to be, and he would become what I wanted him to be.
Consistently, every six months to a year, I have chosen someone to fantasize about. Some I have acted on and some not. The compulsion to write stories within my mind has fed the primal cravings of control I hunger for. From a yoga teacher to the guy sitting at the table across from me at the coffee shop—within 15 minutes, I write the screenplay of our lives. He would rise from his chair come over to me, tell me it was love at first sight, we would marry quickly, and build a cabin in the wilderness. I would bear his three children and write book after book. We would live happily ever after. Yet, I have never said a word to this person; I don’t even know his name.
My imagination has been my self soother for the deep ache and void I have felt for not receiving the nourishing love I needed. My mind has manifested in form, what my heart yearns for in feeling. I see this now. I have been living fiction as reality. Last week, I woke up outside of the pages, to see it’s only a book, not my life.
This type of creative talent is what a brilliant successful author is made of, just ask Stephen King. Instead of channeling my wild imagination and fascination with love into works of art, I have been tormenting my heart and destroying my life.
I have been living the antithesis of a mindful, present life. It took a traumatic violent event and forced distance to realize this.
For the last two years, I have lived dichotomously. I have been blessed with success in my life’s work and passions. I have traveled and had experiences I only dreamt of. Simultaneously, I have been at war in my personal life. To those who know me personally, I have always been fiercely passionate. I have a loud voice. When I get angry, I yell. I am inherently moody and volatile. Almost two years ago, I involved myself with another who was my opposite in many aspects. He was quiet and hidden. He seemed like a good yin to my yang.
I was immediately attracted to the intriguing mystery of someone so different than myself and the excitement of the chase. I was motivated by the work it took to receive his attention—physically, verbally and emotionally. Our relationship consumed every free moment I had and encroached on my work, my friendships and my life. I translated his emotional trepidation and aloofness as withholding. I became jealous and angry. I picked fights. I fired off irrational and disrespectful text messages. I was always disappointed because he was not giving me what I needed and I let him know it. I could feel myself starting to strangle him with my demands. I was attempting to mold him into what I wanted him to be. I was controlling by being overly supportive. I would do anything he needed. I tried to please him in every way, but it was never accepted or acknowledged. I wasn’t acting in truth. I wasn’t being loving; I was acting out of fear.
We were like two people drowning in the middle of the ocean, trying to survive, to gulp one more breath of air by grabbing onto the other one for buoyancy. Yet, we were both sinking together.
Daily, he would float in and out of wanting me and not wanting me. When he wanted me, I had no idea how to receive him as I had become accustomed to the chase (to him not wanting me). When he would run away time after time when we would have disagreements, I, in desperation, would run after him. I did anything to get his attention. I have a trail of evidence documenting my possessed and drugged behavior—phone calls, emails and text messages. After pressing send I would sink in shame, as if another person took over my thumbs and typed without my permission, “Who am I right now? What am I doing? How did I get here? I am a strong, confident, independent woman, a mother—why am I acting like a crazed lunatic?”
Our cycle was consistent (as it is in love addiction). I would beg and plead to be heard and acknowledged and he would flee. It left me in a pile on the floor, begging for him to come back. Sometimes my calls would be ignored and blocked, and sometimes he would engage with me. Sometimes he would pack his things and leave town, stating he wanted nothing to do with me ever again, but he would always come back whether it was an hour later or a month later. We were convinced we needed each other. We lived in delusion—we couldn’t live without one another. We were trying to nurse the wounds we both have, still bleeding left un-sutured by the people we needed most in our lives to help heal us.We thought we could be everything for one another, clinging to a ledge that was destined to crumble.
I felt like I had no control over myself. I had no control over our relationship, over him. I felt under the influence. My moods were fluctuating constantly, as were his. I was skeptical all of the time. I was jealous. I was desperate. I begged him to hold my hand. I begged him to kiss me. I begged him to make love to me. I begged him to love me.
I subconsciously chose someone who avoided intimacy. I created a fantasy of how our relationship would be and I did everything I could to make it a reality. It wasn’t. Every time he left, I felt like I was dying and every time he came back I felt resurrected. I felt high. I felt worthy in his presence. I was convinced he was the one, the gateway to my happiness.
I said to myself everyday, “If I just keep trying, if we just wait a little longer, we will become the way I know we can be. He will love me how I need to be loved.” I was telling myself another story. I was not being mindful. I was not living in my reality.
Two months ago, after a bipolar day of mutual attraction and repulsion, I became furious with his inability to share with me. I was acting out of jealousy. He shut down and told me he was done with me, again. I wanted to talk. This time would be different. We would break the cycle this time. We would talk it through. He wouldn’t leave and we would really talk it out. After trying to drive away twice, he agreed to come inside. I stood in front of my door, he wanting to leave, me hands up on his shoulders, yelling, “No, no please stay let’s talk about this! Don’t do this again!”
I noticed his phone lit up in his pocket and I knew something was not right. I reached for it to find he was recording our argument without my knowledge. I took his phone and ran to my bathroom to shut the door and turned off the recording. He ran after me. He was banging on the door, screaming. I was in shock, broken. The pounding began to vibrate the walls, louder and louder and then it happened, he kicked in my door, broke it in half , lunged toward me. I put up my hands, bracing for impact holding onto his shoulder (even though I knew he would never hit me) as he grabbed his phone and ran away. I was left convulsing on the bathroom floor.
My home was my sanctuary, my family’s nest and now it was a battle scene. I had never been involved in a physical altercation and neither had he. I was petrified and I know he was too. We are two people who never thought ourselves capable of violent action and here we are in the aftershock of crazed love.
This still was not enough for either of us. Even after an overdose, a drug addict will wake the next day and use. I begged, “Come back. I want you. I need you.”
He came back.
We tangoed in a destructive dance for another month. He blamed me for his actions and I accepted the blame. We continued to sleep together and spend time together up until the day before I left for the month of July. (A couple weeks prior to this incident I decided to take my daughters away for a month to be by the water, play and write.)
I did not know this trip would save my life. The distance has allowed me to step outside of the pages as the author and become the reader. I see now we were living in a piece of fiction we wrote. What we both lacked in our previous relationships, familial and romantic, we worked tirelessly to build with one another, even though our foundation and structure was dilapidated and rotten.
I glorify passion.
I have a belief that passion is necessary in a relationship and if it is not present, it is boring, not worth engaging in. I now understand why several friendships I have had over the last few years have come and gone. They were fleeting because of my sickness. I was attracted to and attracting others who avoided intimacy or craved it so desperately they did not know it when they felt it.
Since the incident, I’ve confided in others who appear to understand and support the dysfunction. “Fighting was a sign we were eating our way through our karmic leftovers. We are each other’s mirror; therefore, discourse was vital to our growth if we chose to see it this way. We could learn from one another and become stronger individually and together.”
This thought process is devastating to our spirits. It is a fallacy. It is unhealthy. What I thought of as “boring” is actually the healthiest way to bring harmony and serenity to our spirit.
My children’s father came to visit us the other day. (If it weren’t for the loyal 12 years I spent with him, I don’t know where I would be today.) Our relationship suppressed my love addiction during a period of time when I would have become even more consumed by my addiction.
His presence has been a lesson in itself. It has been quiet, peaceful and I have felt understood and supported without saying a word. This is what love is.
As I share with others, I am discovering the similarities in their love addicted relationships. They have recounted nearly identical episodes of begging and running, uncontrolled behavior, glorification and demonization, violent episodes, the blame that follows, the chase which ensues and the relapsing.
The same story, different people.
Each of these relationships began with a fiery passion, an all consuming, furious desire to understand one another no matter what it took. Each of the women I have spoken with have admitted that they have relapsed despite the threat of harm because they physically could not stay away. This is the influence of the drugged mind. The only way to move passed the initial separation and the first hours, days and weeks of withdrawal is by way of forced distance and restraint by loved ones.
The emotional lashings of a love addicted and codependent relationship are left gushing if the individuals do not choose to reflect inward and uncover the triggers and source of the addiction. Without commitment to therapeutic recovery, the addict will continue to use by attaching to another.
I did not know how sick I was, until my drug was gone.
I am in awe of my lack of self-control. I couldn’t take “no” for an answer—continuing to call, email and text as if something would change. One afternoon, early last week, I was pleading via email to speak with him as I sat under an umbrella at the beach as my kids laughed, played and flirted with the tide. “Mommy look! Mommy, Mommy look!”
I was using my drug, completely high, when I looked up to see them. Free and happy. I was neglecting them. It was then I heard a whisper, so quiet, “Wake up. Let go, let go.”
A friend of mine said to me over a year ago, “There will come a time, when enough is enough. You will just stop and that will be it.”
She knew at that time she couldn’t make me see what I wasn’t ready to see. She couldn’t tell me what to do, because I wasn’t ready yet, but now I am. I hear her loud and clear.
Maybe it has been the combination of therapy, the disciplined practice of my writing, the sunshine, the ocean, the love from my friends and the unrelenting happiness which permeates from my children, but a week and a half ago, I woke up and I knew I would die if I continued this way.
My therapist mentioned love addiction a couple of weeks ago, as if she knew I would acknowledge my sickness on my own, when it was time. I decided to do some research. I found a diagnostic quiz for love addiction and as I answered the first three questions with a yes, I knew. I knew I discovered the key to my full recovery.
I have been living in a fantasy. I feel like Dorothy pulling back the curtain. It’s all an illusion. The only thing that is real, is right now—me at my computer listening to Bon Iver, my left hand baking in the sun as my heart releases itself onto this page. There is no man, there is no perfect love, there is no dream. There is right now and that is a story in and of itself, a true story.
This article is to be continued. This article is about self-realization, a life long process. It is never over. We never know it all. I will have many more punches to the gut in the future, but for now, this punch to the gut is still aching and bruised. I’m still catching my breath.
I thought I came to California for the month to complete the book I’ve been working on. I didn’t know instead of finishing a book I would begin one, a work of non-fiction of awakening and healing, except instead of writing it, I am living it—for real this time.
I’ve been given another chance to wake up. With knowledge comes a great responsibility; for me, that is the responsibility to get clean and stay clean, not only for myself, but for the two impressionable souls I have delivered into this world, who deserve nothing less than to be loved and nurtured in the way they need to be.
The only thing we as humans have control over, anyway, is how we give love and how we receive love. Over the future days, weeks, months and years, I hope to fully understand that when we love and we allow ourselves to be loved, there is no need to be in control, ever.
By Rebecca Lammersen
Like elephant journal on Facebook.
Ed: B. Bemel