“My name is Diallo, and I am a….”
I paused, not quite wanting to utter the last word. It was as if saying it would make the entire thing real, and I would now and forevermore be a label.
A bit like, “He who shall not be named,” I didn’t want to give it power.
“I am a…uhh…love addict.”
I totally faded away at the end there. I’m pretty sure only I heard it. I hoped so, at least.
As far as I can remember, I’ve always been this way. Some of my first memories from the age of five or six involve having intense crushes on girls. I remember seeing my very first crush in a dream the night before I met her—so, you know, it must have been true love at the tender age of six.
That crush lasted for the entirety of elementary school, from first grade to sixth, when I was sent away clawing and scratching to another school. Decades later, we became Facebook friends; she’s married now, with kids. I thought it funny when she said in an instant message, “I don’t understand why you haven’t ended up with someone yet. You’re so awesome.”
Well (insert name here), six-year-old you might know the answer to that. Let’s ask her, shall we?
I used to behave toward girls I’d never even dated as though we’d been married and were getting a divorce. I’ve never really understood the origin of this feeling.
It was always a pit. A yearning. A tug and pull in the center of my chest that reached to the pit of my stomach. It has rarely been a conscious thing. It just sort of is.
As I’ve moved along through life and spend hundreds of hours (read: dollars) in therapy to “fix” myself, a lot of theories have been batted around.
The prevailing theory is emotional neglect. My household wasn’t known for its warm hugs and emotionally nurturing environment; that coupled with my natural sensitivity made it difficult for me to navigate the natural twists, turns and disruptions of life. I would often isolate myself and get lost in my favorite cartoons and TV shows, toys and comic books. When I wasn’t around my friends, those activities became my guides in the world of how to deal. Lots of fairy tale endings in those imaginings—too bad life is rarely like that.
The second theory I like to call “Old School Spiritual”: God, the Devil, and a war for my soul. I grew up going to church. “We’ll pray on it,” was and often still is a common response. I thank the old school spirituals for their intentions, anyway—better than nothing at all.
The most recent and relevant theory comes from New Age spirituality. Formerly an avid agnostic, I began having random encounters with repeating numbers, synchronicities and ringing in my ears, while also experiencing what I came to understand was a Kundalini awakening. My science brain still doesn’t quite believe it, but I cannot deny the things I have experienced in the past two years, so for now I’m going with it.
And in this world view, I discovered that, lo and behold, I might be causing these incidents to happen. Mostly.
We as love addicts bear a secret shame. In our American society, romantic love is the gold standard, the ultimate prize above all others. And yet, despite this we’re not supposed to want it too much, even if images of it are everywhere in our stories, advertising and even our laws.
We must walk a fine line of disinterest and desire. Our shame is that we suck at it.
We long so much to rest our head on someone’s shoulder. We know we’re supposed to look inward for peace, but for some reason the slightest trigger sends us spiraling back into the abyss. This makes dating an endeavor akin to walking in a minefield.
But in this space, through hours of meditation, I have finally begun to understand how I in fact am creating a great many of these scenarios—if not all of them. I see how, because I have a deep need in this area of my life to not feel so alone, I am not quite being the me that I am most of the time (who is actually a decently well-liked guy).
Somewhere deep in my subconscious, the “don’t leave me” track plays on repeat, causing me to fret when they don’t text back right away. Or to stress when they don’t check in. Or to freak out (always internally) if they don’t include us in their plans.
It is our burden, and it is real. But the trick is, we can’t let ourselves be victims.
Ultimately, we are responsible for how we feel. It’s not always simple and easy as that, but it actually kind of is.
When he or she decides they want to move on without giving you much of an explanation, you may again be faced with that wild, raw pain born from the neglect of your childhood, or the war of God and Satan, or even your vibrations, but none of those really matter.
The question is this: when it happens this time, what are you going to do about it right now to get through this latest bout of super angst?
A few days ago, I found myself in an all-too-familiar situation. It was happening again. This time with someone who had up ’til now had been a dear friend, but who lately wasn’t treating me with the respect I felt I deserved. This time, I had actual cause to be upset, even if the level of pain I was feeling was probably a bit stronger than warranted. I was devastated, and those familiar daggers began to burrow into my heart. Here we go again.
But this time, for perhaps the first time, instead of letting all of the negative talk rule, I decided to take the opportunity to examine why these incidents seem to throw me for such a loop.
And so I sat there, in my first SLAA meeting, because why not? And also because I’m tired of this. And for once I want to be able to love without the neediness that always ends up killing it. I want ease and peace and the me that is me 90 percent of the time.
And so I stepped through the doors and took a seat. Surrounding me were men and women of all shapes and sizes, ethnicities and ages. And they all were like me. Oddly enough, for once I didn’t feel alone. Here, I’ve found a place where I can freely share my secret shame. They could hear me where my friends and family couldn’t with their “you need to just get over its” and their “it will happen when you least expect its.”
Some of them struggled with other addictions besides love. SLAA stands for Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, and most identified as sex addicts as well. Some added on substance abuse, codependency or fantasy, fantasy.
The best part: these were real people. Here we sat in our beautiful, wounded, vulnerable glory. While we all carried some degree of shame about our condition, we were also, just by being there, courageous.
They made their introductions one by one—and finally it came to me.
“My name is Diallo, and I am a…a love addict.”
After hearing so many other shares, I began to realize that my story was also theirs. And our story was simply a hyper-focused version of what all of us on this planet go through at some point or another. I know this, because so many friends speak to me about their relationships and struggles—the pain and loss and pain again as we attempt to find a sliver of peace and connect with others without losing ourselves in the process.
We’ve all given our power away to someone who did not deserve it. We’ve all had to find our way back to a space where we could once again claim that power for ourselves. Some of us simply suck at it. The hard part is being patient with ourselves as we struggle back to our place of peace.
We are all, in our own way, undiagnosed love addicts. This is not to cheapen or trivialize the struggle of those who acutely suffer from this disease. There are many whose lives were massively disrupted by their compulsions. Of course, they are the true bearers of the name, but they, like all of us, are human. They are not some otherworldly creatures. They are flesh and blood, and they may be more like you, the undiagnosed, than you might think.
So, if you are one of the hidden legion who, like myself, bears this secret shame, take solace in the fact that you are not alone. If, like me, you have suffered in silence for a lifetime, trying your best to hide it from family and friends, there are places to go and resources for you to use to get the help that you need.
“My name is Diallo, and I am a love addict.”
I thought I was giving the words power by speaking them. As it turned out, these were the very words I needed to speak to finally set myself free.
Author: Diallo Jackson
Image: Padurariu Alexandru/Unsplash
Editor: Toby Israel