Toxic Thoughts in My Direction

Last month I packed up my car and took a six-hour road trip to Marfa, the far West Texas town that's home to what my dad calls a buncha-artsy-fartsy people. Every once in a while I get a hankering to escape my comfort zone by interrupting my routine, to be just a little adventurous, even if my notion of adventure is very different than it was 20 years ago (for example, I no longer need to move to a new city to feel venturesome). These days, I'm an enthusiastic homebody with a hearty aversion to stagnation; inertia doesn't suit me, but neither does perturbing the status quo just to create excitement, so I practice living life in the middle, and that requires time away from the valued structure of my life now and then. Plus, I just love it out there in Marfa; something about the desert automatically reboots my nervous system to factory settings the moment I arrive.

Anyone who says that Texas isn't beautiful hasn't driven through our Hill Country in springtime. Imagine: A quiet two-lane highway bordered by lush, green pastures and island-like patches of orange, yellow and various shades of pink courtesy of prairie verbena, daisies and Indian paintbrushes. On this day it was sunny and 80 degrees - a welcome weather experience after all the spring rain we've had here in Austin (SO MUCH RAIN). I had the sunroof wide open and the volume way up as I sang along top-of-my-lungs style to Terri Clark and Mary Chapin Carpenter, as well as a little Wanda Jackson. After all, I'm a Texas Girl who was headed to the Trans-Pecos to clear my head and get shit done, so this trip required real country music (none of that nonsense they call Today's Country, whatever that even means).

Now for me getting away doesn't necessarily mean "taking a break from it all", nor does that idea appeal to me these days. Back when I had a job that required getting away from in order to survive, I lived everyday for the next vacation, fantasizing of doing nothing but lying in the sun while ignoring my anxiety over the fact that I'd eventually have to return to that job; but today I actually love my work and consider it a healthily integrated part of my life, so I often have a few projects during these getaways

The plan for this particular five-day trip, as scribbled in my journal:

5/6/19:

Goals for Marfa (aka OPTIONS):

  • organize journals (read each entry/make index/label by date)

  • meditate/yoga/write/read

The first morning in Marfa was a crisp and bright 40-something degrees; I wrapped up in my favorite sweater coat and drank what was definitely too much coffee on the patio of my Airbnb. Then I sorta-kinda meditated (again: too much coffee); did a little yoga; and eventually began the task of organize journals, which required the rereading of hundreds of journal entries chronicling the two decades of my love-addicted history. Yes: Every. Single. Entry. Why? Because I needed a reference index for this blog in order to be more organized and consistent with posts; but I also had hopes of finding additional clues to help me better understand love addiction, and specifically my experience with it. Honestly, what I really wanted to know: Why did it take me 20 years to stop hurting?

Three days later when I'd finished the final page of the last journal and reviewed the new index, I had my answer: In the journals, no matter how much awareness regarding my patterns of feeling addicted to a partner that I expressed; no matter what self-help books I recorded reading; no matter that I did yoga and meditated and went to therapy; the toxic thread woven throughout every page of these journals is persistently negative and oftentimes downright abusive self-talk. To say that I lacked self-compassion would be an understatement.

According to Dr. Kristen Neff, a pioneer in the field and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, self-compassion requires self-kindness:

"Self-kindness, by definition means that we stop the constant self-judgment and disparaging internal commentary that most of us have come to see as normal. It requires us to understand our foibles and failures instead of condemning them. It entails clearly seeing the extent to which we harm ourselves through relentless self-criticism, and ending our internal war."

And during my love addiction, I definitely harmed myself with self-criticism; but I couldn't hold onto my awareness of this long enough to make any change. The journal entries outline a pattern of noticing my self-defeating behavior (perfectionism, high expectations, being hard on myself) by briefly realizing Aha! I'm the problem and then seconds later scolding myself for being the problem.

8/9/2002

What if I just stop making all these rules for myself - the ones that always tell me I'm failing or not doing something I should be doing. What if I just stopped that? I would feel good, lighter. I always feel constricted - like my whole body is rigid. This week I've been a slug, unproductive, tired. Lazy.

Notice the awareness of Hmm, maybe I should stop dragging myself over the coals because that'd prolly help me feel better and then immediately shaming myself for not doing enough, for being tired.

So, why DO we do this to ourselves? Partly because our brains are negatively biased, an evolutionary leftover that was useful back when we had to constantly be prepared for the worst in order to survive; but also to blame is the attachment wound.

From Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff:

"[If parents provide inconsistent emotional support] children develop what's called an insecure attachment bond...attachment bonds with parents affect the formation of our "internal working model" of self in relation to others. This is an unconscious, deep-seated mental portrait of who we are and what we can expect from other people. If children are securely attached to parents, they feel they are worthy of love...But if children are insecurely attached, they tend to feel they are unworthy and unlovable...research shows people who are insecurely attached have less self-compassion than those who are securely attached."

And guess what these insecurely attached children who lack self-compassion grow up to be?  You guessed it: Love Addicts. And what do all Love Addicts have in common? We're perfectionists; because if we're perfect, THEN we'll be loved. Of course there is no such thing as perfection, but that doesn't stop a Love Addict from obsessively expecting it of herself, which fuels the cycle of self-criticism, shame and low self-esteem.

From the book, Self-Compassion:

"Nobody likes to feel they're flawed. But for some, imperfection is especially hard to bear. Perfectionism is defined as the compulsive need to achieve and accomplish one's goals with no allowance for falling sort of one's ideals. Perfectionists experience enormous stress and anxiety about getting things exactly right...either I'm perfect or I'm worthless - perfectionists are continually dissatisfied with themselves...when your entire sense of self-worth is based on being productive and successful, when failure is simply not allowed, then the striving to achieve becomes tyrannical."

5/21/2001

Being hard on myself. Just not "enough" today. Didn't work hard enough. Didn't look good enough. Didn't exercise enough, etc. An ideal day would be like this: up at 6am, to the gym and healthy breakfast; to work by 9am - work hard (on something); eat a good lunch; make a to-do list and do everything on that list; eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables; cook dinner; read the paper; get a good night's sleep - get up and do it again. Then what? What would I have? Order. Perfection. Things can't be perfect if they're not in order. And I don't know what to do with myself if I'm not working toward perfection.

Actually, I didn't know what to do with myself if I wasn't abusing myself for my lack of perfection. And here's the thing about self-criticism: It literally shrinks the part of the brain that's needed to make change rather than expanding it, which is what self-compassion does. I equate this to a clenched fist - angry and closed off - as opposed to an extended hand that's open to receiving. So, if we continually abuse ourselves with internal castigations, chances are that we'll stay stuck in the same place and feeling the same way regardless of how much yoga and reading and journaling we do. As far as meditation is concerned: It's a mindfulness practice that's proven to promote self-compassion if done consistently. In my love-addicted years, I was inconsistent with my self-care due to depression, anxiety and the fact that what little energy I DID have was usually focused on a Love Avoidant partner.

7/4/2006

Sad today...there is just so much going on in my head right now. I'm being so hard on myself. Really have to be kinder. Don't know why I want to pick on myself so much but I think finally the whole negative thing has gotten old. I'm finally tired of being down and in this frame of mind...tired of not realizing my power and what I offer - especially to myself.

And it had gotten old, and I was tired of being in that frame of mind; but it took another ten years to get out of it, when I finally met a therapist who recognized me as a Love Addict. At that point, I did the work around my attachment disorder and found relief from the push/pull of love addiction; then I stopped self-medicating my feelings with alcohol and the leftover shame from years of under-valuing myself lifted; and since changing the way I speak to myself, my life has clicked into place, as if the pieces of my personal puzzle finally fit together creating the beautiful image I'd been blindly working toward my entire life.

I wonder sometimes: If I'd known about the practice of self-compassion in my 20s or 30s would things have been different? Could that have prevented the turmoil and heartache, or did my dharma require me to go through all of it in order to get right here where I am?

11/24/2010

"Walk as if". As if I have what I want, as if my fears aren't real and I am who I want to be. I'm sad but not hopeless...I have less chatter going on and am not obsessing about certain things...I have to heal and the process & outcome may be something beyond what I ever expected. This is my life's work - to heal myself before I can help others heal...

From the book, Self-Compassion:

"We can soothe and comfort our own pain...We don't have to wait until we are perfect, until life goes exactly as we want it to. We don't need others to respond with care and compassion in order to feel worthy of love. We don't need to look outside ourselves for the acceptance and security we crave...Who is most likely to know the full extent of the pain and fear you face, to know what you need most? Who is the only person in your life who is available 24/7 to provide you with care and kindness? You."

Thank you for reading~Jodi

 

“Compassion isn’t some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we’re trying to live up to. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don’t even want to look at.”—Pema Chodron

 

The Showoff

I made an unwittingly insightful prediction when I was nine years old. One afternoon, I was sprawled across Aunt Nancy's double bed squinting at the shapes made by sunshine and shadows on her attic bedroom's pale yellow ceiling as I contemplated my future; it was 1978 and earlier that day I'd overheard a local newscaster mention something about space travel in the year 2020 - "50 years after the first moon landing in 1969" - and this concerned me. After all, I was born in 1969, which meant that I would be 50 in 2020; and though I was aware that this date was far away, the concept of time felt suddenly overwhelming and, being an anxious child, I worried:  Where will I live in the year 2020? Will I have my own car? Will I be a mom? I'll be 50 years old?! Holy crap, that's old! Which led to more future-tripping over aging and death, combined with anxiety about nuclear war because I was always worried about nuclear war (my parents really shouldn't have subscribed to Newsweek); but I also recall specifically wondering What will I be like when I'm 50? and, after much contemplation, realizing: I'll probably be the same girl I am now (only taller, of course).

This year I will turn 50 and I can honestly say that this prediction was not entirely inaccurate. In many ways I am the same girl I was in 1978, but it's taken quite some time to get back to her. In other words, she's a better example of my Authentic Self than the prototype of myself I've promoted to the world most of my life. Due to the conditioning that led to the conforming, which contributed to the facade, I lost track of that Self as I spent years trying to figure out who I was supposed to be in order to be loved.

Jen Sincero does an excellent job of explaining the process of conditioning and the effects of outdated beliefs in her book You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life:

[As a small child] while you explored and expanded into your new world, you also received messages from the people around you about the way things are. From the moment you could take it in, they started filling you up with a lifetime's worth of beliefs, many of which have nothing to do with who you actually are or what is necessarily true...The main source of the information was, of course, your parents, assisted by society at large.

Thanks to therapy and sobriety and doing the work, today I feel more like my True Self than ever before in my adulthood or adolescence. Even though there's always more work that can be done, I'm in a good place: after years of moving from coast to coast I'm back in my home state of Texas (the blue part); I achieved a longtime goal of changing careers and, long story short, built a private practice; and, after nearly 30 years of co-addicted relationships, I'm finally 50% of a healthy partnership. Things are stable. So much so that this recovering Love Addict occasionally wants to rock the boat or find a reason to run away from all this healthiness. But I don't. Because I've done that; and I've finally learned that nothing good comes from rocking and running. I feel confident in stating that I'm officially an adult after many years of inadvertently prioritizing the insatiable needs of my inner child.

Another reason I'm okay with getting older is that I have very few regrets. Trust me, I've definitely done some dumb shit; I've put myself in cringe-worthy situations that reflected a lack of self-love and…to put it compassionately, I haven't always been graceful. But even the messy stuff has led me right here and shaped me into the person I see in the mirror today. Among the aforementioned few regrets are:

1) I regret not listening to my mother when she told me never to tweeze my eyebrows (I'm not kidding - things haven't been the same since, thanks to Drew Barrymore, I fell victim to the pencil-thin brow trend of 1994);

2) I wish I'd spent less time in the sun with a bottle of baby oil during the 80s (those Coppertone ads were misleading: I don't recall any disclaimers or health warnings, only super tan people living their best lives because they were SUPER TAN); and...

3) I wish I hadn't cared so much about what others thought of me; to be more specific, I wish I hadn't played small.

Clearly the first two are simply examples of poor decision-making with little consideration of the consequences, but that last one is different; while it's easy to say Just stop worrying about what everyone else thinks, it's literally not that easy, especially for Codependents and Love Addicts. Plus, the screwed up thinking that leads to said worry about what others think starts waaaaay back when we're teeny-tiny humans with zero control over what messages get stored away in the file rooms of our subconscious minds.

From You are a Badass:

We're born knowing how to trust our instincts, how to breathe deeply, how to eat only when we're hungry, how to not care about what anyone else thinks...Then, as we grow and learn from the people around us, we replace many of these primal understandings with negative false beliefs, fear, shame, and self-doubt.

Negative false beliefs, fear, shame, and self-doubt. That's quite a lineup of ingredients that contributes to keeping us small by subconsciously telling us that it's not ok to take up space or to be the center of attention, that it's not ok to be BIG. And what exactly does it mean to be big? I'm sure each person has a unique vision of what being big looks like, but I equate it to flying - as in soaring - and I imagine that it feels weightless and unburdened, like FREEDOM. When I was little I often dreamt of flying like a bird and, while reading through 20+ years worth of journals kept as a love-addicted adult, I've discovered several entries regarding such dreams.

1/9/1999

I dreamed last night that I could fly. Not by flapping my arms, but by soaring. And I went up so high that the ground was in land sections and it was nighttime with lots of stars and it seemed like I could keep going and going. But I came back down and two people saw me and called me a showoff. And then I felt so ashamed.

I remember this dream very clearly. In it I was so confident; I felt carefree with no awareness of anyone's expectations of me, including my own. But the most important part of the dream was that in it I realized everyone had the ability to fly, which meant that everyone could feel this way! I couldn't wait to share this news; but when I landed and encountered the two people who judged me, I was overcome with shame, even though I knew they too could fly. I woke up feeling shameful instead of powerful, even though in my dream I'd experienced both. Isn't it interesting that the negative message of Who do you think you are? and its coexisting shame attack eclipsed the euphoria? That's because the subconscious mind is very powerful.

Of course, this dream came at a time when I was involved in a co-addicted relationship in which I was playing very, very small; a relationship that would ultimately end with a Valentine’s Day breakup after eight months of chronic self-doubt, sending me into a love-addicted ditch. After it ended, I tormented myself for ruining such a "good thing" and did comprehensive mental gymnastics to figure out how to put it back together while giving up little pieces of my worth every time I had an encounter with my ex. So. Much. Smallness.

5/9/1999:

It's as if the sadness is comfortable for me. Familiar. But there's inner conflict now because I actually want to feel better. I've lived my whole life outside of myself and must begin looking to me - inside of me. What do I want? What do I have? Focus on ME. Be BIG. Be magnanimous. I still look to [the ex] to define Jodi...I forget who I am when I'm with him.

I'm not a dream analyst, but when I Googled "meaning of dreams about flying" I found results such as: the dreamer is moving on from something that's stagnated in life; or going through a transitional stage in life; OR, if the you have trouble flying in the dream, someone or something may be preventing you from moving on to the next step in your life.

2/9/2004:

I dreamt that I could fly...I flew and soared and felt so proud, but then I had to go back and knew that once I flew against the wind it would be harder - and it was so hard that I couldn't do it and I felt ashamed. Means? That I've proven I can soar and to go back now, I'm afraid people will think less of me? Or, I can soar but haven't realized that yet?

This entry was made on a Monday. I had decided to ask my husband for a divorce the following weekend; but before I could have that conversation, I was fired from my job at Rolling Stone Magazine on Friday the 13th (which, fun fact, also happened to be a day I'd accidentally walked under a ladder and paid $6.66 at the bodega for coffee and a bagel that morning on the way to work). I was blindsided. Being fired from this particular job was a very big deal to me; not only did it immediately affect my livelihood, it triggered a core belief that I wasn't good enough, a belief that I'd sorta-successfully covered up with a bunch of sparkly stuff so that I wouldn't have to acknowledge it's existence My wound had been triggered and those weekend plans made by my previously empowered Self would have to wait.

4/20/2004

I don't have an 'off' button - I'm always ON, trying to be someone other than me, worried that I'm not enough - not smart enough, not pretty enough, not dressed right. I think my mom is the same way - I don't think I've ever seen her totally relaxed...I don't know if she feels good about herself either...I think I acted like someone else so often as a child that I stopped being okay with me - did I forget how to act like me too?

Here's the theory: You are born as your Authentic Self who, before conditioning takes place, has the ability to soar confidently, unworried and unburdened by the opinions of others; untethered, powerful, BIG. Getting reacquainted with that Self is the key to recovery from codependency and love addiction, as well as other disorders, and crucial to overall wellbeing. In reality, we may never not care what others think of us because we are emotional beings; but it's possible to acknowledge the fact of Yes, I care without prioritizing it over the needs of the Self. We can consciously choose not to allow those external opinions to hold us back and prevent us from flying, but first we must get in touch with, and embrace, our inner showoff.

Thank you for reading~ Jodi

Well, some say life will beat you down,
break your heart, steal your crown.
So I've started out for God-knows-where,
I guess I'll know when I get there.

I'm learning to fly, around the clouds,
but what goes up, must come down.

I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings,
coming down is the hardest thing.

From “Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty

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