I've often looked back on my history with love addiction and thought I had it all figured out, as if I knew exactly how and why it started, as well as my part in it. But, as I comb through 20 years of journal entries, I realize there are many moments I’ve purposely forgotten, stuffed so deeply because of the level of shame that I experienced at the time.
Last week, I wrote about what I then considered my first experience with co-addiction; but I see now that the love addiction actually began with an earlier relationship, one so toxic that I filed it away beyond immediate recall. When I finally ended this one after two years, I was 26 years old and had no car, no job, no money and was 30 lbs underweight. I was dependent and addicted to the point of allowing him to control everything, including my worthiness. My self-care was nonexistent because I was living for the relationship. I had stopped eating, but was exercising excessively. I’d also started to occasionally use alcohol as a way to soothe my wound, which had been triggered by his love avoidance. This particular form of avoidance manifested as compulsive lying, cheating, and a well-hidden gambling addiction.
According to Pia Mellody in "Facing Love Addiction", these are the three primary characteristics of Love Avoidants:
1. They avoid intensity within the relationship by investing in activities outside of the relationship, such as an addiction or affair.
2. They avoid allowing themselves to be fully known in the relationship in order to protect themselves from vulnerability (ie 'I can't be hurt if no one really knows me').
3. They avoid intimate contact with their partners by using a variety of processes Pia calls 'distancing techniques', such as control, dishonesty and aggressive boundaries.
Even today it's hard to believe that I did this to myself. There were SO MANY massive red flags and my instincts were consistently telling me 'he's lying' or 'something's not right', but when I questioned him he lied more and always said things that led me to believe that I was the problem. And I started to believe him ('it must be ME'). The relationship started out as codependent just like all of my relationships before; but this one ultimately led me into love addiction and a new pattern of using alcohol to self-medicate, something that would take years to undo.
Pia Mellody: "When the pain of codependence gets too intense, many of us turn to an addiction to medicate the pain because we do not know any other way to get relief. We find a substance, compulsive behavior, or person to soothe the pain caused by our inability to be in a healthy relationship with ourselves...Eventually we become addicted to the substance, person, or compulsive reality."
What’s interesting is that we argued very little; it was mostly his silent and insidious manipulation that led me to feel hopeless and anxious because it was all my fault. Then he'd swoop in like a leading man, all romantic and forgiving (because I'm the one who needed forgiving), and I'd feel better for a few days. Until the manipulation started again. It was like a rollercoaster, or as my mom said, I was allowing myself to be treated like a yoyo - toyed with like an object. In the end it was disastrous. I blew it up better than a case of dynamite could've by behaving in a way that isn’t congruent with who I am (but that’s a story for another time).
I believe that our instincts let us know when we are involved in something that's not good for us; if we don't listen and take appropriate action to save ourselves, the Universe will eventually step in and do it for us. And it's usually not pretty.
I have to remember to breathe and take care of myself...I didn't just break-up with a boyfriend, I left a way of life behind - an unhealthy one. If I'd stayed with him, I'd never be who I really am. I just want to know that he misses me. Maybe that's my ego. I feel like I miss him, or maybe I just miss someone. But I have so much to be proud of - I had the strength to get out, and now I will make it on my own - something I've always wanted but been too afraid to try.
A therapist informed me 20 years ago that I'm codependent - and I agree with that - but I never realized that I was once afraid to be on my own. This is surprising news to my 49 year old Self because I've always considered myself to be an independent go-getter. I read this entry now, and wonder if the emotional abuse caused me to forget who I was before the relationship? And the 'way of life' that I mention? My ex was employed in the sports industry, and it was a life of money and celebrity and everything that this Small Town Texas Girl had only read about and seen on television. This, combined with my low self-esteem, drove me to hitch my wagon to his star and allow myself to be pulled around through his life rather than stay connected to my own purpose. I was his arm candy and it didn't suit me. I was living within his value system and neglecting mine, which led to shameful behavior that haunted me for years.
I still think of him...why haven't I gotten over this? Why is he still on my mind when I want so much to move on? Maybe it's because I still wonder if someday we'll be together again. I think more about the good times than bad. I just wish I knew how he feels, does he think of me? I know he does, he has to. I know he still loves me. I wish I didn't care anymore.
I can recall the pain of these obsessive thoughts and the continued irrational hope for repairing something so malignant. It's difficult to read today, but at least I now have the benefit of understanding WHY I was stuck in this mental loop:
Pia Mellody: "[After a breakup], Love Addicts change the focus of their obsession from the fantasy image of a rescuing hero to either getting the partner back or getting even. Caught in the throes of emotional withdrawal pains, they become obsessive planners...which reduces the intensity of the emotional withdrawal. Planning to get the Love Avoidant to return seems absurd on the surface...but [Love Avoidants can also have] a very charming, friendly, sensitive side to their personality, which is usually a large part of what attracted the Love Addict in the first place."
I try telling myself that this is the first day of the rest of my life - everyday - yet it doesn't seem to help. I know I'm in control of my happiness, but I always find ways to make myself unhappy. I look in the mirror and I'm not sure who I see. I don't want to date anyone - if I'm not happy with me then I can't be happy with anyone else...I think I'm depressed and I don't know why.
Finally, a year after the initial breakup and six months since I'd had contact with him, I wrote an entry that is focused on me. Clearly, I'm still emotionally struggling at this point, but the obsessive thinking has subsided. I equate this particular breakup process to unknowingly having a fractured humerus; I had an injury that required specialized attention, but I wasn't aware of it. I knew I was in pain, but blamed myself for the pain as I pushed through it wondering 'why does my arm still hurt?'. I believed I should be over this, I should feel better, I should be OK, WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME?
Yep, this is the relationship during which I christened what would be many years of co-addiction and painful breakups accompanied by depression, anxiety and self-medicating. Oh, and this was my first Narcissist (there would be many more to come).
Thank you for reading ~ Jodi
Oh you probably won't remember me,
It's probably ancient history.
I'm one of the chosen few
who went ahead and fell for you.
I'm out of vogue, I'm out of touch,
I fell too fast, I feel too much.
Maybe you might have some advice to give,
On how to be insensitive.
From Insensitive, by Jann Arden (aka ‘the breakup song’ 1996)