One of my biggest accomplishments of 2018 was cleaning out the storage unit I'd kept in NYC for over ten years. My long-term relationship with Manhattan Mini Storage actually began many years earlier (what REAL New Yorker DOESN'T have a storage space?), but I entered a commitment with this particular 8x10 unit in 2009 when I left the city to attend graduate school in Oklahoma. At that time, I knew that if I didn't just do it- just leave and put everything in storage and deal with the emotional exercise of sorting, packing and moving later- I might not ever get out. And I had to get out -right then- otherwise I honestly believed something very bad was going to happen. After years of trying so hard to make it work in NYC...trying to feel something other than 'this isn't working', but continuing to sacrifice myself for the sake of appearances and potential- I had to go.
I held onto something that was toxic for me because I was addicted to the potential, but the toxicity was real and the potential was simply my projection of what I wanted to believe.
In my mind, there was a good reason that it took a decade for me to deal with this last piece of my life in NYC; I continually told myself 'I don't have the time or energy to deal with that, I'll do it next year', but in reality I knew it would be an emotionally draining process and I had an unconscious aversion to facing it. The idea of sorting through boxes packed so long ago, full of memories from such a challenging time, kept me dependent upon that storage unit until I finally realized that keeping it and avoiding the situation was detrimental to my worthiness. Putting it off began to weigh heavily on me and I started to feel irresponsible, bordering on ridiculous, and I couldn't minimize it anymore.
So I finally handled it.
During a NYC heat wave.
When I was seven months sober.
Now y'all, I live in Austin and I was raised in Texas, so I'm no stranger to unbearably hot summers, BUT NYC at 100+ degrees is just plain miserable. The sidewalks are hot, the subways are hot, the cabs are hot, everybody is cranky and sweaty... and everybody is drinking. The drinking part isn't unique to summertime in NYC, but it's a seasonally different type of drinking. It's an 'I-dunno-what-to-do-with-myself-because-it's-so-fucking-hot-outside-so-I'm-gonna-drink' type of drinking and it gives off an agitating vibe that I, as a newly sober person who started her advanced drinking career in NYC, found hard to escape. It was like a heavy blanket following me around that was both scratchy and smelly, but also comfortable, yet conniving. To put it simply, I was triggered and was starting to convince myself that I could have a drink (just one!), that I deserved it because I was doing something hard and emotionally draining, but I was handling it SO well (a glass of champagne at Balthazar!), and it would be different (ok maybe TWO glasses, but I won't finish the second one!) and then… I found the journals.
There are ten of them. Some are spiral notebooks, one is leather-bound (a gift from my sister-in-law), one has a cover made of vibrant paper from India that's now worn at the corners, and various others bought here and there over the years - all were stashed in a box under some sweaters. Some people are opposed to saving old journals ('what's the point of looking back?'), but I've always kept them. They were comforting at one time and contain a lot of me. They used to be lined up on the bottom shelf of a bookcase in my tiny West Village apartment; the place that witnessed some of my hardest and worst moments, where I struggled with shame and grief and self-loathing way too often. A place where I didn't value myself very much, where I asked myself over and over 'what's wrong with me?' while completely oblivious to the fact that actually nothing was wrong with me aside from my lack of self-love.
I can't say that I didn't value myself at all, but I definitely valued others and their perspectives- and their perceived perspectives of me- much more.
The first entry I read from a randomly selected journal:
I can't continue to live this way-what am I doing? Where is my energy? I'm alive but I don't act like it...this is not how I want to live. I need to take my power back from whatever outside source I've been giving it to for years...what needs to be changed?
I was really onto something way back in 2003. I'd been married for only three months and was quietly questioning my marriage because it just didn't feel right. I'd gotten married because I thought I was supposed to and because it seemed to me that, at 33 years old, getting married would make others happy: my dad, my married friends, my husband, my husband's family. I thought that if I could make them happy then they'd love me and I desperately wanted to feel loved, approved of and accepted… so yes, I had indeed been giving away my power and energy in a spectacular way. I'd been doing it for years, but had no idea that people-pleasing was a thing and definitely didn't know it was an unhealthy thing. I was living externally- focused on the needs and opinions of others and I was depleted and couldn't figure out why, but believed 'it must be me, I must be the problem'.
I ultimately asked for a divorce after a year of marriage, but that year included incessant worrying about what people might say and think about me for doing so.
I've spent my entire life worrying about what others think of me, but the worrying is just a distraction that keeps me from seeing that it's me who doesn't like me. I have very little love for myself and I've used relationships to distract myself while all of my issues keep getting bigger and I keep falling apart. I need to forgive myself.
I was sitting on the dusty floor of my storage unit, reading this entry with both compassion for my former self and frustration; even though there appeared to be a flicker of understanding regarding my core issue (a malignant lack of self-love), my love addicted behavior continued to flare for years. I repeatedly dated emotionally avoidant men because that's what love addicts do! We are unconsciously attracted to emotionally unavailable partners and can't get enough of that fucked up avoidant behavior; it triggers the addict's wound by tempting it with promises of unconditional positive regard (the thing that all love addicts desperately want, but can't get because fact: no one can provide that to an adult) and then yanking it all away. And then kinda-sorta giving it back, and then yanking it all away again. It's a constant push/pull that keeps the addict hooked.
[Regarding ex-boyfriend]...nothing he does is enough for me, it's as if there will always be something that I need from him. Like I'm constantly trying to feed a hunger that won't go away. Trying to fill something up. I'm very sad and down. I just want him to be that person. Or maybe I'm just in need of a distraction.*
*An excellent example of a love addict's distorted thought process
My theory is that we all have a wound, but some wounds are bigger and hungrier than others. And it’s the hungry wounds can lead to addiction. I have an image of my wound. It lives in the middle of my chest and looks similar to Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors: "feed me, feed me" and when it's fed, it gets bigger and bigger and only wants more. My wound is insatiable and it does not want the best for me. It doesn't want me to value myself and live internally-focused on my own needs and wants versus living for others. Because if I'm thriving that means Audrey II starves and must return to dormancy.
I read several entries before packing up the journals to bring them back to Texas with me, where I've continued to study and process their contents over the last few months. But my trip to NYC last summer, reading and revisiting some of my most painful times through hindsight and words I wrote long ago, actually helped me because I was able to see that:
1) It wasn't just me! I wasn't crazy (even though I felt realllly crazy sometimes)...
2) If only I'd known a fraction of what I know now about love addiction maybe I could have avoided some of the heartache and shame I experienced over the years... and...
3) No way was I going to drink and give in to the orneriness of a NYC summer and my triggered wound. Through just a few journal entries I was able to clearly see my history, which includes a pattern of abandoning myself and going back on my word when it comes to acts of self-care that can lead to self-love.
Through sobriety I realized that I've actually always liked myself, I just didn't think I was supposed to.
WHY AM I SHARING THIS? My theory is that love addiction is an epidemic. Many of us are walking around feeling 'not good enough' and living externally in order to feel valued; believing that someone else has the power to deem us worthy. My hope is that by sharing my personal experience through love addiction and into recovery, along with resources I've gathered as a therapist, that maybe someone out there can stop hurting and start healing. And stop believing 'there must be something wrong with me'.
Thank you for reading. ~ Jodi
And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
‘Late Fragment’ by Raymond Carver