Twenty years ago this month, at the age of 29, I suffered what my dad assessed at the time as simply a 'heartbreak'. I had ended an intense eight month relationship with someone who I thought was the one - you know, like in the movies and Patsy Cline songs and pretty much every other place in which codependent relationships are romanticized. After all, we had a lot in common; such as a fondness for over-sharing, a tendency to subtly manipulate each other, and mutual proclivity for crossing each other’s boundaries in a multitude of ways. So why wouldn't we be the most perfect match on the planet ever? Of course, he DID tell me straight up, 3 weeks into our relationship, that he wasn't interested in marriage (as in maybe never), and that NOTHING was going to change his mind. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.
Now it's important to know that I had given zero thought to marrying this person, UNTIL he said - and this is what my love-addicted ears heard: "I will never want to marry YOU, Jodi, because you aren't lovable enough or good enough or pretty enough to make me WANT to marry you." And with those imagined, yet oh-so-real, words my unrelenting, albeit unconscious, project of attempting to win his validation by losing myself began.
I need unconditional love. When [boyfriend] said tonight that he hates it when I'm quiet -even though I told him that I wasn't feeling like myself- I automatically think 'he's not going to love me anymore, now I've screwed up and all the work I've done has been for nothing.'
This reeks of love addiction and here's why:
1. Unconditional love is nice in theory, but in reality I was desperately craving unconditional positive regard (UPR) - something that no one can provide to another adult. UPR should be given to children by their primary caregivers, however the majority of us didn't receive it on a consistent basis, or at all (hence, we search for it in our adult relationships which always results in disappointment).
2. Why would I want to be with a partner who expects me to be bubbly and vivacious all the time? A partner who won't tolerate it when I'm not 'feeling like myself'. Someone I can't BE myself with for fear of losing the relationship. Answer: Because I'm a Love Addict and that entails putting my partner on a pedestal and making him into someone who knows best because I'm just a dumb, unlovable girl who he'll never want to marry (he said so!).
3. Regarding 'the work' that I mention: I worked SO HARD at trying to be perfect that it hurt. I was constantly trying to appear needless and cool and sexy and fun all the time in order to (hopefully!) make the relationship work (fingers crossed!) the way I thought it should in order for me to be irreplaceable. In other words, I stuffed my feelings and needs which resulted in passive-aggressive behavior (such as 'being quiet': a form of withholding which is manipulative) that ultimately led to shame and insecurity, and only fueled my fear of being unworthy.
Love Addicts are addicted to being loved, but more specifically to feeling loved, to chasing love, to creating love where there is none. It's exhausting and debilitating and, in extreme cases, can literally kill a person due to the self-neglect that occurs. But here's the thing: As obsessed with the idea of love as one may be, the Love Addict can't tolerate healthy love or true intimacy because it's so terribly uncomfortable. I rarely dated emotionally available men, but when I did - and sensed their availability - I quickly got an icky feeling and ran the other way and didn't understand why. According to Pia Mellody in her book Facing Love Addiction:
'...Love Addicts are often in the grips of two principal fears. The most conscious fear is the fear of being left...The irony is that while Love Addicts want to avoid being left and be connected to someone in a secure way, the close, demanding connection they try to establish is actually enmeshment rather than healthy intimacy - which they also fear, at least unconsciously. Love Addicts consciously want intimacy but can't tolerate healthy closeness, so they must unconsciously choose a partner who cannot be intimate in a healthy way'.
Enter the Love Avoidant (historically, but no longer, 'my type'): A guy who would come on strong and chase me, woo me, say allll the right things; then, as soon as I decided, “Ok, I'll let down my guard and go for it with this person. He seems trustworthy so I'll be vulnerable and let him really see me,” the rug would be yanked out from under my already-hopeful relationship house of cards. This would result in a full-on triggering of my addiction. The triggering happens through various behaviors ('Oh, did I say I'd call you later and subsequently wait a week? My bad') or statements ('I'm just letting you know that I never want to get married even though there's absolutely no reason for us to be discussing this right now') or a shift in energy (if you don't know what I mean by this consider yourself lucky because it sucks).
After eight months of attempting a mostly transparent facade of the cool girlfriend, I was tired. We began to argue frequently about realllly petty stuff and I found myself wanting to spend more time away from the relationship. Finally, during one of these quarrels as we headed off to a long Valentine's Day weekend at his beach house, I heard an inner voice say 'I don't want this anymore'. It was clear as a bell and it wasn't about him, it was about me. I suddenly felt more in touch with my Self than I had in a very long time.
When we arrived at the house, before even getting out of the car, I told him that I wanted to break-up and it was probably best that we go home. I instinctively felt a need to get out of there right away, even if that meant that I take an hour long cab ride home. All of a sudden he became the most emotionally available version of himself. He cried and asked 'Why?' and 'How can we make it work?'; he said 'Just please stay and let's talk about this tonight’ and so I did. I talked and listened and DAMMIT IF I DIDN'T GET HOOKED RIGHT BACK IN. Worst part? The next morning when we woke up and I was under the impression that we were moving forward while trying to pretend I never heard that little voice, he announced that he'd decided we should break-up. WTF?! But, instead of rolling my eyes and laughing in disbelief as I strolled confidently into the sunset saying 'Ok dude, peace-out because YOU have issues'- I tumbled head first into a love-addicted hell that lasted about six months.
I'm so used to leaning on him instead of myself. I was projecting all of my wonderfulness onto him for so long. That's why I loved to hear him say sweet things because I never said them to myself...I fear never hearing those things again and that's my only source of feeling wonderful, to hear someone else say them. I fear that he'll find someone else, replace me, forget about me...It is like an addiction - like I'm in withdrawal right now.
And I was going through withdrawals. As dramatic as this may sound to someone who's never experienced love addiction, I felt like I was going to die, like I was free-falling into a black hole with nothing to catch me. No foundation. I was ungrounded and unhinged. I realize now that this was my first co-addicted relationship. I'd been in codependent relationships, but never experienced this level of pain. It was so painful that I reached out to people for help (which was very unlike me). My dad tried to make me feel better by explaining it as a broken heart that would heal with time; my friends told me I was 'too good for him anyway and screw him because you deserve better'; my therapist said 'give it time, you'll probably work it out'. None of this was helpful.
In the meantime, I obsessed about how to 'win him back' (because that's what Love Addicts do) and I said yes every time he wanted to see me (because that's what Love Avoidants do: they come back around now and then, as a part of the push/pull dance of love addiction). I continued to assign far too much value and time to a person who continued to tell me in ACTUAL WORDS that he was not available, even though his behavior said differently. I was distracted and sad, resentful and confused.
Not sure how I feel right now. I don't miss him, yet I want something from him. Attention? Acknowledgment? A reaction of some sort. I do feel sad about the loss of someone so close to me. I dove into him so deeply...the goal here is to find my strength. I have to stand up for what I deserve. I want so much to mean something to someone but what do I mean to myself?
I finally started to realize that at least PART of the problem was me, but that didn't interrupt my mission to put the relationship back together by proving that I was worthy of it. And my scheme finally worked. Or something worked. Because after six months around an emotional track of self-abuse, I entered the Winner's Circle feeling both elated and depleted. The elation didn't last, nor did the reconciliation. But the depletion lasted for years. And so began nearly two decades of love-addicted behavior.
So how does one become a Love Addict? In her book, Pia Mellody states that many of us didn't experience consistent and appropriate bonding with our caregivers, which created an experience of mild to severe emotional neglect in childhood. In other words, we didn't get the message of “you're loved and lovable no matter what” as we were launched into the world; this leads to "serious difficulty with self-esteem" and a need to esteem through others. Her theory is that we are all either addicts or codependents, but most of us are addict-codependents (that's me!) who use our addiction to soothe the pain of our untreated codependency.
"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 [these external sources]. The function of addiction is to remove intolerable reality."
My unconscious yet intolerable reality was: I'm not good/pretty/smart/funny enough so that means I'm not lovable.
I've worked with clients in my private practice who present with symptoms of love addiction and report behavior consistent with that of a Love Addict; however they also outline a wonderful childhood with very attentive caregivers. How is this possible? My theory is that our wounding (ie childhood experiences of neglect, rejection, abandonment) can happen at the hands of not only primary caregivers, but also extended family, teachers, friends, bullies… each person is unique, and each child records his or her reality-including traumatic experiences- differently. What might be neglectful or hurtful to one child may not even phase another. As an adult struggling with symptoms of love addiction, the key is to focus on your current experience and how it's affecting your life, not so much on the why because truthfully it may never make perfect sense, but that doesn't mean that you won't find relief.
You may never get to the bottom of it all, it may never make perfect sense, you may never know the reason for it, and that's OK because you can still heal.
The purpose of this blog is to explore my past experiences as a Love Addict through a current lens of recovery. My intention is not to shame others who played roles in my story, but to process how I interpreted the behavior of others and how that affected me. My goal is to write as authentically as possible from my perspective without judgment or throwing anyone under the bus. I do not consider myself a victim; I made choices, many of which were influenced by unconscious beliefs about myself. While there are many cringe-worthy moments scattered throughout hundreds of journal entries, I have no regrets because I truly believe that it all had to happen in order to get me where I am today. And I really like where I am today.
You can read more about my journey through love addiction here: What’s Love (Addiction) Got To Do With It?
Thank you for reading ~Jodi
I waited for something, and something died,
so I waited for nothing, and nothing arrived.
It's our dearest ally, it's our closest friend,
it's our darkest blackout, it's our final end.
My dear sweet nothing, let's start anew,
from here all in, it's just me and you.
From Nothing Arrived, by Villagers