A Sense of Belonging
I was raised by alcoholic parents, the youngest of three children.
By the time I came along, my mother was done with little babies
and so my early years were spent at best in benign neglect and,
at worst, in outright abuse—both physical and emotional.
My father was in recovery but he was a dry drunk—his behavior
was alcoholic but he didn’t drink anymore. We were the model
family on the outside—wealthy, belonged to the country club,
I was a champion swimmer, my sister played team tennis and my
brother was a gifted musician. To the outside world we had it
all but inside our house, our world was a roller coaster of calm
and explosion. My parents’ angry outbursts were completely
unpredictable and I learned at a very early age to be very pleasing
and very quiet in order to avoid their wrath. Additionally, I
learned that I was unlovable, unable to make a good decision for
myself, worthless and insignificant. God forbid anyone ever talk
about feelings in my house.
I was 15 my mother died of lung cancer. Both a blessing and a
curse for me. The abuse and confusion of living with her active
alcoholism were gone but my father chose to abdicate any role
as a parent he had ever attempted so I found myself sitting down
with him while he told me to forget my mother and then he left.
My brother and sister were away at college so there I was in this
great big house, plenty of money on the kitchen table every morning,
plenty of food in the cupboards and a car but I only actually
saw my father a half dozen times in the next four years.
got myself in to a good college, I spent time with my friends,
their mothers took pity on me and taught me to drive and to cook
and I was “the rock.” No one could believe how well
I was faring the loss of both of my parents at the same time.
I went away to college and in the middle of my freshman year I
met the man who would become my first husband. I believed him
to be the love of my life. I gave up everything for him. My grades,
my friends, my identity. I spent all of my time with him and with
his family and was happier than I had ever been in my life.
husband began cheating on me with other women after about six
months of dating but I ignored it, made excuses, and stuck with
him. He graduated my freshman year and moved to the other side
of the country. I still held out that we would be together, allowing
him to waltz in and out of my life at will for the next year.
When we weren’t together I felt a physical pain like no
other. A despair in my heart and in my head that cut to my soul.
I knew this man was my destiny and I was willing to do anything
to be able to ride off in to the sunset with him and live happily
continued to cheat on me and, at the advice of my friends, I ended
it with him. I spent my junior year in rebellion. I drank too
much, I slept around too much and I found myself in endless pursuit
of any man who would medicate my feelings of worthlessness and
pain. At the end of the year, my ex was in town for a track meet
and he swept me off my feet with a marriage proposal. I believed
it to be the Hollywood ending I was searching for so I, of course,
said yes. We were married and moved to the other side of the country
so that he could train for the Olympic decathlon.
didn’t matter to me that he didn’t have the raw physical
talent for this, I was going to support him no matter what. I
didn’t matter that I didn’t want to live 3000 miles
from everything I had ever known and it didn’t matter to
me that I was one semester away from finishing my college degree—I
decided to leave and marry him instead. The only thing that mattered
to me was that this man was going to complete me. I spent the
next five years disappearing. Every shred of identity that I had
went away. I worked to support us, he couldn’t hold a job,
I was his cheerleader for his Olympic dream and when he came home
out of the blue one day to tell me he was going to fly jets for
the Navy and we were moving to Florida, I supported him gladly
in that as well. He continued to lie and cheat, I ignored it.
The only thing that mattered was that he was in my life.
moved to Florida for officer training and flight school and then
were stationed in Virginia Beach. I had gotten in to mortgage
lending by default as a result of a temporary job and decided
it was worth staying in. My degree was going to be in teaching,
I had dreams of being a college English professor, but that didn’t
fit my husband’s plan so I ignored my own dreams and did
what he needed.
had only just arrived in Virginia Beach when a friend of his came
to stay with us for a couple of months. I “fell in love”
with this man and separated from my husband so that we could be
together. This one was the opposite of my first husband. He was
steady and he was reliable, he thought I was amazing, he told
me how badly I was being treated by my husband and he told me
I deserved better. I divorced the first one and married the second
that year and in so doing, I transferred all of my illusions about
my first husband to my second.
out, he was exactly like my first husband. He was more subtle
and manipulative about it but he actually didn’t care if
I was happy, he wanted me to take care of him, my opinions didn’t
matter, I was never able to convince him to do anything in the
manner that I wanted and he cheated on me. We spent the next twelve
years together and had two daughters. I was never able to see
my responsibility in any of this. I only saw how badly I was being
treated and fantasized constantly about other men, how great it
would be with whoever the object of my obsession currently was,
and how deeply it was my husband’s fault that I was so miserable.
Yet I could never find the strength to leave and any time it looked
like it was a possibility, I clung to him harder than every before.
husband, who had also been in the Navy, got out and was not able
to hold a job. I again supported us while he pursued his dreams
of being a day trader, managing funds, publishing a newsletter—whatever
he wanted. None of it ever panned out.
went in to therapy during this time and my therapist mentioned
a book to me called Women Who Love Too Much. He told me that he
thought I might be a love addict. It was a fairly new concept
at the time and I ignored it completely. The problem was obviously
the men in my life, that they didn’t appreciate me and that
I just hadn’t found the right one yet.
had an affair with a business partner when my husband was having
an affair with someone he worked with and we separated for about
seven months. We went back and forth in trying to work it out
for a few years after that and finally divorced
I dated voraciously for about two years including dating my most
recent ex-husband. I was engaged twice and in endless pursuit
of the “One.” The hole in my soul was deep and scary
and I would do whatever it took to fill it. It was a time of obsession
and denial for me. In the grocery store one day, a man introduced
himself to me who I found to be amazingly handsome. He told me
he had seen me at professional meetings in town and that he had
wanted to find a way to meet me. I had stayed in mortgage lending
as I could always find a job in it and it paid well enough to
get us through the times when my husband had not been working.
This man was in the same industry and he was an alcoholic in recovery.
I thought it was a match made in heaven and so did he. He asked
me to marry him after two weeks, moved in after three months and
we were married three months after that. I kicked him out the
first time another three months later. As long as my kids were
home, we were able to maintain a sense of peace but when they
were at their Dad’s, life would explode in the exact unpredictable
manner it had when I was a child.
third husband’s anger was abusive and downright mean but
I had just enough therapy under my belt to be a lot stronger than
I had in my previous two marriages. I continued in therapy and
he and I separated and got back together a dozen times in the
next five years. I had risen in the ranks of my company and was
offered a huge promotion in another state. It happened to be his
home state and home town so together we decided to go for it.
I was on the train getting ready to return from my house hunting
trip in the new city when he called me on my cell phone and told
me that he wasn’t coming with me, that he didn’t support
the move or the promotion and that he had taken a large chunk
of money out of my bank account by finding a blank check and writing
it to himself. I made the move, we separated and the beginning
of the end came for me.
had spent the past twenty three years making all of my decisions
based on my addiction to men. My teenage daughter had moved more
than once a year her entire life. I had worked at a dozen different
companies. We had spent the past eight years in the same town
and it felt like home but the houses and the men kept rotating.
I went ahead and moved to the next location where I spent the
next two and half years in absolute active addict mode. I refused
to recognize my behavior and spent my time excusing my husband’s
behavior and taking him back, dating relentlessly through online
dating sites when we were not together and doing whatever it took
to medicate the emptiness and unworthiness I felt.
this time, my life was an amazing dichotomy—my career was
on fire, I was hugely successful on a national level at a huge
mortgage company. I was promoted three times in two and a half
years. I was making the best female friends that I had had since
college and yet I was unhappier than I had ever been. Through
the online site I met a man and dated him for about two months.
He was completely emotionally unavailable and had a very angry
streak so I had ended it. My husband and I then tried it again
and when finally, I decided that I had nothing left to give, we
divorced. I had just received one of the promotions at work and
had just met a new man on the online site. I dated this man for
four months in the most intensely addictive manner. I took time
away from work to talk on the phone and text message him, we talked
far in to the night almost every day, I ignored my daughters,
my own responsibilities, including financial ones, and every red
flag that was going off in my head. He violated my trust almost
from the first day but said he loved me and was in love for the
first time in his life. His professional life was stressful and
that was why he made some of the decisions that he made, whatever
his excuse, I accepted it and stayed with him. Finally he came
clean and told me he was an internet porn addict, in to BDSM and
that he wanted me to go that direction with him. My answer—amazingly—was
that he had to choose between that and me. He chose the porn.
was reeling from the pain and the emptiness I was feeling, my
job was beginning to unravel at work, my daughters were not doing
well, my finances were a mess so what did I do? I emailed the
man I had dated for a couple of months the year before, the one
who was emotionally unavailable and angry—and I spent the
next ten months in hell. I was abused emotionally and physically,
I was ignored, I was belittled, I was treated as if I didn’t
matter and I took it. I stayed there hanging on by my teeth and
convincing myself that this man was the love of my life and we
were meant to be together. He would manipulate me with anger and
withdrawal and if he was withdrawing and I couldn’t find
him, I would leave my children asleep in bed and drive to his
house in the middle of the night to make sure he was okay.
man was manic depressive and I convinced myself that the up times
made the down times okay. He refused to ever make plans with me
so I would drop everything if it meant spending a bit of time
with him because I never knew when the next opportunity would
be. I woke up each morning thinking about whether or not it was
going to be a good day or a bad day with him. I ignored my children
and their needs, I ignored my bills, I did the bare minimum at
work to get by, I obsessed constantly about this man and I lost
my self completely. Any connection I had ever had to a Higher
Power was gone. My friends were tired of my constant conversation
about how it was or was not going with this man. My life was empty
and meaningless and yet I clung to my “boyfriend”
because I knew he was the only one capable of making me feel better.
I nagged constantly, I got angry with him, he screamed at me,
he threw things, he bruised me and yet I stayed in it. Until the
day he ended it.
drove home from his house after nineteen hours of crying, screaming,
abuse and degradation and decided that I was going to kill myself.
I had a beautiful scenario in my head where I would get in to
his bed, wearing his favorite underwear and when he walked through
the doorway I would have his gun in my mouth. I would point it
upwards and shoot. I couldn’t wait for my brains to be splattered
all over his headboard.
was when something in me snapped. But in the right way. I started
thinking about things my third husband had said to me about his
alcoholism. How his addict would do anything in order to get the
next drink. How his addict would compromise everything that was
important to him in order to survive. I looked back at the past
twenty nine years and realized that my behaviors in regards to
men were a mirror of those words. And I remembered that therapist
long ago who told me that there was an addiction to love.
went home and googled LAA. I was astounded. I sat at the computer
crying as I read the stories of so many people who felt exactly
the way I did. People who couldn’t breathe if they were
not in a relationship, people who felt no sense of worth, no sense
of belonging to anyone or anything outside of being in a romantic
called my therapist and made an immediate appointment. I spent
four days in intensive treatment. I read Women Who Love Too Much
and Co-Dependent No More in one day. I realized the depths of
my addiction and that those choices had been mine, I claimed responsibility
for my part in the mess that my life had become and I vowed to
I live back in the town that I spent eight years in and feel at
home again. I left the great big job and took a low stress one
and I am now there for my daughters. I attend LAA on line and
Al-Anon in face to face meetings. I go to church. The recognition
that my life was completely out of control has set me free. I
now talk to my Higher Power sometimes moment to moment. And He
answers me every single time. I experience the joy of the most
simple things in life now. I treasure the quiet and the lack of
drama. I know myself and I like me. I have learned to take care
of myself and my deepest needs—the need to be cherished,
the need to be unconditionally loved and the need for that sense
of belonging. I’ve learned about the power of forgiveness—of
my parents, of the men in my life, and of myself. I have learned
to work the Steps continually and on those days when my addict
peeks her head around the corner and wants some attention, I turn
it over to the God of my understanding and he takes the pain away
every single time. As I meet men who are interested in me, I am
now able to make healthy choices in regards to them based on my
needs to for my life, the needs of my daughters and the values
that I have.
like to visualize two things: one is my heart. I look at it and
it is a little bloody, there’s barbed wire sticking out
of it in places, it has scabs, but it is still beating strong
and true and I can see that the wounds are healing. I picture
it in my hands and I am giving it to God. He takes it from me
and He heals it. My heart belongs to Him now and I know He will
take good care of it as He teaches me how to make healthy decisions
second thing I do when I get lonely is to again picture my Higher
Power. He is huge and gentle and His arms are wrapped around me.
There is a breeze and it smells good, like sandalwood and peppermint…and
I am safe and I know that I have always belonged to Him and that
I am not alone.