I am a SURVIVOR. Before my recovery began, however, I was an addict.
My drug of choice, was romantic love. It kind of crept up on me.
In the beginning, I was just an innocent—looking for love.
Then things got out of hand. It all began when I was about ten
years old and st started falling in love. My first crush was on
a boy named Alan. Oh, how I loved him. I just knew he was going
to make all my dreams come true.
was embarrassed and angry that I liked him so much. He told me
not to write his name on my school books. He threw rocks at me
when I walked by his house. I can still feel the sting of those
missiles. I cried, and was humiliated, but nothing discouraged
day I watched Alan play baseball at the park. At school, during
recess, I would sneak into the cloakroom and put on Alan’s
jacket. I wanted to touch something that was his—I wanted
to smell his presence. I also wrote in my diary about my love
for Alan. Day after day, I described the bittersweet pain of unrequited
love, hoping that someday Alan would love me too.
were other infatuations over the years. The pattern was always
the same. I fell in love and believed that only this particular
boy could make me happy. And I always felt so powerless—as
if I couldn’t help myself. Eventually, I would get emotionally
and physically sick from yearning to be with someone I could not
have. Then, when the pain became unbearable, the obsession faded
and I found someone more promising to adore from a distance.
school was not a happy time for me. I prayed that someone would
ask me out for a date. One time I did get a call from a boy. He
asked me out and I agreed to go. I was so excited and nervous
that I stayed up all night making a new dress. The next day at
school some boys snickered at me as I walked by, and that night
someone called to tell me that the phone call I had gotten the
night before was just a joke. I was so embarrassed, I wanted to
I was nineteen years old, I became desperate to have a relationship.
I wanted to have a boyfriend and I was willing to do anything
to get one. Of course, I did not feel loveable enough to attract
someone I really liked, and I was too impatient to wait for someone
compatible to come along, so I got involved with the first person
who showed any interest in me.
met Ray [not his real name] walking down the street in San Francisco.
I was visiting the Haight Asbury district made famous by the hippies.
Ray was twenty five years old, unemployed, and living with his
mother. I started spending a lot of time with Ray and within a
few months I was pregnant. I decided to sign up for government
assistance (welfare) and find a place where Ray and I could live
together. From that point on, I became Ray’s caretaker.
I paid the bills, bought Ray’s clothes and gave him money
accepted a lot of neglect from Ray. I seemed to have a high tolerance
for suffering because in my mind this was the price I had to pay
for having a man in my life. Ray took advantage of this. He only
came home when he felt like it. He didn’t give me any affection.
Ray and I didn’t even talk very much, unless he was telling
me what to do. He also took all of my money, except what went
to pay the bills. Sometimes I would try to hide money for a rainy
day. Then Ray would get into some kind of trouble with gambling
or drugs and beg me to give him some money. He said the men he
owed money to would kill him if he did not pay up. I can still
see him standing there, tears running down his face, asking me
to save his life. Of course, I always gave in. I felt responsible
also accepted a lot of dishonesty from Ray. I had no idea what
it felt like to trust him. Usually he lied to me about other women.
He said he was not having affairs and he usually was. Deep down
I knew what was going on, but I buried my head in the sand because
I was afraid if I said something to Ray he might leave me.
course, I wanted more than I was getting out of the relationship.
I was just to afraid to demand it. So I just cried when my birthday
went unnoticed. When Ray didn’t come home at night I spent
hours lying in the bed, curled up like a child, waiting for his
car to pull up.
my dependency on this relationship, I tried several times to end
it. I remember after six months of being with Ray I wanted to
leave him. When I told him I was going to leave he got very sad.
He said, “I guess you’ve gotten what you want and
now you’re ready to move on and leave me behind.”
I felt guilty when Ray said this and I stayed with him to keep
from hurting his feelings. I projected my fear of being abandoned
onto him, and assumed that he could not survive if I left him.
in the relationship, I thought about leaving Ray again, but I
felt guilty about withdrawing my financial support. I knew Ray
had become dependent on me. I was also afraid to leave the relationship
because I knew it meant facing my fear of loneliness and giving
up my identity as a caretaker. Most of all, I didn’t want
to face the emotional pain of breaking up so I just kept putting
it off, hoping my misery would end someday.
time I asked Ray to leave, but when he started packing his bags
I panicked. The next thing I knew, I was begging Ray to stay—like
a child begging her mother not to leave her alone in the dark.
During this scene my fear of abandonment overwhelmed me, and I
was ready to do anything to avoid feeling the panic that gripped
it seemed as if I would never leave, eventually I did fall in
love with someone else and decided to ask Ray for a divorce. Unfortunately,
Ray was not ready to lose me. When I told him I was going to leave
he held a knife to my throat and threatened to kill me. Then he
beat me up and held me prisoner in the house. He kept saying to
me, “I know you still love me, just admit it.” After
three days of this, I agreed to stay with Ray and he immediately
calmed down. Then I said, “Ray it’s time to cook dinner
and I need to go to the store and get some things.” Ray
agreed to let me go and I quickly hurried out of the door. Once
I was safe, I went to a phone booth and called the police. Ray
was told by the police to leave the house and he did.
first man I got involved with after Ray was not much better, and
that relationship failed too. From this point on, I became involved
in a series of short-term relationships similar to the one I had
with Ray. All of these relationships failed because I was too
emotionally unstable to select an appropriate partner; and even
if I did, I couldn’t sustain a relationship because of my
neediness, low self-esteem, and fear of abandonment. So, as the
years passed, my hungry heart went unsatisfied and this made me
even more desperate to find love.
was during these years of endless searching for love that I neglected
my children. Kaitland and Randy [not their real names] were always
important to me in between relationships. I cooked their meals,
washed their clothes, walked them to school, volunteered as a
PTA mother, went to their sports events, and tucked them in at
nights. But when I had a boyfriend, things changed. I am ashamed
to admit this, but I actually brought men I barely know into the
house to stay for long periods, and while these men were there
they became more important than my children.
all these toxic relationships, and my guilt about neglecting my
children, took their toll and my health began to deteriorate.
I developed a spastic colon and high blood pressure. I was chronically
depressed and almost died in two car accidents. Once I couldn’t
see the road because I was crying and the other time I was fantasizing
instead of looking where I was going. Finally, after another failed
relationship, I was in so much pain I swallowed a bottle of aspirin.
1982 my father died. The day before, I had asked my boyfriend
if I could use the car to visit my father. My boyfriend said “no,”
so I didn’t go and of course my father died. I cried about
this in front of my boyfriend and he promptly punched me in the
eye. I guess he thought I was trying to make him feel guilty.
So I sat at my father’s funeral with a black eye wondering
what had become of my life.
the day of my father’s funeral I went to work. I wanted
to be a “brave little soldier.” Across from me was
the desk of a co-worker by the name of Barry. Barry had only recently
been assigned to the desk near me after the office manager, for
no logical reason, decided to move everybody around to a new location.
4:00 in the afternoon I was typing away when I looked up to see
Barry staring at me. I was curious about this and decided that
it meant he cared about my situation—perhaps he felt sorry
for me. This was good news for someone who felt invisible and
unloved. I would take any kind of attention I could get.
started stopping by Barry’s office more often after this.
It did not take long for me to fall in love. Eventually I asked
Barry if he wanted to go out on a date. He very nicely said he
was dating someone else. I was devastated, but undeterred. I decided
at that moment that I would seduce him come hell or high water.
Thus, in the blink of an eye, my final toxic relationship began—the
last one before finding my way into a new life.
master plan to seduce Barry was to lose weight and become so attractive
that Barry could not resist me. Men were basically weak, I assumed,
when it came to sex. Over the next few months, I took off a lot
of weight and spent all of my money on sexy clothes. Unfortunately,
my plan didn’t work. Barry was my friend and that was all.
his credit, Barry never gave into my obsession to be with him.
Instead, he only tried to help me with my depression. He never
once mentioned the heavy drinking which had become alcoholic by
this time, or the dieting which had gotten out of control.
day, I was sitting in Barry’s office, very depressed, and
suddenly I started crying. I turned to Barry and said, “Barry,
can you die of loneliness?” I really thought he was going
to tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself, but instead he looked
at me with such compassion and then he turned and said to me,
“Yes, you can die of loneliness. I know this first hand.”
I looked at him astonished, because after months of pouring out
my heart to him he had never once told me anything personal about
himself. Finally, after a long pause, he said, “Susan, I
think you need to go somewhere where people understand you.”
That was it. No warnings about my alcoholic drinking or obsessive
dieting—just a simple “get help.”
didn’t visit Barry for a few days after this. When I did
see him he asked me if I had gotten any help. I looked at him
and blurted out, “No, I am afraid they might cure me.”
I was surprised at what I had said. Barry just laughed. It was
only years later that I realized I had become addicted to the
pain—the depression, the self pity, the misery. It was the
only thread I had left and I was afraid to let it go. The idea
of happiness made me nervous.
I did get help. I went to a support group. At first, I really
didn’t think my behavior was out of control, but as the
facilitator explained how the program worked something she said
caught my attention. “You will have to learn how to ask
for help,” she announced. “Not me,” I said to
myself with the assurance of a lonely, stubborn survivor. “I
can take care of myself.”
had been attending the support group for about a year when Robin
Norwood released her book Women Who Love Too Much. Needless to
say, I recognized many of my own obsessive behavior patterns.
Enthusiastic, I looked around for a “Women Who Love Too
Much” support group. Unfortunately, there were none in my
area. Undaunted, I started my own meeting for women who wanted
to deal with the issues introduced by Robin Norwood. This seemed
like a great way to promote my own recovery and at the same time
offer other women the opportunity to turn their lives around.
year after the group began, when I was about a mile down the road
to recovery (according to Robin Norwood’s chart), I became
interested in teaching others about the “disease”
of “loving too much.” Armed with a teaching credential,
a desire to be instrumental in helping others, and the support
of all my friends, I approached the principal of a local adult
school. He was very enthusiastic about the general subject matter
of the course I wanted to teach, but he encouraged me not to limit
myself to just the issues presented in Robin Norwood’s book.
He also wanted me to allow men in my class.
about the challenge of teaching, I set aside Robin Norwood’s
book for awhile and began reading other literature about obsessive
behavior in relationships. This, of course, was a great learning
experience for me. I was amazed to find out how much had been
written about love, obsession, and dependency. (Even Kierkergaard,
as far back as the l840's, wrote about the “habitual”
nature of romantic love. See Works of Love.)
I had acquired a lot of professional information about love and
addiction (information which I could use to supplement what I
had learned from my own personal experiences and the experiences
of the women in my support group), I began to prepare an outline
for my course. My goal was to condense and clarify many of the
ideas introduced by others, and then to interject some of my own
concepts. By my own concepts I mean an analysis of my own experiences.
I finally had what I thought was a model of a course about love
addiction, I taught my first class. It was an exhilarating experience,
and the response of my students really made it clear that I had
put together some valuable information about a very serious problem.
I am still involved in helping other love addicts. In 2006 I celebrated
24 years of recovery. I am happier than I have ever been and enjoy
helping others find their own recovery.
this is my story. As I said, I am a survivor of a painful disorder.
And while I might be embarrassed about some of the things I did
in the name of love, I am proud of how far I have come in the
last 24 years. If you also suffer from love addiction I hope my
story inspires you to change and reach out for a brighter tomorrow.
published in Tales
of Women Survivors.
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