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Love Addicts Anonymous

Mountain Climbing

I don't believe there was ever a time that I wasn't in love. How embarrassing, but it started with some pretty serious fantasies about "Captain Kirk" when I was 7 or 8. The young, sexy Captain Kirk, that is, with his tight black pants and blond hair. I was painfully in love with him. And I can still remember my father humoring me, telling me, “let’s call him on the phone right now…” and actually getting one of his friends to pretend to be the real William Shatner. But right as I was on the brink of actualizing my love and hearing his voice, my mother stepped in and said, “stop teasing her.” I can still see my dad laughing at the top of the stairs with the phone in his hand, because he thought it was so funny that he’d tricked me.

I don't believe I was ever physically abused, and yet, at a very young age (about 5) I found my father's pornography magazines everywhere and was very possibly sexually abused by him a time or two when I was older (8 or 9) under the guise of being punished.

As for my father himself—he was a sociopathic, narcissistic, manic-depressive, alcoholic, pill popping, gambler & sex addict. Not to mention a professional con artist and white-collar criminal. My mother, for 20 years at least, supported and loved him in a rather submissive, I-have-no-identity-of-my-own sort of way.

I didn't stand a chance.

I lost myself in men. In high school it was all about sex. And well into my 20's it was about love and sex. My relationships (to me) were deep and some meaningful. But mostly one of two things occurred: I either chose men who made me feel completely in love but neglected me, OR I chose men that loved and adored me, but I neglected and ran away from them. There was never any balance. Eventually, I met and married a sex/porn/computer addict who ignored me, physically, mentally and emotionally abused me, raped me, cheated on me serially during my second pregnancy and eventually blamed me for leaving him and ruining his life (go figure). And yet, comforting to me was the fact that he was unable to express any real emotions. He was as cold as ice.

The one underlying theme through all of my relationships is—that I left them all. I bailed out. I moved on.

After my divorce, I was scared to death of marriage and commitment AND sex. But I so desperately wanted LOVE.

Enter George.

My most recent and long-term boyfriend of 3 years was a Seductive Withholder and Avoidant. When I met him he was quite lonely, as was I. Though I can't say that he ever "came on strong" sexually, he was a flirt, did pursue me and was definitely interested in me. Our sex life was wonderful for the first 8 months. In fact, our whole relationship up to the one-year mark, was like a fantasy. He was sexy, loving, a great communicator, hard working, very interested in me, and giving. But suddenly, as if we had crossed an imaginary line, it all changed. He began withholding all forms of intimacy from me the following year, giving me every excuse in the book to avoid sex (prostate problems, "I love you TOO much to do that to you," I'm afraid of STDs), and so on). Not only did he withhold sex, but general forms of emotional tenderness as well. He never touched me, kissed me or made any advances whatsoever. And he stopped sleeping over because my “bed was too soft,” or he didn’t feel comfortable in my house, in my neighborhood etc. I liked to sleep with the windows open in the spring and he couldn’t handle that. We did hold hands a lot and hug when we saw each other. But in my mind, it became more of a brother-sister type relationship than a romantic one between a man and a woman.

And yet I stayed. We broke up at least 7 times over the next couple years (me doing all the breaking up, of course) but would get back together, every time repeating the same pattern: sex, love and passion during the first month or so and then a slow decay of emotion and pulling away on his part (fear of commitment, withdrawal and avoidance), and a building of anger, resentment and frustration on my part.

I suppose because I was no longer under such obvious abuse (as when I was married), I considered my relationship with George to be normal and healthy. George and I were, after all, best friends, and aside from withholding sex from me, he did not withhold love—or so I thought. He was very into me, called every day, we spent LOADS of time together, we were extremely compatible, into the same things, and treated me with as much respect as I had ever known. He never cheated. Wasn't a liar. At times very giving. And most importantly, I was attracted to him physically and mentally.

All that aside, he had debilitating issues that went completely against my value system and yet I chose him over my values. He smoked pot, had no libido, didn’t take care of his appearance and avoided intimacy like the plague. There was no next step with him. There would be no marriage, no moving in, no increased intimacy. I was at the end of the road.

I stayed as long as I did because I believed I had to make compromises and that I couldn't "have it all." And that aside from these issues, we shared a great life together. Surely we all have to make sacrifices, don’t we? Especially if we feel love toward someone?

And yet, underneath it all, I knew something was wrong. That I wasn’t being true to myself. After a year of no sex with George, an affair with a guy I never loved to fill the void that George left and about 5 months of going back and forth between the both of them, I hit bottom. I thought I had done so well for myself in avoiding someone like my ex-husband, but in actuality, I only went the opposite extreme. One was a sex addict, the other a sexual anorexic. I was somewhere in between.

That’s when I found LAA and simultaneously got into a support group for another of my addictions—cigarettes. I suppose because I had viewed myself as a victim of my father’s addictive behavior for so long, it was unreal to think that I could be an addict myself. And when I began the step work for LAA and saw with my very own eyes how my life had become unmanageable and how I really was addicted to men (because for the first time EVER I wrote it all down on paper!), it occurred to me that I had a serious, life-threatening problem.

I had given up goals, given up direction, given up dreams and plans all for the "hope" of a new man. I had wasted HOURS, DAYS, WEEKS and YEARS on thinking, or rather obsessing of nothing but my relationship to whomever. I had let men control me. I had spent EXORBITANT amounts of money on men because I either felt sorry for them, wanted to impress them, or secretly wanted to buy their love. I had spent EXORBITANT amounts of money on men just to visit them in foreign countries or call them on the phone and chat for hours. I had embarrassed myself, accepted the unacceptable and abandoned my VALUES for men. I had even one or twice put my children at risk of emotional hurt or damage, isolated myself from my family, lowered my standards and done things I would not normally do, just for a man. I had ignored my children and I had ignored my opportunity for true growth.

It was time to change so I found Love Addicts Anonymous.

Several things occurred to me during this time of what I like to refer to as my “enlightenment.”

I realized that:

My ex was a representation of my father. At first, I resisted this. I had heard this spoken so many times and I could see some of their similarities but I wasn't convinced on any deep level that I was "dating" my dad. Then it occurred to me. My love for George was one sided. I really adored him. His personality was wonderful, he was funny, hard-working, musician, grungy, we had a lot in common. I was so darn happy to be with someone that I actually LIKED that i never took into account how he treated me. I never considered that his love for me was also a part of the equation. He neglected me, basically, and it was pretty painful. I allowed it to happen because the thrill of being with someone FUN and ALIVE was more important than meeting my own needs to be loved and treated well. Did it matter that he loved me? No. What mattered then, was that I loved him.

Through that, I saw the parallel. I adored my father. I loved his personality. He was funny, hard-working, musician...we had a lot in common. I felt ALIVE with my father. Because of who he was as a person. And YET, as per my mother's advice, I was told to love him "as is" and not take into account how he treated me. It's no surprise to know that he treated me much the same as George; neglectful, uncaring, always had something more important to do than spend time with me etc.

The important part was this: to love my father and not get anything in return is OK for a father/daughter relationship. I can not change my father (I can’t go out and get another one) and therefore, have to accept him for who he is, especially if I like him and want to hang out with him. But this type of relationship is NOT OK for a healthy, romantic, love relationship between two adults who DO have choices and their love is not unconditional.

There are two parts to the love equation. That is all. And I always seemed to go for one or the other. Never both. Here they are in their simplest form:

1. I must love someone; respect them, care about them, be attracted to them, treat them well, be compatible with them and generally LIKE them, not fear intimacy or be emotionally closed off.

and number two...

2. They must love me; respect me, care about me, be attracted to me, treat me well, be compatible with me and generally LIKE me, not fear intimacy or be emotionally closed off.

The other thing I realized was that:

When we hold on to an addiction for so long, whatever that addiction may be (alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, the real or imagined love of another person etc.) it is because it gives us a (false) sense of security. It makes us feel tethered, grounded, whole. It takes the edge off living.

When i divorced, I wrote in my journal that I felt at the same time happy to be free and extremely fearful. I felt like I was no longer connected to something bigger and greater than myself. I felt ALONE, ISOLATED. FREE-FLOATING. I didn't like that feeling. So, within six months of being a newly divorced woman, I made two very bad choices: I started smoking cigarettes again (a habit I had quit for 10 years) AND I latched on to a man who wasn't good for me but gave me that sense of being connected again.

When we are afraid and lonely and scared of the "emptiness" of life, we tend to make VERY BAD CHOICES. But what can we do to get over that fear? What can we do to stop the pain we feel when we are "floating around in space"? What takes the EDGE off?

An alcoholic will drink.
An overeater will eat more.
Someone who fears loneliness will cling to another person...

None of these things really takes the edge off. You take a "hit" of your drug of choice and it only causes the desire for another hit and another. Next thing you know, you're a junkie.

I realized that my PoA (person of addiction) did the same thing for me as cigarettes. I could lose my identity, not have to deal with my pain and suffering, and I could feel tethered to something bigger than myself as long as I had him around. He took the edge off. Just like alcohol to the drunk, drugs to the junkie, food the overeater.

Addiction is born out of a need to feel connected. When you don't feel connected to anything, you suddenly want to put something into your body, eat something, smoke something DO SOMETHING with someone. Westerners have equated a feeling of security and wholeness with the idea that something (food, drugs or another person) will fill the "void" and make you whole. Well, what if you started believing that THERE IS NO VOID? That you are complete.

This is how my recovery began. After years of reflection and self-discovery I believe I now have the courage to face many of my fears. I believe I have made peace with myself. If someone doesn’t like me, I let it all go. I have enough self-esteem in me now to say there are a million men in the world who will treat me with love and respect and because I believe in my own worth, I will hold out for something better. I do not kick and scream and cry like a child if someone leaves me or “abandons” me. I know I will be ok, and that I can survive on my own if I have to. I look in the mirror every day and say, not bad. I can deal with that. And most importantly, I no longer cling to a fantasy of meeting a perfect love, because I now realize that is something that is made, not given.

It has been no easy road. I equate recovery to mountain climbing. You struggle up the side of this huge mountain, hanging on for dear life, maybe slide down a time or two. But then you come to a place of rest and you sit back and look up to see how far you still have to go. And you think nothing has changed and there are enormous lessons still to be learned, the summit is so far away…But then, you look down to see how far you’ve come and you realize the climbing, the struggling has brought you farther than you ever imagined!

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© Love Addicts Anonymous, 2004