If you can relate to some of these questions, you are among many people who suffer from what our behavioral health industry calls love addiction. If you have an adverse reaction to that label, here’s why…
When I was 39 years old – I was sitting in an office – broken hearted over another relationship that had fallen apart. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. And, I wanted to die.
I was told that I suffered from something called love addiction. From what I understood, love addiction was a proposed model of pathological passion-related behavior involving the feeling of being in love.
Well, it didn’t make ANY sense to me. At the time, the relationships I was involved in did not feel loving. What I felt was intensity from the desire of longing to be loved. I was in the throes of the twisting and turning and chasing and pulling on relationships with the hopes of some kind of felt sense of belonging.
In relationships I used to be what I call a stage 5 cling on – I could not be alone – I had to be in a relationship all of the time. I displayed a very anxious attachment style. I took others hostage and boarded what I call Crazy Train – in hopes of traveling to a fantasyland of love.
So, when I was told I had this condition called love addiction what was the cure? I was instructed to stay out of relationships, call myself a love addict, and magically stop connecting sexually to feel loved. Don’t dare draw attention to myself and definitely pretty down. I might as well have disappeared. The loneliness from this prescription of what was supposed to be helpful was painful and now I definitely felt like I was going to die.
What I really always wanted was to love and be loved and now I can’t even do that because I am addicted to Love? Very confusing. So now, I didn’t get to love. I didn’t deserve to love – instead, I was told I had to stay out of LOVE and was addicted to it.
What I know today is that it was not love that I was addicted to. When I was calling someone’s cell phone 38 times in a row and driving by their house to make sure they were home and not lying to me was nowhere near being in a state of consciousness of love. When one is in love – there is a reverence present – a level of respect that is honored and one is held in high regard. What I was in engaged in was drama driven relationships fueled by intensity (what does intensity feel like?) not intimacy. I had no idea what love was. The transparency, trust, and felt sense of belonging that love commands was foreign to me. How could I be addicted to something I had never allowed myself to experience? I had no self-esteem and I was addicted to chasing unavailable people.
I was in a state of consciousness called desire. This desire created constant craving and I was enslaved to this process and it ruled my every breath. I would be thrown into withdrawal from the crazy relationships that I would choose on a regular basis. It was never ever enough and life was always disappointing.
Let me break this down:
When I was 3 years old, my father, drowned. We were there and it was tragic. My mother dealt with my father’s death by using alcohol as a survival pattern so basically my childhood was laced with abandonment. This was the energy that fueled my relationships and formed how I would attach to others. Translation: DON’T LEAVE ME.
When I was a teenager, my mother died from her own lack of self-care and alcoholism. I rebelled and was a force to be reckoned with. I came at life full force with guns a blazing. My spirited adolescence energy stayed with me for a very long time. I was emotionally immature and easily persuaded if you gave me a place to belong.
I lived with untreated trauma and a deep-rooted abandonment button that created this never ending desire that burned deep in my soul. The best way I can describe this feeling is unmet longing.
I desperately wanted a do over – so I unconsciously sought out relationships that ignited this unmet longing and tried to prove to myself that I was enough by taking these relationships hostage in an honest attempt to get chosen and somehow belong and feel loved.
I was satisfied with crumbs and was constantly affected by unrealistic expectations of others. Managing and tolerating my feelings felt impossible at times. I had a pain body root of abandonment and it was activated on a daily basis.
When I was growing up after my Father’s death, my Mom was emotionally not available. Every year there was one exception – my birthday. On my birthday, my mom would greet me with a smile and a happy birthday kiss. It was a day where I didn’t have to act out, throw a fit, and scream and cry to get attention. Instead, I got the loving attention every kid deserves. I felt special. No matter how old I was, Savannah – the name I call the inner child in me — felt special.
Two things happened that day every year:
First, I got to pick the dinner which was steamed clams with melted butter. I felt important over the fuss created in finding the fresh clams.
Second, was the beautiful cake my mom would bake for me. From scratch. My birthday is in December, a few weeks before Christmas and I always got an angel food cake with white frosting and candy canes and red gum drops on top. Candyland happened to be my favorite game as a child.
Every year, when she brought that cake to the table, Candyland came to life. My life felt joyous and loving–one of the rare moments I was not either on full alert or in complete despair.
Many years later when I was in my late 20’s, I met a caring man who was doing his best to show up for me.
One evening, shortly after we started dating, I opened up to him. I told him about my mom and the birthday cake. I hadn’t talked about the cake with anyone since my 17th birthday when she forgot to make the cake and then died 6 days later.
I described the angel food cake with candy canes and gumdrops on top and explained to this man that it was the one time I could count on my Mom to show up for me. He listened and I felt safe being vulnerable with him about my past. He told me about his own experiences with an alcoholic mother and we bonded in our trauma storylines. So, we got engaged.
This pattern of opening up to another person early on in a relationship and then pinning huge expectations on that person to be responsible for my emotions was familiar. In that moment, I had no idea that I was grooming him to recreate a pattern of pain from my childhood in hopes of that do-over.
Not much later after telling him that story, my birthday rolled around and we made plans to go out to dinner that night. During the workday I had received warm chocolate chip cookies with a birthday card delivered to my office by a bike messenger. I felt special and looked forward to an evening of celebration.
Later that evening, he knocked on my door and was standing there with a pink cake box. The sensation running through my veins felt like a drug – and in that moment, the unmet longing hole was filled. I was seen. Subconsciously, Candyland, gumdrops, the perfect cake, the perfect man – all of it – the good memories, the felt sense of being seen created a warm sensation throughout my body. It is moments in time like this for people that have unresolved trauma in our bodies where we want to freeze time and stay there longer.
I took the cake box from his hands, I opened the box with excitement and inside that pink box was a *^<#ing Carrot Cake. I froze. I could not think in that moment and my painbody wound was activated.
I can remember his smile vanishing as I went into full hostage taking, guns a blazing mode. It’s like being in a emotional blackout only there are no drugs involved. How could he not bring home the angel food cake with the candy canes and gumdrops? Didn’t he hear me? Doesn’t he see me? Didn’t he understand? The card and chocolate chip cookies were a distant memory…and this poor guy didn’t stand a chance. He went to a bakery after work to get me a birthday cake–simple, thoughtful, and kind. The idea of an emotional explosion over a carrot cake probably sounds silly to most of you.
When you get emotionally activated, you make it about something else because the unresolved trauma is pushed down so deep. As Travis Meadows sings in his song Sideways – push it down it comes out sideways… and on that night – it sure came out sideways. I ruined my own birthday and of course blamed him for it. This is the behavior that I was addicted to. I was unconsciously causing drama to recreate the trauma to have a corrective experience. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t work like that. I didn’t know how to PIVOTwhen my pain got activated. The end result is disconnected, and often failed relationships.
I’d like to emphasize something.
The simple act of becoming AWARE of the wounds and behaviors as they are
happening is an ENORMOUS first step.
So, as I just explained, I was not addicted to love. I was addicted to the drama and the desire of the fight to find love. Healthy, unconditional love is boring for those of you fighting the wrong fight in hopes of winning.
What I know is that people can and do change – AND you can learn to attach securely in relationships. I know – because I have done just that.
Today I stand in front of you as a Healthy Adult who is not afraid to be vulnerable. I am sensitive and I can name that. I have learned to be responsible for my own emotions and choose connection over conflict. I have learned to have good internal boundaries and how to manage my pain body when it is activated.
I now work with others to help them learn to PIVOT toward self-care and self-efficacy so that we can stop the violence and pain caused by wounded hearts.
For those of you who identify with what I am saying I want you to know – you are not crazy – you are simply riding what I call the Crazy Train and you can de-board. You can learn how to be responsible for your emotions and stand in relational alignment…a term that I created which means when your mind thinks in alignment with how your heart feels and you have the courage to take healthy action with your feet, you have achieved a verticality that is honest, ethical, and authentic to who you are.
In closing, my invitation to the Behavioral Health Community is to stop using the term Love Addiction. We need to stop shaming those who long for love by telling them they are addicted to it. Let’s please stop using the term love addiction and call it attachment dysregulation.
If you find that you are suffering from attachment dysregulation and considering getting out of a relationship that feels addictive, there is help. I started PIVOT, a relational alignment group and have been training advocates which consists of therapists and coaches to help you transition out of unhealthy relationships and teach you what relationships are healthy for you based on who you are and where you come from.
If you are currently looking to end a relationship, I encourage you to consider taking the steps listed below:
1. Identify and evaluate the relationship from the Whole Perspective
At PIVOT, we use the Whole Perspective concept as a tool to look at a relationship foundation from more than just what is getting triggered emotionally. It will eliminate fantasy and put you into reality quickly. The Whole Perspective consists of five components; spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical, and financial.
2. Get the right support
If you are seeing a therapist, make sure they are skilled working with attachment and family of origin issues. You may benefit from getting your own PIVOT advocate. While you are gearing up for possible relational withdrawal, you will need support if you decide to pull the plug.
3. Observe the relationship
Learn to be a good observer. Often we “think” we know what is going on as we evaluate a relationship while in emotional crisis. If you are playing defense and defending your position in the relationship while in emotional pain, you cannot see reality. I suggest that you get a notebook and at the start of everyday BEFORE you engage with anyone, take a few minutes and write down what the relationship consisted of the previous day. You will soon see your own patterns and get a really good idea of what is happening in your relationship.
4. Identify the Core – Wound
Work with a professional and find the reason why this pain is so deeply rooted. If you experienced abandonment and neglect like in my story above – someone ending a relationship with you is going to be considerably harder. You also may stay in relationship due to a codependent relationship with a mentally ill parent. Your storyline is unique and you must understand what is going to activate your old wounds.
5. Create a self-care plan
How will you take care of yourself based on the Whole Perspective? What do you need to prepare yourself for if you leave this relationship? Are there any financial realities that need to be considered and managed? Do you have a physical outlet to help with the anxiety and depression that may surface temporarily after the relationship is over? What kind of spiritual guidance can help? Are you able to take some time for yourself to begin to heal emotionally? Any new intellectual interests you can engage in to give your mind something new to focus on?
6. Make a decision
If you followed these steps, you will be in a much better position to decide to stay or leave the relationship. If you leave, it will sting and you will now have valuable information that can help continue to inform you that you made the right decision. Remember this is not a straight line and there will be days when you will want to go back. And, if you do decide to stay and give it another try, you will have a lot more information that may help you in couples counseling.
Remember that YOU have to take care of YOU. When we allow others to be responsible for our emotions, we rob ourselves of emotional intelligence and personal growth and create dependency that looks and feels like an addiction to others. PIVOT toward yourself – heal your wounds – and then you can attach securely to others as a healthy adult!