October 3, 2020

Love Addiction 101: How Childhood Wounds cause our Unhealthy Attachment Patterns.


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*Warning: well-deserved cursing ahead!

“I don’t think this is the group for you,” he said.

I swung around from staring into space, a little jarred and extremely uncomfortable, and spoke rather timidly, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you?”

“I don’t think you belong here,” he said with a warm smile.

“Is it that obvious?” I asked.

“Unfortunately for you, yes. You have one of those expressive faces; your emotions are written all over it. If I may, I think you would feel more comfortable at a Love Addicts Anonymous meeting.”

That was how I started my journey of the recovery program—at the wrong meeting, go figure.

I was at a Sex and Love Addicts meeting (SLAA), and I realized about 10 minutes in that I was pretty confident I was not addicted to sex.

The group was recommended, and I had just started reading Russell Brand’s Recovery: Freedom from our Addictions (he encourages you to seek out a group).

I had naively believed healing was a lone quest, and Russell Brand makes it quite clear that you can not do this shit alone. He was right.

At the time of that first meeting, I didn’t know that that man—the one who had read my facial expressions like an open book—would send me exactly where I needed to be.

Fated? Perhaps. I like to believe so.

I know I’ll always think of him fondly for his candor and warmth. The last thing he said to me as I headed to my car was, “Don’t stop trying. Keep going till you find the right place for you.”

Thanks, Anonymous Man, I thought. What have I got to lose? 

I found my “right place” at the next meeting. I was greeted by people who seemed to be suffering from the same affliction as me. Stories were shared, and I listened intently to each one, resonating with, “Yes, I’ve done that…” Or “Fuck, I’ve done that…”

Love addiction has not been classified as an official diagnosis. Many mental health professionals have taken issue with attaching the designation of “addiction.” But, I can tell you that sitting in that room made me want to understand this…label, if you will.

Is love addiction real?

Love addiction has similar characteristics and cycles to other addictions, which in essence are:

>> A physical or psychological dependence on a mind-altering substance.

>> A brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences.

>> A dependence on or compulsion to any substance of behavior.

As with any and all addictions, it is formed as a defense against unresolved pain—to simplify a complex problem.

Helen Fisher, Anthropologist and TED Talk speaker, was quoted as saying, “Love addiction is just as real as any other addiction, in terms of behavior patterns and brain mechanisms. Besotted lovers express all four of the basic traits of addiction: craving, tolerance, withdrawal, and relapse.”

Now that I knew that I wasn’t making shit up in my head (addicts can lie like pros to themselves) and that the resonation I felt was real, it led me to the next question.

What are the characteristics of love addiction?

The watered-down version is that love addicts assign far too much time and value to another person. It becomes all-consuming and has an obsessive focus (naturally, to the detriment of everything else in life).

I often found myself in relationships, dalliances, obsessions, giving my everything and all, much to the detriment of myself. Financially, emotionally, physically, I would give it all.

Love addicts are masters of neglecting themselves while in a relationship, and when I saw it clearly, from this perspective, it was like a swift kick to my gut. I’m still often amazed at my sheer stupidity.

How could I not have recognized any of this?

Love addicts are also prone to a great deal of fantasy. We live more in the fairyland of our minds—where romance and love save us—than we do in the real world. This “magical” way of thinking leads us love addicts to cling to a relationship, regardless of how fucked-up it may be. Because in our heads, it’s perfect.

Which then, you guessed it, led to my next two questions:

Why do love addictions form? Where does it come from?

I hate to write it, I do, but it comes directly from childhood.

There comes a time when everyone feels that blaming their parents and their past gets old, but to understand addiction, to kick its ass, you have to go right back to the beginning.

The roots of love addiction are tied to a history of abandonment, neglect, or inadequate or inconsistent nurturing. Like so many other addictions, it’s the result of insecure attachment patterns.

A child needs to feel safe, seen, and soothed in order to develop into a healthy, functioning adult.

My home wasn’t one of love; it was one of fear, overwhelming feelings of being alone and unloved, and worse, not able to express how I felt without being rejected or being held responsible for how others were feeling.

My foundation was built on quicksand. 

Trauma forced me into my head, where I was safe and loved (hence the fantasies), and as I grew older and never adequately processed and released these emotions, I acted out in ways that I had formed to help me. My addiction went unchecked and undiagnosed for almost two decades, so I chalked it up to a bad dating life, every time. 

The cycle of love addiction:

It goes a little something like this (cue the music):

>> In the beginning stages of a relationship, I am attracted to someone and them to me.

>> As I get involved, the fantasy kicks in. Welcome delusions, pull up a chair.

>> I am then in complete smitten-mode. My universe is now this other person. I think about them incessantly. In turn, the other person starts to sense something is amiss and starts to pull away because of my neediness. Eventually, they start to resent the relationship because my fear of abandonment is triggered by the slightest things, and I start to cling more.

>> I then become frustrated and angry, and despite all my efforts, I can’t make it work. Trust becomes an issue; attention becomes an issue; I become a wreck of emotion and feeling.

>> I start to have irrational emotional outbursts, followed by shame and apologies, and I try to return back to the fantasy that things will work out.

By the end stage of this cycle, as you can imagine, it’s a shitshow. 

Desperation, insecurity, and reckless compulsive behavior abound, and the entire thing collapses (only to be repeated when a new fantasy appears).

Recovery and freedom from our addictions:

I had to reach rock bottom before something inside me was begging to be recognized. I believe, subconsciously, I was aware of my addiction. Consciously, I was pretending everything was okay. Once I was able to name this demon, things became crystal clear.

I bought the book. I joined the group. I faced up to the pain of my past and stopped running from it. I let it hurt like hell for months.

I walked around like a fucking zombie, processing years of unresolved pain. I looked like shit, I felt like shit, but I was feeling. And by feeling, I was healing.

I researched, I wrote, and I found like-minded people in the midst of a struggle similar to mine, and I felt hopeful.

Have I relapsed? I wish my answer was no, but I have, and I had to start all over again. At the same time, I realize it’s all necessary; it’s all part of the real and lasting growth.

If you’re wondering if you are a love addict, I’ll pay it forward and give you a piece of sage advice once given to me, “Don’t stop trying, keep going till you find the right place for you.”   

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