The Love Addict On Screen
I’m featured in a new documentary about love addiction. It’s ugly and uncensored and, alas, completely accurate.
I’m sitting in the back of the pitch black Quad Cinema in the West Village for one reason: to watch Love Addict, a documentary by Pernille Rose Grønkjær. And the reason I’m watching? I was interviewed, along with my “person of addiction,” for it several years ago.
I’m nervous as hell. Exposing my past could be a loss of personal dignity. If there’s one thing I want to avoid, it’s being presented as a “junkie”—hard lighting, stark camera angles, face down in the gutter type stuff.
That’s not me.
I sit back in my chair. My fiancé, D, who I’ve been with for four years, holds my hand. Will I look as hideous and bizarre as I felt on the inside or would the camera take pity on the shame apparent in me, which I was trying so hard to overcome? I also wondered what other characters would be joining me in this tale. Would I be able to relate to them? Or would they be the Hollywood horror version of love addicts—the Romeos and Juliets, the stalkers and jilted lovers who commit crimes of passion? The If I can’t have you, no one can types that make me want to scream at the top of my lungs, “I am nothing like you”?
More than addicts, we are avoiders of ourselves, always trying to fill the “void.”
My story is first. I’m sitting on a bench with George, my ex; our relationship long over, though we were friends when the interview was shot. On screen we’re chit chatting about what it was like to stay in a relationship where I was putting up with bullshit from a guy who did, at least, say he loved me. There was no stalking in our relationship, no drama, no fights, no affair. For the most part, we got along. But I always had this mildly ambiguous sense of suffering that somehow never seemed to encourage me to leave. There was his drug use. But that was his problem. Besides, it was only pot. There was the lack of sex. At first, that didn’t bother me. But after a year, I was starving. After two, I was anorexic. Still, our love ran so much deeper than the physical, he’d say. And then there was his independence, which, at first, I loved. But after three years, when we were down to seeing each other once a week and he had no intentions of ever moving in, his independence began to asphyxiate me. Unable to breath or function without him, I was consumed with pain every time he took a step back. But, no one’s perfect, right? He just needs his space.
I breathe a sigh of relief as my story ends and another begins.
Christian is a 40-year-old longhaired musician living with his mother. He’s dating a woman he met online and has been with only twice, who ends up breaking up with him over the phone. He doesn’t get it. She’s not interested. I see it. Why doesn’t he? I then recall R, my Internet boyfriend from France, whom I “dated” while still living at home at age 27. I move uncomfortably in my seat.
Then there’s Tracy from Buffalo. She’s an overweight, tattooed mother of 38 who’s with a 23-year-old that can’t seem to get his act together. Again, I flinch. I might not look like her but the similarities between our lives are eerie.
There are a few others in the line up. And then, there’s Jennifer. She is a self-proclaimed love and sex addict who, when lonely enough, goes into town and offers herself up to any man (or group of men) who will have her. I sit upright, feeling proud that I have nothing in common with her. How can I? She seems to portray a point far beyond where I would ever go.
But, as the camera zooms in, Jennifer, sitting on a faded worn sofa in a dark empty room, says her love addiction “is an attempt to fill the void we all have inside us.”
The dignity I thought I’d be able to reclaim flits to the ground alongside trash left in heaps by other moviegoers. The reality is, my story doesn’t end with George on the bench. It continues through everyone’s story.
My story is Christian’s, it’s Tracy’s, it’s Jennifer’s.
Love Addict walks a fine line between depicting actual addiction and poor life management. But defining love addiction is a near impossibility. We all inherently love. How we choose to love is a matter of personal preference, genetics and upbringing. More importantly, there is no one black-and-white manifestation of the dis-ease—which is why so many terms exist to define it. Susan Peabody writes in her book, Addiction to Love, “Love addiction comes in many forms. Some love addicts carry a torch for unavailable people. Some love addicts obsess when they fall in love. Some love addicts get addicted to the euphoric effects of romance. Others cannot let go of a toxic relationship even if they are unhappy, depressed, lonely, neglected or in danger.”
What we all have in common, though, is not so much the inability to manage our lives but the fact that we are powerless over these relationships. Love is our drug of choice and what we use to numb. It’s what we exploit so as to avoid the pain of dealing with ourselves. More than addicts, we are avoiders of ourselves, always trying to fill the “void.”
And yet the idea of tragic love, obsession and chasing after someone is socially acceptable. We are, after all, a country obsessed with Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey—the success of which might ominously indicate a possibly greater problem of unhealthy love in western culture than before.
But back to the documentary.
A fairytale unwinds throughout the film. There’s a little girl in a delicate white dress that walks through an enchanted forest looking for her “prince.” A young boy meanders through the rooms of an old house, sulking for his “princess.” These scenes are a reminder that we grow up believing that we will find our Prince or Princess Charming. Juxtapose that with our gritty tales of perverse, twisted reality and what you’ve got is the eternal dilemma of love addiction: the disparity between what we think we have versus what we actually have.
When it’s over, I wipe tears from my eyes. I want to pat the old me on the back, the girl up on the screen who was able to recognize the disparity and surrender the cycle of addiction. But D, who sits next to me, does it instead—to the new me. He turns and says, “It wasn’t easy, was it?” I nod. No, it wasn’t. Bad habits that become inherent in the human psyche are almost impossible to break. Unless you’ve got nothing—which is ultimately what I had with George. And so, it was only at the bottom that I began to realize I was worth the climb—and hell, I had nowhere else to go but up. After a couple years of reading every book imaginable on love and addiction, after brainwashing myself to believe that I deserve better than scraps, after spending hours on Susan Peabody’s LAA Forums, the light of recovery shined. The message finally sank in.
As the credits scroll, I want to give all my co-stars a virtual group hug. We may be from different worlds but we’re fighting the same demons. And even though Grønkjær may have removed some of my dignity (or did I do that?) and forced me to recognize the ugly side of my nature through the lives of the others, it’s worth it. Whether the audience will judge us as love addicts or a bunch of fools who can’t manage our lives—well, I’m going to surrender that, too.
Love Addict will play in Fort Lauderdale from November 2nd through November 4th, 2012. For more information on the film, please visit The Reel Recovery Film Festival page. Tracy Shields is a business owner, a writer and an advocate for women. She writes a recovery blog on love addiction at TheLovelyAddict.com. This is her first piece for The Fix.