Avoidance was my drug
Ten years ago today, I was sitting on my bedroom floor, in the throes of withdrawal, ready to face two uncomfortable truths—I had completely erased myself, and I was addicted to my boyfriend G. With quit-logic and positive affirmations scrolling across my screen--my only roadmap out of misery--I pleaded with my better self to get it right this time.
I was nothing like my father. My father was an alcoholic, a gambler, a sex addict, a workaholic, and a painkiller addict. If there's an argument left for the addictive personality, he'd be a researcher’s dream. No, I knew myself to be the classic "codependent" because that's what you are when you’re a child of an alcoholic. A child of an alcoholic becomes one of two things: an adult alcoholic or a codependent. There’s nothing in between. And since I didn't drink, I just assumed I was the other.
And yet, there I was, scratching at the walls, rocking back and forth in abject pain, crying hysterically like a girl who's crack dealer just got pulled off the street, all because G hadn’t called. No foreign, addictive substance rushing through my veins, forcing its authority onto my chemistry. Only the hunger pangs of my ventral tegmental zone, begging for one more hit of yummy dopamine.
That ever elusive, barely believable state of pure obsession over a person or a relationship. The only formal definition we seem to have is the life and times of the lead character Alex, in Fatal Attraction, a stalking, insane woman who tries to kill the object of her love. Sure, there are instances of that. Sure, some people will go to that extent. But I was a “functioning” love addict. Despite the sad truth that I had turned all my power over to G no differently than an alcoholic does to the bottle, I never stalked or hurt or did any damage to anyone except myself.
While G called the shots, I followed blindly. And when he withdrew, I felt endangered, like a free-floating, ungrounded entity heading perilously past the ozone layer into the dark nothingness of space.
I ended up quitting G. It wasn’t “a matter of time” and I didn’t just “get over him.” I quit him right along with my two-pack a day cigarette habit and the acknowledgment that I was indeed an addict. One hit at a time. One broken-hearted day at a time. Heeding the laws of physics, a loose thread unravels only when it’s pulled. It was time. And the determining factor of what made me finally leave him wasn’t exactly that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of bad relationships. It was that I was sick and tired of me.
I sat for about 15 hours a day, for a month straight, brainwashing myself with self-help books, love addict forums and feverishly writing my own blog. Once dirty, sick and rundown, I soon learned that my body and mind were temples. I learned not to let substances and people defile my sacredness. I learn that I wasn’t just “unlucky,” but rather that I was operating at the only level I knew how—a very low one--and that the power was in me to change. I then quit all the other guys and relationships I was addicted to and, well, you get the picture.
Johann Hari wrote a book that came out in 2015 called Chasing the Scream, The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. His point was that addicts were addicts not because of addictive substances, rather because they were sad and unhappy people. What a great rationalization for us love addicts! And yet, he fell seriously short. He also believed that “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is human connection.”
I ask myself, where does that leave the love addict? The very sobriety we crave—human connection—is what we’ve become addicted to.
In my own personal search for answers I too tried to figure out the opposite of addiction. Surprisingly, I didn’t conclude that it was sobriety or human connection. I had human connection. I had a warm, loving home, a great mother, supportive brothers, an entire village that loved me. I had two sons that adored me. Many substance abusers do. Heck, my own father was well loved and came from a wonderfully loving home.
My search, instead lead me to understand that the real opposite of addiction was avoidance. My addiction to G, and all others was my way of running away. Avoidance was my drug. My way of protecting myself from having to grow up. From having to be responsible. From having to face my fears of raising my children on my own, getting an education, working, and whatever else scared the hell out of me. Human connection was probably the last thing I needed in my sobriety. I needed to work.
I cannot say my recovery came after one brilliant ah-ha moment. It was a lifetime of ah-ha moments strung together in between miserably uncomfortable drab moments, and a readiness to look at myself and make peace with the woman I had become.
When I now write about avoidance and love addiction on http://www.GirlRebuilt.com there is one question I tend to get asked a lot. If I could choose just one thing I did to become a healthier person, capable of having a long-term healthy relationship what would it be? My answer is always the same. I stopped avoiding myself.