I looked across the room and I saw him. He had dark hair, skinny jeans, a Radiohead tattoo, a cracked front tooth and a gorgeous aura. I had to have him. His name was Luke. He had come to inpatient treatment after he watched his best friend commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Luke nearly drank himself to death soon after.
Luke wasn’t fully despondent, but he was desolate. Isolated. But his puckered brow, his swag, his ability to just be who he was… well, I wanted him.
This story, the cycle of seeing a man in rehab and immediately “falling in love,” happened far too often. I was in treatment for my addiction to Xanax, Adderall and opiates, but it was apparent that there was something more that needed to be treated.
The clinicians and the counselors called it “love addiction.” I knew it was an obsession, but I didn’t care. I didn’t listen. I didn’t get it. And I certainly didn’t follow their direction or advice about staying away from men while in treatment for substance abuse.
This is why I was kicked out of inpatient treatment two times for getting in relationships with men. This is why, at my fourth and final treatment center, I was admitted for both substance use disorder and love addiction. I discovered that if I could not get high off my drug of choice, then I would replace my drug with men. It didn’t really matter who. If you were slightly good looking, intelligent or funny, then I found myself attracted to you.
In the book Is It Love or Is It Addiction, author Brenda Schaffer describes love addiction as “a reliance on someone external to the self in an attempt to get unmet needs fulfilled, avoid fear or emotional pain, solve problems, and maintain balance.”
I wasn’t necessarily looking for someone to love. First of all, at the height of my love addiction, I don’t believe I was capable of truly loving someone. Secondly, I didn’t want someone to love. I wanted someone to make me feel like I was worthy. I wanted someone to believe that I was not a failure, to see me as beautiful and to make my problems go away. In other words, I was using men in another attempt to escape pain. I wanted them to “fix me,” as I felt powerless when it came to taking personal responsibility for fixing myself.
The authors of the book Love and Addiction define addiction as “an unstable state of being, marked by a compulsion to deny all that you are or have been in favor of some new and ecstatic experience.”
I wanted to deny my past, my substance use and the pain and harm I caused others and myself throughout my addiction to prescription pills. I didn’t want to face my grief, loss or shame. I didn’t want to feel. Unfortunately, the only way to move forward is to move through it. This meant I had to confront my love addiction and here are five ways I did it.
1. I Admitted I Had a Love Addiction
While I was in residential treatment for 67 days, and for almost three months thereafter, I said I was a love addict, out loud, to a group of people. The process of admission is daunting. When you admit you have a problem, you can no longer deny the fact that you need help. At first, I didn’t want to say I was a love addict as I had no idea what it meant or why it mattered. I thought I needed help with my substance use disorder and I felt that love addiction was a secondary issue for me.
When one of the doctors at my treatment center told me I would never stay sober if I didn’t deal with my issues with men, it finally stuck. After leaving treatment, I immediately began attending Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA). I continued to acknowledge that I was a love addict and I sought support from people who had faced the same problem as me.
2. I Built Healthy Relationships With Other Females
One morning as I sat in my psychiatrist’s office at treatment, he told me that one of the best ways to measure the health of a woman was to look at her relationships with other females. In that moment, 30 days sober from substances and still active in my love addiction, I had no healthy relationships with females.
It wasn’t that I never had strong friendships with females, because I did. However, men brought on the familiar rush of heightened euphoria and increased dopamine levels, which was eerily similar to an amphetamine high. I had to back away from that compulsion and surround myself with females. I moved into an all-female sober living home and lived there for a year. I stopped hanging around men and started to build healthy relationships with females. At this point in my love addiction, it was important for me to avoid temptation and start to understand the power of female support and friendship.
3. I Educated Myself on Love Addiction to Understand My Own Behaviors
I have always been a reader, a knowledge-seeker, the curious type — the one who asks a thousand questions and wants to know the answers for all of it. I started buying every book I could that dealt with love addiction. I wanted to grasp the concept of what love addiction was and what love addiction was not. I began to chase answers and solutions.
I developed an understanding of why I was reacting this way to men and why I was consumed by an unhealthy addiction to love. I also found a therapist who specialized in sex and love addiction and began talking more about my past in an effort to overcome both my chemical addiction and my love addiction. I threw the book at it. I started doing the work that would soon change my entire relationship with myself and others, for the better.
4. I Stayed Single for The First Year of My Sobriety
I used to believe that having a partner made me a complete person. I attached myself to a partner in an attempt to feel whole. To break this pattern, I stayed single for the first year of my sobriety. Schaeffer describes addictive love as “an attempt to satisfy our developmental hunger for security, sensation, power, belonging, and meaning.” I had to find that type of satisfaction within myself. I could not find it in another person. I began to welcome loneliness as a friend, and eventually, I stopped feeling so lonely — even when I was alone.
5. I Treated Every Relationship as an Assignment and Every Experience as a Lesson
Over time, I stopped focusing on my love addiction because it stopped existing. The obsession had been removed because of the initial and continued work I put into loving myself and growing into a full, whole, complete person. I evolved and I removed the layers that didn’t suit me and could never define me. As the poet Nayyirah Waheed says, I realized “I have always been the woman of my dreams.”
Now, in each relationship I had, platonic or romantic, I knew it was there to serve a purpose. I found that every experience, bad or good, would always teach me a lesson and strengthen me. I began to see my life as a gift and I became someone I loved to love.