Emotional eating and food addiction

Yesterday I read a great piece over on the Huffington Post: Eating Disorders Were Created Equal — So Why Don’t We Treat Them That Way? by Margaret Wheeler Johnson. This is something I’ve often pondered but have rarely – if ever – seen discussed, let alone at a place with as high a readership as HuffPo. Wheeler Johnson references a piece in The Daily Beast, So, Are You Recovered? by Emma Woolf: “What Woolf hits on in her piece is that we tend to see the three phenomena — eating disorders, a general cultural anxiety about food and weight and skyrocketing obesity rates– as separate problems with separate solutions. Instead, we need to recognize that they all stem from the same root. Obesity isn’t the opposite of anorexia (or bulimia or disordered eating or just distorted thinking about food). It’s its twin.

I’m sure if you haven’t already clicked over to read the article that you will after that quote. Go ahead, read it, I will wait. 😉

I think about weight, food, health, and subjects like that a lot – probably in part because I am a former anorexic in a 200 pound woman’s body. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I think “Wow, what would your 20 year old self think about this?” She would probably think that I got lazy, and to some extent she’d be right. You can read more about my struggles with food and getting/staying healthy here. My 32 year old self isn’t a fan of it but for different reasons. I no longer have an all-consuming desire to be thin; I no longer feel like I am in control when I don’t eat; but I have noticed that in some ways, my relationship with food has just flipped to the opposite extreme.

The HuffPo article mentions a CDC statistic that nearly 70% of American adults are overweight. A sizeable (no pun intended) bit over half! You can blame anything and everything for this: laziness, lack of personal responsibility, mcdonalds and other fast food restaurants, our “on the go” society, desk jobs, the internet or video games, processed food and its marketing, lack of understanding/education about eating healthfully, but no one cause is fully to blame. It stands to reason that if the majority of Americans are overweight something is wrong with our relationship with food. Whether we restrict or binge, obesity really can be an eating disorder that is vastly more dangerous than any eating disorder where food is restricted.

When I look around, I see virtually no one who has a healthy relationship with food. I follow many health/wellness accounts on instagram, but while fitness enthusiasts and body builders may eat healthily, many of them don’t seem to have a particularly healthy relationship with food. One in particular pops into my mind, who puts Quest nutrition bars into the oven and bakes them for an “indulgent” snack. A world where one never eats a cookie or just opts for another, more healthy sweet processed food isn’t a relationship with food that I want to hold up as a guideline for how we should eat. The problem, is that whether we are eating healthy or unhealthy, food can become too big a part of our lives.

Food in our culture is many things – an indulgence, a comfort, a social activity, a pastime, an escape, but rarely is it seen as just fuel for our bodies. When I was at my healthiest when I was running regularly, my relationship with food shifted and became the healthiest it has ever been in my life. I started thinking about food as what made me go; I started paying attention to protein and how often I ate it (as a pescatarian – vegetarian except for seafood – it had until that point been very easy for me to have little or no protein in a day), carbs stopped being scary and started being a necessary part of a balanced diet. I ate a lot of egg whites, salmon, protein shakes, and I concentrated on getting the recommended number of fruit and vegetable servings each day. It was probably the only time in my life that food was not my comfort, either in its restriction or in its indulgence.

My current problem came when I discovered sugar. Sugar is a staple of a processed American diet, but up until two years ago I had never been that big of a fan of sweets. I’d almost always choose pretzels over cookies, preferring something salty as a snack. When I quit drinking alcohol something in my body changed, I started craving sweets. It was new and extremely different for me, I didn’t even eat a piece of the cake that I bought for my graduation party. Suddenly I wanted ice cream and candy and cake! Then, when I went through a bad breakup, I realized that ice cream and candy and cake tasted really really good. There were days when I didn’t stop feeling hungry, when no matter how much I ate I didn’t feel satisfied. Never one to keep sweets in the house (once there was an open package of oreos in my pantry for 3 years. They just sat there untouched!) I found myself driving through Sonic and Dairy Queen for their blended ice cream treats. I’d pick up a two-slice package of freshly baked cake as I did my grocery shopping. I had four scoops of ice cream for dessert at a local Chinese food buffet when normally I just ate fresh fruit as dessert.

Sweets weren’t just my indulgence or comfort, they started to take on an almost sensual quality. The way the cold ice cream melts against your tongue on a warm, summer day; the rich, fluffy texture of a slice of cake; the way my mouth seemed to come alive as I bit into a piece of Ghirardelli dark chocolate; a kitkat’s perfect combination of sweetened chocolate and light, crunchy wafers; before I knew it I was eating in a way I had never eaten in my life. Not so long ago I did things like microwaving mini cinnamon rolls and putting vanilla ice cream atop them just because it sounded good. I started thinking about sweets the way I had thought about all food back when I was restricting, like a forbidden lover. I thought about when we could be together again, how good it would feel, how I would get a satisfaction that nothing else gave me… It should really be of no surprise to me that disordered eating translated so utterly and perfectly from restriction to indulgence. I stopped finding joy in denying myself but I found it again in comforting myself with food, either way I was controlled by food.

Wheeler Johnson’s piece goes on to ask: “What if we started reading our eating issues as part of the same story, of a culture’s broken relationship with food and a resulting body image crisis? What if we viewed all people who use food and weight to cope with challenges in their lives as worthy of compassion, whether they are fat or thin?” If we were able to do that, I think the story would begin to change. I’m still in the middle of mine. I’m beginning to control my sugar addiction with extreme portion control, just a little indulgence. I’m also starting to fight all the things inside me that seem to make it impossible for me to sustain good health. I know it’s possible because I did it before, it’s just that my fear, loneliness, sadness, all of that disappears for a moment when I take a bite of cake or put a spoonful of oreo blizzard in my mouth. I realize that food cannot make me feel whole, and that until I deal with the things that have driven me to try to fill that void with alcohol, relationships, attention, and now food that nothing will be able to satisfy me. That has got to be the first step, at least.

chocolate pie

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Lies, and the lying liars that tell them

I know that title is ripping off Al Franken’s book, but it just sounded like the perfect title for this post.
I’m always hesitant to use words like “all” especially when talking about people. Generalizations like “everyone” don’t do us much good. There are few things that actually everyone says, thinks or does. I can’t speak for every relationship with an active addict or alcoholic, only the for my own and from my own experiences; but typing “addicts lying” into Google brings up “About 2,230,000 results (0.31 seconds).” That’s a lot of hits.

Everyone, in fact, lies – both addicts and non-addicts. It is impossible to go through life without telling at least a “little white” lie. Even a “yes, I like your new boyfriend” or a “no, that dress doesn’t make you look fat” is a lie, even if we tell them to make someone feel better or avoid conflict. When I started dating an active alcoholic, I knew that the common thought was “addicts lie” but everyone lies. It wasn’t until months after the end of the relationship that I would learn just how many lies I did not even have an inkling about. Lying, it seemed, came as easily as speaking to my now ex-girlfriend.

Denial was always a big part of our relationship, both her denial and my own. Her denial had been a part of her life for much longer than we had been dating, perhaps all of her life. When Michelle and I had met as teens, she was already drinking and into drugs. At only fourteen, she would put herself in dangerous situations in order to get alcohol and drugs from older boys and men, which was always very upsetting to me, seeing as I was her girlfriend. Before her family moved back to New Mexico, Michelle was hospitalized at least once. She would call me at all hours, drunk and high, and say all kinds of things. She claimed to have jumped out of a moving car as the cops were taking her to the hospital to be committed. She said she passed out one night and woke up on the side of the road, tangled in barbed wire. I’ll never know which of the things she said when we were kids were lies, probably she doesn’t even know anymore. Once she was in New Mexico, she injured her hand punching a wall, she assaulted a teacher, and she ended up back in the hospital. I still have many of the letters that she wrote me from back then, talking about how she knew that she had to quit drinking and smoking pot if she wanted her life to be better.

When we got back together in 2011, it became clear pretty quickly that she would lie to hide her drinking. Going out after pretending to go to bed; saying she was out with friends not drinking when she was out with friends drinking; vowing never to drink again; promising me she would go to AA; claiming to not be using drugs… Some lies I caught her in and others she confessed out of guilt. After a while she just stopped texting me back and picking up the phone when she was drinking; I would know that she was drinking because hours would pass with no response to a text and a phone that rang and rang and finally went to voicemail. She never understood why I didn’t trust her, why I suspected her of cheating and would get upset the few times she wouldn’t text or pick up the phone but wasn’t actually drinking.
I guess I fail to see the distinction between lying about drinking, and lying about cheating.

The biggest lie of our relationship, perhaps even bigger than her near constant reassurances that she would stay sober, was what I found out in January of this year (2013) when she decided to contact me and try to be friends. That communication was based on a lie too, unsurprisingly. She said her “girlfriend” was upset by photos of us on facebook and would I remove them? I had already deleted all the photos of her that I’d had up on facebook, and I told her that. As it turned out, she didn’t have a girlfriend, she was just saying that. In the course of our conversation, she told me that when she had finally “gotten sober” after the December 2011 Christmas trip to New Orleans, the trip that had made me essentially give up on her ever getting sober, she had smoked pot every day. She was using getting high to keep her from drinking! My mind was blown, I was so shocked. I’d had no idea she was getting high, even though we talked on the phone most days. It was then I realized that we would never see things in the same way. She was not familiar with the concept of sobriety as I know it, and she never would be. She wasn’t going to work the steps, she wasn’t going to ever give up drugs because she didn’t see them as a problem, only alcohol. Michelle described herself as “the worst alcoholic you have ever met.” I think she wore that badge with a little bit of pride. She certainly used it as an excuse as to why she “couldn’t” stop drinking.

In that conversation, our last, when I told her that I did not want to be her friend and had no place in my life for her, she freaked out and told me that I didn’t understand addiction and I “shouldn’t be allowed around addicts.” Perhaps I don’t understand addiction, but I know that the millions of addicts who have gotten sober haven’t done it by lying, making excuses, continuing to drink, and getting high to keep from drinking. I do understand that my fears when I was sixteen were correct; Michelle is going to die because of her addiction in one way or another, and while I’m not longer emotionally involved with her in any way, I still don’t have to be there to see it. The problem with lies, whether they are big or small is that they send a message both to the person we are lying to and to ourselves – that the person we are lying to is not worthy of the truth. Maybe he or she can’t handle it, maybe we don’t want to hurt their feelings, maybe like in Michelle’s case we just don’t want to be hassled; there are a million reasons why we lie but there’s no such thing as a lie that doesn’t hurt. Even if the only thing that comes from it is that it alienates us from someone we care about.

lying lips via jamesaltucher

Hope never trumps reality

In August of 2011, I visited New Mexico for the first time. It was a trip to celebrate finally graduating from college, after going on and off for twelve years. I went to visit my girlfriend at the time, Michelle*, the active alcoholic that I was dating. We had been in a relationship for five months at that time, and she had relapsed four times. She called them relapses; I was never convinced that stopping drinking for a month and then drinking again was a relapse as much as it was just abstaining from alcohol for a month. It was an expensive trip, because I had to rent a car for the time I was there. Michelle didn’t have a car, her license had been suspended for DUI. New Mexico takes drunk driving very seriously, her license was suspended on her first offense and she had to see a probation officer and go to AA meetings. She lied to the probation officer about going to meetings and had been seeing an addiction counselor for most of the time she’d been actively drinking – both those things should have been red flags.

When Michelle had found me on my blog and we had reconnected, I was ready for a relationship that was going to last. I had done a lot of work on myself, in therapy and independently, working through the issues that had led to some very dysfunctional relationships in the years leading up to 2011. My baggage was checked, and I was ready to really open up and let someone in, to give a relationship my all, to trust in a way I had not before. I picked the wrong person.

For five months, I had dealt with the drinking, the relapses if you call them that, and had never stopped believing that a genuine desire to stop drinking was all it was going to take to keep Michelle sober. I thought that she should be going to AA meetings, but she had lots of excuses for why should could not go – most notably that she didn’t have transportation. It had been a roller coaster of emotions and fights, but the trip had ultimately been a very good one. Although the relationship wasn’t what I needed, or thought it had the potential to be, I was enthusiastic in my belief that Michelle had the ability to meet all my needs and the relationship would somehow magically morph into exactly what I was looking for if only she stayed sober for longer than a month. When the plane took off from Albuquerque, I looked down on the mountains and I knew in my heart that it would not be the last time that I saw those mountains. I was going to move to Albuquerque to be with Michelle one day. What a good story it was! First loves, reunited after fifteen years, perhaps they were always meant to be! When the plane landed in Dallas, Texas and I awaited my connection flight home, I was still in good spirits.

I had a layover that was several hours long. I called her to let her know I had landed in Texas, and I was surprised that her phone went directly to voicemail, but I wasn’t concerned. She had ADHD and was forgetful, so it was possible that she had just let her phone die again. I’ve always been ashamed at how long it took to occur to me that she was drinking. In hindsight, I shouldn’t be ashamed. I trusted in her 100%, it didn’t matter that she didn’t deserve that trust. After a couple hours of doing what I always do in airport terminals: walking the terminal from end to end, exploring the shops, sitting in a restaurant and eating, even talking to a friend on the phone, it dawned on me that something was wrong. Suddenly when I called, her phone was ringing but going to voicemail. It clearly was not dead, but what was going on? Finally, after multiple calls, she picked up the phone. When we had both left the airport, we had been in different places. I had so much joy, and hope for the future. She had gotten a ride from a friend, went back to their house and started drinking. All of my hope came crashing down around me in that moment.

I probably should’ve broken up with her right then. She wasn’t sorry. She didn’t even get why I was so upset. The word “relapse” was enabling to her, she was surrounded by people who told her that every time she drank it was ok, because she was an alcoholic. She couldn’t control it, and she shouldn’t be expected to. What the enablers expected would get her sober I don’t know. Perhaps a “power greater than herself” but she was and is an atheist, she believed in nothing beyond herself except science. She didn’t believe that a power greater than herself could restore her to sanity, because there was no spiritual presence in the world. I’ve often wondered how atheists who are addicts work the steps, when step two goes against their worldview. I know that some of them manage to make AA work for them, but at this point Michelle hadn’t gone. She said that she had gone in the past and it wasn’t for her. Clearly, sobriety on her own wasn’t for her either. That day, in Terminal D of DFW, I experienced shame in a way that I had never experienced it before. I stepped away from the other people waiting at the gate in the almost deserted terminal, standing outside the closed Bennigan’s as I tried not to scream into my phone about my disappointment, how I had trusted her and she had ruined it, and how could she just leave the airport and go drink anyway?

The saddest thing is, that when I finally boarded my flight back to Mississippi, I was coming back to the most positive situation that I had ever been it, career-wise. I had finished up my internship and the non-profit I had been working with found me so invaluable that they had created a paid position for me. Granted, it was part-time, but it was something. Little did I know that a staff position at that same organization would open for me just two months in the future. I had graduated from college, finally. I had just visited Roswell, New Mexico, a place I had dreamed of visiting since I was a child, and had hiked down into Carlsbad Caverns and been awestruck by the beauty of the caves. I should have been celebrating everything in my life at that moment, but it was all overshadowed by a bottle of beer and a shot of whiskey, and everything that followed it. It wasn’t even my drinking, it was someone else’s.

I said “I wish” a couple times in my last post and I am realizing that these posts are going to be full of “I wish”es. I wish that I had boarded that plane in Dallas and never looked back. I wish that I had seen that my whole life was in front of me. I had worked hard for what I had achieved, and I was going to continue working hard. I have all sorts of reasons why I spent the next three months not giving up on my relationship with a woman who clearly loved alcohol more than she loved me – if she had the ability to love me at all. Or why I would invite her to spend the holidays with my family and allow my parents to spend hundreds of dollars on gifts for her. Or why I would still refuse to let go of the relationship after a blow-out fight in the Marriot hotel of New Orleans over Christmas, a fight that had led to a break-up and an angry alcoholic going out to walk around on her own in the city of booze. Why did I try to mend things, even then? In hindsight, I realized it was December when I gave up, yet I kept on until April of 2012, lending her $2,000 to buy a car that I would never get back and even going to visit her again. Perhaps I thought that letting go meant failure. I had failed at my relationship, I had failed at being the reason that she finally got sober. Maybe I thought that I could show her the life she could have, without alcohol, and that I – and all the perks my parents could bring (paying for school in Mississippi! buying a house!) would be enough. In the end, I’m very glad that she never moved here. She could’ve easily used me just for the perks and money, and for some reason I would’ve let her. Even now, my parents pay for her cell phone. A year after we broke up.

The lesson for me has been this – there is no such thing as failure. Especially not in relationships. Life isn’t that black and white. A success can be a failure, and a failure can be a success. It’s true, I succeeded in prolonging my relationship, had a few more months to continue the charade of being in a happy place, but that was a failure because I was miserable. Maybe the perfect job is less than perfect, maybe the less than perfect job is exactly what you need. There is good on paper, and then there is the way it really is. If you believe everything happens for a reason, as I do, then Michelle came into my life to teach me things that I had not learned up until this point. Maybe I just wish I was better at learning. I know that I will never go back to that place – I will never compromise my happiness for the false security of a “in a relationship” tag on facebook. I will never think that good on paper is the same as good. Yet I had to spend thousands of dollars, and millions of heartbreaks to learn that. If life is the journey, not the destination, then I am continuing to LIVE, all in caps, but a pray that I have learned my lesson this time.

*not her real name

The codependent and the addict

The title of this post sounds almost like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Once upon a time, there was a codependent who was looking for a relationship. She met an addict, fell in love, and they lived happily every after. Actually, only the “happily ever after” part is a fairy tale, people who are codependent fall in love with addicts every day and I am no different. It’s taken me a year to become ready to write this post.

In the last week of March 2011, I was feeling lost.
I had just come back from a Spring Break trip to visit a friend in Austin, Texas. It was my last Spring Break as a college student and I could feel graduation looming over me, like a villain manically waiting for me to fail. I had an internship lined up but had not yet begun it. I was overwhelmed the night that I drove down Lakeland Drive in the pouring rain and lightning storm, tears ran down my face as I tried to figure out what the f*** I was doing about anything in my life. I had driven right past my house, just kept driving, wishing that I had someplace to run to, as though graduation from college wasn’t in itself a new beginning. Finally, the clouds cleared from my head although they had not yet cleared from the sky – I decided that if I no longer felt like myself, I should start thinking like I had back when I felt like me. “What would seventeen year old Stacey do?” I asked myself, as I drove slowly toward home.

The timing of that question was eerie. When I arrived home and checked my email, I had a message on this very blog. A message from my first love, from when I was fifteen years old. She had posted her cell phone number and asked me to call her. What would seventeen year old Stacey do, indeed.

What transpired from that first message she posted on my blog until our break-up in April 2012 was a relationship that will most certainly go down in the history of my life as one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made. Bad choice after bad choice after bad choice led to a year of misery, fear, guilt, and lots of anger on both sides. There is a lot to say about that horrible year, and I’m sure I will say more as I finally begin to work through some of the deeper emotions and motivations surrounding it, but here’s what I want to say right now: there is no good reason for you to be dating an addict. Not you, not me, none of us.

I wish someone had slapped me in the face and said that to me, but it wouldn’t have done any good. I wish I could remember where I heard or read someone say that the addict is cheating on you with their drug of choice. That is certainly how I felt throughout my relationship with Michelle (not her real name). There was a big love there, but it wasn’t between Michelle and me, it was between Michelle and booze. I felt like the other woman, the one who sits by the phone waiting while the married person is home with the real family and can’t sneak away. She spent time with booze, without it ever having to ask for attention; when she wasn’t drinking she thought about drinking; drinking or (briefly) sober, alcohol was the center of her life, her thoughts, her devotion. Sure, it was a love/hate relationship but it was a lot stronger than whatever it was she felt for me.

Addicts have no place in their life for you. There is only room for themselves and their addiction, you are a bystander. No matter how much it affects you, the active alcoholic will never see it. This is where your codependency kicks in, because at the point where your needs aren’t being met someone who’s not codependent would stop accepting the behavior. Someone who is codependent sees the behavior as further proof that the relationship is exactly where they need to be, because that’s how much the addict needs saving! No one is going to help her if it’s not for me; no one else sees the potential in her, how smart she is, how capable she is of doing so much more with her life! I can help her get there, because I love her that much. I will be the hero of both our lives and get everything I’ve always wanted. My partner will leave the wife and come be with me, the “other woman.”

Why is it that what anyone else sees as healthy, good boundaries, and self-care, the codependent sees as “giving up” on the addict? We are really disrespecting ourselves when we think that to be a good person we have to completely ignore our own needs for those of the other.

I don’t know if it’s true of all addicts, but Michelle was like a black hole of NEED, sucking everything around her into this hole that could never be filled. When I look back on it, I feel her desperation in a way that I never could’ve in the moment. It wasn’t just attention from me or alcohol that she overdid trying to fill up the hole inside herself, it was everything. She did everything to excess – she ate to excess, it was like she could never get full; her drinking binges could last for a day or more; she couldn’t tolerate anything in my life that kept me from giving her every bit of my attention. She needed it all and all of it still wasn’t enough. I was just beginning the internship required for my graduation from college, an internship that I hoped might lead to a job. I would wake up at 6am and text her “Good morning” and the phone would immediately begin to ring. She’d been up all night again, drinking. She’d be incoherent, whether she was happy or sad; she would repeat the same things over and over again and become agitated if I pointed it out, insisting that she had not said whatever it was before. Even though I was the sober, newly awake one, she wouldn’t or couldn’t believe she was repeating herself. There were many mornings that the conversation began when I awoke and did not end until I was outside the office where I was interning, parking my car. She would become angry or cry when I told her that I had to get off the phone. Nothing, it seemed, should have been more important in my life than listening to whatever her rambling, drunken mind had to say at 8:30am after a night of heavy drinking.

She didn’t remember a lot of what happened those mornings after she’d finally passed out and slept it off. She never believed me when I told her that she’d kept calling me over and over again while I tried to go to work (check your phone!) or that she’d been repeating herself. She would either not believe me or say that she did remember and she hadn’t been repeating herself. I don’t know why it matters now. I suppose it matters because that was at the very beginning of our relationship, April and May of 2011. That was supposed to be my red flag, my sign that this was unhealthy, to get out as quickly as I could. There is nothing selfish about self-care. I was in no way obligated to continue being in an exclusive relationship with an alcoholic who lived over a thousand miles away, but I felt like I was. I felt like ending it, “giving up” on her was somehow a reflection on me. I had a lot of guilt about how our relationship as kids had ended, something that she reminded me of time and time again – how I’d abandoned her when we were kids. I realize now that she used my guilt to manipulate me, to make me feel that I somehow owed her for cutting off all contact when we were teenagers; because then as now, my needs didn’t matter to her. It didn’t matter that a fifteen year old, sixteen year old kid isn’t equipped to deal with being in love with an active addict and worrying about getting a call that she is dead. Thirty year old me wasn’t equipped to deal with it either, but she helped me convince myself that wasn’t a good enough reason to end a relationship that was clearly doomed from the beginning.

The relationship with her was important, I realize now, because it sent me to Al-Anon. In Al-Anon I learned more than I had learned in 12 years of therapy; or maybe I learned how to better interpret all the things I’d learned in therapy. I sat in a room where my feelings came out of other people’s mouths, where things I dare not even speak aloud were being spoken. My pain, my fear, my shame, these people shared it, they knew what I felt because they had been through it themselves. Al-Anon changed my life, I heard “Let go or get dragged” for the first time in the dimly lit room on the fifth floor of a downtown church. Not “let go and let God” like I’d heard before, but “let go or get dragged.” I had breakthroughs there about things I didn’t even know I felt. I wish there had been a way to get me to Al-Anon that hadn’t involved me dating an active alcoholic. I have a lot more to say about all of this, but for today, this is it.

If you have a family member who is an addict or alcoholic and you need support, find an Al Anon meeting near you. It will help. And keep going back, it works if you work it.

what is “in love”? (or, how to distinguish between love and obsession)

this post is inspired by a series of ongoing conversations i have had with therapists, friends, and loved ones. i hope i am able to get my point across, sometimes it’s hard to get things out of one’s head the way they are inside it. i once again this evening find myself talking about love and “in love” with a dear friend, or more importantly: what is the difference between “in love” and obsession?

this is something that i’ve been actively trying to figure out for the last three years, but it goes back much further than that. a few self-help (personal growth, whatever the heck the bookstores are calling that section these days) books have come into my possession over the years. the first was “how to break your addiction to a person” by howard halpern which my then-therapist, holly, suggested that i get when i was separating from my husband almost eight years ago. i’ve re-read it several times since then, which i guess means that i’ve never successfully broke my person addiction, or really “love” addiction as i’ve come to think of it. then, three years ago when i was dealing with that particular situation i happened to be working in a bookstore, so there was no end to the books that i could read without buying them. i read and then purchased such horrifying titles as “obsessive love: when it hurts too much to let go” by susan forward and “addiction to love: overcoming obsession and dependency in relationships” by susan peabody. i even broke down and read “codependent no more” by melody beattie, a book that i had been fighting the desire to pick up for most of my life. when i was promoted to “merchandising specialist” at the bookstore and someone left a copy on the endcap of teenage vampire trash i was to reset, i thought maybe God or fate was sending a message i needed to finally stop ignoring.

i felt a bit like the character of charlotte in my favourite tv series “sex & the city” when she was embarrassed to buy the (fictional) book “starting over yet again”, and pretended to be looking for the travel section, going home to buy the book in the safety and anonymity of her own home, via the internet. is it the horrific titles of these books that shame us? “when it hurts too much to let go” really does send a message; or is it the fact that having a problem, a crisis, something internal that we need to do some work on is so socially unacceptable that we cannot fathom letting anyone know that we are not perfect? whatever the reason, i was getting to the point in my life where i was tired of hiding the fact that i am a flawed person on a journey; so i picked up each and every one of those titles, and i sat on my lunch half-hour each day reading them at the bar of the coffee shop in the bookstore. “what are you reading?” a co-worker asked, making a face as she saw the title.
“A very good book.” i replied, “It’s helping me a lot.” there wasn’t a soul there that didn’t know i was in a really weird relationship with my boss who was also having an affair with my other boss, i don’t see how reading “obsessive love” was going to make them think any less of me. lol.

that was the first step in reclaiming my authenticity. we don’t need to be ashamed of our journey, we are all on one. sometimes we need a little help, whether it’s a book with a mortifying title or going to therapy, whatever it is we need there is absolutely no shame that should be found in being honest about the fact that we do no have all the answers. no one has all the answers, there’s really no point in lying about it. over the last year or so, i have gotten a few more “personal growth” books, either because i bought them or because my mother decided she didn’t need to grow anymore once she got back with my dad after divorcing him. some of the books i’ve read in part, or over and over a few times. what sticks with me is the fact that i’m still on a journey, that i don’t quite know all that i need to know yet. i shouldn’t, i’m not even thirty.

so tonight i was having a conversation with a very good friend about how we can distinguish between “in love” and obsession. how do we ever know? she wondered. i can’t have answers for her, i don’t even have answers for myself. i learned that i don’t need to feel bad about not having answers for her when i read “codependent no more”. 😉 what i can do is share with her what i’ve learned on my own journey, if it helps her that’s awesome, if not well, it’s not my job to help the people that i love grow – i need only support them while they grow in their own way. she said, “obsession must be stronger than ‘in love’.” i said, “oh yes, obsession is 1000 times stronger than in love, because obsession is about us. how we feel, how they make us feel. love is about what we can give to someone else. how we want them to feel.”

i didn’t say it, because i didn’t need to cloud her personal journey with this, but i thought to myself, “except when you’re codependent and then you have to deal with that part of it too…” then i thought, my God, when the fuck does anyone catch a break? if you’re a codependent and a love addict, which i am, how the hell do you find a happy medium between it being all about how you feel (obsessive “love”/love addiction) and codependency (how they feel, protecting them, controlling them)? i wanted to tell her, “you need to seriously reconsider getting better, because it’s a hell of a lot harder trying to get well than it is just dealing with the aftermath of our addictions.” of course that wouldn’t be good for her in the long run, but the part of me that has been in therapy for the last decade trying to work through all this shit felt like screaming, “RUN! SAVE YOURSELF!” i mean, when do we deal with any addiction? at the point where it’s going to destroy us, of course. it’s much easier to be a raging alcoholic/drug addict/sex addict/love addict/codependent/etc than it is to be in recovery from that addiction; and even though they took addictive personality out of the DSM i can tell you with absolute certainty that those of us who are addicts will just trade one addiction for a more socially acceptable or easily hidden addiction until we either die or have to deal with the next one. it would cause a stir probably if anyone read my blog, but i’m pretty much convinced i was born an addict as much as i was born non-heterosexual.

i have watched my friends trade one addiction for another (it was always really odd to me that i had so many friends who were in AA or NA) booze turns into relationships turns into anorexia turns into cutting turns into eventually you work your shit out because otherwise you die. it may not be true for everyone, but then maybe every alcoholic or drug addict doesn’t have an addictive personality. addicts want highs. i don’t care what the high is, where the control or release from the need to control comes from doesn’t matter, but i know i have it and i know addicts know each other. i may not be a drug addict or an alcoholic or a sex addict, but i am an addict. i’m just addicted to something that is a socially condoned addiction that we are taught to seek out, like caffeine. i am addicted to “love” or more accurately i am addicted to the high that i get off of “falling in love”. there’s not a hell of a lot of resources out there for love addicts. six years ago i joined an SLAA group (sex and love addicts anonymous) but everyone was a sex addict and as much as i love and support them i just didn’t have anything in common with a sex addict aside from addiction.

i got to where i missed the love of 12 step groups. i have never felt more accepted than when i walked into a room full of 12 stepping addicts. you feel like you could say “i killed your grandmother and i liked it.” and they will just love you and say “it’s ok, you’re among family now.” unconditional love, i’ve never felt it any other place before, not church, not with family, nowhere; but you do get to the point where you need for people to understand your experience, and i’m not a sex addict, i’m not an alcoholic. it may be personal to me, but i need to be authentic. i’ve been told, “well you can go to open AA meetings and just work the steps for your addiction.” well sure i could, i suppose. i love the LAMBDA group here in jackson, but they don’t get where i am in a literal sense, only in the sense that we’re all addicts. i haven’t been where they are, nor have they been where i am. i can hide my addiction. i’m not going to be pulled over by a cop for having a series of monogamous relationships that i end when the high goes away. i’m not going to go to jail for that, no one is going to force me into rehab for cheating on my partner with my boss because i’m in love with her and i just had to throw away someone i was “in love with” for six years because of how i felt when she looked at me.

it’s not going to land me in jail or rehab but i am secure in saying now that it absolutely destroyed my life. i can excuse it any way i want to, sure i was unhappy, yeah we had problems, we fought like any couple will, but it is not normal, it is not natural to go from being head over heels in love with one person to being suddenly head over heels in love with someone else. if you think that is normal, you need to examine your own life. we are bombarded with images of what “love” is supposed to be like, from the time we are children. it’s not like our parents’ relationship, it’s disney princesses and happily ever after, and meeting on the top of the empire state building with someone who you have never seen before but you heard on a radio show and knew that they were “the one” just from the tone in their voice. this is fucked up, people. this is a sick, fictional, and for some of us it causes us to keep seeking out the unreality that is complete “love” addiction. it’s obsession. for me, acknowledging it took falling “in love” with someone i couldn’t have. slowly i realized that of course she was “the one”. she was never given the opportunity to not be “the one.” i could romanticize her in my head as much as i wanted. i could excuse away anything by saying “if only we were together…” finally i realized that she, like everyone else i had ever been “in love” with was only a fictional character, romanticized in my head. the only difference was that she never have the opportunity to really disappoint me. i never got to be with her, so i could chalk any problem, any disappointment up to the fact that she was never “mine”.

well, what about all the people that were “mine” before that? every person that wasn’t what they seemed, everyone who disappointed me, everyone who hurt me, everyone i abandoned because the “spark” was gone? what made more sense? that this one woman, the first unobtainable woman, was “the one”? or that i had a serious problem that i had never acknowledged before? it helps that we stayed close for a long time after that. i saw exactly how she would’ve disappointed me if we had ever been in a relationship. the romanticized her that i was in love with wasn’t who she is. i do love who she is, but i know we’d kill each other if we ever lived together. she’s one of my best friends, and probably always will be, but now i get to love her and see her for who she is, not this made-up character in my head that i thought she was. it wasn’t everyone i’ve ever dated letting me down and disappointing me, it was me making them into something that no one could ever live up to, because i’m a love addict. i hate to burst your bubble if you believe this, but there is no “perfect person”. there’s no one out there that is meant for you who is just going to love on you when you’re an asshole, and not want anything from you, and not disappoint you, and not annoy you or piss you off occasionally. ask couples that have been together for 20 years, they will tell you (i know, i’ve talked to quite a few) that they bug each other, they make each other mad, they do stupid thing sometimes. we’re all only human afterall. i remember a really beautiful moment talking to someone i dearly love who i don’t get to see nearly often enough, where she was talking about how she knew she would do something unconstructive that upset her partner and didn’t help their relationship at all. she smiled, ruefully, and they are to this day a couple that many cite as ideal.

there’s no such thing as a happy ending. we don’t have an ending except for death. we do end chapters of our lives, and begin others but there isn’t a moment where in reality it goes “and they lived happily ever after. the end,” that doesn’t involve a headstone. relationships are compromise, disagreements, fights, but in the good ones, the ones that last, those are overshadowed by a mutual respect, a caring that we term “love”. there’s nothing remotely sexy about that. that’s what comes after “and they lived happily ever after.” if you don’t want to be romeo and juliet. my apologies to john lennon, but life is what happens after “and they lived happily ever after.”

where we find the balance between obsessive love and codependency i am not really sure because i’m still learning the lessons, but stick with me. i’m going to figure it all out; and then i’m going to write a new story. a story about what comes after all of the hollywood film, nyt bestselling novel bullshit, and it’s going to be based on my life.