One of the great challenges of love addiction, believe it or not, is not breaking up with your partner or even making peace with just yourself, all alone, trying to figure out how to live and be happy with no one but yourself. And while those things are enormous feats, one of the greatest challenges in life is to, well, love another human being and be loved in return. Mutually, with balance, not obsession; with reason, not fantasy; and with dignity, not desperation. Finding someone that meets that criteria is only half the equation though. The other half (the most important half) is you and your behavior.
I often wondered, back in those low days when all I could see was the mess I’d made of my life, if I had it in me to not only have a successful, healthy relationship but sustain it. Not only find a healthy partner, but remain committed and in love. It seemed like an impossibile task. In the end, I made peace with the idea that maybe this is who I was–someone incapable of having a long lasting, successful relationship. Not everyone can be successful at everything, you know. Maybe this is who I was– a failure at relationships.
What I didn’t know at the time, was that I was closer to success than I realized. I also didn’t know at the time that love is learned. And while varying degrees of personal space and personal intimacy exist, and varying degrees of preference in looks and personality traits exist…everyone can learn to love and be close to the right person. In fact, the way you love today is what you learned from your parents, caretakers, brothers, sisters and anyone else who heavily influenced your life. Did your parents fight all the time? Was your dad distant and avoidant? Was your mother a narcissist who never paid you any attention? Were you sexually abused, ignored, trampled on, physically beaten, manipulated? Or maybe you didn’t have any of those issues. Maybe you grew up in a household with a loving single mom or dad who didn’t have a relationship of their own, and thus, never taught you what a healthy, romantic relationship looks like. Chances are, you lacked a good teacher, if you are reading this blog.
But do NOT for one second believe that you “don’t have it in you” to succeed at a healthy relationship. You merely need to be taught. It doesn’t matter what age you are. It only takes a serious student to learn and change and grow.
So…where do you begin??? Well, you begin where you think you’re stuck…
Are you stuck in your toddler years? It’s possible. Take a look at your behavior when you don’t get what you want. Recognize that the little girl or boy in you might not have had his or her full chance to grow up. and thus, is still there, and still, most likely acting out and causing trouble. You need to reign him or her in. Susan Peabody, the co-founder of Love Addicts Anonymous, once said of our inner child, “Give her love, attention and care, just don’t give her the keys to your car.” In other words, many of us still operate as little children. We act out when we don’t get our way. We cry when we don’t get what we want. We want immediate gratification. We act on impulse. And we don’t always use mature, adult judgment when it comes to seeking out a partner or making adult decisions (like who to marry or who to have sex with). This screaming, kicking, tantrum-throwing inner child needs a time-out. AND a lesson in growing up. SO, who better her to give her that lesson than you. You can begin by being your own parent. Now, that’s not to say you have get in touch with your inner child and dig up all the dirt in your life that made you who you are. You don’t have to analyze to death your youth to the point of complete exhaustion. But you do have tweak your behavior a bit.
But how ? Here are several ways:
- Read books. Taming Your Outer Child, by Susan Anderson; Addiction to Love, by Susan Peabody; and, Grow Up, by Frank Pittman can all help teach and inspire you to, well, grow up!
- Copy, copy, copy. Children are parrots. You need to be now too. Seek out healthy people. Surround yourself with them. Learn from them. And copy their behavior, just as if you were a kid learning all over again. Water seeks its own level. The more you elevate yourself, the better you become.
- Take the time to get to know you. If your childhood was frought with trauma or neglect, give yourself what you were denied as a child. If you didn’t get enough love, hug yourself, treat yourself. Hug your friends. Hug strangers (maybe not dangerous ones!). Do not look for this in a romantic relationship though! You’re not there yet. If you do, the relationship tends to take on one purpose and one purpose only: to give you what you lacked as a child. You will be a bottomless pit, seeking validation and affection any way you can get it. Chances are you will not be able to give, but just receive. Or, you will give TO receive. Yuck.
- Take naps! Kids need lots of naps from all that learning. Rest. Relax. Take a day off and pamper yourself. You’re condensing 12 years of childhood learning into a few short months! You need to take a break and rest. 🙂
- Do what it takes to grow up. Love addiction (any addiction, for that matter) stunts your growth. It takes away your ability to grow, learn and experience the reality of the world in all its harshness and glory. The world is a great teacher, but if you hide behind your addiction you cannot grow to be a healthy adult. Addiction is like the extreme case of the child raised in captivity and social isolation. Luckily, we can regrow and relearn and unlearn bad habits. If growing up means getting into recovery for your addiction and moving away from your PoA (person of addiction), do it!
- Don’t date. You’re not emotionally ready. You’re still a kid! Give yourself a defined amount of time to just BE (six months? one year? Whatever amount of time, make it count!). Potential partners aren’t going any where. There will be plenty when you grow up! If you’re married, ask for extra time alone (you may not be able to avoid feeding the kids, but you get my point!).
- Forgive yourself. Many of us grew up in shame. If we made a mistake we were punished, yelled at, beaten, ignored. Emmulate a healthy parent. If you did something wrong, hurt someone, made a mistake, be that healthy parent and say to yourself: “OK, so you made a mistake. We ALL make mistakes. I still love you. I will always love you, no matter what. Just try a little harder next time. And if you need help, I can help. Others can help. “
Are you stuck in your teen years? We always talk about the inner-child but fail to talk about your inner teenager–that wild, free-spirited, somewhat reckless awkward sixteen-year-old that also needs love, attention, boundaries and a lesson in growing up. So, how do you address your inner-teen? Well, it means taking risks, being couragous, learning a skill or trade, going back to school, dating and being all about you! A word of caution: many addicts, in their adult life, DO act like teens. They are stuck in their teen years. And getting through this phase is tough because it means giving up a little “perceived” freedom to gain true freedom. Getting through your teen years means taking on more responsibility and taking action. Our heads are full of dreams and fantasies of careers, marriage, adventures, and so on. Now is the time to stop dreaming and start doing. Gaining experiencing. Becoming the intern. Honing your skills. So…here are several ways to reignite your teen spirit for recovery…
- Be All About You. I know, easier said that done. But, if you are single and do not have children, now is the pefect time to be as selfish as you wish–at least temporarily. In fact, early recovery is a very selfish stage of recovery. Just don’t take it too far for too long, or it turns into narcissism. But the idea behind making a portion of your life all about you is because you most likely missed the egocentricity necessary to help you grow up. Teens are all about themselves! And well they should be. They are learning their limitations, their boundaries, what they are capable of, and what they are not capable of. They are learning to take risks, even if it means getting hurt, they are learning how to manuever their way in the world and face it, not hide behind the safety of an addiction or a fear. And lastly, they are learning how to love and forgive themselves at this stage. If you are married or have children, obviously I do not advise that you become completely selfish or date anyone other than your hubby! Use common sense. Try to make a couple hours in the day all about you. Start a journal. Take classes at a community college. Break outside your shell and live a little–go to the movies by yourself. These are all things we so often fear to do, but in the long run, will help us grow.
- Analyze Your Behavior. Teen years are all about introspection and self-analyzing of your behavior. Don’t be afraid to look in the hypothetical mirror and discover who you are and why you do what you do. Heck yeah, it’s scary. That’s why teens are so hysterical, moody and unpredictable all the time. They are shocked and awed by their own humanness. Take a good look at your behavior. Why did you call your PoA when you know it hurts when he rejects you? Do you think it might be because you are simply seeking validation? Are you repeating the pattern of you and a parent? Why did you demand that your friends accompany you to the dinner party? Is this being mature? WHy can’t you go alone? Are you scared of being alone, and thus, relying too heavily on your friends for support? Analyze, delve, search, dig. Now’s the time.
- Take (Calculated) Risks. I’m not talking about having unprotected sex or trying a new drug with friends. Those teen-associated risks are, well, better left back in your youth. Second time around you should be taking healthy, calculated risks. I am talking about signing up for a class at a local college. Meeting a new friend or associate for lunch. Trying a new yoga class at the gym even though you feel awkward and out of your comfort zone. Part of the reason we are love addicts is to avoid life, avoid responsibility, and avoid ourselves. Why do we avoid? Because we are afraid. We must have tried to take a risk when we were teens and it scared us to death, so much so, that we retreated and hid behind our addiction for the past however many years. Well, we will never heal or grow up if we don’t give it a second try and experience the world. And don’t just do something once. Do it 3, 4 or 5 times before deciding if it’s something for you. When I first hopped on a bike and road one mile at the age of 36, it felt WEIRD. I didn’t like it. But I forced myself to do it again and again and again. And now I LOVE riding. It takes a while to figure out what we like. But we need to take risks to figure it out. It’s part of growing up.
- Date. Yes! Go on a date! If you’re married, that means a date with your spouse. If you’re single it means another single, available person that you can meet face to face over coffee or something. And I said “date.” I did NOT say fall in love, have sex, get married or start to fantasize about this person. Remember your a healthy teen this time around. A date is just a meeting. It is typically not romantic, but can be fun and exciting if the two have chemistry. And even then, it is moment to enjoy, NOT get hot and heavy. You’re still not emotionally mature enough. Keep it light. And lose the expectations.
- Figure Out What You Love. You were supposed to figure out what you wanted to do Senior year of high school. You were supposed to either choose a major in college or find a job that appealed to you. If that was done with any success (and it may have been) then that portion of your life is being managed well. But if you’re anything like me, you went through the motions, but skipped the part about you “loving” what you do and instead, just did whatever it took to get by, so that you could spend all your time chasing boys. Well, ditch the boys and focus on what you love without them. This is VERY hard to do because so often, love addicts choose environments where there is more opportunity for dating. Ask yourself this: If dating were not an option, and I could only choose something I loved based on pure enjoyment, what would it be? Now learn how to do it or be it.
Are you stuck in the role of adult care-taker, or are you such an old, frail soul that you are the one who needs care? Well guess what? Neither of those apply to a vibrant, healthy adult and you need to challenge your core beliefs that this is who you are. There is such a thing as being “too” old and too inter-dependent on others–not like a child, but like a needy old person. It’s called co-dependence and it’s a trick. The trick is that we “appear” to be mature and caring for others around us, but in actuality, we are merely trying to hold on for dear life to the people whom we care for so that they do not leave us or let us go. We are filled with anxiety, worry and stress over our own health and the health of others. We see the glass half-empty, not half-full. And if we aren’t monitoring our every step, and the steps of others, our life seemingly spins into chaos. It’s a control issue and we tend to turn out this way when , as children, we were forced to take care of ill or addicted parents. Well, here’s what’s necessary to turn back the hands of time and stop caretaking and being an old fart…
- Let go. Holding on so tightly does nothing but give you arthritis. And it doesn’t keep people in your life. It strangles people. And it strangles you. Your biggest lesson is in learning how to let go of control and experience the world as it is. The world and everything in it is not your responsibility. It is a shared responsibility. You have carried the weight of the world on your shoulders for years now, and it’s time to give all this responsibility (well, most if it) over to your higher power and say, here, you carry this for a while. I need to live!
- Learn to laugh and be childlike. When you are the “Mature Adult” you never had time to be a child, to enjoy life without the weighted responsibility of taking care of everyone. At least you didn’t think you had the time. But you did. And you do! And even if you are taking care of people now (not co-dependently, mind you), you still need time to experience the world without the shackles of constant toil and labor. Watch cartoons, go on an adventure, put yourself in (safe) situations that you need to trust others, or trust the universe, where you are not in control. Try to find enjoyment in the sensation of not knowing what comes next (a comedy show? a walk through a haunted house? a rollercoaster? a hot air balloon ride?). Start to look at the world anew, as if through a child’s eyes. Get back in touch with your senses. How does this experience feel, what does it look like, smell like, taste like?
- Give up your co-dependent behaviors. Recognize that when we “take care of” adults who are otherwise perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, we do so not out of a sense of altruism or love (although we may very well love them), but rather, so that we can control their behavior as it suits us. We try to control the chaos. And, we fear that if we do not do for them, or care for them, they will leave or wander off down a path where we can no longer control them. But adults are not to be controlled. Kids are to be controlled. And the dynamic of your relationship is hugely imbalanced if there is codependence. Allow people to make their own mistakes, allow people to fall, to leave, to wander off… Experience people for who they are, not what you want them to be. And be sure to read Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie.