When I sit in the rooms, I’m sometimes struck by how different we addicts are on the surface. In one of my meetings, there’s a surgeon, a homeless artist and a C-level executive, just to name a few. But we’re all there because of problems with love and relationship addiction (every member of the group confesses to both), and each of us shares a story of childhood neglect, abuse or attachment injury. I’ve witnessed dozens of “ah-ha” moments when addicts, through the process of sharing strength, experience and hope, realized that their addictive behavior had actually served to retraumatize them. A relationship addict who’d been abandoned by a mother as a young child, for example, sought again and again to become involved with unavailable women, women who would repeatedly leave in the end. There was a story the addict was trying to work out; an answer he was looking for. But he was trapped in a cycle of traumatic behavior—this time, a trauma he inflicted upon himself. This is what sex and relationship addicts do.
I’ve heard it said that hell is like having to live again and again through the worst day of your life. If this is what hell is, then addicts are its residents. They can’t stop repeating the worst things they know, pretending to find rewards in the experiences, but only ending up with pain, humiliation and fear.
Taking Care of the Whole Self in Addiction
I recognized the hell of my own creation not after a bottom—I’d hit a number of arguable bottoms and had just kept going—but after an accumulation of moments of clarity. It took me years. Finally I knew that if I wanted things to change, I’d have to save myself. No one else could do it for me. And it would take more than meetings, more than counseling, more than meditation or prayer to get me out of there. I’d have to do everything I possibly could to heal; no reservations, no holding back. Addiction is a beast that consumes you wholly; to get your life back, you have to fight for the whole thing, not just the part of you that is obsessive and compulsive. I needed to change my thinking, my behavior, my diet, my body, my surroundings—even the way that I breathed. If I missed anything, I’d fail. And many times I did. Sometimes I still do.
My addict resisted these changes like a bratty kid. I’d roll out the yoga mat, and that part of myself would want to roll into a ball and refuse to bend, to stretch. I’d slice carrots and fresh broccoli and my addict would go reaching for sugar, a substance I’d never been addicted to before but now couldn’t seem to stop obsessing over. I’d sit in meditation, focusing on my breath and intending to release any distracting thoughts that arose. Then I’d notice how all of those thoughts were desires—urges to check thea notifications on my cell phone. I decided to place my devices on the other side of the room from where I slept so I wouldn’t be as tempted to check them when I woke in the night, or first thing in the morning.
The urges kept coming. I opened up to a therapist, more than one, and noticed how my addict wanted to shut them out, to scream, “These people can’t possibly understand the kind of trauma I have been through! They can’t help me!” I quit and started back again more than once. Avoidance of intimacy has always been my tactic, and ultimately, it’s the bottom line of my addiction. I needed to commit to something new.
Re-Parenting the Self in Addiction
I slip up on my holistic life healing goals sometimes, but when I look back, I can see that my thinking has changed. My behavior is different. I’m more authentic, truer. I didn’t want to be this way for anyone else; I needed to be this way first for me. I needed to learn to trust myself so that I would no longer have an excuse to turn a blind eye to my lying, cheating ways. I needed to balance the rest of my life, to incorporate self-care and a kind of personal re-parenting, because the lack of these had left me vulnerable to repeating again and again the things that had harmed me from the beginning. I no longer feel the urges I used to, and I think it’s because I decided to take care of all of me, not just my addict’s obsessions. It isn’t always easy, but it can become habit, and habits aren’t always such a bad thing.