Tag Archives: trauma

Relationship Addiction

Hi.

My name is Amy and I am a relationship addict.

Yes, it is a thing. A very real and very debilitating thing.

From Ann Smith via Psychology Today:

The relationship addict experiences intense “abandonment anxiety”. This anxiety triggers panic, low self worth, feelings of emptiness, isolation, and possibly depression. The addict may believe they are worthless without their partner. They almost always feel unbearable emptiness. Love addiction is a compulsive, chronic craving and/or pursuit of romantic love in an effort to get our sense of security and worth from another person. The causes of love addiction are fairly easy to identify: inadequate or inconsistent nurturing, low self esteem, absence of positive role models for committed relationships, and indoctrination with cultural images of perfect romantic love and happily ever after endings.

It dawned on me as I said goodbye to the last relationship I was in, just a week or so ago, that something wasn’t right with the way I was reacting to the loss. Something felt off, so I did what I do best, I did some investigative work on myself and my behavior. I took a look back at my actions with this person, within the relationship, and found myself kind of disgusted. I wasn’t necessarily shocked to discover that nothing about my behavior had been healthy or ‘normal’, just kind of disappointed. It was a realization that I didn’t want to make or admit.

But deep down, I knew that it was time to deal with it.

Finally.

I am addicted to love.

I was a rollercoaster of emotion and anxiety during my last relationship (something I thought was just me, in addition to my current grief over the divorce). I thought my explosive (head-over-heels love) and intense emotion was fueled by love and my big, huge heart. But, my anxiety would be more pronounced when I wouldn’t hear from him for longer than a few hours or, god forbid, an entire day. I would feel nothing short of despondent; panicky. And when his feelings didn’t seem to match my own in intensity or explosiveness, I got even more anxious and more emotional. It was exhausting. I have no idea why he put up with me.

Since we have said our respective goodbyes, I have been an anxious wreck. Mornings seem to be the hardest. I wake up, and without that good morning check-in fix, I feel anxious, undone, and completely alone.

To be perfectly honest, I feel terrified. But of what, I have no idea (a fact that is really pissing me off). I am home alone right now and literally just screamed to no one: “What the fuck are you so afraid of?!” And promptly burst into tears. Sigh.

I have a feeling that this is going to be a long, hard, uphill battle.

I have been this way for as long as I can remember. Ever since boys noticed me in the 8th grade (and I noticed them back). I suspect that the behavior took root because I grew up in a home without a father and had an emotionally distant mother who I didn’t easily connect with. I watched my father die and never had a male role model. After his death, my mother relied on me to be the other parent in the household. I was 9. Perhaps, as a result, I was left with a void, a hole, severely low self-esteem, and a debilitating fear of abandonment.

From http://www.loveaddictiontreatment.com:

Love (and relationship) addicts are terrified of abandonment. They rely on others to fulfill them, and to make them feel happy and whole. Without their love object, they feel worthless and incomplete. This is often due to a lack of love and nurturing from their primary caregivers while growing up. The abandonment they experienced may have been emotional (i.e. – their parents were physically present but emotionally detached), or physical – one or both of their parents left, died, was ill, or absent much of the time.

Perhaps my childhood ended at age 9? I am almost 43. That is 34 years of emptiness. Holy crap.

*shudder*

From what I have read, true love addiction is less about the search for love and more about finding a way to control tough emotions. Going from one relationship to another without any room for grieving, mourning, or processing through a previous loss means getting to avoid feeling those tough emotions. I thought I had a failsafe way to avoid dealing with my father’s death and subsequent abandonment shit when I married my first husband.

But that relationship didn’t satisfy me, so I found another more exciting guy and married him. We lasted 16 years. I thought I would be safe forever; we had 2 kids! That meant commitment – a guarantee, a promise, right?

Holy shit. NO.

When my second marriage failed, I had no choice but to deal with the grief from my father’s death (finally) which came back in one giant terrifying matzoh ball of horror. When that train wreck came, in addition to grieving my marriage and my family, it is no surprise that I ended up in the hospital.

But wait, I didn’t I really have to deal with any of it, did I? After I got out of the hospital, my subconscious knew just what to do. I did what I had always done when a relationship ended or seemed unsatisfying. I jumped right back into online dating and I hopped right into a new romance. Surely this new and exciting person would save me and help me feel better and I would be happy?!

Again, holy shit. NO.

Since the split a year ago, I have had 3 relatively serious, sexually intimate relationships. When each one ended, I broke all over again. They were unhealthy relationships (though I didn’t think so or realize it at the time) as they were a means of getting that love ‘fix’ and avoiding the big, huge, debilitating emotions that accompany being alone (for me). I was still hiding from my demons; my inability to feel whole, complete, or satisfied with who I am as a person without that constant need for external validation. Seeking internal validation from external sources for most of my life has done so much damage I really don’t know where to begin picking up the pieces.

For me, being alone feels like I am dying. And right now, in this moment, I feel like I am dying. The longest I have ever been single was a mere few weeks when I was 19 years old. It was during that time period that I had a suicide attempt. That is how scary it felt then. It feels just as scary now but thankfully, I am 42 and have 2 beautiful children that anchor me to this world.

I know that this realization/admission is huge. I know I am on the right path and acknowledging my underlying behaviors and motivations has felt very scary but also very empowering.

Life and love feel like this big ball of tangled up shit that I have to finally sit down with, examine, and sort through. On my own. My goal is to be single for 6 months.

That is not until April. Gulp.

Am I scared? Hell yes. I am completely terrified.

I have been leaking out my power and my essence and my very self all over the damn place. It stops now.

It is time for me to go and find all of my missing pieces. And put myself back together.

I am Rebuilding Amy.

 

 

Resources on love and relationship addiction for you:

http://www.loveaddictiontreatment.com/the-roots-of-love-addiction/

http://loveaddicts.org/40questions.html

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The Seasons Change (but sometimes we get stuck)

I was in my yard the other day and there were leaves on the ground – not on the trees where they SHOULD be; all green and perky, glinting with dappled sunshine. The leaves I saw were brown and crunchy; shriveled and dead, pathetic. I internally shuddered.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love fall. The colors, the smells, the crisp, clear air, the cozy feeling of sweaters and jeans and boots. But fall means one thing:

WINTER IS COMING.

I can’t talk about winter without saying things like; I don’t like winter! I don’t like feeling cold! I don’t like the lack of sunshine and daylight! I don’t like the feeling of being trapped inside and feeling isolated! I do not like snow!

But this post really isn’t about any of those things.

It is about this: The seasons are changing and time keeps moving right along; life is passing by. Fall is this epic shift of letting go, and change, and new beginnings. Death makes way for new life.

And life is flowing all around me – it keeps marching on, but fuck! I feel so anchored to where I am. Days are turning into weeks, weeks into months, and months into seasons.

I am standing still.

It has been almost a year since my husband left. One trip around the sun. Time feels like it’s in some sort of warp. I feel like he left last week. A year?! It just doesn’t feel real.

But it is.

The world keeps turning and I am standing still, feeling completely and absolutely STUCK.

I am stuck inside of my grief, and my hurt, and my heartache. I cannot shake them. Yes, I’ve made lots of progress, but there are still some days where I am literally rocked to my core with pain.

And all around me, life goes on.

Winter is coming.

My kids are doing as well as they can with their new life; split between the 2 people they love most in this world. They spend half the week with their dad and half the week with me. Of course they want their family back, but they are really happy and they are thriving. I imagine that my ex must be happy too. He has everything he ever wanted. He told me once that he is happier than he ever has been in his life.

And me? I am still struggling. Still aching for that family I want back. I am sitting in an empty house filled with ghosts, memories, and lost dreams. A future that will never come to pass. It is a life that is no longer real. It was the future I was counting on.

There are no guarantees.

I think this is just the rollercoaster that is grief. I think, perhaps, that this is what I am supposed to be doing. Feeling my feelings and moving through the pain and the trauma. Perhaps I am not actually stuck but just slowed waaaaaaaay down.

If it were possible, I would curl up into an emotional chrysalis, and hibernate right through fall, straight on through winter, and wake up when it was spring. I would bypass the rest of this so-called ‘grieving process‘ and skip to the end where I emerge from my chrysalis as a beautiful fucking butterfly.

But winter is coming.

And I have no choice but to go along for the ride.

 

Denial.

No one is immune.

No one gets a free pass.

Every single person in this world hurts, suffers, rages, and cries. Not all of the time, but definitely some of the time; some people more than others. We all ebb and flow through our emotions just as we ebb and flow through our lives.

I am working toward being okay with emotions – all of them. Embracing them like old friends instead of running from them. They feel so scary for me; even happiness. I don’t fully trust them yet and I still have this deep-seated fear that they will take over my being completely.

I think this stems in part from watching my dad die when I was 9. My emotional landscape permanently changed that day. I went from being a happy-go-lucky kid, without a care in the world, to seeing something (him die) to experiencing something (loss of a parent) that no child should ever have to go through. I didn’t have the emotional aptitude or cognitive capability to handle any of it. And after it happened, no one taught me how to process through my terror, confusion, guilt, or hurt. For the rest of my life, when those feelings of grief would pop up, I would shove them away like a plague. I was desperate to avoid them. They felt like they would swallow me whole.

And, at age 41, they did.

For a long time, I pretended that my dad was alive, and living in California with another family. It was easier to pretend that he just didn’t want to live with us anymore. Then I pretended he was a knight on some other plane of existence – another reality – one in which he would slay dragons and protect people.

My dad couldn’t be dead because that meant he was gone. And never coming back.

Denial is something that our brains latch onto for a time when we are navigating something too emotionally difficult to really comprehend. Sometimes we need to ignore certain things until we have the strength to move forward in our grief and on our path toward healing. We need to compartmentalize things that are simply too painful to grasp. Ignore, deny, avoid, and check out. And, for at least a little while, I believe that it is healthy and completely normal to do so.

Not healthy? Living in that space of false reality and clinging to a truth that isn’t real or does not exist, indefinitely.

Denial is something I have watched my kids going through since their dad and I split. My son would say, “but you aren’t divorced, you are separated.” Yes, this is true, on paper, but it’s for health insurance reasons. Our marriage is irrevocably broken. For good.

Denial it is something I did not want to admit I was doing, but fuck, it most certainly is. I like to think that I have been working hard in therapy to tackle my past hurt and childhood trauma and now it is finally time to work through this last year of my marriage breaking, my PTSD, and the fact that my husband is never coming home.

Ever again.

Shit, that hurts to type.

When people ask me if the split was amicable, I say no, it was not. If he were to call me and say, “hey Aim, let’s talk, let’s work this out. I miss you and I miss our family”, I would be lying if I said that isn’t something I have wished for a thousand times. A million times.

But that fantasy gets me literally no where. Every time I entertain thoughts like this, I do more damage. I cannot live or exist in a world where I create false realities anymore than I could have kept living in a very emotionally abusive and unhealthy marriage. It makes no sense.

But still, the thoughts pop up; Unwanted and detrimental.

I am now willing to acknowledge that it is over. I am radically accepting that he is NEVER COMING HOME. It hurts, but I recognize that this is the next step in my journey. With practice, I am gently acknowledging the thoughts as they arise, not giving them the attention they demand, and letting them slip away. I am practicing bringing myself back to the present moment, whether that is writing, doing dishes, watching my son read or my daughter play with her Legos. These thoughts have no power over me unless I allow them to.

And I will not allow them to any longer.

Vulnerability and Expectation

(Trigger warning. Some mildly graphic details of parental death)

There are two themes that keep coming up for me. In my thoughts, conversations, reading, and in my writing.

The first is vulnerability. The second, expectation.

I don’t think the two are in any way connected, but I am certain that they are a part of this puzzle – of life, love, longing, grief, and moving forward through the trauma and the pain.

I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong. It’s goddamn amazing. I feel like I am doing the hard work she writes about – being a badass, being vulnerable and present, being my most aware self. And it is hard as fuck. Never in my life have I been faced with such insurmountable challenges. I am literally facing down my demons; and I am winning. She talks about vulnerability and our ‘stories’ (what we believe to be true in our minds) – for me that piece translates to expectations.

My dad died right in front of me when I was 9. He had pneumonia and one of his lungs exploded at home. I watched as my mother scooped vomit out of his mouth and tried to give him CPR. I tried to run out of that hallway where his body had fallen but she made me come back to help her. I was NINE. I watched as his nose turned blue and then a vivid shade of purple. He wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t getting any oxygen. He was dying. He was dead.

I didn’t want to watch any of that; I had no choice. That memory is seared into my mind like a painting. I have played and replayed that moment over a million times. I have asked myself why he died a million more. My PTSD brain, from that moment on, effectively robbed me of any ability to love fully, feel whole, feel self-worth, and be vulnerable. My PTSD brain, from that moment on, tried to control everything; from my day-to-day life to my relationships. It wanted predictability, safety, and never, ever surprises of any kind.

Guarantees. There are no guarantees; a fact that still pisses me off.

When your brain is hardwired to view everything as a threat, you cannot possibly be vulnerable. It is not an option. My brain was quite literally rewired in that moment of severe trauma. I disassociated from myself for the first time that day. I completely left my body as my mind perceived imminent danger and did what brains do. They fight, flee, or freeze. I didn’t fight – I was not a fighter then. I froze and I fled.

I know that my mother, at age 37, was doing the best that she could. I know that she needed help. There were no cell phones in 1984. I had to call the police. I had to do what she told me. I am a mother now; my son is 9 years old. And I know in my gut that I would never, EVER let him watch someone he loved more than life itself die in front of him. “I’ve got this!”, I’d say. “Go! Get out of here!”, I’d tell him. And I would take care of it. I would absorb all of that terror.

Maybe I am really saying those things to my 9-yr-old self. That little girl needed protecting. She needed saving. I can do that for her now. I can help her. I can hold her hand and we can walk away. My 42-year-old self is in a space of strength and courage that I can tap into. I can take that child and protect her. I can and will heal her. EMDR is saving my life.

What about this expectation piece? I read something the other day that said something to the effect of; “No one has broken your heart, they broke your expectations”. Damn did that to get me. I am still trying to untangle that statement. My ex hurt me; didn’t he? Did he not break my heart? Or did he make selfish choices that I reacted to? Perhaps my hurt and my heartbreak were my own and I needed to react and fall apart so I could reemerge and put myself back together.

He certainly broke all of my expectations around having an intact family and someone to grow old with. What do I do now that the future I expected to have is GONE? The future I expected to have as a little girl with a mother and a father – GONE. Is this the true source of my hurt? The loss of my predictable and planned out future?

If I let go of expectations around love and life, what am I left with? My own shit. My vulnerability (HA! They are connected!). I have to let myself be present in the moment. Right now. Right here. Not a week from now, not 30 years ago, not last year. NOW. Letting go of possible futures with possible endings. When I let go of any and all expectations I might have, I am forcing myself into a state of vulnerability as I am entering into a space where I literally have no control or say in what happens – save my own decisions and the choices that I make.

July 24, 1984. My brain broke that day. My daughter was born on July 24, 2009. Exactly 25 years to the day that her grandfather died. My little girl is a magical creature filled with love, light, and an emotional capacity I marvel at every single damn day.

I cannot predict the future. I do not know what today or tomorrow hold. There are no certainties. There are no guarantees. People die, babies are born, people will leave you, and people will walk into your life seemingly out of the blue. To let go of expectation is to be vulnerable. This is my life goal. I am right here, right now. I am doing the best that I can as I bumble along this winding path on my crazy journey. My heart is opening up for the first time in 33 years. I am completely terrified but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do Not Love Me.

The kids and their dad move into the new house together with the girlfriend this weekend.

This major transition is bringing up some seriously weird emotional shit for me. I know that it is my trauma rearing it’s ugly head in another attempt to shut me off emotionally again. I feel separate from the kids in a way I didn’t think was possible. I feel disconnected and flat – not fully present in reality. I am questioning my want and my very desire to be a mother. I am questioning whether I even want to have custody. What if I just let go and give up? What if I just shut the fucking door and walk away for good? What if I don’t want to feel anything, for anyone, ever again?

I know that these big feelings are coming up in part, because I have met someone. This wonderful, surprise-of-a-guy who blows my mind with his amazingness and his kind heart. I feel myself being vulnerable in ways that truly terrify me. My heart is saying, “GO! GO! GO!” while my mind is screaming, “COMMENCE LOCKDOWN!”.

I know another part of the resentment and confusion I am feeling is due to the fact that the kids are the ONE thing that bind me to my ex. My ex, whom I wish I had never met. The man I spent 17 years of my life with. I wish I could erase him and those 17 years forever. The kids are EXCITED about their new living situation. My heart wants to door-slam them completely for that. But it’s not their fault. It is no one’s fault. It just is.

I am all twisted and turned around with these new emotions. I am trying my best not to judge them, but when they are directly related to my willingness and my ability to parent, they seem inherently WRONG. Mothers should love their children without thinking, worrying, resenting, and shutting-down getting in the way. Mothers should love their children UNCONDITIONALLY. IRREVOCABLY. FOREVER.

Should. Could. Would.

But what if I don’t want to? What if I don’t want to love or be loved by anyone, anymore, ever again? I loved my dad and he dropped dead in front of me. I loved my ex and he ripped out my heart, broke me, and kicked me while I was down. Love feels like a betrayal of my sanity. I know what happens firsthand when you let yourself open up and love with reckless abandon; whether you are 9 years old or 42. You get HURT.

What if I want to go find a cave on a beach somewhere and never return? What if I don’t want to deal with the orthodontist, groceries, feeding, caring, or loving for one more second? What if I don’t want to deal with the emotional repercussions of loving someone again? What if I want to march out of this house, get into my car, and drive straight to the airport? I could board a flight out of this state, out of this country and start over. I could do that. I really truly could.

But I won’t. Because I know that even though these emotions are deeply painful and very hard to bear right now, they will pass. They always do. And when they do, I will walk away knowing myself a bit better. Knowing once again, that my strength lies within me no matter what my mind is trying to tell me. And I will never break again because no one will have control over my life and my emotions to the extent that my ex did. That is the TRUTH.

And I know, of course I know, that I love my kids more than life itself. And that these emotions are okay and they are normal. I also know that I am totally worthy of loving and being loved again. I do not want to go forward in this life for one more second ignoring my feelings, putting them in a box, and erecting walls around my heart. Because that isn’t really living. It is watching life pass you by like you’re some spectator, not an active participant.

I have to learn to let go of this fear and this hurt in healthy ways – not by putting my heart on lockdown. I have to slowly and gently trust that it is okay to love and to be loved by my children, by my family and friends, and by others. Not everyone will break my heart and stomp on it. There are many who will treat it with loving kindness and a tenderness so beautiful that it will be worth the risk. I cannot let myself miss that by living in an emotional cave on an imaginary beach somewhere.

But fuck, it feels so scary. And I wish someone could hold my hand.

Right now.

Badassery

I am just so happy that I had to write again.

The absolute nuttiest thing just happened. Okay, it happened over 3 hours ago, but it happened and it was nutty.

My ex texted me a fucking bomb. I knew it would come eventually, that it was inevitable, but man, this feels like too much too soon. He and his girlfriend and a couple of other ‘friends’ are moving in together.

My initial reaction was one of pure trauma. My brain went all reptile on me; I could feel the adrenaline start to travel its way through my system. But instead of jumping on that train to crazy town, I stayed calm. I immediately put all of my EMDR strategies into practice. I focused on my happy place (a solitary enormous tree in a meadow where I go to feel safe and calm and regain control and strength). I did my ‘butterfly taps’ – crossing my hands across my sternum and tapping my chest with my hands in an alternating rhythm.

And it was working until I started getting into it with the ex via text. TEXT! I cannot believe he had the audacity to text me something that big. Something he knew would likely send me over the edge. He is such a damn coward. And I’m sorry, but I have every right to be angry. He is making a decision that involves my children without any input from me, THEIR MOTHER. He expects my kids to live with his girlfriend and two COMPLETE strangers? Is he out of his damn mind? Is this Real World Denver? What in the utter hell?

So I breathed deeply and created a mantra on the spot:

I BELIEVE IN YOU.

I kept silently repeating this in my head while I did some seriously illegal EMDR on myself. I did the eye tracking with my own damn fingers – something any therapist will explicitly tell you not to do. I was desperate. And it paid off. I instantly felt calm and totally grounded in my body. I did not dissociate from myself or black out. I did not rage; I did not crumble to the ground and bawl my brains out. I kept up the bi-lateral eye movement and did a few brief sessions of it for about 20 minutes.

I should mention that when I have done this type of trauma work in the past, it brings up visions that are incredibly poignant and powerful. This time was no exception. As I was repeating my mantra and tracking my own hand movements, I saw my little 9-year-old self cowering under a table. I told her she was safe and that she had nothing to fear. There was no danger. I took her hand and I tried to give her a hug – she resisted.

It was all that I could do in that moment. I acknowledged that she was there and that she was scared. And I backed off when she showed me a reluctance to engage. I knew that I was about to touch on something I don’t have the training to handle. I am not a professional. I know that eventually, and with a lot of work, that little girl will be fully healed and integrated into my mind and into my past where she belongs. She won’t be able to call the shots anymore because my father’s death, and her trauma related to that, will be a distant memory that I can access instead of a trigger that hijacks my entire being.

This day marks the very first time I was faced with a huge and enormous perceived threat and I beat it. I did not lose control – I was in control. I have never been so proud in my life. I have never felt happier. I am officially a BADASS.

And someday soon, I will share the story of my dad with you guys. It’s almost time.

The ‘Off’ Switch

Where is the ‘off’ switch? Where is it located, dammit? On my heart? Somewhere in the folds of my brain?

I am trying SO HARD to accept that love isn’t something I can just shut off any more than I can stop breathing.

The love I am speaking of is a love that is familiar and comfy; it feels warm and safe – I don’t want to let go of that love. But that loves comes from the past; it is tugs on my heart when I think about the man I fell in love with. It nudges me when nostalgia gently peeks its head around a corner; or slaps me on the face.

When I think about the man who added to my trauma, added to my heap of hurt, that same love feels like a disease and turns into a sickness that I can’t get rid of. That love feels unhealthy, like toxic waste in my system. It breaks my heart wide open and I feel like I am leaking all over the place. I am constantly stitching myself up.

I keep reaching out to him with the love that my heart is harboring. Trying to wave the ‘white flag’ of truce, of peace. I am trying to be my most vulnerable and open self with him – for me, for the kids. How else are he and I supposed to move forward if not from respective places of caring and compassion?

I am just exhausted by the constant conflict, the stress and anxiety. I swear to God I am shaving years off of my life. I have never dealt well with turmoil and friction; my mind latches on to the discomfort they bring and won’t let go until things are resolved. But the problem is, that sometimes, things just cannot be resolved. Ever. I suspect it is a core tenet of my personality construct, and a lot to do with my INFJ-ness.

When I shared my thoughts and my emotions with him last night, my open heart, and my love and longing, I got a long response about all of the stress he has currently in his life and a statement at the end that said, “please, please don’t add to it Aim”.

Wow. Just wow.

I saw so clearly in that moment that my love, my hurt, and my desire to have some sort of amazing, loving relationship with this person was viewed as adding to his mountain of shit. Not a source of comfort or support. SHIT (my word, not his). My love and my caring is simply more stress for him. I guess he has enough of that from all of the new people in his life.

He doesn’t need me. He doesn’t want me. He doesn’t love me.

And yet, I cannot turn this love off. Even though I know it is hurting me to my core. It is leaking out of me and has nowhere to go. I am just sitting here in a pile of love for someone who doesn’t want it, doesn’t need it, and who views it as just another ‘thing’ to deal with.

I have been questioning whether my love – at least to some degree – is the final tendrils of codependency waiting to unravel themselves and the fear of abandonment I still carry around. This is why:

If he were to come home, drop to his knees, beg for forgiveness, and tell me he wants back into my life, this house, this marriage, what would I do? What would I say? If that were to really happen, I believe I would say no.

NO.

Because in moments when I am not hurting and not sitting in my pile of unrequited love, I can honestly say, I don’t want to touch that with a 50 foot pole.

No thank you. Love be damned, I deserve better.