I used to love getting into a relationship. I loved the beginning – that feeling of falling in love. I loved the newness of a relationship, where every day was a new discovery about another person. I loved that feeling of possibility where anything was possible (until reality hit.) I would go from relationship to relationship because I wasn’t in love with the other person. No, I was in love with being in love.
I got into my first relationship with a boy named Danny, when I was 10 years old. We met at a sleep-away summer camp. It was a story book romance that summer. All of the counselors made a fuss over us because we were so cute. A few letter over the winter was enough to keep us in touch. But the next summer, it just felt so boring. We had already become like an old married couple. So I found an older boy to have on the side. Danny broke up with me via letter, after he caught me kissing another boy.
And for the next few years, that’s how it went. I always had someone in the wings while I had someone on the center stage. And as soon as the curtain fell, the next relationship was right there waiting. Or, I had already started passing the baton while in the midst of running.
When I was 24 years old, this whole relationship deal abruptly came to an end. It was the end of the end. I found myself in an unhealthy relationship that I thought would fix my brokenness and make me okay. He had other plans. And when we broke up, I was confronted with all of that brokenness and nowhere to go. I had to face the fact that I was addicted to relationships. I used “love” as an escape. It was a way to avoid looking at myself. I needed to work on what needed to be changed in my own life.
My spiritual advisor asked, “Are you now willing to refrain from all mood altering relationships for one year?”
One Year??? One whole Year? Really? It was tough, but I was in enough psychic pain that I agreed to do so. I had to face the hard truth – I was using love as a drug. Carl Jung said, “Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” And I would add – relationships can be addictive and mood altering as well.
So how do we overcome the addiction to mood altering relationships?
- The first step to recovery is to admit there is a problem.
- Next, there has to be enough willingness to change the behavior that is causing the problem.
- Then, I had to find supportive people who would walk with me and support me during my journey of solitude. There were many temptations to take short cuts and detours along the way. But having accountability to others helped me stay the course.
- Finally, I had to trust that time would indeed heal me and I would be able to come out on the ‘other side.’
My year away from mood altering relationships actually turned into two years. But it was worth it. I didn’t feel I was ready to get into a relationship until I understood what love was. I read the chapter on love in the book “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck. When I read that chapter, I understood that I had no clue what love really looked like.
True love is about action of the heart. Serving another with kindness, for fun and for free, without demand nor expectation. That was new news to me, Every relationship I had been in, was more like a hostage situation. One of us had taken the other as hostage. We were either held under the demand of unfulfillable emotional ransom. Or, we were the hostage taker, demanding unreasonable things as well. I saw this unhealthy behavior, through the lens of addiction. I knew it was time to make some changes going forward. And I had to put in the hard work to make those changes.
Today, I am happy to report that I have been able to maintain one relationship for a long period of time. It is not based on unhealthy need – but rather a shared and equal partnership. I still love being in love. But I can acknowledge it and don’t have to act out in an unhealthy manner.
To journey toward recovery from addiction is really hard but also really worthwhile. It takes perseverance, grit, self-forgiveness and willingness. But it can be done if you’re wiling to do the footwork. Healthy relationships are possible – even after a lifetime of unhealthy ones. It may take having a break from relationships. It may mean seeking out those who are in healthy, loving relationships and emulating their behavior. You may need to enlist the help of a professional to guide your journey. But the results are so worth it.
To be capable of being a part of a loving, equal partnership can enhance our journey through life. But if relationships are too painful, it’s also okay to choose to remain single.
Would you like to know more about the work that has to be done to prepare for a loving relationship? Leave a comment below or email me and I can share more of what worked for me.