Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sex and Love Addiction, Part 1

We are a society riddled with addictions. We battle drug and alcohol addictions, gambling, and honor those who work themselves into the ground. An addiction is any substance or set of behaviors that, if continued, create bodily and emotional damage to the user. Despite the possibility of losing friends, loved ones, our hold on sanity, and perhaps our very lives or dignity, we are powerless to stop the behavior on our own. I believe the most overlooked and prevalent addiction of them all is sex and love addiction. We as a culture are consumed so deeply with our own sex and love addiction that we are oblivious to the manifestations of this disease that permeate our lives. Evidence of this can be heard in nearly every song on the radio, television and movie characters, and yes, even sometimes in the ways in which our nation runs to the rescue of others while our own children do without.

With every addiction, there is a complex dance of seratonin and dopamine that weave their magical potent effects on the brain. Some drugs or behaviors enhance seratonin (which creates a sense of peace and well-being), while others may have a greater effect on dopamine (which creates the craving/longing, the "rush"). It is when a drug or set of behaviors can create both the craving/longing---> the high ---> then the ahhhhh, contentment afterward-- this is the perfect storm for addiction. The neural and chemical atmosphere of the brain literally begins to shift and mold in an effort to maintain this cycle of craving, high, contentment. With each cycle, the addiction grows stronger. This means the craving reaches intense peaks but the high and contentment afterward get shorter... thus, more drug needed!

In sex and love addiction, the craving is the strong desire to be loved, needed, adored, or desired. This craving is satisfied through "acting out behaviors" that often involve fantasy. For example, an individual has an ideal other that is sexy, desirable, nurturing, perfect and this fantasy other is projected onto the unsuspecting person who just walked into the room. Ahhh, love is born. The high involves some sense of attaining the other person. This may be through having them come to your house every night, hours of phone conversation, sex without knowing the person, or any combination of behaviors.

Yes, we all engage in these kinds of behaviors when we first meet someone and feel that goo goo ga ga in the early stages of love. The difference with an addict is that he/she is unable to maintain a relationship without this constant high and feeling of attainment of the other. Once the high wears off, which could be days or years, the addict will continue the dance with someone else. Generally, as sex and love addiction grows, addicts lose the high with a partner very quickly and will move from one relationship to another recreating the longing, the attainment-rush, and brief contentment afterward. Later in the disease, many sex and love addicts pursue multiple partners at a time, may have sex with people they hardly know, and idealize the partner then grow angry and bored when the partner can no longer keep up the fantasy.

Sex and love addiction is not to be minimized. It is a deadly disease that can lead to the loss of dignity, self, and life. This addiction drives people to engage in behaviors that are dangerous or place the addict at risk of harm or trouble with the law. In order to maintain the self-debasing behaviors of the dance, the addict may increase use of other substances to be able to continue, such as drugs or alcohol. An example of this is the woman whose sex and love addiction, over the course of years, leads her into a lifestyle of prostitution. She may wake up one day, realize this is not what she signed up for and that it no longer feels good. The problem is she can't stop and must self-medicate with other drugs to continue the cycle. Another example is the man who has a wife and children at home but cannot stop his frequent visits to the prostitute. His behavior may have begun with a handful of extra-marital affairs and in an effort to intensify the high, his behavior escalated to prostitutes. He now needs a boost of Johnnie Walker himself to maintain the behavior for which he is ashamed but unable to stop.

One of the hallmarks of sex and love addiction is having an unrealistic view of what true intimacy really looks like. Typically love addicts have an intense often subconscious fear of true intimacy. True intimacy is sharing the reality of yourself with your partner, flaws and all, and open to receiving the reality of who your partner is, flaws and all. Most sex and love addicts tend to err on either extreme of enmeshment or detachment. The love addict who enmeshes with a partner has difficulty determining where they end and the partner begins. They are "one," they need the other person's attention to feel as if they have a valid self. They cannot accept the other person's need for individuality and would prefer to fuse together with the fantasy of creating one whole self. The other extreme seen in sex and love addiction is detachment. This is the tricky type because these addicts actually appear aloof. Their fear of intimacy is much more apparent as they literally go from one room to another trying to avoid the partner. They are uncomfortable with conversation that may require them to share something about themselves and have the persistent fear that they may be swallowed whole by the partner if they don't keep up the guard. The addiction is that they need to be persistently chased. They do not want enmeshment nor do they want the pursuer to leave. The message of this type of addict is "go away but please don't leave me." They avoid intimacy yet will panic if the partner threatens to leave. This type of addict can be very seductive in an effort to draw the partner back in.

In my next post, I hope to explain more about withdrawal and the recovery process for sex and love addicts.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother's face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Photo above found here:

I Am Not Yours

I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.

Oh plunge me deep in love--put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.

Sara Teasdale

Photo found at:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Suffering is Optional

Why is it that once someone begins suffering, they never seem to stop? I'm not talking about going through some hard times or hitting a few unlucky bumps along the way. I'm talking about enduring abuse, abandonment, neglect, anxiety, chaos, you know, that kind of suffering. I'm noticing a pattern where those who have made suffering an art, often began honing this art at a very young age. By the time I see these people in therapy, whether they are teenaged or an adult, the suffering has become part of their personality. To suggest there is a life otherwise is blasphemy and almost insulting.

Even those who finally have the light bulb go on and decide they want the suffering to end sometimes have difficulty walking it out. Going from a life of suffering to walking in sunshine, smiling, finding the positive, making lemonade out of lemons... well, it's HARD. I have a client who has known suffering that some of us cannot fathom. She is an adult woman now, struggling almost daily with panic attacks, worry, abusive relationships, and tensions with her children. She has supports in her life that others don't. She has a good treatment team, a good job, and a nice home. Much of the crazy in her life is of her own making. My heart just goes out to her watching her hurt herself this way and I told her, "You have suffered enough. It's time to have a great life now. You deserve it. It's ok to start your great life." I think she's starting to get it.

Today I shared a rubber band with her. She and I put a colorful band on our wrists like bracelets. I explained to her that though she had no control over the crap that has happened to her for her much of her life, this is no longer the case. Starting today it was time to find the good. I asked her to flip that rubber band on her wrist every time she has a negative, critical, or anxiety-provoking thought. After snapping the band she would then say, "God wants me to have a GOOD life and today I choose that GOOD life." I agreed that I would do the same.

I agreed to do this primarily to give her a sense of support and connection with another person. What I didn't expect is how much this exercise has affected me. I have popped my own wrist about 20 times already today and by gosh, I think I'm really beginning to believe it... God wants me to have a GOOD life and today I choose that GOOD life.

Pain is unavoidable, suffering is optional.

Photo above found here:

Saturday, February 14, 2009

No Words

If I could I would walk with purpose to
the window of your language, lift
my hand through the slats of light, draw
down gently the blinds. I
would push aside all your words designed for
convincing, explaining, telling, push
them to the corners, sweep away the dust to
reveal a nice spot for working.
I would drape your reasonings with my sh-h-h-h-h
quieting the tap tap tapping of keys endlessly putting
into print every word of substance.
In this warm dark silence let me
lead you gently into a space of no-words where
there are only skin and electric
neurons firing in the mouth, where
there are no treatises or briefs, no
summaries or blogs, only senses mingling
into their own senses. You can
touch the taste of the orange’s
sweet inner flesh, swallow
the crackling firelight.
Here it is safe to
lose the limits of language and know
how it feels when words crumble
upon themselves, leaving you only with
the scattered sparkles of a body unbound.

Photo found here:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

You are My God!

I am a big fan of Steve Harvey's morning radio show. I listen faithfully every morning when driving the kids to school and am always in the car at the reading of the "Strawberry Letter." For those of you not familiar with the show, the Strawberry Letter is the portion of the show where Steve and Shirley Strawberry respond to a reader's dilemma. Readers write in with questions. I love the candor of these letters and though they seem off-the-wall, baby mama drama to some folks... well, it sounds like regular life to me! I have known some chaos in my life and work with people everyday who know the same. Here is a letter from one of Steve's listeners with my reply posted at the end. :-)

Date: 02/08/2009
Subject: Another Again

I am a twenty-four year old African American female living in a small college town. I recently received my Masters, have stable employment, totally independent (insurance, rent, car note, etc.), seeking to pursue my Ph.D., personality and physical aspects are up to pare, but I'm newly single. My ex and I recently parted due to "spiritual" differences. He claims nothing was wrong with our relationship, I just didn't make he want to grow spiritually. Sure, we want and need that, but is this a reason to end a blossoming relationship? Prior to our relationship, I had been incarcerated, I smoked and drank almost on a daily basis, I was promiscuous and I had a "situational" relationship with God. (Trust me; the above-mentioned are only surface issues). He was well aware of these facts, yet we started a relationship. I changed everything for this man. I began going to church with him (please note, we were raised under different denominations. He's a 7th Day Adventist and I'm Baptist), I stopped all recreational activities and I was faithful. He has been spiritually "stable" for quite sometime, but this was new to me. He asked for my patience (compromising, understanding, communication, etc.) and I asked for his in return. Unfortunately, I was the only one in the relationship to uphold the bargain. I've been in other relationships and the pain never felt like this. I've pleaded my case with him, I've spoke with our pastor, I've prayed till my words were without sound and yet, he vehemently states, we can't be together. (He assures me there was not and is not another woman. I believe him). He wants to be friends, but let's be realistic; you can't be friends with someone you love. It's been almost five months now and I'm still miserable. Sleep and a smile have become daily tasks and happiness is now an elusive concept. I stopped going to church (his church) because my heart can?t stand to see him, I feel awkward in my old church, and I slowly see myself easing back into my old practices. How do I mentally, emotionally, and spiritually get back on track? Another again

Dear Another Again,

Girl, I read your letter and my heart hurts with you. The pain in your words is palpable and you've so poignantly penned your hurt. I'm sorry for the pain you're going through, but I do have some encouragement for you. God has presented you with a window to yourself. He is giving you a glimpse of something deep deep inside you crying out to be healed! How do I know this? Because you are grieving the loss of an adult relationship as if you were a dependent child losing a caregiver... the depth of your pain is tellin' on ya. You are a grown adult woman. No one can ever abandon you, they can only come or go out of your life. If they go, you keep on living. I would encourage you to look back in your life at other people who walked away, write them down. Go as far back as you remember until you remember "the one" whose leaving changed the course of your life. You'll likely see it was a parent or other essential caregiver. These wounds tend to occur in childhood. And you did aptly name yourself "Another Again."

One of the first things that strikes me is that this man was interested in you when you were fresh out of jail with some bad habits, despite his spiritual exterior. He kinda liked his bad girl. Once you cleaned up and "changed for him," seems like he lost interest. Perhaps he saw some authenticity in you in the beginning of the relationship that endeared you to him? We all like authenticity in a mate!

Another thought, and I'm just gonna lay it out there, it sounds like you made this man your God and, therefore, when he left, your "spirituality" went with him. No other person can be your Higher Power. We set them up to fail when we ask them to make us feel good about ourselves or emotionally caretake us. Perhaps he felt important in the beginning with such a lofty role, he was your savior, your rescuer. In time, the impossibility of the role set in and the man naturally wanted to retreat! No one can live up to the role of God. They're gonna wind up exhausted and resentful and you're gonna be angry at how poorly they do the job (they're not God after all).

As you are exploring past patterns in your relationships, I would recommend these as your next steps: thought-stopping and re-building. When you find yourself pining over him, obsessing, fantasizing about him, you say to yourself (out loud if you don't care what other people think) "STOP!". Make a list of replacement thoughts you will automatically insert. Here are some I really love, "The universe sends good things my way and I hold them close to me, because I deserve it." "I am everything I need and have everything I need." "I am just right exactly as I am today."

In re-building, you are going to make a list of everything you would love to do with your life. Include projects you've always wanted to take on, places to go, friends you've wanted to contact. Your list might look like this, "Learn a new language, learn to knit, start exercising, join a yoga class, research new job opportunities, plan a family reunion, etc." Pick one and get started. Right now. Today.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sweet Revenge

Sweet revenge often begins with a wonderful fantasy. Perhaps you will finally give someone a verbal thrashing of epic proportions. You have every clever and cutting word planned, a list of every offense ever committed by your enemy. All the world will be present and watch the offender burn in shame at your words. It will be wonderful. All the while, lost in the fantasy of revenge, you are not aware that your own mental well-being is deteriorating from the obsession and avoidance of proper self-care.

Revenge consists of the fantasy/planning phase and sometimes the acting out of the plan. For many people, the fantasy alone gives them a "rush" and relieves the hurting person of whatever caused the hurt to begin with (in their mind-- the recipient of the vengeful act). A person seeking revenge often feels jilted, rejected, used, embarrassed, betrayed, or shamed. This hurting places the source of those feelings on an individual, making themselves the victim and the other party the heartless perpetrator who must pay! In some instances, this someone may have truly done hurtful things to you-- a co-worker who spreads gossip about you, a friend who lies about going vacation so he doesn't have to help you move, etc. These events are all the more frustrating when this is not the first time they have happened. Perhaps you have been used and abused as a pattern in this particular relationship and you have finally reached your limit.

Before you finally hurl that brick through an ex-boyfriend's car window or accidentally "forget" to send your mother a wedding invitation, just stop for a deep breath. Now take another. Ok, you probably need one more. Now consider this-- for every moment you spend in revenge fantasies, plotting, and/or acting it out, you are victimizing yourself. YOU are making yourself another person's victim in your own mind and solidifying that with obsessions and fantasies. You are validating in your own mind the other party's responsibility for your pain and taking none of the responsibility toward yourself. If you really want to feel good again, if you really want to move on, then take responsibility for not allowing this person to hurt you this way again. Know that this is possible to do, because you are an adult who is in charge of your own life. If you are a child, you do not have a say in the abuse at the hand of adults. We are grown up now. We are no one's victim unless we remain in that mental state. The hour you spent planning someone's demise, could be an hour you spend taking a thorough inventory of how this will not happen to you again at the hands of the offender. In that hour you will acknowledge that you, too, have hurt others at times. You will realize how overwhelming it might be should someone decide to confront you with every stupid and thoughtless thing you've ever done, and then you will relax. You may even feel a brief glimmer of compassion for the person who hurt you. From this place we are able to see the hurts in others that motivate them to behave the way they do. Perhaps they are wounded humans just like us, trying the best they can to avoid pain. Continuing to maintain yourself in a victim stance long after the offense has occurred does nothing to make you whole again. We've heard it said that "revenge is a dish best served cold." I say "revenge, a second on the lips, forever on the hips." Just skip revenge.

Photo found here: