By Amy Shank
There are a million and one ways that we can get addicted to “love.” This “love” (comfort, security, attention, affirmation, distraction) can come in different forms: a partner, a friend, your family, social media, your job. These things, all of them, give us that little taste o' somethin' special, that tiny glimpse into the universe of the all-encompassing and unknown. It's the best thing in the world when we have it and the worst thing in the world when it goes away. If you're curious as to the reasons why, check out these websites right here:
BUT if you are in that ever-precarious place of needing to know the how's of “quitting love,” well then, you've come to the right place!
You may have read about my recent heartbreak in a previous article, but if you didn't: I was in a rather unhealthy relationship that ended in tears (mostly mine) with me begging to be in a relationship I knew wasn't good for either party. Enter addiction.
How have I managed to show addiction where to exeunt? Oh let me count the ways (and yes, this will be very similar to some “step programs” you've seen before):
Step 1: Recognize that you might have a problem.
It's very hard, especially in love, to see when something or someone might be hurting you. Even if you do have an idea of it, it's very likely you'll make excuses for yourself or the other person as to why you, in particular, don't have a problem. “I know it seems like we're ruining each other's lives, but deep down we REALLY LOVE EACH OTHER.” While acting on it is hard, taking any healthy step is impossible until you first acknowledge the problem. Here were a few things I noticed that began to make me wonder: I was making sacrifices I had never made for any other relationship. Normally I am bull-headedly strong in who I am and what I want, and I let no man stand in my way! Here I felt weak, unresolved; I had convictions but the moment we began to talk about them I immediately found myself apologizing, another thing I actively try not to do (unless I feel I actually fucked up). I was starting to become a very different person from the one I'd always known. I don't mind change. I think we should be allowed to identify ourselves however we want, whenever we want, and if that means one day I'm an introvert and the next I'm a social butterfly, so be it! But there were really significant traits of mine I saw changing, and not only that, but I began to remind myself of my partner. Naturally trusting and loving, I began to recede from social situations. I became much more self-conscious, anxious, and mistrusting of people. I stopped enjoying going out nor did I feel the need to keep in contact with any of my closest friends. That was another one: I stopped reaching out to friends, or any other outlet I once relied upon. I didn't care about talking to anyone but my dude. I stopped doing things that I love like dancing, writing, and playing music. It was almost as if he was filling all of those pockets that I once reserved for a million different things and people. One person cannot fill that void. It's impossible and will eventually kill your relationship, but that's what addiction does. It makes you feel as if it's the only thing you need so that when it's taken away, you're shocked to find you have little to nothing left.
Step 2: Break up.
Recognize the issue. Act. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, if you're not in an addictive relationship. But if you're anything like me, you'll try everything in your power to make the relationship work. Believe me, I tried. We took breaks. I'd go stay with my parents. I did yoga four times a week just to meditate on the relationship. Once you start circling back and doing the same thing with the same results, then you've got a cycle of insanity. At this point, anyone who loves you has probably told you to break up with this person, and you've defended them with little to no evidence as to why you're defending them. Depending on how strong your relationships are, you may lose some friends. Basically, you do this until one of you can't take it anymore. At that point you either break up or kill each other. Chances are you already have broken up . . . and gotten back together, and broken up and gotten back together again. So what makes this one stick? Someone's decision to treat it like what it is: an addiction. This might take two tries, it might take twenty. Just know, the longer you wait, the harder it gets.
Step 3: Stay broken up.
Once you break up with your significant other they will do absolutely everything in their power to keep you, from bargaining with promises of change and betterment to anger and fighting. They might call you names or get physically abusive, or guilt-trip you by saying things like, “You never loved me,” “If you truly loved me, you wouldn't do this,” or the most extreme, a threat of suicide. Depending on how long you've both let it go on will determine how far your ex-partner will go to keep you. No matter what, you must remind yourself that this is what's best for the both of you, you are a good person, and it is not your fault. Don't try to do it alone. Reach out to friends and family even if you haven't talked to them in a very long time. They’ll still care for you and will hopefully support your efforts to do the right thing. If you don't have anyone, join a group, find and online forum, literally anything that can connect you with other humans. It really does help if you find people going through a similar thing to commiserate with. If you're lucky enough to be the one broken up with, your job is much easier. Recognize your actions for what they are: a selfish desire to keep someone who's sick from taking steps to better themselves. If you truly love them, you'll listen and let them go.
Step 4: Take time to heal.
Think of it in terms of cigarette smoking: the first three days are the hardest, and from there it gets easier. Some days will be worse than others; you may feel depressed, and you'll definitely be moody. The worst is when you think you're doing better and then “Wrecking Ball” comes on the radio, and you turn into a puddle. Or something. My advice: before you leave, say anything you think you might want to say in a letter. If you live together, take anything you could POSSIBLY need with you and get rid of anything that might remind you of the person. Then give yourself two weeks of absolutely no contact with them. That means no texting, no messaging, no Facebook stalking, no asking about them to others and definitely no physical contact. What will you do without them? Well, remember all those things you used to love to do? Remember when you had an individual sense of your identity? Remember when you had friends? Do that again. All of that. You won't want to at first, but you must force yourself. Think of it as medicine. Do something every day that is unique to you and your interests. Maybe it's time to take that cooking class you've always wanted, or hike a trail you find challenging.
Again, a support system is really going to come into play here. Sure it's not the same, but friends can still give you love, affection, affirmation, and encouragement . . . they're just doing it in a healthy way without the crippling attachment. I'd also advise against “rebounding” with another person. Even if it's just sex, you're setting yourself up for another dangerous situation like transferring all your baggage onto someone else. However, if you truly feel you're ready, you know yourself best; I guess all I'm saying is, stay present with yourself and where your emotions are coming from. Do all of this for two weeks at a time (trust me, it helps to have smaller incremented goals). Try your best to distract yourself, channel your emotions into something positive like writing or art. Then at the end of the second week, check in with yourself and allow yourself to think about them. Be honest. How often are you thinking about them? How do you feel about them? About yourself? Have you forgotten to check in because you've moved on? Great! For the other 98% of us, you'll probably realize you still have a lot of work to do. So take another two weeks. I say two weeks because it's ludicrous to pretend like we are fine and if you make it a goal to forget about them or channel all your feelings into hating them, what you're actually doing is putting all that baggage on layaway for the next “lucky” suitor. Allowing yourself two weeks of “me”/distraction time is healthy, but we also need to keep checking, not dwelling, on the part that's hurting because that's the pain that will ferment into anger, mistrust, or self-hate in the future.
That's it! A four-step process to eternal self-love and happiness (kinda)! I'll leave you with some addendums of wisdom or as I like to call them . . . wisdendums:
- Every relationship is different which means that every addictive relationship is different. You can have different levels of severity. My relationship, in its entirety, lasted a little less than a year. That was long enough for both of us (two normally very grounded, reasonable individuals) to realize we weren't right together. I had a friend who had about three months of bliss with his significant other and six and half brutal years of cyclical, destructive, addictive behavior. It takes everyone different amounts of time to get there, but when you're done, you're done. Trust yourself to take care of you. You'll know when enough is enough. (That friend? About a month after he broke up with his addiction he found the love of his life. Now (a year later) they are married, having a baby, and he's happier, healthier, and more confident than I've ever seen him in my entire life. Remember that you know yourself best.
- Not every partner you've been addicted to is doomed forever. Sometimes it's just the wrong time, sometimes the wrong place, most times one or both of you just wasn't mature enough. In order to love yourself and love another person, you'll need to fully let go of this addictive relationship. That does not mean that one day down the line, you two won't re-meet at a Bon Jovi concert, recant your crazy past, and then start a new long-lasting healthy relationship all to “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Most times that won't happen, but if it does, it won't be until you let go, forget about them for a very long time, and grow yourself.
C. This might not be the wisest wisdendum, but I think it's worth noting: After my two weeks, I texted my ex. It was a piece of closure I felt I needed. I thought about doing it one night, then decided to sleep on it, and after still thinking it was a good idea, I did it that morning. About a half an hour later I scolded myself for relapsing, but then a magical thing happened. I forgot about it. He finally texted me back, and I got the response I was expecting: something cold, dispassionate, sterile. And another magical thing happened; I felt nothing. Sure I got mad, but almost playfully so. “Figures,” I sighed. This was my way of checking in with myself. Could he still hurt me with this little thing? Turns out, no. I actually ended up feeling better. Granted, I could have been opening up a can of “How are you?” worms (the snake in the post-break up Garden of Eden), but luckily, I knew both of us well enough. I feel healthier and happier than I have in awhile. This is what I mean when I say trust yourself. You know what you need best, all I can do is give you guidelines to get into a headspace that will allow you to listen.