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Is It Love or An Addiction?

When I was around five years old, I remember a defining moment that shaped my understanding of relationships. One day, I secretly listened in on a conversation between my mom and my paternal grandfather, whom I had never met. I was hidden away on the other end of the landline, my heart pounding with curiosity. I overheard my grandfather say to my mom, "Let's just pretend none of this ever happened." It was a plea to erase their existence from each other's lives, and for them to forget that I even existed. I felt a profound sense of sadness wash over me as I hung up the phone, tears streaming down my face, my young mind struggling to comprehend what it all meant.

Growing up, I was surrounded by stories of my biological father and his family. They were often repeated, like a broken record playing the same tune. The narrative was clear: "They're not bad people; they just struggle with alcohol." It was a known fact that themen on that side of the family had a history of anger issues and alcohol dependency. Despite these flaws, my biological father was described to have a heart of gold. Unfortunately, his life was consumed by the clutches of drugs and alcohol.

At that tender age, I was eager to find a father figure in my life. My mom was engaged to someone who had two boys, aged eight and twelve. Those relationships, however, would later reveal themselves to be a complex and tangled web. For the time being, this man allowed me to call him "Dad," and thus began a series of men who would play that role in my life. It seemed my mom and I shared a common thread - absent biological fathers. Though her situation differed from mine, with her father living across the country and not seeing her for years, we found solace in each other's experiences.

My mom was a stunning and vibrant woman, always turning heads and attracting a crowd of men wherever she went. I found myself spending a significant portion of my formative years in bars, where I unwittingly absorbed the lessons of the streets. It was in these unconventional classrooms that I received an unconventional education. Men would approach my mom, vying for her attention, and I observed as she effortlessly commanded their interest. It was through her that I learned how to win men over, how to use them to my advantage, and how to discard them when they no longer served my purpose. At that time, I didn't fully grasp the significance of these lessons. It wasn't until later in life, when I found myself trapped in a cycle of unfulfilling and abusive relationships, that I realized the destructive path I had embarked upon.

The advice I had internalized echoed in my mind: "You need one in to get one out." This mantra had become my relationship philosophy. I believed I never needed to be single, as I constantly sought out new connections before leaving the old ones behind. The concept of being alone was foreign to me. "They just keep coming to me," I would say, relishing in the superficial power that came from using my body and personality to manipulate and control. But even as I write these words, tears well up in my eyes. I now understand the profound pain I caused both myself and others during that tumultuous period. Back then, I was unable to comprehend the depth of caring and intimacy that true relationships required. I lacked authentic connections, save for a couple of older friends who offered genuine support. My misguided belief was that someday, I would get married and finally find the stability I longed for. Little did I know, life had other plans.

It was when I became a mother at the age of twenty-four that I began to recognize the distorted lens through which I viewed relationships. I sensed something was amiss in my approach, a nagging feeling that my behavior and treatment of others weren't normal. It was during my first AODA treatment that a professional pointed out the possibility of love and sex addiction as an underlying issue that needed to be addressed in order to achieve lasting recovery. Open to exploring this perspective, I picked up a book called "Is It Love or Addiction?" by Brenda Schaeffer, and its pages felt like a mirror reflecting my deepest struggles. I embarked on a journey of confronting my sexual abuse trauma and unraveling the intricate threads of my love addiction.

However, as I delved into therapy and began to make progress, another boyfriend unexpectedly entered my life, disrupting my path to healing. Within a month of meeting him, I found myself pregnant, and the relationship took a tumultuous turn. It became a toxic blend of cheating, lies, abuse, and manipulation. Both of us were ensnared in a web of deceit, hiding our drug use from one another for years. Despite the excruciating circumstances, I couldn't summon the strength to walk away. It took an additional five years of enduring this chaotic existence before I finally mustered the courage to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. Even during this time, I sought solace in therapy, attending sessions for domestic violence and sexual abuse, all while still entangled in the toxic relationship.

From 2013 to 2017, my life became a relentless cycle of sobriety and relapse, intertwined with a string of romantic encounters. I would experience periods of abstinence from drugs for a year, only to succumb to the allure of dating someone new and falling back into old patterns. The vicious circle continued with intermittent periods of clean living, followed by inevitable relapses after nine or thirteen months. The highs and lows of dating provided an intoxicating rush, a fleeting sense of fulfillment. And when the men in my life failed to provide the emotional high I craved, I turned to substances to fill the void. The intensity of these cycles consumed me, leaving me feeling overwhelmed and lost.

It was only when I hit rock bottom and descended into a dark abyss of drinking heavily that the trajectory of my life drastically shifted. I had given up on myself, no longer caring about the consequences. During that desperate phase, I experienced a brutal rape, which served as a tragic turning point. In the aftermath, my friends staged an intervention, and I found myself in my second inpatient treatment program.

The journey to recovery had begun years prior, with my first inpatient treatment in 2006, where I first acknowledged my identity as a love addict. This realization had struck me before substance abuse entered the picture. Yet, it took eleven more tumultuous years filled with both agony and miraculous moments for me to finally confront the core reasons driving my relentless pursuit of love and validation. Taking a leap of faith, I sought out a love addiction therapist who was an hour away, committed to untangling the complex web of generational cycles that had entwined my life.

In therapy, I discovered that my struggle wasn't a lack of commitment or an inherent promiscuity. I wasn't someone who derived pleasure from hurting others. It became evident that healthy relationships had become a rarity in our modern world, not just romantically, but in the broader context of codependency. I began to recognize the multitude of instances when I said "yes" when I truly wanted to say "no." I had been seeking validation and approval from anyone who would offer it, unable to see my own worth unless others were paying attention. I questioned my identity, wondering who I was without someone showering me with affection or without relationship troubles. I had built my entire self-worth around external factors, particularly my sexuality, using it as a means to manipulate and exert power. These revelations struck at the core of my being, unraveling the intricate layers I had constructed.

Over the past six years, I have spent four of them single—an unimaginable concept for my former self. Paradoxically, being single proved to be more challenging than overcoming substance abuse because it meant confronting the very foundation of my self-worth. Stripped of distractions, I embarked on the arduous task of rebuilding my inner world. It was a journey marked by trial and error, with tears shed along the way. I faced long stretches of solitude and embarked on countless dates with myself, learning to appreciate my own company and nurturing a deep sense of self-love.

Through this transformative process, I have come to realize that I am intimately connected to life itself. I approach each day with profound openness and a wholehearted embrace, unafraid of the challenges that may arise. This is the essence of heart activation—relentlessly loving oneself and placing personal well-being at the forefront. It is through this unwavering self-love that I have discovered my own foundation, unshakeable and resilient against the influence of external forces. I navigate life's ups and downs with grace and strength, finding love and compassion even amidst the darkest moments and chaotic circumstances. I have come to understand that love evolves, and relationships are undergoing a transformative shift in their dynamics.

If any part of my journey resonates with you, know that it is possible to fiercely love yourself, even in the face of adversity. Even when life seems to be dealing you a challenging hand, remember that you possess the innate capacity to triumph. Embrace the process, for it is through this journey that you will uncover your true significance. You are worthy of all that you desire and all that you need.

In the coming days, I will continue to share more about this profound journey of healing. Know that my love extends to you, and I stand by your side, supporting you every step of the way.

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