Intense Relationship Addict’s Path to Hitting Bottom

Posted by on 07 27 14 in Co-Occurring Issues | Comments Off on Intense Relationship Addict’s Path to Hitting Bottom

A love/sex addict finds himself in an unhealthy relationship and putting everything on the line too soon.

“When I look back at my relationship to Beth now,” Paul told me, “I see it as my absolute bottom.”

Paul is talking about an experience with a woman he believed he’d fallen in love with after a 10-hour date. In the months and weeks prior to knowing Beth, he’d been reeling from the heartbreak over the unexpected end to an eight-year relationship. Paul had spent those weeks and months drinking and masturbating compulsively. Then, despite deep reservations, he began visiting massage parlors, the kind with a “happy ending.” At least a handful of times, he contacted women via Craigslist in order to pay for sexual transactions. Paul was struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors, something he’d never experienced until his breakup, and felt deeply ashamed of his new problem.

Beth showed up in Paul’s life when he was at his lowest. “I couldn’t have felt more ashamed of who I was then, and she seemed like this perfect, beautiful specimen ready to take me out of all that.” Within 10 hours, the couple felt an intense connection and had begun to make future plans. Over the next few weeks, they spent every available hour together.

“I was telling all my friends that I’d found ‘the one,’ ” Paul reminded me, “and people would just look at me completely baffled. I figured at the time that no one knew what it was like to be that in love.”

Ten hours may be all it takes for some people to feel wildly attracted and curious about one another, but it is probably not enough time for a couple to determine compatibility. Paul and Beth had some defining differences—most importantly, her inability to accept Paul’s past behavior and allow him to work on himself without judgment. She felt unsafe, and Paul understood that, but he also believed he needed full acceptance if he were to recover from a shame-entrenched addiction. The couple’s relationship imploded.

It has been 10 months since Paul and Beth’s relationship ended and since that time, he’s been working on sexual and substance recovery. “I can’t imagine jumping into anything that quickly again. I just want to take time for myself now so that I can really get better, and bring a healthy me into the next phase of my life. In the future, I’d like to be able to create genuine intimacy with somebody, and I know that’s something that takes time.”

Addicted Relating

Athena Staik, Ph.D. has written, “At best, addiction offers quick-fix doses of relief that merely hide, mask or numb the pain of deep unfulfilled emotional expectations, a heaviness lugged around, day after day.”

When Paul’s eight-year relationship suddenly ended, something he didn’t see coming, he felt abandoned, an emotion he’d experienced in childhood at the hands of verbally abusive and physically neglectful parents. Paul quickly spiraled from the loss of his relationship and was triggered by feelings of abandonment; he reports quickly becoming “a completely different person.” His new compulsive behaviors felt very different from who he believed he was at his core, and made him feel very ashamed, which unfortunately caused Paul to seek out more intense experiences in order to feel numb, to escape the shame. Beth arrived in Paul’s life when he was at his lowest point and although at the time he believed she was the answer to all his problems, he later came to understand their relationship as yet another expression of his compulsive behavior.

Unmet Needs Manifesting Through Addiction

Addictive relating is very much like other addictive processes; it is frequently the result of a person seeking comfort from feelings of unworthiness and unmet needs for love and acceptance. When romantic relationships are addictive, they fail to reflect a couple’s most authentic expressions of themselves, and instead mask fears of abandonment with outsized emotional and sexual intensity. Because of this intensity and the lack of authentic core relating, these unions often spiral dramatically or implode quickly. In Paul’s situation, Beth took the position of wanting to rescue Paul, and he took comfort in being rescued. But Beth’s rigid nature—the method she had adapted in order to cope with chaos from her own upbringing—soon caused her to resist accepting Paul. She could not rescue him if she found him too chaotic; his compulsive experiences were triggering her feelings of insecurity.

Addictive relationships often take this form—where one person is the rigid rescuer, and the other is a chaotic victim in need of being saved. But rigidity and chaos together cause fractures; a too-stiff tree breaks in a chaotic storm. As we grow into healthier versions of ourselves, and begin to approach relationships in a healthier way, we find that the middle ground between chaos and rigidity—a fluid, accepting place—allows for deeper intimacy and authentic relating. For an addict with multiple compulsions and a causal story of trauma, personal healing and recovery are paramount before a healthy relationship is possible. Accepting this is a life-altering first step.