Overcoming Love Addiction
I’m 26 years old and I’ve never been in love. I know that now, but in my early 20s, it didn’t stop me from saying “I love you” to a succession of unavailable men.
It always came after a night of binge-drinking, usually in the form of a drunken, misspelled text, to someone who didn’t deserve it. If I put all those guys in a room, they’d likely all get along. They were addicts and players, guys who thought I was beautiful enough to have sex with but too “crazy” to settle down with.
The last guy I said it to was Hank. I was addicted to guys like him, whom I met right after college, while I was on vacation in Los Angeles. He had an infectious laugh, and made frequent bathroom trips with his girlfriend to do cocaine. I could feel a connection between Hank and me, but I let it go. While he was exciting, he was also taken. But four months later, when I was back in New York, he texted me: “Hey Beautiful. It’s Hank and I’m in the city. Let’s link up.” Like a bull, I headed straight for the red flags.
I didn’t know how he got my number, but I was excited. Was he still taken? Who cares? We did link up — and he stayed at my apartment for two months. When he left, I was so devastated that I packed my bags and booked a one-way ticket to Los Angeles to be with him. In California, Hank introduced me hard drugs. I learned that he was capable of breaking me down to my absolute lowest point. He ended it with me within months of my cross-country move. I was alone and strung out in Los Angeles, living in a Downtown LA apartment I couldn’t afford, empty. I wanted to die.
If it sounds fast, you’d be right. If it sounds made up, you’d be right again, to an extent. That’s what love addicts do. They romanticize chaos. I remember waking up in my DTLA apartment the morning after we broke up wondering how I had gotten myself into such a mess. I was essentially jobless, friendless, and full of suicidal ideations in a new city. I had two options: watch my life crumble or get help. I chose the latter, thank god. That’s how I met my therapist, Tara.
During my first meeting with Tara, I spilled my guts to her about Hank. She nodded along to my story, jotted some things down every now and then, and really just let me lay my feelings out onto the table. I was sobbing, heaving, and exhausted. “Tell me about your relationship with your parents,” she said. Typical, I thought, before explaining to her that I moved out of my parent’s house at 15 to live with my grandparents. I was close to my parents as friends, but they didn’t always treat me like a daughter. I was 10 when they got divorced, and shortly after, my mother had eloped with a heroin addict and my father moved in with a very controlling woman who had rules like ‘no eating food without asking’ and kept a lock on the outside of my door as a threat. Anyone could tell you that I had abandonment issues, Tara wasn’t that slick.
“Do you know what Love Addiction is?” Tara asked. “I think you’d benefit from going to a Sex and Love Addiction Anonymous meeting. It’s a 12-step program, like AA.” I scoffed. Love addiction? It sounded really lame. Who needs a 12-step program for wanting attention? But I took Tara’s advice and found a meeting in West Hollywood for me to visit later that week. Little did I know, it would give me the power to totally reconfigure my life.
The first meeting took place in a small community room at 7:30 AM. It smelled like coffee and looked like you’d imagine any 12-step program to. The meeting was filled with about 20 adults, primarily female, ranging in ages. The first person to speak was a middle-aged woman, and she spoke about her series of failed relationships, jumping from one unavailable person to the next. She had been in the program for a decade, and provided some hope for the rest of us: She was actually in a healthy relationship with a caring person, and she was happy. Several others shared their stories as well, many of them were not as far along in the program as she was. People talked about their incessant drunk texts, which I related to. They talked about their subpar relationships with their parents, which I related to. And they spoke of their general emptiness and desire to heal. I had gotten up so early, so I figured I might as well share. “Hi, I’m Gabi and I’m an addict.” I was met with a collective, “Hi Gabi.” Before I had even started speaking, I started to well up. Feeling the eyes on me, I started to share my story.
After I finished, I felt lighter and more ready than ever to turn over a new leaf. It sounds cheesy and almost too good to be true, but that’s what happened. I left that meeting with a promise to come back, a number for a sponsor, and a sense of liberation that I hadn’t felt… ever. I had always had issues, especially with men, but there was never a name for what I was going through. To me, and to the men in my past, I was just ‘crazy.’ Addressing my issues in a safe place, with like minded people who have actual useful advice and tactics that I could use to better my life was such a gift. Tara really knew what she was doing.
From that day forward, I continued to see Tara and I continued to go to meetings. I studied sex and love addiction, read Pia Mellody religiously, and took some serious time to reflect. Hank was the last person I ever hit with a meaningless ‘I love you’ and additionally the last guy I ever felt empty without. The words ‘sex and love addiction’ gave me so much power and control over the issues that I began to grow from the inside out. And, it helped me better understand my relationship with substances. It was truly all just an addiction to chaos, something that I had to actively stop chasing.
I couldn’t ever feel lonely after that, because I was so self-fulfilled, proud, and sober. I wished that I had known about it earlier, and I hope that in talking about it, girls who find themselves labeled as ‘out of control’ or ‘addicted to men’ can actually seek the help they need. The issues and the ‘whys’ behind the addiction go so much deeper than many of us realize.
Almost two years have gone by without a single drunk text, a single person in my bedroom pushing my boundaries, or a mental breakdown. It’s still something I work at, and sometimes I struggle, but I feel good and strong about my choices. Sexually, I feel completely free, and I even run an erotica site called Shag Story. I look forward to the day that I use the words ‘I love you’ to convey to an awesome person how I actually feel. I’m ready to embrace him, but I don’t need him at all.
Author’s Bio: Gabi Levi is a sex expert and artist from New York City. Between sips of coffee and evening walks, she runs and art directs the erotica site Shag Story.