Six years ago, in the Summer of 2012, my life felt unmanageable. The pain of yet another traumatic break-up with the same man I had been in a relationship with for over 7 years, left me reeling; feeling vulnerable, isolated and alone. I wanted to share my pain, but didn’t want to burden others. I was afraid that my friends and family wouldn’t understand, or worse yet, think I was crazy for continuing a path of no return, repeating a pattern that I couldn’t stop on my own. I was powerless in my addiction to the relationship and I was slowly starting to see that the only way out was through the pain. I needed to fully grieve the relationship and couldn’t do it alone.
Below are some guidelines to heal from an addictive relationship.
1. Admit you are powerless.
Prior to this step, we often deny, manipulate the situation or negotiate with ourselves and others that things will change or get better “If only…” Once we reach our own “rock bottom”, we can begin to heal. This step can take on many forms but it can manifest as a “break through” of sorts, developing an awareness that things can no longer continue to go on as they had before. This often happens when the pain is too great to repeat the cycle. To quote Einstein, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.
2. Get support.
Support may come in the form of a 12 step recovery group; SLAA or CODA are a couple of examples. These groups are great resources for people suffering in a dysfunctional relationship dynamic.
Professional help may also come from Psychotherapy or Counseling with a licensed mental health specialist who is trained and experienced in Codependency and Love Addiction and able to address issues from an attachment perspective.
In addition, it is important to identify who in your current support system is helpful and who is harmful to your recovery. Make a list of people you can safely call when you feel alone and need additional support.
3. Feel your feelings.
This can be difficult early in recovery because often times, the focus is on what others need, not on what you need. Be gentle with yourself. All of your feelings are valid and deserve equal attention. Whether you feel anger, sadness, loneliness or fear, you will get through this, particularly when you combine this step with steps 1 and 2.
4. Develop a “No Contact” guideline.
The withdrawal phase of recovery is very difficult to work through and many people relapse by contacting the partner they were in relationship with out of loneliness or fear of being alone. This is when we need to remind ourselves that what may be familiar, isn’t always healthy.
This is also why this step is further down the list. Without the other three steps, it will be challenging to get through the withdrawal phase and establish no contact successfully. On the flip side, it would be unwise to enter into a new relationship during the withdrawal phase, as you are still grieving your previous relationship.
Do not shame yourself if you do make contact. Call your safe support people when you feel the urge to communicate with an ex-partner, feel your feelings and understand that this phase is part of the recovery process. It will get easier as you continue to do the work on yourself and heal your pain.
5. Develop a mindfulness practice.
One of my favorite things to do that brings me to a place of calm and serenity is walking the neighborhood cemetery, a beautiful historic place that was built in the late 1800s. Strolling the peaceful grounds scattered with tombstones dating as far back as a century or more, I can see beyond my own personal story and into an awareness of the impermanence of this life, sending me a gentle reminder to live fully in each moment. This may sound a bit morbid to some, but for me, observing fully the surroundings in this cemetery, is like an antidote to my monkey mind.
I like to begin with a walking meditation; listening quietly to the birds singing and the wind rustling as the pine trees sway gently back and forth. I enjoy feeling the summer breeze passing over my face. Taking in the sounds and breathing it all in deeply. Sometimes I count the headstones, glancing over the names and years carved into each one, representing a life once lived.
I like to include the work of Buddhist Psychologist Tara Brach in my mindfulness tool box. She has several guided meditations and podcasts listed on her website that are invaluable. I also recommend the books How to Be an Adult in Relationships by David Richo and When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron as additional resources for spiritual healing.
I hope that by following these steps, you, too, will find healing from an addictive relationship is possible. Recovery takes time. Be gentle with yourself in this process. And remember, you are not alone.