Unlike substance addictions (such as alcohol, cocaine or tobacco), love addiction is known as a process addiction. Process addictions include gambling, compulsive eating, shopping and sex addictions, and they often are more difficult to treat. Love addiction is particularly difficult because we actually do need love to function as healthy and happy human beings.
To recover, a love addict needs to learn what healthy love is. They also need to learn about their particular brand of dysfunction when it comes to their love addiction. That way, they can get their intimate connection needs met without falling into obsessive behaviors.
Sobriety for a love addict is not as clean-cut as putting down the bottle, cigarette or needle. Are you supposed to leave? Sometimes the relationship is worth working on, particularly if you have a partner who is stable, healthy, and doing his or her own work at the same time. So that’s clearly not a reliable measure.
If you do leave, then how do you measure sobriety? No contact? Maybe you have logistics you have to work out, or you share custody and need to communicate about that.
The world of relationships isn’t always black and white. Besides, even if you end one relationship, you’re going to eventually want to begin another one, so how will you know in the new relationship if you’re acting out in your addiction or if you’re sober?
Having been in recovery for some time now, I’ve defined my sobriety based on my behavior. I know I am not sober if any of the following are happening:
- I’m obsessing about someone else’s thoughts, attitudes, or behavior.
- I’m obsessing about how others are perceiving me and changing my attitudes, thoughts, and behavior to suit them.
- I’m neglecting my self-care.
- I’m neglecting my boundaries.
- I’m engaging in fantasy thinking.
- I’m abdicating responsibility for my own happiness, security, and other needs.
- I’m beating myself up rather than building myself up.
- I’m having a hard time accepting reality.
Sobriety for me means:
- I attend to my own thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
- I pay attention to what I want and need.
- I take care of myself.
- I define and enforce healthy boundaries.
- I am in touch with what is going on right now, including how I feel about it.
- I accept 100 percent responsibility for my own happiness, security, and other needs (which means I know how to ask for appropriate support).
- I recognize and celebrate my strengths, while remaining humble about my weaknesses.
- I fully embrace reality, regardless of whether I like it.
- All of the above from a place of self-love and respect.
There are days when there are threats to my sobriety. That’s when I get out my program tools. I:
- read from something inspiring and empowering
- call or text a program buddy
- get some sleep
- eat something healthy
- do some yoga
- go outside
- talk with my wounded child
I do whatever it takes to get myself back to center and in balance.
Sobriety wasn’t easy at first. I had to go through withdrawal. Just like any other addiction, there were painful symptoms. There were times I didn’t think I could do it. Not in any conceivable way — it was just too painful to imagine. For someone who isn’t an addict, this will never make any sense. If you’re an addict, you’ll get it.
But as time went by and I was able to work on my sobriety, it got easier. I began to prefer how it felt to be sober over how it felt to be high. So now, even when old behaviors threaten to overtake me, I know deep down that I really don’t want to return to that life. And that knowledge, combined with my deep commitment to sobriety, helps me choose better behaviors that support sobriety.
Sobriety for you may look very different. It’s going to be personal, based on how love addiction shows up for you. My suggestion is that you take time to define the behaviors and attitudes that put you at risk. When do you start to lose touch with yourself? In which situations are you willing to abandon yourself? Addictions at their core are activities by which we abandon ourselves. One of the key characteristics of sobriety is that we come back to and be with ourselves, no matter how uncomfortable that experience might be at first.