One thing that happens when you enter recovery—at least one thing that happened to me—is that you finally meet people who’ve been through what you’ve been through. The specific details and contours of their experiences might not be identical, but the internal experiences are often so startlingly similar that when you sit in a meeting, group therapy or any group recovery session, you often feel like the people are drawing things right out of your heart and your mind. It’s scary and comforting at the same time. You know you’re in the right place when you listen to recovery partners and nod your head “yes” over and over again. You know you’re in the right place when you chuckle out loud about things that, to people in the outside world, would not be funny at all. But to you and everyone in that circle, it’s OK to laugh because you can see yourself and your beautiful human folly right there in front of you. You know you’re in the right place when a recovery partner or member of the fellowship reads a document like The Characteristics of Sex and Love Addiction published by Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), and just about every one of the characteristics applies in some way, large or small, to you and your journey. This short article is about the last characteristic on the list—We assign magical qualities to others. We idealize and pursue them, then blame them for not fulfilling our fantasies and expectations—and how it applies to me and my journey to recovery from sex addiction. More specifically, I’ll discuss how it applies directly to the component of my addiction that’s more accurately labeled “love addiction.”
Assigning Magical Qualities
It took me reaching bottom and ending up in SLAA meetings before I realized that my addiction was not just sexual in nature, but there was a love addiction aspect to it as well. It occurred to me that perhaps the love addiction was the more powerful part of the whole situation and the sex was simply a symptom or byproduct of the love issues I had experienced. When I first heard a member of the fellowship read the words above, a lightbulb went off in my head and a whole host of past experiences—failed relationships, mostly—flashed through my mind. Like many people who struggle with love, sex and approval addictions, my early adulthood had been a stream of intense romantic relationships that were intensely passionate but, for the most part, extremely short-lived. Not really one-night stands, though. Mine tended to last anywhere from two weeks to two months, but they would inevitably flame out as neither I nor the object of my affection could handle the heat of the relationship. Time and again, I would meet someone and think that she was “the one.” I would throw myself fully into her, forgetting myself each time. By the end of the first week, I’d be ready to move in together. I never realized that in just a few days I would jump to a place that it takes most people a year or two to reach, and I never realized that I was stuck in an unhealthy pattern. The more healthy the object of my attention, the person to whom I assigned the “magical qualities,” the more quickly it would end. The other person would break it off, telling me I was “moving too fast” or that I was “way too intense.” Sometimes I would end it when I realized the level of emotion was not being reciprocated. Either way, I never took full ownership or responsibility for the failure of the relationship: I always put it on the other person, without realizing that I was the source of the problem. In retrospect, I realize that, of course, it takes two to tango in any relationship, but nevertheless, I wasn’t even willing to accept my requisite 50 percent—it was always the other person’s fault things ended and never, ever mine. That day in my first SLAA meeting I finally realized what I had done. And yes, all of those relationships came back to me in an instant. I realized that yes, I had been assigning magical qualities to all of these women, and yes, I was blaming them for not fulfilling my fantasies and expectations. It was a liberating moment. I think I laughed and cried at the same time.
Accepting Responsibility for Myself
Over time, as I peeled back the seemingly infinite layers of my love, sex and intimacy issues, I began to see things more clearly. As I made my way to the core of things, I realized what I had been doing and what was behind all of this “assigning of magical qualities” stuff I’d done over and over in my failed relationships. I realized why I set unrealistic expectations for others: for personal reasons buried deep in my past, I was looking for someone to make me feel safe. I was looking for someone to give me the things I had missed long ago, when I needed them most. I was looking for things that were absolutely, 100 percent impossible for anyone else to give me. I came to understand, on an experiential bone-deep level, a lesson that almost anyone who has been in therapy or recovery or has read a self-help book has heard a thousand and one times: the only person capable of making me feel safe is … me. This realization makes me laugh out loud to myself almost every time I think about it, because I am not your typical self-help-book-reading, Dr. Phil-quoting, affirmation-spewing type of guy. Part of me is a cynical little early ’80s punk rocker who still holds on to a healthy dose of adolescent attitude. For better or worse, it’s part of who I am. That said, another thing that happens when you’re in recovery: you get a healthy dose of humility and you realize that sometimes—more often than you care to admit—the clichés apply to you, too. By Angus Whyte