The Call of True Love: Healing Love Addiction
We know by now how the spirit of addiction works on us, how it tricks us into becoming its slave. It hijacks the pleasure center of our brain, stimulating our neurology to release the chemicals that create sensations of pleasure in our bodies.
Nature endowed us with these chemicals so that we would know when we were doing the right behaviors from nature’s point of view. The behaviors that are good for life – exercise, good nutrition, connected sex, loving relationships – all feel good to us, as long as our pleasure center is working like it’s supposed to. The behaviors that are destructive to nature’s thriving feel bad and feel like pain.
Scientists have observed in people who are prone to addiction, that something is wrong with the pleasure center to begin with. Either through genetics or prolonged experience in bad-feeling environments, some people are wired in a way that they don’t experience enough pleasure, naturally. This sets us up for guess who to come along and stimulate our pleasure centers for us – that’s right, the spirit of addiction.
Addiction can happen whenever a substance, behavior, or even a certain type of thought, for example a powerful romantic fantasy or crush on someone, is effective at breaking into a person’s pleasure center. Studies of neurotransmitter release during video games, internet use, gambling, and more have shown that if something is releasing pleasure chemicals in your body, you can get addicted to it.
The question of why some of us may get hooked, whereas others simply enjoy the pleasure in a more measured way, without needing to return to it obsessively over and over again, has not been answered in any determinate fashion. The upshot is simply, if something feels good, we can get hooked on it. Many things that are actually even good for us, like exercise, can be used addictively.
Amazingly, one thing that we can get addicted to is love. As much as we might like to romanticize and revere love, it also has a chemical component in the brain, just like everything else that we experience as humans. For some women, the experience of love, with all its attendant good feelings, becomes something they get hooked on.
The physiological side of love has been studied– physical affection, sexual feelings, sex itself, romantic fantasies, the experience of being bonded and connected to another person all feel good to us. For a woman who has become “love-addicted”, she has found a way to try to concentrate those good feelings, and feed the hole in her soul from that experience.
When does something pass from enjoying the pleasure center nature gave us, into “addiction”? As with any substance, addiction to love develops over time and will have certain hallmarks of the spirit of addiction in it. For example, over time there will be tolerance: needing more and more love to get the same feeling. There will be withdrawal: feeling terrible when not able to access love. There will be obsession and compulsion: more and more looping, repetitive, imbalanced thoughts coupled with behavior that feels more and more out of control. There will be escalation, or a pattern of it getting worse over time. There will also be dependence: not feeling “normal” without a high dose.
For process addictions, which love addiction is, we need to figure where exactly the “high” and the “hit” is coming from. This will be different for different women – some may get a hit from successfully seducing someone who’s married or belongs to someone else. Some women will get a hit from those gooey wonderful first six months of “falling in love” and may only be interested in that stage of a relationship. Some women will get their fix from a long-term relationship that is full of drama – separating and getting back together each giving her a rush of excitement and relief. Still others will seek the thrill of dangerous, illicit encounters, or simply become lost in elaborate romantic fantasies in her mind.
One sign of being addicted is a loss of freedom – if you feel like you couldn’t walk away from something even if you had a very good reason to, then you are not in charge of yourself anymore. How many of us have had that experience with love? “He’s not good for me, but I can’t seem to leave him”, or “I know she’s trouble, but I can’t stop thinking about her!” Or even the classic “We have to stop meeting like this!”
Love addiction gets out of hand when you experience intense suffering and/or lifestyle problems. For example, if your addiction to a person or certain type of romantic-sexual experience takes up more and more of your time, causes you to miss important life events or neglect things that matter to you, you may be losing your personal sovereignty to your love addiction.
Sussing out what exactly you’re addicted to about love, romance, sex, fantasies, intrigues, flirting, or sexualizing situations can take a little bit of detective work, but the key is to look for the “high”. What gives you a rush, what kills your pain? What, if it were taken away from you, would cause a melt down? What would you panic over, if you couldn’t access it?
Some women are addicted to flirting. Some are addicted to inappropriate intrigues, to love triangles or drama. Some are addicted to people who are bad for them, some to sex, masturbation, erotic fantasies, pornography, one night stands, or long term relationships (the term “serial monogamist” may apply to a woman who cannot stand to be alone). Some are only interested in being mistreated, some can’t resist a rescue case.
Self-diagnosis of love addiction is not a black or white issue, and there may be areas where you have less freedom than you like, but still can manage your life, and there may be areas where you completely lose your mind and cannot function because of the effect of this love, romance, or sex-related theme.
If we recognize the love-addicted state in our self, first of all, we should celebrate the light of awareness within that illumined this fact for us. The fact of being aware of it means that we can heal it, that we are not possessed by it, enslaved to it, or identified with it anymore.
It is a good idea to apply the utmost compassion to ourselves if noticing that we have a full blown love addiction situation or even just addictive tendencies in the love department. There is so much shame associated with sexuality and with love, and it should be considered something that is up to you to identify for yourself, not a label that someone else slaps on you from the outside. You get to decide, do I know in my heart that I have this problem? Do I know in my heart that I am meant to free myself from this problem? Do I want to be free of it?
If you choose “Yes, I want to be free of this pattern of love/sex/romance/fantasy addiction”, there are many paths to recovery. Love Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, and Sex Addicts Anonymous are all variants of the basic 12 Step recovery community cure that heals the underlying personality by spiritualizing it and connecting it to positive, recovering others. You can also get support in treatment centers, such as Villa Kali Ma, which offers groups for helping women to sort out their love patterns and start activating the type of love experiences they want to be having.
No one becomes an addict on purpose. The underlying conditions that set us up for addiction are genetic, environmental, or both, but the one thing they are not is freely chosen. If you have love addiction, there is no shame in recognizing it – the shame belongs to the love addiction itself and can die along with it.
Rather, becoming aware of love addiction is a call from the soul. Soul shows you shadow and illness when it’s time to grow beyond something. Our small, limited, sad ideas of what kind of love and even pleasure are available to us must be outgrown, and a call to heal love addiction will do that. Through growing beyond and leaving behind addictions to lower payoffs, and pleasure center hijacks, we make ourselves no longer compatible with the spirit of addiction. We grow into a higher version of ourselves that can hold the true love of spirit.
If you have love addiction, that means your destiny has something to do with love, with becoming a carrier and messenger of higher dimensional love. Through the burden of love addiction, you find its opposite – the gift of real love.
Here at Villa Kali Ma we have understanding and compassion for the complexities of love addiction and how they interface with substance abuse disorders and other mental health patterns. Please know that through these doors you will find a community of treatment staff and fellows in recovery who see the potential gift in your addiction, who will help you hear the call of true love that this addiction represents an opportunity to find. Come join us on the path to true love!