I carried on an emotional affair for most of last year. An "emotional" affair is actually a fairly significant improvement from the two physical affairs I had in years previous. But what is "an emotional affair"? It's daily or weekly (or hourly) intimate contact with someone who already has a partner, carried on in secret. It creates deep attachments and a near constant state of anxiety. It's a hidden place of shared wishes, dreams, fantasies, and expressions.
So, while this was going on, I started to build and develop a new website-concept called loveaddict.ca (.com was $$) because I'd cycled through these types of relationships so many fucking times that I thought I could totally corner the market on the love addiction thing (I never attended recovery meetings for it, or received a clinical diagnosis—this is purely self-diagnosis). I read many books on the subject, including the whole Harville Hendrix roster after I heard Alanis and Oprah discussing them on SuperSoul Sunday. After Alanis tells Oprah she's a love addict, Oprah asks what that is and Alanis sort of rambles on in her wonderful artist-intellectual guru fashion, saying:
"...the withdrawal from love addiction is harrowing, it’s harrowing, it’s probably the worst pain that I have felt in my life…so treating a human being as object focus as long as that person isn’t interested, or if they’re really interested in me, I would tweak it so they would be horrified and run, then it was game on. Of course ‘love’ would be in quotes… it’s obsession and fear."
Today, Heather Havrilesky in the Dear Polly column had a truly great definition of emotional obsession: "This is how obsessions work: We keep denying that we feel what we feel, but something inside of us gets more and more invested in exactly what we’re NOT supposed to care about. 'Caring about this makes you weak!' our culture tells us, and we repeat it to ourselves until it’s THE ONLY THING WE CARE ABOUT."
Yes, until we get ADDICTED to only caring about that thing (or that man). Until I started meditating every day, I wasn't able to really cool those obsessive thought patterns and though I could have returned to 12-step (SLAA, Al Anon, etc) or increased my therapy, at some point last year I figured out that my only way through (not out) was into the motherfucking storm of desire, the centrifugal point of the hellish feelings as they arose. This, my friends, is not considered following your bliss (even though it does get heady and manic in parts) but following your pain. And it turns out that there might just be bliss along the way.
If I were to narrow this "follow the pain" theory down to a therapeutic technique, it would entail willingly having those affairs and getting into those sticky, painful relationships where the other person hits every single obsession-inducing button then actively acknowledging the messages that appear on-screen like Pop-Up Videos: repetitive thoughts, keywords or phrases (some of mine are "unavailable", "shame", "I'm sorry", "I love you") and tracing them back to the story of how you grew up all the while being immeasurably forgiving and compassionate about the whole messy process. I think one of the most important parts is allowing ALL the feelings to surface no matter how humiliating or unbearable, and giving the little beasts their due. The little beasts are my little beasts and they have a lot to say.
Oprah picks that back up, "I remember doing a show about this years ago…so this idea, many women, and men, don’t recognize [love addiction]…it’s easier to see you’re a sex addict, but love addiction, how did you figure that out?”
“I figured it out by the excruciating pain of the pattern of dissolving the same relationship over and over again with many people. And the deep pain. [...]”
Oh Alanis, honey, I feel your pain. A simple illustration: In the early fall, I was debating relocating to Toronto because I was feeling restless and unsatisfied at having, once again, woken up to find I'd pushed my life and career into a lonely corner. I told the object of my obsession I was moving and I'd miss him. He replied that he'd miss me too, but we'd definitely keep in touch. I spiralled the fuck out, obsessing over him, crying for days on end, and finally, writhing in painful ecstasy, wrote and then mailed a perfumed handwritten letter to his office. YES I DID!! And this was following weeks of relative calm.
So, why didn't I start the loveaddict.ca site and make myself the reigning expert on the subject? Because at some point I didn't want to be the love addict anymore. In October, I started meditating every day and following "flow" techniques, digging deep into how the brain works, voraciously reading spiritual books ("Seat of the Soul", "The Return to Love", "The Power of Now", "The Untethered Soul") and cultivating a deep relationship with my inner being and The All (as Oprah calls "God")—real soft, cozy, loving techniques to companion the visceral pain of addiction.
I ended the affair at the end of November. Some space freed up, but it was still awful, icky and uncomfortable. I want to say that my heart is really opening and healing and all that nice shit, but I won't know until I meet the next heartbreaker. And what I know for sure is that I have to follow the big feelings. If I meet someone and instantly bond to them, growth is close behind.
I don't know if I love that man, but after I ceased contact, I found there were more big feelings left to feel: I invited his magnificent beauty to fill up the room and his intellect to deeply move me and his capacity to care to make my heart ache. I silently basked in my appreciation of him for a day then set him free.