March 6, 2019

Breaking Free From Relationship Addiction: Confessions, Choices & Challenges

I don't know how to do this any different than being raw and honest. One thing I could say about myself is that whatever I do, I do it from a place of genuineness and authenticity - often to a fault or to the chagrin of others.

I once worked in a bank. I was accused by the bank manager of having a moral compass! Oh, the horror of a Financial Services Representative having a moral compass with clients when dealing with their money!

People who have met me along the way can attest to my need to do whatever I do from a place of realness. Whether it was telling my story through keynote speaking or performing my music - I've kept it real.

So this endeavour of Single Wellness will be no different. I am the expert of my own life and I am using that expertise to help others. If I can't be vulnerable and honest with myself about my own sordid history, how could I possibly be able to authentically help others as a counsellor and coach, a mentor and conversation facilitator?

So I am going to expose one of my own realizations: I was a relationship addict. And I did purposely write it in past tense. I feel free of this for the first time in my life. The freedom and joy are almost inexpressible but it is what motivates me to tell my story for the benefit of others. You too can be free from it. Some may be offended by the use of the word "addiction." But I use this term intentionally and unapologetically because it best describes my experience.

It is fairly widely believed that most have an addiction of some kind. Psychology also uses the terminology "self-soothing" behavior that describes things we do to fill a void or get our needs met. Thankfully, I have never had substance use issues of the legal or illegal kind; however, I do often overeat and use food to self-soothe. I'm not ashamed of it. I own it. If I didn't have something I'd either be a liar or in denial. We all have things we turn to and some are more harmful than others. This self-awareness helps me to have and show empathy for others with addictions, and it keeps me humble.

In this instance, what I'm calling myself out on, I have labeled as a "relationship addiction." This is certainly not a clinical term nor do I use the words lightly at all. What I mean by it is that it best describes the void I was looking to fill from early on in my life and through multiple relationships in my adulthood to fill a need in me to be loved, and quickly jump into another relationship when I felt unloved and in searching for love in another. This was without any time and space for healing, for individuation (self-awareness, self-realization, grieving from a previous relationship or past hurts). There are, of course, many layers and complexities to the myriad of reasons behind this unhealthy pattern that were rooted in childhood trauma and legalism in the church, to name a couple. Today I'm not going to address the icky bits of childhood memoirs nor process the ways I feel I was wrongly indoctrinated as a church kid. They are no longer excuses for me but an awareness. I just want to acknowledge both as factors in my addiction.

Perhaps one of my favourite quotes of all time, one that has resonated with me over and over again in recent months and years, is by Maya Angelou, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

What I love about this quote is the self-compassion, grace, and kindness toward the self that is extended when we can make that statement about our choices and decisions of the past. But it doesn't end there. We can then take on the responsibility and accountability of it like a suit of armour into our present and future. And so when I admit that I couldn't stop myself from being in relationships, looking for relationships, wanting to date, to be loved, I do not say this (anymore) as a self-criticism but as self-awareness (internal) and self-realization (external). This is my own journey of individuation. For to preach it I must live it. It is a statement of compassion to little Melanie and to my younger self (even if that means to a girl I knew not so long ago) and a resolve that I will do better now that I know to do better!

Not all of you will be able to or want to relate to this. This means you do not have this experience (that's great!) or it could mean you are not yet ready to face this about yourself. And that's okay too.

But I have met others, who, like me, have never fully stopped in their adulthood (in between a failed marriage or relationship) to take time to be with themselves, time and effort to heal, to learn to stand alone, and to learn what it even feels like to be independent (as opposed to existing co-dependent on another) for any length of time. This is not a criticism (or I'd be criticizing my past self) but a compassionate observation and plea to consider this as an option before your next relationship.

One only has to enter the dating pool to experience this. Minutes, days, weeks after a relationship has ended (or before!) they are out dating. They can almost not be avoided no matter how much you think you can vet them before a date. And you can spot relationship addicts who are stuck in co-dependency and unhealthy relational habits and like an accident you can't unsee you are headed for the horrible conversation that ensues minutes after a first meeting. Off they go criticizing their ex for this and that, sharing horror stories of how they ruined their life, their finances, their hopes, and dreams and not taking a breath to express any self-responsibility. They choose to remain in complete blindness to their own shortcomings and opportunity for growth. Worse, they are serial daters who are not looking for an authentic relationship or even to have a nice evening out in companionship with that of another but to perpetually spread their slanderous and oft petty ex-stories. What a turn-off! I should start another blog: Dating Stories and Other Horrors of Single life! I'm sure almost each of you could add your own story. But I digress.

Remember my little mantra from my first ever blog, "Wait! Don't Date! Individuate!" It's a light-hearted rhyme which holds an incredible amount of life impact when implemented.

I've moved way past the point of carrying the shame of my past. It makes me sad to remember the many ways I carried shame for so long. Shame as a church kid because I got married and divorced young. Then again. Then again. The weight of shame was not something I was meant to carry. It was unhealthy. And shame ironically propelled me into seeking out a new relationship thinking I could make up for the failure of the previous one if I only could just get it right. Now I know better.

Individuation is multi-faceted. It is empowering on many levels. It is grieving past and practicing healthy endings as part of grief. It is healing from the past, for a better present, and a healthier future. it is checking off unfinished tasks from childhood life stages (I believe Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development is a part of this and a key to unlocking individuation). It is getting really clear about who you are, what you want, and how you want to move forward.

There are many reasons that I think people don't stop to individuate and opt to perpetually enter into new relationships. And I believe most if not all of those (unhealthy) reasons are fear-based.

Fear of...

Being alone.
Growing old alone.
Never being loved (including settling).
Being judged by society as "less than."
Bearing the financial burden of life and the future alone.
Being alienated from circles of friends, 3rd wheel, 5th wheel.
Being judged by family members (as well as cultural pressures) for being "unattached."

None of the reasons above are a reason or justification (in and of themselves) to enter into a relationship. And let me add the caveat... if it (the relationship) is going to be truly healthy, fulfilling - even loving.

And if we enter into relationships from a position of fear, we are setting ourselves (and our partners) up for potential failure and repeating the cycle of (most likely but not always) why previous relationships have ended.

Being single takes courage. Being single means being brave in facing the aforementioned fears and taking steps to break free of those reasons so that you can give yourself and your future partner a fighting chance of wellness in singleness and in relationship.

Wouldn't it be so much better to enter a (new) relationship fully individuated with another partner who is equally individuated, and together experience healthy inter-dependence, and from a place of LOVE rather than fear? And would you want anyone to be with you for fear-based reasons?

Maybe you are reading this and while you are not single, you are identifying with some of the fears above as to why you entered into your current relationship. If it ain't broke, no need to fix it. But if you are relating, I would encourage you to take courage in the fact that one can individuate while in a relationship! Developing a strong sense of self, working on the things you can take responsibility for in your life, and other self-actualization actions will go a long way to strengthen you from within a relationship.

If you are single and recognize your own pattern of multiple relationships as I described it in this blog (over a lifetime and without any breaks in between), or possibly unhealthy motives for entering into relationships (remember, practice self-compassion here), then you may want to be a part of Embracing Single. This is an opportunity for you to experience this single season in your life to individuate and explore a new journey. You may even enjoy your singleness! Or you may choose to couple again! Either way, you win.

Because every one counts,


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