My Love Addiction Journey On A Single Poster

This is a highlighted quote from the blog post.

Image from  Joyce Ling  on Unsplash

Image from Joyce Ling on Unsplash

This past year, I realized there was something seriously wrong with the way I was dating and living my life. I was caught in cycle after cycle of intense romantic relationships. As the cycles grew shorter and shorter due to an increased tolerance for the “high” (ie, honeymoon) of the relationships, it became quickly unsustainable.

Think about the worst breakup of your life.

Now imagine that happening every 1–3 months.

Relationships and romance quickly became a life-sucking black hole for me in those years, as all of my energy was directed towards experiencing the highs and lows of other people’s lives. I was distracted at work, lost sight of my friends, and despite experiencing the same things as any “normal” person would on the surface of my life, my mind was only half-there.

One half of it on the life happening in front of me and one half in fantasy-land, imagining being with whoever was my partner at the time.

This all came to an end in March of 2019 when I hit rock bottom.

Many people might imagine rock bottom would be a place you arrive with a high velocity, smashing into it without control.

In my case, it felt more like I wandered into it.

I had been casually seeing someone after a series of breakups that year. After two short weeks, I ended it. That broke even my record despite a hefty collection of short-lived encounters. I had a realization that even if I tried I was incapable of maintaining a healthy relationship. And boy, I thought I was trying.

Despite my destructive behavior, I actually did want a committed relationship at the time. Or at least, I thought I did. A litany of emotions swept through my life: frustration, shame, anger, bitterness, and general numbness and apathy. My being was in conflict because I thought I wanted a steady relationship, one that would eventually lead to a dream wedding, but everything I tried didn’t seem to be working.

Why doesn’t life ever work out?” I would cry out.

In my misery, relationships had been the only answer. As a child, I escaped in fantasy novels and computer games. In middle school through college, it became soap operas and porn. Every day, as I lived under the strict rule of my parents, I had little control over my own life. I would escape to late-night calls with boyfriends and the tear-jerking plotlines of Korean dramas.

The only time I felt in control and truly alive was when I was in my fantasy world. Everything else felt dull in comparison. As I moved from high school to college, the ingredients for love addiction came together gradually in my life.

In college, I lost my virginity to a guy who didn’t care about me. Without my awareness, sex was the final catalyzing ingredient needed to fully set my addiction in motion.

As I pondered all of this after my most recent breakup, I had a sharp realization.

I’m the common denominator.

In every relationship, I had always blamed the other person, the situation, or something external to me. But… if it wasn’t those things, then it had to be me.

It took another discussion with a friend about codependency for me to stumble upon definitions of love addiction online, and the realization finally clicked into place. Everything made sense.

My method of approaching relationships was fundamentally flawed and broken. I didn’t know what a healthy relationship was supposed to look like, but for the first time in my life, I admitted that I didn’t know the answer.

I eventually found my way into a local SLAA, which stands for Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous. The group consisted of everything from people who had committed infidelities, compulsive masturbators, people who had just gotten out of long relationships, and also others who hadn’t been in one for a long time.

I pondered on the first three steps with some resistance before I finally released myself to them:

“1. We admitted we were powerless over sex and love addiction — that our lives had become unmanageable.”

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”

At this point, I understood that I needed help and that I was out of control.

I made a commitment to myself then to break the cycle. This was what I wrote, desperately and unknowingly, during a Sunday evening group meeting:

The original sheet is nowhere to be found, but I eventually transcribed it to my poster as a guiding North Star.

The original sheet is nowhere to be found, but I eventually transcribed it to my poster as a guiding North Star.

Eventually, I wrote out the terms of my commitments more tangibly. It took the form of these guidelines:

Top Lines  are habits to strive for.  Bottom Lines  are rules to avoid breaking.

Top Lines are habits to strive for. Bottom Lines are rules to avoid breaking.

To some of you, the terms might sound ridiculous. “Romantic intrigue? Who even says that?”

I know, I know. But I also had a realization at that time.

When children are young, they don’t have the full picture of life and the ‘why’ behind things. They need to be told prescriptively, in a firm, black-and-white way that a set of behaviors are required of them. It does not make sense for the parent to explain, “ Okay, now, you need to go to bed at around 8:30 pm because if you do, it’ll allow the cells in your body to recover and heal. And if you go to sleep at the same time every night, it will help sustain your circadian rhythms and improve your mood and general quality of life.” The kid would most likely stare at you confusedly and wonder if they were supposed to go to bed or not. For children, you give them rules to follow and hope that the “why” will fall into place later.

In the same sense, I gave myself rules. I simply didn’t have the luxury at the time to protect my ego, which wanted to believe I was above this sort of rule-setting. I put all that aside. I knew I had to humble myself in the face of this massive and entrenched addiction that had taken hold of my life.

And I sought help. I told my friends what was going on, got a mentor in the SLAA program, bought some books, and made it a habit to ask people around me what their idea of a healthy relationship looked like. And most of all, I started watching and observing more, with eyes wide open. Fantasy began to fade away and reality began to set in.

Most of us addicts escape from reality for a reason. Simply put, life is hard. We grew up with abusive parents, or maybe those parents were never around. We got scolded into tears or got beaten into submission. The reality is that children are meant to be treated as precious and valuable, and when they are not treated as such, something inside them breaks.

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As I made my way from fantasy into reality, my poster of rules began to look a little different.

It started with a sheet of lined notebook paper I had journaled on during an SLAA session, where I had written:

“… my jadedness and my suspicion of people will keep me safe, will put a comfortable distance between myself and others… When we expect and see the worst of ourselves and others, when we use past experiences to predict and extrapolate our futures, we leave no room for a new self to be born. It feels scary to let my jadedness go, to clear out all the cobwebs and realize that viewing the world through a dark, cloudy lens no longer serves me.”

I placed it in the top left-hand corner, careful to avoid obstructing part of the poster.

It sat like that, unchanged, as many months passed.

At that point, I remember using the poster as a filter for who I let in my life.

I had just recently moved into a studio apartment. It was my first time living alone, and I wanted to start fresh. I wanted to make my apartment a sacred space, a place where I could recharge and feel safe. I made a promise to myself then that if I felt embarrassed or hesitant about someone based on the fact that I couldn’t share this poster of love addiction rules with them, that’s probably not a person I should be inviting into my sacred space.

This filtered out most strangers and one-night stands. But it also forced me to re-evaluate the friends I had at the time, wondering if I really liked or trusted any of them.

I realized I had to let old friendships go, in order to make room for the new.

So I did.

Later, I pasted on a name tag that I had worn during my first day of serving and being part of a church. I had grown up religious, but left the faith when I was in college. The moment of stepping back into church was significant for me, so I just thought to myself, “ I want to display this somewhere, to remind myself of this feeling that something good is coming.

After that, it was a little label that read “slut” on it — it was used during a role-playing exercise while training to be a sexual assault hotline and hospital advocate. I put it on there to remind myself that I am larger and more full of life than any label that can be put on me.

Awhile after that, I used packaging tape to secure an entire concert program over the right side of the poster. I had pondered, for a moment, where I was going to paste it on without blocking some of the words. Within a few brief moments, I shrugged internally and put it on anyways. I wasn’t afraid anymore.

The poster became covered with more and more things — a Fright Fest wristband, tickets to see Rocky Horror, a Spartan headband, hand-written thank-you notes from friends and organizations — physical representations of the experiences I had had this year.

I realized that what had felt instinctual — the obstructing and covering of the poster — had had a deep symbolic significance.

I had started this journey with a black-and-white structure for myself. “Don’t do these things but make sure to do these other things”. I didn’t trust myself to make decisions, to express what I liked and didn’t like, and I definitely didn’t trust myself to discern whether or not something would be sexually or romantically risky for me.

As the year went on, however, it became less about the rules and more about the enjoyment of the experiences. By the end of it, I couldn’t even read what was on the poster anymore, but I realized it didn’t really matter. I wasn’t afraid of breaking rules anymore. I wasn’t afraid to trust myself.

I was fully living, and everything I pasted on that poster reminded me that I was, day by day, moving from scarcity into abundance.

The rules were useful, at first, to identify a structure and a desired way of living. It successfully broke my cycle of constantly focusing on who was cute and who I could create a relationship with. When I went out with friends, I was going out with friends, and not trying to make sure I went home with someone. I practiced leaning into the present moment. I built intimacy and vulnerability with friends I had previously kept at arms’ length.

Objectively, I probably broke most of the rules on this list at least once this past year. The reality, though, is that I don’t regret it. I didn’t leave behind most of those experiences with negative feelings or confusion. I had stayed true to myself and my integrity even though I broke the rules I had set, however backward that may seem.

Whenever I was tempted to do something I would regret, I would visualize a little, warm light sitting in my chest. I would watch it grow and fill my body, then burst outwards to shine on the people around me. I would tell myself to ‘keep shining’, to overcome darkness with light, and to spread that wherever I went.

If the light came with me, was inside of me — then it didn’t matter where I was. It didn’t matter if I was in a night club or sitting in the holiest sanctuary, whether I was with drug & sex addicts, a CEO, a priest: I let my light shine.

And now I practice keeping this light ever-burning inside of me. It keeps me vital and alive, bringing color to my cheeks and my previously numb existence. For someone who previously couldn’t feel anything even when I was flooded with adrenaline or going to sex clubs, it’s amazing to me now that I can experience joy in the simplest of activities.

Today, I wrote down that I’m grateful for the ability to take my dog on walks.

I genuinely feel that.

I walk her with a little smile on my face, rain or shine, because she brings me into the moment with her waggy tail and silly smile.

There’s so much room to give and thrive when you live abundantly. There’s always more to be thankful for, more to create, and more opportunities to pursue. I’m no longer fixated on the “should or shouldn’t”, the perceived failures and weaknesses, the wants and the have-nots.

I practice living in the experience, the ever-present NOW. There are no labels there, no sense of rightness or wrongness. There’s only the open space of endless opportunity and a quietly glistening light.

In response to  Step 6  of SLAA: “ Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character .”

In response to Step 6 of SLAA: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”


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