Love is like Cocaine: The Remarkable, Terrifying Neuroscience of Romance – Part 3

Yes, you really are addicted to love.

Taking the Drug Away

“You are perfect in every way, just not for me,” “I need to find myself and I just can’t do that with you,” “I need to learn to love myself before I can love you,” “I think you feel more than I do and I don’t want to hurt you.”

We know what these are. Breakup lines, the lines of the visible breakups, the lines that put an end to something that once was. The reason a breakup can be so hard to handle, especially for the person who wanted the relationship to continue, is not that the breakup erases the past. It doesn’t. The past is as real as it ever was. When Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) leave each other in Casablanca, Rick tells Ilsa to focus on the time they fell in love, adding “We’ll always have Paris.” A breakup leaves the past intact but erases the future. It pokes a knitting needle through your expectations for the future. It doesn’t ruin what was. It ruins what was going to come. It shatters the hopes and dreams you had about the future. The losses that hurt most are those that abruptly deprive you of the future experiences you depended on. Those losses make you a different person with a different future and with too many empty spaces to fill with experiences less wonderful than those you had hoped for. A breakup is also a major rejection of you as a person, a demonic destruction of your self-esteem and your self-worth that leaves you raw, open, exposed. As Dennis Quaid once put it, “when you break up, your whole identity is shattered. It’s like death” (Food for the Soul, p. 147).

Breakups often lead to a psychological state that resembles withdrawal from an addiction. They literally take away the crack you were on. So now you experience withdrawal symptoms, making it painfully clear to you just how addicted you were to wonderboy or wondergirl. When you are addicted, you satisfy at least some of the following conditions:

  1. You need more and more of the activity or drug for you to achieve the desired effect (tolerance).
  2. You experience withdrawal symptoms when you do not engage in the addictive activity or drug.
  3. You engage in the activity or take the drug more frequently and for a longer period of time than initially intended.
  4. You have a persistent desire to quit or control the activity or drug.
  5. You spend a great deal of time ensuring that the activity or drug access can be continued.
  6. You give up or reduce important social, occupational or recreational activities because of the addiction.
  7. You continue the activity or drug despite knowledge of its physical or psychological consequences.

The severity of your addiction can be seen as a function of how many of these criteria you satisfy.

Addiction is different from obsession in the clinical sense. The main difference is that in cases of obsession, the “drug” consists of recurrent or persistent thoughts or images. In cases of obsession, the obsessive person seeks to control or avoid the thoughts or images by suppressing them or neutralizing them with other less uncomfortable thoughts or with convenient distractors. But the relief is only temporary. What we commonly call “love obsession” typically has both elements of obsession and addiction to a particular person.

A love-obsessed person is in a state of denial, believing that she is still in a relationship, or that she can convince the other person to return to or continue the liaison. The occasional increase in the brain’s levels of dopamine and norepinephrine infuses the tormented and obsessed individual with sufficient energy and motivation to refuse to relinquish. But the “energy high” doesn’t continue. It occurs in intervals. This is because an obsessed individual has widely fluctuating neurotransmitter levels, which makes her go from action-driven to bedridden.

This is the respect in which love obsession differs from drug addiction: when a cocaine addict no longer has access to the drug, his neurotransmitter levels remain low until he recovers or gives in. In love obsession, the neurotransmitters are on a roller coaster ride that makes the obsessed person hang onto the past with ferocious energ y, even when it is blatantly obvious to everyone else that there is nothing to hang onto.

Love obsession following unrequited or unfulfilled love differs from addictions to, or obsessions with, sex and being in love. In the 1979 article “Androg yny and the Art of Loving,” American psychologist Adria Schwartz describes a case of a young man addicted to the chase of women.

A man in his mid-twenties entered therapy after a series of unsuccessful relationships with women. Virtually his entire psychic life was spent in compulsive attempts to meet and seduce women. Occasional successes were followed by brief unfulfilling liaisons which he inevitably ended in explosive fits of frustrated rage, or boredom. Recurrent dreams occurred where he found himself running after a woman, catching up to her only to find some physical barrier between them. Women were “pieces of meat.” He found himself excited by the prospect of imminent sexual conquest, but he often ejaculated prematurely and was physically and emotionally anesthetized to the experience of intercourse.

Addiction to “the chase” is similar to addiction to being in love with someone (or other). People with an addiction to being in love have trouble staying in relationships. When the initial feelings of love turn into a calmer state, they get withdrawal symptoms and end the liaison. The “drug” they need is the cocktail of chemicals that floods the body during the initial stormy phases of a relationship. In the online Your Tango article “Am I Addicted to Love and Sex?” Sara Davidson, the author of “Loose Change” and “Leap,” describes her love addiction as an addiction to being in love with someone who is in love with her. The relationship that made her realize that she was a love addict was with a man she “didn’t even like.” She describes her relationship as follows:

Okay, I know, this sounds like an addiction, but I didn’t recognize it until an affair I had last year with a man I call Billy, The Bad. Billy pursued me and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He wore cowboy boots, wrote decent poetry and drove a hybrid Lexus. “I have a tux and a tractor,” he wrote in his online profile. “I can work with my head or my hands.” He said he loved me and took it back, said it again and denied it again. When he turned on the love it was bliss, and when he withdrew it was hell. When he told me again that he loved me the pain went away, only to return with greater intensity the next time he reneged. I cut things off when I couldn’t stand it anymore. I mean, I realized I was crying over a man I didn’t even like! Something deeper, more primitive was clearly going on, and I turned to books and even a 12-step program for help.

In the Psychology Today online article “Can Love Be an Addiction?” Lori Jean Glass, program director of Five Sisters Ranch, reveals that she once was diagnosed with an addiction to being in love. Unlike Davidson, Glass describes her addiction as more than just being addicted to the feeling of being in love. For her, the addiction involved being completely absorbed in someone else’s life and the feeling that someone else needed her and admired her. Someone, anyone; it didn’t matter who it was as long as it was a warm body capable of overflowing her brain with love chemicals. Glass also describes her insanely intense relationship as jumping : “I went from relationship to relationship. The idea of intimacy was foreign. God forbid, I let anyone see inside my wounded spirit. Often, I had several relationships on the back burner, just in case. Keeping the intrigue alive and active was important.”

 

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Michelle – Chapter 22 – Gone For Good

This piece was written two years ago.

In a very short time. This moment. Right here. Right now. Will be a long time ago.”

 

Since our break up, Michelle and I had always kept in touch. We were better friends than lovers.

We stayed friends long beyond our breakup. There was a time when Michelle was my best friend.

Michelle moved on. Relocated to California to marry her high school sweetheart, Dave.

I’ve been thinking about her lately. Simply because she stopped texting me a few months ago after nearly 4 years of continued contact.

An acquaintance who is a psychologist told me the only reason she kept in touch with me was because of my value, and if her marriage failed she’d have something to come back to.

I get that. It makes sense.

I’d never do that because I would never need to. But that tells me that her footing wasn’t quite secured when she embraced her current endeavor.

But it’s been 4 years and by the time you read this, it’ll be 6.

When I met Michelle, my daughter Lorelei was 12 years old. She’s now going to be 22 and when you read this, she’ll be a 23-year-old woman.  Just 4 years short of how old Michelle was when I met her.

If you’d like, go back and read the Michelle series. It’s the first relationship series I had ever written when I began Phicklephilly so long ago.

I wish I had started writing it while we were still together. The tales of our time together would have been so much more vivid and wild.

And Michelle may have had a voice in that journey instead of only me telling the history of our relationship. The Michelle series was my best effort at the time to at least create a “Greatest Hits” album of what it was like for us during that time. A couple of lost souls who came together at the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philly.com)

Two people who fell in love.

If you read the Michelle saga, it’s a fun-filled and heartbreaking journey that I’ll never forget. I’ll always love her and she’s always welcome at our table at Christmas.

Michelle got married and kept her friendship with me a secret from her husband for many years.

Until recently.

I’ve been ghosted.

I’m fine with that because I’m old and wise enough to understand. I want nothing from Michelle. My work with her is done and has been for many years.

My work was complete before she left me.

I wasn’t even sad the weekend she left me. My friend Duncan came to visit and I didn’t even have a bed for him to sleep in because she had just taken it.

Nothing mattered because I knew we were still friends and that had always been the best part of our relationship.

“When my time with you is over at the end of the day, I wish I could start all over and do it again.”

She used to say that all of the time. I never felt the same way. I was happy to wrap myself up in the memory of the day and press it into a memory book in my mind.

I was too tired after our adventures to want to do it again. The elegant memory was burned into my mind forever.

In the last year she had been in touch. If I were her husband, and as insecure as he is I would never want my wife texting and giggling with her ex-boyfriend. The very man who clipped her from him when he was trying to get back together with her when we first met.

All nonsense.

I’m very busy in my life here in Philadelphia. A dear friend of mine said something the other day; “People like busy people.”

They do. Busy people are exciting and industrious. We are inaccessible for a reason.

We don’t retreat from you all. We’re just busy building things.

All of my hookups are gone. (Free drinks!) As they should be. These boys and girls have grown up and moved on to better jobs. They’re beverage managers, husbands and wives now, and are no longer behind the stick to give me oceans of chardonnay for $5 and a $25 tip for me and my girls. I’ve also cleaned the cache of the last bit of toxic detritus from my life for good.

I’ve reached a point in my life that is finite.

I’m running out of time.

No longer leashed to corporate might. I work where I want and put in a honest day’s labor and love it. I deliver product that makes my clients happy immediately. It’s a simple model and the people are nice. I dig my co-workers and we have a good time.

The cash is rolling in and my broker is happy.

Things are good.

My life has never been so simple and so happy. It just seems too easy. I guess when you struggle so long you can’t believe that if you finally do what you want to do and build your on life… it kind of works.

Wow.

I used to be happy when my daughter wasn’t here knowing I could have adult fun, but now I love when she’s here because that’s my only bloodline and I love her.

Lorelei has turned out so great and is always improving. I’m so proud of her and am blessed that she lives here with me and wants to be here.

But as usual…I digress.

Where is Michelle?

Has she finally vanished forever?

I think so.

This could be it.

I’m fine with it.

My work is done.

I think we both know that.

Michelle had some health problems and apparently in the last few years she’s cured them all.

I couldn’t be happier for her.

To live with a disability your entire life is horrible. But after all of this time, Michelle has finally been able to get ahead of all of that and feels better than ever.

That would have never happened had she stayed with me.

I would have helped and treated her, but the lifestyle would have destroyed her.

As fun as it was, the lifestyle was destroying her when we were together.

Our relationship as fun as it was had a finite end that was predetermined before we ever met at the Inquirer.

I knew that, but unfortunately Michelle didn’t.

That’s why I didn’t have the horrible dopamine withdrawal when she left.

It was over and we remained friends. That was the best part of our relationship.

We always had so much fun.

But I haven’t heard from her in a long time, so I think Michelle is finally gone.

Which seems odd now, because she’s always been here.

I spoke with one of my female friends in regard to this subject.

“Dude. You’re her ex and she’s still texting you?” Think of her husband. Don’t be a dick. Cut her loose!”

I don’t want to be the secret in Michelle’s life anymore. That’s not fair to Dave. It’s not cool for her ex-boyfriend to still chat with his lovely wife.

No one wants that.

It’s wrong.

So I think it’s finally over. Michelle has moved to Cali, married, they have their careers, the life and their dreams.

Off your both go.

 

I wish you well, Michelle.

 

 

P.S. I’m a little bit if a bitter bitch in that post, but it was written two years ago, and that’s long gone now. But it is what it is, and it’s been scheduled, so here it is. I try to keep it real here at Phicklephilly.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

My new book, Angel with a Broken Wing is now for sale on Amazon!

 

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Listen to the Phicklephilly podcast LIVE on Spotify!

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly    Twitter: @phicklephilly