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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Tales of Rock – Sly Stone

He became addicted to cocaine among other substances, and supposedly kept a violin case filled with drugs with him constantly.

Sly and the Family Stone’s first four albums were the work of a man in total control of his talents and craft. By the time of his band’s fourth album, the monumental Stand!, Sly Stone was applying remarkable discipline to his work: writing, performing on, producing and arranging all songs.

But with the massive success of Stand! and the band’s subsequent appearance at Woodstock came a big change in Stone and, as a result, his band. He became addicted to cocaine among other substances, and supposedly kept a violin case filled with drugs with him constantly. Stone’s Bel Air mansion took on a cult-like atmosphere, with Stone dispensing drugs to his fellow band members and assorted hangers-on.

Some of the band’s next album, There’s A Riot Goin’ On, was recorded in a home studio here, with Stone recording much of his vocals lying down. He’d also allow groupies to sing over the album’s tapes as “auditions,” then once he’d had his way with these women, send them on their way and wipe the tape. This eventually diluted the fidelity of the actual recordings themselves, contributing to the album’s murky sound. Given all this chaos, it’s a testament to Stone’s talents that the resulting album is still one of the greatest ever made.

Stone made a half-dozen further albums of varying quality after this; by the end of the ’70s he’d started giving them sad titles like “Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I’m Back and Back On The Right Track” and the songs contained within were largely lame retreads of his earlier material. In the 1980s, Sly basically disappeared. He’d pop up for an occasional live performance, cameo on someone else’s album or arrest for cocaine possession, but beyond that was rarely seen.

In the mid-2000s there were hints of a comeback; he appeared with his old band and other musicians for a tribute to Sly and the Family Stone at the 2006 Grammy awards, but Stone left the stage before the performance was over. In 2011, reports surfaced that Stone was homeless and living in a van in L.A. He was quoted as saying, “I like my small camper. I just do not want to return to a fixed home. I cannot stand being in one place. I must keep moving.”

 

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Abby – The First 30 Minutes

In the first five minutes I learn that she’s actually interested in becoming an actress, loves dogs, and really wants to save anal for “real relationships” from here on out.

After Annabelle dumped me, I got talked in to online dating to get me out of my funk. (See:Annabelle – Guy Walks Into a Bar) Instead of bitching and moaning, I decided to just embrace it, and go out and meet women. I didn’t really lead people on. A couple of times at the end of the date I looked at them and flat-out said “We’re just not right for each other.” The first time I was blown away when she let out a sigh of relief and said, “Yeah. You’re right, we’re just moving in different directions. But huge thanks for being cool about it.” A fair number of random dates, fun fooling around, and general dating fun. Because I was really in it just to meet people and not hunker down at home and get depressed, I also had some utterly bizarre dates.

I spoke to Abby a couple of times online, but decided to meet and have dinner pretty quickly. She was funny, and sounded like fun. I got to the bar first, grabbed a drink and talked to the bartender. I actually let them know what was happening. Had enough time to drink half my drink, when she walked in. Happily, she looked better than her pic. Got up, introduced ourselves, nice hug, she sat down and belted down the rest of my drink. Okay… admittedly, not the strangest thing that happened to me that week. No big deal. The bartender comes over, and I ask her if she wants another. “Sure, but make it a double, but no coke. Just rum. Well, no rum. Just whiskey.” she says.

Interesting…. In the first five minutes I learn that she’s actually interested in becoming an actress, loves dogs, and really wants to save anal for “real relationships” from here on out. Oh, and she doesn’t like to do cocaine anymore because it really leads to her making bad decisions. Cool….. I’m now looking around the restaurant for hidden cameras. Another ten minutes, and we’ve talked a little about work, the crappy commutes, coolest client stories I’ve ever had.

Suddenly she looks me dead in the eye (bartender is within arms reach), and says “I’m going to the bathroom. You want a blow job?”

Thirty minutes in to the date. I check the bartender for an ear bud or body camera. Nope. Still no sign of hidden cameras or anything, the chick is just bizarre. The bartender is shaking his head “no” at me. I’m not against some fun freaky time on the first date, but in the first 30 minutes?? I decline. I order two more drinks (signal to slow it down). She disappears, comes back, and we talk for five more minutes before she slams her drink, leans over French kisses me and says “This has been fun! I hope to see you again!”. And bounces out.

The bartender comes over, and we just start laughing. It was SO FREAKING bizarre. I grab a menu, order some dinner. As I’m finishing my dinner drink, the bartender comes over and points at the door. Abby is sneaking back in the restaurant, and heading upstairs (split level place). I take my time finishing my drink, to see if I get any more bizarre tidbits to add to the story, but nothing happens. The bartender even went upstairs to check on things, only to find her doing a rail of coke by herself.

Bizarre blind date. Anal might have happened after the cocaine, but the blow job was offered in the first 30 minutes or so.

 

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Sun Stories: Trish – Crash and Burn

When we last left our hero he was forced to go in and run the salon after Trish simply didn’t show up for work. He had plans with Cherie after 3pm that day and needed to do some chores to prepare for her arrival. But Because of Trish’s disappearing act, he now had to change his plans. He was working at the salon when suddenly Trish burst through the front door.

“I’m so sorry…”

She’s visibly upset on the verge of tears. She runs to me and hugs me.

“What happened?”

“I was arrested last night.”

“What? How? Why?”

“Well, I’ve been feeling kind of fucked up lately in my life. I used to do a lot of coke when I was in college and I just felt like I needed a lift to do some artwork I was working on.”

(Sounds like my buddy, Johnny R. He has all of these thoughts in his head but feels like he needs to drink, do coke and/or do some Adderall to put pen to page. When in reality, he’s not much different than Trish. You don’t need any of that shit to create. You just need to create everyday. But neither of them can focus long enough to make anything of any significant value because they don’t do it consistently. Simple as that.)

“So what did you do?”

I called this hot black guy I met at Ray’s Birthday Bar a few weeks ago. I asked him if he had anything and he said come down to where he was. Normally I would ask the person to deliver it to my house so I didn’t have to go somewhere that I’m unfamiliar with.”

“So then what happened and why did you break your rule?”

“Because he was really good looking.”

“Ahh… Trish yields to beauty! I can relate. So then what?”

“I ride my bike down to where he is and he tells me he has to go in some bar and get it. He asks me to come in but I tell him I’ll wait outside. After a bit, he comes out and we make the exchange.”

“So what happened next?”

“He goes back inside the bar and I start pedaling home on my bike and some guy gets out of his car and tells me to stop.”

“Was he dressed like a policeman?”

“No. But you could tell he was a cop. You just know. I’m like… What the fuck? The dude shows me his badge and they place me under arrest for conspiracy to commit a crime and possession of an illegal controlled substance.

“Whoa…”

“Yea, they also pinch the dude I bought it from. Apparently it’s his second offense so he’ll probably get sent up the river for three to five.”

“Why do I suddenly feel like I’m on some TV cop show?”

“So that’s where I’ve been for the last eighteen hours. In the can.”

“That sucks. This was supposed to be your last day here too. I’ve already taken your shift. You’re probably in no shape to work today.”

“Yea. Is it okay if I just hang out and help a bit?”

“Sure.”

“Then I’m going to go get my bike. I’ll probably UBER down to South Philly later and retrieve it… if it’s still there.”

So Trish cleaned a few beds, and later left to get her bicycle. She returned saying that she was happy the bike hadn’t been stolen or vandalized and that this had been a wake up call for her. She did some sweeping at the end of the shift and she an I walked back to our building in Rittenhouse.

I felt bad for Trish, although Achilles would later simply call her an asshole or a crackhead for not showing up for her shift and not calling or texting. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time Friday night. Think of how much cocaine was bought and sold and consumed last night in this city. She hadn’t bought coke since she was in college. Here she was at nearly 28 years old and gets pinched the first time she tries to get some again.

She took several Saturday’s off and I covered her shifts when she was shooting a pilot for a TV show. It was supposed to be a reality show about hot girls searching for the paranormal in Gettysburg, PA. That sounds like a load of shit, but if Trish were on a show and she was wearing hot outfits, I’d watch it.

But the pilot got made and the actors never got paid, and to me it was a waste of time. The purveyors got their pilot done and got free help to be in it. They will shop it around to some networks and if it never gets picked up that’ll be the end of it. Trish never sees a dime and is actually out more money because she took time off from work and the costs associated with getting to and from Gettysburg.

Now she’ll have a criminal record. I’m sure for a first offense she’ll get a slap on the hand, a fine, and have to take some NA classes but that’ll be it. Maybe she can even get it expunged from her record in the future.

Trish didn’t want me to write about this, but it happened. It happened on her very last day at the salon. She blew it with a single bad decision. I’m simply writing about what happened on the day I was supposed to be off and spend time with my beloved. My girlfriend who I never get to see as much as I would like to and had to tell Cherie to push back our union. No, you can’t come and see me at 3pm. I don’t care what arrangements you’ve had to make with your family, your job or your son, because Trish fucked up. But when people make bad decisions they never realize how it will affect the people around them. That’s why they are who they and why they are where they are in their lives. I need to leave those people behind to wallow in their failure.

Trish still can come to the apartment and hang with my daughter, Lorelei, and I’ll be civil. But she fucked me and Achilles and the salon. And for that, we are done with her.

But the saga is not over yet.

 

 

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