Love Junkies and Heroin Addicts
After I broke up with my narcissistic boyfriend, before I knew what narcissism was. I was leafing through the books in the self-help and psychology section of Barnes and Nobles searching for the answers to my seemingly hopeless problem. I was obsessed with the man whom I had chosen to leave. I chose to leave him because I knew something was terribly wrong and I felt if I left him whatever was wrong would soon identify itself.
He moved on rather quickly and took up with a woman in our social circle and I slipped deeper and deeper into despair. I was lead to believe I was the one with the problem.
A woman friend whom we had sought couples counseling with suggested that I had some kind of issue with my Mother and she also suggested I move on and find someone new, like he did.
As I was leafing through the books at Barnes and Nobles, my eyes fell upon a book about love addiction. “Oh,” I thought “this is it! This is what I have! I am a love addict.”
I quickly purchased the book and ran home to read it. Every thing seemed to make sense. The obsession; the inability to eat or sleep; my constant longing for a fix; some kind of validation that he ever really cared about me. Yet this didn’t seem like who I was at all. I had not been like this before. The constant pattern of love addiction didn’t seem to apply. I was usually the one who left the relationship in attempt to upgrade to a healthier way of being. It wasn’t like me to linger in the after-math, longing for what could have been, dying to just have some kind of closure or resolution.
The self diagnosis of love addict just didn’t satisfy me. It didn’t seem to be the missing piece as to why I just couldn’t get on with my life. It wasn’t until I went under psychiatric evaluation did I discover that I was likely involved with a man who had narcissistic personality disorder. Suddenly everything changed. Suddenly the focus was off me and onto him.
But as I delved deeper into exploring narcissistic personality disorder I had to come to terms with the fact that I was still part of the equation. Apparently I had gone through a very subtle type of abuse that left me wondering what was wrong, what happened, why did I feel so low about myself? Why could he just transfer to someone else without batting an eyelash while I was left to deal with the fall out of our three year relationship?
I was the one suffering. I was the one who was alone and reeling in pain. I was the one who left him as my friends reminded me. I left him so why was I the one having the hard time getting over it?
I had really opened my heart to this man. I truly believed he was the love of my life whom I would be with forever. I believed I had finally met the man of my dreams. He was everything I had ever wanted. But somewhere along the line I realized I was the only one really involved in the relationship. He took from it what he needed but he never truly involved himself on an emotional level.
I was used to emotionally unavailable men. In my experience, men just didn’t open themselves emotionally, at least not the majority of them. I figured in time he would allow himself to be more vulnerable. But it never happened. Over the years I gave more and more of myself emotionally to compensate for what was missing. When I finally left, it was because I was spent. I was emotionally drained. I was physically ill. I had nothing left within me to give. I knew I needed to recoil and get my energy back.
Yet when I left I didn’t think he would just go away. I thought maybe he would realize how important our relationship was and start giving more of himself. Instead he gave it to someone else, apparently more worthy than I.
My ex-boyfriend had sailed off into the sunset with Ms. Perfect, and I was left on the shore with the emotional garbage that seemed to say “You are really messed up!”
Most people in my social circle agreed that I was messed up on some level. After all, I broke up with him and he dealt with it just fine but I simply wasn’t coping.
Sifting through the emotional garbage I found pieces of my abandonment issues, my jealousy, my dependency on him, my feelings of complete worthlessness, my fear of rejection and so much more. I envied him, the man who could just pick up and move on without missing a beat. The more perfect he looked, the more imperfect I looked. “No wonder it didn’t work out, I thought!”
I obsessed through all the pieces of my past three years with this man. I remembered all the times I was hurt and disappointed in his behavior or in his reactions. “Maybe I just expected too much” I thought.
It seemed the more I focused on how messed up I was, the deeper I fell into depression and despair. I realized I would never have a happy relationship because I was carrying so much garbage around. I was obsessive! I was dependent! I was jealous! I was an emotional wreck!
Meanwhile my ex was so brilliant. Nothing ever got to him. He was never rattled by the emotional landscape of his life. Anything could be happening around him, like family upsets or even a crisis, like the explosion that happened in our neighborhood park that sent flames shooting into the air threatening to destroy our neighborhood and possibly our family as well. He was so cool and collected while my son and I were hysterical.
I had always admired this man for his ability to be so composed on an emotional level. Perhaps it was because I could be so emotional and his composure was somehow comforting.
Reflecting back over the relationship, once it was over, however, I realized that I had been more emotional than usual with him. I was out of balance!
I thought about the description of a heroin addiction and realized it was really no different here. When I fell in love with this man it was the greatest high in the world for me. It was as if the Gods were smiling upon me, giving me everything I had asked for, everything I had prayed for. Finally I was worthy! Finally the Gods had brought something beautiful into my life. I was so grateful! I told all my friends that my prayers had been answered. We were the perfect couple, so well matched, so beautiful together.
But over time it took more and more to get me to that place where I believed I was the luckiest woman on earth. The drug I had to take to get me there was “denial.” I had to deny what I was really feeling and paint a pretty picture over the top. I had to remind myself that I had it good! That I was lucky to have such a wonderful man in my life!
Like a heroin junky I was continuing to chase after those initial highs even when it meant suffering the lowest lows. Before long I was scraping bottom, searching for scraps of my former life. What was once so beautiful had become a desolate landscape of pain and sorrow. I could no longer be satisfied by this relationship that once filled my every need.
It wasn’t until I learned about narcissism that I realized he was part of the problem. Yes I said part, not all.
Initially the realization was that it was me not him and then it was him not me. Yet this would be like saying the problem is the heroin not the addict. The heroin is just a drug and it goes into the users bloodstream and gains hold of his psyche. But heroin works pretty much the same regardless of the user. The outcome is pretty much the same too. The clinics are filled with addicts desperately seeking to break free of the clutches of this drug that has such power over them. It is the greatest love/hate relationship! The user loves the highs and hates the lows. He lives for the highs, giving up everything including his dignity and self-respect.
The truth about heroin addiction is, if the user didn’t shoot heroin he wouldn’t have the problem. But once he shoots it and it gets into his bloodstream he craves that high and it becomes the answer to all of his problems. He wants it! He needs it! He has to have it! Nothing else will satisfy him! He will let everything else fall by the wayside just to have a moment of bliss provided by this powerful opiate.
Addiction to the narcissist I realized it was no different. I was addicted to the highs and ignored the lows. I ignored all those times I felt so worthless as if I didn’t matter to him at all and I embraced those times where he showered me with attention and affection, even if those times would be few and far between. I was like a bird in the winter searching desperately for crumbs that would keep me alive. He was the one in power because he was the one who could either dole out the crumbs or withhold them.
When I found out about narcissism it didn’t solve my problems. It wasn’t a magical solution anymore than a doctor telling the heroin addict that his drug of choice is addictive and destructive. O.K. yes I know I am caught up in the addictive Web of illusion produced by the narcissistic reality, but how do I get out?
Although educating myself was helpful and necessary my problem required much more than education alone. Identifying the problem was only the first step and it was a big one because it actually penetrates the illusion that there ever really was a Mr. Perfect. Suddenly I could see that he was every bit as flawed as I was; only he had no clue. He was off dancing in the sunset with someone else who also didn’t have a clue while I was the one who was feeling everything. I was feeling everything he never allowed himself to feel. That is why my life was so chaotic with him. He suppressed his emotion and I expressed it.
The expression of negative emotion was taboo in his world. It was a sign of weakness, and narcissistic personalities despise weakness in themselves and others. The more I expressed this negative emotion the more pathetic I was to him. I slowly lost my status in his eyes of being a strong, capable being. Instead I was a weak, pathetic, emotional basket case.
This is narcissistic abuse in a nutshell. The narcissist denies his own negative feelings and projects them onto the person closest to him and then he attacks that person for their weakness. This way he gets to express those negative emotions through his surrogate outlet without ever claiming them. Meanwhile the surrogate is not only getting hammered by these psychically transferred negative emotions but also the subtle attacks on their character by the narcissist. The process, over time, breaks down the psyche of the one who is doing the feeling work in the relationship.
Ironically our very society praises strength and condemns weakness and we have learned to see negatively expressed emotions as weakness. We see tears, crying, sadness, and expression of pain in any way as a weakness. We see the expression of discontent or dissatisfaction as a weakness. We are supposed to be happy, content and accepting of all that comes our way and if anything bothers us we keep it to ourselves and don’t burden others with our selfish needs.
Although this is the way most of our society has been conditioned it is highly unhealthy and dysfunctional. Suppressing our perceived negative emotions would be like suppressing the night and only allowing the day. The night is part of the day, the dark is part of the light. It is all necessary in the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Without the Winter there would be no Spring.
As I sat coiled up in my darkest night, the dark night of the soul, I searched myself at the deepest levels. I knew that to make him all bad and myself all good was not the answer and would not bring me relief. My only path of salvation was to allow this dark journey and find the gifts that awaited me in the darkness.
For the heroin addict to finally break free of the seductive power of his drug, he must not only swear off the drug indefinitely but he must find, on some level, what it was he was seeking in that high. Most will find it is their connection with God, or the oneness of life that they are seeking. For the first few moments, that rush that comes over the user, there is a moment when the egoic self disappears and there is nothing left but oneness with all that is. It is a connection to life they long for and crave but have not found any other way. It is a connection to life that makes all the big stuff seem small and insignificant.
The solution to addiction is normally a spiritual solution. This is why in the twelve step programs the first step is realizing we are powerless over our addiction to the drug and the second step is that we made a decision to turn our lives over to God, or a higher power, as we understand him.
It is in seeking after something greater than ourselves that we find comfort in life. Perhaps when we are involved with the narcissist we have unconsciously assigned him God like power in our lives. We have assigned him the power to define us, to determine our worth and value. When we fall short of perfection in Gods eyes we feel our own worthlessness on a very deep level.
Hating the narcissist is not the answer! I tried to hate him and project all that worthlessness I was feeling right back onto him. But it didn’t work. How could I hate someone I had loved so deeply? What I had to do was realize that I didn’t really know him and he didn’t really know me. We were both living a lie. I couldn’t be responsible for his lie but I could be responsible for my own. He could go on living in his lie just as the heroin goes on entering people’s bloodstreams, but it wasn’t going to enter mine anymore. I would set myself free of this addictive force in my life. I would wake up to the truth and embrace what I was feeling inside.
Looking back on the moment when I believed I was a love addict I realize it wasn’t love I was addicted to, it was approval. I sought the approval from someone who seldom administered it. My addiction went way back into childhood when I sought the approval of my stepfather. He always found things to make fun of me about whether it was how I ate, how I dressed, the makeup I wore, my chubbiness, my intelligence, my laziness, my sickness or whatever else he could find that didn’t fit into his vision of the world. I didn’t fit! I just never felt I was good enough! My unconscious life quest was about feeling good enough.
The initial encounter with the narcissist was a huge high because he was so very approving of me. It was like I had finally met my match. I had found someone who approved of me so completely. It was so comfortable to just melt into him and his acceptance of me. I don’t know exactly when the disapproval began; it was very subtle, of course.
As I reflect back I remember early in relationship that I didn’t feel my needs were being met. Isn’t that ironic? I didn’t feel I was being listened too, or considered the way I needed to be. My needs for communication and attention were not being met. I pulled him aside early on and told him I needed to talk to him. I expressed how I was feeling and told him I didn’t feel my needs were being met in the relationship. I fully expected that this wonderful man would be attentive and listen to what I had to say and ask me what I needed but instead he asked me a question.
“What are YOU going to do about it?”
What he was telling me was that this was not HIS problem it was MINE. And…I took the bait. I took it on! I somehow believed it was about me and from that day forward everything was about me.
Years later I finally decided what I was going to do about it. I was going to leave and find a way to get my needs met. He could have cared less! There was a long line of beautiful women waiting in the wings who would not be so demanding.
I felt so betrayed by his lack of ability to invest emotionally in the relationship. I asked myself over and over again why he didn’t value the relationship enough to want to give anything to it or invest anything to save it. But I came to realize that he never did invest anything. I was the only one who invested and I was the only one who really had anything to lose.
The only thing he had invested was on a financial level. He invested in the support of our household and was really quite generous about it. I think this is what kept me hanging in there. I traded my soul for his financial support. Then towards the end when I was in the process of reclaiming my personal power he asked me to start paying half the bills. At this point I was so irate because, on some level, I realized there was no longer any exchange at all. There was no trade off. I would be getting nothing for my investment. This is when I left.
It was this horrible realization that I had invested myself so deeply on an emotional level with this man and he had not invested himself at all that caused me the greatest pain. I had given my very soul, my lifeblood to this relationship and when it was his turn to give he went elsewhere. He had no interest in saving the relationship. He didn’t even ask me why I was leaving. When I told him I had found another place to live he asked me where he was supposed to live. He didn’t ask me what was going on, how I was feeling, what made me want to leave or if there was anything he could do to change my mind. He just let me go as if I was his roommate. He even offered to help me move. What a nice guy!
There was no emotional energy exchange in this relationship. There was only my giving and his taking. I would never have had my needs met. There was no way for me to win here. I had to leave if I was to survive, otherwise I would have simply drained my life away.
When we find ourselves in narcissistic relationships we have to recognize our own addiction to whatever it is we are trying to get from the relationship and we have to focus our attention and energy back onto ourselves and getting our own needs met. We can no longer look to the narcissistic drug to appease us. He is a hollow, empty shell wanting to be filled with our energy. As long as we are with him we must give our energy to him. When we stop feeding him with our energy he will go away.
Our obsessive focus on the narcissist is a continuation of our feeding this empty shell with our energy. In order to heal we must put the focus back on ourselves and start feeding our own soul. This is the case with any addiction!
The heroin addict may wish that he can use the drug, get it cheap and never have any negative side effects or withdrawal from it. But this is simply not the case. The drug is destructive! The only way for the heroin addict to get his life back is to withdraw, cold turkey, from the drug, stop entertaining fantasies that it will ever be anything different from what it is, and find new ways to be nourished by life.
Like any drug addiction the longer you stay away the easier it is but the temptation is always there. The key is to resist the temptation, recognize it is unhealthy and focus your energy on healthy pursuits.
At the time I wrote this article (2007), it has been over seven years since leaving the relationship I talk about. He surfaced a short time ago and wanted to see me. At this point I felt I was strong enough to look at the drug without feeling the desire to inject it, so I agreed to see him, more as a test to myself than anything else.
I felt like it must have felt to be a man standing on the moon looking back at earth. I had distance on it. It was beautiful, from a distance. Yet I could see all the complexity just beneath the surface. I watched as his mind worked trying to find ways to reel me back into the Web yet I resisted beautifully.
He gave me his insight as to why our relationship didn’t work out and it was quite masterful and not even close to the truth, because, he could never hear the truth. I had to ask myself why he would even bother with me after all these years and I learned the answer to that question as well. It seemed that nobody else bothered to stay with him and he had only a series of dead-ends with no real commitment from anyone who gave as much as I did. I guess the average woman said NO to drugs. I was the exception. I was the addict and a narcissist loves an addict.
It was my own ability to say NO to drugs that saved me in the end. I recognized my own
and my need for affirmation from an outside source. The key for me was to find that affirmation from within and stop projecting God like powers into empty shells. It is sad that he is so empty, but it is his journey, not mine.
My journey is to care for myself, to find my own relationship to God and live my life to the fullest. From my own filled cup I draw to me those who also fill their own cup rather than those who look to drain my cup in attempt to fill their own.