My Story: A Reason to Live
By Susan, Milwaukee-SCA
At one point I was sleeping with two men and dating two others
(in non-sexual relationships). To some, that would not seem an
odd thing at all. But considering that I had vowed at an early
age, that I would never have an affair (after my father had gravely hurt
my mother with an affair), this was an odd thing for me. I got to the
point of reacting with fear any time the phone
rang, my heart in my throat for the first few moments, trying to
identify the male caller. Mark? Dan? John? Brett? I was
afraid of being caught. I was afraid of continuing my life as
it was. I was living a life I hated, according to values I
despised. Meanwhile, I would tell myself that I was not doing
anything wrong because if I slept with one man one month, I would
not sleep with the other man that same month (to ensure that if
I did become pregnant I could identify the father). I was
walking a line between sanity and insanity.
How insane was my life? The question really is, did I have a
life? Outside of my addiction, no. Every thought from waking
through sleeping was about men and/or relationships. Which man
should I choose? Where should I move? Every decision I made,
affecting career, geographic location, and the course of my
life, was based on the opportunity to start and/or pursue a
relationship. A relationship was my reason for living, my only
way of living.
As a therapist once observed, I was very efficient when it came
to relationships. Once I had identified a prospective partner,
I moved in quickly, speeding the relationship along to a
crescendo which included compulsive phone calls, a total time
dedication on my part, and eventually a crash-landing, usually
on cement. From the ages of 17 to 27, I was never without a
relationship, always planning my next target long before the
previous relationship had ended. Even before the age of 17, I
was engaging in addictive relationships. An actual person? I
didn’t need an actual person. I was 4 or 5 when I first
remember fantasizing about the man who would bring my salvation,
who would save me, catch me as I faint. Take me away. On the
outside I may have looked normal, dressed in an attractive
fashion, but on the inside I was like the crazed, mourning
mother who wanders the cemetery, wailing after losing her child.
I would date men, call them repeatedly, begging for time, love, and
attention. The men would run scared, not call, move away.
Now, in my sanity, I can see that. At the time I just thought
the man didn’t love me. So I yelled louder. And the man ran
farther away. My greatest loss from this was my dignity. I
would ask myself, “Why are you calling him again? He hasn’t
called you back. You’ve called more than once today. Stop.” I
couldn’t stop, no matter how hard I tried. I promised myself
gifts if I stopped. A lovely pair of earrings. Topaz in gold. Expensive
for my budget. Just two weeks. Stop calling for two
I made it three days, and then I called again and again and
again. If only he didn’t have a roommate. The roommate knows
how often I’ve called. I felt a silent sense of humiliation.
The only thing that stopped me, allowing me to complete those
two weeks, was a comment from that roommate. “Yeah, I’ll tell
him you called again, just liked you called this morning.” I
stopped out of humiliation, shame, embarrassment. Two weeks
without placing another call. I bought myself those earrings,
knowing that I didn’t earn them through my own strength of will,
but through a will built from shame. I began calling again
after completing the two weeks. I was powerless.
The treatment I received in a relationship didn’t seem to
matter. What mattered was the relationship, the time I was
given, the attention I was paid. The man was often insane,
perhaps in a form different from mine. But the more insane he
was, the more addicted I seemed to be. Fights lasting all day.
Physical altercations. Sexual abuse. Being ordered out of a
car in a verbally abusive way. I would step out of the car,
grabbing little pieces of pride, vowing never to return. Then
his voice on my answering machine. I will not call him back. I
will not call him back. Like a mantra in my head. Then the
phone in my hand, almost disembodied from my mind, fingers
dialing. “A movie? Sure.” Just friends. That voice in my
head, “I will not call him back”? The sane voice, I call it. A
very small voice. Powerless again. Back in his arms. But
still, there was that small voice.
“I wish I was a drug addict,” I’d say in my Codependents
Anonymous meeting. “At least then if I had money I could score.
I wouldn’t have to get the person’s permission.” I was the
heroin addict on the bathroom floor, looking for one last spot
on a tracked vein. There was nothing left to do to stop the
addiction from rolling over me. I’d tried everything. Stop
dating. Start dating. No sex. Sex. None of it worked.
Numb with pain and life, I needed one last hit to be alive.
Just one more hit.
I hit the wall in August of 1992. I had moved back to Wisconsin
to be with one of the four men referred to earlier; in an
attempt to fix my desperation I’d discontinued all but one
relationship. To make that move I had quit my job, left all my
friends and apartment, and moved to a city where I knew only one
person, my lover. I was fleeing from my addiction and the pain
it had created in my life, most significantly the loss of a child in one
addictive relationship. With nothing left to lean on, and an addiction
that seemed to be working less and less to dull a pain that had reached a
scream, I became suicidal. Thoughts
of hurting myself and others filling my mind in the same way my addiction
had filled it before. What my willpower could not do, the threat of death
could. For the first time in my life I made a decision that was not based
on a relationship but instead based solely on me. I was desperate to
save my own life. I entered a 12-Step treatment facility in August,
staying for 28 days which took me through early withdrawal from my
I can say that the first year of my recovery from addiction to
romance and relationships was one of the hardest times of my
life. I attended 90 meetings in 90 days after leaving treatment,
sometimes imagining myself crashing the car off the pavement of the
country roads leading to my meetings. Little by little, I learned how to
crawl from the compulsion, crying into the phone with friends, the
obsession somehow miraculously lifting once I’d talked about the real
emotion driving it from beneath. One minute at a time, one day at a time,
I lived a life based on my dreams, my wishes, my desires. That was my
bottom line, living my own life, not a life based on a man or a
relationship. Upon recommendation, I chose not to date for a year,
expelling the thought of potentials and rain checks. To stay sober I did
not listen to romantic songs, turning the station whenever a song of
undying love began. I also avoided other triggers such as romantic movies
and books. I was willing to do anything to stay sober, including switch
jobs, move geographically, and even discontinue destructive friendships.
I attended SCA meetings because the time was convenient, but
also because the men were gay, and, therefore, unavailable to
me. My addiction didn’t even have a chance to obsess under
these conditions, although this did not stop my eyes from
pulsing into the newcomer, chanting, “Bi? Gay? Bi? Gay?”
Once the newcomer identified his orientation as gay, I was
always disappointed, but also released. Thank you, Higher
Power. I could create a friendship without strings, sexual
promise or potential. Since I am bisexual, I also clearly
stated boundaries with women who might be of sexual interest.
My life before and after recovery was like night and day.
Night: obsession, self-harm, abusive relationships, compulsive
pursuit. Day: hope unbound, dreams for my future, release
from the monster grip of addiction. With careful nurturing
over the last 3-1/2 years, I’ve continued on my path of
sobriety, occasionally slipping. The 12-Steps and SCA continue to save my
life. I can’t imagine life without my home group and the beauty of
powerlessness. By the time my addiction was through with me I had lost my
career, my dignity, a child, and almost myself. Now I am rebuilding my
life one brick at a time, grabbing hold of my pride, self-worth, and a
reason to be alive in the morning.
This is my life now: I plant gardens in the spring; furnish my
home for the life I live now (I just recently purchased a bed
after years of waiting until “I get married”); plan a career for
my future; look to creating and nurturing children. All of
this may or may not include a partner, but most importantly
it includes me as the star, center of attention, the focus for the future.
When I’m at my best, my awareness of my powerlessness is so complete that
I know that someday, even if I do have a partner, there will be a point
where there is only me and my Higher Power. Everyone dies and everyone
must face her/his Higher Power alone. That is how ingrained my addiction
was. I believed a lover could save me even from God, comfort me in the
frightening journey of afterlife.
Lately I’ve begun a new and scary adventure: dating. This is
one of the greatest challenges to my sobriety since entering
recovery from romance and relationship addiction. Every date,
every phone call, every thought of a potential date throws me up
against my addiction. It is somewhat akin to a compulsive
overeater attending an all-you-can eat buffet. Under this
challenge, everyday is a push for me to call for support, ask
for reality-checks, and give up my life to a power greater than
myself. No matter what happens, it is key for me to become and
stay willing to do anything to stay sober, and that includes
being willing to give up dating. Now. Not tomorrow, but the
minute it becomes obvious that I am losing my sobriety. And it
is important that I remember the night I came from; the
obsession, the loss of life, the desperation, the fear.
Because forgetting will mean I will return to my addiction–I am
always keenly aware that I do enjoy using my drug of choice. But most
importantly, I must never forget, because now I am my own reason to live,
and because I am a link in a chain of sobriety. We keep each other sober.
We are sober at a meeting. We are sober on the other end of the line. We
are sober in a world filled with addiction. I want to stay a sober
addict. I want to live my life into day.
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