My last long-term assignment before the one I am currently serving was at San Pedro High School’s Olguin campus.
I was teaching a moderate to severe level of special education students, which meant that these students were teenagers or even young adults who engaged with a level of intellect comparable to that of an elementary school student.
One of the most heartbreaking things to witness was how they navigated through romantic relationships, which, I must say, was not too far off in resemblance to how many of us do as “normal” teenagers and adults.
One of my students was a love addict.
What is love addiction? Love addicts are people who, according to Pia Mellody in her book, “Facing Love Addiction, “spend much time, effort on a person to whom they are addicted. They value this person above themselves, and their focus on the beloved other often is obsessive. This behavior results in love addicts neglecting to care for themselves in a variety of ways, in essence abandoning important aspects of their lives and well-being to stay connected to the object of their affections.”
She let her addiction to a boy get so far in the way of her ability to engage in her classwork that she began to regress and exhibit childlike behaviors like crying inconsolably, sitting on the ground, whining and baby-talk. She would often refuse to do any of her work all because she was so emotionally distraught about this boy not returning her affections they way she would have liked him to. I found myself talking to her and asking her to focus her energy back on her classwork and to also channel her affections on people who loved her unconditionally, but to no avail. I left the assignment with a written recommendation to refer her to a counselor so she could face her addiction to this boy and to help her with finding coping mechanisms so that she would not be so dependent on his regard.
This was a teenaged special ed girl…And yet, I saw myself in her. I saw my middle school self, my high school self, my college self, and even my young adult self, suffering with feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, pushing through my self esteem and bending over backwards for a fix of what only the object of my affection could provide.
As I write this, I admit that I am recovering from this problem.
Of course, the symptoms of my love addiction weren’t manifested in the same way as my students’.
While feeding my love addiction, I stopped caring for myself. I stopped tending to my dreams. I stopped tending to my appearance. I stopped tending to my health. I let my entire garden dry out because I was far too busy tending to another’s. I gave more than I could and was reluctant to take because I felt unworthy. And when he deliberately made me feel like I was not enough, I believed him and I worked even harder to be “enough.”
This is what I mean about self-sabotage. I fed my addictions instead of my dreams, and I dually suffered.
From a young age, my love addiction was an escape from the harsh reality that I hated my life at home and that I was not being nurtured to go after my desires, mainly to sing. My family wasn’t wealthy, I was responsible for many domestic tasks, and the idea of a boy liking me or giving me attention was the rush I needed to not sink into despair over what my life really was like.
I remember feeling very ashamed of what life for me at home was like, because it was far from perfect. We were neglected children through no fault of our own and yet we somehow found ways to take care of each other and have fun. We often snuck people into our home or snuck out, trading shifts. I began sneaking out of my house when I was only 14. It was simply better to get lost in laughter, joy and affection with someone than to endure being at home where my mother couldn’t manage to keep her shit together and where my dad was either absent physically or absent emotionally. We didn’t want to see it.
My love addictions began from elementary school, and I was the kind of girl that kept my fantasies about the objects of my affection long enough for them to materialize in some way, shape or form before finally attaining what I wanted and then abruptly moving on. I didn’t want to get close enough to a boy to let him actually know everything about me or love me for whom I really was, because I was so ashamed of where I came from and deep inside didn’t believe they ever could, but I did like to entertain him as if it were some game.
There was one that managed to stand out above the others over the years, and out of respect for him and our longstanding connection I’ll have him remain nameless, but those of you who have known me long enough know exactly whom I’m referring to.
I found him attractive since the day I met him. I didn’t have to know anything about him for this attraction to grow, because I was mainly attracted to his energy. I didn’t really know anything about energy at the time either, but there was a profound magnetism to him that I couldn’t shake.
This connection brought me so much laugher and pain, but one thing was for sure: whether his attention was negative or positive, I enjoyed feeding it. I needed to feed it. And it took over a decade for it to finally become something remotely healthy for the both of us. Many diary entries have been about him. Many songs have been written for him. There were many years of insults, sabotage, ridicule, arguments, slighting, distance, resentment, frustration, gossip and the perpetual feeling of not being good enough. There were also many instances of joy, laughter, shared wisdom, reality checks, resolved misunderstandings, song dedications, kisses, hugs, dances and nights spent in complete abandonment of whatever consequences could ensue from our choice to be together.
If I could pinpoint my biggest vice on the planet, it was him.
And yet, he’s also been my greatest teacher, and one of my best friends.
If it weren’t for him, I would never have learned how to love myself, develop self-esteem and confidence, believe in my dreams, and become a compassionate, altruistic person.
Because when I changed, so did he.
Thus, I realized that my love addiction could be healed simply by my decision to focus on loving myself and giving myself the very same attention I would always give to him. That same praise, prioritization, affection and daily work to please him became what I gave to myself, until, like magic, my magnetism intensified and my light was bright enough for me not to care whether he loved or approved of me, because I was enough for me.
I stopped making him my higher power and feeding his ego, shifting instead to my inner, higher self as my higher power, and when I recognized the Goddess in myself, he recognized the Goddess in me.
Much of my recovery can be owed to reading Why Men Love Bitches and Facing Love Addiction, which I highly recommend every teenaged girl to read because I want my students to be armed with the knowledge of their intrinsic worth before engaging in romantic relationships. I know I can’t stop you from learning the lessons you’re meant to, but I can at least provide you with resources to help you recognize when you are shifting away from recognizing and affirming your worth while relating to others. I want you to fall in love with yourselves and stand in love with a partner, not fall in love with someone and lose yourself in the process, like I have many, many times, often with the same exact person.
Love addiction has no place in the mind and heart of a woman who knows her worth and isn’t afraid to show it and defend it.
To close, here's one of my favorite songs about love addiction. Have you ever been addicted to someone?