Tales of Women Survivors
is important, and the process of change begins with honesty. The
honesty is the willingness to admit out loud that you have a problem
or weakness—that you have done things you regret.
The honesty takes on an even deeper meaning when you tell your story.
This is never easy, but as you listen to yourself describe your
experience with weakness you will gain a new awareness of how you
have gotten off track. This, in turn, will help you understand what
needs to be changed as your transformation unfolds.
Telling your story not
only helps you, it helps others. As people listen to you, they often
hear their own story and find out they are not alone. This provides
an overwhelming sense of well-being. It dissipates the shame and
jump-starts the transformation process.
I am a professional writer and counselor. My book Addiction to Love:
Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships has been on
the market since 1989. My most recent book just came out. It is
entitled The Art of Changing: Your Path to a Better Life. I have
been in recovery since 1982. As they say in the recovery community,
I am a SURVIVOR.
my recovery began, however, I was an addict. My drug of choice,
was romantic love. It kind of crept up on me. In the beginning,
I was just an innocent—looking for love. Then things got out
all began when I was about ten years old and started falling in
love. My first crush was on a boy named Alan. Oh, how I loved him.
I just knew he was going to make all my dreams come true.
Alan was embarrassed and angry that I liked him so much. He told
me not to write his name on my school books. He threw rocks at me
when I walked by his house. I can still feel the sting of those
missiles. I cried, and was humiliated, but nothing discouraged me.
Every day I watched Alan
play baseball at the park. At school, during recess, I would sneak
into the cloakroom and put on Alan’s jacket. I wanted to touch
something that was his—I wanted to smell his presence. I also
wrote in my diary about my love for Alan. Day after day, I described
the bittersweet pain of unrequited love, hoping that someday Alan
would love me too.
There were other infatuations
over the years. The pattern was always the same. I fell in love
and believed that only this particular boy could make me happy.
And I always felt so powerless—as if I couldn’t help
myself. Eventually, I would get emotionally and physically sick
from yearning to be with someone I could not have. Then, when the
pain became unbearable, the obsession faded and I found someone
more promising to adore from a distance.
High school was not a
happy time for me. I prayed that someone would ask me out for a
date. One time I did get a call from a boy. He asked me out and
I agreed to go. I was so excited and nervous that I stayed up all
night making a new dress. The next day at school some boys snickered
at me as I walked by, and that night someone called to tell me that
the phone call I had gotten the night before was just a joke. I
was so embarrassed, I wanted to die.
When I was nineteen years
old, I became desperate to have a relationship. I wanted to have
a boyfriend and I was willing to do anything to get one. Of course,
I did not feel loveable enough to attract someone I really liked,
and I was too impatient to wait for someone compatible to come along,
so I got involved with the first person who showed any interest
I met Ray [not his real
name] walking down the street in San Francisco. I was visiting the
Haight Asbury district made famous by the hippies. Ray was twenty
five years old, unemployed, and living with his mother. I started
spending a lot of time with Ray and within a few months I was pregnant.
I decided to sign up for government assistance (welfare) and find
a place where Ray and I could live together. From that point on,
I became Ray’s caretaker. I paid the bills, bought Ray’s
clothes and gave him money for drugs.
I accepted a lot of neglect
from Ray. I seemed to have a high tolerance for suffering because
in my mind this was the price I had to pay for having a man in my
life. Ray took advantage of this. He only came home when he felt
like it. He didn’t give me any affection. Ray and I didn’t
even talk very much, unless he was telling me what to do. He also
took all of my money, except what went to pay the bills. Sometimes
I would try to hide money for a rainy day. Then Ray would get into
some kind of trouble with gambling or drugs and beg me to give him
some money. He said the men he owed money to would kill him if he
did not pay up. I can still see him standing there, tears running
down his face, asking me to save his life. Of course, I always gave
in. I felt responsible for Ray.
I also accepted a lot
of dishonesty from Ray. I had no idea what it felt like to trust
him. Usually he lied to me about other women. He said he was not
having affairs and he usually was. Deep down I knew what was going
on, but I buried my head in the sand because I was afraid if I said
something to Ray he might leave me.
Of course, I wanted more
than I was getting out of the relationship. I was just to afraid
to demand it. So I just cried when my birthday went unnoticed. When
Ray didn’t come home at night I spent hours lying in the bed,
curled up like a child, waiting for his car to pull up.
Despite my dependency
on this relationship, I tried several times to end it. I remember
after six months of being with Ray I wanted to leave him. When I
told him I was going to leave he got very sad. He said, “I
guess you’ve gotten what you want and now you’re ready
to move on and leave me behind.” I felt guilty when Ray said
this and I stayed with him to keep from hurting his feelings. I
projected my fear of being abandoned onto him, and assumed that
he could not survive if I left him.
Later in the relationship,
I thought about leaving Ray again, but I felt guilty about withdrawing
my financial support. I knew Ray had become dependent on me. I was
also afraid to leave the relationship because I knew it meant facing
my fear of loneliness and giving up my identity as a caretaker.
Most of all, I didn’t want to face the emotional pain of breaking
up so I just kept putting it off, hoping my misery would end someday.
Another time I asked
Ray to leave, but when he started packing his bags I panicked. The
next thing I knew, I was begging Ray to stay—like a child
begging her mother not to leave her alone in the dark. During this
scene my fear of abandonment overwhelmed me, and I was ready to
do anything to avoid feeling the panic that gripped my heart.
While it seemed as if
I would never leave, eventually I did fall in love with someone
else and decided to ask Ray for a divorce. Unfortunately, Ray was
not ready to lose me. When I told him I was going to leave he held
a knife to my throat and threatened to kill me. Then he beat me
up and held me prisoner in the house. He kept saying to me, “I
know you still love me, just admit it.” After three days of
this, I agreed to stay with Ray and he immediately calmed down.
Then I said, “Ray it’s time to cook dinner and I need
to go to the store and get some things.” Ray agreed to let
me go and I quickly hurried out of the door. Once I was safe, I
went to a phone booth and called the police. Ray was told by the
police to leave the house and he did.
The first man I got involved
with after Ray was not much better, and that relationship failed
too. From this point on, I became involved in a series of short-term
relationships similar to the one I had with Ray. All of these relationships
failed because I was too emotionally unstable to select an appropriate
partner; and even if I did, I couldn’t sustain a relationship
because of my neediness, low self-esteem, and fear of abandonment.
So, as the years passed, my hungry heart went unsatisfied and this
made me even more desperate to find love.
It was during these years
of endless searching for love that I neglected my children. Kaitland
and Randy [not their real names] were always important to me in
between relationships. I cooked their meals, washed their clothes,
walked them to school, volunteered as a PTA mother, went to their
sports events, and tucked them in at nights. But when I had a boyfriend,
things changed. I am ashamed to admit this, but I actually brought
men I barely know into the house to stay for long periods, and while
these men were there they became more important than my children.
Eventually, all these
toxic relationships, and my guilt about neglecting my children,
took their toll and my health began to deteriorate. I developed
a spastic colon and high blood pressure. I was chronically depressed
and almost died in two car accidents. Once I couldn’t see
the road because I was crying and the other time I was fantasizing
instead of looking where I was going. Finally, after another failed
relationship, I was in so much pain I swallowed a bottle of aspirin.
In 1982 my father died.
The day before, I had asked my boyfriend if I could use the car
to visit my father. My boyfriend said “no,” so I didn’t
go and of course my father died. I cried about this in front of
my boyfriend and he promptly punched me in the eye. I guess he thought
I was trying to make him feel guilty. So I sat at my father’s
funeral with a black eye wondering what had become of my life.
On the day of my father’s
funeral I went to work. I wanted to be a “brave little soldier.”
Across from me was the desk of a co-worker by the name of Barry.
Barry had only recently been assigned to the desk near me after
the office manager, for no logical reason, decided to move everybody
around to a new location.
Around 4:00 in the afternoon
I was typing away when I looked up to see Barry staring at me. I
was curious about this and decided that it meant he cared about
my situation—perhaps he felt sorry for me. This was good news
for someone who felt invisible and unloved. I would take any kind
of attention I could get.
I started stopping by
Barry’s office more often after this. It did not take long
for me to fall in love. Eventually I asked Barry if he wanted to
go out on a date. He very nicely said he was dating someone else.
I was devastated, but undeterred. I decided at that moment that
I would seduce him come hell or high water. Thus, in the blink of
an eye, my final toxic relationship began—the last one before
finding my way into a new life.
My master plan to seduce
Barry was to lose weight and become so attractive that Barry could
not resist me. Men were basically weak, I assumed, when it came
to sex. Over the next few months, I took off a lot of weight and
spent all of my money on sexy clothes. Unfortunately, my plan didn’t
work. Barry was my friend and that was all.
To his credit, Barry
never gave into my obsession to be with him. Instead, he only tried
to help me with my depression. He never once mentioned the heavy
drinking which had become alcoholic by this time, or the dieting
which had gotten out of control.
One day, I was sitting
in Barry’s office, very depressed, and suddenly I started
crying. I turned to Barry and said, “Barry, can you die of
loneliness?” I really thought he was going to tell me to stop
feeling sorry for myself, but instead he looked at me with such
compassion and then he turned and said to me, “Yes, you can
die of loneliness. I know this first hand.” I looked at him
astonished, because after months of pouring out my heart to him
he had never once told me anything personal about himself. Finally,
after a long pause, he said, “Susan, I think you need to go
somewhere where people understand you.” That was it. No warnings
about my alcoholic drinking or obsessive dieting—just a simple
I didn’t visit
Barry for a few days after this. When I did see him he asked me
if I had gotten any help. I looked at him and blurted out, “No,
I am afraid they might cure me.” I was surprised at what I
had said. Barry just laughed. It was only years later that I realized
I had become addicted to the pain—the depression, the self
pity, the misery. It was the only thread I had left and I was afraid
to let it go. The idea of happiness made me nervous.
Eventually, I did get
help. I went to a support group. At first, I really didn’t
think my behavior was out of control, but as the facilitator explained
how the program worked something she said caught my attention. “You
will have to learn how to ask for help,” she announced. “Not
me,” I said to myself with the assurance of a lonely, stubborn
survivor. “I can take care of myself.”
I had been attending
the support group for about a year when Robin Norwood released her
book Women Who Love Too Much. Needless to say, I recognized many
of my own obsessive behavior patterns. Enthusiastic, I looked around
for a “Women Who Love Too Much” support group. Unfortunately,
there were none in my area. Undaunted, I started my own meeting
for women who wanted to deal with the issues introduced by Robin
Norwood. This seemed like a great way to promote my own recovery
and at the same time offer other women the opportunity to turn their
A year after the group
began, when I was about a mile down the road to recovery (according
to Robin Norwood’s chart), I became interested in teaching
others about the “disease” of “loving too much.”
Armed with a teaching credential, a desire to be instrumental in
helping others, and the support of all my friends, I approached
the principal of a local adult school. He was very enthusiastic
about the general subject matter of the course I wanted to teach,
but he encouraged me not to limit myself to just the issues presented
in Robin Norwood’s book. He also wanted me to allow men in
my class. When I agreed, he suggested I call my course “Addiction
Excited about the challenge
of teaching, I set aside Robin Norwood’s book for awhile and
began reading other literature about obsessive behavior in relationships.
This, of course, was a great learning experience for me. I was amazed
to find out how much had been written about love, obsession, and
dependency. (Even Kierkergaard, as far back as the l840's, wrote
about the “habitual” nature of romantic love. See Works
Once I had acquired a
lot of professional information about love and addiction (information
which I could use to supplement what I had learned from my own personal
experiences and the experiences of the women in my support group),
I began to prepare an outline for my course. My goal was to condense
and clarify many of the ideas introduced by others, and then to
interject some of my own concepts. By my own concepts I mean an
analysis of my own experiences. For example, in addressing the question
of why some people become obsessive in relationships and other don’t,
most authors get around to discussing the debilitating effects of
childhood deprivation within the dysfunctional home. Yet, none of
them mention the devastating effects of peer rejection and how it
relates to the creation of a lonely, needy love addict. Since this
was a big issue in my life I felt it was important to explore it
a little further.
Also, none of the authors
discuss the relationship between fantasizing and love addiction.
To me, this is like talking about baking bread and forgetting to
mention the yeast. Having been addicted to fantasizing, as well
as romantic love, I knew the connection between the two needed to
When I finally had what
I thought was a model of a course about love addiction, I taught
my first class. It was an exhilarating experience, and the response
of my students really made it clear that I had put together some
valuable information about a very serious problem. This is what
prompted me to put my course outline in manuscript form and make
it available to people who, for various reasons, could not take
Since Addiction to Love
first became available, I have gotten a positive response from everyone
who reads it. People seem to appreciate the simplified concepts
about obsessing in relationships and the “Suggestions for
Change.” Of course, I am very appreciative of this response
and happy to be contributing in this way. Most of all, I am glad
to be recovering from this disorder myself
I am still involved in helping other love addicts. In 2012 I celebrated
30 years of recovery and announced the publication of my latest
book, The Art of Changing: Your Path to a Better Life. I am happier
than I have ever been and enjoy helping others find their own recovery.
If you want to know more about me and my career, go to my website
this is my story. As I said, I am a survivor of a painful disorder.
And while I might be embarrassed about some of the things I did
in the name of love, I am proud of how far I have come in the last
30 years. If you also suffer from love addiction I hope my story
inspires you to change and reach out for a brighter tomorrow.
• Writings • Counseling