Love Addict: Sex, Romance, and Other Dangerous Drugs

Love Addict: Sex, Romance, and Other Dangerous Drugs

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by Ethlie Ann Vare

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Giddy euphoria, an elevated heart rate, clammy hands, increased blood pressure, facial flushing, dilated pupils . . . these are the physical effects of 'falling in love' or being sexually aroused. These tell-tale signs of attraction are, in reality, caused by a cascade of electrical and chemical reactions in the reward centers of the brain, a reaction that also

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Giddy euphoria, an elevated heart rate, clammy hands, increased blood pressure, facial flushing, dilated pupils . . . these are the physical effects of 'falling in love' or being sexually aroused. These tell-tale signs of attraction are, in reality, caused by a cascade of electrical and chemical reactions in the reward centers of the brain, a reaction that also significantly increases feelings of well-being. Who wouldn't want to feel this way all the time? In fact, it would seem that love and sex (or their chemical components) are great drugs, and relatively safe too. But what happens when those euphoric feelings wane or someone calls it quits or the feelings are unrequited? Most people would move on; the same way most casual users of a drug such as cocaine or a behavior such as gambling don't become addicts.

But a lot of people simply can't move on, and many of them have been struggling to understand why they have no control over their urges to call, text, email, stalk, manipulate, pursue, fantasize, or beg another for their love or a chance to be physical. This is love and sex addiction. These are the people who, despite remarkable accomplishments in the world, always feels like they're clutching at someone's ankle and being dragged across the floor. They want answers. They want to end the pain. They want to recover.

Ethlie Ann Vare has been successful in her own recovery and is now in a position to help others in her own unique way to recognize and overcome this often debilitating disease. Not your run-of-the-mill clinical book on addiction, Love Addict approaches the topic from the lighter side, with a solid historical recap, a witty perspective, and celebrity commentary. It gives love and sex addicts a chance to face the addiction in a nonthreatening manner and start the process of recovery.

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In the Name of Love:
The Story of My Addiction

I was pushing forty—probably from the wrong side—and hadn't had a drink or a drug in years. I had won a few book awards, been named in the Who's Who of American Women, and bought a home in Los Angeles, which, frankly, is harder than being named in the Who's Who of American Women. I had even quit smoking. Yet, there I was, banging a twenty-one-year-old high school dropout on the floor of his recovery-house bathroom. A girlfriend asked why I didn't just bring him home. 'I don't want him to know where I live,' I said, as if that should have been obvious to anyone. I mean, this kid had open court cases, if not open sores. He had needle marks and lightning-bolt tattoos on his arm. This is not the sort of boy a nice Jewish girl brings home to . . . well, a home.

'You won't let him put his feet on your carpet, but you'll let him put his . . .' she trailed off. I looked at her like the RCA Victor dog, cocking my head to the side in bafflement. Why was I screwing this kid on the linoleum? Well, he asked, and I hadn't yet grasped that 'no' was an option. He was tall. I liked the sound of his voice. He smiled at me in just the right way at just the right time. His scent was intoxicating. I liked the sound of his voice. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I really liked the sound of his voice.

Of course I liked the sound of his voice. He sounded just like Lonnie, a boy I had loved and lost—lost, as in he disappeared over the side of a mountain road in a stolen car—long ago. Emotions like loss and grief have no temporal sense; they don't understand the difference between the past and the future. I don't handle overwhelming emotions like loss and grief very well. I can barely tolerate happy. Before 1988, my go-to coping mechanisms were available only by prescription or in the bathroom of your better nightclubs. After 1988, I needed another way to check out. My new healing balm was the nearest warm body. I didn't know any of this at the time, of course. I just thought I was looking for love in all the wrong places, like anyone else.

A few bathroom floors and a couple of married men later, my therapist (I live in Los Angeles; therapy is mandatory, like Pilates) suggested I check out a self-help group of sex and love addicts. I resisted, naturally, and when I finally went, I considered tucking some antiseptic wipes in my purse. Just in case. I might find myself at a Wesson oil orgy, or sitting between Chester the Molester and a diaper-wearing astronaut.

I ended up in a roomful of people telling my story. It was revelatory. Not my story exactly, of course. But the patterns were the same. One woman talked about her cold and distant father, and how she fell for one emotionally unavailable man after another until she realized that she confused love and longing. You mean I'm not the only person who consistently chooses the most unavailable man in the vicinity? A man said that he put a sticky note on his phone with his toxic girlfriend's phone number on it. 'For pain, dial this number,' the note said. I'm not the only one whose whole day depends on whether he calls or what he says? A gay man said he risked his health having anonymous sex because he knew that if any of the twinkies he was attracted to opened their mouths to speak, he would have to leave. I'm not alone in sleeping with someone on the first date because by the second date I might not like him anymore . . . or, worse, that he wouldn't like me? I even related to the weenie-wagger who wanted only to be noticed by someone.

It was what you might call a good news–bad news evening. I'm not insane! I'm just, well, a little nuts. I'm a love addict, an obsessive-compulsive maladaptation that I inherited both literally and metaphorically from my parents.

Born This Way
As far back as I can remember, I was boy crazy. It was considered an achievement, not a diagnosis. The goal was to be popular, and that meant popular with the boys, because girls simply didn't count. If I took it further than the other girls, I was not aware of it. I assumed everyone's fifth-grade diary included fictional scenarios of love affairs with sixth-grade boys. I had no idea that a love affair included sex, because I had no idea what sex was. I pictured romance as an adult sort of tea party with martini glasses instead of teacups and pretend cigarettes instead of pretend petits fours.

I never noticed that the boys I had crushes on were invariably GQ models-in-waiting, WASP archetypes with ski-jump noses and straight blond hair that flopped over their foreheads. I was a frizzy-haired, nearsighted teacher's pet who pined for the boys who dated cheerleaders. Even then I was somehow programmed to want the boys who were programmed not to want me. It didn't feel like a setup for rejection. It felt like a challenge. Only the unattainable—or, at least, the very difficult to attain—is worth having. By rejecting me, the objects of my desire only validated their desirability. It's not like I wanted to go to your stupid conformist prom anyway.

Sadly, this tendency to confuse love and longing is so common that it's hardly even interesting. Every woman with an absent father—whether through divorce, death, disease, or distance (physical and emotional)—is going to associate feelings of affection with feelings of abandonment. 'How can I love you when you won't go away?' is black humor for us.

My story is pathetically typical of my generation: Daddy saw horrors in Germany during World War II that no one should see and was expected to gut it out and not talk about it afterward. He commuted into Manhattan from our Long Island tract house, and, on weekends, I mostly remember him half-asleep on the couch. These bouts of ennui made him a test case for Miltown, one of psychopharmacology's early efforts at antidepressant meds.

Much later I learned he was also pathologically, debilitatingly possessive of his wife. His jealousy, it turns out, was well founded. My mom screwed around like a one-woman rock band on tour. A clingy relationship addict (Daddy) gravitating to a faithless sex and love addict (Mommy) . . . again, pathetically typical.

I customarily blamed my affection deficit disorder, as I came to call it, on my mother. It was easy. Too easy. Sure, she bequeathed me a genetic load rife with addiction, but a person can't help the DNA with which she (or he) arrived. She could have not cheated on Dad, but it's not like I was aware of it at the time. Mainly I blamed her for the misinformation I was drilled with: You need a man. You need a man to be complete. You need a man to take care of you. You need a strong man. You must flatter and manipulate men to get them to like you. Men are more important than women. And on and on, life lessons that I took to mean I really should marry that abusive drug dealer. Him strong, Mama!

I do realize that my mother was passing on to me the lessons that had been instilled in her. Or, more precisely, the lessons her girlish mind had gleaned from the evidence of her own early life experience—and her early life experience was a steaming bowl of crap. But even in good times, life never met mother's expectations, mostly because she expected perfection. From her husbands (all of whom inevitably fell short), from her daughters (ditto), and, saddest of all, from herself. This was a woman who proofread and pencil-edited her suicide notes.

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