Friday, February 13, 2015

Musings on Love and Addiction


By Deborah Schiller, LPC, CSAT-S, CMAT

I have always loved Valentine's Day--every ritual that accompanies the day delights me. When I was young, my mother would place a nickel under each of the kids' breakfast plates, one for each year of our ages. She would serve a hardy breakfast because she knew we would be eating sweets the rest of the day at school. I loved those family traditions. I loved making and exchanging the valentine cards. I loved reading them again and again throughout the day.

Valentine's Day is still my favorite holiday. It is a beautiful celebration of love. I work at Gratitude at Pine Grove helping sex and love addicts. Even though I have seen some of the devastating outcomes from compulsive relationships gone badly, I still honor and cherish love. Working with individuals who "love too much" might sound like an unnecessary profession; how can there be such a thing--love is good, isn't it? How could anyone become addicted to it? The truth is, "love addiction" might be a misguiding term. I wish there was a better way to describe the powerlessness love addicts have over their emotions and the ceaseless longing for connection that produces troublesome behaviors.

Being in love is a wonderful thing. We feel stronger, happier, and more energetic. Our feet barely touch the ground when we experience romantic Love! Love inspires poetry, music, and romantic letters. Our hearts are full when we are in love, and life is great. It becomes natural to see things in an optimistic light. Researchers have discovered that there are strong chemicals flooding our brains during the early stages of being in love causing this brain state.

Oxytocin, a hormone once thought to be only present in the brains of mothers during childbirth and when nursing is now known to be a powerful influence in the brains of people in love. This chemical is known to engender feelings of connection and belonging. It a chemical associated with empathy. Dopamine is another chemical present when we are high on love, so to speak. This neurotransmitter gives us a sense of wellbeing and enables us to feel pleasure. It has been shown that even hearing your cell phone chime can result in additional dopamine flooding into your brain, especially if it might be a call from that special person. That is, it's the reward chemical in your brain that signals to us, "this is a good thing!"

Does knowing that something as magical as romantic Love can be broken down into its chemical components take away its magic? The answer is no, not if you are the one in love. Unfortunately, for some, the compulsion toward romantic and/or erotic Love completely overpowers their lives. The inability to think of anything else--not being able to eat or sleep--never ends. The fear of losing the object of affection is so great that the person will go to any lengths not to experience (what feels like) abandonment. A person addicted to romantic or erotic Love will tolerate extreme levels of abuse rather than be alone. Often this person will have one or more extra relationships waiting in the wings, just in case something happens to the primary relationship. Sadly, this infidelity can be the very behavior that insures the failures of the primary relationship.

People who struggle with extreme forms of love addiction live incredibly difficult lives. They cannot find serenity, peace, or fulfillment with or without a partner. Because humans are wired to be relational, our brains tell us that any separation from others is to be avoided at all costs. Unless the love addicted individual gets into recovery, a painful breakup is inevitable.

The suffering of withdrawal from a love addicted relationship is extreme. Because every thought centers on keeping the object of love close by, it is difficult to make the first move to get help. Like with other addictions, it is usually a friend or family member who steps in to assist the love addict in getting the care and support s/he needs to break this cycle of heartache. Usually intensive professional counseling, either in an outpatient or residential setting, is required. Getting away from the environment in which the person was so caught up in their obsessive thoughts and behaviors can be helpful.

So go ahead and love fully and truly. Don't be afraid to fall. But if you find yourself putting up with an out of control relationship or staying in an abusive or addictive one, help is available. Ask someone who really knows you to share their perspective on the situation. You do not have to be alone. Love should feel good, like Valentine's Day when you were a kid.

Deborah Schiller is the Program Director of Gratitude (formally known as "Gentle Path"), a Pine Grove Program. She is a native of Huntsville, AL, where she completed three years of study at the University of Alabama in Huntsville before finishing her degree at Montevallo University in Montevallo, AL. Ms. Schiller taught School in Selma, AL for three years before getting her Masters degree in Early Childhood Education from Stanford, University in Stanford, CA. She began her family in New York City and taught in schools in Boston, MA, Huntsville, AL, and Redlands, CA. While raising three children, she returned to school, receiving her second Masters degree from The University of South Alabama, Baldwin County, AL, this time in Counseling. Ms. Schiller completed an Internship at The Meadows Treatment Center in Wickenburg, AZ and became a Therapist there. In 2004, Ms. Schiller joined Pine Grove and the Professional Enhancement Program as a Clinical Therapist. She has since worked at Pine Grove’s Gratitude Program as Primary Therapist and Clinical Director.

Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services is an extension of Forrest General Hospital, located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Pine Grove’s world renowned programs focus on treating gender specific chemical addiction including a specialized track for co-occurring eating disorders. Additionally, Pine Grove offers a focused substance abuse healing program for adults age 55 and over. Other Pine Grove specialty programs include a dedicated professional’s treatment curriculum and a comprehensive evaluation center. Pine Grove also features a program for patients with sexual and intimacy disorder issues. Pine Grove was established in 1984 and has provided nationally and internationally recognized health care for over 30 years.

Visit www.pinegrovetreatment.com or call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673) for more information.