I have meticulously mind mapped Broder’s key concepts and overlaid my own love addiction drivers to grasp the insight (this is what I do for fun) which led to the post below – the longest post ever. If you suffer from unrequited love, love crushes or love addiction, I hope it helps you get a new perspective on why you do it and maybe start to heal. Strap in, this is going to be a bumpy ride…
Beginning of the healing journey
Like with the 12-step addiction programme, healing starts with becoming aware and admitting that you have a problem. I knew that I had a problem when I kept falling for people who were unavailable and I suffered from unrequited ‘love’. Rejection hurt and yet strangely I enjoyed the pain, I craved it, I was drawn to the drama. I exacerbated the pain by writing poems, listening to sad songs and creating and re-creating elaborate fantasies. Sort of emotional self-harm. In the end, the suffering from being caught up in the fantasy, not being present and not living my real life became too much and I had to face the facts – I have been repeating the pattern. Something was wrong with me.
Childhood was the first stop for self enquiry. I have not had healthy love role models growing up and mostly witnessed dysfunctional relationships. However I knew that there was more to my love addiction than just childhood experience. I continued to dig deeper.
Love for the sake of love
When I would newly crush, I often realised that I was enjoying the quest, the chase more than the outcome. In fact, I could not imagine what would happen if an object of my feelings returned them – the prospect was terrifying. This paradox made me realise it was not love I was after. If I did not want to be loved back, if I knew I would be rejected, was it the grasping that I was addicted to? A poet myself, I was mesmerised by both art and story of the Russian poet Mayakovsky who killed himself, allegedly because of unrequited love. A possible mental health issue aside, was he addicted to love?
Melissa Broder talks of a high that ‘almost getting’ produces. ‘Yearning for yearning itself’, hunger for pursuit becomes a drug induced pain-pleasure cycle where we try to escape ourselves and our lives, which perhaps we believe are dull and devoid of meaning. We find meaning in drama, in pain, in pursuit. Love addiction is a filler – a way to fill the emptiness, the void. Do we love for the sake of love?
Facing the void
More existential questions arise. How lonely do you feel? Are you terrified of loneliness? Do you cry alone at night in bed? Do you believe that another person can fill this terrifying void that you are facing, consciously or not? Are you settling if you are uncomfortable with being alone? Should you stop trying to plug the void with people and turn your look inward instead? I wish a 20 year old me watched How To Be Single.
How about uncertainty? How terrified are you of that? Do you hate surprises? How about change? When something goes not as planned, how do you react? Could you be choosing unavailable people because you want to be in control of the outcome and heed uncertainty and the pain that comes with it?
What are you trying to escape from? I believe that every fear (loneliness, commitment, uncertainty, success, failure, etc) is rooted in the fear of death, fear of the void, the Big Empty. Are you terrified of staring into the abyss, of your annihilation? Can nothingness explain that mortifying chill you feel in your bones when you experience fear? You may not be aware of it but it is there ruling your emotions and defining your choices.
The magnitude and depth of our existential terror explains the power of grasping in love addiction. We mistakenly believe that one person can fill the void in our lives, be our meaning, a solution to all of our problems, elevate us and render us immortal through the light of love – and so we grasp blindly and hold on for our lives not letting go.
Nothing external can ever liberate you. It’s always the inside job.
Power of projection
I fell for people who I barely knew. They are no doubt amazing beautiful people but they are not perfect as I made them to be. It’s only recently that I learned that I was projecting (thank you, my old soul friend) – my quest for beauty, for awe, all those amazing qualities I already had as well as my emotional needs and wants stemming from fears and sense of lack – I was projecting all of this emotional luggage on the unsuspecting objects of my ‘love’. I was trying to find myself in others.
This made me in turn realise that I had no idea who I was and that I had severe lack of self-love. I did not know how to love, myself or others. So it was not that I was falling for unavailable people, I was unavailable myself. I was not unlovable, I did not love myself enough.
Filling the void or reaching for the light?
Love addiction is starting to look more like what it is which is addiction to ‘loving’, to the process in an attempt to fill the void and hence transcend mortality. We create for the sake of creation. Wherever there is emptiness, we need to fill it. In ‘Pisces’, Broder says:
I’ve been using ‘love’ to fill the existential void. I’ve been ‘craving the light’, as Broder puts it, ‘pursuing beauty’. As she so poignantly states, ‘the question is not what is love, but is it really love I am looking for?’ I now think that I might have been looking for universal, rather than romantic, love, my ‘longing (was) holy’, I could be ‘confusing spiritual longing with craving for romantic love.’ (Broder) What are we but the Universe looking for another shard of itself to reflect the light back so it can remember what it is?
Jason Silva talks about how psychedelics, travel, love and beauty bring us into the present, stop the chitter chatter of the brain. When you are in the present, you step out of your mind, you get off the thought treadmill, you leave time-space continuum, you feel at one with the Universe, you experience flow, awe, aliveness, joy. This is why travel helped and why psilocybin was so transformative – I experienced the same symptoms (awe, aliveness, joy) but without the addiction.
What if we don’t want to merge with another person and instead with the soul of the universe, the eternal light – dissolve in the universal love, come home? In this case love addiction is a dead end, a distorted mind tool inevitably failing to get us to the destination, mind on steroids, overthinking, obsessing, projecting into the future, failing to grasp and grasping harder. The truth lies beyond the mind, on the other side of it, to get there we need to get out of our heads and to the next, mind free level of consciousness.
We are addicted not because we are longing for the wrong thing. We are addicted because we are not fully aware of what it is we are longing for and we are using mind tools to define it. We are chasing the proverbial tail. Look at an object of your addiction, look at him or her closely – you don’t love this person, you don’t know this person, your mind is trying to convince itself that this person is an answer, a solution, a way. S/he isn’t. Leave your mind behind.
Love in a love addict’s mind may be the void filler, the antithesis to big empty as Broder puts it, stemming out of fears, but could it also be striving for light, for being one with the One, to feel the eternal awe? Howard Thurman says ‘Ask not what the world needs, ask instead what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.’ This is your answer. This is what you’ve been looking for. The answer is love but it’s a different sort of love.
I started with self-love, self discovery and self understanding. I worked on figuring out my strengths, my weaknesses, my values. I started watching my thoughts and became aware of my inner voice and was terrified to observe the sort of things I was saying to myself. I spoke to myself as if I hated me. So I changed it. I became more accepting, more forgiving, more loving.
I explored joy and purpose next. I learned that joy can be found in everyday moments – our life is full of little moments filled with joy, we just don’t notice them. Once you start noticing, you realise that you can feel joy without having to go anywhere or be with anyone. And feeling joy makes you feel alive. And feeling joy and alive gives your life meaning. See how it’s all connected? You just need to pause and step out of your head.
Every time I run into someone who triggers my addiction, I repeat the following mantra – Surrender, Accept, Love.
Surrender to the void, the ‘lifeness’ of life (Broder), to being an addict. Let go, stop grasping. Accept yourself as you are, love addiction included. Work to understand yourself. Explore and accept your shadow. Break the cycle of pain. Love yourself and love the world, not one person only. Re-focus from romantic love to universal love. Bring focus inward. Give yourself hugs. Notice fleeting moments of joy. ‘Love your dark thoughts’ (Ram Dass). Love your love addiction.
Fill the void with light and love. Create, walk, read, cook, notice little moments of joy – whatever gives you awe, beauty, joy, spiritual growth, whatever makes you feel alive, do more of that. Make your life un-boring. Keep yourself busy. Creation for the sake of creation is the answer.
Ram Dass talks about merging with the Void, becoming it, realising it is our Dharma (path). This is the next level of consciousness but for now you can stop running away from the emptiness, the loneliness, the existential dread and face it instead.
And read Broder’s book. Happy healing.
What can help: