Alanis Morissette: I Was a Love Addict

Image: WENN

Image: WENN

Love addiction is a dynamic that we get into when one person is a love addict and the other person is a love avoidant. In terms of the continuum, love addiction and love avoidance are the two extreme ends of the continuum of romantic relationship — although you can be love addicted with your own child or with your colleague or whatever it is. It doesn't have to be romantic, though it often is. 

There are three different kinds of relationships: There's two love addicts together, two love avoidants together (which I actually think is more rare) and then there's a love addict and a love avoidant. The dynamic can change from relationship to relationship, and sometimes within one relationship, the roles can change as well. What ends up happening is that the other person becomes the addiction and the love addict becomes obsessed with the fantasy of what this relationship could be. Love addiction comes at the cost of reality, at the cost of setting boundaries, at the cost of self-care, at the cost of following through with what we need or what we want, or what we value or what our life missions are. It eventually renders things unmanageable like any other addiction. Love addiction can take over somebody's life. Of the handful of addictions I have been immersed in over the years, the withdrawal from love addiction has probably been the most painful withdrawal I've ever experienced. 

As a love addict. many breakups I've had in my life were excruciating because I also had the underlying codependence going on. It was less about the person, and more about the repeating of the same pattern again. And the salt in the wounds feeling like a re-traumatization. As long as there was a “back walking away,” it felt familiar. But then there were times that I thought, "I want to try the other side." I played the role of the love avoidant at times, and while that's far less painful in a lot of ways, it's equally as disconnective and filled with lack of intimacy. It's lonely and isolated, but from a whole different angle. Both partners fear abandonment, smothering and intimacy to different degrees.

A lot of times, the avoidant has an addiction outside of the relationship that keeps them unavailable for intimacy. It could be work addiction, it could be alcohol, it could be drugs, it could be sex addiction, it could be any addiction that keeps the love avoidant unable to participate fully in the relationship. But the love addict is definitely obsessive about the fantasy of what is possible in the relationship. Even in the face of the love avoidant giving no indication that it could go in that direction. Love addiction staves off intolerable reality. So if I really can't handle suffering in my own life, if there are certain feelings I don't want to feel, if there's grief I haven't felt, it's very convenient to become obsessed with somebody, because it distracts you. 

I think love addiction is common, I think it's praised and aggrandized and erroneously celebrated in a way that overlooks what is truly possible in a grown up kind of healing love. Because 90% of so-called love songs — including a lot of the ones that I've written over the years — lament over and foster dysfunctional relationships and foster obsession and impulsivity and acting out and reactivity and drama. 90% of our love songs on the radio are wildly dysfunctional, if not praising the act of yearning for unrequited love, and they perpetuate the loneliness. 

Image: WENN

Image: WENN

Pia Mellody is a pure genius. She's written two seminal books: One is called Facing Love Addiction and the other is called Facing Codependence, and I think she is probably the most sound voice in the conversation around love addiction recovery. For me, the recovery from codependency and love addiction — I've been on this path for many years and I'd say that on average, it takes 3-7 years to feel the payoff from the work. Because the underlying issues go all the way back to your childhood and there's a lot of grief and a lot of healing that can come from group work or individual work, or work within a marriage or committed partnership.

And then there's the Imago therapy model, developed by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, they've been really helpful too. They're advocates and amazing teachers around the topic of how can we actively participate in each other's healing. And a very high percentage of the time, the relationship starts out with infatuation and then segues into the relationship of our nightmares. And most people jump ship during that second stage, but if there is a relationship to be salvaged and enough values shared, there is the opportunity for this third aspect of relationship to be segued into—one where both people actually help each other out. But most people (especially us Hollywood types), have a tendency to jump ship when things get conflictual and hard. I remember telling one ex-boyfriend that I thought our getting into more conflict was a good sign, that it meant we were growing, and that this is where the journey, in some ways, really begins. More often than not, they wouldn’t see it that way. Conflict seemed like a relationship ender, not the beginning of something powerful to them. This value system of seeing relationship as a vehicle for growth and healing is not shared by all, and that disparity in value systems have ended so many relationships.

For those who are inclined to read, I would say check out Pia Mellody, check out Alison Armstrong. I would say check out Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. Those are some goodies. Margaret Paul has a book called Healing Your Aloneness. Powerful.

I believe the healing journey is threefold. There's the individual work (which Margaret Paul is such a huge leader in), which is about the idea of inner bonding, of developing a loving inner parent, nurturing connection with spirit and creating attunement within one’s own self. Then there's couples work: The great model in my mind is Harville's Imago therapy, and emotionally focused therapy, and any therapy that focuses on the stages of development, particularly the attachment stage. There are many helpful types of couples therapy, certainly. But Imago is my fave. Third, the big recovery movement epicenter is about reconnecting with spirit. We've all been spiritually abused in so many ways, whether it be by extreme religious approaches or the control or the exclusivity of organized religion, it's cut at the fabric of our spiritual hearts. I think all three of those combined create a great map to healing: individual, couples/group work and the spiritual recovery too. I think there's something about community that can bring us all back together—to a deep peace on so many levels. And have our values be shaken back to their original state. And then connection with spirit and creating some kind of ritual and some kind of way to connect to God, source, light — whatever you want to call it. So I think that, for me, a threefold investigation and inquiry combined with consideration for the body, the somatic is huge, and on my part, art. I think the process of creating and performing art, in and of itself, is not healing, I think it's very cathartic but unless there's some relational aspect to it…there is just not the healing experience that relational interaction can yield. Creating and performing art moves energy, certainly, and it can get me going and help me form certain opinions, corral the energy to create change, and is a very self-defining process…but it is not healing experience I thought it could be. I thought I could conveniently write songs in a quiet room and never have to address the pain behind it all. But I was wrong.

For me, what writes songs is passion. So if I'm passionately angry about something or if I'm passionately in love with something or if I'm passionately addicted to something or if I'm passionately curious or scared, this is what creates worlds in art. I think love and anger are two of the most gorgeous life forces, with love being the only one that is bottomless. All of these different feelings that I've been running away from my whole life, the only one that has remained bottomless and endless is love. All other emotions seem to ebb and flow and move through once they get my attention long enough to really feel, but love is the one that remains limitless.

(As told to Nika Mavrody)