Ask Abdi: How do I let go of an addiction to an abusive relationship?

Question: I am 33 years old and for more than 13 years now, I have been addicted to the same man. We’ve had a so called on and off relationship and I simply fail over and over and over to leave this man emotionally. I had one other relationship during this time and tried to open myself to another man which didn’t work. My addiction pulled me back to the old guy- physically as well as mentally.

Starting in my early 20s, I thought, this man would be the one saving me from my miserable, neglecting childhood and unhealthy relationship towards my parents (mother bulimic, father alcoholic) by having my own family with him. I was hooked when he told me all the things I internally craved to hear, from how he was attracted to me physically and emotionally. He looks incredibly good and by being with him, I tried to increase my worthiness. He became my drug and I would do almost anything to spend time with him. Over and over again I hurt myself just by trying to cope with his demands. From time to time I would freak out, throw things at him and hurt him physically as well as emotionally- I was plain sick psychologically and physically with relapsing enormously painful bladder infections after having sex with him. Even when I was close to suicide I would always crawl back to him. That was when I decided to go see a psychologist. I worked with this professional for more than two years, also went to SLAA and other 12 Step Programs. This is four years ago now. Still I am hanging on to this man. Can’t let go even if I am full of hatred towards him. I keep on hurting him and myself, as I cannot let go and keep insulting him for not meeting my needs. I have tried homeopathic treatment for 2 years and I attend a 12 steps meeting on a regular basis. My friendships don’t work, because they are worn out of my stories about me being unable to let go. What else is there left for me to do, so I let go?

Answer: This is such a painful struggle. Yours is an extreme case but many of us can certainly relate to being addicted to relationships that are unhealthy. No one can help you but you. You are a drug addict in an extreme state of addiction. You have to hit bottom and that is the only way you will let go. That is the only way this will work out. You obviously have a high tolerance to pain as you have been repeating this pattern for so long. Do understand that you are desperately trying to heal your childhood by repeating this pattern as an adult. But we can not heal the past in the present. We can only tend to our selves in the moment.

You are helpless here and trying to use your will to let it go will not work as you have experienced. Keep the focus on you. Get a picture of yourself as a little girl and get in touch with how much trauma and pain that poor child had to endure. Put it next to your bed and connect with her every morning when you wake up and every night before going to sleep. Mother that child in a way that your parents were never capable of. This is an emotional exercise not a mental one.

Sex And Love Addicts Anonymous is excellent for you since you are deep in the throes of addiction. Every time you think of him or are in his presence, see a big syringe filled with heroin as that is what is going on. You are constantly changing your brain chemistry by thinking or being in relationship with him. Your childhood pain is what needs to be addressed here since you are unconsciously both pushing its pain away as well as trying to heal it by repeating it. But neither is happening since your conscious mind is not aware of this set up by your unconscious.

These are just words, you need to keep your sleeves rolled and continue digging. The fact that you are desperate is a good sign, it means it is becoming more intolerable. But do remember that you are both quite comfortable with the pain as well as having a high tolerance to it. You have to FEEL your way out of this one, your mind and will power are useless as is the case with any addiction. You have to get in touch with the deep grief, terror and desperation of that child. Some deep body work done in conjunction with psychotherapy can be helpful here as is EMDR. I understand that you have been at this for a while but these deep wounds take time to heal. Not years but decades. That has been my own personal as well as professional experience. One either repeats their wounds with one partner or spreads it out with different ones. Obviously the depth of this addiction is ruining your life. There is no one way or answer, let the intensity of the pain be your guide out of this horror show. This is your work, so make it your mission to mother and father yourself.