Posted by: innerpilgrimage | December 5, 2011

Toxicity and Triggers: Practicing Rejecting the Poison One Day at a Time

Holiday Eating Season Countdown: 28 Days

      I was excited to get a notification from WordPress that I had a new comment. After I read it, I was somewhat annoyed. See, while I appreciate what Ethlie Anne Vare is trying to do in sharing her experience with others (and her book is well-reviewed and oft-linked by others), I’m not doing it here. Why? Insincerity.

      Insincerity is a trigger for me, and it gets my walls up quickly. See, the comment was basically “Great insights, now come read my stuff,” with a link that is broken and requires redirection. She is marketing her book on being a love addict, and she was trying to use me to do it. Again, I appreciate the guerilla marketing (being an author, myself), and I appreciate that she is a successful screenwriter and author. I’m not saying, “Don’t read her stuff because I got comment-spammed by her.” I am just disappointed that someone who suffers love addiction wouldn’t take the effort to read what I wrote before letting a spambot or searchword spider toss up a comment which has no value whatsoever. Yet because she does suffer love addiction and is willing to put out her story into the public in order to help others? I want people to know it’s out there. So, it’s out there.
      The trigger slammed me, and I did get resentful. I didn’t resent her success; I resented that I felt disrespected by a person who didn’t take the time to read and respond. Had I received a response which reflected that my post had been read? Her comment, with links, would have been added to Friday’s journal entry. The avoidance addict within was angry at the perceived violation, offended that there was no reciprocity. So, Ethlie Anne Vare gets a gold star for being a teacher of awareness: Toxic love is about reciprocity, about a zero-balance relationship. That said, real love is having boundaries and relationships with organic give-and-take. I felt like I was being asked to give, and what was offered me was the crumbs of insincere approval-for-hire I had suffered throughout my life. So, I am stepping outside of this as best I can to look at the reality of it.
      She’s trying to help others. She’s trying to get the word out about love addiction through her personal experience, strength, and hope. She wrote a book so people could read how they are not alone in the painful experiences of active toxic love addiction. That’s pretty-much it, and that’s pretty important. So, like I said, look for her if you want–don’t let my triggered anger (still triggering because I felt “less-than” and used) stop you.
      Now, back in the saddle on the Real Love vs. Toxic Love list.
Real Love – Relationship deals with all aspects of reality.
Toxic Love – Relationship is based on delusion and avoidance of the unpleasant.

      Excruciating vulnerability. I think about how, in addiction, even the idea of personal vulnerability is often so emotionally painful that I have physical symptoms. Full-body aches and pains due to being on alert at all times to fight, flee, or freeze. Realistic expectations are part of the maturity evolution which was stunted and stalled. I react like a small child whenever I am faced with a potential threat to the pillowy nest of safety I think I am owed for suffering for so long. Unfortunately, everything is a potential threat, therefore everything gets a reaction. I expect too much of others; I demand they act in a way to make my life easy. Well, life is supposed to challenge us to grow. Stagnation isn’t realistic, and it cheats us by leaving us chasing a delusional sense that we can halt reality and time if we will it. Ain’t gonna happen. There’s no Prince Charming to ride in on his steed, and there’s no dragon for me to conquer to become someone’s Princess Charming and “earn” undying, slavish, and obsessive affection. It also would make me insane, having a person so intensely focused on me that I had to get away. The fantasy of having someone doting and hyper-freakout obsessed with me really shakes apart in the reality I would feel intensely uncomfortable. That supposed “perfect person” (friend, lover, whatever) who I would never doubt would leave is actually scary in reality. I mean, the safety to be a jerk to another human being? That’s not what I want.
      So, as long as I hold on to “Progress, not Perfection,” and everything that goes along with it, I’m doing pretty okay. Happy all the time? *Snerk*, no. I just can shift gears and remind myself that the discomfort I am feeling is good, because it’s the friction which allows me to grow. I need something for my roots to grip onto, and they have to push through the soil to make it happen. So, even though growth can appear painful, it’s a signal that I’m moving in a direction–and any forward motion is always the right direction.
      But yes, delusion and fantasy in order to create (in my head) a perfect love situation cheats me and everyone else. I’m not out there being real, trusting others to honestly like or hate or be neutral about me. It’s reality, and it’s part of being self-aware and self-reliant as an individual. To trust boundaries over walls; to accept that some people will act in a manner which I can choose to addict-trigger over or choose to act in recovery about.
      Happily, recovery only wants me to work it one day at a time, to practice. I don’t have to bte a prodigy of all things love. I am a student, and the lessons I am learning about realistic relationships and realistic self-knowledge and realistic vulnerability. It’s new, just like reading and writing was, once. Years of doing it have allowed me to read and write, though there is always room to grow as a writer and there are many published and unpublished-as-of-yet books out there for me to read. So, as I practice, the ability to be a realistic adult becomes second nature, and I will turn to it first (as I have turned toward being an immature addict for decades) in time.
Real Love – Self-care by both partners; emotional state not dependent on other’s mood.
Toxic Love – Expectation that one partner will fix and rescue the other.

      Oh, the alarms are going crazy on this one. I have no idea how to self-care, having tasked myself with the role of eternal martyr in order to earn my sainthood and devotion by humanity for my niftiness. With my vesica pisces around me in the painted iconography, I will be beloved and the authority of all things saintly having to do with sacrifice for love. Self-care is, as my inner love addict proclaims, self-ish. It is the wrongest of the wrong, the eighth deadly sin. So, I honestly have no idea how to self-care because I am decades from a time when I knew myself and the joys which invigorate me.
      Now, I am rediscovering my joys, though they’re often more baffling than joy-inducing. I have described joy as I have described love for years. It is delirious euphoria, which joy is not. Serenity seems to be the answer–when I self-care, I gain energy. The peace, which is comfortable vulnerability, gives me the energy to flow into the world and become part of it. There are green flags just like there are red flags. To learn what is self-care, I can become aware of a state of change–from chatting for distraction’s sake to wordless awe. That place of wordless awe is where the energizing power greater than myself resides. Questioning it to know it is the next step (as opposed to criticizing it), and adopting it as a self-care practice will allow me to make self-care a part of life.
      With a sense of personal solidity and enoughness, I won’t feel a craving to chase down someone to fix me or to find a fixer-upper person.
      I still, however, get anxious about the potential for conflict. Guessing-and-checking another’s emotional situation moment-by-moment is exhausting, yet I delude myself that I can be ready for whatever maelstrom may come. I can adjust my behavior to fix theirs. So, I cower in fear of all people, waiting for the hammer to come down. I don’t want to become a terrified and flailing creature trying to fight my way out of the perceived corner. Yet, I am walking into the corner, preparing to tame the tiger. I don’t see myself as a strong and capable me, I see myself as tiger chow. Therefore, I am constantly looking for someone to come in and get between me and the tiger or to convince to get into the cage instead of me. On the tiger-free side, I can give unsolicited advice from relative safety, trying to rescue a person who has a real problem. Or, worse (and probably more likely), being in a two-part cage–each with its own tiger. I turn my back on my own tiger as it stalks me and licks its chops, so I can chatter how the other person can handle their own tiger. Ignore my personal peril to focus on another’s; get the person in the other cage to ignore their personal peril to focus on me and my tiger. Trying to save each other but not accepting the reality that I and the other person are the only ones who can deal with our own caged tigers.
      That’s self-care–accepting the reality only I can self-care. Yes, I can listen to others and try out their suggestions, but it is my responsibility to do the work necessary to tame the hungry addiction. To accept my inner addict still is a wild creature, even if it does fall asleep or appear domesticated every now and again. To understand it is what it is, and I am what I am, and I’m not getting out of the cage.
      Yet, I can accept it realistically and I can accept that I have many tools to keep it in a state of dormancy–as long as I actively maintain that relationship. That when I neglect my responsibility toward it or I make assumptions about it, I will face danger from it again.
Real Love – Loving detachment (healthy concern about partner, while letting go.)
Toxic Love – Fusion (being obsessed with each other’s problems and feelings.)

      Something popped into my mind a moment ago, while I was preparing the comparison above: What I called love (yet felt it wasn’t) is stalking.
      Seriously consider this. Stalking is that intense need to fuse with another human being. We romanticize it, but it’s actually really really creepy.
      I was introduced to this concept in college, and I loved the idea of it: an unhealthy relationship is a broken circle and a healthy relationship is an archway between columns. The “You Complete Me” soulmates model of twoo wuv is kind-of scary. The idea of being incomplete without a particular human being is depressing, and the reality is that no one can complete us–as evident from the loss-of-self relationships which end in break-ups which feel like limbs and innards being removed when they happen. The archway model is based on two independent columns, which can stand on their own, yet they hold up a relationship together. If the archway crumbles, the pillars can still stand independently–as evidenced by many, many ruins all around the world.
      Being a complete person is being a healthy person. Being an incomplete person means that I will manipulate myself into a position where I delude myself that another human being completes me. That’s awful to consider–being less-than without another person to complete me. Fusion, or completion through welding lives together, doesn’t really work because of the breaks. Scars are left at the weld marks, and pieces of the other (hurtful words, in particular) stay with us as we seek the next person to manipulate into fusing with us.
Real Love – Sex is free choice growing out of caring & friendship.
Toxic love – Pressure around sex due to insecurity, fear & need for immediate gratification.

      I just cut about a thousand words from here because this isn’t the place to share that part of my history. Currently, I am in a sixteen-year monogamous relationship, which has been defended by the walls of avoidance addiction. The messages I’ve grown up with (“Men only want sex”; “Fat is ugly”; “Men only want thin, attractive women to have sex with”) have kept me indoors and wary of anyone who wanders the earth with an XY. Well, okay, I am comfortable around gay men who are strong in their identities. But straight men? They get the brick wall and will never see me vulnerable unless they’re in recovery in the same room I’m in.
      That said, if someone comes into an SLAA room, it’ll come out. However, my intimate life is expressly for the rooms and for my spouse, and I am comfortable with that boundary.
Real Love – Ability to enjoy being alone.
Toxic Love – Unable to endure separation; clinging.

      The irony of this is that I’ve found I am more comfortable being alone in my head than around others because I default to clingy. I’m not sure I am enjoying being alone as much as appreciating not having people around to harm or people around to harm me. And when I am alone, I’m often in my head creating characters who become more real to me than the living human beings I am currently sharing the world with.
      But yes, I accept there is a healthy way to do this. Pursuing my own self-care is part of being alone without being lonely. Obsessively retreating into my own head isn’t self-care, because I get irritable when people get near and want to interact with me–that’s not a mature reality-acceptance. That’s simply being annoyed someone walked around the wall when I wasn’t looking.
Real Love – Cycle of comfort and contentment.
Toxic love – Cycle of pain and despair.

      I have a little problem with this because it appears to be promising something that isn’t consistently true–though it certainly is a goal my addict keeps me chasing.
      Reality is that, for me, contentment is achievable through mindfulness and surrender.
      I think it’s more a cycle of comfort and contentment with one’s self more than around another person. After all, that’s what I pursue in addiction. However, I also agree that in serenity, I feel comforted and content. Things are as they should be, and I am growing. It’s not the “nothing ever hurts me” fantasy that leads to the toxic love result of pain and despair when I make another person my Higher Power.
      Maybe that’s what that is to me: Real Love is the contentment and comfort from having a Higher Power sourced as reality (not just in it) instead of the pain and despair of making a fallible human being my Higher Power. Unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment and grief. So, I can relate that to how I work program. When I connect to my Higher Power and humble myself to the reality that I am neither superior nor inferior to other people, I experience comfort and contentment. When I disconnect from my Higher Power and set my mind to being superior or inferior (so I can manipulate a person into being my Higher Power or making me their Higher Power), I feel pain and despair. Beyond that? Well, I’m still progressing. In a year, as long as I keep progressing? Things will be clearer.
      Hey, I’m done! Well, it’s been an adventure in self-awareness. I’ve read this before, yet I’ve never responded or considered or questioned how it applies to my life. It was simply knowing I could go down the list and check-mark the Toxic Love for my general relationship choices. I appreciate that I am aware that Real Love isn’t impossible any more. It used to be because I approached it in addiction, and the real love had to be absolutes. Or they seemed crazy (“Let go of a person I love? Be detached and cold to them? No way!”) until I actually questioned what it really means to me. And, well, I have more to bring to the rooms and a sense of how to mindfully practice the real love alternatives to those toxic love choices. Having the freedom to choose and having the self-knowledge to understand that the energy put into real love is how I can be restored to sanity in relationships. I’ve recognized for years that how I’ve lived is insane. It’s exhausting, it’s manipulative, and it’s harmful to others. It’s not how I want to live because I feel sick with guilt, anxiety, shame, and fear when I pursue toxic love. I feel right with the world when I practice real love–no regret for my actions, just a sense I did what aligned with my deepest self. It’s not the delirious and gleeful relief that I somehow miraculously hit a moving target and made someone happy with me, either. Intensity of anything, I’m finding, drains me. So, manic glee isn’t happiness or joy. It’s just manic glee.
      Well, outside of complaining that a commenter triggered me (which I shared not to slam her as much as point out how I reacted to it and decided to act on it), I think it went well. I hope, again, that expressing how a trigger can broadside me out of nowhere (expectation someone left a comment based on reading my entry; reality that it was more likely a spammed generic comment which I considered was rude to assume I’d do it because I’m an addict with people-pleasing triggers and the following trigger of angrily pulling hard the other way and shutting down emotionally to protect myself) helped. My recovered intent was to expose that she has a story to share, even as my addicted self has judgments and assumptions galore based on the tantrum raging within that I was victimized by someone who should empathize with me instead of abuse me–since, as an addict, she should know better!
      I guess the duality of mind in recovery is a tug-of-war some days more than others. And I’m glad I did have the trigger reaction, so I am aware of it and can examine how I can whip something into complete craziness. And my inner addict voice is saying I ought to strip this entry of anything of her–not rewarding her for trespassing in my comments box with her spam. *facepalm*
      I’m leaving it in, however, because that’s just my reaction to something in my far past that’s completely Black-Boxing the reality: Her book could help someone who can directly relate to what she’s experienced. How I got the information isn’t really important; disseminating the truth is. No Love Addict is alone in the world, even if we lie to ourselves about it regularly in order to feel the intensity so we can convince ourselves we are, indeed, alive. Her hand is out and offered to people, and that’s what I want out there in the world–extended hands to help people suffering from the agony of emotional chaos and the belief there is no way out of it.
      So, while I am setting a boundary about sharing links in comments that appear to be generic in nature (though if Ms. Vare returns to read and personalize her comment to my entry, I will be happy to put it up, including the link to her book, and even potentially read and review it here), I am still open to the idea that her message is one that people draw hope from.
      And that, in my mind, is always a growth opportunity–just like being aware that I am triggering over it and probably, with meditation, follow it backward along the trail of triggers. Maybe, just maybe, to its source–which would be a kind, yet unintended gift from yesterday’s teacher, Ms. Vare.
      My name is Jess, and I am a food and love addict and avoidant. Lots of work ahead, but it’s good work. Growth work. Now to find some self-care to have the energy to do it.



  1. “I have no idea how to self-care, having tasked myself with the role of eternal martyr in order to earn my sainthood and devotion by humanity for my niftiness.”

    BB e3, pg 449- And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing of situation-some fact of my life-unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place thing or situation as being as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

    In summary, some days we just have to sit back and watch the circus that our lives are; savor and enjoy the ride.

    • Hey fredt,

      Thank you! I am so happy you commented with “Acceptance is the Answer”, because that really is something we Anon people need to hear–especially around the holidays. I appreciate getting reminded that this (along with trying very, very hard to do the Resentment Prayer–which does actually help if practiced as written in the Big Book) is one of my favorite morning petitions to HP. I just haven’t done it in a year, and I am feeling it. So, thank you for being a teacher today–a gift that fits perfectly and everyone needs. 🙂

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