Monday, 19 April 2010

In Treatment

I’ve got so much to tell you. First of all I have to ‘fess up. When I said that I was going to a ‘retreat’ I wasn’t being one hundred percent frank with you. The retreat was a rehab.

I have been in recovery from drugs and alcohol for the many years, so I’ve had experience of rehab in the past. This one was very different though.

I booked myself in to a wonderful place called South Pacific Private (a.k.a S.P.P.) As rehabs go, it is on the swanky side. Set on Curl Curl, one of Sydney’s more beautiful Northern beaches, it has ocean views and good food. The programme there is based on the model developed by Pia Mellody at The Meadows in Arizona. It focuses very much on co-dependency.

Eighteen months ago, my life was on cruise control. I worked. I spent a lot of time with my wonderful friends and family. I enjoyed my home life. I travelled. Then my beautiful cousin Gaby was diagnosed with a cruel and aggressive cancer. She died very quickly. I met Nick. Then my work began to collapse. I lost three major projects in quick succession and with those, all of my income disappeared. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had major surgery, followed by chemotherapy and then radiotherapy. I lost my hair. I became very sick indeed. But I always had hope. Throughout my cancer treatment I looked forward to a blissful time of regeneration with my gorgeous boyfriend. In the midst of so much trauma I had grown to love Nick very much. He was always utterly kind and supportive. He came to every medical appointment with me. He held me as I walked to the operating theatre. He was waiting with flowers and kisses when I came out. He was at my bedside every day. When he had to return to Australia he called me on Skype every morning and evening. It seemed to me that at last I had met a man on whom I could rely absolutely. A man who knew what he wanted and would be by my side in the darkness and in the light.

And I was horribly duped.

When Nick left me, my world became like a mirror that had broken into a thousand shards. Everything that I had trusted and believed now seemed horribly distorted, upside-down and back-to-front.

Nick told me that when I got cancer he felt that he was no longer the centre of my attention. He was compelled to seek solace in another woman’s arms. When Nick cheated and lied to feed his love addiction he degraded himself. In order to justify and redeem his behaviour it was essential for him to convince himself, and anyone else who would listen, that he had never loved me in the first place.

Once Nick had taken up that position it became impossible for our relationship to heal or grow. I do believe that it in times of doubt and crisis we can reach inside ourselves to find the courage, honesty and love that will ultimately create a deeper bond and understanding between two people. But for Nick to admit that he did love me would have shattered his fragile ego.

And I blamed myself. In my head I went back in time and tried to re-shape the past. I became trapped in obsessive thoughts about how I could have done things differently. Could I have focused more on Nick and his needs when I was going through the terror of chemotherapy? Whilst my hair fell out? Whilst I felt sick all the time? Could I have been a stronger person? A better girlfriend? Could I have just loved him a little bit more?

I tortured myself with these questions. I tried to make Nick see that his new ‘love’ - for a woman he had met only three times and who was, by the way, also already in a relationship herself - was in fact textbook romance addiction. I covered up for Nick in many subtle ways. I did not reveal the full extent of his cheating and lying to people who knew him. To others I spoke honestly about what had happened but I concealed Nick’s identity from them. I allowed his shame to become my shame.

For three months I tore myself apart, desperately trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I thought that if only I could find the faulty gene, the broken fibre, the original fatal flaw, I could fix myself. I wanted to fix myself so that I could be sure that this would never happen to me again. Instead, my self-doubt brought me to the brink of despair.

That is co-dependency.

Trying to stand up to it all was in itself a kind of madness. In the end the only sane thing to do was to put myself into the nuthouse.

In a state of high anxiety I arrived at S.P.P. I sat on my dormitory bed surrounded by a blue hospital curtain and burst into tears. I continued to cry for three days. It was a busy time though. Up at 6.30 a.m. A walk on the beach. Breakfast. A community meeting. A lecture. Morning tea. Group therapy. Lunch. Group therapy again. A workshop. Dinner. A 12-step meeting. Supper. Bed. Up at 6.30... In amongst this hectic schedule there were appointments with a GP, a nurse, a therapist and a psychiatrist.

Bella, my therapist, was a truly wonderful person. She had the compassion of Mother Theresa combined with the insight of an MRI scanner.

I had diagnosed myself as being severely depressed. To my surprise the psychiatrist did not offer me anti-depressants. Bella explained: “You are suffering from an enormous amount of grief. The only way to deal with that is to feel your feelings and go through it. It will take as long as it takes. Anti-depressants would only put a lid on your grief and store up trouble for the future.” So much for Dr Lily’s diagnosis. “You need to cry a lot,” she added, “I have never known anybody who has experienced so much loss in such a short space of time.” That helped to put things into perspective for me. I had assumed that I was just being melodramatic and hysterical.

We had lectures about co-dependency; lectures about boundaries; lectures about feelings; lectures about addiction; lectures about open communication; lectures about recovery and therapy, therapy, therapy.

During the second week I went through an intensive programme-within-the-programme called ‘Changes’. This involved being shut up in a room for a week with four other changelings. We all did a lot of screaming at chairs.

After the cathartic shouting I felt more settled and relaxed with the whole thing. Next, I presented my ‘trauma egg’. This is an illustration of all the major traumatic experiences of one’s life from babyhood to now. Mine took quite a long time. As my presentation concluded I looked around at the group. Everybody’s jaws were hanging open.  Bella turned to me with her marshmallow x-ray eyes. “Are you going to write a book?”

Despite the intensive work I still hated myself. I still felt that it was all somehow my fault. In despair I did the only thing left to me. I prayed for a miracle.

Halfway through the third week I was sitting in a workshop listening to a very beautiful young woman named Cecila tell how her older, divorced boyfriend had asked her to marry him. Cecilia accepted. The boyfriend then went abroad. That was three months ago. He had not returned. “What is wrong with me?” she wailed. “I need to fix myself so that I can fix our relationship.” The therapist gave her a kindly look and held out the palm of her left hand. “Here is the evidence that this man has run off and abandoned you,” she held out her right palm, “and here is what you are making up about yourself.” Bam! I leapt to my feet. “I get it! At last!” I cried, “What Nick did was an arsehole thing to do. He is a man who would cheat on his girlfriend when she had cancer and then abandon her. That is simply the kind of arsehole Nick is. His behaviour has nothing to do with me.” The whole room burst into wild applause.

So here is what I learned at S.P.P, in a nutshell: the only thing wrong with me is that I keep thinking that there is something wrong with me.

Could I have done anything differently? Could I have been younger? Could I have been kinder? Meaner? Could I have been more beautiful? Smarter? Less smart? Warmer? Colder? A better cook? Could I have not got cancer? Could I have loved Nick more than I did? NO. And no matter how good I might have tried to be, our relationship would always have ended the same way. Nick’s love addiction is a gaping hole in his soul that cannot be filled. It means that he will endlessly search for the perfect woman in the belief that when he finds her he will be complete. And he will never find her. Because that woman does not exist. The only person who can ever heal Nick is Nick. Until he is prepared to do the painful and courageous work that is required, his addictive patterns will not change. And he will continue to damage every woman that he comes into contact with.

Now I am grateful that I got out of it when I did. I still feel pain at the loss of my dreams. I still feel loneliness when I wake up in the morning. I still love Nick. Love is not something that I am prepared to deny. But I am no longer prepared to be in the orbit of a man who is predestined to hurt me again and again. And in a strange way I feel great sadness for Nick. He has demonstrated to the world and to everybody he knows that - no matter how dire the circumstances, no matter how close the relationship, Nick will always put Nick fist. People pull away from that. It is not his fault. He is an addict. But he is truly alone.


Here is a therapist’s definition of romance addiction, in case you were wondering:
 Romance Addiction
A romance addict may suffer from a long streak of serial short-term relationships, marital infidelity, bingeing and purging in dating, or compulsively seeking an idealized romantic partner. Romance addicts are very skilled at intrigue and fantasy but struggle with commitment to a long-term relationship. The romance addict gets high on the early stages of courtship and usually abandons the other person once they begin to deepen the intimacy of the relationship. Like the sex addict, they are using romance as a way to avoid bonding and intimacy. The romance addict who is married or in a long-term relationship may struggle with intriguing with people other than their partner. They also usually have a hard time adjusting to the loss of the romantic high in their committed relationship. - Paul Ginocchio, M.A


paolability said...

I am glad that you got a perspective on this. Still reading this in chronological order from the beginning, I suspected that something was odd on Nick's handling of things.

I disagree with the idea that anti-depressants put a lid on problems and makes them unwork-throughable. I've been on Citalopram for nearly four years and feel I've re-enetered 'normal' world and am functional again.

Before, I'd got myself into a rut of despair, agonising over things, crippled by emotion sometimes, and just feeling useless and rotten.

Yes, the drugs dampen emotions - removes extremes - but I still have highs and lows, I'm just no longer dibilated by the lows.

I also find that I respond to things intellectually rather than emotional some of the time. And it's why, when diagnosed with breast cancer mid Feb this year, I wasn't scared or cry, I figured that I was in good hands, people knew what they were doing and my worrying about it wasn't going to help.

So, unlike you, despite being a heavy net user usually, I haven't Google anything about my condition or treatment. I don't want to give duel to the fire of worry (I can still worry).

Finally, my biggest fear of anti-depressants was that it'd make me an uncaring zombie and I'd not care I'd become an uncaring zombie. This proved to be unfounded.

I noticed a positive improvement within a week (10mg for 2 weeks, raised to 20mg - 10mg for the last year or so). And you'll have the intellectual capacity to decide to come off if you have second thoughts.