Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Reclaiming a Primal Seen

With gratitude to Myriam Freund.
With gratitude to Myriam Freund.

Several months ago, coinciding with a significant ongoing process of awakening of my own pleasure, I stopped eating wheat and sugar. Everything was going well in my work and at home and I was making nourishing connections with people — in relationships new and old. At the same time, I noticed overwhelming, pre-verbal feelings of touch-hunger, as well as a desperation for intimacy and bonding that dominated my consciousness. I followed these feelings through a meandering path of exploration and discovery. I am delighted to be able to share some of the fruits of this ongoing journey with you.

As I was experiencing these strong feelings, I noticed that I was literally walking down the street with a kind of hope of finding someone who would make me feel whole in some way. I also started projecting this “magic bullet” onto several new relationships I had developed. At one point, it made me sick inside, because it was all I could think about. I was not proud of this. I was in pain to have my mind so taken over, even as I was trying to live my life, do my work, mother my family, and be a partner to my partner. My incredibly awesome partner helped break the spell I was under by setting a boundary. It was one of the most powerful moments of our relationship. When he realised the extent of how much my mind was taken over, he said, “Enough.”

Other times he has given me space and trusted me fully, but something about the extent of my obsessive thoughts was beyond what he could make space for. Thankfully. At first I was angry. But within the hour, his boundary-setting pierced a hole in the addictive spell I was under and I immediately entered a process of mourning and grieving. I had to confront the lack I was trying to fill. I had to grieve, mourn and let go of what I was hoping to find. Nothing outside of me was going to save me, fix me, or make me feel okay. This realisation, one that needs to be faced again and again, can and has given rise to great mourning, but it is also ultimately the key to great liberation.

Is there something in your life that holds “promise” for you, that seems as if it makes an excruciating lack somewhat bearable? When it seems that love — or whatever our substance or activity of choice — will take away our pain and restore our edenic bliss, we are talking about addictive behavior. It may not be ruining our life, but it may be ruining our life at the same time. What is your magic bullet of choice? It may not be love for you, but it may be sex, pornography, masturbation, chocolate,  wine,  a joint, shopping, or even an endless search of trying to find your calling. Many of us have probably used most of these to blunt the ache of being human.

The other day, as I was enjoying my capacity to nurture myself, the anxiety of “what is my calling?” popped  up again. Interestingly, at that moment, I realised that it was another desperate attempt — from a different angle — at trying to find the “magic bullet” that would make me feel whole. I did not fall for it the way I usually would have. I notice, though, that I am vulnerable to its pull.

For those of us who may use relationships and people to medicate our pain: What are we looking for when we fall in love with someone? Those feelings of elation. That feeling that finally there is someone who sees me, who I can merge with and be fully connected, someone with whom I would be at peace forever (in my imagination).

When I see the ocean as well, I want to merge with it. Our deepest longings also have corollaries of the spirit. The capacity to bond is also a gift in a social economy of so much guardedness and closing of hearts.

However, the capacity to bond quickly is bittersweet. There are those of us who may have been waiting for someone who will make everything okay are actually pursuing a dead-end and we have likely engaged in several unsuccessful efforts to that effect.

We are trying to make up for things we may have missed out on, but we can’t actually get what we are looking for. We need to feel the extent of our longing, devastation and disappointment and mourn it and then accept that no one is coming, nothing is going to change. We need to learn to listen to ourselves carefully and take responsibility to provide the nurturing and attention that we so desperately crave and mistakenly hoped would come to us from the outside.

The search for this magic bullet, this thing that can take our pain away is fuelled by utter desperation. It is not a rational pursuit. I have a wonderful long-term committed relationship and my life is getting richer and more connected to more wonderful people day by day. One day, not that long ago, I realised that this search was running my life unconsciously. I was walking down the street and it was as if I was still waiting for someone who would change my life. Anne Wilson Shaef refers to this phenomenon in “Escape from Intimacy: Untangling the Love Addictions- Sex, Romance, Relationships”:

“She listened carefully and really tried to understand every man she met. Her life was similar to the little bird who falls out of the nest in the children’s book, ‘Are you my mother?’. The baby bird goes up to everything it sees and asks, ‘Are you my mother?’ Christine approaches every man she meets with the unspoken question ‘Are you my cosmic mate?’ She is sure that her cosmic mate exists somewhere — if only she can find him. Her life totally revolves around her quest for her cosmic mate. She attempts to force everyone she meets into her fantasy. She now has reached a point where all she needs is the fantasy to get the buzz” (p. 84).

The lack of one’s wholeness expressed by searching for completion via other people and/ or achievements or anything else externally, actually results in a re-abandonment of the self. For as long as I defer my capacity to feel whole in the present as it is, I refuse to see myself, and this refusal fuels my desperation even stronger. I think I need to be seen by someone else to feel whole, but this perspective actually deprives myself from myself.

Similarly, in the moment of feeling “merged bliss” with someone, the connection feels so vital for us that we are at risk of losing ourselves. Such desperation gives me no limit to how far I would go to meet someone and get a hit of that feeling that I was going to be saved, redeemed, at peace, even if it was just temporary. The “relief” to know the possibility of redemption exists for me in this person. Shaef hints at this phenomenon as well:

“I had a friend who believed that intimacy was simply being present to another person. I believe intimacy with oneself is simply being present with oneself and then being able to bring that self into relationship with others. In order to be intimate with another person, one must be intimate with oneself” (p. 125).

Times when I felt like I was in the company of someone who could complete me, I actually was not with myself. If I was fully with myself then I would not have had the feeling that I needed someone to complete me.

With addictions — in my experience — when the pain of actually engaging in the addiction becomes worse than the pain we are trying to avoid through acting out the addiction, our addictive behavior loosens its grip on us. To make that more clear, I have used addictive behavior as a way to avoid mourning deep grief and disappointment. It had been easier to hope for something impossible than to face the inevitable. Although I may have had little “successes” where I thought I was getting what I really wanted, this search is utterly futile. The quicker we realise it, the better. But sometimes we give up not because we really believe it is futile — we may still hold out some hope, even a secret hope, but we give up because we realise that our acting out has become unbearable to us. It is so unbearable that there is little to lose in actually confronting our original loss, mourning it and being able to get over trying to find love and fill frozen needs that can’t be filled. They just need to be mourned.

Whatever it takes to break the spell is important. And then we are thrown back to our own original pain. It is not only personal. It is also connecting to the universal human experience. As we strengthen our vessels then it makes way for other healing to emerge on many levels.

It’s also a vulnerable time for other addictions to kick in. I may be off the romance, given up the hope that someone will rescue me, but all the sweets in the world are feeling more inviting!

Healing involves three main stages that are mourning for what one lacked and then re-establishing the relationship with oneself as the primary relationship, and also taking the power to work out how to get one’s needs met in the present and ongoing situation of one’s life.

Dialogue with oneself, with one’s younger self can also be key to the process. We — our adult self — is actually the one that our child has been waiting for. We can give to ourselves what we need. When we look outside ourselves to give us what we think we need we actually re-activate the original abandonment that was fuelling our addictive behaviors. We need to be patient with ourselves. To notice when the thought for the “magic bullet” or the desire for the savior re-emerges, remind ourselves no one is coming, no finding my calling is going to fix anything, there is no magic bullet. We then need to ask ourselves what we need — and be present, be the anchor, the source, to source the nourishment  to ourselves in the most compassionate way possible.

About the Author
Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Rabba Dr Melanie Landau has 20 years of experience in guiding individuals and groups in transformative processes.and cultivating the sacred. She is committed to the creativity and vitality of a living breathing expansive Torah. She is a couples therapist, empowerment coach and group facilitator. She can be reached on:
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