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'I was addicted to love'

Article provided by NHS Choices

Broadcaster and journalist Clare Catford explains how love addiction affected her life, and talks about the treatment she received.

"I now realise that I've been addictive from a very early age. I had all the 'normal' obsessions with pop stars, then I developed huge crushes on boys and obsessed about them constantly.

"When I had a boyfriend, the relationship dominated my life. I would spend hours trying on 10 different outfits, and I wouldn't eat for several days so that I would be 'thin enough'. 

"I married young because I believed love would take the pain away. I thought he was the solution to all my problems, the person who would rescue me from myself."

Need for relationships

"After my divorce, I had to be in relationships. I needed them as if they were oxygen. I met one boyfriend in a pub and became dependent on him. I focused compulsively on taking care of him. The more needy I became, the more he withdrew, and he criticised me for being so weak.

"But I couldn't leave him because I was addicted to him. Whenever I withdrew or tried to end the relationship, he would call me constantly, send me flowers and say he loved me.

"The situation continued like that. I thought if I could see him just one more time, I could fix the relationship. I said to myself, 'Just one more phone call, just one more text'. I sounded exactly like an alcoholic who says, 'Just one more drink, I can handle it'. The cycle of self-destruction continued for eight years.

"Then I met a man via email. The relationship became intense, fun and erotic. He told me about the lack of sex in his marriage, and I told him about the chaos of my own relationships.

"The idea of having sex with him didn't interest me as much as the fantasy of the relationship. Knowing that he was attracted to me and needed me made me feel powerful and good about myself. I was on a high. But like all addictive highs, it didn't last."

The withdrawal process

"Love addiction withdrawal - that is, when you end a relationship - is very similar to withdrawing from a drug. After we broke up, I had terrible panic attacks, I couldn't sleep, and I felt shaky.

"Of course, most people have strong reactions after a break-up, but a love addict has an overwhelming surge of feelings because they used that relationship to avoid these feelings or block them out. Once the relationship ends, those feelings come flooding back.

"Deep down, I knew this wasn't normal break-up behaviour, but I kept telling myself that I was in love. I couldn't sleep or work, the panic attacks got worse, and my finances began to suffer. My life became unmanageable.

"I remember lying in my bed, shaking, crying, sweating and not being able to function. My panic attacks were so bad I would have to get off a train at the next stop. I didn't know I was clinically depressed at the time.

"I felt that I would never be able to get on with my life. I had a good career and I was respected by my colleagues, so I felt extremely ashamed at being unable to cope in relationships. I thought of suicide many times.

"I hit my low point when I finally finished the relationship with the man I met online, and I ended up lying on my kitchen floor next to a bottle of painkillers. Eventually, I made a phone call to a rehabilitation centre in central London."

The recovery process

"Rather than receiving residential rehabilitation, I scraped together the cash for treatment and attended daily sessions. Although my family gave me some of the money, I had to remortgage my home. It was very frightening.

"At the 12-step groups I attend, everyone's stories are similar. We all experience desperation to make relationships work despite the cost to ourselves and the other person. We have an inability to let go. Above all, we repeat the same behaviour over and over again in the belief that 'next time it will be different'.

"A love addict can be 'emotionally anorexic' and have no relationships at all, or they can be sexually promiscuous. Like me, they can be seriously infatuated and return to the same partner again and again, hoping each time that things will get better.

"Step one of the 12-step fellowships is the admission that, 'I am powerless over my addiction and my life becomes unmanageable'. When I was in rehab, my psychiatrist called it 'attachment addiction'. This means I was unable to function because of the trauma I suffered in my childhood."

The situation now

"I was able to break the cycle of addiction by admitting that I had no power over it. Now, I have experienced real change. It was the 12-step recovery fellowships that restored my faith in God after my divorce. They invited me to go on a journey of self-revelation, and to allow a higher power into my troubles.

"For me, this higher power is our Christian God, but there are many in recovery who are atheists and who simply keep the door open to the possibility of a higher power.

"Later on in the process, we express a desire to make amends to those we have hurt, to carry the message of recovery to other addicts, and to pray and meditate regularly.

"I go to weekly meetings that focus on love addiction. These meetings, and the people I attend them with, are still an essential part of my survival. It's worth the effort."

Article provided by NHS Choices

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