I recently went through a break up. I ended up in the hospital. It turned out that there was a physiological reason for this.
From the outside, the last few months of this relationship looked, from the outside, like two people willingly living in hell. From the inside, it felt like willingly walking into hell, hanging out there for a while and enduring intense torture, and then being catapulted up to the euphoric relief of heaven. For me, it was worth the reward. I lived for the reward, in fact. I couldn't live without it. And I couldn't get the heaven without the hell.
I did truly love my partner; she was a genuinely amazing person. But she and I had very different conflict resolution styles, and this resulted in some extremely intense arguments that became abusive in both directions. During these arguments I felt lower than I ever had in my life. My insecure attachment style left me feeling hated, rejected, and therefore unable to survive in response to my partner's harsh approach towards conflict. Then, when we would reconnect and she would express love for me, it felt like happiest moment of my life; I felt high.
And it turned out that I was.
Addiction is highly recognized and increasingly understood in certain contexts. Addiction to substances such as alcohol or illicit drugs, and behaviors such as sex or binge eating, are fortunately often acknowledged as a physical process that, over time, becomes disease. When we ingest these substances or engage in these behaviors, the brain is flooded with dopamine- a neurotransmitter that evolved to reinforce behaviors that keep us alive.
Dopamine teaches our brains that a behavior should be repeated, and is potentially essential for our survival. In addiction, our brains gradually become able to release dopamine only in response to the addicted behavior. Neuroscientist and professor Andrew Huberman defines addiction as "A progressive narrowing of the things that bring you pleasure." Drinking, doing drugs, or binge eating become the only way possible to feel happiness, to get that dopamine fix.
I had learned to get my dopamine fix in a way I had never heard of in the context of addiction. When my partner and I "made up" after a fight, it felt so good that my brain came to release extreme amounts of dopamine, and started to release a decreased amount of dopamine in response to anything else.
Fighting, and therefore emotional or verbal abuse, became the only way that I could feel true happiness, the only way I could experience a sense of meaning in my life. These fights sometimes happened naturally, as a result of our differing conflict resolution styles. Other times, I would subconsciously find ways to feel affronted or rejected and provoke my partner to act abusively towards me, setting myself up for a huge dopamine release when I felt love and acceptance again. This created a vicious cycle of emotional abuse and manipulation on my part, leading to emotional and verbal abuse on her part, and ultimately resulting in extreme bliss when this subsided. I was the picture of an addict- begging on my knees at my partner's door after a fight for my drug of choice, love and forgiveness.
If fully recognized and accepted for what it is, this cycle in relationships can be disrupted with committed effort and time. An addictive cycle of abuse in a relationship does not mean that the relationship is inherently bad, or that it isn't based on true love.
I unfortunately learned this too late. I was used to, relied on, the extreme low of a fight, and the extreme high of conciliation shortly after. One day the low went too low. My partner left and wasn't coming back. The relief wasn't coming. The dopamine wouldn't hit. My brain didn't think I could survive, and I almost didn't.
After recovering physically from a suicide attempt, I had to begin detox from my relationship. My body had to adjust to the lack of dopamine, which was a long process that involved a month of feeling literally no joy whatsoever. I had to work to bring my base dopamine levels back up to normal, while having no dopamine to reinforce the behaviors necessary to do so.
I did it, though. After what I can now see was probably a lifetime of this addiction, I can now maintain my dopamine levels on my own without addictive behavior, can feel joy in response to simple things, and am looking forward to this being the base for a healthy relationship someday.
#Addiction #SuicideSurvivor #abusiverelationships #relationshipaddiction