12 Practical Steps to Beat Love Addiction
“Oh, now there’s only one kind of love that lasts. That’s unrequited love. It stays with you forever.” – Woody Allen.
If you’re lovesick, like Dante hankering after a dead Beatrice he’d only ever seen a few times in his life, you have two choices. Hold onto the fantasy and bore your friends to death, or deal with it. Well make that three – if you’re a poet there’s a slim chance you can like Dante, turn it into great literature. For most of us though, getting on with building a happy productive life has got a lot going for it.
The “reality check” approach is summed up by romantic love expert Dr Helen Fisher: “Someone is camping in your brain: you must throw the scoundrel out.”
If you’re serious about “throwing the scoundrel out”, and moving on and ultimately finding new love, this 12 step guide, resourced from Dr Fisher’s book Why We Love, The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, is a great place to start.
Allow yourself a couple of weeks of mooning around grieving. Indulge yourself with your loss if you have to. Play sad love songs and cry about how unfair it all is. Then pick yourself up and get started with the rest of your life:
1) Remove all evidence of the beloved. Don’t try and be friends for at least a couple of years. Throw out all cards and letters, or stuff them in a box and put them out of reach. Don’t call or write under any circumstances. Depart immediately if you see your former lover in the street. Even the smallest contact can fire up your brain with romantic desire.
2) Develop positive affirmations about yourself and your future. Frame up something that boosts your self esteem and projects your mind past the failed relationship and towards successful love.
3) Visualise a better time. Picture yourself walking arm in arm with someone who adores you and you cherish – the perfect partner. Make it up and make it good. When you can’t stop thinking about ‘him’ or ‘her,’ dwell on their negative traits. Write down their faults and carry the list in your purse or pocket.
4) Stay busy. Distract yourself. Call friends. Visit neighbours. Go somewhere to worship. Play games. Memorize poetry. Dance. Sing. Learn to draw. Get a dog or a cat or a bird. Take that vacation you have always thought about. Write out your plans for the future. Do anything that forces you to concentrate your attention, particularly on things you do well
5) Exercise. Jogging, biking, and other forms of strenuous physical activity will drive up the levels of dopamine, and elevate serotonin and endorphins, the calming brain neurochemicals. It also increases BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) in the hippocampus, the memory centre, which protects and makes new nerve cells.
6) Get out in the sun. It stimulates the pineal gland, which regulates bodily rhythms in ways that elevate mood. Pick a daily activity you can do in sunlight, preferably out of doors.
7) Avoid sweets or drugs that you know will stress your mind and body.
8) Take one day at a time – a 12 Step program principle. Just as the alcoholic decides not to have a drink “today” the rejected lover can decide not to contact their beloved “today.”
9) If you don’t want to slip, don’t go to slippery places. For the love addict that means don’t go to places you know you former lover is likely to be – the favourite bar, places that were special to you as a couple. Go somewhere new to shop or to get your exercise. Don’t play songs you used to share. Avoid “people, places and things” that trigger a desire for your ex.
10) Give it time. Often it takes more than two years of separation to free you from the chains of past love. Even with all your good new habits, removal of stimuli, new interests and new people, it will take time to heal.
11) Consider anti depressants if you are seriously depressed. The most common antidepressants are serotonin boosters – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. They even help repair damage in the brain’s memory centre from prolonged stress, but they do have some negative side effects – weight gain, reduced libido, delayed sexual arousal, and inability to achieve erection, ejaculation or orgasm. You might consider a dopamine enhancer instead. They are not as reliable in lifting suicidal depressions, but they work for many people and they do not produce weight gain or reduced sex drive – rather the opposite.
12) Find a new lover to drive out the old. By far the most effective cure for a bad romance is to find a new lover. As you fall in love again, you elevate levels of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals in the brain.