When Lori Jean was 3 years sober, she found herself lying on the front doorsteps of a man who refused to open the door. She was smart, beautiful, successful and living in San Francisco, and yet, she found her entire well-being and self-worth at the mercy of another individual. Now, 19 years sober, Lori Jean is a certified relationship coach and passionate about helping others know how to healthily approach relationship challenges.
In a lecture titled “Relational Freedom: From Attachment to Addiction to Recovery...No More Crazy Train!” at this year’s National Conference on Addiction Disorders, she presented three important questions that those who are struggling with relationship challenges should begin to answer for themselves.
1. What do you think of yourself?
When someone goes into therapy, they’re usually so consumed with the situations and wounds that they’ve experienced, that they do not even take a minute to think about themselves in the process. As Lori puts it, “They might talking about the same thing over and over again without really setting an intention for what they want to get out of therapy.”
Having to sift through all the labels that other people have given us is exhausting. We’re anxious, depressed, avoidant, codependent or all of the above. No wonder we find it very difficult to be relational with others—we’re too busy wearing all these labels inside of us. So the first thing we can do is ask ourselves what we think of ourselves. What’s your name? What’s your favorite color? What constitutes you, and only you? These are just of the few, simple places we can start.
2. How are you feeling?
There are three types of feelings Lori describes that commonly lead to relationship challenges.
Anxious: If you have anxious energy, an unmet longing will get triggered every time you have a relationship challenge and there is no internal braking to stop them from acting out their feelings. This energy is usually what drives love addiction, codependency, alcoholism, binging, bulimia, etc. Using a “think, feel, do” model, Lori explains, “The way they are relationally is they’re going to feel instantly, and then they’re going to do something about it right away to manage and tolerate their feelings--and then they’re going to think about what they just did later.”
Avoidant: Individuals with avoidant feelings are those that are most likely to resort to depression, pills, sex and porn addiction, food restricting, cutting when they are uncomfortable in relationships. They will avoid intimacy in a relationship by creating intensity outside of their relationships. They may be very charismatic, but you’re only going to get so far with them. And then they’ll go away right when you see what’s going on. So unlike the anxious person that’s going to feel, and then do, and then think, an avoidant person will think, and then do, and then feel it later. And sometimes not at all because they don’t want to go there.
Ambivalent: Those who are ambivalent, often juggle both anxious and avoidant feelings. They crave love, but they also fear it. They want it, but will not allow themselves to have it. “These individuals in relationships will think, feel, think, feel, go up, down, up, down, up, down, and occasionally they’ll get down to a do.”
In order to know how we regulate inside, we must be able to identify our tendencies, learn to feel and think, and then do something about it.
3. What is your relationship with technology?
We can’t possibly talk about relationships today without touching on technology. Its influence has undoubtedly sped up the way we do relationships, and consequently amplifies our own reactions in the dating process.
If you have an addiction, you can almost guarantee that you’re going to take your addictive patterns into the use of your technology. So, here are a few questions to consider: Can you turn your technology off at night? Do you spend more time with your phone than with your partner? Do you spend hours deciphering text messages? If any of this is you, you may need to scale back and prepare for a withdrawal.
While attachment can easily lead to addiction, it doesn’t mean that relational recovery is out of reach. The sobbing and wrecked version of Lori on the floor is now an old narrative for her, and she has plenty of healthy relationships to show for it today. “Just because you have attachment disorder doesn’t mean you don’t learn how to attach,” she says.
In the end, we all want what Lori has: “relational alignment.” But that doesn’t mean it comes easy. It requires work and at times painful recalibration. Often times, it requires removing yourself from a relationship that touches on your original wound and choosing to end the cycle right then and there.
After all, as Lori often says, “In addiction we’re drawn to what we know regardless of merit.” Today is the day to finally know yourself.