Love Junkie: A Memoir
A Conversation with Rachel Resnick
by Sydney L. Murray
There are those times when you read a book that really resonates with you. I was blown away by the courage of Rachel Resnick, author of Love Junkie: A Memoir. Her ability to write about her life without any semblance of self-pity was remarkable to me. Did she suffer? Yes. Make bad choices? Yes. But throughout this memoir, she fought for a life that was healthy and fulfilled. In this issue, dedicated to the theme of self-love, I could not imagine a better person to exemplify this concept.
Vision Magazine: Why do some people choose lovers who treat them badly?
Rachel Resnick: Most people probably have chosen one lover who has treated them badly for various reasons. One of the hallmarks of someone who actually has an addiction to bad relationships is that they find themselves repeating the same connection with different lovers who are destructive for them.
VM: Do you think that given your childhood, there is an element of the repetition compulsion for choosing these men who weren’t good for you?
RR: Absolutely. It’s funny that one of the first things I uncovered in the process of writing the book is how much this form [memoir] is maligned today. So many people have abused the form and completely invented stories of growing up with wolves, or going through the Holocaust, or being in gangs—all of which were fictionalized under the guise of a memoir.
But the form itself is extremely demanding. I wouldn’t suggest anyone try it at home alone [without support], because if you do it the way the form demands, you will undergo a transformation. Your job is to embark on an emotional journey that you chart while you’re writing. Your mission is to keep tunneling deeper [into yourself] because the deeper you go, the more you connect with an audience and experience personal insight.
Joseph Campbell’s work on myth speaks about the job of the artist as going on a journey deep down into the bowels of the earth, into the darkness. But that’s not sufficient; once you’re down there, you have to find light and you have to bring it back. That’s the journey and I certainly did my best in my own way to take it. To have that kind of experience and to share it [makes one] very vulnerable.
In terms of childhood, I didn’t set out to have the past percolating up the way it kept doing. But that was partly because I was so invested in the project and committed to it. It was a job as well because I’d sold it on a proposal; I was able to create the time and space to go into that unconscious place. I would write a theme that I thought was vivid because your job [as a memoirist] is to choose. Nobody cares about my life, per se; who am I? It’s only my life as an example of someone who has this addiction. It’s one of the ones [addictions] that are very hard to pin down: love/sex/romance/relationships—it’s not like you’re sticking a needle in your arm, downing bottles of whiskey, or anything else that’s clear and quantifiable. Process addictions are extremely present and real in our culture but they are harder to identify, especially this one in particular because it’s definitely focused on love and that kind of yearning.
I think as a culture, we associate this with women and there’s more of a tendency to frankly be dismissive, to see it as something pathetic and not to be taken seriously.
I felt like I really had to tread that line. As I wrote, the past kept bubbling up and I trusted that [process]. What I understood as I kept going along the journey of the writing, was that ultimately, I had been in denial. One of the hallmarks of any kind of addiction is deep denial of the trauma from childhood. I am a survivor and as a kid, there is no way I could have processed it. As an adult, I’d think, “Oh, it [my childhood] wasn’t so bad.” I didn’t really understand or allow the truth of how bad it was to be present in my consciousness and because I was denying that part of it, I wasn’t going to the grief that was necessary for me to engage with people more honestly.
VM: In my self-discovery there was that one unhealthy relationship which opened me up to my shadow. I had to relate it to elements of my childhood. Within my dark side, there is great creativity, but pain as well. After therapy, I related this to my ego and self-esteem.
RR: And I think we still have difficulty in our culture of acknowledging and accessing deep grief. That’s one reason the 12-Step Program has been remarkable for me. One of the issues that I had, and I think a lot of women do, is that I looked outside myself for validation. You could look at my journey as a way of [examining] how a woman has adventures or becomes an artist. I chose men who were charismatic and extremely dangerous, but they were also, a lot of times, very fertile creatively. And [at the time] I couldn’t claim [this creativity] for myself, which was a kind of mistaken connection where you actually wanted to be them without taking the risks.
It’s almost been 10 years since my first book came out—what the heck was I doing in those years? I was busy chasing love and diverting all that energy outside of myself. We have such a limited time on this earth and it is precious. I was creating fantasies about these people because I wanted them to be the right match. Talk about ego–I was so self-righteous that I was in love and I was bull-headedly forcing people into playing a role. I was stuck in a victim mode, which was really startling [for me] because the first time I walked into a 12-Step meeting for people who have trouble with love/sex/romance/relationships, they were talking about it as an addiction. They went around the room [introducing themselves] and I said, “My name is Rachel; I have no idea what I am.” But when I went home and I wrote this in the book, I said, “I am an addict.” And there was something extraordinary about claiming that because it was about taking responsibility. I chose these men. I was getting high off the replication of the trauma, repeating the same things, and I was avoiding my creative responsibility and dealing with the grief and the realities of my childhood.
VM: How did you create self-love in your life?
RR: I’m so excited that this is the theme of this issue. One of the emphases of those programs [12-Step] is to take the focus off others and to take care of yourself. In shifting the focus and learning how to take care of myself—slowing down, being in the moment, and allowing the feelings of grief and anger to come up—I was honoring my history of who I am and I was able to gather my energy and redirect it. After realizing that I was an addict, I was able to start a business. I was able to write this book. This is all just four years ago. Talk about self-love—this is about taking the focus off of others and coming into your own. And I am not yearning; I actually enjoy my own company. [Before] I was hell-bent on finding the love, as immature as it may sound. The focus now is taking care of myself and being in the moment. Practice is part of it: discipline, meditating, and orienting myself to a day. Those are some of the ways I honor myself and once you do these things, it spills over and you become more vital, engaged and more present for the relationships in your life that are real.
I also realized that I had no compassion for myself. I thought that love was not just about sacrifice, but about suffering, as well. That’s the opposite of self-love; so I am letting go of that paradigm and seeking compassion for myself.
VM: How have people responded to you and your book?
RR: Well, it’s been pretty overwhelming because first of all, I didn’t know that both men and women would respond. You write something to the best of your ability and then you just don’t know what will happen. I have really been kind of astonished by the responses. Some men have written in and said, “Your book touched me so deeply, I’m reevaluating how I treat women in relationships.” And then some men have said that it gave them insights into how women think and feel. There were also women who read it and said, “I’ve identified it [this addiction] and I’m going to get help.” This includes a 60-year-old woman who had been married most of her life and had had only three partners. She still recognized the diversion of energy and the obsessiveness—and she went to her therapist. And that makes this exposure worthwhile, because I’m awfully naked [in my revelations].
VM: That’s what makes your book so compelling; it’s real and it touches people’s hearts. I suggest everyone read it. Of course there are different levels of love addiction. There are healthy relationships, but like you said, in our culture, it’s built in. We have Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and TV shows that reflect the illusion of romantic relationships, rather than the reality.
RR: I know; it’s everywhere you look. A door of perception will open when you truly claim and feel responsible. That’s when I could see the chemical rush happen with certain people. I had never seen it before. There’s an extraordinary book in this field of thought right now called, Addiction as an Attachment Disorder, by Philip J. Flores. This book was illuminating for me because although my mother did the best she could, she was mentally ill. This was during a period of time when people didn’t know how to treat this kind of illness, so there’s no way, as much as she tried, that she could bond with me properly as an infant. And a lot of people who have love addictions seem to not have experienced proper mother/infant bonding. This literally has an effect on the way your brain develops. So for me, when I fell in “love,” I would get a certain kind of adrenaline and chemical rush that would bring me up to what most people feel normally. This is the direction that a lot of current addiction research is examining, that there is actually a chemical basis [for this type of behavior].
VM: I definitely agree that without proper attachment to either parent, certain behaviors will come up that you have to really explore. I know I had my challenges with both of my parents.
RR: I don’t mean to be reductive; there’s no question that other aspects [are at play]: betrayal, lack of boundaries, and in my case, there was abandonment, violence—all kinds of stuff got mixed up. I just think that part of it is that kids are so impressionable and if they don’t see anything healthy, what the heck are they going to do? I think as a culture, we’re repressed when it comes to intimacy. How did you work through your past?
VM: I definitely acted out in my 20s. I was lucky because I had some really great men. But I didn’t want the great men; I wanted the bad boys. I spent seven years on and off in therapy and just realized for myself that it was about the repetition compulsion and looking for the intellectual partner that I knew was in myself. And like you, I found this within and came into my own in my early 30s. I was lucky, but in a lot of ways, my childhood looked good on the outside but was hell on the inside. I grew up in the 60s and 70s and our parents were acting out then.
I think you’re right about the repression of intimacy in our culture. I don’t know how that is going to shift but I do know that if you change yourself, you change your world.
RR: You’ve really nailed our generation. Most people we know didn’t receive a lot of guidance because their parents were totally acting out. I’m not saying that the overly attentive [parenting] thing [that’s common] now is the answer either.
VM: Yes, it seems like the pendulum has swung. We do what we have to do to survive. On a more positive note, what’s on the horizon for you? Are you writing a new book and are you still doing your business?
RR: Underneath the love/sex/romance/relationship addiction for me, I found that money was all bound up with self-worth and value, meaning that I had an addictive relationship to it. And I think that a lot of times people, especially women, find that love, sex and money are all kind of braided together. So the next memoir—this just became really clear—has to be about money and my relationship [with it] so that’s one project that is just organically popping up.
I’m working on ways of presenting this information to a broader community. This is what your magazine speaks to: ways of bringing [out] these kinds of transformational aspects of narrative. I’m creating a course called “Love Yourself Back to Whole: Healing through the Art of Personal Narrative,” which I’m planning to teach at places like Esalen [in Big Sur, CA] and elsewhere. This is a great way to fuse my background as a teacher with the experience I’ve had with the memoir, as well as the opportunity to reach out to the recovery community.
VM: How do you maintain your creative life?
RR: There’s a certain kind of strength that comes from being a survivor. You can turn negative things into positive—not to be hokey, but I did develop a certain strength because my parents weren’t really present and I bounced around living with different families. I found sustenance in reading and creating a fantasy world. There is something about not having anything to lose. I didn’t have a high profile conservative job; I didn’t have a husband or a child who would be hurt and I was in a unique position to go really deep. And I felt like that was my job. I’ve always been committed to my belief in the power of art and creativity. I think there is a certain kind of risk-taking that can be really positive in that way. That’s why I felt I should write this memoir, because I think (and you’re confirming it), I’m not alone in these feelings and experiences.
For more information about Rachel Resnick and Love Junkie: A Memoir (Bloomsbury USA, hardcover $24), visit www.rachelresnick.com. To learn more about Rachel Resnick’s business, Writers on Fire, which offers luxury writing retreats both stateside and abroad, visit www.writersonfire.com.