You might be asking yourself that question, but using different words. You might be asking yourself, “What’s wrong with me?,” “Why do I feel this way?” or “How did I let myself fall so low?” So now is a good time as any to ask whether you may be an EXaholic, which incorporates all of the above.
What is an EXaholic? Sounds serious. That’s because it is. For me, it was clear I was an EXaholic right after the breakup initially happened. I felt sick pangs in my stomach–a combination of wrecked nerves and severe nausea. I couldn’t see anyone. I was in full panic mode. I texted her. I looked at my phone every second for hours upon hours, hoping for a response. When I’d get a text that wasn’t her, I felt even worse. I was getting work calls, but couldn’t deal with anyone or ANYTHING. I couldn’t put a morsel of food in my mouth. I bought a pack of cigarettes (i hadn’t smoked in 2 years) and found myself walking endlessly on the streets of my city, just walking and puffing one cancer stick after another. When I tell you I couldn’t think about food, I mean I would’ve died of hunger rather than eat. I was clammy, and probably getting badly dehydrated. The bright red Don’t Walk signal at the corner had me marching in place because I couldn’t stand still long enough for the light to change. When I saw a text come through, my heart dropped further, as if there was further to drop. Finally, a text came through and WAS her, and she said nothing to suggest she had anything left for me. I felt like I could collapse at any moment.
This was the reaction of an EXaholic. I was someone whose brain chemical functioning had formed a dependence on the feelings brought on by this other person. Like cocaine, crack–you name the poison–I was clearly addicted. And this was the greatest scare of my life–that the high would no longer be attainable, which brought about an unbelievably powerful panicky low.
For the next three months, not a minute that went by that I didn’t think about her. I had lost 25 pounds if you can believe it. I went to bed thinking about her. I woke up thinking about her. I replayed all the interactions between us in my head. At work, I would take frequent breaks just to roam the surrounding block and smoke god-knows-how-many cigarettes at a time. Others in the office and in the building had to have noticed that I was on some kind of emotional rollercoaster. Who leaves their office every twenty minutes to get in the elevator and walk around the block several times puffing non-stop, unless something is severely wrong.
Concentrating on anything was extremely difficult. There was no joy in my voice, only desperation and pain. I could tell that the vibes I gave off were troubling. And if they were troubling to me, I could only imagine what they were conveying to those who crossed paths with me.
I missed deadlines, cancelled meetings, and was short with family members. Voicemails went unanswered. The only call or text I cared about was from my ex. And they were very rare and usually only came after long periods of avoidance. To those of you hurting today for the very same reason, I want you to know that I know EXACTLY how you feel. And the last thing you need is to be judged. Because what you’re going through is worse than physical pain. It feels like the worst form of torture.
These feelings didn’t fade. They were nearly as strong 3 months into the breakup as on day 1. The suffering was still unbearable. And when I look back at that time, I just shiver in fright at what that breakup did to me.
I could not function anywhere near normal levels because of a breakup. My productivity took a dive because of a breakup. My health suffered because of a breakup. My sanity was ripping apart at the seams because of a breakup. EXaholic? Yes, that was me.
About 6 months into my train wreck of an existence, I had my first valuable insight that would come in handy and form a crude launchpad toward recovery. I managed to figure out that I was addicted to the feeling that my association with this person caused me to feel. Addicted. Interesting word. You know what’s funny, addiction isn’t love. We mistake it for love. Addiction is dependence. I was dependent on the rush of brain chemicals in my brain. Did you know that research shows that a breakup comes with a drop in dopamine in the brain? When that dopamine spigot turns off, the fall is steep. My feelings of pleasure, contentment, joy, and even purpose were missing. My desperation in the absence of those chemically induced feelings showed just how big an addict I was.
So if I was an addict, then what? What do addicts do to deal with their addiction? Well, one tool I found was a sobriety count, where you count the number of days you are sober. But what does it mean for an EXaholic to be sober. Well for EXaholics.com and the EXaholic program of recovery, it has to do with keeping track of initiating contact. To be sober is to track when you go a day without initiating contact with your EX. You keep a count of your consecutive days, and start fresh from 0 when you’ve initiated contact. I started to count. I stated my name in front of a mirror, stated the fact that I was an EXaholic, and stated the number of days since I initiated contact with my ex. Day 1 came and went. Day 2, same declaration stated in the mirror. Day 3. Day 4. I was on a mini roll and finally got to Day 30. Day 30 felt like huge accomplishment. And on that day, I felt my very first moment of very minimal relief. For the first time I took a tiny amount from the attention I was giving to my EX, and replaced it with attention to my accomplishment.
On Day 31 I reached out to her. Yes, I fell off the wagon and it hurt. But this time around I was already not the same person. Having 30 days under my belt made me feel different, but it would take a while to get to a comfortable place. I started the count again from zero and this time I lasted 50 days. Now I was a 50 day guy, somewhat stronger than the 30 day guy. This cycle got better each time, and although it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, I felt miraculous pride when I finally got to 1 year. One whole year, 365 days of not initiating contact! Let me tell you, to this day it’s one of my greatest achievements. And I’m not even kidding.
There was so much more work to be done on myself. And a lot of that work would be therapeutic. But as far as the addiction itself, that one year of sobriety did something to my brain. It gradually reversed the dopamine dependence. The lack of contact brought about an adjustment in my brain. I got used to the more consistent chemical levels in the brain. Even slight joys in other areas of life were giving my brain a small dose of the drug. To be sure, no drug was like the EX drug. Its not even close. But as things stabilized in my brain, just even a simple rare chuckle was good enough to hang my hat on, due to the fact that my brain was no longer in rollercoaster mode.
I avoided passing by where she lived for a long time. I avoided places we went together. It took way longer than a year to be able to walk around free again. But As I mentioned, once the addiction was in check, I had so much work to do on myself. Let’s leave the discussion of that journey for another time.
If you would like to share your day count with EXaholics.com, send your count to firstname.lastname@example.org. Give yourself a nickname which no one can identify and we will give you a shout out by posting your day count on our social media pages. If you would like to write for us, email us and we will consider posting your story with edits that will aim to keep your identity anonymous.