Addicted to love on Valentine's Day
Rachel Resnick's memoir "Love Junkie" may be a story of addiction, but it's not a typical one. In vivid, even brutal language, she describes the exquisite highs and baffling lows of her intense, passionate -- and, as she came to understand, addictive -- romances. A dose of heavy reality sets off the antic adventures -- after her parents divorced, her father focused on his new life and family as her mother quickly slid into desperate alcoholism. Resnick brings it all to the page with remarkable clarity, never indulging in self-pity. Anyone who's ever driven past the house of a lover to see if their car is in the driveway, sent a late-night e-mail to an ex, or wished oh-so-desperately for the phone to ring will recognize the addictive power of the desire to connect. And Valentine's Day is the time when love junkies have every excuse to fall off the wagon.
Jacket Copy: Can you tell the difference between falling in love and getting a love junkie fix?
Rachel Resnick: Falling in love takes time.
Getting a love junkie fix is instant.
An addict is impatient. You want what you want, now. You confuse sex for love, intensity for intimacy, and drama and distraction for passion. You want to get high. That is your raison d'etre.
A healthy person is basically happy alone. They aren't desperate. They aren't hunting for someone to provide the unconditional love they never got as a child, like most love junkies. They're not trauma survivors who're naturally in a state of depression and seeking a jolt to return them to some semblance of balance and normality. They're looking for partners. That's because they have something to share.
When you fall in love, and you're healthy, you take the time to get to know someone. You wait to learn if you share values, goals, dreams. You see if you can begin a long-term conversation. Each of you remains individual, yet you meet. You gradually forge a bond of intimacy. Love and attraction grows, burns in a sustainable fashion. It is more glowing coals than wildfire. At least that's what I hear!
When you use someone for "love," you don't want to know the other person. You don't want to stay separate. You want to merge. If you could, you would attach a siphon to them and suck out their very life force. "Love" is lighter fluid poured onto your selfish, immature fantasy. Together you create a bonfire of delusions. This cannot last. You exit with ash on your face and a charred heart. In the end, you have connected with no one. You are still a hungry ghost. Insatiable. You fling your sexy lingerie on the desolate floor and throw a tantrum. Or you curl into a ball and weep. This is not pretty.
JC: You evoke scenes from your childhood in great detail and with an intense vitality. Do you have a particularly good memory? Or do you find that memoir involve some measure of invention?
RR: I think I do have a particularly strong and vivid memory. I don’t remember times or dates so well, but I do have powerful recall around relationships, sensory details, drama! I also take the memoir form seriously. This form traces its roots back to St. Augustine, patron saint of love junkies. Memoir is intimate, confessional. The narrative traces an emotional journey. It’s often not linear. The only reason my life could be of interest to a general public is if I look at it through the prism of something specific and unusual -- like love and sex addiction. Then, if I write honestly enough, it might resonate with other people. Memoir is about memory, and of course memory is fallible. The obligation is to tell the truth as you remember it, and to cue the reader if you’re not sure. In my case I think sharp memory and perception were necessary for survival. I strove to alter details in such a way that protected others’ privacy and yet preserved the essential truth of the characters and of our relationships. As for vividness, the recall increases as you slow down, render the experience. You are actually re-traumatizing yourself by reviving these memories clearly enough so you can write them. So think twice before trying memoir writing at home alone!
JC: There is also a lot of sex in the book, evoked just as vividly as the rest. Did you consider the effect on the reader -- did you want it to be titillating?
RR: I chose to write vividly about sex for a few reasons. ...
Rachel Resnick's reasons are after the jump.
RR: Since this is a book about being a love and sex addict, and a personal narrative, how could I ignore that vital part of the condition? I was interested in exploring how I experienced sex when I was in the grips of addiction, and how it felt looking back. Because I evoked the present-day narrator, I felt this distance established a kind of commentary that de-glamorized the extreme sexual adventures. I also didn’t want to neuter my experience. So I made a conscious decision to embrace and celebrate my sexuality and love of it at the same time that I was exploring how I was misusing it because of a chemical imbalance in my brain and body.
JC: Does writing about sex and your affairs scratch, in any way, that addiction itch? Or maybe another way to ask this: Does reliving these intense moments of addiction and need for your memoir rehearse the same highs and lows of your addiction? Was writing the book, in some way, like taking methadone (not as good as the real thing, but a shadow of it)?
RR: When I first realized I was an addict almost four years ago, I went into physical and psychological withdrawal. I experienced symptoms like nausea, anxiety, depression, constant crying, disturbing dreams. During those first few months, I banged out a lurid pulp novella. I wrote from a male point of view. The narrator had a fiancee and a mistress. In this book, I sexually indulged in all the ways I couldn’t in real life as someone who was in recovery seeking health and intimacy. By exploring fantasies on the page, I was able to endure withdrawal. This was a kind of methadone, a temporary cure-by-writing. The memoir, on the other hand, did the opposite of scratching that addictive itch. I had 2 1/2 years of recovery when I started "Love Junkie," and a lot more awareness and stability. Writing deepened my understanding of how this addiction always mixed ecstatic pleasure with extreme pain. The awareness removes any relief there used to be in old behavior. Even if I sometimes miss the thrills, it simply doesn’t work anymore. I’m too healthy.
JC: You write revealingly about your love affairs and sexual peccadilloes. What's it like to be so vulnerable to readers -- does it make a difference if they are friends or strangers?
RR: When I wrote this book, for a whole year, I was a hot mess. A walking raw nerve. I’d never been so vulnerable. Finishing this book was like coming through a dark, dank, twisted tunnel and emerging into the light. Getting to share this book with the public is a gift. Because I’ve taught writing for so many years, I know how to interact with the public at a reading. I know how to balance a measure of exposure while maintaining boundaries. But when I get personal e-mails and letters from readers, usually strangers, they break my heart. The responses to this book have been uniformly extraordinary. I was willing to reveal this shameful, secret part of my life in hopes that women somewhere might recognize themselves and wake up sooner than I did, when I was over 40 and had lost the chance to bear my own child. The weird thing is when friends of mine who’ve known me for years come up and say, “What? I had no idea this was going on!” Then I get embarrassed!
JC: Have any of your exes reacted to the book? Did you worry about what they might think?
RR: No, because I disguised them to protect their identities and to keep the focus on me. I am not a victim. I did hear from a one-night stand, some hot guy I had found online years ago. He read about "Love Junkie" in the Los Angeles Times and got in touch. I think he was wondering if he was going to be in there. He signed the note, “one of your former fixes.”
JC: Do you find Valentine's Day to be particularly dangerous? Is Cupid just a big pusher?
RR: Oh yeah, Valentine’s Day is pure toxicity. Please! Like this is news. Cupid is so a pusher!Yes. Those chubby cheeks, you know he’s packing the love potion in there, ready to sling poison arrows, waylay unsuspecting women. The catalyst for "Love Junkie" occurred one dark and stormy Valentine’s eve. I came home and found my apartment vandalized, my computer destroyed. I knew it was my ex-boyfriend. Why? Because one year before he’d broken in the same way -- only then, he’d strewn rose petals over my bed. What a difference a year can make when you choose the wrong lovers -- over and over. All I can say is, beware!
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Credit: Mark Hanauer