Illusions of Intimacy – Part 1

reflection of a man


Dear Ann:  I love my boyfriend but all he wants to do is smoke pot.  At first, I’d smoke with him and we’d have such deep conversations – they were amazing!  I’d listen to him while he played his guitar.  It was beautiful.  We laughed together all the time.  And then we’d share these wonderful meals.  But it turned out that having conversations, playing his guitar, and eating while high on weed was all he wanted to do. I decided I can’t be high all the time.  This is so frustrating because I really love him!

Before we further investigate what intimacy is, and how to work toward it in your relationships, let’s examine ILLUSIONS …..that beckon one to join with another because, initially, intimacy seems possible.

The Intimacy Illusion Provided by Addiction

What is Addiction?

Addiction is preoccupation with a substance or behavior.  With preoccupation comes tolerance wherein the subject requires larger amounts and more frequent involvement to experience the same, “rush,” that they, “loved,” when they first began their substance use or maladaptive behavior. Another component is withdrawal  which can be physical and/or emotional, and is exhibited by restlessness or irritability associated with attempts to cease the substance or behavior. The addict often lies to hide the extent of their use or practice of their behavior, and then loss of control takes over when the person has unsuccessfully attempted to reduce their dependence on what has now become their primary relationship.  Eventually a person’s addiction becomes an escape to improve mood or avoid problems.  Addictions may lead to illegal acts, and risked significant relationships, such as risking or losing a job, partner or other significant opportunity.  And in the end, the addict usually turns to family, friends, or another third party for a bailout to avoid the negative consequences that accompany addiction.

Addiction precludes intimacy.  One simply cannot be intimate with a food addict, workaholic, gambler, substance dependent, sex/relationship addict, compulsive shopper, codependent or those who are computer/video game obsessed.  The object of their addiction will ALWAYS come between the two of you.  It will ALWAYS be the focus of the addict.  The substance or addictive/avoidant behavior will ALWAYS be the virtual intimate relationship for the addict. And, try as we might, we can’t compete with it.  We can never be diverting enough, gorgeous enough, humorous enough, or successful enough to win a first place with the addict. This often leaves us feeling, “Not Enough!” 

some lack in us. We try to understand, to have compassion.  We try to change into what the addict wants us to be.  When this fails, and it will, we try to encourage the addict to give up their substance or behavior, so we can feel accepted and loved. When we are not able to recreate ourselves or the addict, we internalize the addict’s shame.  Like the addict who feels unacceptable to the their family, friends, the world at large, we feel unacceptable to the person we love.   The addict’s mirage about the possibility of intimacy, leads us to take on the blame that there is something wrong with us that prevents true joining.  The addict’s shame and blame become internalized BY US!.

Take heart!  IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU!  It IS about the addict’s attachment, love, preoccupation with and cravings for the substance or behavior that has grabbed their mind, heart, and soul.  It is about the addict’s emotional attraction to, and self centered need for Intimacy Free Pastiming in an unhealthy way.

In the beginning most of us don’t notice our loved one’s devotion to his/her substance or compulsive/obsessive behavior. It looks so interesting – to have someone share their knowledge, social circle, interests with us!  The illusion of emotional availability sucks us in.

The Video Game Addict:

In the beginning, the video game obsessed person invites us over to play that new and adrenalin producing video game that absolutely, “everybody,” is dying to have.  Oh it is so much fun.  And there can even be an entire community of video “friends,” who play from remote locations.  Or, playing video games can be the reason for getting together.  Conversation is about the video game, the strategy, beating the game or the opposing team.  Eventually, we learn that the organizing principle of this person’s life is gaming with virtual friends – i.e. people he has never met but with whom he thinks he has a relationship.  The supply of new video games and gaming communities is endless.  They are much more exciting and adrenalin producing than you.

The Computer Addict:

In the beginning the computer addict will teach us new games, techniques, shortcuts, ingenious ways to store lists, ideas, and innovative ways to do research, spreadsheets and art.  They know their computer backwards and forwards. But their extreme use of the computer interferes with daily life. Like the video game addicts, computer addicts isolate themselves from most forms of social contact.  Their focus is on the computer, not on life events.  When first attracted to a computer addict, we are willing and grateful students. Eventually, you find yourself watching TV while the person with whom you want to have an intimate relationship is off on the computer.

"Where did you go?"
"Oh I have to check something here, I’ll be right in."
"Pretty soon."
And you are still alone with the TV.

The Food Addict:

In the beginning a food addict can be very confusing.  There are different types of food addicts (also identified as the eating disordered).  There is the binge eater who often cycles between stuffing and starving. Binge eaters can also be Bulimics who binge and then purge via exercise, laxatives, regurgitation. Anorexics are addicted to achieving their perfect body image. Their measure for achievement of this goal is looking in the mirror or looking at the scale, with distorted eyes. Food addiction is very complicated and is being simplified here.  Suffice it to say, a food addict is preoccupied with dieting, and eating and/or getting rid of what has been consumed.  Many food addicts, who have no idea of appropriateness in quantity or the feeling of being full, also eat in secret. Food addicts are usually interested in discovering new restaurants, cooking new recipes, entertaining, trying ethnic foods. This is very fun and alluring. After all, who doesn’t like to eat?

But beware!  For a food addict, the primary relationship is food!  It provides self soothing, it can serve to numb positive and negative emotions, it can solve the problem of boredom.  It WILL preclude another person from being first in the relationship.

The Workaholic:

In the beginning, we are often so impressed by a person’s work ethic, their appearance of responsibility and competence and sometimes we are awed by how they have created publications, supplied new ideas to their work or company or the world.  At first, we feel like we are included in the workaholic’s production and/or creative challenges because they want to tell us about it.  We WANT to be a part of it, to join the discussion, to feel valued for our offerings.  The questions is, are we being included, or providing an objective feedback loop so the workaholic can have a safe place to process ideas or work related issues. This is not a conversation; this is a one way process of what is on the workaholic’s mind. And when we find someone who shares our same interests we feel amazed!  We feel included because their ideas expand our thinking;  at the same time, we add more to their ideas, and it feels like an intellectual intimacy comes into existence.  It is like Nirvana, that ideal condition of rest, harmony, stability or joy, when you have found both a brain mate and a soul mate in one person!  But beware when the person we are attracted to doesn’t have time for you because of work, projects, deadlines.  This is an indication that you are in competition with work…..and you will NEVER REPLACE WORK for a workaholic.

The Substance Addict/Alcoholic

In the beginning, it is such a blast to be with the tipsy life of the party, or to have those deep conversations while high on weed and listening to music, or to be with someone who has incredible energy and an unmatched enthusiasm for life because of speed, cocaine or other stimulants. These folks often demonstrate that they really do want to include us in their lives – with their fun, their friends, and their lifestyle.  We often feel accepted and embraced because it seems like this person really cares about us.  In an effort to establish intimacy we sometimes join our loved one in abusing their drug of choice. What we miss is that addicts have a primary relationship with their drug of choice.  It is their friend, their way of releasing anxiety, stress, their way of numbing feelings and their way of avoiding intimacy with a person because their drug will always provide a wall.   Substance addicts are dealing with a disease that permanently causes changes in the brain’s reward system. PERMANENTLY is the important word here.  The chemical becomes the reward, not loving you, or enjoying a picnic, etc. Chemical dependency is a biopsychosocial disease.  It effects every part of the addicts being. There is a temptation to want the addict to, “see the light,” and to focus their affections on us because their substance use begins to have negative consequences for them.  We think that if they stop using, they will be able to bond more with us.  This is a wish because it is not until late recovery that an addict begins to open to the possibility of loving a person more than their substance.  With ALL addicts, their substance is the PRIMARY RELATIONSHIP.

Gambling Addiction

In the beginning, living the high life seems like a dream come true.  Imagine, luxury hotel rooms and Las Vegas style shows all comped by the casino manager.  Imagine being with someone who actually knows the ropes of gambling and can teach you!  And that intrinsic yet allusive dream of hitting the jackpot and becoming rich is always in the background.  With gambling addiction, one’s primary relationship is with the, “risk,” “game,” “odds,” and the excitement of the, “win.” When the, “win,” doesn’t come, there is the “chase,” wherein the subject tries to win back gambling losses with more gambling. And then the cycle begins: preoccupation with gambling, increased tolerance exemplified by the subject’s need for larger or more frequent wagers to experience the, “rush,” then loss of control, chasing the losses, lying to cover up the losses, sometimes followed by illegal acts and risked opportunities or relationships.  We can NEVER be as exciting as the rush that comes with the win because the, “win,” is about an adrenalin rush and the belief that our problems will all resolve, “if only I could just win!”


In the beginning, even if you don’t like to shop, shopaholics can appear very activity driven and fascinating because they can usually come up with some new activity that is centered around something that is for sale. They often know those secret nooks and crannies where one can purchase that item that one has never considered owning!  Shopping helps them avoid feelings, procrastinate on chores, eradicate boredom, and provide topics for discussion. At the crux of this addiction is the need to fill an inner void, excitement and approval seeking, perfectionism and the inability to tolerate negative feelings.  Beware of the compulsive shopper.  They often ignore the fact that there is no money to pay for the item they desire, and consequently have a propensity to max out credit cards, leaving someone else to pay for their addiction.

Sex and Relationship Addiction:

In the beginning, being with a sex/ relationship addict can feel like being with your dream person:  someone who wants to be with you, and someone who spends time with you, “making love.”  But sex/relationship addicts have intimacy and self esteem issues.  They find it almost impossible to have an intimate relationship without sex.  They seek validation with idealized others who are then found to be imperfect.  This often leads to serial, non intimate, usually sexual, relationships.  What they want is that one magical sexual attachment that will heal all wounds…or at least temporarily relieve pain, loneliness or boredom.  There are many nuances to sex and love addiction.  Know that their addiction doesn’t allow for love or the sharing of themselves.  The consequences of this addiction can include depression, shame, hopelessness, anxiety, moral conflict, fear of abandonment and spiritual bankruptcy. When in a, “relationship,” with a sex/relationship addict, the addict’s mate is often left wondering where their loved one is, why they can’t be enough to satisfy the addict. When with a sex/relationship addict, one person is NEVER ENOUGH.

The list above is by all means, not complete.  It provides an idea of what things to be aware of when one is considering a relationship with someone who exhibits addiction and/or unhealthy intimacy free pastiming.  Remember, when done in balance, those behaviors mentioned above are not red flags for avoiding a relationship.  We are discussing addictions and how the object of the addiction will ALWAYS be the PRIMARY RELATIONSHIP – NOT YOU!

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