‘I was addicted to love and toxic relationships’
Life coach Michelle Zelli spent 40 years going from one painful, toxic relationship to another before finally realising she was addicted to love – this is her story. Join Michelle on a self-development workshop this Saturday
In my 30s, having carved a life and reputation as a strong, successful woman, few people knew the truth: an off-the-scale addiction to love and toxic relationships was ruining my life.
Only later in my 40s, after much heartbreak, relentless self attack and diligent therapeutic research I became consciously aware of destructive deep wounding and scars that were causing it – I was being silently sabotaged by the legacy of my chaotic start in life. Love addiction – going from relationship to relationship, intoxicated by the high of early romance – was yet another way to beat myself up, destroying any semblance of my self-esteem. A vicious cycle of intense love, obsession, destruction and craziness had begun.
Back then, of course, love addiction was unknown. Like so many women, I simply assumed I was wired wrongly and the fault was all mine. I just chose the wrong guy and couldn’t do relationships.
The roots of my love addiction
I was born to a hard drinking, hard living Prize Fighter and his glamorous Playboy Bunny. Unbeknown to me, their toxic but passionately exciting and highly volatile union became an invisible blue print for my own romantic encounters in years to come.
They soon realised they were not ideal parents and gave me up for adoption.
By the age of two I was legally handed over to a couple within the family and there the real trouble began.
The stories surrounding my adoption vary widely from ‘You were starved and left in the cold to die’ to ‘You came with a six bedroom house and monthly payments.’ Neither, from my little person’s perspective, felt ideal or loving. I was an unwanted lodger and an obligation, it was a tough upbringing devoid of love, affection, protection or care.
But you don’t need to have a dark story to suffer a lifetime of fractured relationships, what feels like a constantly broken heart and shattered dreams. Love addiction can result from much lighter and less obviously wounded beginnings.
The impact of early relationships
My first relationship was at school, with a tearaway who’s mane of rock star hair and affected swagger induced my first obsession.
Looking back at the carnage and cruelty he dished out to my young, already broken heart, is a dismal reminder of what I believed I was worth. He broke every rule in the ‘nice boy’ book but I was desperate to feel loved and kept returning for more. With every bounce back I let him know I would suck up whatever he dished out.
This pattern became my norm. I came to normalise the not-normal treatment I was getting in the relationship. What else did I know?
Sobbing for hours, I felt bereft and alone in my misery. Then, buoyed by false optimism, when he’d return, I would think: ‘It will be different this time.’ I ran the cycle over and over, bemused and trapped in a toxic cocktail of destruction and hope.
Throughout my teens, twenties and thirties I jumped from one relationship to another. I can’t recall a time I was not ‘madly in love’ or ‘madly in pain’ but I did my best to contain the inner hysteria which ruled my life.
I had a well-worn list of ways I self-medicated the pain and avoided deep despair such as sex, drugs, work, sugar, exercise, learning, TV, food …. you name it, I tried it. I cycled through the list in such a way that few people had any idea I was an addict. After all, if you only do something for a few weeks and move on, you can easily look like a high achiever! But out of control behaviour- whether it’s drugs, sex, love or eating – is designed to protect you from the pain.
Wind forward forty years, I met my real father and had a breakdown as a lifetime of internal turmoil and stagnant emotion poured out, rendering me fit for nothing. This unexpected tsunami, and subsequent melt down, highlighted the importance of understanding my life’s purpose. My inner workings were complex but I vowed to become an expert in this condition we call being human.
Discovering a path for healing
Years of therapy, with dozens of well-meaning professionals, proved largely ineffective and I felt compelled to take my healing further afield.
Eventually I created my own coaching processes which are spiritual and psychological and run deep, but are also directive and with clear goals. I spent years creating the work I needed for myself, which is now my signature work helping others.
At 42, I quit my Board Level Blue Chip role, with only faith to guide me. I vowed to people around the world who could help change my patterns and quash my inner demons. Jumping on a plane and heading for America I sought out people with extraordinary reputations that could help me. Wyatt Webb, therapist to Oprah Winfrey and other Hollywood stars took me under his wing as both a client and a mentoree.
My purpose soon unfurled like a magic carpet. As I healed, my life was reinvented. Within a few years I built a thriving coaching practice purely on reputation and referral. Clients came from around the world as word spread fast.
When your man picker is broken it can feel like the end of the world, or at least the beginning of your destiny as the local crazy cat lady. But love addiction can be overcome. Though I see an increasing number of smart, sassy and fabulous single women shutting down to the possibility of a loving and healthy relationship, I’m living proof it doesn’t have to be your destiny.
Understanding what love addiction is
Understandably the term love addiction turns people off before they’ve had a chance to look at the symptoms and the often devastating impact to their lives. This destructive and painful pattern leads to catastrophic endings, celibate decades and a deep mistrust of the opposite sex. Understanding love addiction can provide a light at the end of this dark, derailing tunnel.
Unlike sex addiction, love addiction is not listed as a recognised Psychological Disorder by the medical profession in the U.K. or America. Instead it’s become a generalised heading for a common set of behaviours to help us understand an all too common dilemma when embarking on a romantic expedition.
Love addicts have a deep, often unconscious, yearning to feel lovable, understood and connected to another human at the deepest level. For many people the early part of a relationship – those goosebump, butterly- inducing ‘in love’ feelings – is an exciting time of growth and emotional nourishment.
For the love addict, however, meeting a potential Mister Right can be the start of a pattern of imploding, self hatred and sheer, off the scale fantasy. We are most terrified by the intimacy involved in relationships; of letting people see who we really are, so we shy away from the very thing we want most in life.
Why you’re always attracting the same type of man
For 15 years I have practised dynamic psycho-spiritual coaching with hundreds of clients. My own self professed love addiction took me around the world to learn about this underrated disabler from the inside out. Which in turn has led me to help women understand their proclivity for love-rats, narcissists and man-boys. It can feel as though an invisible force is at work, magnetically drawing the same type of men towards you, albeit in different guises.
I see successful women a crumble into a hole of self-doubt, self-loathing and disrespect under a cloud of love addiction in the early stages of obsessing about their new lover if he pulls away. This is alternating with the high, induced upon receiving a ‘Good morning gorgeous’ text from our new love interest, whilst flying amongst the stars when your new beau makes you feel special and adored.
Love addicts often find themselves in a cycle of short lived romance and candlelight, big dreams and Disneyesque wishes. All too often the fairy tale comes crashing down. Within a few months well worn dreams dissolve as old, familiar behaviours burst love bubbles and pee on romantic parades – she gets needy, he pulls away. She finds someone else to comfort the pain, and it all starts again.
Love addicts magnify the best parts of our new partner and carefully, unconsciously edit out the bad, to ensure their fantasy can be sustained. It isn’t easy to keep the promo alive and kicking but we have an array of strategies to eek out the life span of this dangerous attachment.
The turning point that led to change
Just when I thought I was out of the woods, at 45, a grand finale of a heart, mind and body blow came in the form of a smart, sexy Jack the Lad type.
We met online and instantly connected with a myriad of things in common. He noticed the slightest things and never failed to make me feel appreciated, adorable and smart.
Within a few messages I was ‘fizzing’ at the thought of our pending date. We met in the swanky bar at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, drank and drooled our way through a magnetic attraction and an intense eight hour date.
To this day I get misty eyed recalling the impact when he touched the inside of my knee – my eyelids closed, I melted. He knew he had me.
I remember looking at myself in the mirror in the luxurious ladies loo and mouthing to my reflection ‘This is your last irresponsible love affair’ and it really was!
The eighteen month rollercoaster of a relationship brought highs and lows which made my previous relationships seem balanced. Oh my, the sex was cosmic, the connection other worldly and well, the fighting…. I truly channelled my inner banshee.
I became the old insecure, obsessive, crazy addict. He matched me at ever step. We eventually parted after months of taking chunks out of each other. It took everything I had, and a little bit more, to extricate myself. I spent months pining for the way he would make me feel and revelled in the memories of the fantasy we shared.
Many more years were spent working with world experts to dig through the romantic rubble to fully understand how the hell I had fallen foul of my old demons yet again. Today I thank my last Jack The Lad for making ‘love’ so painful that I was forced to take action, get help and abstain until I could trust myself.
This catastrophic heartbreak gave me the final shift I needed to go where I had never been before! Soon I found my way to Pia Mellody’s work – she’s known as a leading world expert in love addiction and at that time was head clinician at a well known rehab in Arizona. Mellody is also the author of many books about love addiction including the global bestseller Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love.
The list of ‘gurus’ that helped me was long and expensive but I was determined to stick to my pledge.
I absorbed a myriad of processes, first for my own betterment and soon to practice professionally, using my own experiences to light the way. I now consider myself a master curator, ensuring clients receive the right process at exactly the right time for them to illuminate their emotional patterns and ignite their healing.
Getting help for love addiction
SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) provides a safe place to go and meet like minded people, to understand more about their wounds in a group setting based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was lucky as already having a successful coach I was able to jump on that plane, and seek out world experts to illuminate and eliminate old patterns. Like all addictions, we’re never cured, we simply understand how to manage ourselves and our old habits which, given half a chance, will quickly reel us back in.
Special event with Michelle Zelli
On Saturday, February 3rd, Michelle is running a Feminine SuperPowers workshop at the Corinthia Hotel in London. The event will run from 10 to 6 p.m. with the goal of transforming women to lead a life they love.
Healthista readers can purchase a special VIP discounted ticket at £199 (originally £249) that includes Saturday’s event and a two week online coaching programme with Michelle. Visit eventbrite.com
Michelle Zelli describes herself as a psycho-spiritual coach. She blends her Blue Chip board-level background with spiritual wisdom and cutting edge science. She’s transformed her own life from a difficult and dysfunctional childhood to a successful executive and is relentless in her own mission for self-mastery and teaching others to find their own powerful path. At 56, Michelle coaches those seeking to own their inner rock star, and her interactive speaking style leaves audiences inspired and empowered to take action. Find out more at: michellezelli.com. Follow Michelle: Instagram: michellezelli, Facebook: michellezelli