Love and Compulsion Cannot Coexist.


One of the people I love most in this world, and will love forever, lives under the painful shadow of compulsion that closely resembles addiction.

She is afraid, and I am afraid for her. She is filled with self-hate and doubt, and I am filled with love for her. She lashes out in frustration, and I am tested. She refuses to give or receive love, and I am filled with sadness.

She uses her compulsion as a salve, as self-punishment, as an escape from her pain, as control, and as avoidance. It is bigger than she is, and when she reaches the end of her compulsive cycle, the self-hate, depression, and anxiety are right there to pick up where they left off.

I am an alcoholic in recovery, and sober for almost 13 years. I went to Alcoholics Anonymous, to a therapist, and I reached out to friends and those who love me, and I follow this simple prescription:

* I will focus on not drinking today, and let tomorrow and forever take care of itself.

* I am not traditionally religious, but I will let go and let God. In other words, I will accept that I don’t know everything, and will be open to new ways of living and thinking.

* I will allow myself to love and be loved.

Before I did these things, before I started letting a little love — for myself as well as others — into my life, I felt that my life spun too quickly, and that I didn’t have the power to make it stop, to breathe, and be calm. But then, along came alcohol. The spinning stopped. I could breathe and stretch my legs. Calm came to my mind and body. My problems remained, but I enjoyed a break from them.

The next morning, life spun even faster. That was the deal. You get a break, but when you come back, all of the emotions that caused you to need that break will be worse.

And then one day, hung over, the light of my children’s love and that indescribable feeling of love I have for them touched me. I knew the path I was on and the hurt I would cause if I didn’t stop drinking and find a healthier way to manage my life.

I did many things to heal, and all of them played an important role, but at its center was a desire to give and receive love. Not love in a romantic sense, but love in its broadest sense.

As Geneen Roth writes in her book When Food Is Love:

“Love and compulsion cannot coexist.

Love is the willingness and ability to be affected by another human being and to allow that effect to make a difference in what you do, say, become.

Compulsion is the act of wrapping ourselves around an activity, a substance, or a person to survive, to tolerate and numb our experience of the moment.

Love is a state of connectedness, one that includes vulnerability, surrender, self-valuing, steadiness, and a willingness to face, rather than run from, the worst of ourselves.

Compulsion is a state of isolation, one that includes self-absorption, invulnerability, low self-esteem, unpredictability, and fear that if we faced our pain, it would destroy us.

Love expands; compulsion diminishes.

Compulsion leaves no room for love.”

As I watch this person I love, I see the truth of Roth’s words, and I see this truth in my own life and experience with alcohol:

* We fear absolutes and what is to come, rather than living in the present and being mindful.

* We struggle to be open to and not reject the thoughts and ideas of others who are trying to show us new ways of thinking and living.

* We resist or do not allow ourselves to truly love or be loved.

There is one last truth: healing and mindfulness aren’t there for those who need them. They are there for those who want them. The path toward healing is well-worn, but we have to want it enough to step off the ledge and take the risk of falling. We have to remember there are people who love us waiting to take our hand; they’ve likely been waiting for quite a while.

When we let them do this, we let a little love in and express a little love, and that one act leaves less room for the compulsion to exist.

This alone will not remove addiction, but addiction is the result of a trigger that creates a compulsion. Let love in and we’ve started to erode the trigger and step away from compulsion toward a better way of living and thinking.

I know how easy it is to say all of the above, but I’ve had to practice these things in my own life in order to survive and then to heal. It is an incredible cliché, but it does start with just one step, and then another, and another.


James Buchanan is a generally happy writer, content to work on his own pieces as well as help others as a coach or ghostwriter. He lives in Exeter, New Hampshire, near the ocean and near the mountains, and with his lovely family. If you would like to learn more about him, please check out his website.


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Hannah Harris
Hannah Harris grew up in the pure mountain air of Lake Tahoe, NV. She is now a Yoga teacher and writer in San Francisco. She believes the the single best thing any of us can do for the rest of creation is find the time to truly know and then madly love ourselves. Find her on Instagram and Facebook, or read more of her thoughts at Wayfaring Gypsy.
Hannah Harris
Hannah Harris