When Sally made her first appointment for therapy, she emphatically explained that she was in relationship crisis and needed help. A woman in her early thirties, Sally seemed confident, articulate, and eager to get to work.
"I fell in love with my dance instructor," Sally begins."He is an unbelievable dancer," she continues.
"You said there are problems in the relationship."
"Well, sort of."
"Tell me what is going on."
"Well, the problem is he doesn't know I love him."
"Have you told him?"
"Oh, no! No. No, No!"
"What's the resistance?"
"Well, he doesn't even know I like him. I mean, we are friendly, but we only do things in groups."
"You're dating?" I ask, perplexed.
"No," she says, pausing, "Not yet."
Sally's 'relationship' took place in her head. A fantasy became a 24/7 IV drip. As I explore the nature of Sally's fantasy, I discover a highly developed one.
"I have photos of him on the walls of my bedroom," Sally explains. "I even had him sign them."
The the last year, Sally had been fanning the flames of her addiction into a heated and painful obsession. The fantasy had grown in power to the point at which she started following him. She would drive by his house in order to spy on him. She told me that this escape she was creating in her mind felt as if she were taking a shot of heroin. There was immense pleasure and excitement. There was relief from pain and discomfort.
Despite all this, Sally is not interested in pursuing any real relationship. Her emotional satisfaction takes place in this world of fantasy. By keeping her feelings secret, she can maintain her fantasy for herself. That way, she believes she has power and control. She can have a secret world that operates just as she wants it to.
The roots of Sally's problem lie in how isolated she had been as a child. She spent almost all of her time alone, until fantasy became her only friend. Fantasy replaced the real world. She crawled into these cocoonlike compartments that reduced her distress. Fantasy became her drug of choice.
Individuals who suffer from multiple addictions often find that these addictions interchange or replace one another. The clients deposit their shame into separate addictive compartment, each driven by a different addictive remedy (drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, gaming, shopping, etc). The dysfunctional purpose of dissociation is to allow the traumatized individual to continue indulging in his addiction in one place, while banking the self-esteem of having stopped it in another.
An example of this is the alcoholic who becomes sober. Once he is in recovery fro alcohol abuse, he starts acting out sexually.* He old sobriety for alcohol and sexual acting-out in two separate compartments and may not talk about the still-active addiction for years. When I treat a person who has revealed multiple addictions, such as sex, eating and gambling, I treat one at a time, giving priority to the addiction most likely to destroy him.