“What is wrong with you?” my friend asked as he shoveled Korean BBQ into his mouth. He was treating me to dinner after a relationship breakup as a way to show his support.

I stared at him blankly, unable to hide my quivering body.

“I don’t know,” I said, pushing my plate to the side. The thought of embarrassment came to mind, but my autonomous nervous system was so out of whack there wasn’t room for it to matter.

It had become blatantly obvious even to the general public I couldn’t control these symptoms that were manifesting in my body: the inability to sleep, the cessation of hunger, the wandering fog of thought, and the shaking . . . the shaking that came uncontrollably at various times in a whirlwind of random waves . . .

* * *

That was 17 years ago, before I knew the name for it: W-i-t-h-d-r-a-w-a-l.

An online dictionary defines withdrawal as “the act of taking back or away something,” and usually that something is associated with a tangible substance like alcohol or a specific drug. It is rarely, if ever, mentioned when that something is a person or relationship, one which seemed so perfectly placed into one’s (my) life. Said relationship resembles a substance, but in fact is pure energy, and when it leaves what enters is the feeling of something missing in its deepest form: the likes of a shattered mosaic, or an unwelcome house guest that barges in bearing bags of groceries but no recipe for the ingredients it places on the counter.

How long are you staying? I ask. It opens a calendar but all the pages are blank.

When I made the decision to speak with my girlfriend about my breaking point, (see previous post Death and the Decree of a Decision) I was terrified it would mean the end of our relationship. And for me, a sex and love addict in recovery, this would bring about sudden and surefire withdrawal.

What I didn’t take into account was a third door.

One of the brain’s job is to keep us safe, and mine had run through the scenarios of us staying together (no withdrawal) and breaking up (withdrawal) but it didn’t (couldn’t) account for what I had been praying for: an open mind and a new experience, or finding a place in between. And in the discussions since, my girlfriend and I have been exploring just that.

What I realize now is that withdrawal is not about the person, place or thing. It is a side-effect of the fear and delusion that if I don’t keep what is, it will not be, and my life depends on taking responsibility for that which I don’t (let alone can’t) control.

But withdrawal is not intellectual it’s instinctual. And no matter how much I reason things out, it is here for a visit. It’s been 12 years since we last parted, and thankfully my recovery is stronger. But the experience is all too eerily familiar, and I feel . . . yep, afraid.

“It can be a peaceful place as long as you don’t fill the space with fear,” said my friend in recovery. “When you don’t know, you’re even closer to God [surrender]. Otherwise we think we can fix it. A pause can mean peace, even without the answer.”

This feels like Ninja PhD level recovery, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it. Although compared to 17 years ago, I feel much closer to the mark. Even more so it could be this is the next progression in my human experience, and as “luck” would have it I’m receiving exactly what I’ve been praying for. And like any significant step (pun not intended) are we ever really ready? My inherent belief of divine appointments affirms this event is right on time.

One thing’s for certain, I’m going to have a chat with my Team about the intensity. After all these years withdrawal must have a dial on it, and perhaps they can turn it down just a bit.

“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of these things and still be calm in your heart.”
—unknown