Heather Smith Meloche’s Ripple is an achingly honest novel about two teens struggling with destructive habits and their all-too-adult-lives.
The author has written a deeply personal essay on what addiction was like for her and how she learned to handle it.
From a First Kiss to Rock Bottom: How I Overcame Intimacy Addiction by Heather Smith Meloche
The first time I seriously kissed a boy, my world exploded.
Literally, something in my brain sparked and fired and screamed, “THIS!”
I was fourteen and standing on a neighborhood street in Ann Arbor. I was defying the curfew of my parents’ friends who’d invited me to stay with them. I’d only known the boy for eight hours. I shouldn’t have been there. But it was mid-summer and had just rained. The hot asphalt steamed. There was an older couple in rockers on their front porch watching as the boy’s lips slid over mine. His tongue was gentle and perfect. He moaned and pulled me closer and wanted me, and I felt more powerful than I ever had.
It took me seconds to believe I was in love with him.
Because how else could I explain the rush of that moment? It was something much more than flutters in my stomach. Or the Oh my God, this is really happening. With his arms around me and his desire clear, a deep, intense need bloomed then begged then clawed to keep me in that moment. Because right there, with him, I felt beautiful. And confident. Whole and complete. And I never felt beautiful, confident, whole and complete.
A day later, sobbing, I left that boy and went home to my life. The pressures from school loomed. I worked hard to follow rules, be home on time, not upset anyone. But nightly, my stepdad drank then screamed about how I was stupid, irresponsible, a bitch. My biological dad only talked to me on holidays, calling for a few, intense moments, declaring his love then disappearing again. My emptiness was oppressive and unbearable. I craved that high, powerful feeling I got with the boy in Ann Arbor. And it didn’t take me long to seek it out.
In a very short time, kisses became oral sex that became full-on sexual hookups. But being with a guy wasn’t about the actual act of sex. Unlike a sex addict, who seeks out the high they get from their body’s sexual responses, I was an intimacy or love addict — I sought out the lustful looks, the way the boys touched me like I meant something, the loose words of You’re amazing or You’re so beautiful. That’s what gave me the rush and quick shot of confidence. I craved self-assurance, but the second I stepped out of a boy’s arms, I stopped feeling sure, strong, and whole. Until I filled that void again.
I told no one what I did in the dark. Not even my closest friend, who was strong, capable, and smart. Her stable home life included parents who listened to her opinions and trumpeted her successes. Yet, like everyone in high school, cruel, hurtful words sometimes came her way. But she told me once, “No matter what people say, I have this core. It’s this place in my center that’s sure and solid. No one can hurt me enough to touch me there, so I know I’ll always be okay.”
I remember checking my own center. And I found no core. Nothing. Only a hollowness my stepdad and biological dad so expertly created through verbal abuse and barely communicating with me.
By the summer of fifteen, I was overwhelmed by my sexual behavior. The emotion surrounding it, the reasons for it, and the potential fallout from it was so intense I became depressed and suicidal. Scared, I told my mom I needed counseling without letting her in on the full extent of my issues.
The therapist diagnosed me as clinically depressed and taught me about addiction. But not my own, since I told her nothing about my sexual life. Instead, she focused on my stepdad’s drinking. Alcoholism became a word I used frequently, and I blamed it for my sadness. But placing blame did little to help me.
Antidepressants were rarely prescribed then for teenagers, so I worked futilely to reign in my suicidal thoughts and regularly succumbed to the pressures of school and home by using boys – many of whom I barely knew. I would maintain long-term boyfriends, then cheat on them when I was feeling insecure. And each sexual interaction, once it was over, made me feel uglier and more disgusted with myself. Making my need for validation grow, my craving for boys increase.
By the time I was in college, my habit was completely ingrained. I consumed guys like pills, using them for what I needed. I even learned my triggers – school pressure, difficult interactions with either my stepdad or biological father, anything that cut into my flimsy confidence. I knew what I was doing. I even recognized why I was doing it. I just didn’t know how to stop.
Just before graduation, I started up a week-long relationship with a guy from my writing class, a tryst that would begin my spiral toward “rock bottom.” His kindness quickly morphed into cut-downs and sarcasm. He wanted me to discuss philosophy and the socio-political events of the day. Never a talker, I just wanted him to touch me.
Each time he met me, he seemed more annoyed, which only fueled my craving for validation from him. On the last night, he took me back to his place for sex, but his frustrations with me came through and the sex got rougher as the night went on.
If I were strong, I would have walked out. But I was waiting for what fed me – pretty words, a single gentle touch. Those never came. Afterward, I slept curled up on the floor. In the morning, when he found me still there, my body sore in so many places, he was angry and agitated. He immediately drove me home. I waited for him to kiss me sweetly goodbye, give me a sign that I was worth something. “There’s nothing inside you,” he blurted. “You’re like some kind of pathetic shell.”
His bluntness and truth were stabbing. And he may have been insinuating I was stupid, my brain empty because I didn’t debate with him or discuss international affairs, but it seemed like he was looking right into the hollow space in my center, that empty, needy place. He drove off, leaving me crying for days as my body healed and my depression spiked.
I tried to get counseling through my university, but during a consultation, when I finally revealed my shameful compulsions, the therapist said, “You need more therapy than we offer. We can’t give you enough help.” I interpreted that as, “You’re so screwed up you’re beyond help.”
On graduation day, I broke down completely. I was lonely. Scared. And more insecure and reliant on guys than ever. But now I was supposed to be a fully functioning adult, going out into the world and making a living. I lay on the floor crying for hours. Until some friends picked me up, shoved on my cap and gown, and pushed me through my graduation ceremony. Then I dragged myself home to my parents’ house to try to make something of myself.
Soon after, I started a relationship with my future husband. We’d gone out in high school a few times, and he’d been so smart, funny, and nice I wouldn’t sleep with him. I couldn’t hurt him by making him a casualty of my addiction when I had the urge to cheat. So I’d walked away.
Older now, we talked openly. He shared he was a product of divorce and had an alcoholic parent, like me. He wanted to know who I was, what I liked. He didn’t rush into sex. He didn’t expect a thing from me except to be who I was. But I wasn’t sure who I was since, for so long, I’d placed all my self-worth in sex. Yet, he refused to let me see myself that way. He encouraged me to write, draw, and be more than a girl with her body open in the dark.
The day he proposed, I knew I had to say “yes.” Because I loved him. But also because I knew my respect for him could help me break my addictive patterns. I could never hurt him by cheating on him to get my fix. I’d have to get healthy. And I’d have him, my best friend, to help.
Years after my problems started, psychological research confirmed my compulsion for intimacy was no different than a user’s craving for heroin, alcohol, or crack. That explosive sparking in my brain was the rush of oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins I got with every hookup. And my self-loathing and increased depression when the intimacy ended were signs of crash and withdrawal.
And I’ve met many girls and women doing this same thing — struggling to balance their self-worth with their sexuality by crawling into dark bedrooms with guys as a trade for acceptance and feeling loved. Fortunately, many therapists have gotten training or opened practices specifically for intimacy disorders to help those who suffer from sex and love addiction.
Today, I’m a long way from that girl clinging to that Ann Arbor boy. I’ve built a core of confidence out of my accomplishments and surrounded myself with positive people. Now when I think of love, before anything, I feel the fire and spark of self-love and self-worth, and my head and heart shout, “THIS!”
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