My Lovely Addiction
Text by Brendan Maclean
Illustrations by Bradley Eberts
“You’re smiling?” Jess stopped me. “You’re saying these terrible things, but you’re smiling while you say it.”
I was 24 when I was sent to the clinic for what Jess, my psychologist, thought might be PTSD. Each hour in the chair cost a fortune, but I treated my early sessions with her more like expensive coffee dates.
“Are we actually going to talk about you at any point or are you just here to put on a show?” Jess often saw through my theatrics.
Rather than discussing my actual emotional state, I gossiped, bitched and channeled Meryl Streep, delivering monologues of heartbreak and betrayal. And I lied. I lied a lot.
After each session, she would send me off clutching my pearls and a little Post-it note with a single thought to focus on.
“My feelings are valid,” one read.
“Get out of bed,” was on another.
They were simple, but when anxiety draped over me, I wasn’t exactly looking for a Confucian riddle to pull me out. The sessions were an attempt to shift my focus from sabotage to some semblance of self-evaluation, though fielding responsibility for my own actions was not part of my routine, so good advice rarely stuck much farther than the clinic doors. Blame for my ongoing fuck ups ranged from parents, booze, career troubles, abuse, and, most notably, the men that I dedicated my life to.
I remember how I came to meet Jess. December 18th. A day after my final gig of the year and a week prior to my birthday. I was nursing a particularly malignant hangover when, not being able to carry on without an opinion on Jennifer Lawrence, I invited my boyfriend to see The Hunger Games.
But also, I hadn’t. You see, I didn’t have a boyfriend. When I came up for air from a three-day bender, I’d entirely forgotten I’d broken up with him two days before to avoid the shame of sleeping through his graduation ceremony. I’d erased from my memory the letter he gave me on the street outside my show, which started with the words, “We need to talk,” and ended with, “I hope you’ll understand.” And finally, the fact that he had had to carry me back to his bed because I’d passed out on the curb around the block from his house, had also slipped my mind. Each morning, I’d wake up, hit reset, and begin again, but on this occasion, a friend of mine – the violinist from my band – took note of my departure from acceptable human behavior and made the call to Jess the following day.
And that was just the beginning. Therapy was a vital starting point, but it was certainly not an antidote for the pattern I’d fallen into. Ingeniously pointing out that “A leads to B” only proved infuriating as I continued to royally screw up my life, despite knowing the cold comfort of an oncoming truck as you stand glowing in its headlights. But my true fall from grace started much later, a year into my sessions with Jess, and for a different boy entirely.
From a hotel near his house, I sent him one message with two lies. The first being the seeming spontaneity of my invitation, and the second being the omission of the exorbitant cost of my scheme. The reply came swiftly. He acquiesced my offer to the Beyoncé concert, but only under the condition that it was “not a date.”
Naturally, I replied, “Brilliant! See you tonight.”
When I spotted him, I approached as I would a prince. My stomach was churning, but I held a cool face as we awkwardly traded stories of our respective weeks. Him, with some new friends and party spots. Me, avoiding admitting that I’d spent my time drunk in bed. Within seconds, I was smitten again. The very hint of friendship caused a kind of amnesia from all that had come before.
It’s an odd sensation – when the fighting and unpleasantness go away. The cruel words, the calculated silences. The doctor’s visit when I was informed that the uncomfortable feeling in my pants was gonorrhea. Odd, because I’d only been sleeping with one man, and that was the man I was handing $130 worth of Beyoncé to outside a Melbourne arena.
The show itself was probably incredible, but I’d stopped paying attention in the first few minutes of the set. I smiled, watching him watch Queen B. Laughed as he threw his hands up with each key change in “Love On Top.” I got teary as he sung with a charming off-key voice to “Halo.” I was in heaven. It was only him, his button nose, and the cool stadium air around us.
As the curtain fell and swarms of homosexuals flooded onto the street, I started my descent.
“Wanna grab a drink?” I asked. He wasn’t so sure. “I’ll pay for the cab home?”
He politely declined with a smile, or perhaps more a concealed grimace, his lips tightening and bending to one side of his mouth. I started to beg.
“We can just have sex and I’ll leave.”
Exasperated, his head collapsed backwards as if I’d cut the wires off a puppet. I told him I had nowhere to sleep. I told him that I loved him, and that I couldn’t be sure what would happen if I were left alone. To my delight, he caved, and I, pleased with my efforts, was relieved, yet unsurprised, since for me there had never been another option.
We walked in silence to the tram, his face to the ground. We sat facing one another as the tram rattled its way to North Melbourne, to his home. For 20 minutes we sat, inert and wordless. He was staring at the door with his caramel-colored hands straining around the straps of his backpack, veins sticking out with something – frustration? I ignored it or didn’t process it, I don’t know. I read the adverts stuck on the doors, one for a local college I thought I could attend now that I'd decided to move states for him. It was pouring outside, and it spat through the window onto his face.
And then as the tram was about to pull out from a stop, with shocking precision, he leant forward as if to pick something off the floor and, with a single movement, leapt from the closing doors onto the road, sprinting into the torrential rain.
I sat, unblinking. The tram sped down the road as I remained still, stunned, staring at the seat as a stranger shook off her umbrella, straightened her dress and took his place. To this day, I marvel at my next move. In some horrid yet miraculous feat of self-deception, the neon marquee in my mind lit up once more. “Keep going! Keep going! You love him!”
I remained in my seat, calm and composed as the carriage rattled on towards his house.
On arrival, I found myself alone. Pacing up and down his cement driveway, I texted him incessantly, as a puppy might cry into the rain. “Where are you?” “When will you be home?” “I’m sorry, I love you.” “Please come home!”
As I grew tired, my tics began to flare-up. I took turns sitting in each of the three mismatched chairs on the porch, changing positions, tapping endlessly on the wood frames, scratching my toe on the floor trying to get the numbers even, holding my breath while I knocked on the armrest the right amount of times. More time passed, and I walked to the 7-Eleven and bought him a Mars bar and Skittles. A gift – that would fix it. He would see me with them and laugh and hold me.
An hour and a half had passed before he appeared through the wall of rain. He spotted me propped up against his front door, and I saw his face turn a shape I had never seen. He walked towards me, and I scooted to the side. He unlocked the door, paused, took a breath and walked in. I was not invited but followed.
Before he had removed his wet jumper, he began to yell – more a growl. Like all the words couldn’t form correctly in his mouth: “Why? Why do you do this? Why can’t you just have a nice evening? Why can’t you look after yourself? Why can’t you cook the fucking rice without burning it? Why can’t you keep my room clean for one fucking day?”
Each “why” was accompanied by an aggressive flailing of his arms, sometimes swinging at nothing, sometimes landing with a thud on a table or wall.
“You have no – ” His fist raised up in the air as I cut him off and approached him to do god-knows-what – to hug him? He held it still. I backed up and watched, as he let out each disappointment – it was disgust. That’s what that look was. He screamed at me despite his housemates being in the house. He screamed until his voice went hoarse, until beads of sweat began dripping from his forehead. But I refused it all. This was not the ending I wanted. I stood, swinging at the hornet’s nest. I stared with a blank face as his vitriol poured out in what felt like an endless stream until, at 3 a.m., with me sitting curled up on the floor, the buzzing stopped, and my lover delivered an ultimatum. He instructed me that if I didn’t say another word and left before the sun came up, I could stay on the couch for the night.
And finally, I had won.
It’s been two years since Jess started treating me for Relationship Addiction. Something along the lines of this story had perhaps tipped her off during our sessions. It’s a member of the codependency family, she explained, often partnered with clinical depression and further enflamed by my OCD. To some degree, this does all seem a bit predestined. Predictable, even.
My drinking accelerated, he took up Ketamine, I joined in. Meetings with him became secret. I cut off contact with my friends in Sydney and stopped turning up to my own shows. Then, just as our secret relationship neared its six-month anniversary, I followed him, via clues from social media, to a music festival. I found him near the front row of a crowd watching Metronomy, “our band.” As the set finished, synths still reverberating over the field, I asked him if he wanted to come stay in my tent. He looked at me as a rancher might look at a horse with a broken leg.
“No. I don’t want that, Brendan. Please leave me alone. Please get on with your life.”
He moved to Spain a week later and we never saw each other again.
How many nights have I played that game? 10? Nothing changes but the scenario and the role I’m cast in. Sometimes victim, sometimes victimizer. All my relationships have fallen in these chasms within a few months of getting started. Gifts, plans, and housing arrangements are all used by the love-addict in acts of “enmeshment,” as Jess would say, shoving the relationship reluctantly forward, binding the couple together as opposed to achieving true intimacy. Dating me was like being offered a bundle of roses – or Mars bar and Skittles – only to find your face clamped in a Venus flytrap.
What’s worse, I’ve learned, is that from the outset, addicts select partners in full knowledge of the risks they pose – enablers, narcissists or even love addicts themselves looking to co-exist within the melodrama - and I’ve always been one for the spotlight. Without the co-star professing their love I see the theater as half empty. Old feelings of abandonment are triggered and the world becomes far too big.
Addiction, it seems, is a patient ghost who waits and watches until you’re comfortable in the arms of a new love, only to reach out and brush a finger along the back of your neck, whispering, “I’m still here.” And suddenly there I am, gravel puncturing the skin of my knees, naked on the street begging one lover not to leave while emptying my bank account to fly cross-country to bump into another. Some days it joins me on stage. Some nights it slips under the sheets, with me lying on my back, eyes closed in the arms of some perfectly handsome one-night stand. I go flaccid with fear, dreaming of familiar fights, faces, and fucks.
I do wonder. Have I become healthier because of what I’ve learned or is the calm I feel today only present because my trigger is gone, far away, taking backpackers on pub-crawls in Barcelona? I’m not sure, but I do know that I lie a lot less now, and that’s a good thing.
I’m better, even after the hours I lose, laying with my eyes pinned to one spot on the wall, and I can see the past perfectly. I smell its boyish musk on my skin, feel its strong arms around my shoulders, catching me with its big smile and almond eyes. I reach for my phone and type out a message, “Hello Henry, how are you? I miss you so much.”
Then I look down at the purple Post-it note that I keep tucked in my wallet – something Jess gave me on our very first session.
“Don’t get on the train.”
Brendan Maclean is a singer-songwriter from Sydney, Australia. Notable performances include playing Klipspringer in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, recordings with Amanda Palmer, Lucian Piane, Sup3rfruit, and Paul Mac, and he once vogued on stage with Solange Knowles.