As I drive up the 405 towards Mulholland Drive on Super Bowl Sunday Feb. 3, 2013 to the first performance of my one-man play, there is a loud knocking from my engine. I notice that as I reduced the pressure of my foot on the accelerator, the knocking diminishes. I nurse my van over the hill and exit on Sepulveda Blvd, but before I can make it to Ventura Blvd, my van dies. It is less than two hours from my show.
I get a tow truck driver in about 40 minutes. He hooks up my van, and then drops me off at the theater on the way to my service station (where it will be diagnosed as dead).
As I prepare for my show, I start getting these texts from various friends who can’t make it. When I step out from behind the curtain, there are three people in the audience.
So the combination of the death of my van and my resulting panic over my finances, and the lack of a crowd, frighten me and it takes about 20 minutes for me to warm up. By a generous estimate, only a third of the time after that am I emotionally connected with my audience.
Public speaking is scary to me. My dad the preacher man is an accomplished public speaker, but when I speak publicly, I get afraid and I tighten up and I compress and the world narrows before my eyes. It’s not fun.
So I’ve been working on this problem because I believe I can be a great speaker.
Last September, I start a five-month course to create a one-man play and during the class, I notice when I get on stage to perform, I get afraid and the world narrows before me.
As an Alexander Technique teacher, I’m aware of what happens when we become afraid.
There are certain universal physiological responses to fear and these responses become most obvious when something suddenly happens and it triggers your fear. You move into the fight or flight response. When that happens, the neck tightens and contracts, the head rotates back, compressing the neck further, and compressing the whole back and torso, as the shoulders ride high and the head juts forward.
As people age, they tend to get stuck in some version of the fight or flight reflex. They might be stuck in 10% of it or 60% of it.
When you get into the fight or flight reflex, you’re prepared to receive a blow and being this compressed and tight might be advantageous for receiving a punch because you’re a smaller target, but for 99.9% of what happens in life, this fear reflex doesn’t serve you. You’re highly reactive and you’re not likely to make good decisions.
When you’re in fight or flight, your world narrows and your options narrow and your emotions and thinking narrows to the point where you’re feeling compelled to either lash out or run away. This rarely serves you.
How you are in your body is going to match your emotions and your thinking. Or, how you are in your emotions is going to be reflected in your body. Also, how you think is going to reflect itself in your emotions and body because the mind, emotions and body are all part of you. We’re a unity.
So if you’re tight and compressed in your body, you’re going to be the same way in your emotions and your thinking. If you’re free and flexible in your body, you’re likely to be the same way in your thinking and feeling. As I get afraid on stage, everything in me tightens up — my thinking, my feeling and my body.
So I perform my play April 18, and from the first moment I walk on stage, I feel myself tensing up and compressing. I lose my length. As my play goes along, I notice people in the audience aren’t responding as I hoped. The audience is stiff and uncomfortable and so I feel myself becoming stiff and uncomfortable. The more afraid I get about how things are going, the more compressed I get. I feel the world narrowing. I feel like I have fewer options. I don’t want to take risks in my performance. I skip some things I plan to say. I skip some songs.
The day after my performance, I am still feeling tense. I need to get back up there, I decide. I’m going to throw a party and workshop some material about fear, in particular about my fear of abandonment.
I have hardly dated over the past three years. I’ve been 12-stepping for my addictions to sex, love, fantasy and co-dependent relationships. I’ve also been broke since 2007, so that’s also discouraged my dating.
* My fear of abandonment comes from my first years of life when my mother is dying of cancer, my dad is busy looking after her and his work, and so the three of us kids get shifted around many different homes. I barely remember these years but there’s something that happened then that I keep recreating in my life. I choose women who will abandon me, usually by having affairs.
When my mom died, my dad remarried, and we all came home again, I remember my parents putting me down for a nap every day after lunch when I was 4, 5, 6, and I would just scream and scream until falling asleep. I think I was feeling abandoned.
* From second grade on, I become obsessed with girls and I feel that if I can just connect with a girl I love, that will heal my pain.
* I first remember fear of abandonment in May of 1980, when I’m talking to my step-mom over the phone. I’m staying behind with friends at Pacific Union College in the Napa Valley, where we’ve spent the past three years, but my parents are now living in Washington DC and my mom tells me we won’t be returning to PUC and I feel desolate. Here is a place that makes me feel whole and it is getting taken away. Into my 20s, every time I drove up Howell Mountain Road to PUC, I felt great joy and every time I drove away, I felt desolate sadness.
* My first love is Rainy in 10th grade. We never declare our love and we never even kiss that summer of 1982 but we’re together. One Sabbath in the fall that year, she tells me she’s going to a concert that evening with a college guy. I don’t say anything, but I feel so hurt, jealous and abandoned, I stop answering her letters. I just go complete radio silence. She finally writes to me about how hurt she feels and I feel strong, but I don’t reply. This is my primary reaction to my perception of someone abandoning me — I cut them out of my life.
* In my 20s, I start having sex, and I learn it is a lot easier to get from homely girls and older women and the like. So that’s one way I deal with my fear of abandonment. I hook up with girls with whom I see no future. They can’t hurt me.
* I spend much of my 20s in bed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I’m staying with my parents in Newcastle, 40 minutes drive north of Sacramento. I place a lot of singles ads and this trickle of women comes up to see me. I start seeing one woman in particular. Diana. I won’t commit to her but I tell her if I get with anyone else, I’ll let her know. At the same time, I’m seeing Diana, I’m talking every day on the phone with this woman 11 years older than me in Orlando. She eventually flies in to see me and we hook up and I phone Diana. She goes nuts. She calls Dennis Prager’s office and tells them what a bad person I am. She writes a letter telling my parents what we were doing around their Jesus-filled sanctuary.
My parents wrote me out of the will. I fled to Orlando to live with this woman. This was the only time in my life where I feared I could not go home.
She stopped giving me sex and so I pouted and got sulky until one Sabbath she said, you can have it but I won’t be into it. So I just took it and she just lay there like a sack of potatoes and it was awful. I felt awful afterwards. I’ve never experienced that before or since.
* In Orlando, as our relationship spiraled down after a couple of months, this woman drove away one night and did not return until the next morning. I knew she was going to her ex-boyfriend to bang him. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was a wreck, even though I never intended to go the distance with this relationship, not with any relationship with a much older woman. It was in the moment, it was the best I could do. Despite this knowledge, I was gutted when she left me. I was depending upon her sex and nurturing to help me get by and when it disappeared, I felt bereft, even though I was intending to leave her as soon as I could get on my feet and get someone better.
* I had a passionate relationship in the summer and early fall of 1994, living with the woman (about five years older than me) for a few weeks, and when she broke up with me, saying her family, friends and therapist thought she should, I felt abandoned and I cried every day for the next three months, even though I knew I would not go the distance with her because she was older than me.
* I got kicked out of three acting schools in 1994-1995 for saying inappropriate things and fired from four temp jobs the same thing. All these ejections felt like personal failures and triggered my fears that I was a freak.
* In December of 1997, I decided to start on an unauthorized biography of Dennis Prager and lost almost all of my friends in LA as a consequence (they were also friends of Dennis and sided with him). This was devastating and led me to start therapy when I got a decent income of $3,000 a month starting in April of 1998. As I was relaying this story in my writing class, my teacher kept pushing me for the moment of abandonment. When did I feel abandoned by Dennis Prager. Hmm, I thought. Well, I started blogging in July of 1997 and very quickly, people kept asking me online, what does Dennis Prager think about what you’re doing? Because I’m blogging about the XXX industry. And I felt Dennis and the friends we had in common distance themselves from me as I became notorious for writing about XXX. So was that the abandonment that led me into fear and the into lashing out? I don’t know.
* In April of 1998, I left my synagogue home of Aish HaTorah after being given the choice of abandoning my writing on the XXX industry or abandoning Aish. I chose to abandon Aish. For days afterward, I’m in shock. I’m afraid to react. I don’t trust myself. I just feel so bereft.
* Getting kicked out of YICC, Beth Jacob, Chabad Bais Bazelel and Bnai David-Judea (for my blogging) were all wrenching experiences triggering my fears of abandonment. Each time, I went into shock and kept my reactions on a leash. I knew they would not serve me. Each ejection was like turning a fan on the pages of my issues, blowing them around the room, stirring them up and combining them with the present ejection, building the pressure to reject myself, abandon myself, let myself go. After my three shul ejections in 2001, I’m never the same. I’m afraid to fall in love again with a shul, to let myself to be vulnerable, to attach closely with one rabbi and one community because I know the price of such community is the lack of freedom to speak your mind in unpopular ways.
After my ejection in 2001 from the Rabbinical Council of California conversion program, I’m afraid to try to enter again a formal process to convert to Orthodox Judaism. Finally, I start again in early 2008 and graduate in September of 2009.
* A few years ago, I was dating a great girl with degrees from amazing graduate schools such as Stanford and Harvard. I was the love addict in the relationship. She was the avoidant. I waited for her calls. After a few weeks, she sat me down and said, we’re not going anywhere. We want different things.
I hung in there. We kept seeing each other. One week, she didn’t return my call for a couple of days and so I sent her off an email breaking things off. A few hours later, she called me, without having seen the email, and invited me to a wedding with her. I’d meet her family. We’d spend the night for the first time. And I said, I think you better check the email I just sent you, and when she did, we were finished.
My fear of abandonment had kicked in so I broke things off before I got to sleep with her and having this amazing weekend.
In October of 2005, I start dating Holly Randall, a non-Jewish photographer. Things are going pretty well into early December. Then one weekend, I believe we’re gonna get together on Sunday and Holly doesn’t call me back. I feel abandoned. She IMs and calls me on Monday but I am so ticked, I do not respond. By the time I talk to her five days later, we’ve broken up, much to my chagrin and there’s no more good times.
We meet up a few times, but there’s no fun time.
On December 17, 2005, I walk home from synagogue with a friend and I bewail my fate. “A week ago,” I moan, “I had three women in my life. I had the shiksa for amazing sex. I had Rachel for amazing Torah. I had the intellectual for amazing conversation. Mind, body, soul, I had everything taken care of. I was leading a rich fulfilling life. Now I have nothing. They’re all gone.
“I thought Holly was just for fun. I didn’t realize I would get emotionally involved. Now I’m a wreck. I’m obsessed. I can’t get over her, yet I’m the one who blew her off. It’s not supposed to work this way.”
Though people say I am a heartless user of women, I can’t help getting emotionally involved when I’m doing intimate things with a woman.
On December 31, 2005, I go to a New Year’s Eve party at the home of Holly’s parents. Things are moving along nicely between Holly and I. Still, I feel insecure. When the countdown to midnight began, I don’t have the confidence to hug her and so she jumps up at midnight and kisses an ex-boyfriend in front of me. A normal kiss, not a French kiss. I get mad and leave.
The next day, she’s all apologetic. And I send off the most embarrassing email of my life, listing off charities she needs to donate to if she ever messes with me again. It’s a horrible email. It’s absurd. It’s a classic way of responding to fear of abandonment — you make demands to insure the person won’t leave you.
Months later, after we’ve finally totally broken up, Holly tells people that there is no way we could be friends with benefits because I am too needy.
* I’m addicted to girls named Lisa and they always abandon me. Lisas are strong and I am weak. Lisas have power. I am helpless. Lisas have money and I am broke. Lisas are born Jewish. I am a convert to Judaism. Lisas have arrived, I am in progress. Lisas know Hebrew. I am not so fluent, baruch hashem. Lisas have nice apartments and drive fast cars. I live in hovels and drive bombs. Lisas went to Harvard. I dropped out of UCLA. Lisas are busy, I spend my time alone. Lisas are socially connected, I feel isolated. Lisas go to weddings and bar mitzvahs and christenings. I go to Starbucks and write out my feelings. Lisas lead charities and give big bucks. I give my shul $10 a month. Lisas have high social status. I was kicked out of five of Pico-Robertson’s most prestigious Orthodox synagogues. Lisas are successful. My friends call me the great underachiever. Lisas wear high heels and short skirts and power suits. Everything about Lisas scream power.
Lisas are my cocaine. I finally saw someone do cocaine a few years ago. I just want to inhale my Lisas. SNORT COCAINE OFF MY ARM.
What do Lisas get out of dating me? They get to shore up their self-esteem by dating the Great Underachiever. They can always look at my life and feel better about themselves. They can feel emotionally safe by having contempt for me.
I wouldn’t need them so much if all the cylinders of my life were firing. I don’t know why, but I’m not successful at work or at play or with my religious community. I’m so disconnected from other people that I put all my weight on my Lisa and of course she feels crushed and runs away and I feel abandoned.
If I’m struggling with every other sector of my life, I put everything into my relationships.
You want the big truth about my life? Don’t look at my serial enthusiasms, my Orthodox Judaism, my 12 Steps for recovery from emotional addiction, my Kundalini Yoga, my Alexander Technique. Look at the turbulence, heartbreak and despair of my love life. Look at my emotional addictions such as fear of intimacy and fear of abandonment and my inability to attach, these things ruin my chances for love.
What do I mean by addiction? I mean those parts of your life where the reward centers of your brain operate in a way that does not allow you to make good decisions. Are there areas in your life where you consistently make bad decisions? You may well have an addiction. It might be with over-spending or under-earning or food or alcohol or sex or love. If you consistently do things against your self-interest, you’re gonna grok what I’m talking about tonight.
One day in 2010, about a year into our relationship, my girlfriend Lisa asks me, “Why do you keep going for girls who are emotionally unavailable?”
Yeah! And why do I always go for girls who are depressed like my step-mother. I always go for psychological terrorists.
These are such painful questions. They feel like a knife between my ribs into my heart. I guess we all seek as adults what passed for love in our childhood, we seek out those who will wound us most deeply. We tend to marry the parent with whom we have the most troubled relationship. My Lisas, my great loves, are like my father the Seventh-Day Adventist preacher, they’re righteous, angry, anxious, strong, driven, busy, and cruel.
* May, 2011: A couple of years ago, I meet this nice Jewish girl at a Shabbat dinner. She invites me to her birthday party. That goes well. We FB back and forth. We speak on the phone. We make plans on a Sunday for dinner that Thursday night. We decide to figure out the time and place via FB. She doesn’t answer my FB messages trying to establish this.
I guess I really like this girl because after 24 hours pass, and she still hasn’t answered me, the old familiar fear of abandonment overflows me. I became obsessed. I have trouble sleeping. I have trouble doing the tasks in front of me. I’m a basket case. I stubbornly refused to call her or message her again because I thought these patterns get set early on in the relationship and I don’t want to become the needy pursuer again.
On Wednesday, she finally got in touch, we made plans to meet. We eventually have two dates and then she blows me off.
* Early 2013: A few months ago, I start chatting with this Jewish woman on Facebook and things become hot and heavy. We speak on the phone. We make plans to meet. And just before this is to happen, she goes silent on me. For eight days, she does not respond to my calls, texts, emails, and Facebook messages. She keeps updating her Facebook status and interacting with others, but she has cut me off. So I cut her off and block her.
My fear of abandonment is triggered and I sit down and for the first time, I Google,”Fear of Abandonment.” I find this definition — fear of abandonment is an emotional over-reaction to the perception or to the reality that someone important to you is backing away.
* It’s not unusual for me in my most passionate relationships to break up with the girl half a dozen times over the course of a year. She usually does the breaking up. I tend to get into relationships where I’m the love addict and she’s the avoidant.
* My fear of abandonment affects my work life. When my boss yells at me and threatens to fire me, I often go into panic mode and I want to lash out and fire him first, even though that is not in my best interests.
* I try to avoid my fear of abandonment by constantly testing people to make sure they won’t abandon me. So I’ll be really blunt and crude in the things I say, show my worst self early on, and when they don’t reject me, I feel momentarily safe.
* I often test women on the first date by taking them somewhere challenging, such as a syngagogue, which non-Jewish women tend to find daunting. If they make it past that test, then we can go on. The other advantage of using shul for a first date is there is a kiddush and that saves me money.
Fear of abandonment typically does not diminish with age, it gets worse until you abandon yourself and your tenuous hold on life.
Where does fear of abandonment come from? It may not matter much for dealing with your fear of abandonment. People can go through similar experiences and one person will develop fear of abandonment and another won’t. Events don’t in and of themselves cause fear of abandonment. It depends upon who the events happen to. Understanding the origins of your fear of abandonment will likely do little to make it less severe.