When we look at how far we have progressed in the West when it comes to LGBTQ rights and equality issues, it’s easy to think we are making great strides. Of course with the major news of the US Supreme Court ruling that gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states, the repeal of the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell‘ law in the military in 2011, and in other countries like Ireland which held the world’s largest referendum vote in favor of gay marriage, we have to acknowledge that the world is changing to become a more inclusive and equal place on many important fronts.
But on other levels there is still a lack of focus on intersectionality. When we look at the majority of Hollywood movies, we see hetero sexual love stories being played out on screen as if that is what every person needs to ascribe and aspire to. It’s only with the introduction of shows like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and recent films such as ‘Freeheld’ and ‘Carol’ where we have seen a much more deeper exploration of gay relationships, specifically lesbian partnerships.
Why is this important to show in pop culture? Because like every heterosexual relationship, every gay, lesbian, transgender and queer relationship comes with its own set of struggles, obstacles and issues it deals with. But where do lesbian couples go when they want expert advice or professional help that is geared toward understanding the LGBTQ community. Sadly, it is hard to find, according to Dr. Lauren Costine who is a clinical psychologist and activist living in Los Angeles.
Dr. Costine played a major role in the development of one of the first LGBTQ Specialization Clinical Psychology courses in the entire country, which is taught at Antioch University. Aside from dedicated her work to breaking new ground in the LGBTQ community when it comes to psychology, she has put her expertise together in her first book titled ‘Lesbian Love Addiction: Understanding the Urge to Merge, and How To Heal When Things Go Wrong’.
In it she is debunking the myth that the LGBTQ community has won the battle against repression, by pointing out a few key facts and expanding on them. For example, people in the LGBTQ community seek therapy in greater numbers than their heterosexual counterparts, the LGBTQ population has more issues with chemical dependency, depression, and anxiety, and lesbians have higher rates of alcohol and drug dependence compared to women with male sex partners. In addition to this, love addiction books for heterosexuals have experienced great success. Books have brought much needed information and healing to gay men who suffer from sex addiction, but these books don’t help lesbians.
Dr. Costine’s new book addresses the problems at hand, and the many steps necessary in order to heal from the centuries of repression the LGBTQ community has faced, with love addiction being an issue of major concern.
Since we are a site dedicated to feminism, intersectionality and understanding the struggles of all women, we spoke exclusively with Dr. Costine and got a more in-depth look at her work, her life, and why she is so passionate about the message she has for love-addicted lesbians.
Tell us about your background, studies, and how you got to where you are today?
I grew up in a white, well-educated, upper middle class conservative family in a small New Jersey town. I never felt like I quite fit as if I was always a bit of an outsider- I didn’t realize till I worked in my own lesbianphobia (homophobia and misogyny combined) that those feelings came from being different that most of the people around me. I first got exposed to the idea of becoming a therapist when I got into therapy myself and then got sober 1 year later. That was 17 years ago. It was my first wake up call – my “Ah ha” moment. I finally saw I wanted to pursue a life that was full of meaning and about helping people. I have never looked back since. I went back to grad school – eventually got my PhD and then my Clinical Psychology license.
You have just released your first book ‘Lesbian Love Addiction,’ can you tell us what it is about and what prompted you to write this?
I am actually in recovery for Love Addiction myself – that was my second wake up call — and as a lesbian when I was reading all the love addiction books out there I found myself frustrated that they were all heterosexually focused – that none discussed even one lesbian story. Soon after that a colleague, Rob Weiss LCSW, talked to me about the need for a book on sex and love addition for lesbians – I knew in that moment I needed to write that book. Several years after struggling with my own love addiction, getting sober, into recovery and feeling better than I ever have had in my life I started to write it or rather it wrote me – meaning it came from a place deep down inside me that had this story to tell. This book arose directly from that place. It was ultimately an extremely healing experience.
You are aiming to debunk the myth that LGBTQ has won the battle against repression, what are some standout factors readers need to know?
While marriage equality is an incredibly important step in obtaining equal rights, visibility and acceptance on a collective and societal level it is the beginning of our community’s healing process. Thankfully it is the basis from which we can now explore our next steps because our resources (time and money) don’t have to be funneled into securing this basic human right.
We see a lot of equality laws being passed, the most notable of which was the Supreme Court Ruling in June 2015 allowing gay marriage in all 50 states, and not too long ago, the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. These have become groundbreaking laws in American history, but what are some areas we need desperately still need to see equality in?
Bullying. LGBTQ-Foster youth, homeless youth living on the streets because their families have kicked them out for being LGBTQ, transgender equality.
One of the issues you focus on is the fact that the LGBTQ population has more drug and alcohol dependency than other groups. Can you briefly give us an explanation of why this is happening?
Heterocentrism, heteronormtivity and LGBTQ phobias are traumatizing.
All people grow up learning what type of sexuality and gender expression their family and society itself deem “acceptable” –which is patriarchal ideology, heterosexuality and binary gender roles and expressions. When an LGBTQ person comes to the realization that we are LGBTorQ we have to grapple with losing heterosexual privilege, patriarchal privilege if you are a lesbian or transwoman, being unaccepted by society as a whole and usually by our families we well.
At the same time, if we are fortunate enough to get find their way to the LGBTQ community one gains connection to a community that is wonderful in multiple ways – creative, sensitive, resilient, strong, and psychology minded. This gets us through the tough times and allows us to thrive against great odds but trauma does not feel good – it causes suffering – drugs and alcohol are an quick solution to numbing that pain — at least temporarily. It certainly quiets the heternormative and LGBTQphobic voices that play around in our heads.
You helped create one of the country’s first clinical psychology courses specializing in LGBTQ issues. Why it is important that this kind of study is offered everywhere?
Therapists are some of the kindest and most well meaning people on the planet –most of us get into this field because we truly want to help people but most of the psychology schools out there are heteronormative and in some instances quite LGBTQ phobic. This is usually unconscious. It is not intentional but people who are in the privileged position do not realize that their classes and psychological messages are not inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities and those who are LGBTQ might not feel empowered enough (because of their trauma) to ask for inclusion or they might not even see it.
It is really important that anyone who is training to become a mental health worker be learn how to work with the LGBTQ population that is not only accepting but affirmative and educational on how to heal our unique traumas and liberate and empower our authentic selves.
What are some key areas you focus on in terms of relationship psychology for lesbians specifically, in relation to your book?
Lesbian love addiction is basically an intimacy disorder. To understand what I mean by this I focus on 5 key areas, because the female brain and hormones are designed to connect when two women fall in love the urge to merge (and never be apart again) can be more intoxicating than heroin for a heroin addict.
That our attachment styles – determined by our relationship with our core caretakers – usually our mothers – affects how we feel and behave in adult romantic relationships so whether we are anxious, avoidant or more ambivalent. This style comes out in the relationship once the honeymoon period has worn off (which is 2 years max for all human beings). This style presents very differently post honeymoon and can be a big shock for the newly attached partner who thought she had fallen in love with her ideal soulmate.
How growing up lesbian in a heterocentric and LGBTQ phobic is traumatizing and affects our self-esteem and feelings of self-worth so once in a relationship we often compromise ourselves in order to avoid feelings of abandonment, grief, loss and failure. This leads to resentment and conflict if not understood.
Lesbian love addictions falls into 2 distinct categories – the love addict (more anxious) and the love avoidant (more distant). They usually find each other and fall in love. The love addict feels abandoned while the avoidant feels smothered. This can start a spiral that often spins out of control involving breakups, makeups, and then breakups again. Dramatic and uncontrollable – it makes both women sick and miserable until one or both women break up the relationship for good which then starts the withdrawal process.
Withdrawal from the woman you loved while also stopping love addiction behaviors (chronic back and forth, staying despite abuse, jumping from one relationship to another, stalking your ex, avoiding intimacy once the honeymoon phase is over etc) can one of the hardest things a lesbian can go through but is an imperative part of the healing process.
The keys to success are stopping any and all love addicted and love avoidant behaviors and then beginning the road to a relationship with oneself before embarking on another love relationship.
How can feminists be better allies to people in the LGTBTQ community today?
By getting back to doing what they do best – taking action against the patriarchy and heternormative ideals and systems. Fighting the political fight, organizing, marching, educating through social media that LGBTQ people are still not safe – they are still bullied in our schools, transfolks still fear for their lives, that certain areas of this country are not LGBTQ friendly and that is not ok, and most importantly that our thousands of years of institutionalized trauma needs to be healed and that LGBTQ-affirmative psychology – feminists have the opportunity to play a fundamental role in making the fight for true LGBTQ equality does not end with the right to marry.
What do you hope readers will take away most from your book?
That there is tremendous hope here. While many lesbians suffer from love addiction it is not a death sentence. If one gets the help they need, is willing to do the work it takes to heal from this addiction and spends quality time developing a healthy relationship with themselves – they can and will be able to create a long lasting healthy and loving relationship with another woman.
Finally, what makes you a powerful woman?
I really think the biggest reason is because I have worked on my inner world for over 19 years – in a really integrative way. I have worked the 12-steps when needed, years of talk therapy and lesbian-affirmative psychotherapy, 9 years of grad school, experiential therapy, somatic work, studied eastern philosophies, thousand of hours of reading and researching on all types of psychological approaches so that I could find my voice, learn how to be assertive while staying sensitive, authentically confident and internally liberated from the toxic shame and internalized lesbianphobia I used to feel about myself from the traumas I suffered.
I still have a loud, obnoxious and relentless inner critic but I know how to soothe her now – that has made an incredible difference in my life. I live how I want to live – make no apologies to anyone for it and feel empowered to be my authentic self on a daily basis.
You can purchase a copy of Dr. Lauren Costine’s book ‘Lesbian Love Addiction: Understanding the Urge to Merge, and How To Heal When Things Go Wrong’ by clicking here. You can also learn more about the work she is doing in the LGBTQ and Women’s Empowerment spaces by visiting her website. If you want to hear more of her expertise in the field of psychology and how it relates to the LGBTQ community she has a wonderful Youtube Channel where you can find a range of videos featuring Dr. Costine discussing everything from religion, history, and useful tools to implement in your everyday life.
Written by Girl Talk HQ A Daily News Blog Dedicated To Female Empowerment & Inspiration For Millennial Women