Struggling With An Addiction to Chaos & How I Choose Worthiness

Olivia Gaughran
8 min readJul 19, 2019
Photo Credit: Pixabay

TRIGGER WARNING: In this article, I discuss themes of relationship abuse, including physical, emotional, and mental, low self-esteem, addiction, codependence, and my experience with relationship trauma. This is part of my story, and while I write for others to find themselves within my writing, I also urge you to take care of yourself as needed.

I’m in a routine with my family, doing chores, making dinner, going to work, seeing Joey, visiting the one or two people I have kept close from high school, seeing my friends-turned-family from college in downtown Seattle often — a different type of feeling than summers prior. I’m busy, but I’m not swirling in fragmented calamity. There feels like enough hours in the day to enjoy my life. There’s no cramming or rushing around.

The practice of loving the time I spend awake and enjoying the wonders of being alive have taken me a long time to understand — let alone experience. That sounds a bit morbid, so I’d like to unpack that with you all in this article. What does it mean to have a rhythm? A routine where everything makes sense? What happens if all you’ve ever known is chaos, and you’re struggling to feel peaceful in the calm?

In a paradoxical way, a life without chaos can feel unnerving to those who consciously and subconsciously surround themselves with it. That person, unnerved and stressed out by the absolute serenity of things, was me. This was my year to truly unlearn that pattern and find grace in the stillness. I had to forgo the chaos in order to find something truly worth loving.

From the age of fifteen, I have absolutely connected to the undeniable rush of adrenaline of relational chaos. There is a period of about six months in my sophomore year of high school where I can’t remember where one relationship ended, and another began, before the old one started back up before breaking up once more, et cetera. I absorbed physical, emotional, and sexual abuse from my ex-boyfriend, Jacob*, but kept coming back to him — there was something about that relationship that I simply could never shake. There were weeks of ignoring each other, pushing to make the other jealous, smitten infatuation and lust, tossed up into intense and traumatic fights. I thought it was love — I believed in my heart that it was love. I know now it was the addiction of feeling loved, wanted, desirable — the addiction of codependence, an addiction to chaos.

The low self-esteem that had festered and multiplied in my middle-school misery left me chasing a feeling of belonging. I was not a cute thirteen-year-old. From fifth grade and onward, I felt and looked like the ugly duckling. I was athletic, gawky, brace-faced, and awkward — my ribcage was too ‘sturdy’ to give me curves like the other girls at school. I did my makeup in the pitch-black dark every morning of eighth grade because I couldn’t look at myself. I didn’t look up in the mirror when washing my hands in the bathroom. The feeling of incredible disgust I felt towards myself is impossible to explain but there is some flicker of familiarity with this feeling in every young person — unfortunately, I’m sure you can recognize it somewhere inside of yourself.

The feeling of absolute repulsion and unworthiness faded and morphed as I grew into my hips and butt– the braces came off, but my hair stayed curly. I was in my freshman year of high school. My skin stayed blotchy and smattered in freckles. I tried to work with what I had — which was a mom and dad who loved me and tried to tell me that I was beautiful, and what seemed like never-enough makeup to cover what I felt made me hideous. Anxious about who I would become — would I look like this forever? — I picked at my skin until I bled. Somewhere, somehow, in my freshman year, Jacob found me (or so he would tell me, many times, in many terrible ways for a long time), that I was absolutely irresistible. The wave of feeling beautiful and wanted was fierce and maddening. I kept chasing that feeling. Over time, the friendships I had with other people became corrupted and broken through his jealousy — I was not my own. I was too pretty to laugh with anyone but him. I was defined in the context of my abuser. We dated publicly for a year, and secretly for many months after our public relationship became too volatile to admit to anyone but ourselves.

I lied to my family and friends about where I was when I secretly was meeting up with him — to talk, to fight, to be in each other’s arms — one day, he wasn’t at school and hadn’t messaged me in eighteen hours. Insane with desperation, I drove thirty minutes to the hospital closest to his house and burst into tears when the confused hospital attendant told me that there was no one by his name checked into the hospital. Chaos. I felt immediately worthless the second he no longer wanted me. That feeling — that addiction to being wanted, was both a sickness and abuse, on his part and on my own. Jacob threatened to kill himself if I ever left him — without me, he was nothing. Without him, I was nothing. How could I give that relationship up? Wouldn’t a good person love their partner no matter what? If he was right and we were made for each other, why was I so ashamed of who I was? Why did I feel just as disgusting as I did when I was thirteen-years-old, in my dark bathroom? Why was I throwing up on the side of the road after pulling out of an abandoned parking lot where I had just seen him? My school was tiny — a hot spot for absolute madness and entanglement and codependency. He was everywhere. I was everywhere, and nowhere. My identity became so convoluted that I literally could not understand why I was making the decisions I was. I just was.

As my world lit on fire, blazing with revenge, fear, and a crippling realization that my life was wildly unsustainable, I transferred high schools after my junior year and blocked him on every possible way he could contact me. Something stopped making sense, and I stopped caring about what he’d do if I left him. I just left. I don’t know why. I withdrew without explanation, and to this day, I still haven’t spoken to him. I don’t know if that was the “right” way to leave. But I don’t know if I would have done anything differently.

I wouldn’t realize that that cycle was so violently abusive until a year had passed without speaking or seeing each other, when I had just turned nineteen years old. I had met him when I was fourteen. Three years of psychological and emotional warfare, one simply trying to recover from the trauma it had imprinted upon me, and one until I could truly name it and reclaim its power over me. That was this past year. I just turned twenty in May.

This is what I have been working on since going to college. No one from high school went to my university. I had a fresh start. A roommate who I had never met, who would become my best friend. Professors who transformed from teachers to guidance counselors to advocators to close friends. There was no trace of who I used to be on Seattle University campus. I knew that this was my chance to reclaim me and abandon my love of the comfort in chaos. I loved it. I loved the thrill and the adrenaline. I loved the cycle of desperation, and because I loved it, I had to say goodbye to it. I went to college. I met new people. I built my own living space with money that I had earned on my own. I got incredible grades, flourished in an abundance of on-campus opportunities, and had fun. There, in that space of goodness, I met Joey. He was someone who was equally as committed to saying goodbye to a lifestyle that felt like home to him, too- that had felt so safe but was dangerous for his well-being. He was balance. He was good. He was committed, imperfect, funny, and kind-hearted. He loved me. He saw me for who I am, not who he wanted me to be for him.

I have never known true relational peace like I experienced this year. There were hiccups, and every month had its moments, but our relationship was consistent. It was faithful. It was gentle. I never felt wildly afraid that I would lose myself inside of my love for Joey. I felt worthy of his love — the first time I have felt worthy of anyone’s love, ever. He doesn’t make me apologize for who I am. He cherishes me in the depths of my struggles. I am lighter because I am finally, somehow, working towards peacefulness.

Chaos doesn’t feel fun to me anymore. I recoil from it — almost too much, sometimes. I’m constantly working on where the balance is between apathetic detachment and a loving release of control. There is a grace between my fingertips that always teases me as I try to navigate through life with it as my guide. I fail often, but I love my failures. I am a hard worker, and I have truly worked hard on this. I have left many failed friendships and relationships in my tracks. While I regret the fact that I have loved many people imperfectly, I do not regret the fact that I loved them. I also do not regret the fact that I have left them behind.

Codependence and an addiction to the unmanageability of your own life is terrifying. To anyone experiencing the paralyzing fear and addiction of being wrapped up in someone, or something, or some kind of lifestyle that you just know doesn’t feel good to you anymore — there are support groups across the world designed to set you free. Al-Anon meetings, a family group for friends and family of alcoholics, exist in just about every nook and cranny of the world. Find a home group that you feel loved in and throw yourself into the healing that grows from the spaces of forgiveness. Similarly, Codependents Anonymous (CODA) is another group fellowship designed to build healthy and loving relationships. Do not be afraid to choose yourself. I traded a sad, withered part of me for something greater than what I knew.

One day at a time.

Joey and I enjoying our summer. June 2019.

Authors note: I recently read Tara Westover’s Educated and was shocked at the nuanced way she described complicated, traumatic, love — love that no one can ever fully comprehend. Her narration of a life through familial madness has imprinted itself on me and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to find pieces of themselves within the pages of a book. Harrowing, enlightening, and revolutionary, Educated brings to light an understanding of chaos and codependence that I hadn’t ever thought I needed. Read it if you are able.

Additionally, every story has many parts to it. My previous friends, boyfriends, and half-estranged family members may assert that I have left out or misconstrued key details of my story. However, this is my story, and this is the truest, abbreviated way that I could have told it. I am committed to sharing my authentic self with you because I have spent too many years shielding it from the world. Perhaps one day there will be a book to tell my story in its deserved fullness — but until that point, thank you for your commitment to believing survivors, including myself.

*Name has been changed to preserve anonymity.



Olivia Gaughran

Medical anthropologist, editor, and creator of The Olly Project @! Probably reading bell hooks or taking a long walk.