From loneliness to togetherness in addiction recovery
Each morning of the week, many members of Twelve Step groups regularly attend meetings at 7:00 AM called “Attitude Adjustment Hours.”
These people understand the importance of reaching out, and they choose to begin their day this way. They recognize and act upon their need for fellowship, for moving out of isolation into areas of commonality and mutuality. They want to maintain and improve an exciting, satisfying way of life throughout the next 24 hours. They want to feel good and know how to accomplish that without resorting to compulsive behaviours.
These members share an understanding of the importance of allowing other people into their lives. They know through experience that personal growth and recovery demand that we alter essential components in lifestyle. One of these is the need to extend ourselves to others.
No one who puts on a new pair of slippers needs to be told change is uncomfortable. The old pair of slippers, though tattered and threadbare, are friends, familiar and comfortable. The new ones feel stiff and awkward, and unless we throw away the old pair, there is always the temptation to slip back into them, especially when alone.
This small, homely example of change can hardly be compared to the monumental challenge of recovery from addictions. But it does illustrate two important things: new behaviour and attitudes are stiff and uncomfortable; and, it is easy to slip back into old ways, to regress, to relapse.
Loneliness, Isolation, and Boredom
The behaviour of addicted people is stereotyped, repetitive, maladaptive, and rigid. Isolation is often entrenched and can be extremely subtle. We can be lonely in a room of three hundred people. We can live in a ‘’loving’’ family and feel completely alone and unloved. The wonder is not that we have difficulty reaching out to others in recovery. The wonder is that we learn to do it all!
It is a well-known fact we don’t do what we want to do as much as those things we do by habit. Habits feel comfortable. Multiply this about one million, and you have the dilemma of the learned, habitual response of addicts in avoiding life and self with alcohol, other drugs, sex, or food. What could enable alcoholics and addicts, and codependents to depart from this ingrained lifestyle?
Addiction is the disease of loneliness, isolation, and boredom. Learning to escape from such solitary confinement is a central lesson in recovery from addictions. Twelve Step groups undoubtedly attract the world’s largest group of ‘’loners’’ who discover their need and love for each other.
In addiction, we pull away from others, either actually or psychologically. Instead of asking, ‘’How are we alike?’’ we proclaimed ‘’I’m special, unique, and different. You can’t understand me, and I don’t want to understand you. It’s my life, and I’ll do with it as I please.’’ Some of us had to die of our uniqueness. Others change and live with varying degrees of joy and serenity.
In Twelve Step programs, we become part of a great whole. It is an integrating way of life. We awake to the fact that even the Steps are written in the plural. They read ‘’We’’ did these things. ‘’We’’ came to understand. As the fog lifts, we realize that other people have been reaching out to us all along.
One day we hear and understand when someone says, ‘’I can’t. We can.’’ What a powerful idea! Until this time, our lives had been ruled by the idea that only people with mammoth amounts of willpower could achieve anything worthwhile in life. Our false pride, perfectionism, and delusion kept us from asking for any help.
Step One came as bewilderment in suggesting that our lives were beyond our management. We gradually began to see Steps Two and Three provided other direction, something we could each for if we became willing, honest, and open-minded.
An emphasis on surrender gradually permeated our self-centred, egotistical ‘’Me First and Only’’ way of thinking and behaving. As we attended more meetings and had more sessions with our therapist, not always understanding why we were there but feeling a glow and a lift by the meeting’s end, we began doing something first with and then for others. What a switch! We cleaned ashtrays, made coffee, and stacked chairs. We scheduled more sessions with our therapist. Our little jobs gave us a strange sense of satisfaction and usefulness, and the multilayered veneer of self-sufficiency and inflated ego began to crack. In rehab, we listened to others’ stories, interacted, and helped with little chores. We started to enjoy the give and take of meetings. We even tried putting our trust in our therapist or sponsor – a Power greater than ourselves.