Heather Coleman, addiction and ACoA therapist in NYC, speaks about how social connection can help in addiction recovery. Coleman discusses how 12 step programs are a great way to combat loneliness and isolation on the path to recovery, as well as supports such as therapy, neurofeedback and meditation.
I'm not writing this from a scientific standpoint, but rather from a personal standpoint as an addiction therapist in NYC for people in recovery--whether that be for alcohol, sex, relationships, shopping, food or anything really. In my work with addiction, I'm looking at the causes underneath--why is that behavior in place and functioning this way on the surface? What purpose is it serving?
Usually it is something like this-- it is a numbing agent-- it helps to numb pains and traumas. It is a way to feel bonded to something (see video by Johann Hari below) when we feel so helplessly isolated, disconnected, and alone. So what happens next when the drugs, alcohol, sex, relationships have taken over to such a degree that you find yourself bottoming out? Hopefully that will lead you to a path of addiction recovery...
What does recovery look like?
1. Bottoming out & surrendering
You kind of have to give up. The way that you were trying to numb and bond before is no longer working-- so it's time to turn over to something that will work. I don't feel as though everyone has to be in AA-- and it certainly isn't my judgment call to have someone make that decision to land there. But recovery does feel like an uphill battle, literally trying to climb a mountain with a leg tied behind your back, without the proper kind of tools and supports in place. So who cares if that comes in the package of AA--but often times i have found that people who go it "alone" are most likely to crash and burn in the near future. The underlying pains and issues of disconnection have not been healed.
2. Healing the Loneliness of Addiction
In early recovery, the world can feel upside down (and yet something can kind of feel right-side up again too--some little voice in there says you're in the right place and that's what brought you there.) This is why relationships and reforming healthy connections is one of the paramount pieces of recovery. After all, why do meetings work? They work because of the steps but they also work because they are socially healing. After all, you get to share parts of yourself and your experience in a room with other people who have similar experiences and they can just listen to you without responding--there is no judgment there, no other people's opinions (and hence possibility for distortion), and no social manipulation. After meetings, you can bond further with coffee and dinner--have fellowship and support. It's a chance to make new social connections after closest friends may have been bar buddies who never knew how to be emotionally present for you anyway and abandoned you again and again. It might feel unfamiliar to have people start to love and care for you in this way--hopefully you can let it in or get to a point of being able to let it in. So it doesn't really matter if this happens in AA, as much as it does have to happen somewhere for recovery to be possible--whether this be a church or sangha, yoga community, knitting group or alumni association, and maybe it's multiple groups, but we have to have authentically loving connections somewhere. We cannot go it alone. I repeat... we cannot go it alone. Isolation is the killer in addiction recovery--i've heard it (and seen it) time and again.
[ Read Also: ACoA: How to be accountable for our lives ]
3. Healing Old Wounds
I find this as well--entering and staying in a group can feel next to impossible without some exploration of past history, especially familial in nature, that formed our ideas and beliefs about relationships in general. Take a historical family message inventory about social connection-- what messages were you given about relationships by your family? How did they handle their own family relationships and friendships? What did they say about other people? If the old messages were negative (9 times out of 10, they were), then these messages and patterns can be played out in current relationships because this was the model granted. If this was the case, and often times this can be paired with relational trauma (I'll save that for another post), then when we get to meetings we might feel like running.
Actually we might have to get up and leave in the middle of meetings plenty of times before our nervous system can settle down (we may need more supports, therapy, neurofeedback and meditation, etc.) or we might perceive others as being threatening (when they're not, if they are, well then really leave!), dull, "sicker than me", victims, depressing, i've heard every judgment in the book. And really, those are all excuses--and most likely reenactments from something old. Sobriety isn't about the other people in the room, but rather about your own path and your own sobriety. It can also teach you about your own needs and how to respect yourself in relationship to the other people in the room. For example, if someone is treating you with disrespect and disregard at a meeting--that's up to you to set a boundary, unless they are a dangerous person and then you need to find another meeting.
Anyway you cut it, in early recovery, those sane, loving relationships are the most important piece to staying sober for the long haul. We need to find our own "rat park" (see video below.) It certainly isn't found in our old people, places and things--we need sane relationships to balance it all out.
What causes addiction? Easy, right? Drugs cause addiction. But maybe it is not that simple. This video is adapted from Johann Hari's New York Times best-selling book 'Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.' Watch video above or click here.
Looking for an addiction Therapist NYC?
Therapist and Neurofeedback Trainer Heather Coleman specializes in addiction recovery, relationship issues and also leads ACoA support groups in New York City.