The opposite of addiction is human connection

One of the biggest themes for me in my recovery, and in fact my life, is human connection. All the work I do on recovery and all the things I think about and have to deal with, all come down to it. It is the inescapable truth that lays the foundations for everything else. To many this is obvious, but to an addict like me, stepping back and remembering some fundamental truths about how we should live our lives and what is important can be difficult, so I don’t take anything for granted, no matter how obvious it may seem in hindsight.

What I am talking about is perfectly articulated in the following quote, from Johann Hari’s must-read for any addict: “Chasing The Scream“:

The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection.

There are hundreds of quotes of equal lucidity in the book, but this stood out to me.

Without going into too much detail, the book solidifies my existing understanding of the reason for addiction; that it is not simply because someone overdid it with an addictive substance/activity for too long, but that the addiction is a way to deal with pain, loneliness or other fundamental psychological state. In other words, addiction is not simply the result of a chemical or physical dependency, but an antidote for a more fundamental psychological lacking in an individual’s life.

To give one example, a test was carried out by scientist Bruce Alexander (detailed in his book The Globalization of Addiction), interviewed in the book, where he gave rats access to morphine (which acts like heroin for rats). Some rats were put is isolation, and became addicted. Other rats were put in a lush environment with other rats, food, toys etc, and they didn’t become addicted, despite the same access to the heroin. The scientist was able to show that if the addicted rats were placed into the lush environment, despite continued access to the drug, they lost their addiction.

This is amazing. It corroborates the theory that the chemical cause of addiction is only one part of the full story – that the causes of addiction exceed the boundaries of a simple physical or chemical dependency on the drug, and instead relate to some far deeper psychological need for fulfilment in the addict’s life.

It is consistent with my own experience of recovery – both my therapist and the guidance of the 12 steps of Sex Addicts Anonymous cover how simply abstaining from acting out is not enough to recovery – the addict has to address the reasons for their addiction, by taking a long hard look at their family, childhood, friendships etc, to understand what they are using addiction to compensate for.

For some, this might be childhood trauma, abuse, neglect etc. I.e. things that are easy to spot. For others (like me), it is harder to spot. I didn’t, on the face of it, have a hard childhood, but when I look harder I can find instances of loneliness and disconnection. As I grew up and went through school, gap year and university, I see an increasing trend in how I slowly interacted with people less and increasingly used cannabis and porn to spend more time alone. Even when I was being social, I would pride myself on being the resident cynic, never quite engaging with people and always being slightly on the edge of social groups.

I’m still working out why this trend happened. I found more comfort in computers and porn during puberty than I did with friendships, and when I discovered cannabis it accelerated the isolation. Interestingly, during my gap year when I discovered weed, I used it socially and it actually increased my sociability (despite my still-growing my porn addiction), but once I went to university I really withdrew. There may be something to do with the fact that university was prescribed for me whereas my gap year was my choice, and I have issues with authority, so this is an area I’m spending more time thinking about.

Anyway, back to the point: human connection. To fully recover, I need to rebuild my connection with the world and with other people. I have lost touch with most of my friends, whose friendship groups have endured throughout school and university without me. I have prided myself in spending time alone rather than going out. That all has to change. I can’t magically rescue lost friendships or instantly create new ones, but I know now that if I live my life in a new way, according to my values and with empathy, sympathy and compassion, hopefully in time I will form better bonds with people than I have allowed myself to in the past.

So for me, blocking my access to porn and remaining sober is probably the smallest factor in my recovery, as without the self-assessment and implementing living a better life as a better person, the sobriety will be temporary, or the addiction will probably replaced by something else.

To finish with another quote from the book:

“Addiction” he said, “is a disease of loneliness.”

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4 comments

    1. Thanks for the link, I’ll have a read. It was, in fact, the YBOP site that got me started on my recovery, so I’m familiar with it. You’re absolutely right – addiction is complex and it would be foolish to state that there’s a magic bullet in a single answer, that wasn’t my intention. For what its worth, I remember reading some articles that disputed the science behind YBOP just as much as they’re disputing Hari’s work, so we probably won’t have any clear solid undisputed answers on this topic for many decades.

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