Sunday, September 26, 2010

“All the Lonely People”

An addict is a person who wants to be held while they are isolating” ~ Anonymous

As a kid, I used to think loneliness was a condition for wimps. Then, I got married. The first time my wife went out of town to visit her parents, I was a basket-case, crying like a little girl, feeling lonely and desperate for my wife to be back in my arms again. Needless to say, it was a very long week but I survived (as this article is evidence). By the way, she did come back!

This month I’d like to talk about two issues that plague every alcoholic and addict, which are, isolation and loneliness. First, it is important to recognize that both of these issues are common to all people. Isolation and loneliness is something we all experience from time to time. However, neither is meant to be our permanent state of being, our modus operandi, if you will. Unfortunately, for many alcoholics/addicts, that is just the case.

Isolation is a condition wherein a person chooses, for whatever reason, to temporarily, or sometimes permanently, cut themselves off from contact with the outside world. Regardless of the reason, and without judgment of the reason, isolation is not a healthy behavior. It leaves a person with a limited perspective about their life, the world around them, and other people. Recovery gurus call this being “stuck in your own head” and the results can be disastrous (see above picture on the right).

In John Cacioppo's 2008 book, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, the author states that, “loneliness impairs cognition and willpower, alters DNA transcription in immune cells, and leads, over time, to high blood pressure.” Science is providing unequivocal data pointing to the measurable, detrimental effects of loneliness on the human physiological and psychological condition. Our penal system has used solitary confinement (a.k.a. “enforced loneliness”) as a punishment for decades. Still in a world that has the means for over-connection, many remain alone whilst in the company of others.

Loneliness is a perfectly human emotion than can run amok. This is because most people do not know how to deal with this powerful and sometimes baffling emotion. In particular, alcoholics/addicts tend to struggle with any intense feeling(s) and loneliness can feel very intense. It seems like the logical step would be to gravitate toward other people to alleviate loneliness, but the addict/alcoholic mind doesn’t see it that way. Instead, they tend to move away from, rather than toward, community when loneliness strikes. They often rationalize their isolation with thoughts like, “no one wants me, no one cares, everyone thinks poorly of me, etc.” which is usually not the case at all.

So, is there a cure for these troublesome states of being? Yes. One day at a time, immerse yourself in a community. Community destroys isolation and helps soothe loneliness. It also has as a by-product, the added bonus of accountability, a must for recovering alcoholics/addicts. Create a “loneliness plan” that is for emergencies with phone numbers of people who have agreed to help you when a bout of loneliness strikes that is extra powerful. Remember that feelings are not facts and they change just like the weather. To answer the Beatles important question posed in their song “Eleanor Rigby”, “all the lonely people, where do they belong?”, they belong in healthy relationships with other people living in accountability, honesty, and commitment. These three slay isolation and its’ comrade loneliness dead.

Chris Newcoomb

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