Addiction & Compassion

It’s National Recovery Month

Since it is National Recovery Month I wanted to take the opportunity to share a little about my thoughts on addiction. 

Have Compassion

If you’re struggling to break a habit, this goes for you. This goes for the person you know who may be hooked on something as well. Remember, addiction literally means enslavement. To be addicted means to continue to do something even though you know it leads to bad results. Plus, because of the shame in our culture surrounding addiction, it’s easy for us to shame ourselves or another person for their actions (or lack thereof) while addicted. We are quite literally out of our right minds when addicted. The addictive behavior is more like a cough…it’s a symptom of a complex and multidimensional disease. 

When an addict lies…it’s a cough

When an addict steals,…it’s a sneeze

When an addict relapses…it’s a fever

You don’t hate someone for catching the flu. You don’t hate them for having a fever, or sneezing, or coughing. Don’t hate them (or yourself) for falling prey to addiction. You and I live in a culture that breeds addiction. It’s a wonder when someone does not become addicted to something. 

Just remember, a body hijacked by a flu produces very predictable symptoms that the self inside the body can’t do much about. Sure, it can take actions to mitigate the symptoms, but if it’s a virus, that virus is gonna run its course one way or another. If it’s an infection, antibiotics can be given, but the body still has to take the meds for them to work. 

Imagine if the shame around addiction treatment extended to flu treatment. Conversely, imagine that addiction was looked on by our medical community with the same non-judgemental care that flu is treated with. Would we hide? Maybe, but based on examples in the Air Force where pilots are encouraged to come forth the moment they think they have a problem and are not punished, but instead immediately given access to whatever care they require, chances are that if we felt safe pursuing treatment, we more likely would. IF addicts felt safe from punishment, ridicule, and judgement, things would change a lot. 

Compassion is what an addict needs precisely at the moment when they seemingly least deserve it. 

Recovery = Reconnection and Reconnection = Recovery

As Johann Hari says in his seminal book, Chasing the Scream, “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” It is important for us to remember that we are still primates, and as such, we are pack animals. What that means is that we are designed to live in relationships, in connection, in community, in groups. Again, that’s how we became the dominant species on the planet. 

We rely on each other for survival from the moment we are born to the moment we die. Connection isn’t a nice idea, it’s required for our very survival. What this means is that we are wired to connect. Connection is our default state of relationship. We are designed to be connected within groups for our entire lifespan. At no time are we intended to leave the herd and live alone until we mate or some crap like that. As a species, we’ve only been ‘moving away’ from the herd…for less than a hundred years. Think about that from an evolutionary perspective. We’ve been living in groups – God knows how long exactly – for hundreds of thousands of years. Concepts like living on your own and the nuclear family (a family living on its own away from relatives) is so recent, it’s like an experiment that is having massive ramifications. 

The very idea that disconnecting from family, from community when we grow up could even be an option is so alien to our species, it’s astonishing that we’re not putting two and two together. To be disconnected is an unnatural state for us. 

There are three directions we can (re)connect:

  • Inward – Physical and emotional connection to our bodies, and our higher self.
  • Outward – Social connections to others. 
  • Upward – Spiritual connection to some power greater than us. 

When we invest in relationships in these three directions, we heal from pain of disconnection. We either disconnect ourselves in an attempt at self-preservation, or we are disconnected by someone else. 

Many of us in our addictions struggle with trust issues. These stem from building emotional armor to protect ourselves from anything that isn’t safe moving forward. The problem is that it also prevents us from being able to connect with anyone or anything that is safe. We have to be willing to relinquish the illusion of control in our relationships and try again to trust. 

Part of our problem is our expectations around trust in the first place. If we’ve been burned by someone, why does one mistake cost all trust? Trust is an illusion which obeys whatever laws or rules we set forth. 

If I say, “If you screw up once, I’ll never trust you again,” I can make that claim, but it imprisons me into a high stakes game where you, the mistake-making-imperfect-human that you are can’t ever screw up or I have to give away all my trust in you. To me, that sounds like a lousy game to play, because who is ever going to be able to play for very long? I wonder if this is why so many men in their 40s and 50s suffer from social isolation. All their friends and loved ones have screwed up along the way (as they were destined to do) which left the person no choice but to disconnect from them…to write them off. By their mid fifties, who’s left?

So, let’s ask ourselves, what can we do to show more compassion to someone who struggles with an addictive habit? How can we show more compassion with ourselves when we mess up? We’re all imperfect human beings so let’s give ourselves and each other a little grace. 

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1 Comment

  1. kathleen short says:

    Thanks Tim Compassion and reconnection! So true

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