Friday, January 23, 2015

Connection as the Remedy for Addiction

I ran across a fascinating article today proposing a new way to look at addiction.  Two basic theories on addiction causation have dominated research and legislation for a number of decades:  the view that addiction is a moral failure and the view that it derives from a biologic disease process (i.e. physical dependence on a substance).

The author of the article collected thousands of anecdotal stories from around the world as well as examined multiple research studies on the cause of addiction.  His conclusion is that addiction thrives when there is a lack of human connection.  "Human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections.  It's how we get our satisfaction.  If we can't connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find--the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe."  (Hari)  The solution to addiction be it to a substance or to a behavior (i.e. sex addiction) is to teach the addict how to connect with others in a healthy fashion.  According to the author, "The opposite of addiction is not sobriety.  It is human connection." (Hari)

We are hardwired for connection with other humans and without it, would not survive infancy.  Dr. Brene Brown defines connection as "the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship." (Brown, Daring Greatly).  Dr Brown goes on to assert that "Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives." (ibid)  "We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.  When those needs are not met, we don't function as we were meant to.  We break.  We fall apart.  We numb.  We ache.  We hurt others.  We get sick." (Brown)

Having been in relationship with an individual addicted to child pornography, I can attest that he lived a very disconnected life.  He was not connected fully to anyone, least of all to himself. Though I longed to connect with him and tried in every manner possible, I was unable to connect because he was unavailable for connection.  His addiction was a symptom of a deeper sickness that he was plagued with in that he was "constantly directing [his] gaze towards the next shiny object [or titillating picture] [he] could buy, rather than the human beings all around [him]." (Hari)  It was devastating and sad to watch and the rejection I felt from his inability to connect with me continues to haunt me.

After re-entering the dating world, I am realizing that the impact of having lived with an emotionally disconnected individual is stunning.  It seems that I am prone to be attracted to men who have difficulty connecting on a deep emotional level.  I understand that there may be a gender variant here in that women may have a more natural ability to experience and process emotions especially as they relate to connection with another.  But if I am to avoid a relationship with an individual with the potential for addiction, I need to focus on men who are able or willing to learn how to really connect on a deep emotional level with me, with others, with themselves and with their God.

Emotional connection or intimacy does not happen magically--it takes hard work and a commitment to a mutual sharing of our innermost selves with another.  It involves developing a level of trust and communication that enables each partner to feel wholly accepted, respected and worthy--feeling that they are enough, just as they are.  "Living a connected life ultimately is about setting boundaries, spending less time and energy hustling and winning over people who don't matter, and seeing the value of working on cultivating connection with family and close friends." (Brown, Daring Greatly)

Developing a deep emotional connection with another requires setting aside certainty and embracing vulnerability; it demands that we devote sufficient time spent with the other so that transparency and intimacy can grow; it requires daring to trust at deeper and deeper levels.  It is time consuming, frightening but so worth the effort.

My dearest friend has shared my life for almost three decades.  Approximately half of that time we have been separated geographically by this vast country.  Because we have committed to sharing our lives with each other and to daily contact, our connection grows stronger with each passing year.  My dear friend knows me better than any other and yet she loves me, accepts me and delights to talk to me.  This is emotional connection--it is life-giving and inspires deeper personal growth and transformation.  It is life as it was meant to be lived--shared deeply with another.  And that is a sure-fire remedy for the addiction crisis that confronts our country.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Year of Healthy Connections

For the past three years, I have named the upcoming year--sometimes as a way to remind myself of important concepts and sometimes to establish a goal for the new year.  I began the practice in 2012 and named the year "Never Alone 2012" as a reminder that though my marriage was ending, I would never be alone because God was with me.  In 2013, after hearing God whisper, "Will you trust me to be your provider?" I named the year Provision and He did provide for me in ways that I could not begin to fathom at the beginning of the year.

In 2014, I chose three words as indicators of my goals for the year:  Transform, Delight and Prosper.  I certainly have met with surprising success (i.e. prosperity) professionally during the past twelve months and am learning to delight in the unique ways that my Creator formed me, which includes embracing my physical beauty (gasp, blush!).  The year has unfolded in many unexpected ways, however, and one of the biggest surprises was that transformation does not come without pain and discomfort.

In many ways, 2014 has rivaled 2012 in terms of personal pain and loss.  Indeed, the definition of transformation describes a "thorough or dramatic change, a metamorphosis, overhaul, remodel or reworking of the form, appearance or characteristic of a person or thing."  Relationships that I held dear have not survived my own personal transformation.  One of the notions that I am embracing is that transformation and growth will bring pushback from systems that thrive on homeostasis.  And this pushback can and often does result in broken connections.

So 2015 will be the "Year of Healthy Connections."  According to shame researcher Dr. Brene Brown, "Belonging (i.e. connection) is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.  Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it."  She goes on to emphasize that "true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. (Brown, Daring Greatly).  So healthy connections begins with self-acceptance and eschewing approval-seeking behaviors.

Additionally, Dr. Brown writes that "Living a connected life ultimately is about setting boundaries, spending less time and energy hustling and winning over people who don't matter and seeing the value of working on cultivating connection with family and close friends."  I would add that sometimes it is impossible to build healthy connections with our biological family so we work to create a family of choice as a substitute.

Healthy connections will require:
  • Stepping out of my comfort zone and daring to trust and engage with others.
  • Continuing to work on self-acceptance.
  • Being aware of approval-seeking behavior (my default setting) and work to stop it.
  • Maintaining good boundaires.
  • Showing up and allowing my authentic self to be seen.
"Out with the old; in with the new" is a mantra often heard this time of year.  A new year offers a fresh start, not a "do-over" necessarily but a new opportunity to do things differently.  We replace the old calendar with a new one and we can aim to replace old, hurtful behaviors/relationships with new healthier ones.  In establishing healthier connections, it will be important to remember this final reminder from Dr. Brown:  "Don't try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer." Amen!