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.