How we create our community, choose our circles, and cultivate our connections impacts our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. This is particularly true for people whose lives have been affected by addiction. An addiction can impact all levels of our being: mind, body, and spirit. It also impacts our relationships with other people as well as our relationship with time. Addiction keeps us separated from the present moment so that we cannot access the very space where healing can actually take place. Instead, we seek solace in the creature comforts of the material world in order to avoid pain and re-create pleasure.
The mental component of the patterns of addiction can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, stress, loneliness, separation, and disconnection. This is part of the reason addiction is described as a disease of isolation. This also factors into why developing positive connections with other human beings is a central element to recovery and a remedy for isolation.
Addiction weakens our spirit and builds upon our illusion of separateness from each other: from our environment and from the essence of our existence. It is perhaps this separateness that drives us harder than anything else. We feel so alone and cut off that it becomes easy to identify with our disordered thoughts. We think we are our scattered minds rather than our infinite selves. Our vision narrows. We lose our intuitive capabilities and are in a state of disharmony with our own hearts. We try to manipulate our outer experience rather than living it. This is another layer of the web of addiction, in which we are addicted to patterns of thinking and belief systems that are built on our basic misunderstanding of separateness and isolation.
Because of the ways in which addiction affects brain function as well as all of the other systems of the body, the physical aspect of addiction necessitates a physical process of detoxification, rebalancing, and strengthening. The protocols of recovery require that we seek out teachers, sponsors, mentors, healers and guides as support. It is important to have good counseling from people who understand the path of recovery and who can stand as examples of victory. Establishing relationships with these people makes it possible to call upon them in those moments when our faith in the process wanes.
Both the mental and physical aspects of addiction require daily re-patterning in order to form new habits, patterns, and practices that recondition us to remain present and respond to life in a way that supports our health and well-being. Yoga and meditation are healing practices that facilitate our ability to remain centered in the present moment. The one day at a time concept from 12-Step philosophy emphasizes this important reality.
From this holistic viewpoint on addiction, it is no wonder that connection, support, and love from other people are so critical to the process of recovery. This brings up the question of how we find community through recovery in today’s world. There are really three main structures that are available to accomplish this: therapy, meetings, and treatment programs.
Individual therapy involves a one-on-one connection with a therapist who helps you to understand yourself and the story that led to your maladaptive behavior. Numerous therapeutic modalities are available; one’s experience will vary depending on the therapist, the modality, and the unique connection or relationship. Recognize when seeking out and developing this relationship that different people need different things at different times. I have known many people to find recovery and healing through therapy, and quite often, their therapists were the ones who referred them to 12-Step (or other) recovery programs.
Recovery programs or meetings are the second way that people can find community and therapeutic relationships in recovery. While 12-Step programs are the most widespread option in this category, there are several others that have found success in supporting people toward healing. These include Refuge Recovery (a Buddhist approach), Yoga of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR), and Smart Recovery (a more cognitive, non-theistic approach).
In all these modalities, community and connection are critical components of healing. Doing the 12 Steps, for example, includes connecting with a sponsor who guides you through work associated with the process based on their own experience in recovery and working the steps. The sponsor-sponsee relationship is one of the most powerful teacher-student relationships in modern society. It is important to note: the outcome of one’s experience with the 12 steps will be influenced by the ability of a sponsor to present the steps in a way that is accessible and meaningful to the sponsee. Outcomes can also be affected by the quality of the relationships sought out by the person in recovery with other people they encounter, and, of course, their openness and willingness to see their life and even their thoughts in a new light. Service is another key component of these programs; service helps people develop perspectives beyond their individual lives to include community.
A third option to start or maintain recovery in our society is choosing is an in-patient or out-patient treatment program for more intensive experiences. community once again plays a significant role as a person is interacting in group settings, along with participating in one-on-one counseling to review all aspects of their life which led to the blossoming of addiction.
A challenge of treatment is the incorporation of a sustainable continuance of care after release. When a person’s treatment experience comes to an end, the onus lays upon the addict to continue to connect with others and to build community that is conducive to maintaining recovery. It is simply too easy to fall back into “alone-ness” and familiar behaviors when a person returns to what they may perceive as the extraordinary and unbearable pressure of everyday life. This is why participating in meetings and other recovery programs are essential. It is also why being grounded in daily practices (such as yoga and meditation) that maintain focus on the present moment essential.
Recovery from addiction is possible. People can change and heal at all levels of their being. It requires the development of new habits – a willingness to ask for help whenever you need it, to be in regular connection with others who are on a path of recovery, and to develop the capacity to be of service to others. An ongoing connection to positive, supportive community is the key element throughout every aspect of this process. In 26 years of recovery from severe addiction, and while working with tens of thousands of people in initiatives like Recovery 2.0, I have never seen anyone recover sustainably without a regular connection to others on a path toward wholeness. We really do need each other.