So, why is love essential to recovery and continued sobriety? For starters, I am convinced, as I know many others are in the recovery community – that there is a direct correlation between addiction and the lack of love in someone’s life. Simply put, a person needs love in and around their life to feel a sense of self-worth. This doesn’t just apply to an infant, young child, teenager, or young adult, but to anyone at any age. So often, individuals describe their life experiences leading into addiction as greatly lacking in love in their environment.
For example, suppose your existing close relationships, including family, friends, spouse or significant other, are not conveying any appreciation towards you or even a sense that they respect you. Perhaps in your situation there is a dearth of either compassion, kindness or tenderness. We all have challenging days and you might need just an affectionate, caring hug – just to affirm that everything will be okay and that someone cares. Maybe all we need to better our day from a problem is a simple, supportive word of encouragement or confirmation that another person is there for you.
What do many of us end up doing to replace the absence of love in our lives? The answer is simple – we attempt to fill the void with alcohol or drugs. These substances may offer a temporary sense of relief for a moment. However, they really provide a surreptitious ‘pretense’ of affection or caring or at least dull our emotions and enhance denial. Again, it’s only temporary and not a solution to fulfilling our very human need. Remember, drugs and alcohol is just that, a pretense of love, of comfort and even oblivion, but actually operates as a deceitful charade, feigning love and support, while predictably destructive. The more we use, the farther away any semblance of ‘real’ love will be in our lives. As abuse and addiction grows, we begin to deteriorate into a barren desert, starved and thirsty for any kind of true human compassion or nourishment. We ourselves become ‘unlovable’ and often angry, bitter, and resentful as we spiral uncontrollably into our addiction.
I never say things lightly, as anyone who has read any of my previous Blog postings will certainly confirm. I also do not take recovery lightly. We are not discussing here a new diet plan or utilizing network resources to find a job or career. Such subjects may be quite important to us, and they are. However, when examining the issue of recovery verses addiction, I have to say, without exaggeration that we are talking life-or-death. Recovery involves a crucial decision of either living a healthy vibrant life, or destroying ourselves and those around us with our addiction - an imprisoning behavior that leads us on a painful, certain excursion into oblivion. What can be a more serious subject matter than this?
Sometimes when I meet a person that is suffering with that muddled fogginess from their prolonged use of an addictive substance, I want to simply sit with them, in silence, if need be. I want to be there with them until the fog begins to clear and they realize that their drinking and drugging is keeping their inner being from grasping the true consequences of the addiction. I remember a quote from the great American poet, Walt Whitman, that truly expresses what I sometimes feel inside upon meeting a person stupefied by their drug of choice. “I am he who tauntingly compels men, women, nations, Crying, leap from your seats and contend for your lives!” But, when a person is under the influence, even that assertion doesn’t help. When I remember myself when I was using, cluttered and bewildered by my own addictive drinking, I realize that no one can compel another person to “Leap from your seats and contend for your lives.” Only someone who is willing to change and give to themselves the opportunity of sobriety, can alter and change their present course.
I often hear insensitive comments during the course of the day, which I feel like challenging. Statements along the line of ‘how our society has become weak and we need to toughen up, or we need to cease pampering and coddling the younger generation, etc.’ Obviously, we do not ever want to ‘enable’ others to persist in negative patterns. Frequently discussed in recovery meetings is the direct relation between alcohol and drug addiction and those who inadvertently enable such behavior. But what I am asserting here and what I believe is that what is lacking in our society is compassion, affection and caring for others. The prevalence of a lack of compassion is evident in families, schools, businesses, politics, and personal relationships -- everywhere. It is not that we need to toughen up so much, as untie the bonds and impediments to our own hearts. We may not want pampering or coddling if it is an enabling expression, but we may want and need an affectionate hug or a kind response or empathetic ear.
Once an individual embarking upon the recovery path realizes that their involvement with drugs and/or alcohol was attempting to fill a void, they will begin to have a clearer, more compassionate and forgiving explanation for their addiction – to themselves and to their loved ones. That void consists of feeling alone, empty, insignificant, unloved, weak, worthless. We certainly cannot wait for our society to change and become a supportive, caring community for our recovery to begin or succeed; we must be that change and it starts with our Unconditional Recovery. It is vital that we surround ourselves with the wonderful people you will find in recovery – in meetings. Many supportive sober and clean individuals, professional counselors and therapists, highly effective recovery organizations, are there ready and willing to help you.
Most importantly, the avenue of finding love, compassion and caring in one’s life can only be discovered within yourself. We can receive support and encouragement from others, however, we must find a way to truly care and love ourselves. This can be the most challenging part of the journey to transforming ourselves from addiction to sobriety. I am not speaking of what is commonly referred to as narcissism. Narcissism is a vain self-love or egotistic self-admiration with a total absorption into self. Narcissism does not and cannot feel genuine human love or affection. It seeks to manipulate in order to obtain continual attention to self. However, finding the pathways within to caring for yourself and acquiring empathy for self and others is an entirely different matter. If we can come to realize within how exceptional and wonderful our own existence is, while having a loving appreciation of ourselves we will be on our way to filling that pernicious void in our life. It takes practice, patience and time – recovery time. When we are able to open that avenue within and nurture ourselves, we will be able to truly love and give to others – another major step in the recovery process. This can only be accomplished while living clean and sober – there is no compromised alternative – only your pledge to spend the rest of your life in Unconditional Recovery. Until next time, listen to the words you speak to yourself and make them nurturing ones . . .