I have talked many times about a Ted Talk I watched not that long ago from a man named Johan Hari who said the following quote in his talk: "The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection." Obviously, this quote has affected me greatly and I thank my therapist for passing it on to me, originally. When I ponder the idea of what it means to live well, there is no way for me to do that without thinking of connection. Human beings crave, seek out, and strive for connection. It is part of our makeup and something we cannot live without. Some of us are certainly introverts, which means we do not thrive in crowds, even small crowds, but that is not what I am speaking to here. A connection is something or someone that binds us to something or someone else. It can be physical, emotional, or even spiritual. I think it is important to differentiate between the ideas of someone and something because they are two very different forms of connection. Nevertheless, they both hold equal power in regard to their effect on our ability to live well and to live sober.
Connections to Some'thing'
The idea that the importance of connection could mean more than a connection to people came up early for me in my sobriety. If you have been following my blog, you know that I have spent a lot of time working through my personal issues and feelings that affected my ability to live sober. In my past, I always felt like I was simply surviving. I did not have goals and dreams to propel me along my life journey with a fervor to succeed. I did not consistently think that I could be and have more. I was definitely not a dreamer. Because of this, I spent a lot of my extra time engaging with, what became, my addictions. Whether it was nicotine, alcohol, or negative behaviors, I used them to squelch the feeling that I had no purpose in my life. The Japanese call it Ikigai, which loosely translates to, meaning for being, a reason for living, or a reason to get up in the morning. However you translate it, it is hard to argue the importance of having some'thing' to keep you going.
I feel my upbringing and constant struggles with living life played a role in my inability to ascertain my own Ikigai. I didn't really know what it meant to dream, set goals, and work toward achieving them. Throughout my life, I came across several 'things' that felt like something for which I held passion. I put a lot of energy into those 'things' and sometimes even let them somewhat take over my life and time. Looking back, however, there was one very poignant theme that affected my ability to hold them as a potential Ikigai or reasons to get up in the morning. Negative criticism always pulled me away from my passions. If someone said I was not good enough or worse, if someone said I was not good at my passion, I quit. I had an uncanny ability to walk away from an enormous amount of time and work to avoid the unbearable feeling that accompanied hearing someone say I sucked at something. This happened with sports, music, photography, writing, and relationships. I just could not take negative criticism.
What I learned, since becoming sober, is that the reason I could not take the negative criticism was that I was doing it (my passion) for all the wrong reasons. I was doing it for validation. When someone said I was good at some'thing' it felt really good and all I wanted was to hear that again. Comment culture on the internet did not help this desire because with every post came an onslaught of either positive or negative comments. As long as the comments that came in were positive I was addicted to that passion. The moment they turned negative, I ran away. In order for some'thing' to be your Ikigai, you have to do it for the right reasons. You have to do it because it is something you have to do, regardless of what people say. You have to do it because you cannot, not do it. Thankfully, that is what I have recently found on my sober journey.
Find your Passions
I gave up writing, something I truly loved, about six or seven years ago because of a negative comment told to me by someone who was, at the time, very close to me. He said that I should not be writing because it was obvious I did not know how to write. Now, regardless if that was true or not, it was not only the comment that I could not write that affected me so intensely. It was the fact that someone I loved and trusted could make such a negative comment. It hurt me and hurt me to such a degree that I walked away from writing for a very long time. Thankfully, with my decision to quit drinking also came the decision to write about my sober journey. That decision catapulted me back into writing and, more importantly, back into a passion for writing. For the first time in my life, I feel that I am setting goals and doing some'thing' I love for me, and me alone. I have received negative feedback about my ideas and writing, but this time it does not even begin to negatively affect my passion for writing because I am not doing it for those who are making negative comments. I am writing for me and for anyone out there with whom my writing may resonate. I am writing because I have to, it is the reason I get up in the morning, and it is what keeps me going. My goal is to write professionally, and I will achieve my goal.
Connections to Some'one'
I don't believe I ever really understood what it meant to be connected to someone. I knew what it meant to have friends, to have a partner, and to have colleagues, but I never really understood the power those relationships could have in my life. Unfortunately, I believe this is evident by the lack of longstanding relationships I currently hold. While looking back at this through a different (sober) lens, it is difficult and somewhat heartbreaking to me. Fortunately, it is also very insightful, and my new insight will govern how I relate to and treat others in the future. I have finally learned that not only are people important to my ability to live well, I too am important to others and their ability to live well. A human connection should be a mutually beneficial relationship where both parties benefit on some level from the other's connection to them. We may benefit emotionally, intellectually, physically, familially, or in any number of other positive ways. The key to a positive human connection is for each party to WANT to give back. This is something I lacked for the better part of my adult life.
Unfortunately, for the addict, whatever human connections we held before going into recovery, we quickly learn most of those connections are no longer beneficial to our sobriety. I believe humans tend to have a pack mentality when considering who we associate with the most. For addicts, this means others who are in the same state of mind in regard to our addictions. Most of us know we have a problem long before we make attempts to correct our behavior. Because of this, we feel a strong need to surround ourselves with others who do not make us feel bad for having a 'problem.' It makes sense when you think about it. Why would I want to associate with someone who talks about how great their life is and how successful they are with their goals when I cannot even garner the motivation to simply conceive the idea of an aspiration? Why would I want to be someone around me who is physically healthy and strong to see me consistently destroying my mind and body with a poison I consciously choose to consume? I wouldn't, so I don't. I surround myself with people who are doing the same thing I am doing so I don't ever have to face the imminent reality I know is coming. These are what we call toxic relationships and something we learn immediately upon quitting our addictions that must go. They have no place on our new path.
Letting go of old connections can feel isolating and lonely. This is probably one of the most important aspects of a person's ability to maintain sobriety. I was incredibly fortunate because L and I decided to quit drinking together so we had a built-in connection that was strong and supportive. Even then, I sought out and found other ways of connecting with people to help in my sobriety. Others do not have that built-in connection, and it is incredibly important for those who do not to reach out and find a supportive community with whom to connect. It is not easy for the addict, who is already suffering from a lack of confidence and connection, to feel comfortable enough to make themselves vulnerable to a new community. We need to help make it easier. I believe this is why you see so many people with years and years of sobriety staying connected to the sober community. People who have gone through the process of sobriety know what it is like and they want to help. It's called being of service to others and if you are anything like me, you are drawn to this service like a drunk to a bottle. You cannot help but want to be there for those who are struggling.
Reach out and Connect with Others
If you are someone who is struggling with identifying people to connect with during your beginning stages of sobriety, know that we are out here. The only caveat is your willingness to reach out and find us. If you are someone who is enjoying the benefits of your successful sobriety, know that there are people out there looking for you. Your story might be the one thing that pushes someone to take that first step on their sober path. If you are somewhere in between, understand that we all need connection and at the very least be kind and non-judgmental to those who are struggling; you have no idea what they have been through and or are continuing to go through.
One of my biggest pet peeves in the sober community is the idea that there is only one way to find successful sobriety. Sobriety is like anything else. It has a myriad of different beginnings, middles, and ends. There is no one size fits all in recovery. There is, however, one truly consistent and absolutely imperative component to successful sobriety. Connection. We need each other and we need you.
Reach out, reach back, and reach each other.
If you have not seen Johan Hari's Ted Talk, here it is: