How do I stop isolating myself?

Isolation and Addiction Go Hand in Hand

 

“Almost without exception, alcoholics are tortured by loneliness. Even before our drinking got bad and people began to cut us off, nearly all of us suffered the feeling that we didn’t quite belong. Either we were shy, and dared not draw near others, or we were noisy good fellows constantly craving attention and companionship, but rarely getting it. There was always that mysterious barrier we could neither surmount nor understand” (A.A. Twelve and Twelve, 57).

Did we drink because we were lonely and could not form healthy relationships or were we lonely because we drank? It is hard to pinpoint which caused which and it isn’t even necessary. What we see is that alcoholism and isolation are partners in crime. As we give up alcoholism in favor of sobriety, we must also strive to give up isolation in favor of fellowship.

The A.A. founders clearly saw the need for a program that would help the alcoholic reconfigure his or her entire life—including relationships. Many of us have never known how to have healthy relationships. We have used others or sought to control them but we haven’t known how to love and have equal partnerships with the people around us. Recovery teaches us a new way.

The following suggestions drawn from the 12-step program and the insights of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous give direction to the newly recovering addict seeking fellowship and friendship in this new world of sobriety and recovery.

Go to meetings. Here you will find the people who are like you, the people who have lived what you have lived, and who are learning to live a new life in sobriety. The newcomer may feel reluctant to trust this new gang. Who are these seemingly happy sober people? Did they ever really battle addiction? Have they ever struggled? Don’t let their cheeriness and sense of contentment fool you. They have been where you are now but hey have discovered a new life and a new way of living, better than anything they knew in addiction. The addict who desires recovery will continue to attend meetings with an open mind. In time, he or she will see miracles occur.

“Life takes on new meaning in A.A. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends—this is an experience you must not miss” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 89).

Take phone numbers and call. While the meeting is a great place to begin connecting with friends in recovery, the phone allows for the more in-depth conversations that lead to relationships. Afraid you don’t have anything to say? Ask a question. Tell the person on the other end of the line that you are new to the program and would love to hear their recovery story. Do they have a few minutes to chat? Then let the conversation flow naturally. Ask if you may call again sometime or invite him or her to call you in the future.

Find a sponsor. A sponsor will walk through recovery with you on a daily basis. You no longer need to handle life’s ups and downs on your own. Responding to life in a way that enhances and enriches your recovery does not come naturally, thus it is highly recommended that addicts at all stages of recovery seek out and maintain a relationship with a sponsor.

Confess. It is often said, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” Our guilt and shame keeps us isolated from others. We fear that if people really knew us they could not love us nor welcome us into fellowship. So we continue to live behind a mask and deprive ourselves of real fellowship.

This is where the confession and honesty required by the Fifth Step become our most important weapons in the fight against isolation.

“When we reached A.A., and for the first time in our lives, stood among people who seemed to understand, the sense of belonging was tremendously exciting. We thought the isolation problem had been solved.

But we soon discovered that, while we weren’t alone anymore in a social sense, we still suffered many of the old pangs of anxious apartness. Until we had talked with complete candor of our conflicts, and had listened to someone else do the same thing, we still didn’t belong.

Step Five was the answer. It was the beginning of true kinship with man and God” (A.A. Twelve and Twelve, 57).

Living honestly before the world allows us to connect to that world in new and authentic ways.  Coming out of isolation and establishing the sort of community you desire will take time and effort, but it is well worth it. A strong fellowship around you strengthens your recovery and makes life in sobriety more enjoyable. Many of us have never known the joys of healthy relationships and partnerships. But it is never too late to start.

 

Explore your identity. Get to know who you really are and let others know you as well. Many addicts, having spent so many years tethered to the bottle or some other fix, have failed to develop as people, and thus have very little understanding of their own identities. Now that you are sober, it is time to start forming a relationship with yourself. Who are you? What do you like to do? What makes you happy?

And as you get to know yourself, you can allow others to do the same. Begin to open up and experiment with a little vulnerability. When asked a question, give a full response. Allow yourself to be engaged in conversation. Don’t be afraid to let people in for fear of what they may think of you and your past. You have many gifts to offer and recovery allows you to begin exploring, developing, and sharing them.

Attend recovery-based social events. Most addicts are used to structuring their leisure time around alcohol, drugs, or the other activities from which they are now sober. Does this mean there is no more fun to be had in this life? Not at all! In recovery you will find a fellowship of people who, like yourself, have also had to find a new way to enjoy life. Most groups arrange periodic social events. Ask program friends what they do for fun now that they are sober.

Know God and develop a relationship with Him. The truest form of fellowship is that which we have with God Himself. Regardless of the number of friends you have or the busyness of your social life, if you do not know fellowship with God, the old loneliness and sense of isolation will persist. Through prayer, meditation, and the reading of the Bible, you can begin to know the God who has rescued you from the disease that sought to kill you. He is a personal God eager to have a relationship with you.

“When I was driven to my knees by alcohol, I was made ready to ask for the gift of faith. And all was changed. Never again, my pains and problems notwithstanding, would I experience my former desolation. I saw the universe to be lighted by God’s love; I was alone no more” (Bill W., letter, 1966)

The beginning steps of faith bring us into partnership with God. You can never be alone if you allow God’s presence to surround you.

Join a church and become involved. In addition to the fellowship you will find among program friends, joining a church can provide the opportunity for friendships with like-minded individuals and a host of activities and events that can help you to deepen your sense of community and belonging, as well as your faith. Rather than simply attending services and then slipping out the door unnoticed, linger and try to strike up conversation with other attendees. Is there a welcoming committee? Try to connect with them to find out how you may become involved.

Take on a service position. If you want to know people, help people. Does your meeting have any open service positions? Is your church looking for volunteers? Working side by side with others helps you to form relationships and partnerships around shared goals, purposes, and interests. As you work together, ask the occasional personal question. Take an interest in people and their stories, and friendships will soon develop.

When the service is Twelve Step based, the addict is further strengthening his recovery by sharing the solution with others. This is some of the most important service we do and the means by which our most important relationships and our lasting sobriety may be forged.

“‘Faith without works is dead.’ How appallingly true for the alcoholic! For if an alcoholic fails to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he cannot survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. If he does not work, he will surely drink again, and if he drinks, he will surely die. Then faith will be dead indeed” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 14-15)

What is a grief letter and why should I write one?

“Yet why not say what happened?”  –  Robert Lowell

Grief has many forms we do may have not considered yet.  We can grieve a death, a relationship, a lost job, lost time, even objects like a car or a home.  Grief has no limits and is personal to each one of us.  Grief is defined as “deep sorrow especially that caused by someone’s death.  It is a noun which means grief itself is at the root a person, place, or thing.  When I think about grief as a noun I am reminded of the many forms and applications this word has.

AA17.4.24.2018

In my addiction, I went through much grief.  I did not realize it at the time, but I was grieving the loss of control, loss of myself, loss of friends and family I was pushing away and hurting.  I was grieving the life I had lived, the life I wanted so badly to live, and the joy I once had.  My grief was not limited to those people and objects around me, it was bigger than those things.

In a brilliant article “Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later,” John James and Russell Friedman compare the heart to an auto engine. It’s an imperfect world, despite the fantasies of perfectionists, so loss and hurt often start at an early age.  “You might recognize the title from an advertising slogan for an automotive product several years ago,” they write. The idea was that if you spend a little money on maintenance now, you might save a tremendous amount replacing an entire engine later.”

“In the auto commercial it was failure to change the oil filter which led to a build up of crud, which clogged and eventually destroyed the motor. Thus, buy an inexpensive filter now or buy a whole new engine later.”

As we go through life, they say, stuffing when we’re hurt instead of grieving, this “crud” builds up around our hearts and thickens year on year. “Grief is negative, and cumulatively negative,” they say, in a key insight.

Then a serious tragedy hits, like a death or divorce, and we don’t realize it, but it triggers all those past hurts we never grieved. Our hearts are breaking inside – but our heart is so hard outside, due to the thick crud, that we can’t see out, so we go into a tailspin.

Now we’re in big trouble and with decades of crud around our hearts.  I have heard, seen, and felt the pain of others while they were sharing their own grief letters and 100% of the time, afterwards, they all felt a sense of relief and healing.

AA2.4.24.2018While writing my first grief letter during treatment I joked that I would be writing a “grief book”.  This is so true for me and I am sure it is true for many of us in recovery.  As we move forward and continuously revisit some of the 12 steps, we can also find it helpful to continuously put pen to paper and add to our “grief book”.  Some write a letter to their addiction, to alcohol, or to their parents and other loved ones.  While some write an autobiographical story about their past traumas or hardships and what led them into the entangling web of alcoholism and addiction.

Each one of us have a different experience with life and the triumphs and challenges.  I believe grief letters are extremely important to flush out these emotions and finally find freedom from the weight we carry.  We must admit, with brutal honesty, those decisions and choices we have made and the painful outcomes resulting from them in order to grieve, accept, and release.

I have included my first grief letter, on a separate page, written in treatment earlier this year.  I hope you find some inspiration for your own.  Please share any thoughts with me in the comments section.  I look forward to hearing from all of you.

Why do alcoholics need AA meetings?

This is a question I have heard often from those who have not had the experience, fortunately, of being an alcoholic or addict.  Simply put, there is no way to explain alcoholism to a “normal” person because they just haven’t been where we have been, done the things we have done, and felt the way we have felt.

I am proud to have a wonderful home group and equally enjoy visiting other AA groups wherever I am.  I am truly grateful for the support, stories, laughter, and love I have received within the walls of the halls of AA.  “Keep coming back, it works if work it” is nothing to be taken lightly and is a true as anything could be said.

There are so many reasons to keep going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings throughout the course of your recovery. Here are just a few reasons to stay involved in the 12-step community, in no particular order.

  • Most of us lived in isolation, chosen or not and you would never want a newcomer to show up to a darkened room or a locked door.

The first meeting really is the most important.  Try and remember your very first meeting, or just before that meeting – baffled, frightened, angry, desperate, lonely, hopeless, confused, and yet somehow sitting within seconds and inches from where willingness and clarity met. And you walked into that room – perhaps after a couple of drive-by or walk-by passes to check it out. There were all these people, some ignoring you, some reaching out to you, but almost all looking a little happier than you felt and a little more comfortable in their skin than you ever dreamed possible.

…you felt a moment’s safety, and like perhaps you could exhale, and that maybe you weren’t alone.-JAY WESTBROOK

You sat through the meeting, and whether your initial reaction was “oh my God, I’m home,” or “what a bunch of losers,” or “this’ll never work for me,” or “this makes no sense,” you felt a moment’s safety, and like perhaps you could exhale, and that maybe you weren’t alone.

Now imagine going to that same first meeting and the room being dark and nobody being there. How different would your experience have been? Would you have called to see where another meeting was, or just returned to your home and your disease?

If people showed up at your first meeting, you get to repay that debt by continuing to show up at meetings so another newcomer can have the chance you had.

  • Alcoholism/addiction is a disease of loneliness and isolation; meetings overcome loneliness and isolation.

It is said, again and again, that the gazelle that is eaten is the one outside the herd or at the edge of the herd, not one in the middle of the herd.

The addict’s thinking can be so self-sabotaging, telling the person with the disease that they don’t have the disease, or that they no longer need meetings because they’ve got time, got the girl or the guy, got the house, or got professional success.

Once isolated and alone, there is a much greater chance that the disease, or the thinking that characterizes it, will convince the addict that they are well, they can have just a little, have just one, have a different mind-altering substance than the one which originally brought them to meetings.

…the shared experience and wisdom of the group has an opportunity to serve as a counter-balance to that delusional and self-destructive thinking.-JAY WESTBROOK

However, when that thinking occurs – and is shared at a meeting – the shared experience and wisdom of the group has an opportunity to serve as a counter-balance to that delusional and self-destructive thinking.

  • For many, God or a Higher Power is most visible and tangible at meetings.

On the one hand, in a world that seems as violent, unfair, and random as ours, where life is both brief and fragile, it can be difficult for some to maintain an awareness of and conscious contact with a Higher Power, let alone a faith in that Higher Power.

On the other hand, in a country with as much relative abundance and real opportunity as ours, the striving for and/or attainment of financial, professional, and romantic success may distract us from an awareness of and conscious contact with a Higher Power.

That being said, it is at meetings that we are least likely to be overwhelmed with doubt about a Higher Power, or so taken with ourselves that we commence to believe we are our own Higher Power. I always say, “if you have any doubt about the existence of a Higher Power, or of miracles, just look in our mirrors and our meetings, and there you will see both.”

  • Meetings provide the opportunity for connections of depth and weight.

Researchers are accumulating evidence to support a theory that substance abuse is caused by, more than anything else, either a lost sense of connection or never having been able to find a sense of connection. Meetings provide the perfect vehicle for establishing those connections and the sense of connectedness that grows from cultivating the relationships that occur as “a spiritual Fellowship springs up about us.”

[Meetings] provide the chance not only to get to know others, but to truly be known by others, and both are equally important to sobriety and a sense of being connected.-JAY WESTBROOK

They provide the chance not only to get to know others, but to truly be known by others, and both are equally important to sobriety and a sense of being connected.

There’s a great story about a young woman alcoholic in Vermont. She got sober in the middle of winter and went to morning meetings every day for her first year. After taking a one-year cake, she stopped going to meetings and stopped calling her sponsor, although she did not drink.

One night, she was sitting at home, in front of a roaring fire, when there was a knock at her door. It was her sponsor, who came in, hugged the woman, sat down and watched the fire, but never said a word.

After a few minutes, she arose and picked up the tongs. She lifted a piece of wood that was in the middle of the fire, glowing orange and giving off warmth, with flames dancing along its length. She set it to the side of the fireplace, and very quickly it turned from glowing orange to ashen gray, giving off no warmth, and with no flames dancing on it. The sponsor sat back down, continuing to silently watch the fire.

After a few more minutes, the sponsor stepped back to the hearth, lifted the cold ashen piece of wood, and set it back in the middle of the fire. Almost immediately, the wood commenced to glow, the ashen appearance gone, and flames danced along its length, and it gave off great warmth.

The sponsor slipped on her coat, and as she walked out the door, the sponsee said, “thank you so much for the fiery sermon, I’ll see you at the meeting in the morning.”

  • Meetings are instrumental in helping keep one sober and preventing relapse.

Again and again, people who relapse and then return to meetings, when asked what happened, say “I stopped going to meetings.” Meetings can provide that important opportunity to be of service, and that, in turn, can create both a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging.

Further, not just going to meetings, but going to the same meetings regularly, gives the alcoholic/addict a way to know others and to be known. And, being known takes away the ability to use the “F” word – not that “F” word, the other one: FINE (Feelings Inside Not Expressed).

Maybe the alcoholic/addict can convince themselves or even strangers that they are “fine,” but at a meeting where they are known, it will be easy for members of the meeting to spot problems that the FINE person is either trying to hide or is actually unaware of. “You don’t look fine; you look like you’re ready to burst into tears,” or “you look terrified and cornered,” or “you look like you’re lying – what’s going on?”

People don’t know what they don’t know, and regular attendance at meetings allows others to see and identify what the person in the midst of a situation may not be able to see or be willing to admit.

…attendance at meetings allows others to see and identify what the person in the midst of a situation may not be able to see or be willing to admit.-JAY WESTBROOK

Finally, it is only at meetings that the alcoholic/addict can consistently hear and share experience, hear and share tools, and hear that they are not alone, not the only one to ever deal with a given situation, and that getting loaded is not a solution. There’s no situation so good, that it can’t be destroyed by getting loaded; there’s no situation so bad, that it can’t be made worse by getting loaded.

Conclusion

Meetings are the place where joy is multiplied and pain divided, where whatever one might be going through – good or bad – another can be found who has previously navigated and survived that experience. Meetings are where a Higher Power is most likely to be found and experienced, and where alcoholics/addicts are right-sized, neither better than nor less than anyone else. They are the venue where one’s experience is valued, one’s aging is respected, one’s relapse is most likely to be prevented, and where the miracle of service is most easily practiced and received. Please, go to meetings; you are needed.