We are nothing if not ingenious, persevering, fragile, and diligent creatures. There are so many ways we find to hover around our natural need for connection. In Part 1 of this series on relationships and connection, I began to write about how our addictions often evidence our primordial hunger and need for connection and attachment; they mark the desire for the warmth and oneness felt even before we were born. Ideally, this desire would be welcomed and nurtured for months afterward, and frankly for the rest of our lives. We woefully miss the mark to think that attachment is eventually outgrown, draining out of the bathtub along with the baby blankets and teddy bears. The hunger for a secure attachment prevails long after we are tiny baby birds yearning for the warmth and responsivity of our caregiver(s).
If the need for connection was not met and attachment was not available to us for any number of reasons during our upbringing, we are left with “attachment hunger,” and it can show up as a chronic yearning whose itch may be temporarily scratched through various addictions. These sometimes multiple addictions only quell this hunger for a short time, but they do so alarmingly well at times. Ultimately, out of the gate, they are just somewhat neutrally “doing their job.” Often, the process of hunting for possible relief itself serves as a powerful distraction from feeling the pain of our unmet needs, as well as a numbing agent to ease the myriad of other experiences that were too challenging to process or emotions that feel too difficult to feel—not the least of which is also the biggest lie of all: that we are somehow innately bad or innately flawed or damaged—which I see as the most devastating lie we are taught through neglectful or abusive upbringings.
As adults, we continue to feel this need for connection with others. Certainly, some of us have convinced ourselves that we don’t need it, but beneath this brilliant avoidance survival strategy, the desire still lurks. Even if it is beyond our conscious awareness. And there is another mission critical need: the need to feel connected to our very SELF. I’ve gradually come to understand how important my own need is to be in silence, to have that space for reflection, and to reconnect with the multiple parts of me that dwell within (easier said than done with a four-year-old and a thriving career, begs to be said). When I don’t prioritize this primary connection, I can find myself stepping into go-to survival modes and addictive behaviors. Case in point is my tendency toward over-giving at the cost of myself—often a big part of work addiction—which is abating gorgeously, as we speak. Now, I am more readily living the win-win-or-no-deal life of my dreams. With work addiction, some natural tendencies (serving, being expressed, art, supporting others) can tip the scales into becoming too extreme. When I over-give and over-serve, I lose my bearings, my anchor, and my sense of self. I am lost in one of my top three primary addictions: work addiction. My second has been food. And the third has been love addiction. All of them, finally, being addressed in passionate earnest.
I also notice how my “secondary addictions”—those that many of us reach for as relief-givers from the primary addiction—can turn into their own kind of havoc-wreaking in and of themselves. What starts out as something that keeps a system and approach to life in PLACE becomes the very thing that makes it all fall apart. As an example, the cocktail after a “crazy day at work” can turn into its own slippery slope. But I am quite aware of where the extremes start. After all, it is on the ends of the continuums where my biggest heartbreaks lie.
So, if work addiction is primary, then we can find any number of soothers—shopping, Chardonnay, or prescription pills could be sought to ease the unrest and pain brought about by the toxicity of overwork. I have experienced that when my own work addiction is addressed, secondary symptoms and cravings often fall away or are addressed with great equanimity. It makes sense that if the primary addiction is not addressed, the other ones that are set up to keep the primary one in place (aka, tolerable) won’t budge.
We can also find ourselves looking for relief-givers when we’re going through acute stress, trauma, pain, or anxiety. After the birth of my son, I had postpartum depression and no sense of how I could pull out and above what felt like a sea of tar my whole body and pysche was floating in. I naively thought that if I waited, soldiered through (which had been a way of life for me for so long), and sucked it up that it would somehow get better. It didn’t. It got worse. Up until a year and four months later, I had been grasping for ways to ease and hopefully escape the quagmire. My relief-givers weren’t working, however, and the slope got ever-more slippery as each day passed.
REGULATION AND RECOVERY – DISCOVERING REAL and sustainable COMFORT AND ASSURANCE
My mindset around addiction in general is the opposite of pathologizing the person who is addicted. To that, I would repeat that addiction, for some period of time, does a really good job of reducing the unpleasant sensations in our body that can often be based on some combination of chemical imbalance, unpleasant and seemingly bottomless feelings, false and debilitating thoughts, traumatic experiences, and/or chronically stressful circumstances.
All of these reachings-out (for a substance, process, person, experience, or a particular state of being or feeling) are our ways, as humans, to feel regulated. To feel regulated is to feel calmed, peaceful, embryonic, assuaged, helped, comforted, breathing deeply, parasympathetic nervous system activated … ease. To feel comfortable and ALIVE … like we’re being given a break, some solace, some respite. Like some life is being breathed back into our bodies, our souls, our hearts. It’s the felt sense that “all is well.”
Some of our relief-givers offer the sense of regulation and connection that we yearn for with every fiber of our being. Is it any wonder why so many of us seek those forms of warmth and aliveness? If the pain is too big, to have something available to soothe us; and if the deadness feels to despondent, something to “bring us to life.” If these “addictions” weren’t things that end our marriages, ruin our relationships, ail our bodies, and smash our dreams—not to mention eventually hurt and kill us—I could make a great case for continuing them. Eventually—ideally—we find a context for re-collecting ourselves again. Through the 12 steps, therapy, group work, rehab, friendships, reaching out, we discover how to achieve this sense of connection that we yearn for with ourselves, with god, and with others. We connect with people we feel safe with, we feel seen by, we feel empathy from. We sense their light as a beacon to access our own light. We feel their connection with themselves, with god, with others, and it fuels and cultivates the fire of our doing the same in our lives.
THE ACHING IMPERATIVE
The recovery journey is one of the greatest examples that there is of the journey back to self, back to god, back home. In my noisy and sometimes raucous travels around the world, my need for solitude has hastened my escape to countless crevasses and small places, any place where I could close a door for a few minutes. Deep moments of spiritual reconnection have happened in bathroom stalls, closets, green rooms, and backseats (literally underneath the back seats at times, whatever was needed!)
But why connect? Why merge that drop of the ocean (us) back with the ocean itself (god/life)?
My thought is that it is to EXPERIENCE god. It is to experience this sense of oneness, to experience the nectar, the warmth, the light—the birthright of that. Perhaps it is our existential imperative to WANT to connect in this way, to experience the deepest love that is available to us. And evolve in our capacity to offer it and receive it—tangibly, palpably, experientially.
To me, hell on earth is the hate-spewing and horrific actings-out that can happen, in our worst moments, when we don’t feel connected to god, don’t feel connected to our fellow humans, and definitely, sadly, don’t in any way feel connected to ourselves. Sometimes that evokes empathy from me. Outright understanding. Especially when I have perspective on our pasts, our unique and often physically cold perspectives, the often painfully skewed survival-lenses we all look through.
Sometimes there is something we can do to help, and often there is absolutely nothing we can do. Sometimes, offering a hand or even a soft smile can make a difference … and sometimes, it just can’t. But the call to help—to alleviate suffering (my own and others’), to comfort, uplift, assuage, assure, validate, and empathize—is my reason to continue writing, creating, teaching, and speaking about relationships. Relationships are our great opportunities for healing and remembering the truth of who we really are, at our core—which in my mind is Goodness itself. God herself … made manifest in all of us.
My sense is that the degree to which this human experience tore us away from this essential truth is the same degree to which our behaviors, beliefs, and often harrowing actions (formed from such upbringings) tear us away from each other. Getting to the root, it is our beliefs that tear us away from a sense of connection with life: again, beliefs about our innate badness, yet also our separateness, scarcity, aloneness, hopelessness; beliefs we are subtly taught everywhere we look (television, sports, politics, newspapers, war, movies, magazines—and, yes, even songs, and even in so-called children’s books … don’t get me started)—that send subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle messages that keep us from each other, keep us from this sense of connection. Keep us from the truth of how inextricably linked we are.
It is in slowly turning these beliefs around, investigating them, un-earthing how they have been trying to help us stay alive, and then replacing them with “truer” ones that can return us to the truth of our connection. That can normalize our sweet and understandable cravings and needs for each other. And make way for the peace and sense of “rightness” that is felt when we experience these moments of connection.
This simply cannot happen soon enough.
For those of us who KNOW it, to return to it, again and again. For those of us who don’t know it, to continue stepping forward in brazen-blind-faith that it exists, regardless of our past experiences. And for those of us who have lost hope, for something searingly grace-tinged to stop us in our sweet-and-hopeless tracks. Because the pain is searing and the effects of our divisiveness is felt in the marrow of all our bones with every day that goes by, speaking lies about what we are doing together here on earth.
As we address our loss of a sense of connection with god, with each other, with our very own selves, the need to temporarily create the facsimile of this bliss of connection through our addictions slowly abates. Slowly and bravely investigating sets us up for the delightful outcome that is the certain outcome of this kind of work: the warmth we’ve been dying for to be had through other means—yet available now in sustainable ways, in ways that are life-affirming and longstanding and reliable.
REPAIRING STEP BY STEP…TOWARD OUR UNION MENDED
The tools for reconnection, relationship-building, and recovery (trauma recovery, addiction recovery, the recovery of the Self) that you have access to on my new site are greatly augmented and uplifted by the other core areas of focus found here, peppered throughout the whole site—spiritual practice, caring for the body/self-care, art as personal definition and expression, the divine feminine, and relationship growth and healing focus. All together, it is a gestalt of healing—an information nest, a trampoline for the soul, a smooch for the heart.
I’m a fan of focusing on functionalizing these relationships with Self, God and Others… so that slowly, slowly, we have more and more felt safety, so that we can begin to step out from our often frozen and defended stances we have (smartly) adopted throughout our lives. That we might let down our arms. That we might find that our bodies are less jacked and hurting. Focusing on recovery work of some kind every day or every week can help many of us stay the course as we walk home, together, step by step, back to the deep goodness that we have truly always been, and can now joyously reflect in each other… through intimacy that used to terrify us but slowly becomes the new and sacred normal.
Recommended Links: Please check here for access to some of the finest and most effective authors and teachers in the fields of addiction recovery and trauma recovery.