~ 2012 Form ~
Loneliness and Reaching Out
"I loved drugs!", an addict stated. Someone else says, "The drugs were my best and only friend!" For many of us, the drugs were the objects of our love. We wonder, "What will replace them?" Many of us have tried sex, work, and other obsessive-compulsive behaviors as replacements. These substitutes were as sick to us as the original relationship we sought to replace, the one between the drugs and ourselves. We learned in recovery that the relationship we need to work on is the one with a Higher Power.
Whenever we forget that this relationship is primary in the healing process, loneliness and confusion reign. If we are not feeling close to our Higher Power, we cannot feel close to other people. Emotional or physical isolation follows when we feel this lack of closeness. The solution is 'working the Steps.' We admit that we are powerless over our disease. As we recognize it in our lives, the resulting un-manageability and insanity become easily recognizable. We believe that sanity will return. We know that part of that sanity is a healthy interaction with others. We can make a decision today. We take positive action, like making a phone call, going to a meeting, and honestly sharing our feelings and our recovery. Commitment to taking positive steps with courage and trust help us. When we have faith that what worked for others will work for us, miracles happen.
As these recovery steps proceed, our fear and sense of vulnerability subsides. Doing the right thing sometimes feels risky or sure to fail. We learn to do the next right thing in spite of the fact that the fear is still present. Before long, we will recognize loneliness as a gentle nudging. It reminds us of our source of strength, the loving Fellowship of recovering addicts. It is the family known as Narcotics Anonymous. When we expose ourselves and discover love, acceptance, and understanding exactly as we are, we embrace our own humanity. Thus begins the journey of self-discovery. Not knowing and trusting ourselves caused much of our pain. We gain the knowledge that we are human because of interaction with other human beings.
We came to meetings and mustered all the willingness we could find to follow suggestions. Addicts who knew better pierced our armor of survival. Because they did this, we learned to take our armor off for ourselves. We are out of the war zone. They taught us what to do, how to share, how to live, and how to get along with others. They gave us all that they had to give. Eventually, we accepted their love and support and in time, we learned to give love back. For our willingness, we received truth, love, and compassion. We fought the fear in ourselves long enough to taste the freedom that was offered. There is not enough room inside of us for spiritual principles and the disease of addiction to co-exist. One or the other must dominate. We have learned that what determines the balance of power is free choice. We gradually change our actions to free ourselves. Everything we do in recovery is oriented towards changing and getting out of our self-obsession. Trust, honesty, and acceptance are all positive principles as well as learned behavior. We need to learn how to apply these principles. More importantly, we receive the knowledge that we won't die from trying! Rather, we may die from lack of trying!
We experience freedom from loneliness and in time it only returns occasionally. Trusting others, ourselves, a Higher Power, and the NA Program all involve a learning process. Sometimes life's events take us away from our sponsor, our home group, and our NA friends. Even with years clean, we can still feel like we are starting over in a new home. Other times we can move and feel quite at home in totally new surroundings. This Fellowship is quite a support system and is always available, no matter where life takes us. Sometimes during these life changes, the old fears return and grab us by the throat and pin us down again. We may continue to go to meetings and yet be unwilling to take the risks involved in starting new relationships. If we remain unwilling for too long, we will become lonely and miserable again. We fear pain therefore, we cover ourselves in that armor again. We learn from painful experience that hiding from pain causes more pain. Feeling lonely in meetings leads to mortal terror unless we let others into our lives. When we reach out for help, we will get it. The disease is always trying to herd us off to slaughter. Recovery provides us with all that we need. The choice is ours!
In recovery, we practice the strategy of surrender daily. Passively attending meetings may lead us to trust a coffeepot. The experience of reading or even sharing a little gives us a little more trust. We feel the positive force or energy in meetings and gatherings, before and after. Most of us believe that a loving and intelligent force is behind these feelings. We feel connected to the force and try to keep ourselves close to the comfort that it provides. Even after we become ‘experienced’ in surrendering to the Fellowship and a loving God, intimacy with others can seem threatening. Intimacy with those who understand us best is the only antidote for our guilt and shame. We seek solutions to loneliness by first asking another addict to sponsor us. As we work the Steps, we feel restored to humanity and sanity. We have no permanent solutions only daily reprieves. We have no way of resolving the churning, emotional, and internal conflicts that keep us on the run. Until we admit to another person the exact nature of what we want to change about ourselves, there is no relief in sight. The concept that we can change ourselves is new to us. Belief in the possibility often comes only after we see miraculous changes in other recovering addicts. This hope leads us to believe that we can change too.
An addict shared: "I drank alone. I did drugs alone. My closest friends and family members didn't know I had a problem. I didn't even know that I had a problem. Then one terrible, yet wonderful day, I bottomed out totally.
"It's easy to be with recovering addicts full of love, hope, and understanding in a room that is filled with spirituality to the point that you can feel the electricity in the air. That I still feel alone in my own head is a weird feeling. Still paranoid, I feel depraved and loathe myself. I have learned in NA through healthy thinking, that no matter whether mentally ill or just sick and alone in my own head, it's by choice. This is true every single day and in every single situation.
"How many times have I heard someone tell my story or express my thoughts when they shared how utterly disgusted and alone they felt? Why is it that we must reach this point of total desperation before we can reach out? Recovery allows us to make this admission before going that far.
"Reaching out is also reaching back. I let someone trust me even when I don't trust myself, yet. I allow someone to love and accept me, when I don't love myself or accept myself. Reaching out and reaching back is only a ‘good deed’ or a phone call away. Loneliness is only a footstep away, in the wrong direction. The journey begins in my mind with the decision to move towards you or away from you. In recovery, I no longer want to be alone yet I have difficulty in being close. You hug me when I don't want hugs and I hug you when you don't want hugs.
"I have learned the new word called sharing. It destroys loneliness. God blesses us all. I don't want to be alone anymore. I've shed tears for you because I understand and you've shed tears for me for the same reason. How dare you break down my walls of defense by loving and caring for me? These walls are the foundation of my disease. These walls begin to crumble when you teach me to love and care for you and myself, the stranger within and beside me. We have so much in common but are afraid to admit it."
Fear tricks us into believing that there is safety and security in isolation. Fear tells us that if we avoid other people, we are saving ourselves from unforeseeable yet predictable injury and harm. The reality is that we choose loneliness because of our fear. We choose to be alone and then we feel dejected and rejected because we are alone. "Take away the drugs and we're lonely," stated one addict. We crave sameness and predictability. Our self-centered thinking tells us that we can not fit in and that even if we could, it would not be worth the effort. Fearful and isolated, we believed that using provided us with a means of changing how we felt. We fear the results that come from practicing honesty, connecting with, and sharing with others. Fear of rejection can easily extinguish the initial spark of desire to risk intimacy. We may believe that we are unique in the physical, mental, and spiritual deterioration that the disease brought to our lives. Shameful and fearful of exposing these aspects of our experience to others, we do not realize yet that they are characteristics of addiction, not us. The loneliness, isolation, and degradation of active addiction are abundant and readily available if we choose them. There's not a specific place or situation that insures that we won't feel lonely. We feel trapped in self-obsession, encased in armor, surrounded by others, and alone in despair even in the midst of our family and friends. Many of us choose to suffer the familiar self-abuse and isolate rather than open ourselves up to others. Our disease uses the fear of rejection as well as acceptance from other people to keep us isolated. Trusting people was not a realistic option for many of us when we first got clean. Years of ‘living the lie’ left us with only one way of seeing life through disease-tinted lenses. Our spiritual condition far more than our physical location affects the feelings of loneliness.
One addict shared: "It didn't take long for loneliness to creep into my life after I came to NA. I had put down the dope and then I had to stay away from everybody from my past. I knew that this was the only way that I could ever get a life. It took some time to establish new relationships in the Fellowship and there was a lot of loneliness in between."
Loneliness sometimes begins with the subtle feeling of boredom and discomfort. Next, we focus on what is lacking in our lives, instead of on what we have. We then tell ourselves that we probably don't deserve the love of others because no one could love us anyway. Wallowing in the depths of our self-pity, we then find it easy to justify our escape through isolation and compulsive behaviors. In the span of a few short moments, we can find ourselves going from feeling a little bored into a full-blown self-destructive mindset. This is how insidious our disease can be! We must remain vigilant!
The Twelve Steps of Narcotics Anonymous teach us how we can stop our diseased thinking and turn our situations around. We first recognize what we are doing and admit powerlessness over our diseased reactions to the situation. Next, we find hope that we can get better and surrender our self-centered thinking to the God of our understanding. If we need to write down our thoughts, we do. Then we call someone or go to a meeting and talk about how we're feeling. We admit the exact nature of our wrongs. Usually, our behaviors harm us the most but we may harm others as well. After we honestly look at the scope and magnitude of our diseased thinking, we become willing to change at a much deeper level than we anticipated. With humility, we ask God for help. We try to repair the damage done to anyone that we may have harmed, including ourselves. We forgive anyone that we think harmed us.
Finally, we apply love to the situation. As recovering addicts in Narcotics Anonymous, we not only have more love today than when using, we have more love than most of the people we know. We need not expect rejection or fear injuring others as we practice the principles of forgiveness and making amends. We've gained the freedom to feel human again. We are ‘a part of’ because we can now right any wrongs that we make along the way. ‘We’ is truly one of the miracles of NA!
One addict shared: "Through staying clean and working the Steps, I have learned to reach out to deal with my loneliness when the need arises. The problem seems to be in the level of true intimacy I have with other people, even those that I consider to be the closest to me. When I am feeling pain or fear, it becomes easier because I am more aware of the need for relief and strength.
"Lies, acts of violence, emotional abuse, and physical neglect destroyed the security of my world when I was a small child. This left me to learn how to survive the best way that I could. I was once told that there was nothing wrong with me, I just thought there was. Through working the Fourth Step, I was able to examine and expose these destructive patterns of survival. By dealing with those patterns in the succeeding Steps, I found that I could change and I could overcome difficult obstacles to my recovery."
In Narcotics Anonymous, we learn to expect that we will lose most of what was once familiar to us. After we use some of the suggestions introduced to us, we find that our hiding place is gone. We left our best friend behind - the one in the bags and the bottles. Soon we experience something that has always been there but seems new, loneliness. At first, we're so unaware that we don't even understand what emotions we are feeling. We are afraid of feeling anything. Everything both inside and outside of us seems confusing. At times, we think that this new way of life will kill us. Inside we're dying but pride, fear, and our disease prevents us from interacting with others. We're used to being alone whether around people or not. The only difference is that we had the drugs to cover it up in the past.
One addict's experience strength and hope: "For thirty years, I hurt others and myself and I got good at it. I went to extremes. By hurting others, I allowed others to hurt me. Why can't I forget the pain? My misery loves company. It's a game that we can't forget or stop. It's the game of 'I hurt' so I must strike out to hurt first. To kill my pain, I used drugs. I don't forget how much I was hurt and because I've been hurt, I know how to hurt. Since I hurt a lot, I don't care who I hurt.
"For thirty years, I didn't care who, what, or where I hurt. Self-will runs riot! My only friend was any drug that would alter my mood. After thirty years of having no real friends, I don't know how to be a friend. I feel caught in a trap, alone, hurt, doomed, and isolated. The small yet negative support group that I did have was dying from drugs.
"I'm scared. Fear is a hell of a motivator. I'm desperate and I have to do something. My ass is on fire. I came to the rooms of NA highly motivated. I am desperate. It took time for me to realize that many different things had to come into play.
"After coming to the rooms of NA for four years, a dozen relapses, and ass-whippings, I had to take suggestions because I have a desire to stop using and find a new way of life. Getting a sponsor, making meetings, accepting a power greater than I am, working the Steps, and listening are some of the things that I do today. Moreover, with the help of NA, I have learned to accept the problem. I surrender, have faith in a power greater than I am, and think the situation through. Then I can draw a line between what is right and what is wrong. I live through the situation and if it works, I can do it again! Within this process, I learned how to be a friend to myself, therefore, I can be a friend to somebody else."
Realizing that life is actually what we really want, we accept that the only way to achieve this is by learning to be a friend. We begin by being a friend to ourselves and not picking-up to hide our loneliness any longer. We find ourselves at meetings, instead of going to other places where we no longer belong. Sitting there, we identify ourselves as addicts and hope that a little of what these other people have just might rub off on us. Most of us lost sight of our need for people and believed that we were unable to communicate with others. Unable to accept ourselves, we found ourselves wondering why anyone else would want us around. Our disease does its best work in our heads and when we feel alone it can be difficult to get through it. We tell ourselves that nobody wants to hear anything that we have to say. We fear opening up to others because we think we are such a mess that if we talk about how we feel, others will certainly know it too. Rather than deal with the anticipated rejection, we taught ourselves ways of keeping people at a distance. It all seemed to come so naturally to us. This disease says, "Anyone who is the least bit nice must have something wrong with them. They only are nice because they are supposed to be." Our pride says, "Stand on your own, you don't need anybody. You didn't come here to be somebody's friend. You're just here to get clean."
Dealing with people may be a new concept for us when we are new to recovery. How do we learn to do this? Certainly not alone, we tried that one. In Narcotics Anonymous, we have a chance to lose the desire to use and lose our old patterns of thinking as well. Loneliness is a state of mind. We go about the business of living. NA is not just about stopping our drug use. It is about caring, loving, and understanding. We all have the same problems. In our groups, we learn to open up and begin to understand other people. We learn to help, care for, and trust others. We can do this, even though we locked our problems deep inside because we thought that nobody cared.
One addict shared: "I drew on drugs to release my mind from my problems or to get the courage to say something to someone. I felt that I was the only person who didn't know how to deal with hurt, being alone, being sad, or happy. Not knowing how to deal with these feelings, I push anyone away who cares for me. I couldn't open up with people that I just couldn't trust. This is mainly because I didn't know how. Because of this, I was always by myself. I was alone and I was lonesome and scared.
"Through NA, I have learned to deal with my addiction and problems. I learned there are people with whom I can open up. People who really care about me! In return, I have grown to care for anyone who needs to talk to someone. I feel for them whatever their problem may be. Because of NA, there has been a great change in my life. I have friends, real friends. I'm not alone now, no matter what time of day or night. Through NA, I can say aloud that I'm scared, hurt, or lonely and that I feel for you. Without the use of drugs today, I love others as well as myself. Today I live life, one on one, one day at a time."
We look around us and notice other lonely people. We make a point of reaching out and helping them know we care about what happens with them. This pro-active role identifies us as someone who is approachable and friendly. Before long, people are calling us on the phone. They are actually happy when they see us. This approach and these results continue together.
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Reprinted from the
N.A. FELLOWSHIP USE ONLY
Copyright © December 1998
Victor Hugo Sewell, Jr.
NA Foundation Group
6685 Bobby John Road Atlanta, GA 30349 USA
All rights reserved. This draft may be copied by members of Narcotics Anonymous for the purpose of writing input for future drafts, enhancing the recovery of NA members and for the general welfare of the Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship as a whole. The use of an individual name is simply a registration requirement of the Library of Congress and not a departure from the spirit or letter of the Pledge, Preface or Introduction of this book. Any reproduction by individuals or organizations outside the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous is prohibited. Any reproduction of this document for personal or corporate monetary gain is prohibited.