I’ve often heard it said in AA meetings that “the opposite of addiction is connection.” A phrase popularised in recent years by the writer and journalist Johann Hari. Thinking about my own experience of addiction and recovery I wholeheartedly agree with Hari’s assertion – connection is certainly an key antidote to the underlying isolation that often accompanies addiction.
I felt very disconnected and unloved as a teenager and started using alcohol and other drugs to try and connect with others and feel better about myself. In the long run I was just compounding my inner shame and low self-esteem. My behaviour while drinking was often anti-social and would cause others to reject me, instead of the acceptance that I desperately craved. My feelings of isolation and disconnection grew along with an increasingly poor self-concept. By the time I sought out recovery I was riddled with anxiety and depression. Suicidal thinking was a constant companion and my life felt meaningless.
The Principles of Authentic Connection – An Ideal for Recovery
The theme of isolation and disconnection has been around the ‘rooms’ of Alcoholics Anonymous for as long as I’ve been attending AA meetings, which is nearly 30 years. The ‘loneliness of alcoholism’ is very familiar to suffers and Johann Hari isn’t the first commentator to realise this characteristic. 12 Step meetings place great emphasis on ‘fellowship’ as an important means of connection and also strongly suggest that the principles contained within the ‘program’ facilitate a healthy relationship with self, others and ‘life’ – or, ‘that which is greater’.
For me, the principles inherent within 12-Step philosophy are about turning away or ‘practising the opposite’ of my self-centred sickness. The principles of honesty, humility, self-acceptance, love and service are the antidotes to my inner shame and its accompanying fear – they connect me in a healthy way to myself and others. My ego’s toxic shame and fear learned to defend itself in various unhelpful ways that disconnect me – addiction, anger, aggression, dishonesty, denial, false pride, inauthenticity and social withdrawal where my primary defense mechanisms.
My recovery process is about letting go of these unhealthy defenses and connecting with my underlying vulnerability. I need to honestly connect with and face my inner shame and fear. Truthful sharing, mutual identification, reaching out for support, and self-acceptance is the way to go I‘ve discovered.
The ‘core-conditions’ of empathy, non-judgemental acceptance and authenticity are vital to the sharing and recovery process. If I am going to heal from inner toxic shame and fear I need to find an environment that offers love, support and acceptance. When suffering from shame based feelings and a poor self-concept, which prevent self-love and compassion, I require love, support, and empathy from others in my efforts to love, support and accept myself, according to the Person-Centred theory. Read more @thefix.com