Words: Steven Washington
It happens gradually. Sometimes imperceptibly. The world gets smaller and smaller as we retreat into the habits, feelings, thoughts, and places that feel “safe” — comfortable in the old-shoe sort of way. Loss, trauma, and pain of all kinds can initiate the gradual separation that erodes the connection between ourselves and others. For those in addiction, the isolation can easily move to extremes.
No matter how the pattern begins, isolation and addiction go hand in hand. The addicted person wants nothing more than to be alone with the thing that they are addicted to, the substance or behavior. It’s almost like having an itch that we can’t help but scratch. Through the process of isolation, the world of the addicted person becomes smaller and smaller until they are separate and alone in the ways that allow them to continue using.
In my days of drinking, I would commiserate with others at bars or parties, but I couldn’t wait to get home and drink with impunity. I often hear others describe the same or similar behavior when they are active in their addiction.
Here are some recovery tools that can be effective ways to avoid isolation and increase communion with others. Try them and see if they have a positive impact on your life.
“Loss, trauma, and pain of all kinds can initiate the gradual separation that erodes the connection between ourselves and others”.
Call It Out
Naming what you are feeling is an effective way to reduce and regulate the emotions that arise within. There is power in calling out difficult feelings. Suppressing emotions never provides positive results. The feelings get pushed down temporarily and eventually express themselves in negative and unhelpful ways. Naming your dominant emotions is empowering. It allows you to take more control and ownership over your circumstances and moves you toward actions that can transform how you feel. Take a moment right now to check in with yourself; take inventory of your current emotional state. If you are feeling isolated, lonely, or any other heavy emotion, call it out. Make a regular practice of acknowledging your feelings.
Set an Intention to Connect
An intention guides our actions to achieve a certain outcome. To move away from isolation, set an intention to connect more with other people. That’s all. Every morning, without knowing exactly what you will do, set that intention, which has the power to inspire and guide your actions. Perhaps you will make a phone call, attend a support group meeting, arrange a coffee date with a friend or loved one, or send a heartfelt email. The specifics don’t really matter. By reinforcing our intention to connect, we help keep ourselves on track to transform our life when we feel nervous, self-conscious, or afraid to move beyond our comfort zone. If you want to have meaningful exchanges with others, deepen your relationships, and feel more connected to humanity, take a few deep breaths and set that intention now. From there you will naturally find ways to do so over time.
Actively Seek Social Connections
Sometimes, when we feel lonely or isolated, we expect or hope that other people will notice and reach out to us. But it is important to take the initiative and reach out first. Don’t wait for someone else to make contact. Be proactive and contact them. Taking action, all by itself, can change how we feel. An old recovery slogan that captures this dynamic is “You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking.” Paradoxically, the friendship, fellowship, and connection that we abandon when isolating is all we need to solve the problem. Each of these can be found and cultivated in various ways. What worked best for me as I was getting sober were recovery meetings. They made it possible for me to interact and connect with people who were on a similar journey. As I listened to their stories, I regained strength and hope and gathered information about what I could do next to further break out of the cycle of isolation that I had lived with for so long.
Randee beautifully described to me what it was like when she first started attending meetings:
Well, it’s funny because I felt like I was in a room where I didn’t know the language. I was trying to be hip, slick, and cool in the room. I was trying to say something that would make me stand out as somebody who is worthy of attention and friendship, but I didn’t know the language. You know? And that was the thing — when I finally got into the program, I knew the language. I was in a meeting the other day and some person said, “Well, I have four days.” I know that language now. I know exactly what that means — four days. Oh my God. Take a moment now to decide how you will reach out if you are feeling isolated or lonely. Decide if you will search for a recovery meeting, whether in-person or online. Or decide which person you will call or write to. Taking action and making contact will certainly help you, and it may help someone else.
Move Your Body
Feelings of isolation and loneliness are intertwined with overall well-being. When people become entrenched in prolonged cycles of loneliness, they tend to create a very small world for themselves without much physical activity. According to the Mayo Clinic, lack of physical activity can lead to PHILOSOPHY yogamagazine.com 67
facebook.com/official.yogamag depression and anxiety as well as a host of other health problems. On the other hand, consistent exercise combats all these things. It doesn’t just help improve high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis — it improves our mood, reduces stress, and minimizes loneliness and depression. In general, I encourage you to regularly incorporate physical activity of all kinds into your life. Take a moment now to create a list of two or three activities that you enjoy and can envision doing daily or at least several times per week. Then set realistic goals that incorporate more movement in a gradual way. Deciding to go to the gym seven days a week, when you don’t go at all now, isn’t a good way to start. For instance, after work, simply go for an extended walk to take your mind off your worries and increase the opportunity to have social interactions with other people. Don’t underestimate the power of a friendly smile, a wave, or a shared hello with someone in your neighborhood. This alone can momentarily lift you out of loneliness and isolation.
Practice the Power of Touch
Yet another way to break free from isolation is through bodywork. As a trained massage therapist, I’ve witnessed the power of touch and know its ability to dissolve emotional and energetic walls. When living an isolated life, people not only lose emotional contact with others, but they lose the nurturing and caring physical contact others provide. The power of touch can do so much to help us remember that we’re not alone. There is tenderness and support available to us right there on a massage table. Self-massage practices can be effective for this, too, but I also recommend finding a skilled bodyworker or massage therapist in your local area. Ask your friends and family for referrals, which are often a good and safe place to begin.