The Addict and the Isolation

There was a time in the not so distant past that the meaning of relationship went hand in hand with sobriety, the understanding of which was the deep and abiding necessity of life. Most of us were unable to create any meaningful connections with others and took counsel only from our own thoughts. We learned that our thoughts were not to be trusted, and were created by experiences that led us into addiction in the first place. Healing was slow and not so steady with many a comforting hand on our shoulder to guide us back from our self inflicted detours. There was always a shoulder to cry on, someone would always be on the other end of the phone.

Over our first years of attaining life saving awareness we were taught we needed each other, but it was difficult to give up what we thought of as our independence. We learned that our best thinking got us into a whole world of trouble and saw it clearly when examining our past deeds.  We were hammered, cajoled and loved into believing that keeping to ourselves was dangerous, but it was a hard fought battle to live with tribal consensus rather than our own opinions.

We finally got that isolation led to all sorts of relapse issues, from food to drugs to sex and relationships, anything that might even faintly smelled of addiction.   We found out, sometimes the hard way that recovery’s greatest enemy is isolation. Some knew it well and explored the terrain intimately, others thought they had that under control and became lost to us. As we grew older and wiser in recovery we came to believe we should never trust our heads. We understood tribal consensus was the only way for us.

We were surprised and confused when we were told to shelter in place. A little disoriented as body language hid behind a mask. No more hugs for awhile, no more gathering at half time to see friends anymore. But we knew it would only be for a short time. As weeks became months some of us realized some of our old behaviors were showing up.

The world we once knew has vanished in a very short period of time. This “new normal” is an isolationists dream to the same degree it has become nightmare. Just think, permission; no not even that. It is almost the law to social distance in these days of pandemic. Today a sneeze on the street cuts a wide swath in public, almost like the parting of the Red Sea for those who wish to walk alone. It looks as if getting ‘back to normal’ is not an option. At the time of this writing it’s actually against the law to be mask-less and to ignore social distancing in some regions. In one country a $27,000 dollar fine and a prison sentence can be levied against anyone refusing to comply. Here at home and in most of the North American continent there is a certain sense of entitlement, when you add and stir addict thinking into the mix it is easy to understand why it is so difficult to mitigate the disease.

Let’s take a closer look  and see why isolation has become so dangerous in the time of Covid-19 and beyond.

There are many definitions and meanings of isolation, probably as many as there is human beings on this planet. To some it is the most comfortable place to be, owing nothing to anyone but oneself. Responsible only to our experience of how comfortable it is to not be accountable to anyone but self. Romantic ideation of isolation is used as fertile imaginations look for a novel way of defending it. For instance, isolationists are attracted to the persona of the ‘lone wolf’, needing no one, speaking only when necessary. A Clint Eastwood type riding out of town slowly into the sunset with steely squinting eyes a cheroot hanging from the corner of his mouth. Or a spiritual guru, meditating while pushing others away with their metaphysical and other worldly demeanor. I will leave you to add to the list. Others can be fooled quite easily into thinking they are not isolating but are doing their part to save the world. A good one is sending kids back to school because there mental health will deteriorate without the stimulus of other kids. A half truth really, again I will let you fill in the blanks here again, but the point is the justifications are endless!

In Pre Covid times it was difficult to isolate. There would be phone calls, texts, and even a banging on the door. Becoming clean was such a tribal exercise that it was hard to be on the fringe. Through our own experience with relapse we found it to be true and usually gave up our incessant hiding out with the blinds closed and doors locked. We jumped in and became one of the door crashers ourselves, firmly coming to believe it was the right way. But underneath, where addiction waits, a yearning for aloneness never is truly vanquished. It was too hard sometimes to be observed and told how to be and what to do. We never did learn to use our voices. People pleasing was still a way to get the world off your back.

We start our exploration here, probably in isolation. Many of us work from home now and admittedly it took time, but we did become very comfortable with working in our pajama bottoms while conducting zoom business meetings dressed for business from the waist up. We found that not driving or taking transit was not only money saving, it was just plain better than having to wear your public face all day every day. The sleeping Dragon opened one eye.

In the beginning not going out to be with Tribe was a novelty. Zoom meetings got easier and smoother to attend. You still went to the same number of meetings except you didn’t have to find parking anymore. There were meetings all over the continent. You found yourself attending speaker meetings in Wisconsin, and Big Book studies in New York. You felt connected in your disconnectedness. You can tell your tribe (on line) that your attending a meeting every day. What a great way to get your sponsor off your back. The Dragon opened the other eye.

You know yourself much better now. It bubbled into your consciousness that you were fooling yourself. But with no tribe around to agree you rationalized that as well. This is just a holiday, it won’t last long, everyone has to do this so I think I’ll just bake another loaf of bread. You do your Stepwork online. You talk to your sponsor, you do notice however you’re not talking about the awakening Dragon. You recognize that your manipulating yourself, creating a new reality, but it’s based on old behavior. Is that enough to put the Dragon back to sleep? Let’s leave this speculation now. From here on in it can morph into any direction. Pick one. Ask yourself the following questions, and answer them truthfully:

Is your sense of belonging beginning to fray?   Y[   ]   No[   ]

Do you find yourself getting used to sheltering in place?   Y[   ]   N[   ]

Have you lied to others?  Y[   ]   N[   ]

Have you lied by omission? Y[   ]   N[   ]

Does it feel awkward talking mask to mask at the grocery store?   Y[   ]   N[   ]

Do you privately worry about isolation? Y[   ]   N[   ]

Can you feel the hot breath of the Dragon?         

The Honour of Payback

I had the honor of holding the door open to the other side for both my mom and my dad. Dad was terrified of the thought of living without His wife of 68 years, and in her last days on this plane Mom wore a haunted expression of one that is aware of her imminent leaving.

As the only child it was up to me alone to learn how to assist them to their respective continuation days. The question was how could I hold the door open for them when I was so full of fear myself?

I missed my parents even before they left. In the bliss of euphoric recall my childhood took on a golden glow of unshakeable care for what seemed like forever. I knew nothing else, I didn’t know there was anything else until much, much later. There was always a place to go home to, no matter that I never did. Just the thought of the support back there was enough to sustain me through the bad times far from home.
Of course I knew intellectually this family relationship was far from perfect, that would have been a fairytale. Relationships are messy and uncomfortable , we were no different than billions of other families but it was happening in my family now.
We all grieve in respect for
our cultural norms. I began to feel like an orphan even before the process began. The thought that they could no longer save me from myself was a shock . I came to that realization with a sick feeling on a chilly midnight, sitting in the pharmacy with my pyjama top tucked into my jeans.

The phone had shrilled on my bedside table and I woke already sitting up. Midnight calls are like air raid sirens. They strike terror into a heart that knows even at rest what
it ‘s waiting for, it’s purely visceral. Of course it was my dad asking me to go and pick up an emergency prescription for mom. His voice was quivering from exhaustion and fear. It was hard being a caregiver at his age. Being the only child made us a caregiving team, looking after a stubborn mom who refused to go into a care home. She knew she would never come out again. It was a death watch and the three of us knew it.
I was impatient as I sat waiting in the all night pharmacy. It was all about me. I watched the night people eying me, gauging my possible receptivity for a handout. I glared at them and they skittered away. Then as I settled in to wait for my mother’s drugs I realized I was a grown up.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I could make a living amends to them both right now!! Payback for all the pain I had thoughtlessly caused them throughout my life. I could honour them, take responsibility and smooth the way for them. Be the one they could lean on instead of the other way around. Suddenly the self pity melted away. Who cares if I’m tired at work tomorrow! This is the miracle! In one instant my whole attitude changed. I would be a tower of strength for them.
It was a spiritual awakening sitting in a hard plastic chair with glaring fluorescents accentuating the dingy floor. I am an adult child! Who would have ever thought!