The Paradox of Loneliness in AddictionMarch 05, 2017
Mary R., Crossroads Volunteer Recovery Blogger
Addicts are lonely…and don’t even know it.
As a recovering alcoholic, having just celebrated four continuous years of sobriety (a MIRACLE in itself, after a 40-year drinking career), I would like to tell you that my disease took me into the depths of loneliness like nothing I could have imagined possible. After all, during the last two decades of my drinking, the vast majority of it was something I did alone. The last two years, 100 percent alone. I had to, for I couldn’t possibly let you see how I really drank. That would surely have tarnished the polished image of myself I so needed you to see. You may have thought I was right there with you, but, in the words of Duane Hopwood (in the movie of the same name), “I (sic) had gone away, into that place between myself (sic) and the next drink. That’s where I lived. Everywhere else, I was only visiting.” I fooled you, or so I thought. You thought I was there, connected to you. But in reality, I had isolated myself emotionally (all the time) and physically (much of the time) from any truly meaningful human contact. My best friend, alcohol, was my constant companion.
That’s Paradox #1: In my complete isolation from other people I never felt alone because I was with or soon to be with my pal, booze. Drinking, thinking about drinking, planning my next drink, stocking up, never running out, hiding. It was a full-time job and I guess it didn’t give me time to feel lonely. I was a busy woman!
Now comes Paradox #2: When I had at last become tired and exhausted by that sick relationship with alcohol, when I wanted to kick him to the curb and say “good riddance”….I couldn’t let him go. Like the victim of a cycle of abuse, I wanted more of what I knew was killing my body, sickening my soul. I’d kick him out (detox) and take him back (pick up). Over and over, and over and over. Because without him, I couldn’t bear the loneliness. Nothing could take his place, so I went back for more of what made me feel connected and whole. It was a lie. My disease just wanted me alone so he could kill me. But I bought the lie and loved him just the same.
Addicts are lonely…and we can’t really explain it.
Yes, the disease of addiction is insidious and hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t been there. I recently moved to a new town and my mother asked me if I was meeting new people and making friends. Not wanting to tell her that the only new people with whom I really felt connected were in AA, I told her I was treading lightly in making social plans with people in the area because so many of them drink -- a lot. My mother replied: “Oh honey, you can have fun without drinking, can’t you?” Arrrgggghhhhhh! I said, “Oh, mom, of course I can!” But what I really wanted to say was: “Don’t you GET IT! Do you think I drank because it was FUN? It wasn’t fun. It was my job. I HAD to drink or I would shake violently and become very sick. I HAD to drink to combat boredom, anxiety and depression. Drinking was my “normal.” I didn’t have a choice. It’s just what I did!” I wanted to tell her that a social drink for HER is an activity that connects her to friends and family, a social lubricant as they say. I wanted to tell her there was nothing social about my drinking, ever. It was something I wanted to ultimately do alone, and I LIKED it that way. How do you explain that!
A good friend of my died this week. I can’t explain this, either. A professional man, father of two beautiful children. A talented musician. A good-looking guy who could light up a room with his smile. They found him alone, at home, at his desk, with a crack pipe and a line of coke. Just another morning, getting ready for the day. The last time I saw him we were in the same hair salon getting our hair cut. We exchanged pleasantries; he looked great. But I’d heard he was struggling. He died, isolated from people, with his companions of choice. A heartbreaking, gut-wrenching tragedy. I’ll miss Brian, as he is laid to rest this afternoon.
Addicts are lonely…and we can’t fill the hole.
Clearly, although he looked okay the last time I saw him, Brian was back in that hole. That dark, deep, illusory loneliness we keep hidden as we seek vainly and repeatedly to fill it with an aching, twisted longing for drugs or alcohol.
Gabor Mate, MD, has written a superb and compassionate book which offers powerful insight into the disease of addiction. The book is called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. One of the Buddhist realms on the wheel of life, the mandala, is the hungry ghost realm. Its inhabitants “are depicted as creatures with scrawny necks, small mouths, emaciated limbs and large, bloated, empty bellies. This is the domain of addiction, when we constantly seek something outside ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfillment. The aching emptiness is perpetual because the substances we hope will soothe it are not what we really need. We don’t know what we need, and so long as we stay in the hungry ghost mode, we’ll never know. We haunt our lives without being fully present.” (In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, p.1)
In recovery….the loneliness WILL vanish!
Like so many, I could well have remained that lonely, haunting, hungry ghost. But I guess I hung around the rooms of AA long enough for some simple ideas to stick in my complicated mind. They told me to keep coming back, and I’m glad I did. The loss of my friend Brian this week reminds me of the most important things I need to do in recovery every day: DON’T PICK UP, NO MATTER WHAT. GO TO A MEETING. CALL ANOTHER ALCOHOLIC. READ AA LITERATURE. PRAY. Five simple things. Five things that keep me connected in body and spirit to my AA fellows and a Higher Power. Five things I do as an insurance policy against relapse. Five things that protect me from isolation. Five things that have taught me how to live a life filled with meaning, purpose and gratitude in harmony with people as they are and with the world as it is. Just for today, I’ll try to do it again.
Today, I don’t have to haunt my own life. I no longer seek companionship in the bottle. I no longer cut myself off from meaningful, loving human relationships. I have a host of friends both inside and outside the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, and I can answer “Yes Mom! I DO have fun without drinking.” In fact, I am having more fun as a sober woman than I had ever dreamed was possible. The insufferable loneliness that I couldn’t even feel through my alcoholic haze is GONE. And that is the promise of staying clean and sober and working the Twelve Steps. I promise it to each and every one of you!
Blessings in sobriety to all. It works if you work it!
About the Author:
Mary R. is a wife, mother, daughter, retired business owner and recovering alcoholic who relocated to southwest Florida from Ohio. As a person in recovery, she writes from the heart and shares her strength, hope and experience with others so that they too may recover from the prison of addiction. Her sobriety is strongly engrained in the belief that "you can't keep it unless you give it away." When not volunteering for David Lawrence Center or actively participating in 12-step meetings, you can find her living her life in recovery to its fullest potential playing tennis, traveling, or trying out a new recipe with family and friends.