In the United States, self-sufficiency and individualism are the pinnacles of achievement. They are the cornerstones of our society. Often, we hear people described as “self-made” with a certain amount of awe. We are taught, in school and in society, that people who “pull themselves up by the boot-straps” are to be lionized.
This can lead to people who need help hesitating to ask. For people living with addiction and mental illness, this can be particularly dangerous. Instead of seeking the support we need, we often find ourselves thinking that we should be able to recover on our own. When we fail or stumble, we find ourselves thinking that we are weak or unworthy.
The truth is, very few people recover from addiction or mental illness on their own. Human beings are social animals. We need to connect with others in order to lead healthy lives. This is very true for people seeking to achieve long-lasting sobriety.
Health Consequences of Isolation
According to Clifford Singer, MD, isolation, and loneliness can be a factor in several physical and mental illnesses. When we lack social interaction, whether perceived or actual, our bodies produce higher levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol helps us fight physical fatigue, balance metabolism, as well as reducing inflammation and promoting healing and assisting in cognitive functions like memory. Higher continuous levels have been linked to various cancers. When we have people in our lives to whom we feel connected, it helps the body return to more normal cortisol production and use.
People without close personal relationships also run a higher risk of developing depression or dementia. Again, cortisol affects how the brain used serotonin, a chemical that affects mood and memory.
While in active addiction, we often find ourselves isolated from those we love and who love us. Maybe it comes from shame or it might be that our behavior has led people to “cut us off.” In many cases, people deep in their illness only or mostly surround themselves with others living their own addiction. The interaction is often strictly functional, meaning, we get together to buy or sell our drugs or justify our addiction. It becomes a cycle in which people living with addiction isolate and the isolation reinforces the addiction which then loops back to the beginning.
When we are using, many of us might develop inappropriate or unhealthy relationships to combat our loneliness. Because our judgment is often impaired, we might find ourselves victims of domestic and sexual violence. Maybe, we have unprotected sex resulting in sexually transmitted infections or unplanned pregnancies.
Because both addiction and isolation can reduce self-esteem, we might start thinking that this is “as good as it gets” or that we somehow deserve to be alone or trapped in a hazardous relationship.
Asking for help becomes harder and harder the longer we go without social and intimate support. Our communication skills atrophy. Our belief in a better life diminishes. The stigma of our disease combined with the stigma of asking for help keeps many people in addiction active in their illness for far longer than needed.
Asking for and Accepting Help
The single most important thing an addict can do when they decide to return to the world of healthier choices and sobriety is to humbly accept the fact that they are not alone. There are people out there who not only can but desperately want to help. We need to convince ourselves that we are worthy of redemption. Yes, the hard work, the daily choices, and struggles are ours alone. We have to choose not to use, but we do not have to go through it alone. It sounds contradictory but while it is the individual’s decision to use or not, having people around who have gone through the struggle, people who understand the mental and physical fight addicted people face daily increases our chances of successful recovery. Our support system does not take control of our sobriety. They are there to encourage, to commiserate and to strength the decisions we make on our own.
In treatment, many people learn for the first time in a long time that they are valuable people. They also re-learn how to be members of a community that does not rely on drugs or alcohol to function. Much of treatment, whether in-patient or out, involves learning skills in how to be part of a world we might have only faded memories of or forgotten about completely.
Deciding to return to a healthier life is difficult. It is humbling and leaves us feeling vulnerable. But it is also a sign of strength. Flying in the face of social training and thinking that tells us we are weak for needing help takes courage and incredible fortitude. We are people and people need people.
Are you tired of the shallow life of addiction? Are you ready to discover a world in which you are powerful and in control? At Fort Worth Recovery, we have people who can help you not only build the bridge to sobriety but cross it and keep going. Call us today at 844.332.1807.