Perhaps nothing can be as isolating as the disease of addiction. While often one’s path to addiction is littered with attempts at social inclusion or seeking a sense of belonging or in-group to associate with, the truth is that one’s battle with addiction begins as solely their own. From the start, there is a sense of being “different than”, “separate from” or “not measuring up to” others, or their expectations. This can quickly escalate to any number of painful experiences and almost always to a learned condition of loneliness and isolation.
People who find themselves actively using substances to cope with depression, anxiety, and stressful situations do so to avoid their feelings – and reality. Often, it is the only problem-solving skill they know, and time and time again, they will repeat the pattern. Perhaps they fear that if they “get clean” they will have to own up to that one thing that happened in the past. Or they’ve tried to sober up before, and they’re embarrassed by their failed attempt.
They live in fear, denial, and guilt. Whether they actively withdraw from others in attempt to avoid the often-painful experience of participating in human relationships, or subconsciously act out their fear-coated-anger, and act in verbally and emotionally abusive ways, virtually producing the same effect.
Although there are many paths to addiction, one thing is clear: Addiction thrives on shame. Further, the power of shame in an addict’s life is cyclical and produces a never-ending pattern that perpetuates the need for any sort of “numbing” behavior to take away the pain. Researcher and Professor Brené Brown has this to add, "If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment..” How tempting it is to believe the lies that you are alone, that no one cares what happens to you, or that there is no hope. How tempting to allow that shame from slipping up again to drive you into isolation from those who love you most.
But Brown goes on to add, “If you put the same amount of shame in a petri dish and douse it with empathy, it cannot survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too”.
This is why we believe in the power of a recovery community and not just another recovery program. We are not meant to do it alone, and the moment we believe that we can, we become vulnerable to the same patterns that led us into our addiction. However, within the context of supportive relationships and empathetic others, true healing can begin its work. This is the mission of The Augustine, and from our conception, we have been aware of the power of human connection, from sharing our story, and actively participating in recovery, together.
As allies and recovering addicts, treatment professionals and families, we need to end our provision of safety nets and discontinue enabling behaviors that reinforce addict and alcoholic ways of isolation and disengagement. We need to lead them back to their roots: their craving for connection, and to replace the lies they have cemented with new truth, “you are not alone, we are here for you, and there is hope”.
These beliefs are the cornerstone of our recovery movement, and make up the foundation of the environment we have established, meant to rewire the function of community in the lives of those we aim to serve. This is the power of community.