How Connection Saves Us from Addiction
by Z Zoccolante
Humans suffer most when we lack connection. Take, for example, Tom Hanks with his volleyball, Wilson, in the movie “Cast Away.” I was distraught when he lost Wilson and cried as though my personal friend had drowned at sea.
We will force connection with inanimate objects, if we must, because we’re hardwired to crave it, to need it.
In our search for connection, addiction can derail us. It’s able to seduce smart, kind, and rational people because it plays perfectly to our virtuous desire. At the underbelly of addiction lies our original search for connection.
The truth shows that addiction inevitably ruins relationships. It becomes another person in our lives, one with whom we must share time and attention. It steals our focus and keeps us from being fully present.
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We find ourselves at coffee, with our best friend Sue, but thinking about our eating disorder “Lillie,” or “Tom,” our whiskey addiction. Coffee time turns into spun fantasies with our destructive “friends.”
As we fantasize about our addiction, we create a relationship with it and a parallel life begins to form. Soon, we’ve developed a love affair with “Lillie” or “Tom.”
But addiction always lies. Behind the first seduction, when we’ve been reeled in and its talons have broken skin, we see its true face. So often, we’re heartbroken to realize that it’s never been our friend. It’s never been our savior. Addiction has never provided the connection we longed for.
But we’re already hooked, and the anger of being duped doesn’t stop us from continuing the destructive relationship. So we enter a dance of push and pull, of repulsion and seduction, of abstinence and orgy.
At the time of my eating disorder’s seduction at fifteen, I stayed up late watching “La Femme Nikita.” I was drawn into her world because she’d been taken from her life and forced to work for an underground organization. (As a kid I wanted to be a ninja.) I connected with her detachment from the real world, her secrecy, and how her only friend, Michael, consistently played a game of loyalty and betrayal.
Nikita couldn’t have any normal friends because she was perpetually paranoid of spies. She also couldn’t tell anyone the truth about her life.
The strong connection I felt to Nikita and her fantasy world was beginning to exist in my real life. My eating disorder consistently forced me into secrecy and isolation, while convincing me she was a friend who acted in my best interests. For a long time, I believed her.
What Nikita’s world taught me was that secrets make us hide. They force us into a place of shadow, where we’re at coffee with Sue, but our thoughts are a million miles away.
Since we’re designed for connection, but addictions keep us apart, it becomes vital that we address these addictions.
The trite response might tell us to say no to the addiction, but that’s like preaching abstinence, a great idea that doesn’t always work.
Besides, addiction doesn’t slap us in the face and say, “Hey, I’ve chosen you and I’m gonna ruin your life! Let me come in.” It’s seductive and deceiving. It makes you want it and think that you’re in control, until you’re not.
A more viable message is to hold our eyes open
and see the addiction for what it really is.
When I was finally in the hospital for my eating disorder, they said something that caught me like a Venus flytrap:
“The eating disorder is not your friend.
It’s trying to kill you.
And if it succeeds, you’ll be dead.”
Way to blow the seductive notion of my best friend/addiction.
We must not let our addictions remain secret because they cost us too much. They cost us the thing we crave most — connection with others. We must bring them into the light of honesty and love so we can heal.
If you struggle with an addiction that steals your focus, or joy, or gets in the way of your relationships, don’t keep it a secret. Find someone safe to share that secret with. Take the steps to heal and rebuild your life. It’s possible. You can do it. There are people who will support you. And yes, it’s worth it.
*first published on Psych Central