Everyone feels a little bit lonely from time to time. We discussed this briefly in our article on HALT (Hunger, Anger, Loneliness and Tiredness). But with just a few short paragraphs, we could not possibly dive into the full depth of emotion experienced by those who feel that they are truly alone in the world. Such people often feel at odds with themselves, blaming themselves for the lack of others in their lives. In the case of the alcoholic or addict, the pendulum may sometimes swing in the other direction, and we may place our blame on others.
Whatever direction we choose, loneliness is the sort of thing that will inevitably tear our lives asunder if we do not find healthy ways of combating it. We must learn how to fight against the instincts within us that cause us to become standoffish and aloof, putting ourselves at a distance from others. Even when we have entered recovery and become sober, it can be incredibly difficult to let go of these tendencies. But if we don’t, they will almost always get the better of us over time.
The first step in overcoming our isolation before it leads to relapse is to learn how we have caused it. If we are able to identify the behaviors at fault, then it will be much easier to turn things around in the future. The second step is to understand the consequences we will face if our isolation is left unchecked. This will provide us with some decent motivation to make the necessary changes in our lives. Finally, we must find active ways of overcoming our tendencies to push others away and create loneliness in our own lives. With these three goals in mind, we can fight our isolation before it becomes too great of an issue.
How We Cause Our Isolation
There are many ways in which addicts and alcoholics have a tendency to isolate themselves. We often kept ourselves away from others when we were engaging in substance abuse, because doing so allowed us to use in secret without facing judgment from those who would have preferred to see us follow a healthier way of life. Isolation could easily be seen as one of the first potential signs of addiction, as many of us will seek solitude regardless of whether others have expressed concern for our behaviors.
Some of the ways in which we continue to isolate after entering recovery include hiding our thoughts from others, actively pushing them away, or simply avoiding instances in which we will be exposed to other people. In the case of hiding our inner selves, this often comes from a deep place of self-loathing. We may feel that we are too awkward to fit in, or that we simply don’t belong around other people. Even when in the room with a massive crowd of friends, family, and others who have made our acquaintance, we will often keep silent unless spoken to directly. The tendency to utilize this particular defense mechanism is one of the isolator’s greatest character defects.
It will appear to many as if we are keeping them out—because that is exactly what we are doing. And for those who are particularly entrenched in isolation, more active measures may be sought to ensure this purpose is met. If we feel someone is trying to get too close, we may speak harshly to them in order to make them back off. We may even limit our interactions with someone about whom we care very deeply, simply because we fear that they will leave us if they find out more about who we truly are on the inside.
Not only that, but we will often limit our interactions with others in general. When invited out, we may decline the invitation solely to ensure more alone time. We will avoid particularly public places such as theme parks or malls when we can, fearing any location in which there are too many eyes on us. Of course, there are some who truly are aloof and simply feel that they are above these things. But for those of us who resort to isolation out of fear, the damage can be immense.
The Road to Relapse
The primary damage with which we must concern ourselves when it comes to isolation is that it may eventually lead to relapse. Many of our isolating tendencies require us to behave in a manner that recalls our behavior while in active addiction. As a result, we will fail to see the benefits of recovery. We will feel that, since our sobriety date, very little in our life has changed. This is true in many ways, but the problem is one of our own making. It simply takes a bit of mindfulness in order to see it.
When we hide our inner selves, we will often feel unfulfilled. We feel that we lack recognition, that people do not appreciate who we are. This is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since through our isolation we have denied them access to our internal being. The reason we feel lonely in a crowded room is because we have not allowed ourselves to become a part of it. Gripped with intense feelings of loneliness and depression, we may soon turn to drugs and alcohol to relieve us of our thoughts.
Naturally, this problem is only worsened when we have taken active measures to push others away. This may sound like an odd example, but an article by Margaret Lyons of Vulture points out that this sort of thing occurs on the Netflix animated series BoJack Horseman all the time. The titular character will lash out in anger at someone who is only trying to do right by him. He will say harsh things, and then his eyes will widen with the realization of what he has done. But he will not withdraw his comments. He will simply drink away his anger and depression, as his resentments for those he has wronged continue to fester.
The sense of isolation we create when we refuse to be around other people is arguably even worse. One of the primary dictates of relapse prevention is that we must attend recovery meetings for programs such as AA or NA. Unfortunately for the isolator, these meetings are populated with people who want to talk to us and get to know more about us. This should be a good thing, but we often miss out on it. Without one of the key components of relapse recovery in our arsenal, we may soon return to the pipe, bottle or needle for solitary comfort.
Overcoming Our Solitude
If we are to ever overcome our tendencies toward isolation, the last point above is one which must be embraced fully. The First Tradition of AA states:
Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
While the implications of this appear to be the need to focus on the good of the group, note that a sense of unity is said to benefit us on a very personal level. Those of us who have embraced this principle have experienced this first-hand. We have discovered that it is only through letting go of our isolation that we are able to become truly happy, joyous and free.
Of course, we should not depend upon AA or NA alone to provide us with relief with isolation. We should try to seek out other means of healthy socialization. When we talked about filling the void left behind by our addictions, we discussed the need to find a suitable hobby or activity that will offer a sense of personal fulfillment. It shouldn’t be too hard to find one that suits you. Just stay in tune with your interests, and try to go out and have fun every once in a while. Challenge yourself to meet people in the process. You might be surprised by how well you do.
Just remember that people aren’t always compatible. Some of us turn to isolation because of previous social experiences that left us with painful memories, scorched into our brains for years. But everyone gets burned. The true test is not whether you succeed or fail, but whether or not you’re willing to keep trying. This applies to most things in life, and socialization is no exception. In the meantime, do not forget that you likely have a strong support system upon whom you can rely when in need of a little emotional back-up. You should try to meet new people whenever possible, but don’t forget about tending to the relationships you already have. You must, if you intend to keep them.
Isolation may tear us apart from the inside when in the grips of depression, but we can overcome this if we have the willingness to try. No one is ever alone in this world, unless they choose to be. If you are open and willing to put yourself out there, then you never know—your next best friend may be just around the corner, waiting for you to find them.