When I worked at Swain Recovery Center, there was a saying that hit home for me about addiction. “Addiction is not your problem. It is your solution”. A simple utterance of this saying in session with my clients would illicit a sigh of relief or a raised eyebrow. You see, this is contradictory to the traditional model of treating addiction. Most of the time, the expected focus is the addictive behavior. This model of medicine is similar to treating only cancer symptoms without addressing the cancer with radiation on the cellular level. If we only treat a cancer patient’s symptoms, their chance of survival, severely decreases. Same goes for addiction.

The newest addiction research is based on an experiment called “Rat Park”. You can watch a cartoon version of this research here. Because everything is better in cartoon.  

The basic conclusion of this experiment is that the antidote for addiction is connection. Now, this is not a new concept necessarily. This is the reason why 12 step programs work. It’s not the actual steps that matter, its the community formation and support that possesses the curative factors. Now, the 12 steps is not the only way to achieve this connection. Sometimes this connection is found in religion, or activism, or yoga, or mindfulness. Everyone’s journey to recovery is different.

Ironically enough, the same appears to be true for the loved ones, the family members, siblings, partners of those struggling with addiction. The more they find connection to healthy people, organizations, themselves, the more they are able to heal from the trauma that addiction inevitably brings about.

Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species barely mentions “natural selection”. However, what he talks about over and over again is “bond and affiliation”. That’s because connection is a basic need for survival of all species. When someone is using a substance their ability to have authentic connection is gone, thus what is the medicine? CONNECT!

Okay, that sounds easier than it is. Because addiction is so steeped in shame for most people and their loved ones. Connection is one of the hardest things to do. It’s hard to be seen for what is really true. It’s difficult to deal with the pain and trauma head on by letting someone else in. We have to find our safe space to really let that stuff out and someday let it go. Many people find that in 12 step rooms. I found mine in a tribe of people I have collected over the years and on a couch in my therapist’s office. If taking on an organization or a whole group seems daunting, try just one person. Start with one person who feels safe or maybe even just kind. Or try something that can’t judge you. Try nature, your dog, cat, a journal. The deeper connections we develop with the world around us, the more others will feel safe to connect with us. More on how to do this later. For now, I leave you with this from Brene Brown:

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

***Disclaimer: This blog post is solely the opinion of the author. It is not a substitute for mental health services nor does it constitute a professional relationship. If you are seeking mental health services, please contact a therapist in your area. If you are experiencing and emergency, please dial 911***