COVID-19, teaching us how to reconnect to those struggling with addiction in our community!
By: Moshe A. Yachnes, LCSW, CSAT – Founder of Onward Living, CEO of Archstone Behavioral Health.
For all of us and millions around the globe, the last several months have been devastating. Death, sickness, and unprecedented financial loss or insecurity has plagued the world. Collectively and individually we have made the decision to follow the shelter in place or quarantine orders ensuring personal safety and the safety of those around us. However, this too comes with significant challenges.
As social beings, we crave real live human interaction which unfortunately has been limited. Psychological research indicates the unparalleled advantages of face to face relationships. Building intimacy with others can only truly come when we have the advantage of reading both verbal and nonverbal cues in real time. To sit across from someone and “feel” their energy. This dynamic is reinforced both emotionally and physiologically. A secondary pitfall of isolation is the unfortunate reality of what naturally happens when individuals are alone; all their emotional insecurities are given a chance to build and exacerbate over time. These negative emotions occur silently and begin to alter one’s core identity. A deep rooted toxic shame or insecurity starts to build. Psychologists have been studying this phenomenon for years. It is a simple proven fact; isolation leads to loneliness, which is a platform where layers of mental health issues arise. Depression, increased anxiety, fear, social phobia, low self-esteem, and other insecurities increase exponentially in isolation. Individuals who struggle with addiction or compulsive behaviors live in this reality ALL DAY for MONTHS and YEARS at a time. They experience loneliness and attempt to numb or escape from these devastating emotions.
In addiction treatment, we have the unique privilege of working with individuals and families struggling with addiction on many levels. If there is one aspect that consistently arises, a common thread which exists in everyone struggling with addiction, it is isolation. In my 20 years of hearing the painful stories, there is always one story line that is a constant. That is, these people have been living alone for a very long time. The therapeutic process is exploring the origins of their chaotic drug use with the goal to assist them in understanding that they have experienced the consequences of a deeply rooted loneliness. These emotions have triggered so much pain and uncertainty all the while reinforcing the desire to use and abuse drugs and alcohol with the hope of avoiding this emotional pain. Sustained loneliness increases psychological turmoil ultimately leading to the terrible self-destructive behaviors that we see. As we know, addiction is a surface level behavioral reaction to negative self-worth. It is “the disease of escape”. Individuals who have struggled with addiction perpetually live and exist in a painful isolated state. In fact, a primary focus of recovery is the ability to connect with others. Residential treatment programs are designed to create an environment for authentic and vulnerable connections. Much effort is placed on helping people develop real connections with others counteracting the terrible isolation they have experienced for years. Group therapy along with the well utilized 12 step programs facilitate a platform for individuals to identify and share experiences with others while slowly pulling them out of isolation. As individuals gain traction in their recovery, they begin to connect in healthy ways. The process of building honest relationships or “feeling the energy” from like-minded people gives them much needed relief from the chains of isolation. Perhaps, we can now appreciate some of the struggles our loved one’s experience as they battle addiction. Underneath is a terrible feeling of loneliness.
We all have suffered some level of loneliness due to this unusual virus. We have been forced to stay home, separate from our normal daily interactions, and limit the time we spend with friends. Perhaps, as things start to slowly reopen and we excitedly look forward to being with our friends and families, let us take a moment to reach out to someone struggling with addiction and give him or her the gift of reconnecting with them. Let’s share our reactions to what isolation feels like for us and simultaneously empower them with the knowledge that we are all ALONE, TOGETHER.
Moshe A. Yachnes, LCSW, CSAT is the founder of Onward Living, a Rehabilitation Center in Boca Raton, FL. Onward Living provides comprehensive addiction treatment services for individuals and families struggling with addiction. The program is designed to address the specific needs of the Jewish Community. Additionally, he serves as C.E.O. of Archstone Behavioral Health in Palm Beach, FL a full continuum of care facility for addiction and mental health treatment.