“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself you have built against it.” — Rumi
Beyond sobriety. Part 1. How sobriety made me rethink my relationships
What I was left with in my sobriety was not this magnificent new life. Instead, I was left with boredom, anxiety, depression and emptiness.
It was here that as I began to confront my own healing, that I realised the links between relationships and addictions. I'm reminded of the words of Thomas de Quincy in his book, 'Confessions of an English Opium Eater':
"What was it that did, in reality, make me become an opium-eater? Misery, blank desolation and abiding darkness."
I don't think we need to be opium eaters to resonate with this. De Quincy's words describe one of the most painful and most common human conditions. And that is the struggle for a life where we can feel loved, alive and worthwhile.
I thought for those first ten years of my sobriety that there was something wrong with me.
First of all, I thought I thought the way I was feeling was going to last forever. And second of all, I felt like a shift from the darkness was beyond me.
I felt desperately, desperately alone. Surrounded by people who seemed to be getting on with their life. People who could laugh where I couldn't even feel a moment of joy.
So even when I was no longer depressed, I was still stuck in unhappy relationships. And I didn't know how to feel alive. I didn't know how to make myself feel good. And instead of alcohol, I now clutched at partners for that pleasure and that pain relief.
I didn't know it then, but that turned out to be a window of opportunity for me to heal in hindsight. Journalist and best selling author Johann Hari in his book 'Lost Connection', says:
"The opposite of addiction isn't sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection."
Similarly, I saw that the opposite of loneliness, boredom and emptiness isn't a relationship. Instead, the opposite of those desolate feelings is a connection with myself.
My negative relationship patterns were stopping me from experiencing intimacy with others. In addition, I had this dependency that kept me chasing unavailable partners.
No matter what someone did, I couldn't feel loved. Staying in unloving relationships stopped me from experiencing that connection within myself.
I had zero resilience. I was a rescuer, a people pleaser and desperate for validation. And I couldn't keep any agreements with myself, so I felt like an absolute failure.
I'm wondering how much you may resonate with everything I'm describing?
It was here that I got to see that the alcohol wasn't the problem. Alcohol was the symptom. And now, instead of the alcohol, these bad relationships were a symptom of something so much more profound.
Both alcohol and bad relationships were an escape, an escape from me.
According to psychiatrist and addiction expert Dr Gabor Mate, addiction is most often caused by trauma and abuse in childhood. But not all trauma comes from abuse.
It can be born from any painful experience. And in my case, that painful experience was social rejection in my childhood.
An experiment on social rejection conducted by the University of California and Purdue found that the same part of the brain that lights up during physical pain also lights up during social rejection. (Science, 2003).
So think about it. It's mind-blowing. When we have physical pain, are we not encouraged to take painkillers? Does society not recognise that physical pain is real? (And pain killers are one of the BIGGER addictions in society).
Yet, society doesn't recognise our emotional pain in the same way. And isn't it a wonder then that we're driven to look for some kind of painkiller to get relief from this emotional pain?
Mate says that it isn't our fault that we do that. That we are biologically driven to seek pain relief. And to seek pleasure.
Suppose we don't have healthy ways to do it (which so many people don't). In that case, we will do it with unhealthy outlets.
First, through addictions:.
- Substances: Heroin. Cocaine;
- Social media work etc,
And we look for it in our relationships.
We'll seek it and demand it from the people in our lives. Which you can imagine then if when we're doing that how those relationships end up being painful.
Relationships become a source of depletion rather than a source of love.
Because like any addiction, whilst it gives that moment of high and that pain relief, ultimately, the side effects are disastrous.
My true healing began not when I became sober, although that was a definite first step.
My true healing began when I liberated myself from negative relationship patterns. I started with the most important relationship of all, my relationship with me.