The Opposite of Addiction is Connection
As recovering addicts, we tend to spend a lot of time and energy counting the number of days we have been sober. We often look at sobriety as the opposite of addiction, but in actuality, the opposite of addiction is human connection. Regardless of the form our addiction might take, our brain lights up with dopamine and other happy chemicals that are released when we consume the addictive substance or engage in the unwanted/addictive behavior. Being able to manage our desire for dopamine in addition to focusing on building real connections (which also produce happy chemicals like oxytocin), weave a better chance of living a life free of self-destructive choices.
Wounded and Hurt
How can we find or reestablish connections when often times we have been hurt by others or we have hurt them? When we are emotionally wounded it’s not easy to crawl back and ask for forgiveness or to reach out when we have felt rejected. We are much like a wounded dog after being struck by a car. When a dog has been injured they will growl and even snap at or bite anyone who tries to come to their aid. The dog does not understand that someone is actually coming to its rescue and is going to carry it to safety. How often are we like the wounded dog? Do we unwittingly treat the very people who would help us as the enemy?
Finding Meaningful Human Connections
Take a blank sheet of paper and draw a 4-inch circle in the center of the paper. In the middle of the circle place dot that represents you. Now put a dot next to you to represent another person who is very close to you. For example, if you have a strong connection with your dad you might put a dot very close to your dot and then write the letter D for dad. If someone in your family is not close to you, then you put the dot farther away. Where would your mother’s dot be in relation to your dad? If you placed your dad’s dot near you, because you have a close relationship with him, but not a very close relationship with your mother, where would you put the dot to represent your mother? If you have a very distant relationship with your mother, perhaps her dot would go outside the circle.
Now think of each sibling you may have or think of good friends that are important to you. Where would you place their dots in relation to your dot? How close or far away are they from having a meaningful relationship with you? How many people are represented by a dot within the circle you have drawn? How many are outside the circle?
Stumbling blocks to Making a Real Human Connection?
What are some reasons why it feels so risky to reach out and make a connection? There may be many reasons why it is difficult. Here are some statements from other people;
1. Once they get to know me, they won’t like me.
2. I don’t know how to be a friend to someone.
3. I would rather be alone.
4. It takes too much work to keep friendships going and they become draining for me.
5. I don’t have the time.
6. It’s too risky to put myself out there and later have the relationship dissolve.
The Real Human Connection
Friendships and connections matter. Having relationships where we can be ourselves and not have to weigh our words or filter what we say allows us to authentically connect. Here’s what others have said about real human connections.
1. I have someone to talk to when I’m down and afraid.
2. I have someone to tell a funny story to and we get to laugh together. (Laughter brings out happy chemicals. And it’s all natural.)
3. I feel needed and wanted.
4. I can rely on a human instead of relying on a mood-altering drug or behavior.
5. I don’t feel any guilt or shame after interacting with my friend. Unlike how I felt when I was acting out.
6. I feel like someone cares about my feelings and emotions and allows me to express them anyway they come out.
Finding new ways to develop new relationships and maintaining old friendships help us build associations that are real, meaningful, and provide authentic connection so our brain is less likely to seek out substitutes.
Tips for Being More Social and Friendly
Friendships have a huge impact on your health and happiness. Good friends relieve stress, provide comfort and joy, prevent loneliness and isolation, and even strengthen your physical health. But close friendships don’t just happen. Many of us struggle to meet people and develop quality connections. Whatever your age or circumstances, though, it’s never too late to make new friends, reconnect with old ones, and improve your social life, emotional health, and overall well-being.
Developing close friendships has a powerful impact on your physical health. Lack of social connection can be as damaging as smoking, drinking too much, or leading a sedentary lifestyle. A recent Swedish study found that, along with physical activity, maintaining a network of friends can actually add years to your life. As it turns out, having other people in our life is important for many different reasons, so how do we go about forming new connections?
Focus on others, not yourself. The key to connecting to other people is showing interest in them. When you’re truly interested in someone else’s thoughts, feelings, experiences, and opinions, it shows—and they’ll be drawn to you for it. You’ll make far more friends by showing your interest in them rather than trying to get people interested in you. If you’re not genuinely interested in the other person, then stop trying to connect. Don’t seek to make a connection with someone just for the sake of adding to your network.
Be attentive. Turn off your smart phone, avoid distractions, and try to really listen to the other person. By paying attention to what they say, do, and how they interact, you’ll quickly get to know them.
Remember that little things go a long way. Remembering someone’s preferences, their birthdays, stories they’ve told you, and what’s going on in their life gives signals to the other person that they are valued by you.
Self-disclosure: The key to Turning Acquaintances into Friends
We all have acquaintances—people we exchange small talk with as we go about our day or trade jokes or insights with online. These relationships can bring a sense of fulfillment on their own, but what if you want to turn a casual acquaintance into a true friend?
Friendship is characterized by intimacy. True friends know things about each other: their values, likes and dislikes, struggles, goals, and interests. If you’d like to progress from acquaintances to friends, open up to the other person.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to reveal your most closely-held secret. Start small with something a little bit more personal than normal and gauge the other person’s response . Do they seem interested? Do they reciprocate by disclosing something about themselves?
For Better friendships, Be a Better Friend Yourself
Making a new friend is just the beginning of the journey.
● Friendships take time to form and even more time to strengthen, so you need to cultivate that new connection.
● Work on being the friend that you would like to have by treating your friend just as you want them to treat you.
● Be reliable, thoughtful, trustworthy, and willing to share yourself and your time.
● Be a good listener. Be prepared to listen to your friends just as you want them to listen to you.
● Don’t set too many rules and unrealistic expectations.
● Attempt to allow your friendship to evolve naturally. You’re both unique individuals so your friendship might not develop exactly as you expect.
● Be forgiving. No one is perfect, and people will make mistakes, even your new friend and perhaps even you. No friendship develops smoothly so when there’s a bump in the road, try to find a way to overcome the problem and move on. If you are able to do this, it will often deepen the bond between you.
©2018 Rod W. Jeppsen
Clinical Mental Health Counselor, CMHC
Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist, CSAT
Certified Emotionally Focused Therapist, CEFT
Certified Gottman Therapist, CGT
Board Certified Neurofeedback, BCN