I’ve been challenged once again by Mike to write on a chosen topic and today, it is “How Recovery Creates Loneliness”. I’m very interested to see what his take on this topic is. As usual, I think we will have some similarities, but definitely unique takes on this topic.
I think most people from the outside would think that participating in an active recovery lifestyle (by that, we mean working a 12 step program for any of a variety of purposes from codependency to substance addictions and lots in between) would lead to anything BUT a feeling of loneliness. I rarely go without at least a meeting or two each week and often, I go to 4 or 5 of them for my own healing and growth. I talk to friends in recovery through Facebook, phone, text, and in person on a daily basis. I attend retreats. I generally have a wonderful time at all of these events and am surrounded by people that I love.
There are several definitions for loneliness in the dictionary and all the above activities definitely mean a recovery lifestyle does not create a certain type of loneliness, at least for me. Loneliness: 1. destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship, intercourse, support, etc.: 2. lone; solitary; without company; companionless. By either of these definitions, I’m definitely not lonely. In fact, as an outgoing introvert, I usually enjoy my interactions, but often have to create my alone time so I’m not overwhelmed by my active recovery lifestyle.
That being said, I do truly identify with Mike’s chosen topic. Another definition of loneliness (the one I often identify with) is “standing apart; isolated”.
The program I work is for codependency, of which I became a true master over the course of 46 years. I won’t go into a long dissertation on codependency (more information here) other than to say that for me, it was initially good intentions to help others which eventually ran amok due to my personality, family of origin and life circumstances. This evolved into controlling behavior, an overwhelming feeling of being responsible for others, inability to identify my own needs and emotions, poor communication and ultimately, a very unhealthy inability to set boundaries and keep them (both for my own benefit and those around me). Pretty much, I was a mess in a nice package.
If one actually takes the time to think about how unhealthy it is to live like this, the only way for me to work a program of recovery from this is to create and enforce some “loneliness” in my life. I can’t learn to identify my own emotions by consistently relying on others to identify them for me. I can’t learn to set and respect boundaries by being unhealthily enmeshed with others. I have learned I need to make myself “stand apart and be isolated” in order to reorient my brain to healthy thinking. I try to rely on honest communication with God during these times rather than unhealthy communication with others, which I still have the habit of falling into more often than I’d like.
Now, let me be entirely honest…sometimes doing this makes me “feel” lonely…that is, a feeling of sadness caused by lack of companionship. And sometimes that happens even in the midst of a huge group of people. I know that I’m not totally identifying with their thoughts and feelings, so that makes me “feel” lonely. In fact, sometimes I feel downright weird in the midst of many people and feel the need to extricate and enforce some solitude. But that’s ok. It’s part of my healing process. I don’t always have to agree or identify with people like I used to feel like I had to. This is huge growth for me. The only way that’s happened is by being ok with being lonely sometimes in order to learn who God created me to be. I don’t always like it, but I always need it.