Loneliness and Recovery

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I believe an important report was recently issued by the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, at the beginning of May of this year. I see this report as having repercussions for all Americans of all ages as well as special ramifications for those of us wrestling with issues of addiction and recovery. In this article, I want to reflect on this report and what this might mean for us in recovery.

Basically, this report deals with the prevalence of widespread loneliness in our society at this time, and its impact upon all of us. The report concludes that about half of all Americans have experienced and are experiencing loneliness. The report equates the impact of loneliness as being like smoking up to fifteen cigarettes a day. An astounding correlation between the impacts of smoking and loneliness! The Surgeon General concludes that loneliness is the latest public health epidemic. He calls upon workplaces, schools, companies, churches, and families to make changes to respond to this epidemic. The report also stresses some of the repercussions of loneliness – premature deaths, greater risks of stroke and heart disease, greater chances of experiencing depression, anxiety, and dementia. Clearly, there is nothing good that comes from experiencing loneliness!

One way to look at loneliness is that it is the result of disconnections with others – family members, work groupings, friends, neighbors, etc. He suggests that COVID-19 added to these experiences and were not the cause. Loneliness was happening before COVID.COVID only exacerbated the feelings of loneliness in most of everyone’s life. If loneliness, then, is about disconnection, then the way to lessen loneliness is for people to be more intentional about making and maintaining connections with others.

As the report stresses that all Americans are vulnerable to the experiences of loneliness, my experience with my own addiction and recovery along with other people I have met says that we, as addicts, are especially susceptible to loneliness. I believe a large contributing factor to addiction is isolation and loneliness. I believe addiction flourishes in isolation. I also believe that recovery flourishes in community. So, I think experiencing community in some way, shape, or form is an antidote to loneliness and addiction as well as it provides a supportive atmosphere for recovery.

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I believe a large contributing factor to addiction is isolation and loneliness. I believe addiction flourishes in isolation.We don’t need lots of people to form a community! I believe a community is any group more than one. A community, then, can be two people who come together for some purpose and reason. Communities can take place at work, in church groups, neighborhood groupings, interest groups, and sports teams, as well as many other kinds of groupings.

In my experience in recovery for over twenty-eight years, my community for my recovery is a 12 Step group whose purpose is helping each of us maintain our sobriety. When we are struggling, we have a safe place to come and share our struggles with supportive people. I also have been blessed to have had a number of other supportive groups in my life besides the 12 Step group I described. I have belonged to a men’s support group for over thirty-five years. Even though some members have ether died or left the group, the group continues to be a support to us as we go through different transitions in our lives – like sickness and retirement. I also belong to a group of seniors at the church that my wife and I attend where we can share common experiences around aging, as well as how to share our experiences with other younger folks.

In returning to talk more about the experiences of community in recovery settings, like 12 Step groups, there is another community experience that is more intimate, which is the experience of sponsorship. Sponsorship is a one-on-one experience with another person in recovery that is often more intimate than a larger group experience. The sponsor usually has been in recovery longer than the person she or he is sponsoring. Such a relationship allows for more intimate sharings of what the road to recovery has been like. At the same time, I believe the sponsoring person is not an expert. The sponsor is someone on the road of recovery, who is willing to listen to the stories of the sponsee and offer support. I see this as being more like sisters and brothers walking with each other in recovery.

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The Surgeon General has reminded us in very stark terms that loneliness is a major issue facing all of us today which has huge negative repercussions and that it is time to act to help us make connections with others. Unless we act, loneliness will only get worse. We are all in need of safe places and safe people to share our interests, passions, and struggles. I believe we, who are addicted, are in special need of groups that can support us on the road to recovery. I believe this could be everyone as we live in groups – from small to large – that are often addicted. These communities can be as small as two – like in sponsorship – or much larger as it offers support to its members. As the English poet said years ago, “No one is an island” – (changed from “man” to “no one” for inclusive language). We addicts are especially not islands!

I hope that you have a group or groups that support you – your interests as well as your recovery. And please remember that all you need is a few people – not thousands – to support and walk with you to help you connect with others. If you don’t, I will be sad. Possibly this is a chance for you to reach out and begin a group that can be supportive of you and, in the process, be supportive of them. I wish you well!

Mark T. Scannell has been in recovery for over twenty-eight years and has written three books, one of which is entitled The Village It Takes: The Power to Affirm, Gasscann Publishers, Minneapolis, 2021. He can be reached at gasscann@bitstream.net.

Last Updated on May 26, 2023

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