Series Three: Blog 20
Community is critical to healing in our world. Carmelite Catholic priest St. John of the Cross once wrote that “ a virtuous soul that is alone is like a lone burning coal that will soon become cold.” Life force depends upon a connection to other life. This can be underscored in the life of trees. Scientists found that trees living in forests, like the tree colony called Pando, tend to live longer than trees living in urban environments, often in isolation. Trees living together communicate with each other and share nutrients through their roots, forming a complex system sometimes referred to as the “wood wide web”.
Mycelium is a vegetative network of fungal threads that connects individual plants together to transfer water, nitrogen, carbon and other minerals. It is through the mycelium that trees communicate and can send a chemical signal to warn their neighbors about an invasive predator or to inhibit growth of invasive plant species. Surrounding trees then defend themselves by releasing volatile hormones or chemicals to deter predators or pathogenic bugs. Community is critical to the survival and health of trees.
The survival of human beings has never been more dependent upon community in our world than it is today. Collaborative cooperation throughout the world has been necessary in the battle to overcome the COVID pandemic. Managing global warming, world hunger and mass migration requires mass cooperation and connection throughout the world.
Recovery from addiction is also dependent upon community. Essentially the 12-step community acts like a mycelium for communication and spirit connection from one addict to another. Trees only connect with each other if the fungal and bacterial species that constitute their symbiotic relationship between the roots are the same. The same is true in human relationships. People connect when their symbiotic relationship is the same. The common thread that connects all human beings together is shared brokenness. Twelve-step communities network connection through the common struggle of addiction. In community addicts heal and transform their lives. More important than cure, 12-step groups provide a space for community. When active in addiction, addicts isolate and wallow in a void of emptiness and separation. Twelve-step groups offer a place to learn not only how to stop acting out but how to manage relapse and other experiences of human failure by being connected to others in community.
Sanctuary–an emotional safe place. Like a warm blanket, people who attend 12-step groups find emotional safety from the harsh treatment in the world they live. Twelve step communities provide a gentle presence in the face of a difficult world.
A place to belong–One of the great needs of every human being is to feel that they belong somehow, somewhere and to someone. Race, class, and LGBTQIA and people of migration are social groups that have suffered in seeking a place to belong. Addicts suffer the same. They often feel like if others knew who they were they would be on the outside of the bubble looking in. The 12-step community is a place that a new bubble is formed to include you.
A place to connect–Your powerlessness over your addiction is the mycelium that connects you to the healing force that exists in each person in a 12-step group. Powerlessness is an unspoken dynamic that creates the energy of humility necessary in a group for helplessness to be overcome.
Communication–For trees, mycelium is the network that vital minerals are provided for its health. For an addict, it’s the sharing of story that inspires the change of behavior so necessary for transformation. Insights, vulnerability, authentic and congruency are the vital nutrients that are transmitted through mycelium of connection that happens in a 12-step group.
Defense and protection–Trees defend themselves from invasive predators through a complex network of communication. A 12-step group provides protection, defense, and direction through its network of sharing, sponsorship and accountability.
Fellowship–Addicts come to a 12-step group feeling alienated, fearful and on guard. In time, the fear melts, alienation recedes, and the guard is lowered. Contention gives way to community. Fellowship grows. Members become beloved family. There is always work to be done. Yet, in community it is always satisfying just to hang out with no specific recovery agenda. Just being is enough.
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