Connecting with Self and Others

By Ken Wells - 09/16/2022


Series Three: Blog Sixty-Two

Recovery is about connecting with yourself and others. Most addicts learn to distract and disconnect from experiences that create discomfort. I remember the church I attended growing up. I was forced to attend twice on Sunday and prayer meeting on Wednesday night. Then there were revival campaigns every night for two weeks twice a year. Sometimes the revivals were conducted in a circus tent in a vacant lot in town.  During the revival what happened inside the tent resembled a circus.  Cottage prayer meetings were organized to get ready for the torture of the two-week revival. The old ladies of the church would bring their best baked pie offering some relief from the torture of having to pray. I learned to distract and disconnect from unpleasant experiences early in my life before addiction ever bloomed.

I brought baseball trading cards and memorized statistics on the back of the cards of favorite ball players. I know it sounds boring but then you probably have never attended a cottage prayer meeting either. There was always sawdust spread out on the ground for the tent meetings that were conducted at night. During the revival meeting June bugs would fly in attraction to the lights. As a kid, I would bury the June bugs under a small pile of sawdust and see how long it would take them to crawl out from the bottom. You just did whatever was necessary to survive boring uncomfortable experience. Church was a primer to addictive behavior teaching me to disconnect and distract from discomfort.

In recovery, addicts learn to manage discomfort and reconnect to relationships by finding meaningfulness in everyday relationships. They learn that everything doesn’t have to be spectacular.  They stop looking for a magic bullet and figure out how to sit with discomfort and make it meaningful. Connecting with others is a very simple art that can get lost with complicated plans for activity.

Here are a few considerations for connecting with others that you care about:

  1. Practice sitting still and saying nothing with your loved one. Maybe for an hour or longer. Turn off the TV, shut down the internet and all other devices and sit in silence, doing nothing. Reconnect with yourself and practice managing the discomfort that comes with silence when you are not used to it in the presence of your loved one.
  2. Practice listening to the blowback your loved one shares about what they don’t like about their relationship with you. This takes guts and a level of maturity most of us don’t have. You can grit your teeth and tolerate. Opening your heart to what your loved one is saying about their experience of you is a different level of connection. It requires that you be able to sit with and be present with feelings of discomfort. Once I had a friend tell me “when you see me being blind to a weakness in our relationship please tell me.” So I did. He didn’t like it and argued with me that I was wrong and I had misunderstood. Blowback is difficult. You will connect deeper with your loved one when you condition yourself to sit with their blowback.
  3. Practice saying it straight when you have blowback to your loved one. For those whose tendency is to advise and opine what others ought to do, this suggestion might be interpreted as a green light to tell others what to do. Be careful. When advice is not requested it will be received as judgment. That said, it is not connecting if you walk on eggshells fearful that your feedback will hurt your loved one’s feelings. If it is your truth, say it straight. You don’t have to be rude and crude. You can be sensitive and still say it straight. Have the courage to connect by saying your truth direct and with care.
  4. Don’t take up too much space when you try to connect. Addicts take up too much space in relationships. When you want what you want when you want it, there isn’t any room for anyone else. Obviously, this is problematic toward creating connection with a loved one. So, practice keeping quiet. Let your loved one express their feelings, wants and desires first. After you take in their thoughts and desires, you can then chime in with yours. None of us do this perfectly. Yet, this is a skill set when practiced creates an inviting environment for connection.
  5. Creatively discover a language that connects with your loved one. When my kids were young we used to try doing family meetings. They were awful and disastrous. No one liked them. So we quit. The only thing about a family meeting that connected was what was described as “funny time”. Each kid loved trying to entertain the rest of us.  The language that connected was goofiness not the language of a seriously planned meeting. Go with what connects. When addicts go into treatment and recovery, they come home with strange language that doesn’t connect. They use recovery talk and treatment phrases like “I make up” etc. Nothing wrong with the words but it might not connect with your loved one. Just use heart language. At times heart language avoids verbalizing feelings. Parents can find connection with their children through sharing experiences with common interest and passion like music, the outdoors, and a myriad of other life events. The language of connection sometimes is found in just being. There is no need to put a language to it, just go with the flow of being with your loved one. You don’t have to force feeling talk.

Learning to sit with discomfort and creating connection with those you love is a deeper road of recovery. It begins with connecting with yourself and includes engaging those you love with authentic intimacy and inclusion of those you love the most.

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