Name: Sarah Little-Tarlton
From: Guthrie, Oklahoma
Addiction Stems from Disconnection
“Addiction stems from disconnection from the self and society”. I will come back to that quote a few times during this essay as it is a plausible point I am attempting to make. My name is Sarah and I am an alcoholic and an addict. As was my mother, father, ex-husband, and a multitude of others whom I love dearly. I have experienced first-hand exactly how addiction destroys not only our lives, but the lives of those we love, the communities we are a part of, and our sense of self which in turn impacts society at large.
I believe that we are a nation in addictive crisis, but first and foremost I believe we are in a global pandemic of disconnection thus fostering addiction. Humans crave connection. We are built to love, sense, and feel, to taste, experienced, and connect. Unfortunately due to global development and capitalistic legislation, humans are more disconnected than ever before, despite having our noses in a handheld device upwards of 20 hours a day. We have mistaken social media connection for real, authentic connections. This is not entirely anyone’s fault—I see it as merely a side effect of a well-developed country and technological advancement. These things can actually be quiet beneficial when used appropriately. However, when we think that we can suffice tech connection with authentic human connection, especially when experiencing emotional difficulty/personal crisis, we are in trouble.
Addiction is just that—a very primal connection with ourselves. When we use, we are able to experience a portion of those wonderful things that we benefit from when truly connecting with others—the love, happiness, excitement; feeling alive and confident. It is a vicious cycle; we use to feel or not to feel when in reality what we are starving for is connection with once again ourselves and our community. I never set out to be an addict; I set out to numb the pain. But in doing so I needed more and more to keep me straight and I began to structure my life around my addiction. I lost relationships with dear friends and was harsh to those who were brave enough to still stand beside me. My overall function in day to day life declined yet for so long I was unable to connect the dots. I lived in a haze for almost four years thinking that I was the most in tune with life when in reality; I was not a functioning member of my own life, let alone my community. Addiction does just that—it propels you from the person you once were—healthy, beautiful, connected to life and people—and turns it on its head. I slowly pared my life down to the bare minimum because that is all I could manage. I stopped going out with friends and stimulating the economy, I quit my volunteer work at the homeless shelter. I began to isolate more and more until I felt like an outsider in the community that I once adored because I was no longer fully participating in life. We lose valuable members of society due to addiction every single day and it is heartbreaking. We lose (wo)manpower in the workforce, we lose revenue that helps keep our communities healthy. We spend substantial amounts of money in treating the health complications of addictions albeit desperately needed, but it would be a better scenario if funds could be allocated for proper education and early intervention. But most importantly, we risk losing that person to a horrible disease. We lose a person who has so much potential hiding inside of them.
I believe that the remedy for addiction is as multi-faceted as the addictive behavior itself. If addiction stems from disconnection, we must first ensure that the addict has a proper support system for recovery. I emphasize the word proper because an integral part of long-term recovery is surrounding yourself with healthy people, places, and things. If you attempt to maintain and seek support from addicts who are still using, or from people who enable your addictive behavior, you will make minimal progress in recovery. That is why I believe that recovery is more than “recovering” what you lost prior to the addiction—recovery is the opportunity to build something new, something sustainable. In addition to a healthy support system, a proper treatment team is needed in order to monitor progress and continually challenge the distorted thoughts and beliefs that keep the addict stuck. Trauma therapy may be beneficial in some cases as there is a correlation between addiction and abuse, especially during childhood. It is important to process these issues in their entirety so the addict with be better able to respond to triggers in real life and handle them appropriately. Both of these points help the addict in re-building a healthy sense of self. Whenever I was in my addiction, I had an extremely negative view of myself and my place in the world, and eventually I was able to see what an unproductive life I was leading. It was only through the support of my fellow recovering addicts and treatment team that I was able to start constructing a more positive view of myself and my life. This in turn helped me make healthier decisions and not constantly live life “by the hour”. I slowly began to believe in myself and believe that I was worth more than being a junkie.
As stated earlier, addiction is both an individual and societal problem and thus must be treated as such. In the previous paragraph I outlined a few ways to help the addict, but we must also engage in education and preventative efforts as a society in order to see any real and lasting change. I believe this first starts with the de-stigmatizing of addicts. As long as we think of people with addictions as drones on society, we will not find it in our hearts to help and prevent our own children from stumbling down that path. While I believe in the proper education on topics surrounding addiction, I think there needs to be conversations about empathy had. Addicts are people just like you and me, and I know when I am experiencing shame that I am less likely to seek support. If we could provide our children with an empathy-laden drug and alcohol education program, I believe it would lay the groundwork for future generations to view addiction in a totally different light. We could go from shaming the addict to actually helping the individual person, and in turn society.
While proper education is a starting point, I believe that there also needs to be an emphasis on early intervention. When I was an addict I was a skilled liar. I also tended to push those away who desperately wanted to help me. I did this mostly because others tended to not know what to say to help or said something offensive/triggering, and that was the last thing I needed in the moment. I believe this can be remedied by providing trauma informed care early in the contemplative recovery stage. Since many addicts have an abuse history, one that is probably largely unprocessed, having a clinician provide trauma informed care early on will not only help build rapport, but will pave the way for effective trauma therapy to occur. I firmly believe that healing takes place in safe spaces.
In closing, I want to reiterate that addiction stems from disconnection from self and society. I believe if we are able to not only properly support the addict, but change the societal view of him, we may be able to begin to eradicate our nation’s addiction crisis. That in hand with empathy-focused education and trauma informed care, we may be on our way to creating a better world for future generations; one where addiction is understood and properly treated; not one where these individuals are written off as wasted space.