The Opposite of Addiction

Back when I worked in wilderness therapy last year, I learned an important lesson: the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.

I had to think about it for a while. Absorb it. Reflect on it. Think back on the times I’ve experienced addition — pornography, promiscuity, a poor self-image — and realize that the saying is true.

In my most desperate times of overwhelming addiction, the only effective counteracting agent wasn’t mere withdrawal or sobriety. It was connection. Genuine and vulnerable and regular human connection.

When I worked as a service coordinator for a missions camp in Milwaukee the summer of 2011, I was convinced I couldn’t do the job. I couldn’t call adults twice my age and set up meetings. I couldn’t stand on a stage and speak to 100 youth every night. I couldn’t talk to kids or homeless people or old people in nursing homes.

Looking back on that summer, I now realize I felt this way because I was addicted to dissing myself. Assuming defeat came naturally to me: I can’t make friends, I can’t work a fulfilling job, and I can’t fit into society — Christian or otherwise.

Thankfully, my Christian society in Milwaukee fit into me that summer. Whether I “felt like” I could fit into them or not. They rallied around me, asked me how I was doing, hugged me, prayed with me and over me, sat with me, cried with me, and otherwise met me in my disconnect and despair.

My connection with my team and, indeed, the entire city of Milwaukee overcame my addiction to self-defeat.

In times of emotional and sexual frustration, I have turned to pornography and online promiscuity, and I have come to realize I am a sex addict of sorts. I have often combatted these battles of frustration by “white knuckling” and denying myself Internet access for days or even weeks and months at a time — only to return for that metaphorical smoke or drag or hit.

It’s not enough to stop our addiction. If we’re not also actively running toward connection, we’re letting addiction win.

Coming out of high school the quiet good little valedictorian boy I was, I’d have never predicted I’d one day work with teen drug addicts in recovery. I’d have never fathomed how I’d climb out of my shell and work in such a people-centric and raw environment.

And I’d have certainly never fathomed finding such obvious similarities between a drug addict and me. I’ve never smoked a cigarette or gotten drunk or even known where to find a drug let alone take it.

And yet we’re all the same, the students and me. We have our vices, we have our hurts, and we have our coping mechanisms.

We have opportunities for connection, too.

Today we gathered the students outside and talked about creating a safer place for emotional vulnerability. A place for connection to combat addiction.

A place to heal and grow and empower others to heal and grow.

I still can’t believe the job I work most days, and I count it one of my greatest gifts in three decades to learn the lessons I’m learning in the intense jobs I’ve worked these last two years.

Connection. Gosh I need it. I need it everyday.

This is Day 10 of #MakeNovemberTolerable. Keep checking back every day this month for new stories and discoveries of beauty where beauty may be hard to find.

  • Marielena

    This is another beautiful blog post, Tom. Love the idea of connection as an antidote to addiction and agree — a real challenge for those of us who are introverted or shy (like me). Even Jesus often needed to “go apart” to a quiet place to be alone and pray. BUT …. then he balanced that out with connection going back to those imperfect 12 guys who surrounded him. Keep writing, Tom! I may not always comment but lovin’ your posts!

  • naturgesetz

    Good insight.