The need to connect

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 28, 2016 – 12:00am

I want to write about addiction. It is clearly the scourge of our time. Right off, I would like to say that I am no expert on the subject. I only write based on my limited experience.

I first got interested in the topic almost two decades ago when I met people who told me about their journey to recovery from alcoholism and meth use. Their accounts moved me and left me extremely curious about addiction and how to deal with it.

They talked about the many rehab efforts they went through before they finally succeeded in quitting. Some rehab centers physically harmed and beat up addicts. But there were other enlightened programs that spared them from violence. The ones that worked according to them were the latter.

From what I have gathered, addiction is a multi-faceted problem. It is not just an extreme physical longing for a substance. It also has emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions to it.

Recently, I watched a “Ted Talks” episode where the speaker told of a lab experiment with rats. They were put in solitary cages and given a choice to drink pure water or some that was heroin-laced. All the solitary rats chose the heroin-laced water and sooner or later became addicted.

In another experiment, scientists put many rats together in a large cage and gave them unlimited food. They also had space, a wheel to run on and a lot of opportunities for sex. The two types of water were also offered. To their surprise, the rats consumed the pure water over the heroin-laced one.

The same speaker also said that during the Vietnam War, 20 percent of the US soldiers were using heroin during their stint fighting the Vietcong. The US military establishment was worried that when the war ended, many soldiers would come home heroin-addicted. But strangely enough, it did not happen. There was no heroin addiction boom that followed. Many went home and merely resumed their normal lives.

In their explanation of why the results are what they are, the researchers concluded that a key factor that prevents addiction is “connection.” When individuals (and rats) live in a community where they were connected with loved ones and friends, they were not attracted to drugs.

It is no wonder then that sick people who are given massive doses of pure heroin in hospitals to fight pain do not turn into addicts when they return home and connect with their loved ones.

Loneliness, boredom, alienation and social deprivation may be central in making people susceptible to addiction. Everyone is looking for love, for peak experiences, and the feeling of being whole. Drugs can delude us into thinking we can get these things chemically.

The few people I talked to who survived addiction affirmed that reconnection was a big factor. And, they added, the struggle also had a strong spiritual dimension.

Going through the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Program was a game-changer. This program is a searingly honest examination of oneself aimed at getting right down to the core of who you are. In the process, you encounter and hack away at all the bullsh*t and delusion that feeds the addiction. It is a severe reality check and yes, it is life-changing.

The AA 12-Step Program has been around for decades and is still recommended by many professionals who treat addiction. It has saved many lives.

Going back to connectedness, it seems to make sense that when people feel secure, loved and in touch with people who matter to them, drugs lose much of their allure. Being connected also means being in touch with one’s own thoughts, feelings, dreams, the sense of what is right and wrong and our deep humanity. In other words, it means staying grounded.

In real life, many of us are not. I often forget or deliberately ignore my inner callings. It is too scary to know oneself sometimes. It is easier to live hiding behind the masks that we wear in the world and believe in the delusion that we are being real.

I do not have the stomach for extrajudicial killings or the willingness to give up due process even if I support the campaign against drugs. I value our hard-fought human rights. I am glad it is not in my hands to decide who lives or dies. I know people who are addicts. I love some of them even if I know how much their families have suffered because of their addiction. I do not wish it on anyone.

A successful recovery is always inspiring because it is a story of redemption. While rehab is expensive and unaffordable to many right now, it is perhaps one of the rescue mechanisms that we really need to solve this huge drug problem. We must do more of this in place of killing people outright. I personally believe in second, third, sometimes even fourth chances. I have seen people recover from drugs permanently.

Look outside our families and into our larger communities. Do you see much connectedness? Are people reaching out to each other? Do we have real personal relationships with people who live near us?

Everyone is going through something difficult at any given time. It is so easy to not care. After all, we do not like to be bothered by problems that do not concern us.

While not all of us are called to actively catch pushers or users, we can volunteer to be our brother’s keeper. We can initiate healing connections with people who need it. Let’s start with our own families, relatives, friends and neighborhoods.

We need to connect with each other now, more than ever.

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