Intimacy Versus Addiction

by Allen Tate Wood

There are many ways to approach the subject of addiction, many ways to imagine it, describe it, define it.It can be approached from the standpoint of clinical research, from the perspective of the 12step recovery world, as a moral issue, from a law enforcement angle and from the posture of religious belief: to name just a few.It can also be examined through the lens of genetic research.Both social psychology and personality theory have a lot to offer in coming to grips with addiction. In this short essay I approach the subject through the eye of intimacy.

As a teacher of recovery classes I have found that the most useful approach for me combines several of these modes.As a facilitator and supporter of the recovery process I find myself approaching addicts and alcoholics from the standpoint of the content of consciousness. To wit: affect, belief, memory, imagination, family background, myths and culture.All of which can be neatly summed up in the term self-talk or as Jack Kerouac might have said “stream of consciousness”.

Specifically what does the addict believe about him or herself? How do they see themselves?What is the content and direction of their thinking?What is their self-talk?What do they believe about their drug use, about their capacity to live without drugs, about their ability to learn, about holding a steady job, about returning to their families after extended periods in rehab or state prison.Often the fulcrum that determines which way the axis of decisions affecting continuing an addicted life style versus creating a path of recovery depends on the addicts' beliefs about their ability to engage in successful intimacy with spouse, family and friends.

In my experience addiction is a substitute for intimacy.As such it invades the pyche with an entire world view.It includes ideas, beliefs, rituals, literature, music, folklore and myth.The addict, as well as,the non-addicted person want to feel love, acceptance, value, pleasure etc.To be accepted and valued by another and or by a peer or family group satisfies a deep part of the psyche.

The man or woman who loses their intimate connections through death or accident or an act of God is at risk for succumbing to some form of addiction.If the loss precipitates a change in thought processes, this may signal the beginning of a downward thinking spiral.The active addicts' self talk is often replete with phrases such as…

"no one loves me"

"I am unlovable"

"all my friends are dope fiends"

"my family has no use for me"

"dope is the only thing I look forward to"

"I always fuck up"

"the world is against me"

"no one ever gives me a break"

"I want to sleep forever"

"dope is my best friend"

Mind altering substances whether uppers, downers, alcohol or hallucinogens replace the rich world of feeling and meaning which is the psychological home of the non- addicted and reasonably engaged person.The person who has lost intimacy, the person whose human connections have been destroyed, the person who doubts their capacity to find and to give and receive love is a person who has been marooned in a psychological desert landscape, one which affords no water to the soul, no warmth to the heart and no fire to the spirit.

Psychotropic substances which impact the endocrine system and hence the production of neuro-transmitters mimic and sometimes supercede the affect attendent on normal emotional life.The marooned castaway lost on a desert island will create an entire metaphorical universe to replace the loss of human contact.So also does the addict create an entire world centered around his drug of choice as a substitute for the lost intimacy, lost connections, lost meanings and lost dreams of pre addiction life.

It is no accident that many prison poets refer to addiction/their drug of choice as, “a mistress or master”, “a lover”, “a demon”, “an intimate”,“a confidante”, “an all encompassing obsession”.

A return to a healthy intimacy with a varied array of family, friends and associates is one of the signs of a successful recovery.