As human beings, some of our most fundamental needs are to know and be known and love and be loved. This is often referred to as part of our hierarchy of needs (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 1943). I can’t think of anywhere that this can be more critical than in the process of our own recovery relationships. After all, addiction is often described as a connection disorder.
The importance of having healthy friends with a strong sense of self is never more critical than when we are trying to find support and connection as we battle a disorder that has led us into darkness and isolation.
In our old behaviors we often surrounded ourselves with people who were there only to serve us, or our disordered behavior. These relationships may have been the enablers, the fellow addicts, or those who tried to manage us into sobriety. Most of the time these were people who built their world around our needs and either lost themselves in the process or had no real sense of self to begin with.
The Importance of Surrounding Ourselves with People with a Sense of Self
I was recently working with an individual who lamented that despite all the people he engaged in his life, he still felt a sense of deep loneliness and isolation in their presence. He continued to talk about how they seemed to want to coddle him, protect him, serve him, manage him, or make sure he was never uncomfortable lest it trigger his unquenchable desire to drink or use.
What he began to realize was that he had surrounded himself with people who as individuals had no selfof their own. Or, they had sacrificed what sense of self they had once known in order to be at the beck and call of this person who was previously in a chronic state of need and distress.
“Why do I feel so alone? No one in my world seems to know what to do with me. I have the same people around me that I always did and yet I feel so outside of things – so alienated. It is as if I’m not known at all.”
After listening for a while I asked him if he understood that back in his using days he had purposely surrounded himself with people who didn’t have a true self.
“Their world solely existed to support yours,” I told him. “That isn’t going to create a sense of we. That is simply supporting the concept of you. There can be no we if there is no self in someone else with which to make an us. You are not experiencing the we of relationship. You can’t experience being known or loved by people who only exist to serve you!”
I reminded him that we can only know connection by those with whom we have shared something. Not just simply coexisting with those who exist to serve us. We can only experience love when we are receiving it from someone who has a self from which to extend it and experience it in return.