Last updated on November 23rd, 2019 at 09:15 pm

Growing up, I had a very hard time connecting with anyone. Friends, teachers and even my own family felt foreign to me. My parents were extremely attentive to my every need, despite my efforts to push them away. Even though I was resistant to their affection, I didn’t realize that I was causing those feelings of separation. Yet, deep down, all I craved was to feel loved and understood on a personal and spiritual level.

For some reason, I just could not allow anyone into my life. My walls were built up high and layered, creating an impenetrable barrier between myself and vital human connection. I felt alone and misunderstood … until I found my drug of choice.

Abusing substances gave me the short-term ability to completely shut off all of my emotions and stop my racing thoughts. However, my substance abuse caused me more long-term harm. Because I was completely blotting out my entire existence, I lost the chance to acquire the key interpersonal skills I needed to begin building the intimacy I required in my life.

As my addiction worsened, I lost the relationships I had with the friends and family I had left. In my misguided attempts to make myself feel better through instant gratification, I was continually making my life worse.

I realized I needed to try something new, swallow my pride and allow myself to be open to suggestions from others. This realization led me to go to a dual-diagnosis treatment centre, where my life was forever changed by therapy and unconditional love from like-minded strangers.

Hitting a turning point

Upon arriving at treatment, I was combative and began to regret my decision to turn my life over to the will of complete strangers—with medical degrees or not. I had a short period of doubt, during which I began to think maybe my life wasn’t so bad.

That lasted until a young woman came in and told her story—a story that felt all too familiar. Her openness inspired me, but that wasn’t all. She had obviously been through many of the hardships that I had struggled with, but there was something more about her that made me change my attitude about treatment.

As she was describing the feelings and emotions she had endured on a day-to-day basis during her period of drug abuse, I realized that she was verbalizing the feelings that I thought made me unique. Until that moment, I had been certain that no one else had ever felt the same way as me.

I always felt as if no one else could possibly understand me, so I never gave them the chance to try. After hearing this woman speak, I decided to at least make an effort to begin tearing down my walls and allowing people into my life.

Letting people in

Friends walking on beach

Being aware that I would be spending the majority of my time with my peers at the rehab facility where I was residing, I decided to begin practicing forms of emotional intimacy with the people around me. I was extremely nervous anytime I had a real and personal conversation, but I was also pleasantly surprised.

My friends met me with a level of understanding that I could not have predicted, and sometimes they even had similar stories or feelings. Opening myself up to others gave me the feelings of security that I had been missing my whole life.

Group therapy sessions became one of my favourite parts of the day. Being vulnerable, which originally seemed like one of the most terrifying things I could do, quickly became something I felt was vital to my survival.

In group therapy, I got the opportunity to word-vomit all of my past traumas, fears and insecurities to a room of other people who shared exactly the same issues. I had never felt so accepted for who I was, and all I had to do was give people permission to get close to me.

Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.” – Harriet Goldhor Lerner, author, The Dance of Anger.

In allowing myself to connect with others, I was beginning to fix the issues that had been leading me down a path of self-destruction and loneliness. Simple conversations I had been so afraid of were the key to starting my road to recovery. I was learning how to connect and make bonds with others, and I was learning that it is strong to be vulnerable.

Being vulnerable is what is needed in order to foster change in our lives, especially for someone like me.

Rebuilding bridges

Near the end of my journey at the addiction treatment centre, my therapist suggested that I take part in their family therapy program. He told me that because of my hardships in relation to connecting with others, I needed to work through whatever underlying issues there may be in my relationships with my close family members. I agreed, and the next week my Mom and Dad came to town to participate.

When it came to my relationship with my Mom, she was the person I had grown up with and had been with throughout the good times and the bad. She witnessed my gradual self-destruction, and was greatly affected by the behaviours that stemmed directly from my addiction.

This was a relationship that I never believed I could fully mend, as I had pushed my Mom to a breaking point. She had been pushed out of her own home, had lain awake at night wondering if her daughter was even alive, and had been made to feel like she had failed as a mother.

Through the family program, we were both able to express our frustrations, resentments and love for each other in a healthy and supervised environment. Family therapy allowed us to talk to each other and listen, rather than just talking to respond.

We finally began to understand each other; we became able to make reciprocal amends to one another, and started a brand-new relationship that we never thought was possible. Today, we look to each other for advice, for a shoulder to cry on and for someone to laugh with.

I am able to express my feelings openly with my Mom and with others, which is something I had always craved.

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