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Strategies for Navigating Isolation and Loneliness in Addiction Recovery

Wooden pawns representing group of people in circle and person alone - Concept of isolation and loneliness in addiction recovery

Episode 51 Transcript: Overcoming Loneliness & Isolation in Addiction Recovery

Substance recovery often imposes the challenge of navigating through loneliness and isolation, potentially distancing those undergoing the process from triggers linked to their previous substance use. In this episode, Clare Waismann, founder of the Waismann Method® and Domus Retreat, alongside David Livingston, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, delve into these complexities of isolation in recovery. They offer insights into the importance of genuine human connections, propose solutions like forming interest groups and participating in communal activities, and highlight the power of simple actions like reaching out to others. The discussion serves as an encouraging reminder of the human capacity to connect and the transformative role it plays in fostering healthy mental states, thereby aiding the recovery process.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: Welcome back to Addiction, Recovery and Mental Health, a podcast by Waismann Method Opioid Treatment Specialists. We are here to answer your questions about addiction and mental health treatment. I’m Dwight Hurst and I’m joined, as always by Clare Waismann and David Livingston. David Clare, welcome back again. Here we are. Thank you. Today we are we are tackling the issue of overcoming loneliness and isolation in recovery. Recovery, as we know and we talk about often, it can be a lonely journey. It’s often overwhelming. Sometimes people going into recovery and treatment, they even need to back away or cut people or situations and places out of their lives that might be triggers for relapse. And so it’s it’s an important dynamic to talk about. And as we were just getting the recording set up, David, you were just saying that you’ve been seeing this topic come up quite a bit as well in the news and other studies and things.

David Livingston, LMFT: Yeah. I think it’s being talked about broadly is I’ve been reading articles on it and you know, and looking at the effects physically and neurobiologically and on a cellular level and, and that causes it causes a type of of pain and actually changes cellular activity. So the issue is pretty profound. I think maybe in some ways, you know, we can get into it. But yeah, I’m looking forward to talking about it and maybe adding to part of what’s already going on.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: Yes. And it’s so fascinating to look at just what you were saying about how on a like physical level, although everything mental health is physical, everything mental health is related to our brain, which is part of our physical body. We forget that, I think sometimes. But on a like a deeper like cellular level, as you put it, that loneliness and isolation can be such a burden or a trigger and really a health concern for people.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: I think all our feelings, especially our extreme feelings, you know, affects our nervous system, which affects every other part of our lives. So it’s not like it causes one effect. It’s just like multiple effects of layers of effects that get larger and larger as the situation progresses. And I think the surgeon general just brought, you know, the advisory about the epidemic of loneliness in isolation that might have been brought also by Covid. But I think social media as well has a huge part in it. So maybe social media for the younger adults, But one of the groups that are suffering the most since Covid is the older adults, but just the total isolation from society.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: It permeates so many things. As we ran into the distancing and quarantining during the height of some of those things. And I mean and you can see the developmental impact that that, you know, that that has had unquestionably with young people. And there’s just things that they’re having to learn in schools maybe a year or two later than they usually would or just, you know, and I also look at some of the high schoolers who went through that time, and there’s some resentment and loss about some of those things of proms and just basically societal things we’re used to that are disrupted. And it makes me think, as we’re talking about this, of that being part of substance abuse and opioid dependence recovery kind of always right? There’s just basically there’s always having to go into questioning where I go, who I spend time with. All of those things have always been part of that. I would say for most people, most people have to question some of those things if they really want to get into a sober place of where am I spending my time and with whom? And so now it’s compounded a little bit with this element of societal isolation as well.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: Yeah. And I think we have to separate very well. You know what loneliness, loneliness is in isolation is, you know, you can feel lonely while you have a group of people around you. When you isolate, it’s a different story altogether. And I think we have dealt with such prolonged isolation that people are feeling lonely even when they are getting back into society.

David Livingston, LMFT: I think that I think what you’re saying is right, Claire, that it’s the quality and the depth of how we’re connected, that that helps with loneliness and. Sometimes people even isolate because when they’re around people, they feel more lonely and they don’t have the type and quality of a connection with that they’re needing. And so that, you know, and that creates kind of a cycle. A lot of what treatment is any good treatment is creating a quality of a connection and understanding and feeling like somebody cares about us and has our best interests at heart and developing a relationship where that exists and that to help combat loneliness, isolation. And it’s profound. And I think it’s maybe more profound in our culture than a lot of parts of the world as well as we do so many things. I’m not sure how good we are at emphasizing the collective as much as we do the individual.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: I think there is a lack of good social networks. Our social networks are weak. This is largely due to social media where people think they are connected, but they truly are not and they are living a reality that is not real. So it makes them even, you know, detach more and more from being there in person and connecting with people.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: With having the open communication and really the individualized type approach that you have with a lot of people that come through. Do you see a lot of people having that need to really cut back on social groups? I used to see it a lot when I worked in like some of the court-ordered mental court-ordered substance abuse treatment. There were a lot of people who that was the majority of their social contact was people they would abuse or, you know, overuse substances with. And they had to some in some cases swap a whole social group and build a whole new community for themselves. Do you see that a lot with the populations you work with at Waismann?

David Livingston, LMFT: I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re asking.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: Just if you see a lot of people who have a major part of their treatment is having to replace or get rid of a lot of their social world.

David Livingston, LMFT: Yes, sometimes there is healthy dependency and unhealthy dependency. And depending on where you’re at, you know, if you’re vulnerable in a certain way, there might be people that who are living in a certain way that that is, you know, even people you really enjoy and love that you need to be away from. I think there’s a way to let them know. And without severing the relationship and talk about that with them. I think you want to have as many people around you who care about you and have your best interests at heart. And there is a way to talk about that. But yeah, sometimes sometimes that does have to happen. But it does create then that that whole dynamic. So okay, now I’ve gotten rid of some of the people, but and sometimes some of the people I like and enjoy and the most. So now what? Right? And does that make you even more vulnerable to needing something that you’re, you know, And so it’s a it’s a tricky thing. But but yes, we see that for sure.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: Yeah. And as you put it, it is very difficult because and I think it’s probably one of those things that’s important to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. And because many times it’s one of those things where people think, well, I’ve got to do this. And at the same time, some contact or some relationship with people who do have empathy for you and have a direct experience. Also, if they’ve been through some recovery, that can be a good thing, too. So it’s hard to try to figure out how to balance that out sometimes.

David Livingston, LMFT: I think it’s really hard to balance it out and to decide what is actually better for you. And it kind of pushes also the idea of the internal and the external. Sometimes people are like, No, internally I’m strong enough and it wouldn’t be good for me to cut this person out of my life and I can handle it. And sometimes, you know, someone will say, no, I can’t do that. I can’t be around this person. It won’t be good for me. So and also depends on how you’re feeling. It’s not just an external thing. It’s it’s, you know, the inside and the outside and how they’re working together and how strong your resolve is and also what your needs are, you know, in terms of companionship, it’s really hard to just to come out of treatment and then be too isolated. I think the idea of having support is good. But like we’re saying in the beginning, the support has to feel like support. And it’s it’s hard to just develop relationships that have a depth to them quickly.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: I think it also as you. Care your recovery. Your needs become different. So as your social needs. Yeah.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: That’s really true. Yeah. Do we assume and plan on growth or and do we evaluate our own growth for where we’re at too? And that’s where I think as you put it, David, sometimes all or nothing isn’t the best way we can apply that to a lot of things. But kind of saying these people are all gone and dead to me. I mean, sure, that can be that can be necessary some of the time, but then also having some relationships that maybe there’s just a little safety or distance around. And that may change over time and also depends a little bit on how the other people evolve too, through their experience. So just telling ourselves, you know, just telling ourselves that this person is gone to me forever is not always the case.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: There is also a difference between emotional and social. That’s also part of growth, right? Realizing what’s healthy for you, including relationships.

David Livingston, LMFT: Right. That and I bring this up a lot because it’s just so core to. So core to health. And it’s one of the places where culturally we are weak. Is that the idea that we can accept our dependency needs as a foundational part of health and that our loneliness is it’s like being hungry, that eating is a need. It never disappears. And to be healthy, you, you have to you have to eat, you have to drink and you have to be able to have enough sustenance. Your dependency needs socially are similar that you cannot be well without enough of it. And the loneliness is, is a symptom of the need. Like being hungry is a symptom of needing to eat. And we don’t translate that well and we see it more as you know, I don’t know how we see it culturally, but I don’t think we see it very well. And maybe it’s really starting to change now and being talked about and it’ll help everything.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: What would you say are some of the things people can do in a healthy way to cope with their loneliness?

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: Connect, right? Have similar values or similar interests? It doesn’t have to be as simple as you said. You know, you with them or cut them out of your life. I think it could be those in relationships to a healthier manner with the right expectations, I think.

David Livingston, LMFT: And that while life is such that we all have to cope, no question about it, we have to cope many, many, many times and everybody does. But that’s not the goal. The goal is to have a life where you’re coping as little as possible, where you’ve got a life that’s built well enough that your needs are getting met with enough frequency that you have to cope as little as possible. And remember, you know, substance abuse is a coping mechanism. And so if getting your needs met well enough is the antidote to that, then that’s the goal. So in order to do that, you have to have some courage. You’re going to have to develop your life in a way that that’s that those needs are getting met. But the great news and I think what we forget is it’s true for all of us. This isn’t just true for somebody or somebody else. This is true for all of us. So we have this culture and this society where everybody is needing the same thing. We’re all needing it. And hopefully through conversations like this, we become more aware of it. We relax around it. It doesn’t feel like somehow we’re being vulnerable or needy, right? I mean, the word needy, if you think about it, took on such a negative connotation as if independence was the goal. You know, I mean, we have to be independent, too. It’s not one or the other thing, but the need part is really where we have. We fail far more culturally. And I would say.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: Well, and we’re not very good. We’re not really trained to find to find ways to ask for that help or to reach out. I think that sometimes we are taught more to be nervous or embarrassed or ashamed of need and, you know, maybe even more so of vulnerability that if I tell somebody I’m really having a hard time and I don’t have people to talk to and are you a person I can talk to, that’s a vulnerable place to be, especially if we’re trying to deepen a relationship that already exists. Right.

David Livingston, LMFT: You know, the thing that I noticed in my own life is that the time that I saw the greatest connections were when my children were the youngest. Okay? So when they were really young and all the parents would go to when they’re in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, the parents would interact with each other. You know, you go to birthday parties, and everybody would show up. Because what’s most apparent and most clear is that we have little kids who are entirely dependent on us. They need friends, they need all those things. And then what I have seen as as as people get older, that understanding seems to diminish, diminish, diminish, and the whole world moves towards a more how am I being successful? What am I doing? What am I? You know? And you see that it’s almost as if we disconnect from that core part of who we were and are. But the truth is that aspect of who we are never goes away. So I think as people get older, they get lonelier typically is what I’ve seen. So. I think there needs to be a movement back to where you know, how to hang out with each other, go to dinner and just talk to one another, not through the phones, as you’re pointing out, Claire, but just and and learn to play again a little bit as a society.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: Yeah, it’s, it’s interesting because along with vulnerability, I feel like we also have an aversion to sincerity. And part of that is just what I mean by that is just somewhat of our authenticity, but also just the ability to, as you put it, David, to cut loose a little, to relax, to play even in especially if it’s in a way that we do so without having to chemically alter our inhibitions, you know, that we practice actually being sincere and vulnerable and saying, I’m going to be a little silly or I’m going to joke a little or share even on the other side of the, you know, not just kidding around and having just a good old time. There’s also the dynamic of saying, I want to share something. I want to share a memory or a part of my life or how I’m feeling currently. And that’s intimidating.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: It’s a part of our society right now. It’s not a part of society itself right now that has become, you know, less tolerant, less accepting, more judgmental, more divided. And I think that in a way keeps people away as well. They are scared of what it was, how they feel, who they are. We’re living in a time of extremes.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: Very much so. That’s a good point. Any thoughts about how to bolster up that courage or to get ourselves to follow through when we are intimidated by trying to form new connections or deepen our connections? Just one little tip that’ll solve this for everyone, I think, is what I would.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: Go back to. Tolerance again, tolerance and exception and accepting. I think we can’t expect from others what we don’t deliver. I think being tolerant, being understanding, humble, humility. I think we lost the humility to know that we don’t know everything, especially with people. We don’t know where they’re coming from or where they’ve been, why they are, who they are. I think trying to understand, trying to reach out, being tolerant and accepting is most needed in society right now.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: It’s interesting because along with that humility side, there’s also the side of kind of knowing who we value as part of our lives enough to, as you put it, to listen, to get to know them where they’re coming from. And then also, I think there’s a and I think you can do this in a humble way as well, which is also to appreciate our own worth that we also have something to offer. You know, we’re not just going to someone and saying, hey, I’m, you know, a broken little me. Would you mind taking me under your wing? You know, I might be asking for help, but I’m also offering to deepen a relationship that will hopefully, you know, benefit them as well. We don’t think about that very much.

David Livingston, LMFT: Well, I think that’s it like that. Besides being curious and humble enough and really sincerely try to listen to somebody, we also have to be able to be creative, rough them up a little bit and play with them. I can tell you that there’s nothing worse than sitting with somebody who you feel like you have to be overly polite with. And, you know, it’s no fun for anybody. And it’s great when you feel like you can be sincere and, you know, move forward, move backwards and just move around and be playful. And I think I think there are other cultures that do it so much better. I think Europeans overall do it better. I know this is just huge sweeping statements because some do, some don’t. But I think culturally there’s a feeling that that also like one of the things that worries me so much culturally, what’s happening is every everybody’s becoming so rigid. Yeah. And rigid. Like you can’t play with ideas anymore. You can’t play with feelings and stuff and just and I’m not talking about like, you know, intention matters if you’re trying to hurt somebody or that that’s not what I’m talking about, but I’m talking about like creating a relationship that has some depth and where you can actually really talk to each other. And that’s where isolation ends and a feeling of loneliness. And it doesn’t end through just, I don’t know, just being fearful of one another.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: You know, there’s that quote. Everybody needs a friend that they probably shouldn’t be allowed to sit next to in a serious function.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: I like that. That really resonates with me. I’m I am that friend.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: Correct.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: Everybody needs somebody that can be whatever they want to be. You know.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: Kind of goes into this. This aspect I was thinking about is how do we what guidance do we take or what direction do we take when we are actually building that community? Let’s say that we’re you know, we’re facing it, we’re talking to people and how do we build our own community? As I’m saying that it reminds me, I talked to somebody recently who with their own it’s a colleague of mine who with his own, you know, pushing past and moving through some of his own mental health and addictive issues in his life. He mentioned that he had built a group of friends of his who they have at least once a week, a shared phone call or a Zoom session where they all check in. And in this case, they’re all guys and they have some similar experiences. And so they talk about trying to be a good dad or husband or, you know, what are they doing with their job and where are they burning out or are they not burning out? And and then they, you know, text and call each other regularly, too. But they have this like it’s just this standing meeting of common interests that they have with each other to encourage each other to be healthy. And not everybody has to be that official about it. But I thought, wow, there’s something that did not exist until they decided to do it right?

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: Yeah, there you go.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: I think there’s a lot of groups like this, um, nowadays, but again, those are groups mostly. Okay. The that are on social media, you know, groups or people that have the same interests talk about, you know, whatever they feel. But again, because you’re behind the screen, you can say whatever you want without, you know, sometimes being considerate or caring for others and are not creating that physical connection that is so incredibly important for human beings. So I would say creating those groups are great. But being out there and again, I go back to find something that you’re interested in, if it’s walking in the beach to fort or find a group, find people with the same interests where go have dinner once a week and talk about these things instead of zooming and. And I understand that it’s easier with people’s life, but not always easier is the healthier. And I think we have become very lazy on our own ways of finding health, especially mental health.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: Yeah. And I know, I know. I know what you mean exactly. Obviously there’s issues of geography that can come in for people depending on who’s in their group or who’s part of it. But you’re absolutely right. Sometimes when we do things to be social online, it can lead to isolation in a different way or just kind of fighting with people, but finding things that are healthy and finding that we have at least some of those contexts around us, because that is one thing that drug abuse sometimes will will offer to us is, you know, if I’m depending especially on how I’m finding the drugs I’m using and all that, that forms community sometimes as people get intoxicated together. And so then trying to say, well, I think we forget that that means if I’m able to do that when I’m using, then I can do it When I’m sober. It’s just a little different and maybe a little more tricky or I’m not used to it. But we forget about the ingenuity that people have when they’re pursuing addiction and that that’s a strength that can maybe translate into being healthy, too.

David Livingston, LMFT: Yeah, you’re right that we have to work at it. There’s no way. There’s just no ways around it. Like. Like you’re both saying you have to work at it, too. That there’s there’s, you know, I have a friend of mine who said, oh, we should all start to get together with a couple of other men my age. And so, like, once a month we, we meet somewhere, you know, in between. And, you know, we have dinner and it’s just like you’re saying. It’s just it’s fantastic. I’m so glad we’re doing that. But someone had to, you know, say, let’s do this and let’s make a commitment to it and let’s just start doing it. And you have to be creative, right? I really think the end of successful treatment in anything is that you’re you’re far more creative and meaning that you understand that nothing is a given for us. We’re not, you know, no one’s just going to say, oh, here it all is. And it’s, you know, part of what our whole development through our lives is about knowing that we’re going to have to go after things, create them, connect with others, be resilient, you know, have things go well, have them not go well and just on and on. And you’re right, Dwight, that if you have a group of people who you’re enjoying and even if you’re enjoying it, joining them, doing something that is that is dangerous and bad, like drug abuse can be, it’s a hard thing to separate from, but that doesn’t tend to go well. And it’s it’s never been worse than it is now. But don’t underestimate your ability to connect with other people is what I say and take some chances. Just pick some things and take some chances and make that part of the standard of how you live.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: Yeah, if you can if you can find a way to get yourself into an experience of just having exposure to other people, you know, you do tend to get friendships that will form. I remember years ago having a friend who just he was really into movies and, you know, he knew a couple of us who liked movies and he just started saying, Hey, some of us, our wives are in a book club together and things. And he said, Hey, let’s have a guys club we’re going to. And it just was around going and seeing a movie once a month or so, and a lot of us didn’t know each other that well. But if you go every month, grab dinner and go see a movie or something, even just that simple, you start to say, Oh, you know, there’s that conversation we had last time about, Hey, how’s your kid doing? Or, Hey, how’s your job? And, you know, oh, wow. You know, even if it’s just, oh, what we did last month and compare this restaurant to that one. I mean, as simple as that sounds, and I think research does bear this out, too, that social contact and shared enjoyment that we have with other people, real connection. It’s shown to have results that are very similar to going to treatment groups or community support groups. In other words, it doesn’t have to be about addiction. I think that’s an important part, too.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: I think that is so important, so incredibly important, because, you know, you’re so much more than the condition you suffered from. You have to be able to identify and connect with others in so many other levels other than just the addiction. I think that’s again, that’s my. Hearing that’s growing on that seeing yourself in other levels than what’s just know the addiction, I think that’s incredibly important. And if that is seeing a concert, see somebody that is going to play in a theater near you, call someone that you believe would enjoy it and say, Hey, do you want to go to that concert? But again, it takes getting out of the chair, getting out of the screen and reaching out. Maybe you create incredible connections.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: And that’s a keyword, too, is create know if it isn’t out there, if you don’t have that in your life, one way to try to solve that is look and say, what could I create, You know, as we’re talking, could I be the one who says, hey, let’s have a lunch or let’s just go get lunch to somebody or grab a coffee or, you know, take a little chance or maybe even I’m the guy who or the gal who says, Let’s have a book club, let’s have a movie activity or let’s have a dinner club every month or something. Let’s play cards, whatever it is.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: A lot of people just don’t want to commit for that every month or every. But, you know, I think slowly as you enjoy somebody else’s company, being there all the time becomes just natural. Yes.

David Livingston, LMFT: Right, Right.

David Livingston, LMFT: And there’s places I was talking to someone recently and I was asking them, you know, what they like to do. And they started to tell a couple things. And then they’ll they’ll immediately almost always say, oh, I haven’t done that in years or, you know, I don’t know if I want to do that. And I’m like, okay, so here’s what you’re going to do. And they were saying that they played it was a woman who said that she had played tennis in high school and she hadn’t played in 30 years. I said, Well, do you do you have a park close to you? She said, Yeah, or a tennis club. She said, Yeah. So just go get in. You call them up and get in a group. Just get in a group lesson where there’s 3 or 4 other people. It’ll be one hour, it won’t be expensive. You can just go do that. And, and she did it and now she’s playing tennis regularly also. And she’s got somewhere to go consistently during the week and that can expand. And it doesn’t have to be that like we’re saying. But it’s it’s unbelievable how small, seemingly small things can be so significant.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: And guys just trying to get away from our own selves. Maybe, you know, somebody that, you know that is lonely right about now. Even if you’re not, give them a call. Get them out there.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: Yeah. There. Yeah. A big piece there is like trying to find ways to give back. I’ve known a lot of people who have met people through even volunteering or unofficial, like whether it’s official volunteering spot for charitable things or just going and saying, Yeah, do I know someone who’s lonely?

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: Yeah. Oh, your grandfather, your.

Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC II: Uncle, your cousin, Somebody that has been, you know, detached for a while. Give them a call. Say, Hey, do you want to get a coffee?

David Livingston, LMFT: That’s it. Well, I’m feeling a lot less lonely after this conversation, so that’s good.

Dwight Hurst, LPC: And that’s it for us today. Thanks so much for joining us. To learn more about the Waismann treatment program Detox in general, or to communicate with us and tell us all about the things that you’d like us to be discussing on this podcast. Please go to opiates.com for the Waismann Method Official treatment specialists and Rapid Detox Center or website. Make sure to follow us at opiates on social media or send us an email at info@opiates.com. We’d love to hear from you. This show is brought to you by pop collar productions as well as the Waismann Method. And our music is the song Medical by Clean Mind Sounds. I’m Dwight Hurst and for myself, Clare Waismann and David Livingston, we just remind you to keep asking questions. If you ask questions, then you’re going to find answers. And if you find answers, you can find hope. Thanks again. We’ll talk to you soon.