Recovery Plus: reclaiming lives
66 April/May 2017 Last word...
Jim Holsomback researches the importance of
social connectedness for long-term recovery.
There are few nouns
with a more miserable
association than 'loneliness'.
In early recovery, loneliness is
one of the most difficult challenges to face and
is often cited as a primary source of relapse for
people who struggle with new found sobriety.
Over the last 10 years, research has given us an
understanding of the emotional, mental and
physical resilience factors that connectedness
brings us as well as the detrimental effects of
loneliness. Establishing new relationships and
sober supports can consolidate feelings of
connectedness, necessary particularly when
relationships established around drug use
were longstanding. Creating meaningful
relationships is one of the most difficult but
important tasks in recovery; meaningful 12-step
participation helps people feel connected to a
group and/or their sponsor.
Dr Emma Seppala has provided research on the
importance of relationships and compassion
and how both aid in the pursuit of happiness.
Her Tedx Talk on The Power and Science of Social
Connection gives us a great overview of the
importance of interpersonal relationships. And
while we know the benefits of a sober lifestyle,
having effective relationships helps not only our
ability to experience joy, but also good health.
Dr Elizabeth Tillinghast's article in Time Magazine
documents additional benefits of social
connectedness as well as the importance of
addressing loneliness as a public-health risk
from childhood through to geriatrics. And an
impressive longitudinal Harvard-based research
study following over 700 people
for over 75 years had one
significant finding: good
relationships keep us happier
and healthier. While social media and emerging
sober applications can be helpful for people
in early recovery, they are less effective when
compared to ‘real’, social engagement. In spite of
emerging ways to approximate connectedness
through social media, there are major differences
that might best be explained by the fact that
humans are wired for seeking connectedness
and thrive when in social relationships that
are genuine, interactive and reciprocal. This
is important throughout our lifespan, from
younger children's ability to feel like they are
in similarly-aged friendships to seniors looking
to remain connected to friends and family
(where the health aspects of loneliness are most
dangerous and imminent).
So how does the treatment community prioritise
connectedness as it relates to recovery? First,
sharing its importance with those who are
venturing into early recovery is a great initial
step. Second, recovery-based professionals can
generate additional curiosity and conversation
about meaningful social connectedness and
make it a part of ongoing supportive recovery.
Altruism, compassion and setting aside time
to prioritise relationships are integral for our
ability to experience connectedness throughout
development. Ensuring that people in recovery
pay particular attention to relationships can be
an essential step in maintaining sobriety and
achieving happiness while doing so.
About the author
Jim Holsomback MA, ABT
is the director of clinical
outreach for Paradigm Malibu
and Paradigm San Francisco
Adolescent Treatment and
programme director for Triad
Adolescent Therapy Services.
His 25 years of experience
working with adolescents and
families through group and
family services have made
him a nationally recognised
figure in the field. Paradigm is a
30-45 day programme treating
12-18 year olds struggling with
anxiety, depression, trauma and
substance use disorders.