Everybody, I have to admit something. On Monday, I broke my social distancing contract and left my apartment to run a group in Beverly Hills. Much to my wife’s dismay, I drove up to the isolated facility on the top of the hill. Before I left, I asked the clinical director if they had transitioned to Zoom yet. They gave me a hard no and assured me they were screening everyone who came to the property. What that meant was a quick temperature check and the instruction to wash my hands (it was hard for me to hold my tongue). I ultimately went because I needed the money. I want to say it was because rent is due but I probably would have been fine going without.
During the group, I sat on the opposite end of the room, away from the clients. I didn't want their compromised immune systems from years of drug abuse anywhere near me. But halfway through the group I recognized something magical. I was with people in the same physical space. There was laughter and genuine interaction. I could read people’s reactions and could lead and steer the conversation with questions. I was in my element. I was doing something I truly love to do. It felt like I had eaten the forbidden fruit, and I relished in it. If I can speak to the recovering addicts in the room, I had a physical craving for human interaction. In simpler terms: I miss people.
Over the last few days, I have heard quite a few clever interpretations to help put things in perspective. One colleague of mine noted that his grandparents earned their reputation of The Greatest Generation. They lived through the Depression and knew what it was like to live without. They lived through the incomprehensible hell of World War II. They went from having nothing, to being asked to go above and beyond for our country. Another friend of mine ranted on how the government has asked us to sit in our home, isolate, and consume media, which is every addict’s wet dream (and I tend to agree). So why is it that I feel so drained from feeling disconnected?
I sometimes wish I could go back in time and invest in Zoom stocks before Covid-19. I’ve mentioned this before but I have about four-to-five Zoom calls and meetings a day. And it’s great that we have the technology to stay present in other people’s lives and be able to communicate so easily. I am truly grateful for that. But when I sit in a 12-step Zoom meeting with 50-plus people, and half the mics aren’t muted, I can’t help but notice I’m actually sitting alone in my bedroom. And then I can’t help but feel a little lonely. It reminds me of the last six months of my using. On the rare occasion my friends allowed me to hang out, I was so exhausted from abusing my body. I couldn’t connect to anyone. Shit got dark when I began to feel alone around groups of people. Now, I am nowhere close to that headspace or desperation. I just feel a little disconnected. Zoom is great but the video lag, dropped audio, and its inability to run properly on my shitty Chromebook is annoying and inconvenient. And at the end of the day, I still miss people and the kind of human interaction that was so fleeting on Monday.
A mentor of mine once taught me that this sense of human connection is our need for Love & Belonging. The tricky thing about this need is that it’s the only need you have to give in order to receive it. Which is annoying because I like being selfish. But I don’t like feeling lonely. I mean, I already got two cats. I don’t need to start collecting any more to fulfill my needs. So I have to ask myself, “What did I give today?” “Did I help anyone today?” “Did I sit and really listen to anyone today?”. In the middle of all of this, a good friend of mine asked me for money. He lost most of his income in the last two weeks and rent is due today. It wasn’t a large sum, and I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I could give. Usually, I am hesitant when people ask me for anything. But I needed to give something, so I sent him a Venmo with the message “because.” I’m no bleeding martyr, and even though it wasn’t in person, that action filled my need for love & belonging today.
This article was written by Jack Shain, CADC - II and founder of Keep Left Recovery.