In early recovery, I walked into a 12 step meeting and saw people laughing, hugging, embracing each other in a completely natural human way. The human connection often begins with touch. If you are anything like me, the thought of another human being touching you sent you running for the door before anyone could reach you.
Being the good little addict that I am, I made several tours of outpatient and inpatient treatment. It was there, at my third inpatient treatment, that I began to understand the meaning of genuine love and support from complete strangers. These “strangers” would soon become my friends. They became a part of the foundation on which I would build my recovery. I never managed to stay sober more than few weeks or a few months once I left treatment, but those people were still there. Loving me when I could not love myself. They gave me hope when I was hopeless. Part of this was the connection of touch.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We all learned about “good touch, bad touch”. There are inevitably some creepy people out there who hug a little too tight or a little too long. Those people deserve boundaries. It can be done. The important part is being able to connect to the people we trust by being vulnerable enough to let someone give us a hug.
A lot of people I have come in contact with throughout my recovery have felt the same way I did in the beginning, “You and your touchy, feely group of people stay away from me. I don’t want your hug. I don’t want you to hold my hand at the end of a meeting as we recite the Lord’s Prayer. I’m going to bolt out that door as fast as I can to avoid “you people””. Slowly, but surely things changed.
I came to long for the feeling of another human being’s arms wrapped around me. It was a feeling of protection, guidance and love. It wasn’t even about “don’t touch me” anymore. These moments began to teach me self worth. I learned that I deserve to be loved and protected. I began to understand that I was worthy of not only self-care but the care of those around me.
I spent so many years beating myself up for being an alcoholic and a drug addict that I never understood why anyone would want to love me. I could not find it within myself to love me, why would someone else? We are all just spiritual beings engaging in a human experience. Part of that is to love one another and show that love. We pick each other up when we are down. We embrace each other with love, care and support. We can show love in appropriate ways and let each other know that it will be OK.
I remember, sitting in meetings and someone would move to touch my arm and I jumped as if you had given me an electrical shock. The slightest noise sent a tense, uncomfortable feeling throughout my entire body. Always on edge, I was so cautious of what everyone was doing at meetings that I couldn’t comprehend what we were talking about. Now, it’s better. I am still jumpy from time to time, usually when I am tired. I startle easily when there are a lot of people around, but I am not afraid.
These days, as I get ready to leave a meeting, a party, a friend’s house, I always hug people goodbye. It not only shows that I love and support you, but it shows that I too, need the human connection. We all do, we just have to be able to let go of what we had known for so long and hang on to the bit of hope we can pass to each other through an act of kindness.