“We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.”
I smiled the other day when I read the familiar bumper sticker on the car in front of me: “I was always the black sheep. Then I started going to meetings and found the rest of the herd.” Beyond a good chuckle, there is more truth embedded in that statement than we may realize. Without a doubt, one of the most difficult challenges for many people in the early stages of recovery is acknowledging their need for regular, ongoing, supportive community.
Used to living in isolation, hiding from and deceiving others, spending inordinate amounts of time and energy concealing woundedness and shame, and depending only on oneself, many people enter recovery with the idea that they can continue to manage sobriety without the help of others.
For some, the adaptive role of “black sheep” in one’s family-of-origin tends to forge an identity around being bad, unlovable, excluded, and unwanted. Early relationships represented hazardous and unsafe conditions, and therefore, they come to believe that people are not to be trusted, and only to be used. Reacting to anticipated shame or hurt, they never learn to see themselves as worthy of belonging in caring community, nor believe that others would continue to love and support them “as is” if they could see their reality. For addicted individuals, isolation remains the defended stance.
Beneath this thick black, protective coat lies a profound fear of relational intimacy—of truly being known by others—which compels and perpetuates the addictive cycle. Still, the deeper conflicting need is for unconditional, loving relationships to illumine our darkness and alleviate the loneliness of our pain.
If we are courageous enough to push through our fears of rejection, of knowing others and being known, of unmasking our true self, and of learning to depend on others for support while the ground beneath us is giving way, a whole new world opens before us that dissolves our shame, heals our hearts, and becomes a source of stability and permanence for the healing work we need to do.
In supportive community, we learn to let go of our need to hide, to control, and to run from pain. In community, we find safety to grieve our losses. In community, we learn that we are not so different from others, and that we can even learn to be alone with ourselves without being lonely. In community, we learn how to reset our relational patterns to health and vitality. In community, we find strength to maintain sobriety and allow God to restore us to a sound mind. Most of all, in community, we learn that we are indeed worthy of love, and that our healing gifts to others flows directly from our own redemptive story.
Written by: Robert Rubinow, LPC