I was having a discussion recently about addiction and loneliness. It seems that at the heart of many peoples struggles with addiction lies the issue of being lonely (amongst other things). Whether addiction shows up as alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, sexual addiction etc. loneliness is often mentioned. This has been true for me, as I battled anorexia and bulimia throughout my teens and twenties.
A psychologist called Abraham Maslow published a study in the 1940’s called “A Theory of Human Motivation.” He set forth the Human Hierarchy of Needs – a pyramid of the most basic requirements shared by each human being. If these basic requirements are not me, then people suffer. The needs are divided between physical, safety and love/belonging. Each of us has physical needs, such as the need for food, sleep, adequate rest and often these basic requirements are not met in many types of addictions. Safety can include financial stability, a sense of belonging whether through job/vocation or community. Again, this is an area which deteriorated for many of those in the throes of addiction. We all have a need to be loved and to sense that we belong but for the addict often relationships with families, friends deteriorate and so the cycle of loneliness continues. Incidentally the mortality rate for loneliness has been studied by Bingham Young University and has been shown to be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and presents a bigger health risk than obesity.
Combined with the risks of addictive behaviors, this is a pretty grim reality and should open our eyes to the very real need to reach out to others and help break this viscous cycle however we can.
I read the most inspirational story recently about an Australian gentleman who lives across the street from the most famous suicide point in Australia, right by a cliff. Over the years he has saved almost 150 people from committing suicide. I wonder how many struggled with addiction. He watches the cliff and if he sees someone who looks like they may be considering jumping, he goes and talks to the, inviting them into his home. Watching out for other people, being a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on for the addict, the lonely or anyone else – this is actually a practice of yoga called Seva (service) and much more important than a pose on the mat.
PS We offer a Y12SR class on Saturdays at 4:00pm for all addictions. This class is taught by a teacher specialized in this area. It is run by donation and if you suffer from addiction or know someone who does, please encourage them to attend. The connections made and community formed could truly be a turning point.