Unlocking Connection

I had a mindblowing lightbulb moment yesterday. I think I’ve found the (light) switch that turns on my sense of connection to other people.

What Is Connection?

I absolutely love the feeling of connection with other people. It’s a really special thing.

Unfortunately, that feeling would come and go, seemingly for no real reason.

I’m now wondering – what’s the average percentage of time for people to feel connected to each other? I imagine there’s a full spectrum of experience…

Some (unfortunate) people feel isolated and alone most of the time – very rarely connected. And other (lucky) people will feel connected to others almost all the time.

I have intermittent depression and I’m a drug addict (God, it’s still a bit painful admitting that, but it’s important I’m honest).

When my mood is low, I often get a strong urge to isolate myself from others. And as my drug use became more problematic, I hid that part of myself away from others too. At times, I even shut myself away from my own wife!

I’m quite introverted to begin with. I really enjoy time on my own and I find social situations quite draining. Usually, a few hours in the company of others is my limit… and then I need to spend time on my own again to relax and recharge my batteries.

But I really come alive in 1:1 chats with people where we both listen intently and talk about issues which feel meaningful. In other words, not just everyday smalltalk.

For me, listening seems to be at the heart of connection. Actually, it’s more than just listening, let me try to expand…

For me, connection to others involves:

  • Listening carefully to what the other person is saying
  • Maintaining an attitude of empathy and kindness
  • Being non-judgemental
  • Wanting the best for the other person

Does that make sense? Do you get what I mean? Am I missing any important elements of connection?

The Cause of Disconnection

When I feel disconnected from others, my thoughts and attention are turned inward. I become concerned mainly with my own thoughts and feelings.

When I feel this way, other people often feel a little threatening… and that feeling is at the root of the social anxiety I often experience.

It’s fear… fear of others… fear that I’m going to be judged. Fear that I’m not good enough.

This fear and disconnection can become a vicious spiral…

I feel a little low / fearful… so I tend to build a psychological barrier against others… my thoughts and attention turn inwards… which only exacerbates the unpleasant feelings of depression and isolation.

I’d often crave a sense of connection with others, but felt unable to break through that barrier of fear and self-analysis.

The Cure

Yesterday, the focus at our 12 Steps meeting was love. In our fellowship, we have an unconditional positive regard for our fellow addicts. We want the best for them. We want to help them recover. And we listen carefully to each other as we share our stories. This is what I mean by “love”.

There’s a saying I’ve heard often at 12 Steps meetings but not quite fully understood…

“We only keep what we have by giving it away.”

I thought that phrase meant that if we want to stay clean and sober, it’s important to help other addicts. But the cynical part of me kinda dismissed this idea as merely a handy way to increase the membership of the 12 Steps fellowship and therefore keep the organisation alive.

But now I see this very differently. I think that quote is talking about love and connection.

Here’s what I realised…

“We only stay connected with others when we give away our love.”

Bollinger, R. (2019)

This is the cure for feeling isolated and disconnected! Rather than focussing inwards and waiting for a feeling of love and connection to magically appear, we have to create it ourselves!

When we feel a sense of love and compassion towards others, it is us that feels love.

If you want to feel love and connection with others, then you have to generate a feeling of love and connection towards someone else.

You have to give away the feeling of love to someone else, in order to keep it yourself.

This strikes me as gob-smackingly profound. It’s fucking amazing!

When I make myself feel love, empathy, compassion and warmth towards another person, suddenly my heart opens up.

Say goodbye to introverted introspection. Gone is the social anxiety. Gone is the fear of others.

Say hello to feeling connected and experiencing a deep sense of love.

“You cannot feel love and fear at the same time. So if you want to feel connected to others, make yourself feel love towards someone else. Your fear (social anxiety) and sense of isolation will evaporate.”

Bollinger, R. 2019

I’ve realised that I can no longer wait around passively for a feeling of love and connection to come over me. I have to make it happen by giving away my love to someone else.

This one realisation has the potential to massively change the way that I relate to other people.

For the 2-3 weeks when I experienced drug-induced psychosis, I had virtually zero social anxiety. I felt very connected to all aspects of myself, and almost as strongly connected to other people (when I paid them close attention).

Sadly that feeling faded as the psychosis worse off. And my social anxiety gradually returned.

But now, thanks to this realisation I’ve had about love and connection, I feel hopeful that I can banish that fear of others and my social anxiety.

I’ve found the key to unlocking a new mode of being which will bring so much more joy and love into my life.

I no longer need to feel afraid of others! I can connect with people at will!

Now that is pretty fucking awesome.