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Plug in and De-Charge: How to Avoid the Addict's Disconnection Syndrome

The theme of the month for HuffPost’s Living section is Unplug and Recharge. When my editor asked me to write the piece, I assumed that this topic was directed at normies (non-addicts). It may come as no surprise to you if you’re an addict or have them in your life, that for addicts in and out of recovery, normal people principles get turned upside down. For the normy, unplugging can be healthy because it’s a way to detach safely from the business of everyday life. For the addict this can be disastrous. Below, I’ll define how to plug in, rather than unplugging, as a way to feel better and reduce stress for those of us in recovery.

For the second part, recharging, it might be useful to see as well from the addict’s perspective. We spend most of our time charged up emotionally, meaning over-the-top, overreacting and under-coping. I will outline some tools for how we can “de-charge” as part of our recovery process. I’ll outline some of my favorite and easiest meditations in the next article this month on the Huffington Post.

When Addicts Unplug People SufferAs an active addict (one not in recovery), my main purpose in life was to unplug completely, as in totally disconnect. “From what?” you may ask. We addicts tend to unplug from our feelings, responsibilities, goals and all the people who seem to nag us relentlessly about all of it.

I remember seeing Henry Rollins play at a place called the Bomb Factory in Dallas, in the mid 90s. At that particular moment, I was craving a drink. Real bad. But my girlfriend and my best buddy were both keeping thier laser eyes on me. When I got too close to the bar they intervened, telling the bartender not to sell me alcohol. For me at that time alcohol and drugs were the preferred method of disconnecting my freight train brain from the rest of me. My friends were standing in the way. To an addict, this means the relationship has got to go. This is a very frustrating experience, which causes a real short circuit in our decision making process.

That night Rollins did a song called “Disconnect,” where he groaned in guttural agony, “Don’t want to think too much, it makes me think too much…I want to disconnect myself.” I could relate, as this described perfectly how I’d felt all of my life.

Buddhism says there is no me so who is it that wants to disconnect from whom? As a Zen-tillectual and psychology grad student and formerly sober 12-Step member, these are the thoughts that “I” would torment “myself” with. Fortunately or unfortunately no amount of alcohol could drown out the dialog. And believe me, I tried.

This desire to disconnect might be something that non-addicts experience too to some degree. But for the addict it’s really a defining characteristic. So the solutions that I apply in my life, (mainly the teachings in 12-Step and Buddhism) point to the need to forget the self, or at least move beyond self-centered leanings towards service to others.

How Addicts Can Unplug by Plugging In
These days, with 12.5 years of continuous abstinence from mind-altering substances, the brain patterns of that desire to disconnect still play a role in my attitudes and behaviors. But I’ve learned a little bit more about how and why people, addicts in particular, can feel this desperate need to get away from ourselves. The feeling (or realization) that we’re spinning our wheels and achieving nothing causes deep anxiety. We feel trapped. The natural impulse then is to panic and seek a way out. But as we’ve been saying in the 12-Step rooms for decades, it doesn’t matter where you run to, because you’ll find yourself there when you arrive. Even Buddhist authors are using our 12-Stepper lines, such as the popular book, “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” But if we repeat this cycle of painting ourselves into stressful corners enough times we can build up what recovering people call a “sense of impending doom.” This can lead to depression, hopelessness, paranoia — or back to a drink/fix/pill/gambling, etc.

For many, the easiest way to avoid this kind of “stuck point,” as treatment professional Terry Gorski calls it, is to go to a 12-Step meeting. If we are affiliated in the recovering community, it’s a great relief just to see the familiar faces, smell the coffee brewing and sit through the familiar meeting format. For those who’ve never been, this usually involves a few readings from our literature to focus intention, followed by someone sharing their story of addiction and recovery. Then others share in much the same way. It’s a great way to reconnect with ourselves by connecting with our spiritual community. There are other ways, but for me this is what works best and is what I recommend to anyone suffering from the addict’s disconnection syndrome.

For those who are not affiliated with their 12-Step community for whatever reason (e.g. small town, fundamentalist ideas, too Christian in orientation, odd or unfriendly members, fears–real or imagined) there is a way to increase the sense of connection. I wrote about this in detail in my book, the 12-Step Buddhist. There are also some articles and podcasts available for free on the12stepbuddhist.com.

In short, this is what I recommend. When I go to meetings these days, I like to go early and stay late, enjoying the meeting before the meeting and the meeting after the meeting. The essence of this practice is to connect with others and to get a break from our own “monkey minds” as some Buddhists call it. In my early days of sobriety v2.0 (see the 12-Step Buddhist for the full story) my habits were the exact opposite in that I’d come late, make a fuss and leave early, thereby connecting with no one and returning home in a worse mood than when I’d left. Not the best solution.

In addition to going early and staying late, I also try to offer some service at the meeting, however small or seemingly insignificant that may be. Then there’s the old sticking your hand out caper. Try it. It works. Get a few phone numbers or email addresses or social networking contacts on Facebook or a great site like intherooms.com. Then make some contact with those people, just for practice. When you see each other again, you’ll be that much more connected.

Join us next time for some down and dirty methods to get de-charged when emotions are high and stress is causing problems.

I’d like to extend a special thanks to the more than 200 people in Florida last weekend who attended my workshops at Tampa and Plantation. Please take a look at
intherooms.com for a great way to connect with people in recovery.

More information on How to Help a Drug Addict.

2 comments to Plug in and De-Charge: How to Avoid the Addict’s Disconnection Syndrome

  • i just wanted to let you know i got the 12 step Buddhist book in the mail today and i can’t stop reading. i knew i was right where i needed to be when i read the line talking about the program being enough if you fit neatly into the bell curve of white, middle-aged, christian males. i, fortunately, do not fit into this category and i’m grateful to have this book to supplement/enhance my Big Book. i’ve been practicing Mahayana Buddhism for almost 2 years and it’s been difficult to sit in meetings where people talk about Jesus and the Father, etc, and have a hard time identifying. i am a firm believer in developing my mind in order to gain control of my life and thoughts. i live in the “Bible Belt” and meetings consist of people talking about their higher power removing fear and taking problems away, as if by magic. this higher power may in fact work miracles for them, but i need something with more “weight”. thank you so much for writing this book and giving me an opportunity i never thought i would have been afforded. life is looking up!

  • Nina

    Dear Darren Thank you for your article. Each word is up to a minute. Yesterday I made my second try to the FA meeting and felt lonely after it. When I called the # they gave me – it was fake number….I called another number, but I was told that someone is calling and my call was rejected too. After that calls I found this site and your article and decided that today I will try to go to a meeting one more time….

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