Community is where it Begins, and it Ends with Community
The Neuroscience of Addiction and Recovery
“The spiritual part of our disease is our total self-centeredness.” (NA, p20)
Community Humans are social beings. Since the emergence of our species, we have always depended upon the circle, the extended family, the village. There is no record of humans who, over an expanse of time, simply live by themselves.
Further, biology has shown that the human species is far beyond other animals in our ability to consider the minds of others, in our ability to empathize with others’ needs, and in our ability to transform empathy into love, care and generosity (Waytz, 2014).
Social Illness This understanding of human nature must be tempered with countervailing experience. Particularly over the last two thousand years of Western civilization, the trend towards social class struggles, competition, alienation and war has given a different sense of what human nature is. These trends appear to us to be elements of social illness.
For our purposes, it is necessary for us to understand that we need community. In order to address our principal issue — recovery from the disease of addiction — it must be understood that we need community to recover. On the other hand, the disease of addiction is a disease of this civilization. And it is characterized spiritually — in other words, on the level of the nature of the species as a whole — by total self-centeredness. In other words, the disease of addiction is driven by a spiritual disposition which is opposite of what is most healthy about humans — our ability to create community.
Spiritual Illness Further, self-centeredness is often equated with selfishness. On one side of this spiritual disposition, selfishness is evident. On the other side, self-centeredness can be a fear of and isolation from everyone. On this side of the spiritual disorder, self-centeredness can mean paranoia.
“The power of community is undeniably vital in recovery from addiction…. Although there are different ways to describe it, the disease of addiction is absolutely a disease of loneliness and isolation. Naturally beginning as a feeling of ‘different than,’ ‘separate from’ or ‘not measuring up to’ others, the illness is therefore perpetuated by loneliness, isolation, fear, social anxiety and depression, therefore becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is why community is absolutely essential to recover, no matter the level the addiction has taken or where the sufferer falls on the spectrum of [addiction] disorders. Community through human connections formed in treatment, recovery houses, 12 Step meetings, recovery activities and the like cannot be devalued. Even for those seemingly hopeless addicts… in need of a spiritual awakening through the 12 Steps to get well, the end result is ‘helping others’ and practicing principles of altruistic, unselfish behavior (basically, behavior to learn to connect with others)” (Maryland Addiction Recovery Center, 2015).
Community Building “It is for this reason that treatment professionals, therapists, family and friends must learn to band together and hold lines with suffering addicts…, learn healthy boundaries and stop enabling behaviors. Cut loose the safety nets that addicts… create in order to continue their isolation and reinforce barriers to community engagement. Human beings naturally crave fellowship, kindship and connections. Addiction and the addicted brain tell the suffering addict otherwise, so it is absolutely imperative to create an environment, however uncomfortable, where an addict… is forced to engage and reengage with community. Their recovery depends on it” (MARC).
Connecting to Healthy Community Community-based Counseling, including the practices of thousands of forward-thinking and sincere therapists today, begins by connecting constituents to healthy community, whether it be in a recovery circle, a spiritual association, or some other community effort — such as women’s groups, men’s groups, other self-help associations, youth organizations, parent committees, urban community garden clubs, tenant groups, neighborhood crime watch committees, community building mobilizations and community justice campaigns — in other words, the activities that residents in all oppressed communities engage in, independently of the government and the powers-that-be, to address their basic needs (Lynn and Owens, 1997, pp18–19). Any of these group activities that can stand in against the emotional and social isolation/dislocation which is the reservoir for mental illness in this culture, can be a support for reclamation of self for the sufferer/survivor (Lynn, 2017).
We begin in community. Along the way we encounter the illness and disease of the surrounding society, and we are subject to this illness. In recovery we learn we have a disease — we learn that we are not bad people, but we come out of ill circumstances. We learn in recovery that the antidote to the illness is inside community. We learn in recovery that the healthy way to address the spiritual disorder of isolation and social paralysis is through being part of building community.
Ultimately, for our species to survive and thrive, we humans must build healthy community with each other. As we can see from our experience, the disease of addiction is not isolated to certain individuals. It is community-wide. Addiction is a disease of the social order we live in. It is in this connection that when we participate in healthy community building, we not only help ourselves, we help the species. It starts and ends with community.
Lynn, Alexander. (2017). “Community-based Counseling is Movement Counseling.” Social Justice Education. https://medium.com/@alexandersjeunity/community-based-counseling-is-movement-counseling-d616487bba93
Lynn, A. and Lisa Owens. (1997). Mattapan Commodity Health Center. Boston: United Youth of Boston.
Maryland Addiction Recovery Center. (2015). “The Power of Community in Addiction Recovery.” https://www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com/the-power-of-community-in-addiction-recovery.
Narcotics Anonymous. (2008). Basic Text. Chatsworth, CA: Narcotics Anonymous, World Services.
Wayts, Adam. (2014). “Humans are by Nature Social Animals.” Edge. https://www.edge.org/response-detail/25395