There are a myriad effective tools and strategies to break bad habits, addictions, and other unhealthy behaviors. For example, eating better, working out, fasting, meditating, and prioritizing sleep are all time-tested ways to get healthier, both mentally and physically, and reduce the impulse to self-medicate. In other words, it’s about becoming the kind of person who doesn’t need the problematic, drug, substance, or behavior. In addition, reducing or eliminating access to temptation and establishing accountability increases one’s probability for success. However, there is one strategy that I think trumps all the others in terms of effectiveness, and that is to build quality relationships with the people around us. It’s based on the blunt idea that “Connection is the opposite of addiction” (and other bad, impulsive, thrill-seeking habits).
Connection Heals Addiction
To be sure, we don’t want to be connected to just anyone. Being connected to the wrong people is likely to stunt our growth or damage us over time (link). However, when we use the word “connect,” we are talking about a natural, normal, and healthy connection, like that existing between relatives or friends. Relationships of this kind are capable of meeting our emotional needs, whereas those that do not fall into this category tend to have the opposite effect.
I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship. . . We are hard-wired to connect with others. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.Brené Brown
Humans are not robots or merely animals. As I wrote in another article, “People live longer and spend a lot more time developing and maturing than other species.” This means that we have a unique need to be social, which began with our parents, guardians or anyome taking care of us when we were young. Aristotle quipped that “men are naturally social animals.” According to Aristotle, non-social beings either fell into the category of beast (animals) or God. (However, in Christianity, God is understood to be eternally triune, and temporally capable of connecting with human beings, so relationship in some worldviews is even a divine attribute.)
It is an empirical fact that addiction thrives in isolation. Isolation feeds addiction, and addiction feeds isolation, in a positive feedback loop (aka a “vicious cycle”). This is especially true of a pornography habit, where no no supply chain, pharmacist, dealer, brokerage, or human interaction is necessary. As a result, pornography has been termed “a silent killer.” On the other hand, feeling connected to the people around us is healing. Connection provides regular sensory stimulation, emotional release, and all-around positive feelings. And it doesn’t carry any of the negative side effects that we associate with our bad habits.
I understand the difficulties inherent to relationship building. It is not something that has come easy to me for much of my life. However, we should start by making it a priority. There were seasons of my life where I was so focused on school, work, or the gym, that I neglected to spend time with the people who mattered the most to me. We don’t have total control over the success of a relationship–familial, friendly, romantic, or otherwise–but we can always do our part. Usually, when we do our part well enough and long enough in the area of relationships, things overall will work out in our favor. Whereas when we give no effort and opt out of the process entirely, the outcome is guaranteed to be bad.
There is one relationship that is always guaranteed to work if we do our part, and that is our vertical relationship with God. When we feel connected to God, we develop a distaste for lesser things.
I know of no other way to triumph over sin long-term than to gain a distaste for it because of a superior satisfaction in God.John Piper
If addiction is like junk food, then relationship is like healthy food. My diet was lacking through much of my life, even when I was fit and active. However, when I eliminated added sugars, fried foods, and unhealthy preservatives, and started eating more fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and whole foods, I developed a distaste for junk food. I stopped craving it. I internalized that eating clean made me a happier and healthier human being, even if that meant I occasionally had to forego instant gratification. It took discipline and intentionality to filter what I consumed, but it was well worth the effort. And it got easier over time. That was a year and a half ago, and I don’t plan on ever looking back.
The times that I felt most disconnected from God and people were the darkest times of my life. I’m going to keep working out, stretching, and eating healthy, because healthy habits are important. However, today I understand the importance of relationship. Just as I need people in my life, people need me in their lives. Together we can attain levels of health, purpose, fulfillment, and well-being that we cannot alone.