LIFE IN RECOVERY
What is love? Of course, we can answer this question with some catchy song lyrics, but baby, that might hurt! Music has historically sought to answer this question. This might be because the emotional charge of love and confusion amidst love makes for a good song. One way of thinking about love can be useful and quite simple: Love involves paying attention to something.
We have many patients at CeDAR struggling with issues of love in recovery. They might feel that they have been inadequately loved over time. Their family might feel un-loved by them due to constant struggles with alcoholism or drug addiction. When love breaks down, a person can feel a traumatic wound, often leading to a form of crisis.
With the above examples, one of the most common ways in childhood to feel unloved is to feel a lack of ‘attunement.’ This means that caregivers either didn’t pay attention to the individual or couldn’t grasp what the individual thought, cared about or felt. This is especially common for people who had parents in their household but still felt a detachment.
For someone who feels a lack of attention or love, they sometimes reach out to find love in the wrong places. Another way of saying this is that they want someone to pay attention to them. This feels good and fills an emptiness inside. Unfortunately, they often find this in the wrong places. Many people in early recovery find themselves in unfulfilling or empty romantic relationships. There is a reason why many advocates of recovery will emphasize people take a break from ‘love’ for the first year of sobriety, and instead seeking to love themselves.
Self-love involves the same overall principle as the above external love – paying attention to one’s self. Staying mindful about how you feel. Avoiding judgments about emotions or certain thoughts. Letting go of shame and self-criticism. Building a sense of mastery and efficacy in recovery, such that you can be independent and whole. These are the steps to self-love.
The topic of love is so actively human that it seems trivial to summarize it in only a few sentences. Although we cannot acknowledge the extent of such emotions, we can help shed light on one of the most basic components of love – feeling noticed, acknowledged and validated. Feeling that someone is paying attention to you and being present to pay attention to others.