Isolation

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal the other day about how our always online, always connected, fast-paced 24/7 communications were making us ill. The author made a good case for why we need to slow down and reconnect in person with actual human beings. Reading it reminded us of many of our clients who search out people in bars to connect with.

You can’t connect with people easily at the gym, people are too connected into their iPods or into the TV in the cardio room. You can’t connect at the coffee shop because everybody is connected to their laptops and/or iPods. You can’t connect at the park or the beach for the same reason. So where does that leave people yearning to connect with and talk with others in person? Frequently it is bars. Partly that is because it is easy – they are there, open and you just walk in and sit down. You don’t have to make an effort to find people you like or share an interest with or join something.

One of the really sad parts of that is, of course, that the conversations in bars that pass for “real connecting” tend to deteriorate rather quickly as the drinking increases. But at least it is real human contact and talking not texting or Instant Messaging.

12-Step programs have always said that alcohol abuse is a “spiritual disease” – spiritual being rather more religious than anything else. But we think for some, the spiritual disease is the dis-ease we feel when we have no time to relax and be with others because we are always working, always communicating, always plugged in to the electronic world rather than the real world.

The author or the WSJ article, John Freeman, said we trade the complicated reality of friendship for the vacuum-packed idea (of friendship). And he is right. But sitting in bars drinking is also the vacuum-packed idea of friendship; it isn’t the real thing either. It may feel a step closer to the real thing because everyone is physically there, but they are not mentally or intellectually present. However, by the time the evening is over, it won’t really matter to anyone anyway. People go home feeling like they connected to their fellow man even if they can’t remember exactly what was said, and they live to return the next day and start all over again.

Wouldn’t it be better if we all developed a few boundaries about when we are available to our employers and everyone else who must get in touch right this second? What if we learned to unplug for several hours everyday after work or school? Unplug so we could connect with people in real, meaningful ways without iPods, cell phones, and laptops always on and always intruding? We might all be a little happier in the long run. Some of us might decide we don’t need to drink quite so much because we no longer feel such dis-ease.

Then we might even have the time and energy it takes to enjoy real friendships, marriages, and other intimate connections.

Why not go for real?

Single? Isolated? Lonely?

When clients talk about why they drink, loneliness and boredom get high marks. It isn’t just those who are single who complain about feeling lonely and isolated, but it’s usually a bit easier for them to fix the problem since they don’t have to work against a spouse.

As with most things where alcohol is involved, the solution does take more effort than pouring a drink. There’s the rub. But pouring that drink, and another, and another, also fails to fix the problem for more than a few hours – which isn’t much of a solution, if you’re honest with yourself.

Of course continuing the drinking also means the problem isn’t ever going to get fixed.

If you really want to address the loneliness then you will have to put down the glass and do something else. Ignoring short term anxiety for longer term gratification is the answer – though not one we obviously want to hear, or implement.

But it is the real answer.

How does that work? At 30, my son – who doesn’t have a drinking problem – complained bitterly about not having a social life. I suggested that sitting in his apartment on Friday and Saturday nights waiting for interesting women to knock on his door probably wasn’t going to fix that.

Instead, given that he is a very agile and coordinated man, I suggested that he take ballroom dancing lessons (this was years before Dancing With the Stars appeared) and for once he not only listened to my idea but actually tried it.

It worked. With a ratio of four to one, women to men, he didn’t lack for dance partners and because he quickly became a very good dancer he was much in demand. He joined a couple of dance clubs around St. Paul and soon had all the company he wanted. When he moved to Chicago the activity allowed him to quickly establish a social and recreational life there too.

There is no mystery here. Invest the time in activities you enjoy, or think you might enjoy, and meet people with similar interests in a very non-threatening way. At the worst, you’ll have spent some time away from the bottle and doing something other than drinking. At best, you’ll actually be developing a real social life with real people – not drunks.

That’s the other part, of course. Not drunks. We do tend to attract people who are similar to ourselves when we meet them. If you want to meet people capable of a real relationship, make sure you are capable too.

Yes, that means being the person you want to meet. And we doubt being a drunk is on your list of desirable traits.

Too hard? Really, it only takes a few weeks to get started. Is that so much harder than a lifetime of bored, isolated, drunken, pseudo-friendships?

We didn’t think so.

Give us a call and we’ll help you get started and cheer you along through those first adventurous months and encounters. You’ll be glad you did, just as my son was.

Dr. Mary Ellen Barnes & Dr. Ed Wilson
U.S. & Canada: 888-541-6350
Los Angeles & Alaska: 310-54106350

We Get Letters…

A reader sent the following e-mail:

In your Newsletter you wrote:

“What we mean by that is that it’s not an isolated condition, like an actual disease, and that eliminating alcohol abuse is accomplished by changing the context of your day-to-day life. Mostly you change what you do so that there isn’t any room left for alcohol.”

You are absolutely correct! This time around, I have filled the void with constructive activity which will enhance my future.
Besides working, eating and sleeping, I also attend college for 3 courses-9credits a semester. I’ve always wanted to, but when drinking never had the time.

Now, I don’t have the time to waste on alcohol use and abuse.

This is all due to a dramatic shift in the way I think.

After realizing that AA is a bunch of hooey and not for me, I found your site and others related to CBT.

Utilizing this philosophy has made all the difference in the world.

I intend to keep this attitude and outlook. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Thank you,
Tom D.

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