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The Opposite of Addiction is Connection

Last year I was in the Yeshiva League. The term ‘Yeshiva League,’ originally used in reference to the Yeshiva high school basketball league, has exploded to an extent where being in the ‘Yeshiva League’ has become a significant part of each one of our identities.

Our tight knit community was initially just a basketball league. It served as an outstanding network, connecting schools of similar geographical proximity, skill level, and values, infusing an entirely new level of energy and excitement into the high school athletic experience.

However, over time, developing into a concentrated bubble, this community - just small enough that most people have heard of one another or crossed paths at one point or another, and just big enough that it is still exciting to be at the top of it - brings along with it incredible social pressure.

In our age of social media, and the constant analysis it brings of each individual’s every move as he or she climbs the social ladder, the pressure has risen to frightening levels.

Nationally, the depression and suicide rates have nearly tripled amongst teenagers as a result of the rise of social media platforms.

Our community has been affected accordingly. And, the toxicity of our high school social experience is more than likely a large part of that development.

I am not writing to reveal anything new, nor am I writing to alarm anyone. I am writing to offer some context and a perspective that can change the way we view addiction and the way we approach this issue.

In a Ted Talk, Johann Hari states that,

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection."

It has become evident that addiction has little to little to do with a chemical imbalance and nothing to do with a lack of moral strength.

Rather, addiction is an escape from a reality that hurts too much to bear. Addiction is a natural response to a tremendously painful situation. (That is why it is no coincidence that childhood trauma and addiction share such a strong relationship.)

Usually, when we lack something we look externally to find the very thing we are missing. When we are hungry, we eat. When we are physically sick, we take medicine. Isn’t it only logical for one to think that the answer to emotional pain lies externally as well? This is addiction.

Addiction is an escape or response to emotional turmoil. It is simply a hope that through this substance, the sufferer will finally feel whole.

Through this understanding, we can see that addiction is not some foreign concept. On the contrary, addiction is just normal human behavior and tendencies taken to extreme levels. The reaction is extreme but only because the pain is as well.

Amazingly, perhaps the greatest answer to addiction is quite simple (although often deeply misunderstood and mistreated). Again, Hari said “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection”.

I can further support this reality through the very way addiction is most successfully "cured." The wildly successful Alcoholics Anonymous program has saved millions of people since 1935. For many, the themes and elements within its 12 step program have proven to be the answer to addiction.

What’s fascinating is, alcoholism is identified as a disease, yet, when you go to an AA meeting, you do not find any doctor or professionals there (at least not directing the meeting). When you look around, it's just a room full of friends.

The cure to addiction or the pathway to wholeness is through connection. The individual receives this connection in AA through a community of people who care about and are there for one another, along with the connection achieved to themselves through introspective work, and finally, developing a connection with their ‘higher power’ (sometimes identified as G-d).

As the individual works their way through the 12 steps of AA, the need to drink fades away as life becomes more livable.

The best answer we have to addiction, and often any emotional distress, is connecting with others and connecting to oneself.

Therefore, with this simple understanding we can do a lot to prevent depression, addiction or worse in our community through internalizing this message.

If you are a child or teenager reading this: You should know that whatever you are going through is normal and that the first step to respond to any pressure or hard situation is finding someone you trust - a friend, sibling, parent etc.- and talking it out.

If you are a parent reading this: It will be most beneficial to your child, however healthy they are, to be understanding of the situation and develop a healthy relationship with them where they know that they can be completely comfortable talking to you about any issues that may arise. It’s important to be on their side and to make sure they know that when they ride the roller coaster of life that you are in the seat right there next to them.

And for all of us: We can save many lives when we choose to understand rather than judge. People who are going through a rough time just want to feel that others are there for them. If we open our hearts and let our arms follow, we have the power to do incredible things. Remember, like we learned from AA, there are no fancy tricks or vaccines to treat this disease.

There is only love.


Author: Yitzi Weis just returned to the United States from his year in Israel at Yeshivat Reishit. Yitzi founded the Empty Glass Society, a student initiated and student sustained education and practical resource network addressing substance abuse within the high school community, in his senior year last year in TABC.


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