|REHAB'D RICK: By the time he was 27, Mayoh had lived under 21 roofs.|
I first met Mayoh in second-year university. He was a mature (ha!) student returning to school after what most of us would have considered one and three-fifths full lives.
Among the first things he told me: He attended Woodstock.
I heard that, I was like, "Can I touch your robes?"
Since that meeting, some stuff happened. If Rick's reading this, I'm kinda hoping he's worried I'm about to lay bare details of the bordering-on-calamitous insanity that he got up to, but no. Those lurid stories he can save for his autobiography or obituary, whichever comes first.
Given Mayoh's epic shenanigans, it's hard to believe that he is now into his 23rd(!!!) year of total abstinence from dangerous substances. For the past dozen and change years, he's been a trauma and addiction counselor and workshop facilitator, mostly with Inuit and families impacted by addiction. At the moment, he's with a group called Serenity Renewal for Families in Ottawa.
Another thing about Mayoh? He is a gifted writer. And last week he showed me a story he produced about the link between loneliness and addiction, for the Alta Vista VISTAS newspaper. I liked the column so much I asked if I could reproduce it here. (And not just because it means less work for me!)
You've heard of designated drivers? After the next paragraph, sober Mayoh will be my designated writer.
But first. It occurred to me that letting Rick write my blog reminds me of a clever idea that my brother Eddie came up with: Ed's thinking of writing cover versions of famous novels; the way musicians produce cover versions of famous songs. I tell ya, the guy's a genius.
So might also be Mayoh. You decide.
Loneliness: Our Need for Human Connection
By Rick Mayoh
Serenity Renewal for Families Workshop Facilitator
“If you are afraid of loneliness, don’t get married,” wrote Russian author Anton Chekhov, his tongue only partially in cheek.
Like many people, I carried a deep burden of loneliness throughout my early years. I lived under 21 roofs by the time I was 27, attending 17 schools all across Canada and the United States. I accumulated six mostly dysfunctional parents along the way, with no siblings or other family members on either side to interact with.
As Simon and Garfunkel sang, darkness and loneliness were “my old friends.”
As I later discovered, there is a huge difference between being lonely and being alone. That transition emerges when you learn to like the person you are alone with.
Jungian analyst James Hollis figures that when we are not alone when we are on our own, then we have achieved solitude, a positive state versus the pain of loneliness. The moment that realization dawns feels like an epiphany of belonging.
Sounds good but how do we get there?
“Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being,” says Dr Dhruv Khullar of Harvard Medical Centre.
Johann Hari, in his wonderful book on addiction “Chasing the Scream,” agrees: “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is human connection.”
Like all emotions, sometimes we get lonely, but excessive loneliness is simply not good for us.
Social isolation has become a growing epidemic and a serious public health issue.
It has dire physical, mental and emotional consequences. The ranks of lonely adults in the U.S. surged from 20 to 40 per cent since the 1980s, according to recent articles in the New York Times.
Studies show socially isolated people, especially those in middle age, have a 30 per cent greater risk of dying in the next seven years. Social isolation is a greater predictor of early death than obesity. Lonely people are more prone to disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, increased inflammation, a higher level of stress hormones and increased blood pressure.
Studies also found increased risks of 32 per cent for stroke and 29 per cent for heart attack, angina or death from heart disease. Almost 70 per cent of Canadian university students struggle with loneliness. One-third of people 65 and older live alone.
We have a basic need to belong. Loneliness can arise from a strong sensitivity to social cues, which can then generate increasing negativity. To counter this, we can intentionally develop good acceptance skills and self-compassion.
When we help others, our own concerns diminish dramatically. We can recognize solitude as an opportunity to improve our social skills and to boost interaction and support. Try journaling. We can create meaningful personal rituals, such as quiet time to start the day.
Sharing our stories in a safe environment with like-minded people is immensely beneficial. That has been the successful mission of Serenity Renewal for Families for the past 34 years.
Maybe because I had few options, I decided the most effective way to heal the wounds generating my intense loneliness was to embrace loneliness. We already have all we really need inside.
I still adhere to the existential view of loneliness . . . recognizing that we arrive in this world alone and we depart it alone. But what a marvelous adventure human connection provides along the journey.
Returning to Chekhov’s view of marriage, or for any other relationship, my favourite observation about loneliness, solitude and human connection comes from poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
“I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.”