Jungian therapists see the roots of addiction growing in the need to escape the loneliness of human existence. In “The Art of Loving,” Erich Fromm show us how we manufacture romance, and even love, as palliatives for the pain and anguish of being alone in the universe. Other common “painkillers” include drugs and alcohol (obviously), and a myriad of other repetitive behaviors, rituals, addictions, and manias. On one end of the coping scale, these actions can create an altered state of consciousness as an escape; on the other end, they can soothe our sober nerves, feed our souls, and, hopefully, make us feel grounded and less alone.
The need to escape the anxiety and loneliness created by being human, at least for a while, is part of the human condition. Whether through the body, say through sports or dancing, or through the mind, as in escapist fiction or music, humans have always needed some escape. Many people will describe favorite movies and TV shows they return to when they need some kind of comforting. They ground themselves with their fictional families—people they grew up with who provided laughter and solace and escape from a painful reality: The Ricardos and the Mertzes. Mary and Rhoda. Danny and Uncle Jesse. Name your favorite fictional family and describe how you feel when you’re spending time with them—safe and sound? These comforting fictions serve their purpose—so long as we don’t get stuck there.
High art has its consolations, too. It used to be a popular convention that loners are driven to become artists and musicians because as social outcasts the only way they could feel a connection to the rest of humanity was through the universal language of art. Art provided the means to escape their loneliness and communicate with and belong to the world. Again, an attempt to escape the cage of solitude and connect with others.
From sitcom families to great art, there are nurturing, grounding, and even ennobling pastimes that help us cope with being human. Physical escapes can often be healthier than mental ones. The runner’s high, the surfer’s rush, the boxer’s Zen, these all achieve a state of relief from everyday worries, although here in Los Angeles we all know a few gym rats who go too far and use physical activities (up to and including sex) to the point of addiction.
For those of us in recovery, the escape from reality in itself became an addiction, and our task is now to cope with reality without those crutches we allowed to take over our life. But it is important to acknowledge that once we are living in the sober world, we must build into our lives the healthy escapes from reality that we will certainly be needing sooner or later. That is our work in therapy, to keep our Recovery Journals filled with attempts to continually make the better choices.
If you are ready to explore these or any other issues with a caring, experienced therapist, please call or email David Bowman to arrange for a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Your mental health is worth it. Call (323) 561-2361.
Photo credit: Gerome Viavant UNSPLASH