Addiction as a Problem of Disordered Intimacy

 Two young men who were sexually exploited as children need to own the consequences of their self-destructive behavior. From a distance, Twig and Lenny may seem like they have their lives together. The couple is frequently spotted in designer clothing, stepping out of town cars, sitting VIP in the hottest clubs, partying it up with Hollywood’s brightest. But close up, it becomes apparent that despite their affluent lifestyle—one that comes largely as a result of family generosity—their lives are in shambles. Both Twig, 24, and Lenny, 22, are addicted to cocaine. Acquiring and consuming the stimulant has become their primary mission, but they do plenty of other drugs as well—MDMA, meth and pot, for instance. The two fight constantly, but remain fixed at the hip; no one else they know quite understands them. Their relationship has never been exclusive. The two young men are bound up in the West Hollywood men’s scene: sex, sex and more sex. In their particular circle, it’s all about whom you know and what you look like. In recent months, the latter has been in decline for both men; the drugs are taking their toll. But this has only caused an upsurge in sex, particularly risky sex (unprotected), especially for Twig. While both men say they fear HIV and hepatitis C infection, neither has begun to make the changes necessary to prevent either infection or its spread. Although both Lenny and Twig come from affluent, even famous, families, what they share in common is a history of rejection and a story of abuse. As young teens, a powerful man in Hollywood—someone both their fathers knew—sexually exploited them. This dark secret and the pain that remains unresolved ties them together more than any other commonality they may share, and it continues to wreak havoc upon their lives.

Damaged Intimacy and Addiction

Most of us assume that addicts and alcoholics use in order to feel better. Maybe they lack whatever it takes to feel “good enough” without self-medicating through substance or process abuse. In truth, addiction, according to expert Robert Weiss, is “a disease of escape and dissociation from stress and other forms of emotional discomfort.” We all know that addicts—whether alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts or other behavioral (process) addicts—are people who tend to engage in toxic relationships. Their love relationships tend to be intensely up and down, and their relationships with their families are often damaged. This gives us a powerful clue: addicts are people who simply cannot experience genuine intimacy; they run from it. And the numbers show us that most addicts are this way not because their drug or other addictive pattern causes them to be this way, but because of a history of harmful relationships.

Abuse, Neglect and Attachment Injury Among Addicts

Some addicts will tell you they had a happy childhood and that their parents and every other person they knew were good to them. These people certainly exist, but they are not the majority. Histories of childhood abuse and neglect, both physical and emotional, among addicts are quite common, and such histories are the incubators of intimacy disorders later in life. An intimacy disorder creates the anxiety, depression, pain and confusion that the addict wishes to suppress, numb and self-medicate through the behavior of addiction, even while the addiction serves only to increase shame, anxiety and depression. Attachment injuries are also common among people who experience addiction. Attachment injuries occur in children who experience a betrayal of trust. Either they are forced into enmeshing relationships with a parent or caregiver in which they are required to take on the role of an adult or they live in families where the child’s emotional needs do not come first, or where the parent’s emotions are hostile and erratic. In the case of Lenny and Twig, a family friend had betrayed their trust. They were plied with alcohol at a young age and photographs were taken of them. They were required to interact with other boys in a sexual manner. Living with the shame of this experience, and the fact that their families had refused to act (and continued a friendship with their abuser), kindled their shame and rage, an emotion the two turned inward with the use of drugs, sex and toxic relating.

Coming to Terms With Past Abuse to Heal Addiction

As adults, it is up to Twig and Lenny to begin to own the consequences of their self-destructive behaviors, and to do so while coming to terms with a past that was deeply unfair and horribly unkind. What happened to them as boys was not their fault, and their families’ reactions were uncalled for. The past cannot be changed, but the present and future can. Addiction recovery, when it is effective, requires more than just the effort to stop doing x, y or z. It often takes an examination of why x, y and z seemed to work for so long, and what took place to damage the cords of intimate relating that all humans need in order to thrive. Because paradoxically, the addict may run from genuine, positive relationships, but every human strives to connect, even an addict. Both relationships and behaviors must be healed for true recovery to take hold.

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