“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” —John Lennon
It is likely that most people are skeptical that the world will fulfill the vision that John Lennon crooned in the lyrics of “Imagine”. The world has always been in turmoil and uncertainty. Today’s world is no exception. Yet. If we are to create unity and harmony with safety, dignity, and a sense of belonging it will happen in the context of community.
We are people who need community. It is a setting that cultivates and composts ingredients for relational healing. It is a place to fertilize personal agency. It is a space to develop interdependence and to affirm individual autonomy. It is the locale to create a sense of belonging. Everyone needs to feel part of the pack. Community is the site to compost and mature personal dignity and respect.
That said, many people have been hurt and betrayed in community. The impact of trauma and oppression makes a sense of belonging very difficult for some people. Addicts classically struggle with belonging. Some experienced traumatic abandonment. Others have felt a sense of exclusion or have felt judged as unlovable.
Healing requires that these hurts and betrayals be addressed. A 12-step community is a place to unpack the trauma of addiction and cultivate an embodied sense of belonging and security.
In relation to others, it is an opportunity to develop the ability to self-regulate and form intimate connections as well as have separation from those with whom you are intimate. Cultivating community attachment underscores the importance of the concept that our bonds and connections with one another is central to personal development through the many stages of life.
As you contemplate the importance of belonging to your community, it would be helpful to reflect upon who in your immediate or extended family is considered as belonging and who is not? Who do you think of that, by our broader social and economic systems, are considered as included and who is seen as disposable or as not belonging? Safety, belonging, dignity, and respect are critical composting ingredients toward building a healthy community.
In recovery, connection through community allows you to find meaningfulness in the average spaces of life. Millions in the world live disconnected from community. Unfortunately, without community, the likelihood of discovering your own personal brilliance dims. Everyday relationship interchange is the common compost that creates the healing power of community.
Mother Teresa once said, “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” Do you know someone you would describe as forgotten? When you drive to work, worship or play— do you notice the street people in your community?
Not knowing what to do with misfortune, many look away from the homeless choosing to deal with discomfort by distancing themselves. What about the person at the grocery store who shuffles by with a blank stare on their face? Do you think of them as invisible? Folks warehoused in nursing homes across our country feel disenfranchised and forgotten.
At this level of living, it really doesn’t matter what possessions you once owned, who you have known, or really anything else. Being unloved, uncared for, and forgotten is the greatest poverty among the living.
How this impacts you is that a fragmented disenfranchised world distorts and undermines the possibility of cultivating personal brilliance in everyday places of living. Whether you realize it or not, you are a communal creature who needs connection in order to understand the meaning of living. Isolation deadens connection like your cell phone when it is out of range. Community and commonality are important ingredients when composting individual brilliance.
A 12-step community is designed to be a cocoon and container. It is a container to express anger, overwhelming sadness, and all other intense feelings with total acceptance. Healing requires a nonjudgmental space to unpack unwanted feelings that dominate and handcuff addicts from becoming all they can become in recovery. Community is a cocoon that provides protection from having to perform a certain way for others. It is a container that creates a space for you to sift and sort composted feelings. This is necessary for life changing transformation.
A 12-step community provides connection. The patron saint and mystic St. John of the Cross said that “the virtuous soul alone is like a lone burning coal that grows colder not hotter outside of the fire”. So it is with those who are isolated. When people or systems look to harm or control others, isolation is a key tactic. In prisons, war, and torture, the use of isolation and solitary confinement is standard practice. It also applies to situations of domestic violence. By isolating a person from their network of support and family, the perpetrator is able to break down, hurt, and control the partner being abused. It essentially sequesters them with the person harming them. Isolation is traumatizing in every situation.
During weekend groups that I have conducted across the United States for the past 20+ years, I have witnessed men making courageous choices to be connected by being real and vulnerable. I have experienced men sharing the deepest pain with blood curdling cries of remorse, loss, and loneliness. Group therapy that becomes community is based on the mutuality of common shared brokenness. When people compete and compare themselves to others who have shared, the mutuality evaporates and group effectiveness no longer exists.
The compost of a healing community contains a shared vision, shared goals, and shared hope. There is the compost of healing power when a member courageously shares a truth that has not been told to another living soul and then receives back from the group with total love and acceptance. There is more healing compost when a member chooses to live in accountability and consultation with other group members. There is empowerment when a group member shares from his own experience, confrontation to another member who is struggling to face the truth about their behavior. This makes the group powerful like no other.
Self-empowerment comes through the embrace of authentic humility. The community becomes a safe space to confront ugly narcissism and the ongoing embrace of grief and loss. It is a place built upon cooperation, not comparison, or competition. It isn’t the common strength but the shared weaknesses that heals and promotes personal brilliance. In the context of shared weakness, men have set aside their judgment and anger toward a brother’s behavior and have extended compassion, identification, and care. The connection through the common bond of brokenness has cultivated excitement and rejoicing rather than threat regarding a brother’s strength and success. Shared weakness is the cornerstone of true community.
A 12-step community is a place to find your lost voice. Addicts lose their way and their voice to destructive addictive urges. A community of those who struggle with addiction becomes a place where an addict can find their lost voice. It is a place where you can sleuth the difference between aggression and assertion, victim and victimizer, and dependence from vulnerable interdependence in relationships. Finding your voice in community unlocks the door to going deep within your own reserve of brilliance and becoming your own guru rather than looking for one outside of yourself. Grace Lee Boggs said it right when she wrote, “You are the leader you have been looking and waiting for.”
Healthy community offers support when you are needy. It requires that you ask for what you need and face the fear of possible rejection and abandonment. This is the common compost that connects you to others with the possibility of giving birth to your own personal brilliance. There is no greater space to cultivate and realize the healing of personal brilliance than in the context of healthy community. Community contains the compost of accountability to do the work of carving consistency from everyday challenges that lead to healing and accessing your own personal brilliance.