Intimacy is one way people relate to each other that involves honesty, openness, and trust. It is one of the riskiest things you can do with another person and one of the most rewarding.

At its best an intimate relationship is an opportunity to give and receive unconditional love, to experience the dissolution of the illusion of separation we feel from other people, and to have what John Powell, in Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? (1969), calls “peak communication” with another person. He describes it as “a complete emotional and personal communion,” where “the two persons will feel an almost perfect mutual empathy.” This is an experience that occurs at times, but is not permanent.

Developing Intimacy

Because of all sorts of injunctions from your dysfunctional family, unfavorable experiences with other people, and the strength of your addiction, intimacy may be something you have never experienced or have no idea how to develop.

Knot of yarn Intimacy would be difficult and confusing even without the complications of addiction. As an illustration, imagine trying to untie a huge knot made of several pounds of yarn. Can you feel the frustration of trying to loosen and unravel it without damaging the yarn? Now think about trying to untie the same knot while under about thirty feet of sea water! This gives you an idea of what addiction does to complicate ordinary life problems.

Abandonment Human beings have a natural ability and need to feel OK while separate from others, and also to be very close to others. If your experience includes emotional abandonment, then you may either cling too closely to others or avoid getting close because of the real or imagined risk of loss.

Enmeshment Clinging because of fear is called “enmeshment.” A good common word for it is to smother. Inability to get close results in feeling isolated and in not being able to get interpersonal needs met.

Intimacy Is Dynamic

Intimacy is a dynamic thing. It involves the movement of getting close and getting separate. The closeness feels safe and comfortable, but the separation is not threatening. To be separate and OK has to do with your self-esteem and sense of your place in the world. It does not depend on another person.

When you have this sense, it makes risking closeness easier. You can allow yourself to be vulnerable because you know that no other person has the power to damage your spiritual center.

Any model to describe intimacy could involve many dimensions; for example, honesty, trust, need, satisfaction, commitment, and choice. You can be honest and trusting with many people, but because of normal human limitations you probably will experience real intimacy, including commitment and meeting each other’s intimacy needs, with only a few. So the choices you make for friends and lovers are very important.

Addiction and Intimacy

Addictive disease, whether in your family, your friends, or yourself, makes intimacy difficult. Fear, dishonesty, mistrust, and poor self-esteem all tend to crush intimacy. So if you want to experience intimacy, one of the most rewarding human adventures, you must put recovery from addiction as your priority.

Even then you may need special work to learn how to be intimate. Professional help is sometimes appropriate, as are self-help books and workshops.

Intimacy requires time, energy, and other personal investment. You have to risk admitting your needs and feeling vulnerable. But the rewards are well worth the risk. To feel secure, to be truly honest, to share thoughts, feelings and dreams, to laugh and cry with another human being, and to love and be loved, is a spiritual experience of the highest order.

A realistic look at the way the deck is stacked against intimacy, especially for addicts in the disease or in early recovery, shows that intimacy cannot be forced. Like a fawn in the forest, it will not come to you if you rush after it. You will need to work on your recovery and develop an appreciation for the grace that will present opportunities for intimacy in your life.

Intimacy, see also: Aftercare, Assertiveness, Codependency, Community, Control, Coping skills, Family, Feelings, Forgiveness, Freedoms, Honesty, Humor & fun, Integrity & values, Intervention, Love & caring, Recovery, Relationships, Self-image, Surrender, Unity.

Updated 8 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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