After my second child was born, I decided to build a brick wall. In my mind’s eye, I can still see that impressive structure now. The red bricks, perfectly cemented together with sand-colored putty, were stacked up to a height of about five feet—just high enough for me to hide behind but still look over if I needed to. Perhaps the most notable fact about this wall is that I was able to construct it in record time—seconds even. When you build structures with your imagination, you only have to blink, and it appears. Your imagination is good like that😜.
“Job done,” I thought as I breathed a sigh of relief. The wall was up, and my heart was safe.
Or so I thought.
Although the imaginary wall did provide a false sense of security because I thought it would keep anyone (ahem, Jeff) from causing me to experience more pain and disappointment, I neglected to consider that all of my current misery was stuck on my side of the wall. The loneliness, only exacerbated by the current situation, followed me around like a stray cat who had once been fed; it was going nowhere. That was a total bummer.
You may be wondering if I might have been suffering from post-natal depression at the time. My response to that query is emphatic: I don’t think so. Although my response may not sound very convincing, I believe my slightly stressful life circumstances were to blame. I was eight-and-a-half-months pregnant when Jeff and I moved from England to Alabama with a two-year-old in tow. (Yes, we moved back from overseas two weeks before I was due to give birth.) What we left behind in England was one heck of a flying assignment for Jeff, my thriving business, and lots of great friends—all to set up a temporary home in a place called “Prattville.” For those of you who are not familiar with British slang, a prat is a stupid or foolish person. Looking back, I can see that the name was quite prophetic.
My son was born two weeks after we arrived in Prattville—the same day Jeff started a full-time military school during the day while getting a master’s degree in political science (in nine months) in the evening. I know it sounds crazy (and it was), but he needed to get his master’s degree to be further promoted, and trying to study and write papers when you fly jets for a living is, well, really tough. The logical choice was to finish both schools at once. It’s worth noting that though the decision seemed logical at the time, it did not mean that it was sensible—not when you just moved from overseas to a place where you didn’t know anyone, had a brand-new baby with colic, and a two-year-old prone to tantrums 🙄.
I was not the only one who questioned the sensibility of our decision that year. I will never forget the look on Jeff’s face when he read through the course syllabus for both of his programs; he was shell-shocked. As he came to terms with the fact that he had to read over one hundred books and write a ridiculous number of papers in a little over ten months, I sensed him disappear right before my eyes. Even though my husband is one of the most intelligent people I know and one of the fastest readers, I knew this pace would stretch him to his limit. As I backed out of his makeshift office to tend to one of my crying babies, I imagined the voice of one of my dear British friends in my head: “You jolly-well better get on with it.” Quite right.
But—only after I paused to build that brick wall.
As I look back on that painful time in our lives, I am aware of how much my loneliness and misery were self-imposed because of my ignorance. I didn’t understand that Jeff was the solution to my pain, not the cause of it. I needed to build connection with him, not put up walls. According to Dr. Glenn and Phyllis Hill, authors of The Connection Codes, “Humans are the least likely species on the planet to survive independently but the most likely to thrive interdependently. We are born needing relational connection to thrive, even to survive. That does not change as we age. We develop and maintain interdependence through emotional connection, which facilitates us becoming the best versions of ourselves—successful and powerful.”
In my post last week, I referenced the Surgeon General’s advisory on loneliness, which shockingly concluded that the negative health consequences of loneliness are on the same scale as tobacco usage, substance abuse, and obesity. This conclusion validates the findings of a study by Dr. Bruce Alexander in the 1980s. His Rat Park experiments found that when rats were placed alone in a cage with no community of other rats, and were offered two water bottles—one filled with water and the other with heroin or cocaine—the rats would repetitively drink from the drug-laced bottles until they all overdosed and died. However, when he put rats in “rat parks,” where they were free to roam and socialize and were given the same access to the same two types of bottles, these rats remarkably preferred the plain water. Even when they did drink from the drug-filled bottle, they did so intermittently, not obsessively, and never overdosed. In other words, a social community beats the power of drugs. Oh. My. Goodness.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:21; 27)
Although it is clear to me that relational connectedness is built into our DNA, that doesn’t mean that connecting with others comes naturally to you. If you grew up in a home that didn’t model and prioritize relational intimacy, you might gravitate more toward isolation. The problem is that your inbuilt need for connection and intimacy doesn’t simply go away—you still need connection. Many times, people who are missing connection numb their pain with food, alcohol, sex, drugs, or even media. Dr. Lloyd Sederer, Adjunct Professor at the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University, would agree: “Humans, not just rats, need to be part of a community, encouraged to relate with and experience the support of others. The science of medicine, with the exceptional value it attributes to symptoms, diagnoses, and evidence-based therapies, has had the unintended effect of eclipsing what we know and can do about the benefits of human interaction and attachment.”
What can be done if you recognize that you are hiding behind your own imaginary (or real) walls that are keeping you from connecting with others? Here are a few suggestions:
- First, admit that this could be a problem. You may have been unaware of your tendency to isolate or numb, but if that’s the case, ask friends, family, or God for their perspective. P.S. For years, Jeff isolated himself in books and later the computer. You can put walls up with otherwise “good” things.
- Pray. Spend time with God and ask Him to show you what caused you to put up your wall. Hurt? Fear? Shame? Journal about what you see, sense or hear.
- Tell someone. This is the first step to taking down a wall.
- Most people will need someone to help them process the roots of their tendency to isolate or put up walls. Seek the help of a trained person if you know you have been impacted by trauma.
- Consider booking an inner healing, Sozo, or deliverance session. Any or all of the above can make a tremendous difference. Jeff and I have had many sessions for ourselves, and we are also trained to minister to others.
- Take baby steps. If you make a decision to stop or cut down on numbing with games/ media or anything else, try to increase your time building relationships with others. Remember, connection is the antidote to addiction.
Have you had times in your life when you know you put up a wall? How did you take it down (or are you still living with walls)? I’d love to hear your feedback below!