The Importance of Community on the Healing Journey

Four people arm-in-arm atop a mountain

If all of human existence were contained within one day, we as a species have lived communally for 23 hours and 59 minutes. We are currently living with unprecedented levels of isolation, independence, self-reliance, and individualism. Humanity ain’t built for that and it shows.

Without getting all Yuval Harari about it (author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind), let’s simply look at our capacity for human connection through the lens of attachment theory and draw some conclusions about the vital role of community on our healing journeys.

Insecurely Attached

Anxious attachment originates from unhealthy distance (physical and emotional abandonment or inconsistency), which prevents regular maturation and development of a self, leaving a hole of unmet needs and childlike dependency on others.

Avoidant attachment typically comes from unhealthy closeness (abuse, control, criticism, enmeshment) which prevents the formation of appropriate boundaries. When it results in missing boundaries, this ensures more unhealthy closeness, thus confirming the deeply held belief that people, vulnerability, and relationships aren’t safe; and when it results in rigid boundaries (walls), we shield ourselves from ever giving relationships another fair shot.

In other words, insecure attachment of any kind is a product of unhealthy relationships, and the only way to correct that is to practice and experience healthy relating in a safe, patterned, repetitive way that rewires the nervous system’s understanding of human connection.

This cannot be done via dating where there is so much at stake and so many reasons to self-abandon. And because the nervous system measures connection primarily through proximity, touch, tone, eye contact, body language, and speed of response, the proliferation of so-called “connection” via social media is damn near useless, as far as our nervous systems are concerned.

And while randomly hanging out with friends here and there may be quite helpful actually, I don’t think that spells the necessary rewiring for those of us with insecure attachment blueprints.

My Personal Experience

When I got sober sixteen years ago, I went to a twelve-step meeting literally seven days a week for several years. It sounds insane, even to me in this moment, but at the time it was suicide or that. So I picked that.

And what I didn’t realize was happening was that I was seeing the same faces in the same places, reading the same things, praying the same prayers, discussing the same principles of recovery. People got to know me deeply, and I them. We hung out before and after meetings, we hugged, we texted and called each other to check in. We laughed, we cried. I learned unconditional caring, loving, and belonging.

I forged incredible friendships with men and women — young, old, black, white, rich, poor. Doctors, landscapers, gutter junkies. I learned the value of vulnerability, humility, honesty, authenticity, open-mindedness, surrender, acceptance, and willingness. I got to experience feeling safe, seen, soothed, and secure in relationship with other people. And that did more for my social, emotional, and mental health than anything I’ve ever done before or since.

Now, I know twelve-step ain’t for everybody. It’s got its pros and cons for sure, and I don’t give a particular shit what anyone thinks about it. But what I do know for sure is that we heal our relational trauma through relational means.

My Professional Experience

With all the clients I’ve ever worked with, those who struggle the most are invariably the most isolated, alienated, and disconnected from any type of authentic, vulnerable community. And those who recreate their lives are folks who find a vital place of belonging in churches, twelve-step fellowships, group therapy, meditation circles, dharma communities, or whatever.

In his book Change or Die, Alan Deutschman notes how, left to their own devices, 90% of heart disease patients do not change their lifestyle post-heart surgery. Yet, 77% of patients enrolled in a support group are able to maintain lifestyle changes long-term and postpone further health complications (like death).

In other words, willpower sucks, even when your life is on the line.

In Atomic Habits (theee quintessential book on behavior change), James Clear suggests that we join groups where our desired behavior is the norm. That way, with social accountability, repeated exposure and modeling, it would be difficult to not adopt healthier habits. For the insecurely attached among us, I believe this means we need to join communities where vulnerability, connection, safety, love, belonging, self-care, and radical authenticity are the expectation.

And I truly believe this is a critical element of the healing journey — more of a need than a nice-to-have.

Taking Down The Fence

My chiropractor recently told me, “Your body put up this fence for a reason. Don’t you dare take it down until you know why it’s there.” She was describing some kind of physical compensation in my spine, but it immediately struck me as a universal truth.

We put up fences of insecure attachment patterns, codependency, vulnerability avoidance tactics, etc. to protect us from unhealthy relationships. It wouldn’t make any sense to remove these protective mechanisms when our physiology is still fairly convinced that relationships are dangerous.

However, when we saturate our nervous systems with regular experiences of healthy, safe, mature connections, then we’re able to take down the fence without re-traumatizing ourselves and promptly erecting an even taller one.

But please be patient with yourself; this is not an overnight fix. It may take years to get thoroughly plugged into a healing community that feels good and right for you. Even still, I know deep down in the part of me that knows things that it’s definitely worth the effort.

As they say in recovery groups, “Bring the body and the mind will follow.”


Community support. 🙏🏼

Community support. 🙏🏼

Community support. 🙏🏼

Generous donation…


Or enter a custom amount…


Thank you kindly.

Thank you kindly.

Thank you kindly.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

*This article contains Amazon affiliate links to the books mentioned.

Published by Adam

Mentor, coach, speaker and educator for over 12 years. I have recovered from and triumphed over many obstacles and afflictions. It brings me tremendous joy to help others overcome similar circumstances so they can live their best lives.

8 thoughts on “The Importance of Community on the Healing Journey

  1. This is awesome. So well put. Were it not for my Al Anon community I’d probably be dead. Thanks Adam!

  2. Of course I agree with and appreciate every word of this, as usual. But I’m wondering what specific advice you’d give around steps toward rebuilding a strong sense of safe community for people with somewhat severe relational trauma, like kids raised in cults, who end up with complex trauma as adults? Most of us legit DON’T feel safe or understood well in groups like 12 steps—and in fact the structure can so closely mimic the cult-dynamic that the dissonance when disagreeing with the group becomes a trigger in itself.

    I used to go to marijuana anonymous meetings after getting a few days or so of sobriety in order to feel less unworthy if I wanted to share. And then toward the end, I would almost always spin so hard in my head about everything I disagreed with in the meeting (which of course out of respect for everyone else’s healing and totally different places of struggle, I said nothing to the group about) that I would text my girl for a bag of weed immediately after (or right before) the meeting ended—and smoke it until I literally couldn’t think straight anymore. I felt so ashamed of myself that so many people I admired with such stellar advice around addiction recovery (like you) could get so much value from 12 steps, but I was apparently just too fucked up to benefit from it.

    1. Yeah, I’ve met quite a few people who felt absolutely shamed, ostracized, and re-traumatized in 12-step groups. The concept of “If it worked for me, it can work for you too” is so mind-numbingly short-sited and idiotic. I mention 12-step because it’s essentially free therapy that works for millions of people, but I always add “or church, book club, women’s circle,” etc. in the same breath because I want people to know that they’ve got plenty of options.

      But for sure the issue of people with profound relational trauma is the million dollar question. And obvi, there’s not one-size fits all trauma answer. But these folks tend to do well with pets. We can practice regulating our nervous systems with other mammals (I always say ALL dogs are emotional support animals). It may be best for these people to start small with an individual coach or therapist with whom they can practice this relational dance. Then slowly expand to practice with other BFF style relationships that feel safe and secure. And specifically for anyone with religious or cult trauma, I think it’s best to avoid joining groups with dogmas, rules, hierarchies, and such. Might be best to start by joining a drum circle, photography club, or something more loose where one can simply ease into the experience of being around other people minus the “hey, let’s all talk about our shame and addictions.” But I believe the process of joining a community mimics the experience of building trust, intimacy, and connection with anyone. It takes time, patience, discernment, and practice. And for people with intense trauma, they’re gonna have to baby step it, no doubt.

      As far as 12-step goes, that shit is NOT trauma informed. The inmates run that asylum for sure. In fact, it’s possibly the largest global community of traumatized human beings literally DIYing the whole thing with zero professional class of therapy or guidance. Which is why I tell people, “Check out a few meetings, and if it ain’t for you, roll out.”

      Being diabetic, there are certain experiences, activities, or products that just ain’t for me. And it’s not because I’m too fucked up to benefit from it. I just have different needs than most people. And that’s fine. I hope you can see that there’s nothing “wrong” with you because 12-step ain’t your jam. ❤️

      1. When I was recovering from the addiction that was literally killing me, at first I was most comfortable in a dharma recovery setting. A fair bit of my journey after removing alcohol has been recovering from growing up in a cult-like church and form of religion.

        And once I started digging deeper from reading your stuff and other materials along with working with my therapist, going to ACA (or ACoA) entirely changed my viewpoint around 12 step recovery. My therapist recommended it.

        And at ACA (and at AlAnon Adult Child focused meetings) I found kindred spirits and their programs were dogma free. The people in the meetings had similar back stories and it has been very useful in my healing journey.

        And only then – alcohol free for 3.5 years – did I feel comfortable in the 12 step community and meetings surrounding addiction that started this entire process. And those meeting are now my main source of recovery and community.

        But it ALL depends on the people who surround each meeting. This includes all 12 step and other fellowships.

      2. Thanks for sharing! Yeah, there’s no quality control on 12-step meetings, haha. I’ve been to extremely moving, inspirational, life changing meetings, and I’ve also been to horrifically creepy, meat-market, selling drugs in the parking lot meetings. Ya gotta shop around for sure. 😂

  3. Thanks Adam! My group discussed last night why our meeting felt so powerful and was such a source of awakening and healing- a place where healthy relationships was the norm and what was role-modeled. Or a coincidence to hear you today.

Share Your Thoughts...

%d bloggers like this: