Tribe and Fire

Another day of threaded media to reinforce my personal biases. Thought I’d share since it feels so cosmic. 😉

Often I find myself with an acute urge to connect with one or a few of my friends. I have long since learned to act joyfully on these urges; in college I wrote letters on pretty stationery and mailed them with confetti (100 in my first year alone). As life got busier that evolved to cards and postcards. And now it’s often an email or text, these days with attached memes or songs, and most recently the 8 minute phone call… I still indulge in the luxury of snail mail often, though.

Today I looked for something touching to share. Scrolling through photos, cartoons, and memes on the phone and laptop, nothing felt quite right. Then this appeared on my Facebook feed:

So unassuming yet poignant, down to earth and still profound. Perfect. I sent via email and also saved the image for myself, before sharing on my own FB page. The more I read it the more it resonated. “Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other… We want…For the waitress to call us honey… We have so little of each other, now…” So I shared with a few more friends–ones who I know practice making the “fleeting temples” (whom I admire and wish to emulate) and ones for whom I wish to meet and feel deeply the “true dwelling of the holy.”

One of my friends then shared the image on her own page, and one of her friends commented on the significance of “So far from tribe and fire,” before referencing a recent gathering of exactly ‘tribe and fire.’ YES. Tribe members take turns tending the fire that keeps us warm, leads us home, holds us together, connects us. So I had this lovely and loving idea swirling around my consciousness all day.

Sarai left her eloquent comment on my last post, reinforcing that anchoring–tribe-and-firing–is a reciprocal activity, between ourselves and those we know, both intimately and apparently not at all, though in reality I am convinced that we all know one another on a cosmic level. “I like your hat.” I must call her soon and relight our shared fire. It’s been a long time, and I’m confident that the embers still glow.

Then I came across Daniel Pink’s post on the book The Good Life, which is now on my 2023 wish list. “Friends are medicine.”

Again, YES! I feel validated asking every patient, every year, about the strength and depth of their emotional support network. It’s not my job to help them cultivate it, the way I advise on ways to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. But I point it out so it’s on our radar, to reinforce the paramount importance of this aspect of whole person health.

A fellow physician mom posted on the FB book club group page about Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari. The Amazon page references his viral TED talk years ago on how wrong we are about addiction, which rang a bell, so I watched it again. It’s only 14:33, well worth your time and attention. We think substances themselves are the problem. Turns out, it’s context. Loneliness and disconnection are far stronger drivers of addiction–to substances and other things–than the things themselves. Hear about ‘rat park’ at 3:30 where rats with toys and friends do not prefer drug-laced water when given a choice, compared to their stimulus- and companion-deprived research counterparts. Continue watching to learn about the unintended human drug addiction study that was the Vietnam War, where only 5% of the soldiers who used heroine in company relapsed upon returning home. His lovely conclusion: “For 100 years now, we’ve been singing war songs about addicts. I think all along we should have been singing love songs to them, because the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.

Recently I started asking patients to categorize their alcohol use patterns among three overlapping motivations: social, self-medication, and habit. That middle one is a flag, though it’s often camouflaged by the other two. Identifying, accepting, and addressing our demons may be one of the scariest things we do in life. No wonder we avoid it so desperately–even more so when we feel we must do it alone.

Our relationships kill us or save us, I often say. More and more I think it’s not actually the toxic relationships that kill us, not if we have other strong, loving, thick relationships, communities, connections, and meaning to hold us up. No, it’s the lack of relationships, that absence of connection, that kills us. It doesn’t have to be many friends or connections, it just has to be enough–close enough, deep enough, tight enough.

Who’s on your mind today? Why not reach out and let them know?

7 thoughts on “Tribe and Fire

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