Let’s face it, hugs can be weird. As men, we don’t typically hug each other. John Wayne wasn’t a hugger, and that’s a “real man.” Let’s take a look at this though.. When we see a friend we have this innate desire to grab him with some sort of horseplay or physical challenge. Could this be our way of hugging, a way of feeling connected? If we look at the highest level of athletes, they all do something that involves constant contact with other men. Could this be a key to ultimate success and happiness? Maybe we need to redefine what hugging is as a man and how to approach it. I know from my experience, being an isolated non hugger – to an everyday hugger, my wellness and outlook on life has increased tenfold. This is not what I imagined friendships to consist of as a “man” in our society. Fortunately for me, I discovered what true bonds and connections are made of. I learned how to make friends in sobriety, without even having to go to bars. My social anxiety disorder has also subsided. This has been one of the biggest factors in my sobriety, and by far, one of the biggest breakthroughs I’ve made in the process of recovering from addiction. I’m going to talk about why it becomes hard for men to hug, why it’s important for recovery and beyond, and the value of hugs. First, let’s change the name of hugging to “bro grabs” for this conversation to change our association with what I’m referring to.
A lot of us men who struggle with addiction (drug addiction and alcoholism) have an unclear understanding of what being a “man” really means. We are told certain things in our upbringings by society, the media, our peers, and many other outlets. This begins to mold, or shape us, into becoming what we think a man should be. At least, that’s what happened to me. My manhood became a cumulation of all the traits I believed were necessary to be considered masculine: Tough, no emotions, independent, aggressive… just to name a few. All of which I viewed with a flawed definition. I was a product of irrational beliefs, leading me into discomfort and insecurities within. Of course, this mindset viewed bro grabs as a no go. Men don’t hug, we only touch to hurt each other. A byproduct of this was being alone, and disconnected from other men. Isolation disorder is one of the most common behavior traits that people with addiction fall into. Isolation goes against everything in our nature. As a man isolates, his mind deteriorates, and leads to a feeling of purposelessness and increased feelings of anxiety and depression. These feelings ultimately helped push me towards more drug use and worsened my addiction. I felt such a strong disconnect from myself and the world by living this way. I no longer knew how to even make friends.
Side Effects of Isolation:
- Increase health risks due to stress
- Increases risk of addiction
- Lower Reward System activity in the brain
- Lower levels of empathy
As I entered sobriety I just wanted to feel comfortable in life. I just wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to have friends, I wanted to have fun sober, but I didn’t know how to do this. How to make friends sober? Luckily for me, this is what I found in my sobriety journey. I became part of a team as soon as I entered the addiction treatment center I went to (Tree House Recovery). I was encouraged, and motivated to be a team member, and was taught the fundamentals of how to befriend these other men. Not just superficial “hey how are ya” friendships, but real “Hey, what’s really going on with you?” friendships. I felt people cared for me, and I felt a part of something. I harnessed these feelings and continued to seek new, meaningful relationships. We bro grabbed a lot. It became part of our every interaction. There was a lot of masculinity going on, so we were always horse playing, wrestling, or challenging each other to made up sports. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were practicing a form of hugging. This strengthened my friendships. I learned what it meant to be a friend, which includes the ability to listen and give advice, holding each other accountable, and more things that initially felt odd to me. As I quickly learned, when men practice this, they become more than friends, they become brothers. We bro grab, laugh, and argue at times, as if we’re family. Nothing can break bonds like this, and we stay healthy together. The power of bro grabbing others is underrated at times. When someone can look past the uncomfortability and see this type of interaction as what we are designed to do, life becomes more joy filled. It literally changes the chemistry in our brains, bringing us happiness and comfort. It brings us into a bigger purpose, and creates a feeling of being connected with the human race as a whole. This feeling of purpose and connection in life greatly increased my motivation to stay sober and healthy. With an extensive background in trying to stay off of drugs, I believe this was one of the main ingredients I had been missing.
What Hugs do to our Brains:
- Release of Oxytocin (Feel Good “Connection” Hormone)
- Lowers Heart Rate
- Lowers Cortisol Level
- Release of Dopamine (Pleasure Hormone)
- Decreased Risk of Heart Ailments
I continued to seek friendships like this, even outside of the sobriety circle. I noticed how connections and bro grabs increased my feelings of inspiration to fully experience life. I especially noticed this when practicing Jui Jitsu (a form of martial arts / wrestling). This requires holding on to another man for, basically, a whole hour while you learn new moves for defending yourself on the ground. At the end of the hour, whoever your partner was for the day, is now a good friend. It affirms the fact that physically being in contact with other men release chemicals in the brain that creates bonds. “Such contact triggers the release of neurochemicals in our brain and hormones throughout our body, which makes us more aware, focused, and connected. Oxytocin is one hormone often called the “cuddle” or “empathy” hormone, which is released in the body during such physical contact. It is likely one reason why friendships develop so quickly and deeply amongst BJJ students.” (Ley, Psychology Today). I am not quoting this to say that we all should start cuddling (but if you have that desire, go for it), rather what I am saying is that I have experience on both ends of connection and isolation. During isolation I was completely depressed. As soon as a new view on connection entered my life, I came out of my slump. I began to feel life differently. I have a strong desire to talk to people I meet throughout my day. I view human connection as an essential part of maintaining my healthy, fulfilling lifestyle. If I am interacting with someone and they don’t seem familiar, or open, with this way of living, I slowly attempt to create it. This involves meaningful eye contact, intentful listening, responses that mean something, compassion, accountability, and of course, bro grabbing and horse playing when appropriate. I started having fun in sobriety everyday by doing this. Also, when I begin to open up with someone, I show that I am trusting them. This creates a feeling of empowerment in that person, and will encourage them to want to connect back. Once they feel how great true connection feels, they begin to open up more. Once someone experiences how natural it seems to bro grab, they embrace it fully. It explains the other side of competitive sports. Why all men have a strong desire to interact in competition, even if they’re not necessarily trying to win. The feeling of being part of a team, that you are connected to, is written in our DNA.
Advice for making friends in early recovery:
- Join a pick up sports league (friendships and exercise)
- Find a Jui Jitsu gym
- Crossfit gyms have great team atmospheres
- Find self help groups i.e. AA (if new in an area this will help make relevant friends)
- Be fully open with your friends (this will encourage the same behavior in return and create trustful relationships)
- Bro Grab everyone you can (of course, keep it appropriate)
- When you communicate, really listen (don’t just think about what you are going to say next while they talk)
- https://www.ted.com/playlists/367/when_you_re_having_a_hard_time This play list has a ton of great videos on connecting with others.
This topic is something I keep in mind every day. It’s pretty sad to realize how many people miss out on this part of life, with only limited contact a day (mainly from handshakes). I want to live to the fullest, and experience all the joy available in life. Connection is one of the greatest parts of life for me today. Furthermore, the mind state I carry knowing I have a strong circle of friends motivates me in life. Of course, I enjoy my alone time, which is an important piece of life to help me reflect at times, but it is in moderation, and is purposeful. I feel connected to the world, which is an inspiration for my recovery. From a dude who used to avoid hugs to an avid bro grabber, I am living proof that this is life changing.
I challenge you to attempt this way of life, start hugging your friends. Let it be awkward at first, that’s ok. There are many types of bro grabs, so get creative. The awkwardness will quickly turn into laughter and wrestling, so be prepared. Seriously, try it and prove me wrong. If it doesn’t work, tell me. I bet you can’t, this is some truth for you. Start integrating bro grabs in your life and feel the difference in your outlook. Start now, grab the closest bro next to you (unless you’re at work and that would be your boss, don’t do that until you’ve mastered bro grabbing as a power move).