The Hug: The Power of Love

When a man arrives at No Longer Bound, bags packed for a yearlong stay, he is defeated, hopeless, and ashamed. He checks in at the Admissions office, then walks down the driveway towards a new life, passing men he does not yet know. To his shock (and sometimes discomfort), men begin hugging him. 

To understand a new resident’s discomfort, it helps to know where he has been.

Addiction is an isolating disease. By the time a man reaches No Longer Bound, his healthy relationships are gone, replaced with unhealthy attachments.

He feels worthless and undeserving of love.

People have hurt him, so people are a threat. In psychological terms, “avoidant individuals, who attempt to detach themselves from psychological distress . . . [often] use alcohol and drugs as a means of avoiding painful emotions and self-awareness.”

In short, there is not a lot of hugging where the men at No Longer Bound come from. 

What’s so special about a hug?

Researchers have discovered that when we experience stress—and life in addiction is full of stress—our bodies react by producing cortisol. 

As part of the “fight-or-flight” mechanism that enables humans to survive, cortisol is important. On the other hand, too much cortisol is a bad thing.

“When stressors are always present, and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on,”2 causing physical ailments, anxiety, depression, and an emotional instability that is counter productive to the vulnerability and transparency needed for a man to come out of addiction.

Conversely, physical touch releases the hormone oxytocin. Sometimes called the “love hormone”, oxytocin is the neurochemical responsible for building trust and creating social bonds.

Oxytocin even “dissolves short-term memories . . . Studies show that even a brief touch of the hand from someone who cares can start your oxytocin pumping. So, when you offer a bear hug to someone in pain . . . you not only begin the healing process, but you also allow your body to shut down memories of [pain]. For example, a new mother’s memories of labor are eased as soon as her newborn is placed in her arms and oxytocin rushes through her body.”3

In a letter believed to be written by Albert Einstein to his daughter, Einstein explains, 

“There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us. This universal force is LOVE.

When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe, they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love . . . 

To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation. If instead of E = mc2, we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits.” 

During his time at No Longer Bound, a man will receive hundreds of hours of group and individual therapy, examine his whole life story, attend church over 50 times, spend dozens of sessions working with his family on reconciliation, receive medical services, and be served over 1,000 nutritious meals, yet the most important thing we give him is the first thing he receives—a hug.

This simple expression of love may just be the most powerful thing we offer.