Feeling like we don’t belong, feeling like this can never help us, feeling uniquely and irredeemably different is the common experience of most of us when we first enter recovery. We go to a rehab center or meeting, look at our fellow addicts and listen to what they have to say, and most of us want to run screaming for the door. Who are these people? What are they talking about? I’m not like them. I don’t want to be like them! At that point many of us leave and don’t come back for years, if at all.
But some of us stay. Some because a judge makes us, others because we’re desperate and out of ideas. For whatever reason we stay and some of us actually listen. And that’s when something truly remarkable happens: we hear our own stories, the personal tales of our individual lives, coming from the mouths of total strangers. Many of these strangers are people so completely different from ourselves that the average person would be hard pressed to guess what we were all doing together in the same room. Yet this happens over and over, time and again, to the point where we come to expect it and then to rely upon it. Because this is a great truth we learn in recovery, a truth both healing and profound: We are all different, and we are all the same.
It is the universal condition of the addict to feel different from the rest of humanity. Go to any rehab or meeting, talk to any specialist in drug and alcohol treatment, and you will find that a feeling of alienation from the rest of the world is a fundamental condition of the addict. From an early age addicts feel like they don’t belong, that they’re on the outside looking in, that they aren’t part of life like other people are. That is why the addict uses in the first place, because only while high does he relief from that intolerable aloneness. This is a truism that must be understood in order to understand addiction: The addict doesn’t use to get high. The addict uses because he finds the condition of sobriety intolerable. His substance makes his existence in the world tolerable.
So it’s no wonder most of us feel different when we first enter recovery. We’ve been feeling that way most of our lives. But when we actually sit down and listen to each other, we discover we’re not so different after all, that our “unique” experiences, painful as they may be, are really quite common, and that generations of addicts with similar experiences have nevertheless found a way to overcome addictions just like our own. That is the miracle of it – we don’t have to be alone anymore, we can be part of the world and stake a place in it like anyone else. We have learned. We are all different, but we are all the same.
By: Jon L.
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