Loneliness vs Solitude
The agony of early recovery
After putting down the alcohol, it didn’t take long to find out why I drank. The early days of recovery were deeply traumatic. Daily meetings were the only place in the world where anything made any sense.
Getting sober was like tearing a band-aid off a festering wound. Without alcohol, I was frightened, confused and full of rage. Waves of self-pity and resentment would make staying sober very hard work.
Of course, I didn’t get a sponsor and do the steps, so my behaviour as a dry alcoholic was chaotic and unmanageable. Unpredictable mood swings and volatile emotions were too much for my wife. She left after I had been in the program for two years.
This was devastating for an alcoholic in early recovery. I was left alone to deal with my inner emptiness and chronic insecurity. AA was the glue that held me together. Without the fellowship, it was inevitable that I would start drinking again. I was so mentally unstable that I was fortunate that I didn’t end up in a psychiatric hospital.
The loneliness of untreated alcoholism
Being alone for even short periods of time filled me with anxiety. I heard my fellow alcoholics share how uncomfortable they were in their own skin when they were newly sober. I knew what they meant.
My wife had been my security blanket. I would dread the thought of going back to an empty house after a meeting. My solution was to get to another meeting as soon as possible. I soon became addicted to meetings. Coming home was depressing. If I didn’t have at least 5 messages on my answering machine, I would feel a sense of abandonment. This was my untreated alcoholism. This was the bankruptcy that Bill describes so well in the AA literature:
“Once this stark fact is accepted”, (that we were alcoholics) “our bankruptcy as going human concerns is complete” (12&12 – First page – Step one)
The reading then goes onto to say:
“No other kind of bankruptcy is like this one” (12&12 – First page – Step one)
Twenty years of drinking brought me to a state of “moral and spiritual bankruptcy” (12&12 – Step twelve – p.107)
“Alcohol, now become the rapacious creditor” (12&12 – First page – Step one)
Alcohol helped me survive the traumas of a difficult childhood. It became a crutch from the age of thirteen. I didn’t have the emotional or psychological maturity to handle my emotions as an adolescent. At the time, alcohol wasn’t the problem, it was the solution!
Undoubtedly, growing up in care, I had unresolved issues. I quickly became isolated and socially marginalized. For some alcoholics, the progression to a life of isolation is a slow process. I, on the other hand, drank myself into exile from the human family in my early teens. Hopelessness, despair and loneliness were my daily companions.
“Almost without exception, alcoholics are tortured by loneliness” (12&12 Step five p.57)
Sex and relationships
In recovery, I tried to fill my inner emptiness with sex and relationships. Soon after getting sober, I transferred my addiction from alcohol to sex and love addiction. All of these encounters with women were codependent and dysfunctional. They were the instant fix I had to have. I was willing to go to any lengths to avoid facing myself.
Of course, none of these relationships lasted the test of time. They were all doomed to failure. They were driven by my insatiable need to be fixed from the outside in. What would happen when they collapsed? The emptiness would return, worse than ever!
Beaten into “a state of reasonableness” (BB p.48 “We Agnostics”)
Gradually, I realized that nothing external would bring me happiness. Sex, power and money eventually stopped working. The excitement of overseas travel became yet another addiction. The truth was, I was just running away from myself. In reality, wherever I went, I took myself and my problems with me. When every external source of gratification failed, I had to reconsider my attitude to the following idea presented by Bill:
“When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically” (BB “How It Works” p.64)
As a committed agnostic, how could I accept that my problems would only respond to spiritual and not external solutions? My sponsor assured me that if I made AA’s suggested program my higher power, I would have a spiritual awakening (Step 12)
I was told that a spiritual awakening need not be dependent on a God awakening. My sponsor introduced me to a brand new concept; ‘a non-God-centered spiritual awakening’.
Agnostic friendly higher powers
If I wanted to get well, it was necessary to become teachable. I used AA and the suggestions of a sponsor as powers greater than me. With these new ideas, it was much easier to go through the program. The steps were offered as practical written assignments. They demystified, what I saw as the religious aspect of AA’s twelve steps.
It has been and continues to be an amazing journey of self-discovery. I mean that literally. When I first got sober, I had no sense of self. For the first time in my life, I was introduced to the real me; the good, the bad and the ugly. Popular AA slogan: – “We were never very good at being very bad”!
Alcoholism; the lonely illness
I then discovered the true cause of my loneliness. It wasn’t a lack of friends or a relationship. It was about the absence of Andy. I had been MIA (missing in action) from an early age. Even before I picked up the first drink, I was lonely for a connection with myself. I had become lost to the negative experiences of my early life.
I arrived in AA with a broken and fragmented personality. Alcoholic dishonesty resulted in a life filled with fear and emptiness. These feelings were impossible to tolerate without the anaesthesia of alcohol. When ten years of talk therapy failed to help, I began to warm to the idea that alcoholism may well be a spiritual illness.
Carl Jung’s ‘shadow self’
Carl Jung was a world-renowned psychiatrist. He said that a person can never really become whole until they face and embrace all of themselves. He called this the ‘shadow self’. This was the part of me that I had always sought to escape from. I had to face my inner pain as well as my defects of character. They became my defence mechanisms. Amazingly, it was by going within, that I found the solution to the alcoholic illness. It has been a journey from darkness to light. As AA likes to call it; “a journey from the head to the heart”
Solitude replaces loneliness
I am so grateful that I received the Gift Of Desperation (GOD). With this gift, I began to follow Good Orderly Direction. The grace I received was when I admitted that I didn’t have the answers to my problems. This admission was the beginning of a new life. In facing my past and letting it go, I found self-acceptance.
Loneliness has been replaced with an appreciation of solitude. These days, my authentic self enjoys being alone. This is when it is most creative. I have developed all kinds of hobbies and interests.
Recovery: “An inside job”
I have gradually learned the importance of working on the maintenance steps. They are steps ten, eleven and twelve. If I commit to living them on a daily basis, I am kept in a “fit spiritual condition.” (BB p.85) Recovery is indeed an “inside job”
Solitude is a surprising and wonderful gift. It’s the gift of the twelve steps. I was an alcoholic that couldn’t be alone for five minutes. My neediness always got me into trouble. The twelve steps are a miracle formula for alcoholics. This is true whether they believe in God or not.
What are your thoughts? Do you think that integrating the duality that is present in the alcoholic’s personality, may in itself be seen as a spiritual awakening?