Loneliness vs Solitude
The pain 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 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 behavior 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 abandonment was devastating. 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 psych ward.
The loneliness of untreated alcoholism
Being alone for even short periods filled me with anxiety. I heard my fellow alcoholics share how uncomfortable they were in their 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. A poignant feeling of loneliness would come over me if I didn’t have at least five messages on my answering machine. Here was my untreated alcoholism. Here is the bankruptcy that Bill describes so well in the AA literature:
“Once this stark fact is accepted, our bankruptcy as going human concerns is complete.”
(12&12 – First page – Step one)
The reading then goes on 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, these relationships lasted only a short time. They were all doomed to failure. An insatiable need to find wholeness from the outside drove my quest for a mate. 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 running away from myself. I took myself and my problems with me wherever I went. 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 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)
My sponsor told me that a spiritual awakening need not be dependent on a God awakening. He introduced me to a 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. They were all given to me 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 a fantastic journey of self-discovery. When I first got sober, I had no sense of self. For the first time, I discovered 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 actual 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 in 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 anesthesia 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 people can never really become whole until they face and embrace all of themselves. He called this the ‘shadow self’. I had always sought to escape from this part of me. I had to face my inner pain as well as my defects of character. They became my defense 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 calls it, “a journey from the head to the heart.”
Solitude replaces loneliness
I am so grateful for 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.
An appreciation of solitude has now replaced loneliness. I realize today that I was lonely for a connection with me. These days, my authentic self enjoys being alone. We are all creative, and mine comes out when I am alone. Since going through the twelve steps, 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 daily, I remain 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 who couldn’t be alone for five minutes. My neediness always got me into trouble. The twelve steps are a miracle formula for alcoholics. They help you connect with your true self whether or not you believe in God.
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?