You Are No Longer Alone?

I can’t even count the number of times where I’d been surrounded by people and felt as alone as if I was the only person on Earth. This was common when I was a young boy, but it haunted me throughout my teenage years and certainly through adulthood. I’ve written about this before, but I like talking about it because I know I am not the only one who is… the only one! I’m always trying to reach out to others to let them know that being this way and having those emotions is not so abnormal.

Human beings are social creatures, and if there’s something “off” in how we tend to socialize we are sure to wonder what is wrong with us.  Why can others do it so well and we can’t? Why can’t some of us communicate how lonely we are, why can’t we ask for help, why is it such a shame to experience this loneliness?

Because we’ve been programmed to fit in. And when we don’t fit in, it’s not a huge surprise we find it alarming – and it’s what makes us want to act out (for example, via maladaptive, addictive behaviors), or it makes us so withdrawn we don’t feel as if we belong in this world at all.

As much as I’m curious about finding out about what makes me who I am and why I drank for so many years and felt so alienated, I might never know the full reason. Yes, I concede that having been relinquished and adopted had a lot to do with me having trouble developing identity in the first place, feeling shame and growing up to find solace in alcohol, but, at the same time, sometimes I’m not sure how much I need to know and if I’ll ever have a sure answer. The facts are: I was relinquished and adopted, I felt different from others and I have used alcohol. The speculation and most likely the answer—those are all related. Does it matter? Yes, to some extent, but also no because right now my job is to live in the present and in reality, and self-knowledge awards me that. I have to put myself where I don’t feel like such an outlier. 

This means that I practice self-care. This is a popular catchphrase and I don’t love it, but it works in this context. It doesn’t equate self-absorption as some might mistakenly think. I don’t go to spas and shop for toys and go on fancy vacations to “clear my head.” I simply pay attention to myself. I pay attention to those moments when Loneliness becomes a monster that tries to swallow me, and as soon as I see its shadow I try to do something about it. I communicate with my loved ones. I talk to other people in recovery. I write about it (here). I read about it.

In the past, I would be ashamed of feeling lonely (as much as I was ashamed of not fitting in and later, drinking), but now I understand that it’s a passing condition just like an allergy and that I have to take care of it as I would of any other condition. There are prolonged periods of it when it’s like a constant hum in the background, but the more I am aware of what is happening, the better I am at facing it and dealing with it by sharing about it. If I am uneasy or troubled, if I feel anxious or worried or depressed, I know it’s because Loneliness and Alienation are coming to visit. But by being open about it with people I trust, I am able to conquer it, or at least make it manageable enough as not to cripple me.

There’s a slogan in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous—“You’re No Longer Alone” that I used to get stressed over because often I’ve felt very alone having joined AA as an agnostic. Back then, as a godless alcoholic, I was very much Alone. But the funny thing is, with diligence and research, I was able to find my way through and out of that particular aloneness and discovered my people in secular meetings of AA  It’s not perfect and nothing really is, but the point I’m trying to make is that we can get a reprieve from Loneliness if we at least try to search for connections; if we are honest and willing to always be in touch with ourselves and with others around us, and not hide behind a mask of false smiles.


About the Author

David B. Bohl, author of the memoir Parallel Universes:  The Story of Rebirth, is an independent addiction consultant who fully understands the challenges faced by so many who seek to escape from, or drown their pain through, external means. His story offers hope to those struggling with the reality of everyday life in today’s increasingly stressful world.

Through his private practice substance use disorder consulting business, Beacon Confidential LLC, David provides independent professional consultation, strategic planning, motivation and engagement, care coordination, recovery management and monitoring, and advocacy services to individuals, families, and organizations struggling with substance use issues and disorders.

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  1. Gerald January 12, 2019 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    Thanks, David! I really enjoyed the last time I read a post of yours here at AABB. I just want to add that the worst form of loneliness was being “divorced from my own Self,” and it turned out, at 15 years sober, that this problem was more physiological in nature than psychological; hence I hadn’t met with the desired results through the “moral psychology” of the AA program, just for one example of a psychological cure for loneliness (and depression).

    You know, being quick to see where the religious people are right, me too, I wanted that on-fire feeling of being one with God, having a friend in Jesus, and etc. 🙂

    In ‘09 I finally got that feeling – permanently – basically by going ultra-low carb. (No, I’m not a “food person” or “food addict” in any way.)

    It ended my lifelong depression immediately, and I felt “returned to myself,” after, like, a thirty year divorce, so to speak. And to borrow a phrase I recently picked up here at AABB, I understood that I hadn’t been suffering from a God-sized hole but rather from a Me-sized hole 🙂

    I’m here with Me now, and that loneliness I knew from ages five to 35 has never returned, the feeling of loneliness that was running in parallel with the lifelong depression. Not a single moment, neither one has returned even for a moment, ten years now coming up in March.

    24/7 I enjoy a sensation in my mind – in my brain, the physical organ – similar to the sensation that Prozac gave me back in ‘93-‘95, my first two years sober in AA. There was a glass ceiling to that Prozac cure, however, and for the next 13 years sober in AA I wouldn’t try any more pharmacological cures for my emotional state, just psychological cures. I never would get past that glass ceiling, though, and come 2009, I was getting so frustrated feeling myself slipping back deeper into depression – and loneliness! – that I was just about to give that good ol’ Prozac another go. Instead, a friend in recovery sold me on the idea that mental illness is a Man made disease that is caused by eating Man made foods (!) by which she meant I should read some books on the topic of malnutrition + mental illness + alcoholism.

    LSD, too, before AA of course, used to give me a similar feeling in my brain as Prozac did, which is the same sensation I’ve enjoyed the past nearly-ten years now, daily, 24/7, without a moment’s relapse into “ill thinking.” (Of course without the all-day-long hallucinatory experience.)

    You know, perhaps the biochemists could explain the LSD – Prozac – ultra-low carb dieting connection; maybe there really was some good reason Bill W. investigated LSD before he finally found a cure for his lifelong depression in Dr. Hoffer’s vitamin B3 treatment. Who knows?

    So, when I hear old timers in recovery talk about loneliness & depression, I naturally want to share my story. I’ve been on fire for ten years now, finally 🙂 I have the one-with-God feeling and the never-alone feeling that the religious people talked about but without all that religious b.s. that goes along with it 🙂

    And how many AA members do I believe could benefit from some kind of dietary cure? Well, even one tenth of one percent would be an enormous number …

    But the real take-home message I want to share with newcomers & old timers alike is just to never give up on your own recovery. Maybe you really are working the AA program, but it’s not working for you (!!!) And to that I always say “Just keep on seeking.” Look elsewhere, and just keep on looking for the rest of whatever it is you need in order to meet with those good-good feelings that the on-fire people are always talking about 🙂

    Thanks!

    Gerald (Japan till spring)

    • David B. Bohl January 13, 2019 at 10:38 am Reply

      Gerald, thank you for taking the time to share your experiences.  I especially appreciate your suggestion to “Just keep on seeking.”  It’s certainly my mission to relentlessly pursue reality, and it has worked well for me in clarifying my perceptions and helping me top live  a healthier life.

  2. Glenna Ross January 6, 2019 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    I feel very much for your plight and have the same problem. my husband, not alcoholic died last December & I got involved in a group who wanted to stay in touch. We have but there have been many times when I felt lonely with this group. I have a Newmarket, ON Freethinkers Group where I never feel alone. I have usually just told myself that I cannot use one meeting as an excuse to give it up. Sometimes, it’s okay. Sometimes not. Sometimes okay is the best I can manage. I do find one person very congenial. She’s a piano teacher with a great sense of humor. There seems to be some tight-assed people in this group, especially a woman who always said her husband died from Scorocis  of the liver but it was not through alcohol. This was so antagonistic to me that I finally admitted I was an alcoholic. Well, she never said it again.

    I have also been plagued for years by the slogan, you are never alone, especially in religious meeting. I used an old sponsor to complain. but found I didn’t need this venting when I joined  a freethinkers group. Maybe you needed to complain more to someone you trusted. She is a Buddhist, but to me that’s a religion. I simply, say for Big Book meetings that I usually agree with what the author of the story says about alcoholism but not what he/she says about religion

    • David B. Bohl January 7, 2019 at 9:43 am Reply

      Glenna, thank you for sharing.

      You wrote something very profound when you said:  “Sometimes okay is the best I can manage.”  I absolutely agree.  I have two daily mantras:

      In most ways, my life is ideal, and
      Don;t hope for more than is possible.

      If I keep these in mind, I can work through these feelings of loneliness and most anything else that comes my way.

  3. Donald (I used to post as XBarbarian) January 6, 2019 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Thank you David. Feels like, an honest submission.

    I am an only child, we moved a lot when I was a kid. my response to those conditions was to learn to wear masks, to pretend. Pretending to be, whatever I imagined was acceptable, cool, with the current collection of folks, is deeply ingrained in my psyche.

    As a child, I remember Grandma catching me in a lie, and scolding me “if you keep telling lies, Donnie, one day, you won’t know the difference between the lie and the truth”. prophetic? wisdom, more likely.

    my response to uncomfortable stuff, is to consider a lie: today, Im mostly conscious of that response, and generally mute it, face it as honestly as I can, in the moment.

    I’ve found huge solace in the ragged old AA saying “feelings aren’t facts.” Not a trivialization of my experience, or yours, but for me, a focal point to work with. and the Steps (really, the process of building fellowship, the practice of looking within and frequently asking myself “how did I create this circumstance”) help me to go “from sensitivity to sensibility”. for whatever reason, I have always been hyper-sensitive. An Empath, if you will. Sensitive to my feelings (I remind myself, my emotional state is frequently more a reflection of my nutrition, my stress, the quality of my sleep at the time, thoughts about my recent behaviours, etc), but also sensitive to the world around, the information about the world I consume, my social environment and context (I tend to pick and reflect the emotional state of people near me).

    I’ve pissed off many by mentioning the “feelings aren’t facts” in meetings, with my bride, etc. That is never my intention, and certainly not here, either. I identify with the old pg 449 Dr Paul’s thing (paraphrased): “whenever I am disturbed or upset, my first reaction should be to look within, ask myself why do simple words generate a emotional response. In these uncomfortable moments, when I am disturbed, my job is first to quiet that disturbance” something like that. I usually preface the “feelings aren’t facts” statement, with a reminder that feelings are important, that I need to learn to articulate them, understand them, speak to them. but they aren’t facts. feelings are often terrible reasons to make life changing choices over.

    I get that simply acknowledging that a “spell” of that lonely familiar feeling is coming, and working with it. that is a huge development, as opposed to the “what’s the matter with me”  running (emotionally) into fear and raging at the storm. grats on that progress. I also use “it’s my addiction” as a rallying point sometimes. I might not be able to solve the problem at hand, but I do know how to stay sober,  and using that focus, often simplifies any chaos.

    I was turned on to Emmett Fox’s “the golden key” pamphlet early on in my recovery. I discarded the need for a god part, but I have found success using the concept. the tldr version for me, is mindfulness. when I am uncomfortable, I use a slogan or phrase, to interrupt the momentum of the thought and feeling, and redirect my mind to other things.

    my interrupting slogan these days, is “Desire and Ignorance”. it triggers the memory that desire, or attachment, is why I suffer. so what Am I attaching to? what do I need to let go of? And ignorance speaks to my lack of compassion. what about that person, this situation, do I need to remind myself, I dont’ know, what I don’t know, that I have never walked a mile their shoes. the mindfulness approach has made a huge difference in my life, my emotional state.

    anyway, that’s enough from me. thank you for the piece. good luck to you, and all that read this.

    • David B. Bohl January 6, 2019 at 10:00 am Reply

      Donald, thank you for sharing your experience.

      I really appreciate the way you shared about “feelings aren’t facts.”  I couldn’t agree more that they may indicate work to be done, but not necessarily immediate action.

      Sadly, misunderstanding of this is often associated with that darned “spiritual axiom” referred to in the literature, as in:  “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.”  I think this judgement can be very shaming to many who come to us for support, especially for those who struggle with identity and shame.

      • life-j January 6, 2019 at 6:04 pm Reply

        David thanks for a good essay. I have surely felt alone much of my life, this to-the-core loneliness, and even in AA, once I came out of the closet, or should I say I often felt alone before that, only once I came out of the closet it wasn’t only a feeling anymore, it was something more akin to fact. Though I agree that feelings aren’t facts. I learned that early on when once I was feeling shitty one day, fine the next, and shitty again the following day, or else it was the other way around. But the profound part was that other than the way I felt there was nothing identifiable that was different about the three days, it’s just that something good or bad got shaken loose in my mind that triggered how I felt and with no relationship to the rest of my reality.

        Now as for the axiom: no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us – we can take that two ways. I think the way a lot of people take it, because it fits so good with protestant guilt, is: No matter what the cause, we are the problem, us and only us, the rest of the world is just fine (and for some folks – because god made it so). The other way we can take that statement is no matter what the cause, no matter what is wrong, and no matter where the main problem lies, we have to figure that there is also at least something wrong with us, too. I think that is a better way, it simply says that in every situation there will be some work that we have to do, but we don’t need to feel responsible for the whole mess.

        Anyway, to return to the loneliness, even though Bill rightly says that almost without exception alcoholics are tortured by loneliness, there are not really any good tools in the program to address the issue. Which is probably why it takes 15 years in the program for some of us to get enough of a handle on it to where the remainder is tolerable.

        But I must say that the worst of it subsided, at least in the meetings, because I could sit there and be aware that I might feel lonely, but at least I had found my tribe of alcoholics, there was at least one place, and at the time the primary aspect of my life, where I was no longer lonely. I was an alcoholic in the relatively safe company of other alcoholics.

        • David B. Bohl January 7, 2019 at 9:38 am Reply

          Life, thank you for weighing in.  Always great to hear from you.  We have many experiences in common.

          That spiritual axiom does often cause guilt and shame, no doubt.  I spoke about it at AA Agnostica in a blog titled The Evolution of Identity.  Specifically, I wrote”

          The problem is the problem. (alcoholism / substance use disorder)

          In other words, alcoholism is the problem.  I, despite what the author of the Bog Book believed, am not the problem.

           

      • Donald January 6, 2019 at 11:38 am Reply

        thank you.

        yes, “something wrong with me” is unnecessary shaming, I agree.  less than helpful.

        I am what I am. recovery for me hasn’t been about fixing myself, more like learning how to work with the me I have. tools, not magic beans or wands.

  4. Murray J Beyond Belief Suburban West Mississauga January 6, 2019 at 8:35 am - Reply

    Thank you David! I share your aloneness. I’m an introvert for sure in a predominantly extroverted world. When I first came to AA I was terrified. All these smiling, glad handing people intimidated me. That was on me not them. I still get anxious when I speak, share or chair at a traditional meeting. But when I’m at my secular meeting it’s more natural, warm and positive. I open up way more, feel less antsy and it’s way more enjoyable.

    Thanks to the Secular pioneers in the Greater Toronto Area for creating another recovery path.

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