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– and it’s what makes us want to act out (for example, via maladaptive, addictive behaviors), or it makes us so withdrawn we don’t feel as if we belong in this world at all.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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Gerald
Gerald

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… Read more »

David B. Bohl

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.

Glenna Ross
Glenna Ross

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… Read more »

David B. Bohl

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.

Donald (I used to post as XBarbarian)
Donald (I used to post as XBarbarian)

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… Read more »

David B. Bohl

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.

Donald
Donald

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.

life-j
life-j

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… Read more »

David B. Bohl

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.

 

Murray J Beyond Belief Suburban West Mississauga
Murray J Beyond Belief Suburban West Mississauga

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.

David B. Bohl

Murray, thanks for the validation. It’s always helpful to hear that, especially from a fellow introvert.

The experience you describe reminds me of the scene from the animated film “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” especially when Hermey the dentist-wannabe says “Hey, what do you say we both be independent together, huh?”