The Danger of Terminal Uniqueness in Recovery

When newcomers try to get sober, one of the hurdles they have to cross is the feeling that they are unique. They think they don’t belong because no one in the room is exactly like them. Have you ever felt that way? Just like there are no two snowflakes exactly alike, there is nobody on the planet just like you. Everything about you—from your genetic makeup to your life experience—is unique to you. There are both pros and cons to this for a person who is trying to recover from alcoholism or drug addiction. One of the cons is that you can get so caught up in what makes you different from others that no matter where you go, you feel like you don’t belong. This is referred to as “terminal uniqueness.” What it means is that you are so wrapped up in what makes you unique that you see nothing but differences when you look at everybody else. Think about it. There’s a good chance that the people you see in meetings are very different from each other and wouldn’t hang around with each other if they hadn’t ended up having a problem with substance abuse. In recovery, there are people from all races, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions and family situations. There are people in wheelchairs and people who have done time in prison—and there are people who haven’t. When a new person walks into a meeting, he may be married or single, gay or straight, a parent or childless. He may work obsessively or be unemployed. He may have abused a single drug for short period of time, or he may have tried just about every chemical under the sun. And so on. Differences between us go on ad infinitum. You can get carried away ruling out meetings or support groups if you are focused on differences. It might seem that one meeting is wrong for you because there are no other women there or too many women, or no other Hispanics there, or it seems like no one has the same drug of choice that you do. Addiction is a disease of self-centeredness, and focusing on your individual differences is really a form of self-centeredness. If you are dwelling on what separates you and everyone else in the room, you are focusing only on yourself. On the other hand, the things that make you unique may be the things the person sitting next to you needs to see or hear in the meeting. Your perspective may be the missing link in the chain. Maybe you should embrace the things that make you unique and share your individuality with others.

Looking for and Recognizing Similarities

The best way to get past terminal uniqueness is to look for the similarities in the stories of those who cross your path. If you’re a woman, how many other women are in the room? If you’re of a certain race that isn’t represented in the room, is there someone else in the room who probably feels like an outsider? If you’re a young adult, are you really surrounded by only old people? You may have to look a little deeper, past the superficial differences of those around you. If you feel disconnected because no one else did the same drugs in the same quantities, listen a little harder to what people are saying. Addiction has a lot more to do with what substances did to a person than it does with how much was consumed. Everyone in the room is there because substances brought them to their knees; in a lot of ways, they are just like you. If you pay attention, you will find that there really are more similarities than differences among those in recovery. Going out of your way to notice differences will only lead to a sense of isolation, and it may even lead to a relapse. True recovery depends on fellowship, and you don’t have to be exactly like everyone else to belong. Together we can do what none of us can do alone.

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