Recovery support groups typically contain people from all walks of life. At AA or NA meetings, you may come across people from different social classes as well as different races and religions. You’ll meet people who are young and old, rich and poor or somewhere in-between. From criminals to judges and from street people to royalty, just about every type of person you can imagine can be found in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. If you are new to meetings, you may feel for one reason or another that you don’t belong and that there is something different about you compared to the people who are there. You may find it hard to relate to the other people in the room. You are feeling uncomfortably different and it is caused by your sense of total uniqueness.
What Is Terminal Uniqueness?
Terminal uniqueness is a phrase you may hear at meetings that means you think you are completely unique. If you are a woman, when you go to meetings, you only notice the men and feel like you are the only woman. If you are a parent, you think others there don’t have to worry about children. You may think people of your race are a minority or that people of your social class aren’t present. It may seem like everyone around you is much older or younger than you are. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that is rooted in self-centeredness. You think that no one is the same as you, and although that is true to a point, if you approach meetings with an open mind, you will find that there are more similarities than differences. You aren’t really all that unique.
Identify but Don’t Compare
The solution to terminal uniqueness is to identify and not compare. Even though you may come from a very different background than the other people at a particular meeting, the experiences you have may still be similar and there is a good chance that you have more in common with other people than you think. The one thing you probably do have in common with other people at meetings, particularly newcomers, is the feeling that you are different from others and that other people may not understand your struggles. This is often described as a sense of anxious apartness. You feel removed from others and the more you focus on this feeling of separateness, the more it grows.
Seeing Only Differences
When you think that you are completely unique and very different from other people, you increase your own sense of isolation. You continually focus on what is different about others and why you can’t relate to them. At meetings, you may hear stories that seem much worse than what you have experienced, and you may conclude that you were never really that bad. For example, if you haven’t experienced arrest, divorce, getting fired or becoming seriously ill because of your alcoholism or addiction, you may have a hard time relating to people who have gone through these traumatic experiences. But think again. Hasn’t alcohol or drugs caused some kind of trouble or strain in your life? Have you suffered losses or embarrassment because of addiction? You really aren’t so different from other alcoholics and addicts.
Dangers of Feeling Unique
Terminal uniqueness can cause you to be convinced that your problem with addiction isn’t all that serious. You may convince yourself that you don’t need help. You look at others in recovery as being much worse than you are. Thinking of yourself as someone so different than others is really a form of denial. It may be that you are just making excuses or looking for reasons not to do the work of recovery. As long as you see yourself in this way, you won’t reach out to others. Although no two people are completely alike, those in recovery groups have some pretty important similarities. To get past terminal uniqueness, you need to look for the similarities in the experiences you have had and the experiences shared by other people in meetings. Look for similarities, not differences. It could save your life.