An awful lot of people hit one AA meeting and never go back.
The 12 steps are not for everyone, some people are never likely to get better following a spiritually based route-map to recovery; but a lot of people that give up early might have found some 12 step answers – if only they weren’t so terminally unique.
Terminal uniqueness is an AA term coined to describe a reaction common to 12 steps newcomers. While a rare few attend their first meeting and feel instantly at home, most, a real majority, suffer through their first meeting thinking, "these people are nothing like me…what can I hope to learn from people like this".
Terminal Uniqueness Is Expressed in Two Polar Ways
These people are nothing like me, I never went to jail, lost my home…lived under a bridge. What can I, a successful_______ hope to learn from people like this?
These people are nothing like me, they've never been to jail, lost a home…lived under a bridge. How can they understand my unique problems? How can they help me?
Terminal Uniqueness Doesn't Help
Any alcoholic would be hard pressed to find a group of people more similar than those found at an AA meeting!
Terminal uniqueness has its roots in addictive thinking, that voice that keeps us drinking or using; sure that no one understands us. It's a voice that protects the addiction, part of denial – a voice that never leads anywhere good.
12 steppers recommend trying out at least a few meetings before making an evaluation. There are differences between meetings, and while one may not suit your tastes, another group might. But more fundamentally, giving 12 steps an honest try requires attendance with an open mind, at several meetings. It requires getting to know a few people involved, and not simply selecting a those few people at any given meeting that seem to reinforce your concept of terminal uniqueness, and lumping all 12 steppers together as far removed from you.
Most people that try AA (or any 12 steps) meetings go with initial trepidation, stay because it seems to help – and stay longer because of the people. Fellowship is an integral and vital aspect of 12 steps support, and you’d be hard pressed to find many long time AA alumni who haven’t made great sober friendships from within the ranks. Friendships made powerful through a shared understanding, experience and motivation. Friendships that turn the whole concept of terminal uniqueness up on its ear!
Go to a 12 steps meeting, and if you don’t like it, go to another, and another. It may not be for you, but keep an open mind and see if you don’t just learn that the people at meetings are a lot more like you than you thought.
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Right. Here I go again—another strange phrase that may be construed as useless. I could title this blog “I Am Different.” Or, to push any thoughts of narcissism aside–“We Are Different” might work well. But that doesn’t work. Not really. Particularly among the masses where people are both similar and dissimilar.
First, let’s take a look at the core of the words unique and different. Do they generally mean the same thing? Let’s check with my coffee stained thesaurus (I have given up the notion that I will not use it in my posts—no complaints yet.
-Unlike (no kidding!)
-Deviating (Not incriminating I assume)
-Like night and day (horrid metaphor…I sort of want to burn the book–again)
-Poles Apart (I assume because it’s the holidays that I am picture the North Pole–a shot at creativity needed on my end)
Okay. I think we have learned something: Feeling different cannot be put in words. Can feeling Unique?
To summarize: The words tied to unique are a little bit more . . . shall we say . . . positive? “Rare” like . . . a diamond?
To be different is to be, apparently, “unlike” others in this context.
Often, diagnosed with a mental illness, we feel different. Maybe we cannot, as I suggested, attach words to the feeling.
Believing We Are and Feeling Different Can be Dangerous
Yes, we have a mental illness. But the person sitting nearest to you, they have their own crosses to bear. Skeletons in the closet. Phrase it however you want, we are all the same in that life throws us curveballs at some point or another. We all work to handle them and find our way to the other side. In the case of mental illness, we work to achieve a state of recovery.
The pursuit to finding it, our unique journey, is different–yes, but we all suffer at some point–that’s the human condition.
Applying the word different to ourselves can increase isolation. If we put a negative spin on the word, on the feeling, it can make it hard to relate to other people–people who struggle as well. Nobody escapes life unscathed.
I cannot tell you to work to stop feeling separate, different, it comes with the territory of mental illness–at least at first. That’s the reality. But I can suggest that you, that I, work to describe ourselves in other ways.
Feeling Terminally Unique
You might wonder why I bothered to insert the word “terminally” in this heading. Isn’t unique enough? Would not that suffice? Well, I promise, I have a point here. The word unique, as explored above, puts on a positive spin on the feeling of difference. Being unique is often, and rightfully so, connected to positive things: our skills and our talents. Things that help define us as people, as individuals—and that’s great. But feeling terminally unique, well, that’s a different playing field.
Feeling terminally unique, as if we are exceptionally different, than others, is as damaging as feeling isolated because we feel we don’t really fit into society. Our illness separates us. Believing that we are somehow exceptionally unique makes it hard to connect with people. Often, this feeling stems from insecurity. I get that. I’ve been there.
First diagnosed, and for quite a few years later, I hid behind what I believed made me special–unique to others and to the world. And it wasn’t a nasty case of narcissism, it was connected to the fear that I was different. I thought that if I had to be different as a result of my diagnosis, well, I had better compensate. I should isolate myself, believe that my inability to connect with people was because I was terminally unique. I did not need anyone, no, I was good enough on my own. People could not understand me, that’s all.
Feeling Different From the World, but Being Just Me
And then I woke up. I realized I was neither exceptionally different or terminally unique. I was just me. And that was okay. I was human, like the rest of us, and I had something to offer people, as they did me.
It’s a complicated topic, worthy of debate, but simple as well: try to live without feeling like you have a t-shirt stating you have a mental illness. Recognize that you are as different, as unique, as the next person. And that’s what makes things interested. That’s what makes life an alright place to live in.
Stay the course, as they say. Hang on for the turbulent ride, try to have some fun.