Terminally Unique

The best thing about drinking and smoking pot was the friendships; not just how fast they developed, but the apparent depth of the connections. I felt defined by the half-a-dozen guys I drank with daily. They felt more loyal and constant than family or girlfriends. In hindsight, from the beginning, my drinking was an outlier even among these guys. Thankfully the progression was swift in my case. By the time I turned 20, these friends had been obliged, for the most part, to cut me loose. After that I mostly drank alone or with strangers. I was too ashamed of myself to be around people, and most people who experienced my drinking did not want me around. I was desperately lonely.

At my first AA meeting I felt welcomed, safe, and a part of the group, but I quickly focused on the differences and talked myself out of being an alcoholic. I listened for the differences. I never lost a job or a family, never had a DWI or spent more than a few hours in jail, and I was never homeless. I drank prodigiously and daily, but I did not yet know I couldn't stop on my own. Within six months I experienced most of my "yets," picked up dozens of white chips, and was ultimately involuntarily committed for alcoholic insanity after showing up at my part-time restaurant job with a .465 BAC. I wanted to stop drinking, admitted I was powerless, but I could not get the "we" of the program. I thought it worked for you, but not for me, and did not know why. Sober members repeatedly warned me about being "terminally unique," thinking I was too smart for AA, and encouraged me to identify rather than compare. I could not do that.

From hospital to psych ward to treatment to halfway house to sober house I did not drink, but I felt more isolated and alone than ever. My heavy-drinking enabling girlfriend left. My mother's daily letters went unopened. At my most desperate hour, six months without a drink, a man brought me through the steps, introduced me into an enthusiastic fellowship, and handed me the "keys to the kingdom."

Eleven years later I graduated law school and met LAP. By now I had lived and thrived in the center of AA for most of my adult life. I was, and am, very active. Sober alcoholic is my primary identity, much more than attorney, or even husband, son, or anything else. By coming to LAP I felt new again, and a pattern repeated for me. Just as I had been as a newcomer in AA, I was judgmental and thus felt isolated. I felt that most LAP members identified as attorneys first, and I worried, and still do somewhat, that a special program for attorneys can reinforce some of the ego feeding tendencies that defeated me in the beginning.

It has been essential for me in my recovery to see myself primarily as an alcoholic, with universal struggles. If my struggles are individual and unique to me, no one can help me; no one understands me because no one else has lived the exact details of my life. If, on the other hand, I come to see my problems as stemming from my disease, then I have a whole international fellowship which has years of experience with these problems and literally millions of people can help me. As I stay sober, I still have to consciously reinforce this identity, by attendance at meetings, sharing my story, and hearing others. The story I tell myself about myself shapes how I see myself.

I see the need for LAP. We must meet suffering people where they are. New in AA, I sought out other young people with stories similar to mine. That helped break my walls of isolation and ego. Attorneys are often more comfortable seeking help from those of us in LAP with whom they can identify in the details of their lives and suffering. In the long term, however, our problems are not unique to lawyers. For me AA is my home, but also a bridge to LAP, other attorneys, and a bigger world. LAP at its best can be the same.

I am blessed with some talent and some good attributes that I try to use in service to others. All too easily my perspective about that shifts from gratitude to pride and becomes an ego-feeding proposition that leads only back to isolation and destruction. I am not nearly as different as I think I am, in LAP, in AA, or even among "ordinary" folks. I am slowly learning and relearning in AA that "the destruction of self" leads to joy, usefulness, and peace; not the loss of identity I feared.

Like many newcomers I held on to what made me different; needlessly afraid that if I let go of my character defects, my personal ambition, and my desires, I would lose myself. The opposite has been true. I was far from an original when I got here. I was just another selfish sheep trying to feel accepted. Freed in part from my insecurities, I have become more individual and made intentional and unexpected choices. None among my acquaintance would describe me as typical in any way, nor have I ever met anyone long-sober who was dull or common. To be free to become more who I am, I had to walk through my fear of not being sufficiently unique.

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