One characteristic that is common to most of us in AA is the sense that we feel “other” from the mainstream of society. We don’t belong. We don’t get it. We don’t feel comfortable participating in ordinary social and societal situations. We feel outcast, downcast; belittled and degraded. We seek ways to feel less like this.
Alcohol helps. In the beginning, alcohol helps. We start to find ways to participate. We feel less like peeling off our own skin when we’ve had a drink or two. There’s a reason alcohol is called a “social lubricant”. We feel in dire need of anything to help us feel less like we are stuck, frozen, embarrassed, and out of place.
I think a lot of people who aren’t alcoholics have the same anxieties and discomfiture. And I think alcohol often helps them feel like they fit in too. But for us, we alcoholics, alcohol is a very temporary solution. Because even as it allays our own toxic discomfort, it siphons it off and distributes it to others. People become uncomfortable around us.
We drink too much. We behave unpredictably and inappropriately. Alcohol frees our baser instincts. We act out socially, sexually, physically. We feel powerful when we’re drunk, in the beginning. We feel compelled to drink more. We do. We abandon, or are shunned by, those who do not drink like we do.
And so the drug we took to address our isolation becomes an isolating feature of our lives. We drink more to overcome it. As we do, we are further marginalized. Eventually, loneliness is the dominating landscape of our existence. Alcohol fuels depression and humiliation. It gets worse.
In recovery, this sense of otherness has to be addressed. We need to find communities that adopt us, embrace us. Alcoholics Anonymous is one such community. Where we come together, castaways from the same shipwreck, and understand what we’ve been through. How we debased ourselves and earned condemnation. We dedicate ourselves to moving back towards life, while remembering why and how we lost our purchase on it in the first place.
But we may feel that otherness still, in other environments. I do. I feel useless and isolated an enormous amount of the time. In communities that are supportive and embracing. I try desperately to fit in, only to find myself feeling flung ever further from the center. I fabulate vile scorn from the most innocuous behaviors on the part of those I’d most like to feel accepted by. Invented cordons blocking me from social hierarchies I’d like to ascend.
I find myself despising the things I said I wanted. Succumbing to spirals of relegation. Letting grow derelict gardens I once thought I’d carefully tend. Because I cannot see myself as belonging there. I am not a tiller of that soil, that earth where good things grow and kind people celebrate the flourishing of one another’s labors.
I cannot sit among those whom I would sit among. I am not of them. My desire to contribute opinion and influence in those venues is just gonging on the wrong beats.
I have discovered how not to drink. I have discovered places where I belong. But I have not yet learned to be satisfied contributing in places where I understand the rules. Where I’m part of the bedrock. I reach out to prove I belong part of larger communities and howl to make myself heard when I don’t know what I’m saying. While my thoughts are ill-considered and poorly defined. Undefendable.
I don’t know where I belong. But wherever I am, it seems, the answer is, “Not here.”