In Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill wrote: “Almost without exception, alcoholics are tortured by loneliness. Even before our drinking got bad and the people began to cut us off, nearly all of us suffered the feeling that we didn’t quite belong.”
It took me a while to acknowledge the depth of loneliness I experienced throughout my life. I was in denial of it because I had to be, after I got to college, the center of much of what was going on. For this reason, for the most part, I thought I was integrating really well with my fellow students. But I wasn’t.
When I got into sobriety and truly began to work the steps and live the program, I realized just how lonely my life had been. As I reviewed my life, I can remember being with local boys and girls at a football game, enjoying the game, but not really part of the group.
I’ll admit, my mother kept a tight leash, and a short one, on me throughout my teenage years. Looking back on it, she had a good right to do what she did. She knew me better than I knew myself.
When I was in seminary, right after Vatican II, it was like I had escaped something. I began to drink – most of my drinking was blackout. I was over involved in the city of Dublin in all kinds of charitable works, youth clubs, etc. All of this was wonderful. I enjoyed every minute of it, but I wasn’t there, I was missing in action. My “self” was hiding deep inside of me.
I participated in class in the morning, taught in a local high school in the afternoon, attended meetings, studied, and drank. At that time, I drank with friends who lived nearby. I did not drink on my own because, I believed, that’s how one becomes an alcoholic.
My sense of loneliness hit me the night of my thirtieth birthday. A priest friend and I pub-crawled across San Francisco all night. I don’t remember much of that day and night, but I do remember at one point crying and telling him that I was a failure, I was not married, had no children, didn’t own my own home. I felt miserable, alone and lonely. Not only had I lost appreciation for my vocation as a priest, but also, I was isolated and isolating emotionally. My awareness of that caused me to drink more instead of getting help.
My Higher Power pushed me into my boss’s office one Friday afternoon and ruined a weekend of blackout drinking (a whole other story). Dutifully I went into treatment followed by lots of therapy and Aftercare. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had this glass wall around me, and knew enough of the counseling language to “put on a good show” except for those who saw through me, and I felt uncomfortable in their company.
My first four years of the Fellowship were those of a dry-drunk. That was even more miserable but, fortunately, going to lots of AA meetings (for show), my employment as a counselor, leadership in a couple of organizations, and being a single dad, kept me busy. Finally, doing an honest step four and five, and making Amends, opened my eyes to my behavior in my blackout drinking. I had enough glimpses into those blackouts -which I thought were signs of being tired, that helped me come to grips with my past. I needed people. I used people. I was addicted to being busy in case I’d have to be alone with myself.
My Higher Power kicked me again and this time I laughed. I had just declared bankruptcy, went home, and realized I had one thing no one could take from me – I was sober. I laughed, and I laughed. That was the beginning of my journey to peace and serenity through the program of honesty, not baloney.
Today, I am responsible for my emotional life. I enjoy meetings whether I share or just listen. I can come early, stay afterward, or leave. I have permission to be who I am. I have learned to like my Self.
“Life takes on a new meaning in AA” writes Bill “To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have hosts of friends, – this is an experience not to be missed.” That’s for sure.
I became alive. The Promises were fulfilled. Loneliness vanished and, while not perfect, I have continued to enjoy a wonder full life in my own company and with that of others.
Séamus D. Séamus is a retired Episcopal priest in the greater New Orleans area.