Terminally Unique

I always had a secret mission. In it, I took notes on the Earthlings and reported all findings to the mothership. The assignment seemed simple enough, but it was a long, lonely ordeal. You see, living as an imposter wasn’t for the weak-minded. To do what I needed to do – survive – my goal was to stay as separate from the hominids that populated this planet. This sort of science-fiction mentality saved my life…until I found the one true thing that would skyrocket me to my own private Krypton. Alcohol.

Whether it was the bullying or the apathy in the aftermath of the shoving and name-calling, I never felt quite at home in my own skin. Even as a child, I felt that everyone except me had gotten a manual for living – a set of volumes outlining what one needed to do to thrive in life. How to talk to others, how to smile and mean it, how to feel emotions without wanting to hide or wail uncontrollably. How to give and feel love. I felt a large chunk of something was missing in my life, but couldn’t put my finger on it.

If you were to ask me how I was after the bullies went home, I would have said, “fine”. And that was the veneer I put on for the next thirty years. I was fine. But deep down, I was a sensitive, empathetic, gentle boy who didn’t know how to navigate life’s rough waters. I was rudderless, adrift at sea. Whenever I was myself – doing well in school, playing the flute, being a general nerd – I was beaten down literally and figuratively. Grown-ups were either unwilling or unable to help me deal with these situations so they left me to fend for myself. The prevailing attitude of “boys will be boys” carried the day. So I hid my talents, lived my life under cloak and dagger. To be me meant pain. The only way I could feel safe was to picture myself as an alien who had landed here on Earth and stay a dispassionate observer. I played the role well. I shut down emotionally and cast judgements on everyone who darkened my space.

And then came the alcohol.

Alcohol allowed me to play both sides of this spiritual subterfuge. I could find that liquid courage to play the role of human. I could laugh, talk to others, sing, feel good about myself. At the same time, I could continue to isolate, craft resentments and feel victimized. My alcoholism blossomed and the good times ceased. All I could manage was to pretend to play at life while I crumbled within.

There is a term used in recovery, terminally unique, to describe how you’re the only one to feel how you feel and hence resign yourself to a slow death. I was textbook terminally unique. Playing the victim card stamped by memory of those bullies kept me in the maelstrom of self-pity and isolation. Even my role of observer no longer worked. I knew I had life within me, but couldn’t live it or feel it. I was suicidal. Being apart from, and not a part of, was destroying me.

There is no loneliness, isolation, or sense of being different as there is with the alcoholic or addict. We trod about as if we invented those things. Or at least we try and perfect it. It wasn’t until my bottom tossed me about like a rogue wave was I able to break that idea of being different. I found a connection to the Creator which in turn has allowed me to be open to His children. And in doing so, I found that missing piece which had always had me searching for – me. My authentic self, grounded in the love of others and guided by His hand.

I no longer need to observe from afar. I quit my alien job and finally joined the human race, love and spirit intact.

Paul at Message in a Bottle

57 thoughts on “Terminally Unique

    • He certainly does. They say that addicts (and alcoholics) are people who are running as fast and far away from the Creator as possible. I believe that because it’s when I found myself coming back to Him and getting in touch with the authentic me, I no longer needed artificial coping mechanisms. I had what I needed all along.

      Thanks for commenting.


      • “I had what I needed all along.” Individuals, families, the world would be radically different if we recognized this. Very difficult to from so far off the path in the woods. Wonderful.

  1. Reblogged this on Message in a Bottle and commented:

    I’ve been honoured and flattered to be asked by The Holistic Wayfarer to contribute a piece to her blog, A Holistic Journey. If you’re unaware of that space, consider this your gateway post! (Sorry, addiction humour.) The Holistic Wayfarer has created a wonderful, inviting space and is surrounded by a community that is disarmingly gentle, soulful and supportive. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to have my first guest piece posted.

    The piece is a part of a series called Belonging that the Holistic Wayfarer has created to highlight the struggle that we all have in trying to be a part of, not apart from. The want and need to belong seems hard wired in us, and there is great internal strife when we feel that we are the outside looking in. That was my own experience for oh so many years. Some wonderful bloggers share their own stories in this week’s series, and am excited to be given the opportunity to be amongst some fantastic writers and folks. Please check them out.


    • I am still looking too! I know and feel more as the facades and old ideas of who I thought I was start to dissolve. But more will be revealed. With His help, more will be illuminated. There will always be more shining through the more I seek it. Glad to be seeking alongside you.


    • This is turning out to be one incredible series, M, with very good response. Props to the guests for their hard work refining their piece but more importantly, for the honesty that is building community and tapping our own struggles. Thx for piping in.

  2. God does not take us only when we are lovable, but more so when we are most in need of love.
    I’m so glad you found him, and in doing so, found yourself.

  3. I followed you over here today, and am so glad I did. Your words as always make me think and consider where I am right now in my various journeys.

    • Thank you J, glad you found A Holistic Journey – so happy to see you. The great thing about our journeys is that they are our own, and hence aren’t defined in any way other than through the lens of our own experience. We cross each other’s paths to help guide and direct us, regardless of why we’re there.

      Hope you’re doing well 🙂


  4. I just loved that! What a beautiful testimony. I can totally relate to feeling as if you are a spy on an alien planet, disconnected from everyone around you. “Terminally unique,” indeed. I take comfort in the fact that there is nothing new under the sun. People have been around for a long time, and everything that could be done and felt, has already been done and felt by someone else. So whenever I start to think I’m the only one going through something, I try to remember, nope, a few hundred thousands others have been here and done that, too.

    • You just put your finger on something that is so very intrinsic to recovery – we are never alone. That is why fellowship is important to many of us, as we get to be among those who feel and think the same, and as you wisely mentioned, have been there as well. There certainly is nothing new, and yet our egos tell us that we’re so special that no one will get it. But we do get it. And when we share these things with one another, that terminal uniqueness dissipates and blooms into empathy and camaraderie. Humanity.

      Thank you for your comments 🙂

  5. Paul, this post is filled with insight. You allowed yourself the healing that comes from surrender and dependence on a Higher Power. The courage you possess reveals itself through your honest and humble words. This journey is not over until He is finished with us. Thank you for this uplifting visit into your story.

    • BTW, just read your post, Head Down, Follow Through. That’s also true for us believers, as is your statement, “not conform to some blueprint that is impossible to adhere to.” Didn’t want to comment there, as I wasn’t certain it was appropriate. If we focus on the One we follow instead of the “what,” it’s so much easier to stay on the path, keep love in our hearts. Great blog. What you say has application for our spiritual walk.

      • Ha ha…I just used the word “blueprint” in my response to you here right now…must by my word of the week. But thanks for the read over there. I am glad it resonated with you, even if it’s in a recovery-slanted way. The longer I am on this path, the more I realize how we’re all so similar, regardless of the why’s and how’s of us being on that path.


      • I noticed that in your comment the minute I posted! Yes, it definitely resonated, Paul. So glad we met. I’ll be following for more seeds of light. Thank you so much for your light and wisdom that all come from Him.

    • Thank you for your gentle words, Susan. Surrender is the key word for a guy like me. When I was broken enough and ran out of ideas, then I finally gave it over to my HP. My lurking notions were crushed under the weight of His love. It took me 40 years, but it finally got through my thick skull that living by my own designs was not the way I was intended to live. I don’t have the blueprint, but He has and my job is to take those nudgings and do the next right indicated thing. My sense of belonging and be a part of grew exponentially. And it’s still growing today, as long as I don’t lose sight of who got me there 🙂

      Thanks again and have a wonderful day.

    • Thank you kindly, Josie. I am very happy to be with those like you who are moving through darkness into light, and seeing life through a series of newer and fresher lenses. The struggle for the connection to Him and to ourselves isn’t confined to us alkies (lol). It’s been going on since Day 1 of Existence. Obvious to all, but that’s news to me. But for a guy like me, it’s critical to my new way of being. I wish that I could have gotten here sooner, but then again, it takes what it takes, as they say.

      Thanks for being here!


  6. Hi Paul, This is a very touching, honest and clever look at your (our) isolation from hurts, drugs and missteps, and how you found your way back home. Welcome and congrats. I still dance between the worlds. blessings, Brad

    • Thank you very much for the kind and gentle words, Brad. I like how you refer to it as coming home. I certainly had that feeling at times in my recovery and it truly does have that flavour of being where I am supposed to be. Being on the run holds no interest for me any longer.

      Blessings in return

      • “Being on the run holds no interest for me any longer.” Just wonderful.

        Paul, this beautiful, powerful, triumphant post gave me greater compassion for alkies.



      • Thank you, Diana. I had to learn to have compassion towards myself, something I didn’t have my entire life, so I am glad that this resonated with you and you found this to be of value to you.

        Thank you again for this opportunity to share on your blessed space and to connect with so many new friends. It’s been an honour to be amongst so many wonderful souls here, and opening your home (and heart) to me and the others.

  7. Well written Paul. You were concise and complete. I find it interesting that although many who are dependent run from God, as you say, a lot of the principles, as I understand them, that help to deal with addiction are religious based. What are your thoughts on this – or is it even true? I know the “alien” feeling and although I did drink heavy for a while, I have cut back a lot to maybe a bottle of wine a month. I feel safe there as I am sure I was teetering into a dependency. Which is to say that my experiences weren’t as strong as yours, but I can empathize. Faith is something that has grown stronger in my life as I grew older. It has been a progressive process over decades – different than you but no less eye-opening.

    Your open and honest account of your journey is very impactful. Thank you.

    • I am glad, Paul, that you didn’t get into the dependence phase of drinking. It’s a nasty, distasteful way of living. There are distinctions between the hard drinker and the alcoholic, although at times they may look the same. Like bangles and crimped hair, heavier bouts of drinking can be a phase of someone’s life.

      As for recovery models being religious based, there is a perception that 12-step recovery (like AA, CA, etc.) is religous. It is not, although the original members were Christian and did use the Bible as one of their many texts before eventually writing their basic text, Alcoholics Anonymous. The best way I can describe it is that they picked and choosed from all thoughts of spirituality and wrote them out in a way that a bunch of drunks could understand them. All the basic tenets of spirituality (and yes, some religions) can be found with 12-step recovery. There is talk of God, and yet, it is one of one’s understanding, as opposed to one that is dictated to one. In fact, you need not believe in God to still work the program. Anything that is a power greater than you will suffice.

      So in 12-step, alongside with the physical and mental aspects, they discuss the spiritual malady. That is for me the crux of it all. My connection with the Creator is what truly has been the lifesaver for me. Like you, faith is something that continues to grow. I am still at it. The times that I ignore that and Him, and go with self-will, are the times things don’t go well! Considering that my best thinking got me into detox, hospitals, back of a police car, job losses, separation, etc. I was ready to let someone else run the show for me!

      So it all comes down to my faith in Him, Paul. I don’t worship in a conventional way, but I am supplicant and try to be humble as much as I can. Am I always successful? Absolutely not. But seeing where I am now and where I was…then yes, I am on the right path for now 🙂

      Thank you Paul for your comments. I have always enjoyed your thoughts.


      • Thanks for the explanation Paul. Spirituality is certainly the key, for me, so I’ m not surprised it’s an important component of recovery. That must be very difficult to access when your life in in difficulty. I can’t imagine how much personal strength it must have taken for you to turn your life around like you did. I admire you for that.

        Like yourself, I’m a bit wary of religions and choose to put my faith in God. I’m more comfortable with that.

        Thanks again for sharing Paul.

      • What victory, to be able to say “I am on the right path” (bc you’re letting Someone else run the show for you). One of my fav proverbs always has been he who trusts in himself is a fool. I believe 28.26. This is central to the gospel of Jesus, which is all about OUR INSUFFICIENCY. This flies in the face of the ubiquitous postmodern YOU ARE SO WONDERFUL don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise self-esteem movement. Yes, our best thoughts – in the flesh – will take us down the rabbit hole to dungeons and chains. The fundamentalist COME ON NOW, Git! DO better, stop lusting, stop lying, stop this and that gets my goat because the gospel says we CAN’T. We are helpless in the flesh. Else, whY did Jesus have to come??

  8. You sound so much like a friend of mine – he says the same thing he was convinced he wasn’t of this planet when younger. I didn’t quite think that way but I sure didn’t want to be part of the human race and partake of the world – it was too difficult… actually no it was too painful… emotionally for me.

    • I understand Graham, what you say. I didn’t want to be of this world because I felt it betrayed me in a way, and of course that was all created by me. It’s a tough one to live in, but our delusions trap us, don’t they? Old thinking, old behaviours, kind sir. Breaking the cycle…well, you know about that. We’re oddfellows in an odd place, lit by the Great Beyond. Not a bad place to be. Beats being the spaceship hull, waiting for the loo. Ha ha.

      Cheers and thanks for being here.


  9. Hi again Paul! Well, I hadn’t read your post until after replying to your wonderful message on my post so of course now I read this with amazement. I only wish that my dad had been able to find his way and live his life without the bottle and be the man I know God wanted him to be as you have done. What a powerful and incredibly moving story you tell here. Thank you so much for sharing this very personal story, but I am so sorry for all the bullying you had to endure.
    My Aspie daughter has suffered bullying and as a result carries so much anger inside which doesn’t come out too often, but usually if she she thinks someone is looking at her in a funny way when we are out. This is part of the reason she rarely leaves the house. She doesn’t drink though, although when she does she says it helps her feel calmer and more able to handle social situations.
    I can really resonate with your description of being ‘terminally unique’. I think this is definitely what is behind the ‘victim’ mentality, as in, “I’m the only one going through this, nobody understands.” This certainly does create an alien existence and so to further isolation and buried emotions, hatred and anger towards the rest of the ‘hominids’.
    ‘ All I could manage was to pretend to play at life while I crumbled within.’ You write so eloquently, so much pain and truth in few, perfectly crafted words. This sentence, along with many others, but this one especially, jumped out at me for this reason. My dad knows all the right words and when to say them but all his life he has ‘played at life’. Or, in his case, I would say, ‘played the game’.
    Paul, I am so happy to know that you found your faith and you found Him. You found what I prayed a long time for my dad to find and now, at the end of his life, all I can pray is that he will find peace and salvation.
    You have written a startlingly honest and raw post which brings us through a horrendously painful journey to one that ends happily with you the owner of a new passport, stamped and welcoming you to the world that was always yours for the taking. Those alien spaceships can go back to where they belong 😉
    I’m looking forward to visiting your blog as soon as I can – Sherri.

    • Oh thank you Sherri for your brave and beautiful words here. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be the person who has to watch others go through painful existences or at least stages and phases of it. As you do (or did) with your father and your daughter with her fear of being judged by others. Frankly, I don’t know how my family stood by me all those years as I deteriorated within and caused the drama that can only come from a full-on alcoholic.

      I played that victim card all my life. Used it all times to justify anything and everything (“hey, if you had MY life, you’d drink too”…blah blah) and it kept me from taking responsibility for my own life and actions. Lots of kids get bullied. There is a different mentality around that now. But my alcoholism didn’t come from that. It’s the space between my ears and the disconnection to the Creator that was the deep, real root of the malady. I am sorry to hear that your daughter feels condemned by the public. I can certain identify with that pent up anger and resentment inside. All I can say is resentments only serve to harm us, and us alone. I hope she finds her way 🙂

      I too hope that your father finds peace and salvation at the end. That is all we all want, methinks. And it sounds like you are in a good place, overall. Your light shines through your words, Sherri. I am blessed to have you type a few my way. 🙂 Glad we’ve crossed paths.

      Light and love,

      • Ahh dear Paul, I do thank you for your kind words for my dad and also for my daughter. I’ve read a lot about alcoholism over the years in a better way to understand what drives my dad to still pick up the bottle. I wanted to try and understand the psychology behind it all. Much of what you write here strikes a deep chord with me. I’m so glad that you have found your way now and yes, me too, so glad our paths have crossed here, in the sharing of our stories and all that lies beneath.
        Much light and love to too Paul… 🙂

    • “I can really resonate with your description of being ‘terminally unique’. I think this is definitely what is behind the ‘victim’ mentality, as in, “I’m the only one going through this, nobody understands.”

      I just love how you two set everyone straight to get up and onward and get it together by modeling it. Man, you guys are awesome.

      You make me laugh Sherri. Yeah, I hope you bid the mothership farewell, Mr. Shoo! Off with you. *Hoisting Paul, CARRYing the messenger away with us far from them aliens as we sing*

      “For he’s a jolly good felllllllow………la la la la la la”

  10. You mentioned that you wished for a guidebook or manual to show you want to do in life. There is one you know. If only someone had given it to you much earlier…

    That manual says (among other things), “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
    “Hebrews 11:6, KJV).

    • You know, I was in Catholic school all my life, so I had no shortage of a certain book’s presence. We read it, studied it, broke it down. But like many things in my life, it was all academic. There was no other layer, as I had shut that down. I would argue that at no point was I open to any light or reasoning because I was too ensconced in my limited views of life. I could have had the answer right in front of me, and I would have balked at it!

      It was only when I was broken down that I was able to open my eyes. I believe it was William James who wrote about Religious / Spritual Experiences and proposed that no spiritual experience came from not being crushed in some way. In other words, I wasn’t open to this path until I got to a point where I almost had no choice. It didn’t come without a price.

      I love that quote, Beth – I thank you for that. It resonates with me and my experience.

      Blessings and thank you for commenting


      • Right. It takes us being broken open to embrace the truth of the Bible (let’s say it, BIBLE!) because we simply will not in the flesh. We are bent on self-sufficiency.

    • No kidding, Ian! I wondered why everyone *seemed* so content and I wasn’t. I was too busy comparing my insides to their outsides. Not a winning way to live. But I imagine that manual is within us, in our conscious, in our spirits…just unsure how to come out. For me, it’s as simple as quieting the white noise of my mind and listening to that little wee voice that tells me what it is I should do – the right thing to do. And that, when I stick to what that tiny voice tells, things always seem to work out. Even if I don’t feel like doing it or even balk at it, I know it’s the right thing. That’s the manual, methinks 🙂

      Thanks for reading 🙂


  11. Great story! Thank you for sharing this uniqueness we all have knew and many still carry even into our recovery. Not finding a place, a home, or even truly friends or fellowship.

    • Thank you so much Jeff for your comments. I was excited to see that I have met yet another seeker, and it’s in the seeking where we encounter the joys (and sometimes pain) of our trudging.

      Thank you for being here, and look forward to reading and enjoying your written and photographic works!


  12. This is inspirational Paul. What I love about your writing is that you are so positive about recovery yet very honest about the challenges. So glad you found your way into sobriety – the way you share has a unique quality – you make me feel proud to be part of the recovery journey. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Carolyn! I am always happy to see that smiling face of yours. I too am glad that I found my way into recovery. In many ways I am a grateful alcoholic, because without the pain and suffering and finally getting a way to God, I wouldn’t be here on this journey. And this journey has blessed me with so many amazing people face-to-face and online. You are certainly a part of my recovery life, and thank you for all that you do for us.


  13. Regarding: ‘There is no loneliness, isolation, or sense of being different as there is with the alcoholic or addict.’

    As a catholic priest, three years after ordination, very active 3 years, I started feeling the ‘loneliness of the diocesan priest!’ In India We have a saying for this: ‘The Walls come around to Bite You.’ I felt that.

    Alcoholics or Others. Loneliness can be overcome once We realize that We are Loved, that Love IS there.

    • Thank you for the insightful and beatifully worded comments here. I am blessed to have read them. It all comes down to love, doesn’t it? They say that all emotions and states come down to two things – fear and love. And it’s where we choose to come from that shapes our existence. When I choose from love, things seem to just *be* as opposed to not being. Fear brings out anger and resentment and the feeling of loneliness. But love…well, what can I say? If I know that Creator loves me, makes things a lot more bearable. Well bearable might be a bit soft, but perhaps there is an inner enrichment that comes with that love.

      Thank you for sharing *your* love here.


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