Perspective: Dilemma of the Different

by Paddy S.

Here is a dilemma, a question often asked and pondered upon:

If AA is such a wonderful way of recovering from alcoholism why is it that so few actually recover and live sober lives?

I myself have often wondered about this. So many times, I have seen people come into AA, stay for a few days, weeks, or months and then fall by the wayside.

It can’t be that the AA way of recovery is unworkable, because it works for so many people. It doesn’t matter whether they are atheists, agnostics or deeply religious; all these exist within the rooms of AA.

It’s not that those who do not stay are not intelligent enough, or have not suffered enough, or are too young, too old or any of a myriad of other reasons.

Bill W. says in Chapter Five of the book Alcoholics Anonymous that some people are “constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves, yet many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest”.

I think he is on the right track here. But what is the “dishonesty” he is implying here?

Is it the dishonesty when a person says he is not an alcoholic, yet all evidence points to the fact that he is? I don’t think so. I have met many people in AA who know they are alcoholics and openly admit it but yet can’t stay sober.

I believe the dishonesty is more fundamental than that. It is the basic dishonesty that says “I am different.”

This is a form of dishonesty that is used by us humans for so many other things – not just alcoholism and addiction. Any time we want to exclude ourselves from some responsibility, we use this to justify to ourselves why we should avoid it.

One of the ironies of dishonesty is this: It is impossible to be dishonest without a justification or rationalization for it. So when asked to join something or do something, it is this dishonesty that comes to bail us out: “I really can’t do this because I am different.”

On the heels of that thought come the secondary rationalizations to bolster it: “I’m too old / too young / no time / no money”, etc.

The secondary rationalizations will be based on the person’s circumstances and can be pulled out of thin air very quickly. But the underlying foundational rationalization is “I am different.”

As long as a person believes this myth, he or she is doomed to continue in the destructive behaviours they have grown accustomed to.

Facing down this rationalization is easier said than done, as I believe this belief is in us all. We may overcome it regarding alcoholism or other addictions, but see it emerge elsewhere in our lives. We use this rationalization to justify anything.

“I’m different so I can act this way but you can’t.” “I’m different so I can’t act this way but you can.”

We can use it either way, to justify doing something or to justify not doing something.

This thinking is carried to extremes every day. Why am I living in a shelter? Because I am different. Why am I successful? Because I am different. Why am not able to get sober? Because I am different.

Once a person gets over this dishonest idea remarkable things happen quickly.

“I am the same – I do what you do and I get sober.” “I am the same – I do what you do and I get a job.”

All other evidence about us humans points to the fact we are more alike than different. Two legs, two hands, two eyes, we speak, we love, we eat, we procreate, etc. … all in the same way. So why would I think I’m different? Because I am being fundamentally dishonest with myself in order to justify my harmful actions.

For as long as I think “I am different”, I keep myself outside the reach of aid. It is indeed a form of insanity.

So how does a person overcome this insanity? Is it possible?

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

This is the Second Step of AA’s Twelve Steps. Isn’t it interesting that it is the next thing addressed after our powerlessness and unmanageability is covered in the First Step?

Here is where we must be open to God’s help. Insanity, dishonesty, unsound thinking, can be changed by God’s grace.

This is a reality. It happens all the time in AA. This most destructive dishonesty is relieved by God, as people come to believe in a God of their own understanding.

My own experience with over 30 years in AA is this: I am NOT different. I am so like my fellow travelers it constantly amazes me.

About the Authors

Renascent Alumni
Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email