The last time I was in rehab, I had a very nice roommate. A woman slightly younger than me, who was friendly and obviously relieved that I wasn’t too scary looking. Alcohol was her thing, and it was her first time in treatment. We chatted and got to know each other, and I felt comfortable with her, which for me is saying a lot.
Almost every night, downstairs in the main room, meetings of the most populous recovery fellowship were held, open to the community as well. But on Thursday, things were different. On this night only, there was a meeting of a different group; one that talked about drugs as well as alcohol. When my roommate looked at the day’s schedule, she asked if everyone had to go to the meeting. “I imagine so,” I replied, “since we have a mixed population and everyone’s had to go to all of the other meetings.”
“But there might be a lot of drug addicts there,” she said nervously.
Oh, honey. Who do you think you’ve been sleeping next to for the past five days?
She knew pills were my thing, but she hadn’t made the connection. In her mind, a drug addict still meant a toothless thug roaming the streets. In her mind, an alcoholic and a drug addict were two very different creatures.
I encounter it all the time. I call it the “I’m Not Like You” phenomenon. It existed in that rehab facility, as it does everywhere else. And it doesn’t have to be about what type of addict we are; it can be about background, age or anything else.
I’m not like you. I’m just an alcoholic. You drug addicts are way worse.
I’m not like you. You’ve never been on the streets or in jail. You’ve had an easy life. You have no idea what I’ve been through.
I’m not like you. I’m a successful professional. I just have a problem, which I will solve and get back to success.
I’m not like you. I just took those pills because my doctor gave them to me. I would never do the things you’ve done.
I’m not like you. You have no idea what it’s like to live with mental illness.
I’m not like you. You’re old and out of touch. You don’t have to cope with any of the problems I have.
I’m not like you. You’re young and don’t have the responsibilities I have.
I don’t belong with you.
I don’t belong here.
Yes, it’s a form of denial, but it goes deeper. You see the denial form of it in detox or early in recovery. There’s a certain cognitive dissonance about listening to someone rhapsodize about their successful life and lack of serious problem when their hands are still shaking. But even if someone has found themselves to be in need of recovery, and accepted this about themselves, these judgments go on.
We argue about which recovery groups are better than others. We judge each other, and get defensive when we feel judged. We feel superior, and when we feel inferior we fight this by finding things to criticize.
In other words, we act like the microcosm of humanity that we are.
Sometimes it frustrates me, until I remember the last thing I just wrote. It is the human condition, and while I can work toward unity I can’t make it happen. But I want to. I would love it if all those in recovery would embrace the fact that Death comes one to a customer no matter who we are; that we are nothing more or less than fellow addicts no matter what our specific poison was.
I’d love it it if we never forgot what the real enemy is.
Wanting to work toward unity is another reason for me to work on myself. Strengthen my recovery, fight my social phobia, lay my ghosts to rest and become someone who is a little less afraid to reach out to someone I might be tempted to think is different from me.