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How to Overcome Terminal Uniqueness

Terminal uniqueness, or personal exceptionalism, is the belief that you are special and not subject to the laws and rules that affect others. In the context of recovery, it might be something like ‘Obviously some people can’t drink in moderation, but I can handle it’, or it may sound more like ‘Other people have been able to stay sober for a long time, but my life has been so extraordinarily bad that sobriety is much harder for me’.

Either way, terminal uniqueness undermines your recovery. You are, technically, unique, so you can always find some reason you don’t have to do some part of recovery you find especially difficult or uncomfortable. The problem is that you addiction will actually persist unless you’re willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober. If you think you might be suffering from terminal uniqueness, here are some suggestions for getting over it.

Look for similarities rather than differences. When you go to meetings and listen to other group members you can always find wiggle room if you only look for differences. One person is much younger, so she doesn’t have you life experience, one person is much older so he was actively addicted for longer, and so on. If you look for similarities instead, you will notice that people struggling with addiction actually have a lot in common. You will certainly find common ground with members of your group if you are honest with yourself. It’s to your advantage to do so because you might be able to learn from other people’s mistakes.

Listen to the locals. Imagine you decide to go exploring in the Amazon. You’ve never been there before so you hire a native guide who knows the area well. You have to cross the river, so you decide to swim it, but the guide strongly advises against it. Do you do it anyway? Of course not; that would be insane. Yet many people feel they don’t need the guidance of others with far more experience of sobriety. The stakes are every bit as high as they would be in the Amazon–your health and possibly your life. So when someone with a lot more experience gives you advice, it’s probably best to assume you’re not the one exception.

Practice humility. Start by asking yourself this question: ‘If I’m so smart, how did I get into this mess?’ Do you really know what works if nothing you’ve done has worked? It’s hard to admit you don’t know what to do and it’s hard to give up control, but sometimes it’s the only way. Humility is not only admitting you don’t know, but also willingness to try something new.

Fake it until you make it. If you try all the other stuff and still feel like what works for others doesn’t apply to you, you can always just pretend. Most of the rules we follow every day are not really binding. You can jump the queue or park across two spaces without serious consequences most of the time, but most people go along out of courtesy. Similarly, when you go to a therapist, a sponsor, or a group for help, it’s only courteous to listen to their advice. And what’s the worst that could happen if you stay away from the pub or go to meetings every day even though you feel like you really don’t need to? You can always try and see. Once you’ve tried all the stuff that has worked for a lot of people, maybe then you can decide whether you really need to do something different.

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