Spider In A Box



No man is an island…except for Freddy Madagascar.

That was one of my dad’s go to jokes.  I didn’t think much of it when I first heard it, but gave it a good chuckle (still makes me laugh today, actually).  But in looking back at my old life, I could see that the joke was on me – I was that little island and didn’t even know it. I don’t imagine John Donne saw it as a joke.  I had a friend many years ago who was always trying to get me to open up.  You know, the kind of person that would overshare about themselves in hopes that you would take the bait and give a little back.  He would try and ply me with liquor (yeah, that was a tough one) to encourage me to talk about my feelings.  I wouldn’t bite.  Drink, yes, but not bite.  In a moment of frustration, he announced to no one in particular that I was a “spider in a box”.  A lone wolf.  Outcast. In self imposed exile. A recluse.  Hermit.

He was right.

Ask almost any alcoholic, and she or he will admit to being isolated in one way or another.  I was a secretive, closet drinker.  I drank alone, thank you very much Mr. Thorogood.  And why did I drink alone?  Like many others, it was to avoid the ever increasing concerned looks of friends and family; to avoid the glares of judgement, to alleviate the scrutiny of our own disdain through the mirror of our self-loathing.  I drank alone to box myself in a frail yet powerful mixture of alcohol, self-pity and anger.  I drank alone because people just got in the way of a good thing and I needed more of the medicine to keep me going.  Alcohol was the only way I got through the day.

In terms of comfort, bottles were my supply – people need not apply.

Where was this when I needed it?
Where was little Jojo when I needed him most?

Isolation needn’t be just a physical manifestation of where we are.  Not all alcoholics sit in their basements, drinking homemade beer that has gone off (oops, that was me!) or downing sweet sherry in alleyways, but can be found in barrooms and taverns (the drinker’s den of dens – notice the lack of windows at most old-skool taverns…bless them).  Many drink in lounges, in clubs, at parties, at cottages and other get aways.  Many drink before, during and after vacations with their partners and buddies.  So while many alcoholics may physically be with others, they are still isolated – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  We don’t have to be hiding in some dingy cavern, scratching out the days with dirty, cracked fingernails on cold stone, to be isolated.  We hide within ourselves and cast others aside – castaways on our own little island.  We are the Freddy’s of the world.

For this alcoholic, isolating was a way that I could fulfill my self-propelled prophecy of not being wanted.  It was a way of escaping within an escape.  It was like hiding in a sack that was nestled in a vault, hidden under a labyrinth.  When I isolated, I was ensuring that I couldn’t be seen – my very fear and very core issue that I had in my life.  I was playing hide and go seek, except that I didn’t want anyone to seek me, and yet I so craved to be found.  It reminds me of the quote by psychotherapist D.W. Winnicott – “It is a joy to be hidden but a disaster not to be found.”  Except in this case, I had a big part of me not wanting to be found, and then resenting when no one went looking for me.  That is how my sick mind operated.  And then to add alcohol to the mixture fueled the delusion, fear and anger.  Wax on, wax off.  Keep it going, young Daniel.


Another aspect of my isolating was the feeling of being better than you.  In separating myself from you, physically, I separated myself from you, holistically.  I was declaring to the world (or really, myself) that I was a much more advanced specimen of the species.  To mix among the plebes, minions and serfs of the planet meant that I was common , and for an alcoholic of my obvious intellectual prowess and superior homo sapiens status, I could not stand for such vapidity and insipidness in my world.  I could not be common because that would mean I was common, and my ego just didn’t handle the throwing of the gauntlets like that very well. I was a man on the go, on the way up, didn’t you know? I had plans to conquer all, including myself.  And to demonstrate that, I would go to my Bat Cave and hatch grand schemes – to make known the injustices of my warped world and to get back at you. And to do that I needed some space, don’t you see?  I needed a place, mentally and in human space, to recreate myself, once again.  I just need room to breathe, and all of you were sucking in my precious air.  Off thee to a nunnery.

And the more I isolated I was, the more difficult it was to get back into the stream of life.  There was something almost comforting about being self-imprisoned.  It seemed the only way to live.  And the natural, hard-wired instinct of connecting with others was at first dampened, then strangled out of me, like a choke hold.  I was able to relate less and less to others, to care less and less of others, and eventually I cared less and less about myself.  My grand schemes were nothing more than tissue paper flitting about over white hot coals.  They vaporized the more I drank at people.  They crumbled as my cocoon cracked and caved in around me, hands still clutching to wet glass, face against cold tile, pain erupting from my very soul.

Isolating, like the alcohol and rage, was killing me.  It was complicit in my deterioration.


Being in the fellowship of AA has been a good thing for me, albeit a difficult one.  I still have a hard time in not isolating.  I still find it difficult to be a part of and not apart from.  I still have my old ways weaved through me at times, and this is one of the big ones for me.  Perhaps there is something about being online that allows me to be a part of, and yet not.  But I know that when I don’t hang with my peeps in the church basements and coffee shops, I feel it.  And I have been feeling it lately.  That old pull of wanting to turn into an acorn and get squirelled away, tough exterior and all, still attracts me at times.  I still get the sirens calling me to hole up and fend for myself.  But I know the danger and the fallacy in that thinking.  It’s the old alcoholic way, and I am no longer interested in that.  So for this old alkie, it’s about doing the action and attaching myself back to the human race.  It’s about not being less than or better than, it’s about being right sized.  It’s about feeling my way through the center of myself through others and their breath, touch and speech.  It’s about erasing the old drive and populating  it with a population of loving and present people. It’s about plugging in. It’s about getting off the island of me and joining the continent of you. 

The one thing I have learned in my short time of recovery is that it doesn’t take me long to get back in the slipstream of being with others.  A simple call, a quick meeting, a hand out to someone in need, and bang, I am back in the game.  That’s the insidiousness of this illness and the way it tries to lull us into a complacency that degrades into a bath of self-pity and self – it removes us from where we need to be and puts us in a place of vulnerability.  It’s like a pack of gazelles or other preyed upon animals who travel in large amounts, for safety reasons.  When there is a pride of lions or other prey animals hunting them, the lions aren’t focusing on the core group, where the majority of the gazelle congregate and have strength in numbers.  They are lurking and studying at the outskirts of the group –  looking for the stragglers and isolated beasts.  They are looking for the ones that have set themselves apart from the group.  Those are the ones they pounce upon.  Those are the ones in danger.  And that is how I see myself – I need to be in the middle of the pack, in the middle of AA, in the middle of life period, lest I find myself on the outside looking in, and perhaps looking at a  life mangled by the claws of self-righteousness and ego. In the end, I need to be with you.  When I reach out and you’re there, I thank you.  And when you reach for me, I will be there.

Together we do this.  I don’t recover, you don’t recover. WE recover.



15 Comments Add yours

  1. Em says:

    Paul- I have been reading your blog for about a month. I turned to this and some of the other blogs because March was not a good month for me as for drinking. Your words touch me and motivate me. My birthday is today and I decided rather than to celebrate the usual way I would give myself the gift of sobriety for one year. I look at it as an experiment to see how my life will change in one year-as so many of your words resonate with me. So cheers! and thank you for heading me in what I feel is the right direction for me-and know your words and the fellow bloggers are very supportive with helping me with this gift to myself.

    1. Lisa Neumann says:

      Em … What a great way to celebrate your birthday. The gift of self love. And Paul is the best to follow for inspiration. Best wishes and Happy Birthday. Lisa

    2. Hi Em,

      I am sorry to hear March wasn’t the best for you. Happy birthday (belated)!!! It’s a wonderful gift you are giving yourself, and all the other people in your life. I am so happy that even a few words of my experience helps a tiny bit. The fellow bloggers are amazing, aren’t they? They help me in ways they don’t know either. And YOU have helped me today – your words resonated with me the moment I read them, and I saw myself in you. I hope to hear from you sooner than later.

      Blessings and thank you for writing


  2. byebyebeer says:

    I like what you say about how easy it is to slip back into the groove of being with others once you make the effort. The more options you have (meetings, sober friends, blogs, etc.), the easier that is to do.

    This idea of isolating is something I struggle with as an introvert. I like solitude, but there is a fine line between quiet and isolation. Fortunately with two kids, I feel more like the guy in the picture who’s hiding out in his closet! This phase won’t last forever, though.

    1. You know, I didn’t mention anything about the introvert angle. I am certainly introverted, and like you said so well, there is a fine line between quiet and isolation. I like quiet. I like alone time. I like quiet alone time. Problem is that I don’t know when it too much until I am starting to get squirrely. Then I have to scramble at do something like hit a meeting, see a friend, etc. I am still learning. So I am with you, my friend…so understand!


  3. Lisa Neumann says:

    Paul, I’m reading MIaB like a novel today. I have gotten behind with my reads so I decided to just read through my favorites post to post. Just this morning I was thinking how I/people get caught in the motion of something and over time it resembles little of its initial look/feel, yet I/we think that it does. I find it especially meaningful to notice your tribute post, your birthday post, and now this post because I see the momentum you are creating for yourself. It is the momentum of success.The longer you are in the blogging community the more people you reach and the grander your effect on recovery. A reciprocal moment of communication and compassion. I never give without receiving and I never receive without giving. I have learned that I only harm myself when I withhold the connection. thank you for reminding me to stay in the stream of connection. Thank you for the lovely blog. I’m a big fan.

    1. No worries Lisa – I have been so behind on my own darn blog and my lack of responses!! How embarrassing. I hope I haven’t annoyed anyone with dangling comments. Anyway, thank you for spending you very busy time over here – very honored.

      ” I never give without receiving and I never receive without giving. I have learned that I only harm myself when I withhold the connection. ” I love this, Lisa. This is why I read what you write – this is the meat and potatoes of where I need to be and what I need to learn. You are so right – when I sever the connection or shut it down, I feel it. I truly do. And when I open up the line, I open up the light, and it’s the light that shines and guides me. And it’s folks like you who keep shining, Lisa. Thank you.


  4. Hi again Paul, I just commented on your anniversary post, and now I must delve into this darker subject. I read this post a few hours ago, and I had to walk away and think before I put my thoughts down.

    This took me down an all-too-familiar, and none-too-pleasant path… isolation. For me, as I’m sure for most, addiction did not start out as an isolating affair; in fact, just the opposite. I remember well when drinking did mean conviviality. But, as you so eloquently point out above, all too quickly the laughter and camaraderie turn, first into looks of puzzlement, then embarrassment (embarrassed for me), and, finally, disgust and anger. Somewhere between the looks of puzzlement and disgust did I get the idea that becoming chemically altered would be much more fulfilling in a private environment. And even that was an evolution: in the beginning of isolation, I would drink by myself until I felt social, then go out and be social, but soon enough the end goal was to do everything, lock, stock and barrel, as a solo act. Not an easy feat as a wife, mother, and member of a large, extended family, but alcoholics are nothing if not resourceful, and I could be very creative when it came to carving out my precious “me” time.

    Today, by the grace of God, I don’t have to live like that (to quote the great Paul O.). And what a blessing this post is, to remind me what life was like, so that I am vigilant not to slide back there again.

    1. So true…every single thing you just said there, J. You said it better than I did (and more concisely – learning to do that). A solo act – that is what we are. Lone wolves. And yes, yes, yes…we ARE resourceful folk, ain’t we?? People say we have no willpower. Oh, I beg to differ. We have immense willpower – but not against booze. But when we know we are going to get our next fix, we are wily and resourceful and have lots of willpower. We can amaze ourselves those regards.

      Thank you so much for sharing…meant a lot to me that you were able to be so honest.


  5. carrie says:

    Awesome thoughts and wisedom. We recover together, oh yes, I can vouch for that. Thank you for a wonderful post!

    1. Thanks Carrie – so glad you swung by here and commented. Made my day to see ya here!


  6. Al K Hall says:

    Isolation is still a monkey on my back. Even with all my recovery and efforts in the program, i still prefer to be on my own than with others. i’m taking my own advice, though, and ‘acting as if’ and this seems to be helping. Each time i hang out with someone, the next time is a little easier.

    i also really liked the way you concluded this one. We’re all in this together, indeed.

    1. You’re right on there, kind sir! I too find that it does get a bit easier the more I hang out with someone, but I am still at a point where it’s nowhere near natural for me. I do enjoy my time alone – probably a bit more than I should, but it’s a different kind of time alone. I am usually just fiddling with something, or writing, or reading or contemplating, etc. So I feel recharged – true introvert stuff. Glad to see I am not alone in this (no pun intended)


  7. destamae says:

    OMG- HOW did I miss this post?! LOVE it! Yes- I too NEED to be in the middle of the pack! Love how you said that! So true- the lone ones- the isolated ones- are the ones preyed upon. And yet- like you- I am an ‘isolator’ at heart. My WHOLE life. I guess that’s addiction? Hmmm…never thought of it that way. Gee do you make me think! I LOVE the quote “it is a joy to be hidden, yet a disaster not to be found”. Whoa- that is my whole life- I swear. I always convinced myself I didn’t need anyone or wanted anyone, yet then got SO angry when no one would come looking for me! I mean- how dare them? Didn’t they know I was dying inside?! Anyway- I too LOVE how you ended this post! WE are all in this together!

    1. I love what you said about getting angry when no one came looking for you…so very true in this case for me. Amazing how that works, eh? And for most of my life, I lived that way. In some ways I still do – getting better though. There is that friction between wanting others to see us as we are and yet pushing others away for fear of them seeing us for who we are. What a dilemma! And a bummer. Sigh. Thanks so much for your wonderful comment, Desta. Nice to see ya here 🙂

      Love and light,

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