Not an original topic, grant you, this thing about what “normal” is and what it isn’t. Go to any blog or teen diary (they still have those? Maybe one with a Hello Kitty theme? Or a Hulk Hogan hardcover version for tough softies?) and you will no doubt find all sort of words about (not) fitting in, being cast aside, feeling apart from, etc. Every philosopher, arts grad student, sociologist, teen angst poet, TV spiritual guru and Revenge of the Nerds fan has got this topic covered. The idea is that being normal is just an ideal, borne of the innate feeling of wanting to fit in; that “normal” doesn’t exists, except in statistics and on washing machine settings. Normal really doesn’t exist, except in the minds of those who don’t feel they are a part of anything, which covers pretty much most people on this planet. And the ones who claim they are normal are usually covering up some uncomfortable or “abnormal” thoughts that really are normal compared to what everyone else is thinking. Fear, when you get down to brass tacks. But fret not, we are consoled with the overriding self-help cheer of “Who wants to be normal anyway?! Be your crafty, wonderful and weird self!”. All tied up in a neat bundle – a normal way in dealing with emotional peril and social awkwardness, eh?
Many will talk about finding a “new normal” – sort of like refreshing your home page on the Weather Network website and taking your cue from that new outlook and approach. The new normal is like your old normal, but with a shot of fabric softener or glitter. If I get a raise at work, I guess that’s my new financial normal. I don’t mind that. If another child or animal joins the family, that’s the new normal too. The new normal is pitched as a positive thing. It’s uplifting, it’s a way of gaining a foothold in Peace and Contentment. It’s urged as a way of progress, of setting the bar up yet another level and waiting for the next event to ratchet things up once again. I know it reads like I am a apprehensive about this normal business. I am not…at all. If it was a “meh” thing for me, I wouldn’t be exploring this very much. I am not sure why I am behooved to scrawl away about this, but there is some psychic and spiritual poking around going on in the shed of my mind and soul about this. And so I heed the invisible impetus.
In the context of normality and the alcoholic, the topic can branch off in so many, many directions. We could spend ages discussing and relating how we felt different than others growing up, how we felt different from others in our drinking, how we felt different from others when we had the drink in hand, how we felt different from others when we first sobered up, how we can still feel different when we walk in a room full of people. A cursory glance through all the wonderful recovery blogs out there talk about this at some point or another. Memoirs, short stories, documentaries, articles, etc. from alcoholics or about alcoholics often hinge on this one aspect of alcoholism. I didn’t pick up a drink because all was groovy in the world for me. I didn’t pick up that first beer because I was Mr. Popular or because I was on a winning streak. I certainly didn’t get into AA because my life was a portrait of “normal”. (Or perhaps it was – normal for an active alcoholic). I picked up because I wanted to be transported out of “not normal”.
We often discuss the “normal” drinker – often the one we wish we could be, but we never were. You know, the person who can have a few drinks, enjoy them, enjoy the setting they are having those drinks in, and either finish or not finish said drinks. The type that can leave half a glass of wine at the dinner table and walk away from. They get drunk occasionally, but that’s because they choose to get drunk. Or just get carried away. I never had Door #2 or #3 options there like they did. Door #1 was the only one available, and I opened it over and over again – it was normal for me to drink into oblivion. It was normal for me to not have any control over my drinking. Once I put the first one in me, the physical craving hit me and it was game over. Done. But that was normal for me. And frankly, I didn’t care if it was anyone else’s normal. I was too wrapped up in mine.
It didn’t take long for me to realize my relationship with alcohol wasn’t normal, in the normal sense. And that is when it went underground. I didn’t want to seem abnormal, and yet it played out in my life over and over again like a silent movie reel in my head, with ten times the annoying tinkly piano accompaniments. So I guess I did have a new normal. Except that instead of it moving upward into positive outcomes, it spiraled downwards into a self-perpetuating cycle of drink /remorse /guilt / shame /drink. And when I didn’t think I could find a new level of new normal, I hit ground with shovel and dug deep again. Ta da! New normal.
But that’s an easy story to tell, isn’t it? The whole progression-of-the-illness story, where we share the details of our “normal” way of drinking – usually something outrageous to any normal person out there. Near lethal amounts of alcoholic in our blood, dustups and donnybrooks, hospital visits, relationship slashing and dashing, detoxes, bankruptcies…all the stuff of normal drunkalogues and tales from the podium or written work, all of which are useful to catching the attention of another alcoholic.
Where I have found the idea of normal intriguing is when I compare where I am now in recovery as to when I was active. What is normal for me now – being present, being awake to thing spiritually and emotionally, being available in all ways, being level, having access to myself, being open to new ideas, asking for help when needed, being uncomfortable when I need to be, sitting with things…these were the things that were abnormal for me for all those years. My entire life was bereft of those things that I saw as being hardwired into others. I was often dumbstruck in how my wife or sister-in-law could go shopping or on a trip and come back with wonderful, perfect gifts for people. (Thinking of others? How do you do that?). I was amazed at how my brother-in-law or my neighbour could start and continue a conversation with a stranger and enjoy it. (And not want something from that person? Just talk? Wow)
So what’s normal to others (boring, dull, run of the mill) is fine by me. I like this abnormal normality I have. I’ve been to hell and back and being in the middle of pack suits me fine now. And yet, we are all far from normal in our ways. There’s that rah-rah cheer again – “Be yourself! Who cares what others think!”. And I am myself. Or getting there, at least. Still figuring out the “myself” part…but moving closer to it. I can feel the warmth of it as I get nearer to it. I might not have had a normal way of getting to this place in my life, but I am here. Many don’t get here. I am grateful for the New Paul Normal. It’s certainly something that will shift, that will be fluid and allow room for growth, like a new pair of shoes on a kid. Next year I could be singing a different aria, which would be a possible sign of building upon ones self and change. A sign that being static is not beneficial to where I need to be. I was static for way too long in my search for normal. I also eluded normal, because my ego would tell me that I was better…or less than the rest of the pack. Ugly circles and pathways, littered with bottles.
In the final analysis, what normal means to me is that I am no better nor worse than anyone. That’s it. I am right-sized. I am worthy of helping anyone out. I am also worthy of having what has been given to me. There are no mistakes in this Play. The acts are there in sequence for a reason, and the Playwright knows the script. I don’t. I just play the part. And that is what I do now. Normal everyday stuff. Live life. Chop wood. Fetch water. Love. Inspire. Play.