On Normal Lives and Other Fantastic Beliefs

As a part of that little gargantuan 12-step program I’ve returned to recently, I’ve found myself in the decidedly uncomfortable position of having to ponder honesty and “normal.”  Normal would seem to be easy, particularly since I typically dismiss the notion–I’ve been known to ban the word from my classrooms because it is too ill-defined.

Which is precisely the problem now.  What the hell is normal when I find myself asking, “well, what do normal people do?”  The most obvious for instance is, of course, “how do normal people drink?” Clearly, normal doesn’t consume alcohol like me; I’m in a 12-step for a reason.  Truth be told–see that? Honesty–alcohol isn’t the only reason.  I am a sick, obsessive fucker and my particular brand of alcohol consumption is merely one symptom of the sick, obsessive fuckness.  Consequently, I find myself in the position of questioning a great many things I do out of habit and wondering if Normal Folks ™ do that (fill in whatever that you desire).  I’m fairly certain that this is not particularly productive thinking, but it’s kind of fun sometimes.

A weirder for instance: how do said Normal Folk relax?  Even without alcohol, I isolate, usually through music.  Anyone who has survived and/or participated in and/or been subjected to and run screaming away from my myriad musical obsessions can probably testify with some level of accuracy that I use music to keep people and–more often–thoughts at bay. If I want to hear a particular album, woe be tide he who attempts to hold a conversation with me.  Weird, of course, because I also see music as one of the great points of connection to other humans in my life (DD & Rhyte, I’m looking at you).  But, let us agree, isolation is sort of my schtick; I’m here, after all, translating these thoughts onto the keyboard, rather than, say, reaching out to a voice or a face.

Then again, writing provides me with a solace that few other outlets provide, and writing here at least allows that someone, somewhere hears/sees/listens/understands, which keeps this from being a act of complete isolation.  That being said, would the Normal Folks ™ in the room please stand up and take a moment to confess?  How do you listen to music?  Drink?  Engage or reject life?  And do you worry about it?

I’m not really worried about what normal does, really (which is good, since I can’t name normal). I embraced a philosophy rejecting whatever it is that occupies “normal” in my head many, many long years ago (anyone who remembers the pink hat–and, god forbid, the pink dress from yon about age 13 or the zebra obsession–I apologize here and now for the visual assaults you survived–probably also recalls that–assuming you didn’t block the horror– that I relished the whole “Why be Normal?” bit).  An since I don’t have a flaming clue what constitutes normal and have no real ability nor reason to try to assess the relative normal of anyone else, I can’t be worried about it.  Curious, obsessive, and occasionally giggly, but not worried.

And then there is honesty, which is the heart of the first step.  I realized, listening to scores of speakers of late, that I’m not sure I can tell my story honestly.  I’m not even sure I know what my story is, I’ve spun so many evasions about who and how and why and what I did.  How sick is that?  I feel not just a bit like that that pink-behatted 13 -year-old: who the heck am I, and how did I get here?*  I have to be able to tell my story–warts, frogs, unicorns and all–I know that.  I’m just nor sure how, nor am I sure where to begin.  And, despite typing endless confessions here, I think I’m scared to death of my own story–I’m afraid not just of what someone else might think of me for it, but I’m terrified of what I’ll think of myself.

I recognize my imperfections–hell, much of the time I revel in them (particularly the obsessive streaks), and I know, what with being human and fallible, I’ve done some terrible things to people I care about over the years–while drinking and while sober.  I can recall so many times that I said anything–anything at all–to push someone else away–to  build a wall and, yes, isolate when I got too uncomfortable or–more often–too comfortable.  I am fortunate that some of these good people have seen fit to allow me back in their lives, despite my actions and inactions.  Better people than I deserve to have in my life.

So, here I am, day 39 (thank you AA sobriety calculator), scared witless, trying to keep the cotton in mouth and out of the ears, and trying to just think straight, which is definitely not a normal condition for me. Honest confession?  I’ve never been more scared of anything in my entire life.  While I know I can’t treat recovery as a test that I can study for (er, or not, if we want to be faithful to the student analogy), ace, and forget about, I usually handle fear like this by running straight into whatever it is that scares me (which could be read as good or bad here, depending on whether I phrase this as running to or from recovery–is it recovery or failure that scares me?) and that is not a, as they say, a particularly spiritual (or, often, safe) practice.  But, fuck, I am scared stiff this time, because I can’t fail–I can’t forget why I surrendered.  I’m pretty sure that I won’t survive another relapse.


*Questions such as this are, I suspect, why 12-Step programs advise against making drastic changes in your life in the first year of sobriety.  Wisdom, that one.

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6 responses to “On Normal Lives and Other Fantastic Beliefs

  1. My take, for what it’s worth:

    Eff normal. Weird is more fun.

    Eff normal. Healthy is better.

    So…don’t worry about what “normal” people do. Instead talk to *healthy* people and find out how they cope, what their tricks are, and how they keep their obsessions from becoming addictions.

    The best stuff about dealing with crazy life that I learned from a book came from Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.” Skinny book, big impact on me. I use it often.

    I relax with my own company doing something I enjoy (reading, movies, knitting, painting my nails some funky color); I relax with my loved ones, friends & family both, sharing food and talking about our lives. “Normal” is a relatively narrow term in my book, but “healthy” covers the full variety that is us in all our beauty and difference.

  2. Healthy is a much better word than normal (though, truth be told, I’m not much for recognizing that either). And, I agree–I love When Things Fall Apart–Chodron is just fabulous.

    Thanks, T. 🙂

  3. My mom, who is a 12-step (and detox) alum, gave me this to think on when I was using “average” (which I often conflate — erroneously, but still — with “normal”) as evidence or support for something:

    You have a box of rocks. You weigh them all and then calculate the average. Then you dig through and see if you can find one, ONE rock that actually weighs the “average.” You can’t.

    Her point (to me at the time): How useful can such a concept be, if it really reflects…nothing? Anyway, this is probably the same with normal. No one is normal. No one.

  4. That’s a solid analogy, Mad–thank you. And it’s not all that dissimilar to why “normal” gets kicked to the curb in class–that no single person or family can be this nebulous “normal.” Of course, it’s far easier to say and believe when I’m trying to get my students to think critically than it is to make myself do the same.

    But a damn good analogy all the same. So, again, thank you.

    I think–I hope–this is simply where I am right now. I recognize that I don’t yet have all the tools at my disposal to deal with some of what my brain is tossing at me, and I realize that I can’t solve all of it all at once (or all by myself, for that matter). That may suggest progress. Maybe.

  5. Good thing you’re not “normal.” I probably wouldn’t like you as much as I truly do, warts, frogs, unicorns, and all. You’re moving towards “Healthy” (good word, that) and happy (one of my favorites) and that journey is the goal. Cliched? Maybe. True? Definitely. Look around at all of these friends of yours that love you: they’ll all hold you up and push you onward…even if you try to block them out and shove them away. And by “them” I mean “us,” of course.

    You’re the best weirdo I know. 🙂

    Here’s another analogy that you’re hinting at (probably unintentionally) and that I’m extrapolating on, off-the-cuff: a ball of wound yarn. You know those really annoying skeins that are going along nicely, pulled from the center, that turn into an unimaginable mess, so snarled that you either want to just cut the damn knots out or throw the whole frakking thing away? That’s a little like this whole “going towards happiness” thing. Knit, knit, la-di-da, smooth, smooth… OH SHIT THIS SUCKS…STUPID KNOTS….work on it… patience…I AM NOW SWEARING LOUDLY…patience again…back to the project with a newly rewound skein. Knitting is peaceful and lovely, when it works. When it doesn’t, just keep going, keep trying, and know that no matter how CRAPPY those stupid knots are, it’s not like the yarn disappeared into another dimension and you have to find the 5th element to save the universe or something. Knitting isn’t really about the finished product all the time, right? Or is this generally a crappy analogy for what the hell I’m trying to say?

    Here’s what the hell I’m trying to say, really: You’re wonderful. And you can do this… all of it.

  6. Thanks, Karen. The knitting analogy better be apt–I’ve certainly enough unfinished, er, still in process creations hanging around to attest 🙂

    That this process is just that–process/journey–and there is no final destination beyond that journey is one of the most freeing and frustrating concepts. Can’t pass the test at the end; can’t hang the diploma on the wall–all the signs I’ve always relied on to tell me that 1) I’m done and 2) I’ve accomplished something and 3) I’m me (the level at which I’ve allowed such markers of “success” to define me is a bit scary to contemplate).

    All of which is to say: thank you, thank you, thank you. Your support and encouragement (and habit of making me think) mean the world to me.

    Signed,
    the weirdo (who CJ tells me outscored you on the geek quiz, though I think were both “Total Geeks” or whatever. Count me humbled on that–excellent company!)

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