Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

I Just Want to Feel Normal

How many times have you been asked about your goals in life? Seems from high school on into adulthood, that question nudges a way into countless conversations with friends, family, and prayed-for employers.

For decades I would field such an inquiry with a memorized, finely worded, sure-to-please response that pointed attention to ideal social status, financial stability, and my next career move.

All that changed when I found myself in the vulnerable stage of early recovery. Instead of saying what I thought others wanted to hear, I exhaled with the admission I needed to hear myself say. My forever goal was to just feel normal.

I fantasized about this because I doubted normal people spent the first sixty seconds of early morning consciousness cobbling together flashes of fact from the night before. They probably didn’t have to ask themselves what they did or said, what lies needed maintaining, where the stashed unopened wine bottles were hidden, if they ate dinner or anything at all, and perhaps most crucial, if anyone saw them doing something they should not have done.

Back then I tried to play the role of a normal adult while hiding the fact I spent my days sneaking more than a few drinks and pushing through an occasional meal. I thought if I portrayed that high-achieving business woman who breezed though meetings, settled irate client calls, and finalized budget-binding projects on time without breaking a sweat or losing her cool, I’d be thought of as normal.

For years I wished for a different kind of normal. I just couldn’t figure out how to accomplish that without disclosing my secret supply of unhealthy behaviors. I convinced myself that if that were to happen, society would drop me from any definition of normal as I dropped my bags in front of the reception desk at a treatment center.

When I eventually experienced the latter, the stars seemed to rearrange themselves when I heard someone suggest I might consider a new normal.

New Normal

Instead of quenching my thirst for what made sense with booze, scales, and lies, I could satisfy my craving for sanity by aligning myself with people who offered the kind of recovery-focused practical experience I could relate to.

As the last traces of alcohol left my body and proper nutrition settled in, clarity of mind did too. I eventually understood that what I had labeled as normal was nothing more than a story I told myself based on unrealistic expectations.

Today, normal is what happens when I do the next right thing, stay consistent with what keeps me holistically healthy, and remain teachable.

I’m grateful my life doesn’t mirror the definition of normal I once hoped for. The changes I’ve made and peace of mind that brings is convincing evidence that what’s normal is nothing more than how I feel. And that, in fact, is what I’ve always wanted.

A Moment to Breathe

What’s your definition of normal? Has that description wavered over the years? If not, take a few slow deep breaths and consider if the time has come to establish a new one. Remember, what seemed like the natural course of things years ago may not align with how you are naturally meant to live.

I’m curious about your thoughts on this topic. Please leave a comment below or via your favorite social media spot.  

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12 thoughts on “I Just Want to Feel Normal

  1. Thankyou for your brilliant way of describing the “new normal”. I am a therapist and my clients are always looking to be normal. Through my own long and challenging journey I have learned what you talk about-doing the next right thing,staying consistent with what keeps me holistically healthy, and remain teachable. I am 66 and still working on keeping these things as part of my “pole star”. I am going to pass this on to many people. (and of course, keep reminding myself of these things)

    • Mara, Thank you for taking in my thoughts on this topic and sharing your connection to the words. I am delighted you plan to bring the message to others because, after all, we’re all in this together. Hope you’ll visit again!

  2. Marlene Gakle on said:

    wow! wouldn’t I just like to feel “normal”..ha well, i have come to believe that perhaps this IS normal. I can work around being normal but it still all comes back to this for me,,I am doing the best I can this morning and for now that is just ok. Maybe this afternoon I will have a better “normal”. I am going to forget about the messy kitchen counter and just go outside and get some fresh air and move some plants around in the dirt and consider that “normal” because for me that is probably it. so–just for today–let’s accept that this life we are living is normal and go on from there..Self acceptance–it works for me..

    • Marlene, I’ve found myself settling into the idea that “normal” is whatever I’m feeling right now. And, just like my shift perspective about various food offerings, I try to avoid identifying that space as good or bad. Thank you for putting the idea of normal in the category of self-acceptance.

  3. perfectionhasapriceblog on said:

    “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine”. Too many people are so worried about not being normal that it can consume their daily life. In seventh grade my english teacher assigned the class to write a definition of normal, and to find two photos – one representing normal and one representing abnormal. Me, and several other classmates could not figure out the difference in pictures we could bring in, and we are the ones who passed…because, as my teacher said. there really is NO normal.

    loved this, by the way. Stay strong ❤

    • Miha, LOL! Thank you for offering that classic phrase about normal being a setting on a washing machine. Although I’ve heard that line many times over the last 15 years, the effort to lighten the subject is appreciated. We all approach this topic from different places. I’m so glad you’re in a positive, hopeful one.

  4. Miha, thank you for so kindly reinforcing the connection you felt to the words I shared. I firmly believe we’re all in this together!

  5. Laura on said:

    Great post Alison. These days, normal is capable of changing from morning until night. The good news in that is, I now understand the difference and can embrace it. Until a few years ago, I had no normal.
    Many years beyond the past few, I thought normal was always living my life in a tail spin. If there was not chaos, my life was not normal. If I was not going fast enough, I was being the best I could be. I might miss something. That is how I lived my professional and personal life.
    When I decided to walk away from my career a year ago, I was scared to death that if I was not spinning, I was not being successful. I was scared to slow down. That meant underachieving. It took a year, but I finally have found my normal. It is spending quiet minutes meditating, walking the dog, quality time with my husband and cooking a meal.
    I now work a couple of days a month in a kids store that my friend owns, I pet sit and hopefully going back to my old hospital to work at the Wellness Center a few hours a week. There is no decent salary anymore, no big title, no reaching a higher position. There is just normal. Happy, non stressful, loving what I do normal. I feel the most normal I have ever felt in my life. Awwwwwwwww:)

    • Laura, what you share here is a great description of how our life waves with ebbs and flows. What is normal one day may not be the next and since change is inevitable there will always be a need for a new normal. I’m so happy to know the turns you’ve taken in life are proving purposeful.

  6. Alison,
    I’ve followed your blog for a while now, and I can’t emphasize enough how inspiring and encouraging your posts are. My journey is similar to yours, and your stories resonate with me immensely. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on normalcy and the desire we seek to have a so-called ‘normal’ life. Your words speak volumes to me.

    • Brittany, I’m honored by your words and the connection we share. I spent decades believing I was the only one who felt certain emotions, thought certain things, and behaved in certain ways. When I finally found the courage to ask for a way out of the mess my life had become, I heard two words that changed my life. Those words were, me too. Thank you for allowing me to feel the same warmth via your message here.

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