Oh, To Be Normal
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Oh, To Be Normal


oh to be normalThis post was originally published on October 2, 2013.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it must be like to be normal. I hear it all the time in recovery rooms: What’s normal? Is there any such thing? Well, my answer to that is yes there is such a thing. It may be a stereotypical societal view of normal but it sure looks peachy nonetheless. I’m talking about the people we all know who had idyllic childhoods, never wanted for anything, learned excellent relationship skills from parents who were eternally in love and respectful of each other, got excellent grades, went to the best schools and now earn magnificent salaries at their dream jobs. Oh and don’t forget the fact that they also look like something off the cover of Vogue and are married to a mate of equal exquisite quality.

There is nothing like a well-rounded, responsible, fabulous person to give me a big fat pain in my ass and an even fatter resentment, even though I realize that they lead such charmed lives because they have always done the next right thing: they have been raised to do this and with such great examples that doing the right thing wasn’t an impossible goal but a seemingly effortless next move. Of course the absence of addiction goes a long way in terms of achieving a carefree life: these people don’t possess that obsessive gene that makes balance impossible or decision making nothing less than catastrophic. Their belief in themselves and their abilities is astounding, no matter what happens. God, how they piss me off.

Whenever I find myself in a conversation with someone like this, inevitably at some point I’ll be on the receiving end of a condescending “Oh you poor thing” look, accompanied by a pat on the hand. And so recently, while having coffee with one of these divinely affluent and self-sufficient beings—an old schoolmate who happened to be in the same coffee shop as me when there were no tables left so she asked if she could sit down—we started chatting about our lives and she told me she had read some of my essays on Facebook. I heard her say “You’re so brave,” which made me want to slap her. I expressed my annoyance at how the scales of life seemed to be unjustifiably unbalanced and how I was so tired of constantly getting the shitty end of the stick despite all my hard work at leaving my old life behind and striving for a brighter future.

Her response was actually quite surprising. “You know, I admire you and everyone else I’ve known who has had to struggle,” she said. “If I lost everything like you have and had to live without all that I’ve become accustomed to, I don’t think I would survive; I simply wouldn’t know how to. At least you know you can survive anything because you have.” She went on to talk about how people who have had to deal with adversity have a knowledge of life and strength of spirit that people like her will never know or understand. Then she added the zinger: “In fact, I fear people like you.” I looked at her quizzically. Fear me how, exactly?

Did she think I was going to rob her purse and use her money to feed my endless addiction habits? Perhaps she thought she could catch the disease of addiction if she sat too close? In fact it was none of the above. She said that she felt that I was made of tougher stuff than her and wasn’t afraid of the bad things in life—that instead I seemed able to step over them one by one. “Tough people get places on their own,” she said and assured me that she needed an entourage of people to help her maintain a certain lifestyle and if all that was gone, she would crumble like a stale biscuit.

We said our goodbyes and off she toddled on her surely perfectly pedicured feet, leaving me confused as to whether she was being complimentary or condescending. As I sipped the foam from what was left of my skinny latte, I pondered all that she’d said. Then I had the most surprising change in perspective. I realized that in her world, without all the glitz and shine, she would not be accepted—that in fact her world was quite a lonely, superficial place to be. I on the other hand have a million fellowship rooms I can enter anywhere in the world where even if I was looking like hell with my ass falling out of my pants, I would still be welcomed with open arms. Unless she needed help with addiction, she was never likely to experience that.

In a competitive world like hers, being on top meant constant maintenance but with very little substantial reward and I started to wonder what kept her motivated to carry on in such a role. The pressure of maintaining such a seemingly effortless and easy life must take its toll, as everyone around you is watching and waiting for a slipup. It made me realize how lucky I am to have already been a mess so nobody really expects any greatness from me. When I do anything that has a positive outcome, it’s a bonus—not a prerequisite for acceptance.

I know that ever since I started to recover from all my “adversity,” my motivation to keep going has come from achievement. Every stride I’ve made has taken great effort and strength and whenever I’ve conquered anything, I feel like I have, for the first time in my life, been successful. Case in point: Once, not picking up a drink or a drug sounded impossible but now it’s been almost four years and hey, presto, here I am all clean and sober. And having my first ever piece of writing published was another such astronomical event. I cried for two hours with pure joy when that happened, unable to believe that finally my life was turning around and good things were happening.

I like that feeling of accomplishment and I see that my endeavors to be a better person not only affect me but also those around me. My two children now have a sober mother and my brother and sister have a sister worth being around.

Perhaps my appreciation of life is more than that of my friend. Aristotle said that “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” which I take to mean that the more ups and downs we experience in life, the better we know ourselves and the wiser we become.

Regardless of my friend’s fear of “people like me” and our “wisdom,” I bet she wouldn’t swap her life for mine for all the pedicures in the world. Not for one minute do I think she has missed a night’s sleep because she hasn’t gained wisdom from surviving some of life’s not-so-nice events. But I’ll tell you this: I sure wouldn’t mind spending a day in her shoes—just to see what normality and abundance feels like.

And of course to aid my journey of self-knowledge and wisdom.

Photo courtesy of [CC0 (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)], via Pexels (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Nicola O’Hanlon is part of the blogging community for the recovery website intherooms.com. You can see her blogs on iloverecovery.com. She was born and still lives in Wexford, Ireland.