Coming into the program at 23, I felt I was being unfairly robbed of my normalcy. Kids my age were supposed to hang out at bars and clubs on weekends; supposed to get sloppy drunk from time to time, and supposed to call in sick to work on occasion while nursing a particularly bad hangover. At 23, I was just beginning to legally explore the pleasures of wine tasting in Napa Valley, the sweet relief of happy hour, and the excitement of enjoying a few adult beverages while traveling. These were all things I had looked forward to for so long – and now they were being taken from me. My perceived ‘normalcy’ was being unjustly filched from my fingertips, and I was not happy about it. In fact, I was pretty pissed off.
Of course, looking back, wine tasting in Napa Valley quickly transformed into doing excessive amounts of cocaine with the locals, breaking and entering, and being chased out of a stranger’s swimming pool with a shotgun. My coveted happy hour turned into ‘it’s 5 o’clock somewhere’, which then turned into, ‘time is irrelevant’, which finally turned into, ‘if I don’t drink before work I won’t make it to happy hour’. In a matter of weeks, happy hour increased from several hours after work into the entirety of every weekday. Enjoying a few adult beverages while traveling quickly shifted from sampling a craft beer on a sophisticated train ride through the countryside to sneaking three 4Lokos onboard, hurriedly drinking them all, and telling my friends that I had gotten drunk with someone I met on the train. A kind stranger, who had purchased me a few too many glasses of wine. All of my cultured and classy alcohol-involved fantasies rapidly morphed into sloppy, criminal black-outs before I could say, “Bottoms up”. So maybe, after all, things had never really been normal.
I Had No Idea What ‘Normal’ Meant
And that was just it. When I took an honest look at my drinking patterns, they had never been normal. I had no idea what behaving like a typical 23-year-old entailed, let alone what it meant to drink normally. But still, I felt more comfortable drinking to excess, burning bridges, and self-destructing than spending an entire day in sobriety. Going to AA meetings, attending work regularly, bolstering authentic friendships and actively seeking a connection with a higher power – this was all foreign to me. This was all unfamiliar and perplexing and new. It was not my idea of normal; of course it wasn’t! But my idea of normal was not ‘normal’, either. My idea of normal was deliberately drinking myself to death as the world crumbled around me.
I felt as if I was missing out. I felt as if a normal life would never be obtainable if I couldn’t pour myself a glass of Pinot at the end of a particularly hard day. I have to come to realize, however, that there is nothing more thoroughly normal than a life of fulfilled sobriety. Recovery allows me to function at a conventional human level – when I was drinking, my life was unremittingly mediocre (often quite worse than mediocre). I could not take care of essential, day-to-day tasks. I was incapable of being a trustworthy friend, a hard-working and honest employee, or a courteous and compassionate member of the human race. I was entirely self-absorbed; never fulfilled or satisfied, always seeking something more. Some new way to numb the pain, more, more, more than I needed and more than I wanted, but always more, more, more.
Fear – The Evil and Corroding Thread
The fear of sobriety – the fear of facing my demons and taking an honest and searching look at who I truly was and what I had been doing with my life for the past several years – this prevented me from accepting reality for quite some time. Unrelenting fear prevented me from accepting a life of recovery as the only normal one for me. Now I see, so clearly, that for me… this is normal. Once I overcame the fear of facing reality head-on, I was able to begin accepting a life of abstinence (one day at a time). And of course, the ability to drink normally is the great obsession of every true alcoholic.
“No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.” Page 30, The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Yes, most ‘normal drinkers’ do not sit around for hours obsessing over how to effectively control and enjoy their drinking. Most ‘normal drinkers’ simply drink, and then stop as soon as they begin to feel even slightly out of control. Or they drink to the point of drunkenness, make a bad decision, learn from their mistakes, and never get quite as drunk again. Can you imagine? Normal drinkers certainly do not wind up in alcohol rehab, and if they somehow do, they likely have no issue instantaneously giving up the drink. Because what is more important – freedom and peace of mind, or cheap vodka and beer? Normal drinkers are quick to respond, “Freedom and peace of mind!” Alcoholics may need a few years to ruminate on the question.
Acceptance is The Answer
If you are still early on in your recovery, you may feel frustrated, swindled, and downright cheated out of a normal life. You may feel as if you were dealt an unfair hand, and you may spend an excessive amount of time wondering ‘why me’, ‘how did I let things get this bad’, and ‘what can I do to reverse this’. Even if you are far along in your recovery, you may find yourself wishing from time-to-time that you were not so bodily and mentally different from your fellows – that you could enjoy a fancy cocktail with impunity or safely partake in a wine tasting tour. Acceptance is the answer, but a thorough and genuine acceptance will not manifest itself overnight. Give yourself the opportunity to settle into your new, sober skin. Allow yourself to fully experience the blessings that go hand-in-hand with recovery; give yourself a fair shot at a truly normal life. You are where you are for a reason – and where you are is exactly where you are supposed to be.