How to Become “Normal”

by Claire A.

Illustration by Navarre

I have heard many people share in AA meetings that they felt like they were absent the day “they” handed out the booklet about how to deal with life. I shared that feeling. It seemed like everyone else knew the rules, and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t fit in. I was extremely uncomfortable in social situations. I would either clam up or blurt things that embarrassed me. So when I had a beer for the first time, it didn’t matter that I hated the taste: I loved the feeling. I could talk easily, I no longer felt fear. Social situations became manageable.

The relief I felt with alcohol didn’t last long. Drinking situations quickly became embarrassing. My inhibitions were gone, and with them any self-control. I was often scared by my own behavior, and would wake up in the morning ashamed of myself. I was back to feeling like I didn’t fit in, even with alcohol, and my consequences were worse than ever. I remember looking around at people my age and just wishing I knew how they did it. I was certain they knew I was not normal.

Not the only freak around here

I started isolating early in life. I have, since I can remember, never wanted to get out and meet people. I never wanted to go meet people with my family. I was shy in school. Without fail, I am still surprised when I get together with friends and actually have a good time. So, our program that encourages us to reach out and connect with others was a revelation to me.

After 44 years of tending toward isolation, I started calling other women in the program and realizing that I’m not the only freak around here. In fact, I’m not really even interesting enough to be called a freak. I’m just a garden variety, fearful, procrastinating, isolating alcoholic. Importantly, AA has shown me “normal” has a pretty wide-ranging definition. And AA has shown me that I can live in this normal world by doing what normal people do. There’s no handbook (to my knowledge, anyway. If you find one, please let me know!), but there are norms. A lot of them are listed in the Just for Today prayer card: Dress becomingly, act courteously, don’t criticize, make an effort, do something useful, get some exercise, get some rest, reflect on your life for a short amount of time, be happy. Others I’ve learned: show up on time, make amends for mistakes, call people and ask how their day is going, put your hand out and introduce yourself. Eat your veggies, get enough sleep, and treat your family kindly. Listen. Enjoy what’s beautiful. The list goes on and on. It’s not complicated and I think, honestly? I knew all this all along. I don’t think I really believed it could be that simple. But the secret is that it really is that simple for me. Each little action brings me a little bit of peace. Many of them put together make me a ridiculously happy camper.

I knew this all along

It’s funny, I say I’ve learned all this, but I forget it overnight. I need other people in AA to remind me not to listen to the committee in my head, which tells me that I don’t have enough, poor me, I’m miserable, nothing will ever be right again, I’ve been given a bum hand. Going to meetings, working with others, reading literature reminds me: if I want to feel “normal” I can—I just have to act that way. It really does work!

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