How many times have people 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 hoped-for employers.
For decades I would field those inquiries with memorized, finely worded, sure-to-please responses about ideal social status, financial stability, and my next career move.
Back then I tried to play the role of a normal adult while I meticulously hid the truth that most days were spent sneaking more than a few drinks and pushing through the occasional meal. I thought if I portrayed that high-achieving businesswoman who breezed through meetings, settled irate client calls, and finalized budget-tight projects on time without losing her cool, I’d be thought of as normal.
Deep down, I knew there was nothing normal about how I managed my life. I just couldn’t figure out how I could change 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 with such force I’d have no choice but to drop my bags at the doorstep of a treatment center.
I eventually found myself at that doorstep and when I did, the stars somehow rearranged themselves when I found that I wasn’t alone and that there were others who dealt with life’s ups and downs as I did.
Although I did my best to dodge direct questions about what I wanted from life, those like-minded people knew why I deflected the topic. They once did too. As my trust grew that they had answers to recovery-based questions I only asked in silence, my avoidance stopped. I found the courage to offer an answer when the subject of goals came around. What surprised me most was that I didn’t react with those well-worn words I thought most people wanted to hear. Instead, I exhaled and said what I needed to hear. I told them all I’ve ever wanted was to just feel normal.
Before I could utter that admission, I thought long and hard about whether being normal would even be possible for someone like me. I doubted normal people spent the first sixty seconds of early morning consciousness quickly cobbling together flashes of fact from the night before. They probably didn’t have a mental jigsaw puzzle with pieces representing what they did or said, the lies told, locations of stashed wine bottles, if they ate dinner or anything at all, and perhaps most crucial, if anyone caught them doing something they should not have done.
I kept listening to those caring and patient people who suggested that instead of quenching my thirst for what made sense with booze, the number on a scale, and lies I mostly told myself, I could satisfy my craving for sanity in a different way. I could ask for help and, with that alternative insight, give myself permission to reconsider my options.
At first I didn’t believe that could work, yet as the last traces of alcohol left my body and proper nutrition settled in, clarity of mind did too. I practiced what they said, and things started to change.
In time I found that what I labeled as normal was nothing more than a story I told myself. I finally realized that what I deemed as a worrisome, everyday life was more about what I expected than what I could handle.
I now replace those unrealistic expectations by doing the next right thing which now feels normal. I am consistent with what keeps me holistically healthy and, based on practical experience, I’m steadfast in the belief that I must remain teachable.
I’m grateful my life doesn’t mirror the definition of normal I once thought ideal. The changes I made and the peace of mind that brings is convincing evidence that what’s normal is nothing more than a realistic perspective.
A Moment to Breathe
What’s your current definition of normal? My sense is that description wavered over these past several months. This is an extraordinary time in everyone’s life. These ever-changing restrictions and rules for engagement with others is difficult for all who thrive on eyeball-to-eyeball survival. For now, take a few slow deep breaths and then, with that sense of internal recalibration, consider what do you need for assurance that today will reflect your healthy normal? That may not be what you needed earlier this year or years ago. Breathe deeply once again and exhale with purpose. Peace of mind can be yours if you stay focused on your next right word or action step as that will forever be what brings you to feel normal.
Alison Smela is a writer, speaker, and an addiction recovery and health advocate. Through her blog Alison’s Insights www.alisonsmela.com, Alison shares her experience overcoming alcoholism and life-threatening eating disorder in midlife and how she now faces everyday challenges using recovery-based solutions. Feel free to connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, (@alisonsmela), or Instagram (alison.smela).