According to AA lingo, my boyfriend is a “normie.” He takes at least an hour to finish a 12oz. beer and rarely wants a second when he’s through. Sometimes, he turns down a drink because it will make him “sleepy.” This is amazing to my own brain, which gets revved up by the first drink. There was a time when one drink had a somnolent effect on me, but I killed that by using alcohol as a sleeping aid one time too many. My boyfriend doesn’t come from an alcoholic family, and his parents didn’t drink when he was growing up. Not because they made a conscious decision to abstain but because buying alcohol didn’t occur to them. It’s like they forgot it existed.
So my boyfriend isn’t an alcoholic. But I wouldn’t go so far as to call him normal. There are alcoholic events outside his range of experience (the biggest being, he’s never had a blackout) but there are also many ways in which our hangups intersect. Just because alcohol doesn’t trigger an omnipotent pleasure response in his brain doesn’t mean he’s free from anxiety and depression. Just because he’s never had a blackout doesn’t mean he never numbs out. He’s more inclined to spend four hours playing the new Sim City than to down two bottles of wine, but he’s no stranger to the negative thought patterns that addicts sometimes view as unique to their disease.
In fact, I’d say negative thought patterns actually are normal, along with deep-seated insecurity, self-centeredness and maladaptive compulsions. These problems are pervasive throughout our culture, not just in recovery communities. Yogis like Tommy Rosen even go so far as to say that resentment, negative thinking and procrastination are addictions in themselves, if you define an addiction as “any behavior you continue to engage in despite negative consequences.” By this definition, everyone’s addicted to something, and addiction is actually normal. A woman at a meeting I go to recently urged everyone to stop talking about “normal people.” The word normal means nothing, she said. They’re going to take it out of the dictionary. I wanted to talk to this woman after the meeting to tell her how smart she was, but she didn’t stick around to schmooze.
Of course, as addictions go, alcohol is a particularly problematic one. If you lined up every addiction on a spectrum, alcohol would obviously be on the shittier end. I imagine you can be a pretty functional money or work addict, but even the most functional alcoholic is going to eventually face some pretty dire physical and/or emotional consequences. Now that I’m in recovery, I’m awakening to how my emotional reactions and mental processes cause suffering in ways beyond drinking. But if it weren’t for alcohol, I probably wouldn’t be compelled to give a shit. Alcohol is the thing that made recovery absolutely necessary for me, although I see now that it’s benefitting other areas of my life and could similarly benefit most people. But most people aren’t going to find recovery absolutely necessary.
All this helps explain why people in AA talk about how lucky or grateful they feel or how they wouldn’t trade their alcoholism if given the choice. At first, I thought this was bullshit or brainwashing, but now, I’m beginning to feel similarly. Life really is better when you’re not trying to control every aspect of it, and who knows if I would have realized this if I hadn’t quit drinking?
Yet I think it’s important to make sure feelings of luck or gratitude or acceptance don’t morph into feelings of superiority. The way the word “normie” gets bandied about in meetings sometimes feels like a pejorative. I get that emphasizing the alcoholic bond is one way to help keep people sober, and I like the “secret society” feeling that comes with being part of an expansive recovery community in a big city. But when our emphasis becomes the differences between people, rather than our similarities, it seems to counter the goals of sobriety. To realize one is not a normal drinker is the first step to recovery. But to continually and divisively define oneself against “normies” seems like just another way to view oneself as special and exceptional, and that rarely leads to anywhere good.
I’ve definitely been guilty of this in my first couple months of sobriety. My last post now strikes me as an example of this kind of divisive thinking, where I set myself apart from other people and look at them critically for not being like me. It’s a learning curve, I guess. I think I dove headfirst into this recovery thing because I knew I needed full immersion to get comfortable. Kind of like when you learn a new language or start a new job. But now that I’m feeling a bit more conversant (although nowhere near fluent) with sobriety, I’m able to take a step back and look at certain aspects of the program more objectively. And this “normie” thing is one that’s been weighing on me. I’m glad I love a “normie,” since it helps keep me from succumbing to the “normal people will never get me” fantasy. I can only play that sad violin for so long before my dude’s Sim City music drowns it out.