On being normal…


Millions of addicts. just like me, just like you, have looked above during their moments of shame and asked the heavens above, “Why can’t I just be normal?”

The answer eludes you, though you have sought it in earnest. The shelves of your bedroom, office, garage, and attic attest to this, being crammed full of books that each failed to deliver its promise of an immediate restoration to normality. Normality. The aloof and capricious deity of the Abnormal, the people who inhabit the land of the Unworthy.

Sadly, it has taken too much time to finally realize that the question, “Why can’t you be normal?’ can never be answered. Ten years, hundreds of 12-Step meetings, and an estimated 100 or so random urine drug screen later, I finally get it. There is no secret code…no treasure map…no hidden panel in the wall. Epiphany will never come. Because it really is a trick question.

It is just like the riddle about the plane crashing on a border between two countries. You listen carefully to every word, but you still don’t have the answer when the question is asked,

“In which country will they bury the survivors?” “Tell me again,” you insist. “Say the whole thing more slowly.” You listen painstakingly to the every word and you still don’t get it. It

has to be a trick! And then you laugh at your own gullibility when the answer is revealed.

You were supposed to be listening to the question, not the riddle.

The answer was in the question.

“You don’t bury the SURVIVORS dummy!”

And maybe it really is that simple. So here is the riddle again…

“Why can’t addicts ever be normal?”

“Why can’t the mentally ill ever ever be normal?”

You get it now right?”

That’s right. We have all been had. Nurses in sobriety, pregnant-drug addicted women in shackles, the heroin junkie, the drunk in DTs, every psych patient in full leather restraints has been had. No such thing as

normal? Man that punch line gets funnier every time you say it. Just hysterical, until you wake up on Easter Sunday in drug rehab because talking about the drinking and using before the benzo fiasco had never

really seemed like an option. Normal people don’t have problems like that, so I will go ahead and

structure my answers in such a way that I will pass the CAGE screening questionnaire every single time. No, if you want to help me, if you are planning on shaking me loose from the Normal tree, you need to

convince me that I will like my new home.

What’s that you say? They call it the Land of the Unworthy? Well that sounds really nice. I’m just going to duck my head back into Normal here and get a REALLY GOOD GRIP. Have a nice day. Please call again.

At some point, a personal decision must be made to either continue the madness or get off the crazy circuit of empty promises and riddles. If you are lucky, you reach a point when you can choose to stop walking the path that others have mapped out for you. You can stop racing after the elusive carrot that will never be yours. At this point in the journey, there can be quiet strength in the final acceptance of one thing. And it is this. The victim of stigma will only triumph who understands… once and for all… that the frantic clumsy scramble up the fragile staircase toward the mythical tower of “Normality,” is every bit as self-destructive, insane, and ultimately futile, as the drinking and using behaviors that originally catapulted them down the steep and rocky slope toward madness…toward the tragically real land of “Bottom.” Normality is not ours…can never be ours. Nor, as has been posited here, is it something to be grasped at. Normality does not exist. Normality is the tool that is used by the Average to control those who color beautifully but unacceptably outside the lines. It is the paternalistic farce of a self-proclaimed normal society. And stigma is both the measuring tool and whipping stick by which the aberrant are alternately pitied and punished.