I realize that there’s no “normal,” exactly, but most of us in recovery would probably agree that are degrees of normal we prefer now to what passed for normal before we stopped drinking (or using). My normal night used to consist of drinking an insane amount of vodka or wine, or on one my “off nights” pondering how I’d get from that evening to the next evening without booze in my system. My normal night now is full of much more activity–a lot of it is centered on my children, as it should be, though that brings its own kind of stress–and I much prefer it to where I was this time last year.
Without realizing it, I’ve taken more steps into regaining a new normal. They may seem like small steps, but they’re noteworthy for me and I imagine to many others in recovery. When I was actively drinking, I didn’t put much thought into what I wore to work. I’d grab a pair of wrinkled khaki pants and a Polo shirt and thrown them in the dryer for a few minutes. I shaved infrequently, and I recall students asking if I was growing a beard or not. “Maybe,” I’d say. The truth was, I couldn’t commit to having a beard or not, just as I couldn’t commit to ironing my clothes and making sure I looked half-way decent before standing in front of a classroom full of students. I couldn’t commit to much of anything except the next drink.
We alcoholics are especially good at justifying our reasons for doing anything. I concocted a version of myself that I presented to my students, and it was that of the “slightly eccentric English and writing teacher who had such a busy mind that he couldn’t be bothered with something so pedestrian as ironing his clothes or updating his wardrobe.” I justified the way I looked against a ridiculous stereotype that I only slightly resonate with. Instead of what envisioned I looked like, I probably came across as a harried, hung-over man desperately trying to keep as many plates spinning in the air as possible. I’d come home utterly exhausted from teaching, even though my job wasn’t nearly as taxing (or frightening) as when I taught in public schools. The amount of energy required to maintain a persona–and I don’t mean the persona that every teacher adopts to some extent, but one that I dug into and tried to pump energy from, when it should have been clear that it was a mostly useless task with limited results–was too much. So I drank.
To be clear, I drank for a lot of reasons. But the constant mental upkeep required to hide my drinking, to present different faces to different people (to say nothing of the psychic and spiritual damage alcohol causes) fractured me. There’s no other way to put it. When I first gingerly stepped into AA, I bucked against the idea that I needed to be “restored to sanity,” but given how I’d allowed myself to be carved up mentally, I needed just that.
To wrap up this rather long post, I’m shaving regularly again. I’m ironing my clothes every night. I’m watching what I eat, and I’m exercising. Even though I deal with arthritis off and on, I have more stamina and strength than before. I don’t leave work every day exhausted.
Good things, all of them. Happy, sober Wednesday to all.