Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other and to a greater or lesser extent. -Sigmund Freud
If you want to know a way to make me really upset, simply respond to any challenge or problem that I’m having with one of these phrases (or something like it):
But everybody has that problem.
We all have that issue.
Everyone thinks that way.
Although this response usually comes from well-meaning friends and family, it triggers something within me. What I realized is that it triggers a “normalcy” wound. I will explain more about my “normalcy wound” in a bit.
When I first started my recovery from codependency and my recovery from being an adult child of an alcoholic, I read a book called The Complete ACOA Sourcebook: Adult Children of Alcoholics At Home, At Work, and In Love by Janet Woititz. The book is a research-based compilation of literature about the ACA phenomenon, and literally talks about the “source” of dysfunction for children of alcoholics and applies the understanding of that dysfunction to our adult lives today. For me, reading this book gave me a sense of “normalcy,” in understanding the possible foundation for the way I am today, instead of just labeling myself as “crazy.” As a result of her research, Dr. Woititz describes several characteristics of adult children of alcoholics that are most likely “carryovers” from childhood. The first characteristic struck me like a bolt of lightening:
“Adult children of alcoholics guess at what normal is.”
Growing up, I had no idea of what “normal” was. And to some point, I struggle with knowing what it is now. This is why responding to me in a way that “normalizes” my challenge or issue means nothing to me. It triggers my “normalcy wound.” In some cases, it feels a bit dismissive and minimizes my pain.
Of course, for the most part, the intentions of people that respond to me this way are not hurtful. They are just trying to make me feel better in my pain. The assumption is that if you know you are not alone in your pain, things will be better. Or if you know that someone else has it worse than you, then you won’t feel so bad. And knowing this should make me feel better, right? But the truth is that I have compassion and empathy for other people’s pain, and for other people’s stories, but in the end, being aware of another person’s pain, does nothing to soothe my own pain. My pain is still there. And until I deal with it, it will be there.
But on some level, I may need this type of “trigger” in order to deal with what is going on in my mind and to feel my feelings about normalcy. But what exactly are those feelings?
I believe that we are all unique and all have “unique” paths on this earth. We are all special. If we are breathing, I believe that is proof of our Higher Power’s Love for us and that we have a purpose here. I didn’t always believe that. There have been times in my life where I thought I was an accident. The problem with the word “unique,” is that it can also have a negative connotation. It can mean separate, peculiar, different…alone. This negative connotation of the word unique is how I felt growing up because of the dysfunction that was going on in my home.
Go ahead and say it…But every home has some dysfunction.
Yes, conceptually, now I know this. But emotionally, I had no clue.
I met very few people who were open about the dysfunction in their own homes, so I assumed that the only one who had these issues was me. Magical thinking. As a child, how else was I supposed to make sense of the world I lived in? So I dissociated into a fantasy world using television, soap operas, and other things to define what “normal” was.
I know, I know, you wanna say it…but most children do this.
However, I would like to think that at some point, “most” children let this go. This understanding of “normal” stuck with me, probably until I entered recovery.
So this month, I decided I will explore the topic of “normalcy” or being “normal.” Dr. Woititz says that the adult child of an alcoholic must come to terms with the fact that,
“Normal is a myth, like Santa Claus and The Brady Bunch.”
I want to feel “unique” in a good way, without minimizing my own “unique” experience. Normal…not normal. How exactly do I get there??