Research, Loss, & the Normal Experience

I could probably list hundreds of reasons and bizarre experiences that could “prove” to you why I perceive myself and my life as not being “normal.” As a matter of fact, just describing my experiences by using the word “bizarre” proves how I sometimes feel about my life.

As I reflect, the “not-normal” feeling I have is not just because of the experiences I had growing up, although I do believe they set the foundation for my thinking. It would be great to only view my “non-normalness” through the lens of my experiences with alcoholism and codependency, but there were many other experiences that factored into this as well. These experiences were integrated into the existing dysfunction (whether it be my own or my parents’) and reinforced my feelings of negative uniqueness.


A couple of months ago, I led a grief workshop where I told a part of my own personal “grief story.” I talked about 5 major events that I defined as losses, or areas where I had grieved. These 5 major losses were:

  1. My dad’s alcoholism (growing up in an alcoholic home)
  2. My grandmother’s battle and death from Alzheimer’s disease
  3. My sister’s murder (unsolved)
  4. My father’s death
  5. My most recent loss of job, house, car, etc., and moving back in with my mom in my mid-30s

The reason why I list these losses are because I realized a connection between these life events and my feelings of not being normal. I mean, who really goes through all of this stuff?

I know, I know, everyone has their fair share of issues. Maybe not these, but everyone has stuff they go through.

Or do they???

I’ve been to enough 12-step meetings to know that there are other adult children of alcoholics. I have attended enough Alzheimer’s support groups and fundraisers and led many Alzheimer’s advocacy initiatives, so I know there are plenty of people dealing with that. Plenty of people loose their dad’s without settling “unfinished business.” And in this economy, many people have lost it all and have had to move in with family members. Murder is a little different. I haven’t met too many people that have had a family member murdered, but they are out there.

Being able to “normalize” these experiences should make me feel “normal.” However, is the fact that other people have had these experiences enough to generalize the experience for everyone?

As a researcher, I have to believe that some experiences can be generalized…well that’s on the “quantitative” side. The truth is that I am mostly a qualitative researcher. The simple explanation of the difference between quantitative and qualitative research is that quantitative creates knowledge by generalizing with numbers/statistics, while qualitative research focuses on stories, experiences, and the written word. I think of these types of research as states of mind. I consider myself a qualitative researcher because I believe that while you can point out the similarities in experiences, or even come up with common themes, experiences cannot always be generalized and therefore experiences cannot be normalized. Each person may respond differently to similar experiences.

Each person has their own special story to tell.

Each person has their own “normal.”

5 thoughts on “Research, Loss, & the Normal Experience

  1. Thank you Michele…I have never really been able to put this into words, but you use the term “not normal feeling” which feels very familiar. I had never associated that with life events. You’ve given me lots to think about here.

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