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Day 24 – Snapshots From Normal

Inspirational Song of the Day: Patty Griffin – When It Don’t Come Easy
(A song for all of us weary, yet intrepid, Dryuary road warriors!)

“We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men. Hell, we could have been tarring the roof of one of our own houses. We were the lords of all creation. As for Andy – he spent that break hunkered in the shade, a strange little smile on his face, watching us drink his beer. You could argue he’d done it to curry favor with the guards, or maybe make a few friends among us cons.  Me? I think he did it just to feel normal again, if only for a short while.”
– “Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding” (Morgan Freeman), in the movie Shawshank Redemption based on the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King

I remember the first time I visited Normal. It didn’t happen in auspicious circumstances. By any means. It actually occurred in the middle of a meeting at work. There I was sitting on one of those cold and unforgiving folding chairs, sipping the last dregs of the day’s coffee,  discussing the same things that had been discussed a hundred times before. Suddenly, I realized I felt completely at ease. I wasn’t stealing furtive glances at the clock, willing those minute hands forward. I wasn’t drumming my fingers on the table or wiggling my foot under it. I didn’t feel sluggish or anxious, nor was I suffering the lingering effects from the night before.

For the first time in a very long time, the countdown of minutes until I could have a drink was not ticking!

From the outside, the circumstances were mundane, but inside…oh man, that realization washed over me like a Homecoming.

“So, this is what Normal looks like,” I thought with the wonder of someone who has been granted sight after years of darkness. I didn’t see the sterile surroundings of a hospital conference room. Instead, I saw the sunshine pouring in through the window. I saw every leaf on the trees outside. I saw fine detail and possibility.

I saw Hope.

I saw Free.

Really. It was that momentous to me.

Oh, I went back to drinking. Hard and heavy. Back to Usual, which was far from Normal.

Still, I never forgot that moment of sitting on a cold, torturous chair in a boring meeting, feeling more free than I could ever remember feeling. I give that moment a lot of credit for getting me to where I am right now. Living full-time in Normal.

See, I had boxes and drawers stuffed full of “snapshots” of dark moments that I had collected in my journey, to remind me of places to which I never wanted to return. True, I had moments of inconceivable incandescence also, but they began sputtering out way too soon, throwing me into darker and darker darkness.  I didn’t have any snapshots from “Normal” though.

If I didn’t know what it was like in “Normal,” how had I become so adamant that I didn’t want to go there? Live there?

That day was my first snapshot. It wasn’t my last. I started collecting more and more. Every time I needed to escape Usual.

Just like Andy Dufresne, the falsely imprisoned character in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” up there on the rooftop with his face turned up to the sun while his fellow inmates enjoyed their beer… Just like Andy blasting opera music through the cell block and out into the prison yard while his fellow inmates turned their faces to the sun… Just like Andy digging night after night under the cover of darkness toward his freedom, I kept reminding myself that the prison I found myself in, my Usual,  wasn’t Normal.

I had the choice of succumbing and becoming “institutionalized,” learning to exist only within the confines of my Usual, or I could keep trying to escape.  Back to Normal.

This month you’ve been collecting your own snapshots of Normal. What will you do with them? Will you stuff them away in a drawer until next Dryuary when you decide you want to visit Normal again? Will you pull them out occasionally when your Usual becomes too frightening or confining? Maybe think about finding your way back there? Will you display them proudly? You should, you know? Will you spend this year visiting Normal more frequently, adding to your collection?

Regardless of what you decide to do with your snapshots, you now know what Normal looks like. You’ve been there. You’ve got the memories and snapshots to prove it. Who knows? Maybe, later on down the road, after you’ve collected snapshots from other places, you’ll decide to move to Normal full-time.

For Andy and me, Normal ended up being on a beach in Mexico.

Where’s your Normal going to be?

Submitted by Kary May, Author of the book Neighbor Kary May’s Handbook to Happily Drinking Less or Not Drinking At All-Quite Happily: With the support of the online recovery community