Addictions Anonymous, 25: Normophobia
This article belongs to Addictions Anonymous column.
Normophobia: I made that word up myself. At least I've never seen it used anywhere, but I could be wrong. Being wrong once in a while is normal and the best reason to look for and listen to critical feedback.
Normophobia means a disabling fear or dread of being just, merely, and only, normal in every respect, especially in matters of personality and behavior.
One of the most popular courses in college is Abnormal Psychology, but I've never seen a course offered in Normal Psychology. Psychologists and people in general are very interested in the abnormal, in the odd, strange, unexplained, and sometimes violent. Most of our literature in clinical psychology is about abnormal behavior. Every day our newspapers report violent, unusual, and controversial stories.
Bill Jones had a quiet, uneventful andl normal day. That's a headline guaranteed to send readers on to other stories. Nobody seems to admire normal. We certainly don't idolize the normal and, in fact, don't even seem to know exactly what it is. How can anyone return to normal living if one does not know what that is?
Our heroes in literature and popular entertainment are far from normal; either they have exceptional abilities and powers, or they are loveably deficient in this or that ability. We are urged at every turn to excel, be powerful, be unique, and be different is some special way.
I hope to convince you that normal is good, even desirable. In fact, once we really understand normal, it may become the gold standard of recovery. "Why don't you just try being normal?" is a question we don't hear very often. So, let's take a careful look at the supposed enemy, the frightening stigma of being just normal.
When I suggest to a recovering addict that normal behavior is the gold standard, that their first task it to learn to live a quiet, normal life, I usually get a baffled look as he or she hurries on to more interesting topics. Many, when pressed to try on the clothing of normal behavior, seem to pale and panic while desperately trying to change the subject.
I persist, however, by telling them to consider the merits of being ordinary, unusual, common and just plain vanilla in their everyday lives. Unfortunately, part of the high of any strong addiction is the soap opera it makes of life. How exciting it is to engineer one more forgiveness from a tolerant enabler, to escape one more legal complication, to pay off one more angry bookie, or find out once more that the medical problems you brought on yourself will not be fatal. What will you do without the job conflicts, the angry relatives, the unpaid bills, or the knowledge that you are always skating on thin ice, walking the edge of the cliff, or playing with fire? Part of any addiction is that feeling of being a unique and special personality, the self-delusion that a weakness is strength.
Addiction is soap opera at its worst.
"Being normal would drive me crazy," one alcoholic told me once.
"You are crazy, Bill, to drink the way you drink," I told him. "Why not try being normal for just one day at a time?"
The last thing I want to do is go down in history as the man who invented a new disease since we already have dozens of newly invented—as opposed to discovered—diseases. This is part of our modern tendency to surrender personal responsibility, ignore the problem of character development, and blame all of our problems on one disease or another, one addictive or another. The health professions heartily embrace this trend, of course, since disease is where they earn their income.
In the United States, we find ourselves in the wonderful position of having an abundance of health care professionals, more per capita that at any time in our history. So abundant are the ranks of physicians that some of these fine people have to advertise to get new customers. Further, the invention of new diseases increases the power, authority and scope of medical practice thus helping to assure physicians, and those who hang on their coattails, of a good supply of patients, whether or not they have well-tested treatments to offer. The manufacturers of prescription medicines love new diseases, too.
Sorry, there's not much money to be made in normal. There is nothing to fix about normal.
One addiction after another has been added to the classic drug and alcohol diseases. Overeating, smoking, talking, sex and love, shopping and so forth are just a few of our new diseases. Medicine, psychiatry and psychology all compete for the right to treat these problems and to bill insurance companies for their work. All kinds of behavior once considered as simply bad or stupid now are classified as one or another kind of personality disorder.
Although the title of this chapter is an attempt at humor, not a serious proposal for a new disorder or disease, it does suggest problems that must be addressed. These problems are the persistent avoidance of any discussion of what normal might be along with a cultural myth that supernormal or subnormal people are somehow better people and we should all want to be that way.
In the next chapter I will look at some of the traditional ways of defining normal, and it will take some persistence to walk that path with me, but if you are hunting for some strange beast, you had better know all about it. The two chapters after that will attempt a detailed breakdown of normal to show that normal really is the way to be in the world in order to maximize potential, find personal satisfaction and build self-respect. If you can go there with me, you may find that true normal is the path to happiness and a fulfillment generally never experienced by addicts and by many non-addicts as well.
In the mean time, check out the following signs of dreaded Normophobia to see if you have it:
1. Feelings of inferiority if you get up when the alarm clock rings and arrive at work on time.
2. Chronically untied shoe laces.
3. Dislike for people who accept routine.
4. Thinking that when someone gives you an order it is a personal insult.
5. Flying into a rage when others don't notice you.
6. Self-doubt if you vote with a majority in an election.
7. Having cold shivers when someone refers to you as an average Joe or Jane.
8. Panic at the thought of paying your bills on time.
9. Distain for people who are seen and grunts, nerds, normies, grinds, sheep or just dull.
If you score positive on at least four of the above, you are normophobic and probably will fight hard to stay that way since fear and panic result if someone says your behavior should conform to acceptable social standards. Nevertheless, try it, and you might like it.