Friday, 4 November 2016

Round 3, Day 416: New thoughts on never being "normal"

After writing to celebrate being one year sober again this time around, I've been quiet online. Just in case anyone follows and wonders whether that means I've fallen away from being sober, no worries. I'm here, and I'm sober! I'm not actually counting days anymore, so when I post I have to go to the wonderful Living Sober site and see what the number says. Last time when I got sober I drank at somewhere around 500 days, so I'm keeping track of some numbers here at least until then.

Whew! OK, that's it for the accounting. But what's been going on?

Last time I wrote, I said I was heading into some serious thinking about myself. Who am I? What do I want? What makes me happy? Now that I'm sober, I feel like drinking was a period of partially putting myself under a big rock. The parts that fit with the world were allowed out. The rest either stayed put, or just came out when I could pleasantly blur myself.

Part of the work I've been doing has been paying attention to what's going on with me, and tracing some of it to what may be very old patterns. I've been doing that reasonably intensively for a month or so, and I am somewhat shocked with what I'm finding.

First, I have so much trouble with people. I'm drawn to people in some ways. I really do want to participate in the world. But being in a room with a group of people is so much work for me, in a way that I just don't think is the case for most people. I like the buzz of the city, but mostly I prefer it when it's kind of impersonal. Actually being in a room with people, I take on board too much of what's going on emotionally with them, and as you can't expect people to bring only their settled and neutral selves out in public, there is usually an awful lot going on. This feels overwhelming. Usually I experience this as, "They hate me." And even though I can (mostly) rationally get to knowing that this isn't true, it takes a fair amount of work moment-to-moment to stay aware that it's not true. That's exhausting, and I can only do it sometimes.

As an aside, I see that that's one of the reasons AA didn't work for me. I liked hearing the stories, but being around people who could come into a room and know how to be with the others was more alienating than recovering home alone. I'd do better out walking in the rain, and that's what I usually did do. It's a lonely road sometimes, though. (And please don't tell me I didn't try hard enough. I did this for several months. I tried staying at the end and stacking chairs. I tried going up to talk to people, who said "keep coming back" but looked like they wanted to add, "But please talk to someone else when you do come back." There might be a better way of doing this, and that might work for you, but what I am saying is that is was massively uncomfortable and it didn't get easier and no one was friendly and my attempts to be friendly didn't work, and I generally felt so alienated that I worried I was at greater risk of drinking than I had been without the meeting. That's my experience. Maybe not yours, but mine.)

Recently, I tried signing up for a five-week meditation session. But when I went to the first class, it was clear to me that I wasn't going to be able to tolerate being there. The room was stuffy, and slightly smelly, and there were 25 people sitting in uncomfortable straight-backed chairs (the kind that are too high for me, so my feet can't reach the ground), and the chairs were splayed around the room in a kind of squiggly oval. I was a few minutes late, so I couldn't settle myself before it started, and when I joined the class, I could feel my whole body buzzing with the energy of everything that was going on in the room. We were about to do an exercise that involved paying attention to ourselves, except that's what I'd been doing since I arrived, and I was hearing, very clearly, a single, clear message in my mind: "Get me out of here." After twenty minutes, I stood up, took my bag and mu meditation cushion (which I saw no way of using), mimed a stomach problem, and walked out into the night. Walking to my car and sitting for a few minutes before driving home, I felt such clear relief, the kind you feel when you didn't know you were thirsty and then you drink a tall cool glass of water and you go, "Ah, yes, that was exactly what I needed."

Also, I have been so overwhelmed by what I need to do lately that I haven't been able to do anything except the things that are absolutely necessary to avoid crisis. That doesn't stave off the crisis for very long, but it means I keep out of one many days. Other days I have to lie around reading a mystery as the only way I can drop out of the world. Or sleep for ten or eleven hours, just to restore myself.

Besides the other people problem, and the probelm of feeling like I can't quite get anything done, there's the problem of getting too easily overstimulated. This is something I've had my whole life, but I've been paying close attention to it lately, trying to see if there are ways I can set up my life so I can cope with what's coming at me. It's partly why I've been trying out things like yoga and meditation classes, and partly why I've been thinking about how a person would feel way overwhelmed and overstimulated in a quiet room doing yoga (which happens to me more often than not.)

Several weeks ago at work, we had had a flood and so we were working in a temporary set-up that was so unbelievably busy and noisy. I felt like my whole body was vibrating. I spoke with a woman who is kind of a co-worker about it (she had a master key that could open a quiet room I was arranging to use later in my shift and I was explaining why I needed to do that) and she said something about having friends "on the spectrum" and understanding exactly what I meant. I knew she meant the autism spectrum, but I was kind of gob-smacked. What did she know that I didn't? A week later I asked her about it, and (after clarifying that she hadn't meant any insult) she said she had quite a few friends with Aspergers (now called high-functioning autism in the new blurry category of the DSM5), and she assumed by my description of my problem that I was signalling to her that I was, as she put it, "on the spectrum."

I went home and looked it up, and of course, being me, I read a few books and a whole lot of articles about all this, and then I did the many online tests you can do to see if you have any of the features of Aspergers. I have been somewhat stunned to find out that I do. I score up into the middle to high ranges of people with Aspergers, well beyond the cutoff points that indicate you might want to get this checked out. Apparently Asperger's looks very different in men than women, and most of what I knew about it came from pop culture stories about men with Asperger's. I'm not Stephen Hawking or Bill Gates or even Temple Grandin. But the descriptions of women with Aspergers are terrifyingly apt. They capture the exact way I find myself to be a little bit weird. They sound like me.

I'm just coming to terms with this and trying to figure out what to do. I may talk to someone about getting an official diagnosis. It costs money, but it can also help get some services and accommodations at work when needed. But it costs money, and you get little in return for that, and even the experts say that once you're an adult and there are very few services to help, sometimes just knowing is enough.

Emotionally, I have conflicting reactions to what I'm learning about myself. On the one hand, I am saddened to think that I'm not going to find my way to the kind of "comfortable with people and OK in the world" normal that I had been hoping to reach. But the more important part of all this is a huge relief. Whenever I describe a problem that seems insurmountable to me (like something with people, or getting overwhelmed with tasks or sounds or something like that) people often explain how I need to do things differently, as though I hadn't been trying to do that my whole life. Seeing that I may be different in a way that I can (and have) learned to work with but never quite change means I can maybe stop trying to find a way to be a person I'm not. I may not be able to get over extreme jumpiness, aversion to loud noises and bright lights and extreme sensory anything, difficulty with people, or problems with getting some things done. But I can accept myself as myself, and find a way to live that works for me.

(It also helps explain some of what I loved about alcohol. Drinking was a way of turning the volume down on the whole world. God, I loved being able to do that! Interestingly, there's at least a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that people with Asperger's drink as a way of helping negotiate the otherwise overwhelming social world, and that's sure true for me, though I know it's also true for many people who are what the Aspies call "neurotypical.")

This past year has been very different from my first year sober. I think I have a better handle on the things I need to change, and on what matters to me in living a good life. Starting to learn all this about myself fits pretty well with that. Three years ago I thought I'd quit drinking for a while and then become a normal drinker. Later, when that wasn't on, I thought I'd get sober and be one of the sober people who ends up with a big warm group of sober friends, but that's not my life here either. Now I think I'm getting rid of any images of "normal" altogether. It may just be that I'm a little bit weird in a way that no amount of time sober or yoga class or therapy can change. I think I'm OK with that. I'm getting there, anyway.

Because all this is so tough in person, I'm all the more grateful to be able to come here and talk about it with you all. Thanks as always for walking the road with me, and for your kind support. Wishing you peace and joy.


  1. That was such a beautiful post. I love that you are sandbagging normal and being true to yourself. We are all just on different parts of the spectrum I think. One place on it no better than another, just different. I think you should remove weird from your vocabulary though. I bet there is a lot you bring to the table that someone lower on the spectrum can't, you just don't appreciate it yet! Good for you for your self-discovery. I hope to be where you are someday! For your next post, I challenge you to say what is great about you instead of what you think is weird. I bet there are things that you may do that others can't do as well exactly because of what you are in touch with that they aren't. I think my husband is higher on the spectrum. He needs to escape from time to time. I can't relate to going off by oneself but he definitely needs time to recharge on his own. He's very smart and can be social but I think interacting with others in a social way is harder than he admits. He is very in love with his water garden, exceptionally so. It's very cute. It's his space and he needs that focus. Again, thanks for sharing such a wonderful journey!

    1. Thanks, HD! I love the phrase "sandbagging normal." Yes, I do think there are lots of things that I love about being me, and I don't think of weird as only a bad thing. I promise I'll talk about that here some time, too. I do definitely relate to your husband's needing to be alone. And I kind of want my own tiny water garden now that you've described it. Thanks for your support! xo

  2. I second that challenge! And i agree, this is a beautiful post. I think the problem that lots of us face, is that alcohol provided either a comfortable barrier to the world, or the ability to project a persona that we thought we wanted to be, rather than the person we are. And we buy into that. And THEN when we discover that we are actually completely different, we have to adjust to a completely different "normal", just as we got used to the "not drinking" normal. I hope that makes sense. Congratulations on your journey and thank you for sharingxx

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words. I agree, many of us have been struggling with such similar things. I definitely feel a kinship with everyone here as we have all worked to find out how to be and even who we are when the alcohol isn't there to hide out in. I really appreciate your company along the way. xo

  3. Hi Thirsty!
    Big hugs to you!
    This is so interesting, that you discovered you have Aspergerers's.
    It would be a relief to discover there was a reason behind the way you felt!
    I am happy you are sober for over a year!!

    1. Thanks, Wendy. A relief indeed! I'm happy to have been sober so long as well, Thanks for being here! xo

  4. Hi Thirsty, when I started reading this I thought you did sound a bit Aspergic but then a couple of comments made me think 'oh maybe not' but then again I know mainly about males with Aspergers. The service I work for in mental health has a separate diagnostic service for Aspergers and I often handle the paperwork and initial contact. By far the majority of people I speak to are males and they vary vastly on how they present and how functional they are. One thing I would say is by far the vast majority of patients once they receive a confirmation of Aspergers feel a great sense of relief that finally they know why they are different. In the UK the service is free so it is worthwhile doing and in younger people it is beneficial in getting help with college and university. If
    you have to pay for it yet already feel pretty sure you are, do you need the official 'diagnosis' for want of a better term. If it would be beneficial for work to make accommodations then obviously you have to weigh that up.
    Only you can decide how much you want to try to bend to the world or have the world bend to you. So many of us have personality quirks that don't fit in to the norm and it is always a balance between what we are prepared to try and change and what we want to embrace about ourselves. I gave up on being normal years ago and have a little bit more of a take it or leave it approach to whether people like me or not. Interesting though, that once I let go of that I felt a lot more comfortable in myself and that seemed to change me in itself. I think you sound quite open to accepting you have Aspergers and it may help you reflect on different social situations and allow you to check in with people you trust as to how a certain situation could be different if changed, or how you could interact differently. I hope this is not coming over as a lecture, I only want to say that I hope you will be ok and that this is can be an opportunity to learn more about you and decide how you want to work with this going forward. I so admire your openness and drive to understand.
    As an aside when you mentioned neurotypical, it made me laugh as the very extreme Asperger patients can have a grandiosity and superiority complex. One patient (a female) whenever she speaks to any of us non Aspergers always says 'oh you are SO neurotypical, it's hard to communicate with people like you with such a basic intelligence' in fact she called me a trained chimp one time as I asked her to clarify what she was explaining. So in comparison, your social skills are amazing.
    Take care and best wishes going forward.

    1. Hi Ginger. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. It's interesting that you know so much about Aspergers! And curious that, even without meeting me, you thought it might apply to me. It does seem that men are very different in this than women, and that was what put me off when I thought about this many years ago. But the diagnostics seem to fit well, and the personal accounts ring true for me in a way that most people's stories simply don't.

      I do also agree that finding out how to balance one's own quirkiness with doing one's best to get along in the world is something we all have to figure out. For ,r the big relief comes via understanding that there are so many things I have not been able to do and now I see that they were in fact quite challenging for me, even while they would likely not be for many people. Trying to figure out how to live is what I've been trying to do, and what I've been writing about here on this blog. I plan to keep at it, and I think this recent enlightenment helps.

      I don't take what you say as a lecture at all! I take your comment as kind and helpful. Also, your reaction to the "neurotypical" thing makes me laugh. There's a whole new language to learn, and probably a whole other set of way sI could get things wrong! I didn't mean any offence by the word, though. I just see that when I have been assuming that other people thought like me and saw things the way I did, I may have been mistaken, and the "neurotypical" word seems to help with thinking about that. I wasn't rolling my eyes along with it, though!

      Thanks for taking the time to talk with me about this. It's much appreciated! xo

  5. Wow, this is amazing, Thirsty! To think you have spent a life trying to be what does not come naturally to you. I do understand avoiding social situations and being extra sensitive to noise and light. I am like that as well sometimes. But how I am choosing to perceive this is that I come first. I won't do things I don't enjoy anymore. So in this case, it's honoring who I am and not trying to enjoy what is not fun for me. There are exceptions, of course, like our upcoming Thanksgiving, with lots of noise and drinking (and cats!). But I can limit my time in these situations and do what I really enjoy, like walking in beautiful weather. So I guess we're all quirky, as someone commented, and that's OK. I'm so happy that you now have some insight into ways of loving and understanding yourself.
    Thanks for your honesty in this post.

    1. Thanks, Shawna. Yes, trying to find how to put yourself first is important. I'm trying to do that without withdrawing from the world altogether. That can be a challenge, but a worthwhile one, I think. I really appreciate you being here reading and commenting! xo

  6. What a great post! And what relief you must feel! Knowledge is often empowerment and in your case, I think it is. I am also beginning to think that more people are somewhere "in the spectrum" than anyone knows- including myself! Thank you for this and congratulations both on your sober time as well as having the fortitude to go deeper within yourself.

    1. Hi Lynne. YEs, a great relief! I am a very big fan of knowledge. I agree, it seems there are many people on the spectrum. I hope we can help make the world hospitable for the many ways of thinking and doing that we all bring. Thanks for being here! xo

  7. Big hug.
    I have very similar responses to external stimulation. My therapist and I have me working on alexityhmia, and it is closely related with aspergers.
    I don't understand other people sometimes...but I have found as I am more comfortable with me that I worry less about that. If someone thinks I'm weird, that's fine. I can't be anything but who I am.

    I swear I went to that same meditation class. Lol

    My only advice is keep looking. I teach a very small yin class with 10 people. It's dark. I play soothing (and sometimes current) music. I use candle light. We cultivate stillness using the body and breath. It is my favourite form of meditation. And through that I have learned to be at peace.

    Maybe you might find something similar? Small, intimate, personal.

    So where to feel alone, but not lonely.



    1. Hi Anne. Thanks for the virtual hug! I'm not surprised we are quite similar in many ways. Finding a way to live with the excess stimulation that the world has on offer is crucial. Not surprisingly, I have also been seeing a therapist about my inability to talk about my emotions or even feel them outside of the great lashing waves they come with. I don't seem to do nuance with them unless it's in writing, or in what people think of as intellectualized conversation. A simplified way of expressing some something people now think about autism/aspergers is that the emotion part of the brain isn't as developed and it's somehow accessed via the thinking part of the brain. I'm planning to read some more about that. it's possible that I can give up trying to feel the way others do and work more on finding what works for me in the world.

      Re the yoga: yes, I thunk the studio I have joined might just be a terrible fit for me. I wish I could come to your yoga class! I'll look around for something else here. In the meantime, walking in the park might do me more good.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Your company is much appreciated! xo