Thursday, September 9, 2010

Life of The Party

There's a question I'm asked every now and then from people who want to know what it's like not drinking at parties:

"Is it hard for you?"

The answer, finally, is No.

It wasn't always this way.  This summer, my third sober summer, is the first time I can honestly say that not drinking wasn't hard, most of the time.   

During the first couple of years of sobriety I would get a pit in my stomach every June.  As I anticipated summer, I felt a kind of sadness as I thought about barbeques, summer evenings and parties without the pleasant lubrication of alcohol.   Each new experience - my first trip to the beach house, for example, watching the sun set while munching on hot dogs and hamburgers - I felt the loss of alcohol like I would a dearly departed loved one.   It was like grief, in a way, the ache I felt in my bones that I couldn't just have a couple of drinks like 'normal' people.

At parties I would stare at people drinking, fixate on them as they raised their wineglass to their lips.   I was jealous of them; it was like watching an ex-boyfriend dance with another woman at a party.   Even though I knew the ex-boyfriend was bad for me, and I was mostly glad to be rid of him, it still hurt to see.

I monitored everyone's drinking.    Look at her, she's walking away from a half-full glass of wine.   I think that is his fourth drink, maybe he has a problem?  

Getting ready to go out for the evening was particularly difficult.   I didn't realize how important having a couple glasses of wine as I put on make-up and fixed my hair were to me until I could no longer have them.    Walking into a party stone cold sober felt completely alien.    How would I carry on a conversation?   Laugh?  Meet new people?   I felt like everyone was staring at me as I sipped my club soda with lemon,  thinking: poor thing, she can't drink.

We had a busy Labor Day weekend.   We went to two parties, one with friends from town and another with old friends we hadn't seen in a while.   It didn't occur to me until the weekend had passed that the old jealousy was gone.   As I dashed around to get ready for a party on Saturday night, slipping into my new little black dress and putting makeup on, all I thought about was how fun it would be to reconnect with friends, have a evening out with my husband.   

I almost forgot to be grateful.

But later in the evening on Saturday I felt the atmosphere of the party shift, and I remembered:  Oh yeah, I'm not drinking.   I can practically set my watch to it, this shift, and it happens around 10:30pm every time.   Conversations get louder.   And less interesting.    People start repeating themselves, get a little slurry, a little sloppy, and I know it's my cue to leave.   

It's the time of night when, before, I would have crossed that line between social drinking and having too many.   I never wanted to leave parties when I was drinking.  I always stayed until the hostess went to bed or the bar flicked the lights on and off, signaling that the bar was closing.   

I got home around 11pm, paid the sitter and went out onto my back porch to breathe the cool night air.    I sent up a prayer of thanks, of gratitude, that I was free of the need to drink in order to have a good time.   I said thank you for my friends, for the amazing people I'm getting to know in town.   

When I was drinking I would have been so fixated on having more to drink that I would cut conversations off in order to go to the bar.   I would hover near the alcohol all night, and the next day I wouldn't remember names of the people I had met, or what we talked about.   I would have a pit in my stomach, wondering:  Did I make a fool of myself?   Could people tell I had too many? 

I drifted off to sleep that night with a contented smile on my face.   I woke up the next morning, refreshed and hangover-free, and had a wonderful day with my kids.   I wasn't short with them because I had a headache, or because I slept that itchy sleep too much alcohol brings.    

There are difficult moments, of course.   But they pass quickly, because all I have to do is remember all the gifts I have received in sobriety.    I can be present in my life all the time.    Drinking felt like a prison; I could never let go, be myself, because my mind was constantly tugged toward the need for more.  

Now?   Now I am free.

13 comments:

  1. The thing I've noticed is that NO ONE ELSE CARES! All the obsessing about it is yet another sign of my total and complete self-centeredness. What did I expect? That the entire party would circle around me and bombard me with questions about alcoholism? That it would become necessary for me to escape 60-Minutes style, hiding my face in my hands and yelling "No comment! No comment!"?? Someone says, "Hey, I'm gonna get another beer, you want anything?" And I start sharing with him my experience, strength and hope when all he really wanted to know was if I wanted something from the bar.

    Yes, being sober at a party those first few times is a wonderful lesson in ego for me.

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  2. OMG Kalisa - your comment made me laugh so hard. I love this: "And I start sharing with him my experience, strength and hope when all he really wanted to know was if I wanted something from the bar." I totally used to do that. I also over-explaining why I wasn't drinking - going on some sordid guilt-fueled tangent about all the bad stuff I did drinking.

    Thanks for the laugh!

    -Ellie

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  4. No doubt ladies.Ellie, great, great post - it is a priceless feeling laying in bed with a smile on your face, and with all of the pieces of ourselves still intact. Thanks for the reminder.

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  5. you have such a beautiful way with words. i really love reading your posts even though i can't relate, as i haven't been to a party in my entire adult life... my personal shackles come in the form of social anxiety rather than drinking.

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  6. Thank you Ellie - I have a women's get together tonight that I'm a bit nervous about, but they are my friends and will understand when I say "No". Now I just hope that I say "No".
    Your post will play in my head so I will take with me the courage to change the things I can.
    Betsy

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  7. I'm also laughing at Kalisa's comment :)

    I'm waiting to get to that point... I'm imagining it's a good place to be...

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  8. This whole post spoke out to me of course, but the line that really stuck out was "poor thing, she can't drink." I totally felt embarrassed for so long, like people looked down on me in pity.

    At some point, I actually grew some pride in the fact that I can be sober and I AM sober, and I can socialize now without it. And I am grateful. So, so grateful.

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  9. Just another reminder to myself that recovery is not about not drinking it's about living!!!

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  10. I really like that last comment, "that recovery is about living." I imagine everyone feels that way about something, whether it be alcohol, anxiety or just day-to-day stress. But I'm also very taken with this post. I appreciate the honesty, but also the maturity that it just glows with. Well done Ellie. We've only just met, and I know so little of your journey. But I'm enjoying every word in this short time. I'm glad to have found you.

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  11. Thank you Ellie - I have a women's get together tonight that I'm a bit nervous about, but they are my friends and will understand when I say "No". Now I just hope that I say "No".
    Your post will play in my head so I will take with me the courage to change the things I can.
    Betsy

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  12. No doubt ladies.Ellie, great, great post - it is a priceless feeling laying in bed with a smile on your face, and with all of the pieces of ourselves still intact. Thanks for the reminder.

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