I was at a party with a bunch of other Moms the other night, and I ran into me.
The party wasn't in my home town, and I only knew one or two people. I was introduced to an attractive woman, someone I had never met before, and we got to chatting. It was early in the evening and guests were still arriving, cheeks flushed from the cold. The line for alcohol was ten deep. I was grateful for the distraction of meeting someone new; the first half an hour or so of a party is always the most difficult for me, drinking-wise.
We compared notes in the usual way. She was about six or seven years younger than me, and had a couple of preschool aged children. We chatted about getting used to being home full time, both of us having quit high powered jobs when our first child was born.
After ten minutes or so, she asked if she could get me something from the bar.
"I'm all set," I said, holding up my club soda and cranberry. "Thanks, though."
We parted ways, only to bump into each other again about an hour and a half later. "Hey again," she said, and winked.
"Soooooooo," she drawled. "Howzit going?"
Ah. I thought. She's drunk. All the power to her, but I'm ready to get outta here.
The room was hot and noisy, and we were pressed into a corner. I was trapped.
"Iss hard sometimes, you know?" she said, out of the blue.
I nodded, but I had no idea what she was talking about.
"You seem like a really nice person," she slurred, and threw her arm around my shoulder. "I feel like I can tell you anything." Her eyes rolled up into her head, ever so slightly, when she blinked.
"Thanks," I smiled, unsure exactly how to respond. I looked frantically around the room, hoping to lock eyes with my friend and use that as an excuse to move on.
"It's juss... juss so much WORK." She sighed, and took a long sip of wine.
"Ummm, what is so much work?" I asked, awkwardly.
"Ohhhh... you know," she puffed out her cheeks and exhaled. "Everything. Kids." She swayed side to side, almost imperceptibly.
She has crossed over, I thought, into that place where drunk people grope for meaningful connection. I don't know how to do this anymore.
We stood together in silence for a moment or two, her arm still slung over my shoulder.
"Well," she said, and her wine sloshed around in her glass as she gestured to the room. "Thass why we need to get out, right?" She winked again. "And thass what THIS is for!" She held her glass up to me in a mock toast.
I smiled again, but remained silent. She noticed my empty glass. "OH! You needa drink!"
"No, I'm all set," I said. "I'm getting ready to go."
"But you CAN'T go. You juss GOT here!" She grabbed my hand, and started pulling me towards the bar.
I let her lead me to the bar - I had no choice - and when we got there I said, "Really - I'm all set. I've got to go."
"Oh, not yet," she said, refilling her still half-full glass. "Whaddya having?"
This doesn't happen very often to me anymore. I'm open about my recovery, and usually hang out with recovery people or friends who know I don't drink. I wasn't sure what to say, so I just told the truth.
"I don't drink," I said. "But thanks anyway."
She blinked once, twice. Then she said, quietly, "Oh," and looked into her wineglass, as if the answers to the Universe were held in its depths. "Sorry."
"Don't be sorry," I said. "It's all good. I'm just tired and ready to go home."
She just kept staring into her wineglass, so I quietly moved away, found my friend, and made my exit.
I went home and curled up on my couch with a book, but I couldn't concentrate. I kept thinking about her, that woman, because I knew her. For so many years, that was me.
What was so familiar to me was that quiet desperation behind her eyes, that ache for a connection with someone - anyone. Conversations fueled by alcohol felt so deep, so meaningful. I know I must have crossed lines, over-shared, or made less drunk people feel awkward with my forwardness.
When I was drinking I felt such a sense of belonging. Until the next morning, when I would wake up with a slow thump behind my eyelids and missing pieces of the evening before.
It seems odd to me that I used to want so desperately to be in the middle of all that. From my vantage point, now, it all seems so, well, flimsy.
When I first got sober, I thought I was saying goodbye to fun forever. I never thought the day would come where I would be at a party full of people who were drinking and instead of wanting to be whooping it up that I would want more than anything to be home reading a book, talking to a good friend, or cuddling with my kids.
The irony? The irony is that I laugh more now - visceral, gut-clenching laughter - than I ever have in my life. I no longer need to be clutching a wineglass to cross over into that place of feeling connected with other people.
I can get there all on my own.