I'm standing stock still amid throngs of people. The DJ's music is blasting, women clad head to toe in sparkles whirl around me, laughing, clutching their drinks.
I don't know how this celebration of frivolity has become a place where I experience epiphanies, but it has. Last year at Sparklecorn I danced sober for the first time.
This year my good friend and sober running-mate, Heather, is back in the room tending to her adorable two month old daughter, Elsie. Heather's need to be with Elsie has kicked me out from under the safe protection of her wing, forced me to spread my own wings and try to fly solo.
I debated for a long time if I should even go to Sparklecorn. I have always been someone who likes to be in the middle of everything, and I was puzzled that I didn't feel more of a compulsion to go. My fear was that I would feel left out, other-than, sober and serious amongst all the party-goers. I wasn't in a particularly fun mood. I was tired from the time change, and my feet hurt from walking all day. On some ancient level it felt cowardly not to try, so I squared my shoulders, donned a sparkly top, and set out for the party.
I didn't know if I would be brave enough to enter the party alone, but thankfully I ran into some friends on the way over, and we walked in together.
Somehow I become separated from my friends. I find myself standing alone, on the outskirts of the dance floor, clutching my club soda and cranberry.
Here I am, experiencing one of my worst fears, I think. I'm alone, sober, in a room full of people who seem so fluid, so relaxed, so lubricated.
I wait for the fear, for that stomach-churning feeling that I am no longer fun, that I don't fit anymore, because I can't drink.
It doesn't come.
I sip my drink and observe the room, bopping my head slightly to the music. Everywhere I look I see people I know, good bloggy friends, waving their arms over their heads and gyrating to the beat.
Good for them, I think. I'm so glad they are letting off steam, having fun.
I realize I have a choice - if I want to be included, all I have to do was step into the circle and start dancing. Nobody is shunning me, nobody is deliberately leaving me out.
I'm tired, I think. I want to go back to the room.
I realize, with some surprise, that I really do want to go back to the room. I'm not running away. I'm not fearful of missing out on something. I don't need to be in the middle of anything.
I'm my own middle, I think with a smile.
This seems like such a small thing, but for me it is huge. For so many years I searched for the center of me outside of myself - in throngs of dancing people, from the validation I thought I received from other people accepting me, inviting me in. My ticket to entry was a drink, or two, or five. Alcohol greased the skids, propelled me into confidence, manufactured a feeling of belonging.
I am free, I think. I am free of the self-centered fear of rejection.
I don't have that nose-pressed-against-the-glass feeling anymore. I don't know when it went away, but I am so very grateful it is gone.
Without looking back, the two of us - my middle and me - head back to the room.