Notes on a party

We held a housewarming yesterday, with great success. Because so many of our friends have, like us, very young children, it was a mid afternoon affair rather than an evening one as of old. Here, in lazy list form, are some observations.

1. How on earth did I ever have time to drink while hosting parties? My fitbit tells me that I racked up well over 10,000 steps yesterday, most of which were while fetching drinks and food for other people. Early on I poured myself a Diet Coke with ice; by the time I drank it it was not only iceless but completely flat. I can’t imagine trying to fit in drinking around that.

2. Buying the booze at the bottle shop, I was tempted to tell the clerk that I was having a party and that nine bottles of wine and a carton of lager were not in fact for me. I stopped myself only because it’s such an alcoholic cliche, even though it was also true. I’ve bought more wine at a time before, I’m sure, but this time it really felt like a lot.

3. There was no difference in how much fun was had by the non drinkers and the drinkers, except that the drinkers stayed a lot later.

4. Here are some drinking stats: Including me, there were 20 adults. At least five of us are complete non-drinkers, and at least another three were sticking to beer. Which means nine bottles of wine were consumed amongst twelve people. Is that quite a lot? Maybe not.

5. Whether a lot or not, I really did notice the different drinking behaviours involved. One couple arguing about who was going to drive home this time, another bloke topping himself up in the kitchen at least twice, and a good friend of mine, well, I’m going to talk about him in the next item down.

6. Is it only when one gives up drinking that it becomes obvious who else has a drinking problem? It’s so clear that I don’t know how I overlooked it. Except I do, because he has been a drinking partner in crime for years, and we’ve enabled one another. But because I knew he’d given up entirely for a few months earlier this year, which was spun to me as a weight loss thing, I’d thought at the time – oh, well, maybe he doesn’t have a dependency after all.

I didn’t think anything of it the first time he topped up everyone’s drinks; because I’d poured everyone a first glass and then promptly forgotten about the whole thing, I was grateful. But then I noticed he was topping everyone up a couple more times, which tells me that he was always finishing his glass first.

A couple of hours later, he wasn’t even topping up anymore. He literally had a bottle of wine beside him, and was just drinking and refilling. When he stood up to get a new bottle, his wife stopped him, and I’m glad she did because he was noticeably slurred by then. An hour later he made a testing-the-waters ‘joke’ about opening a bottle of red and letting her go home while he settled into the night, at which point I told him to go home already, because we’re friends enough that I could do that without being considered rude. Have I never noticed this before because I was drinking like that as well? How mortifying if that’s true.

And all of a sudden I’m thinking about all of those other years. We used to work together, and on an occasional Friday would go out to lunch together and share a bottle of wine and then a liqueur. And then go back to work! That’s really not normal. I remember another anecdote he used to relate quite often, about a time when his wife was on medication and told not to drink heavily lest it react, and he asked the doctor what heavy drinking would constitute. The doctor apparently replied “Well, you know. I mean two bottles a night is obviously heavy”. And my friend relates this anecdote regularly, in the context of If you’re not drinking two bottles a night you’re fine. Which is…somehow not what I think the doctor intended him to take from the conversation.

So that’s another person I intend to be really open with next time we have lunch alone.

6. This is nothing to do with the party, but while I’m on the subject, I have now had three or four private conversations with friends who do know why I stopped drinking, each of which either has a drinking issue themselves or an intimate family member who does, and who are asking for my advice. I’m a million miles from experienced, of course, but it’s really bringing home to me the power of honesty around this stuff, and just how many of us it affects.

7. If you do have a party, you need to drink something. Diet Coke and coffee may seem like good substitutes for alcohol, but at 2am when you’re lying in bed awake, you may revisit that decision. Just so you know.


The horror of labelling yourself an alcoholic

I participate on the on line parenting forum Mumsnet, and there is a long running thread for those of us who are trying to abstain completely from alcohol here which I’m sharing in case it’s of use to anyone reading.  Every now and then, somebody comes on to detail their relationship with drink and ask whether we think they have a problem.  The replies are excellent, and the point is often made that one doesn’t have to embrace the term ‘alcoholic’ to accept that life would be better without alcohol,  We know, don’t we, that the term alcoholic is off-putting to so many people that if you say it to them too early, you run the risk of scaring them off.  So we couch it.  Problem drinker; almost-alcoholic; overdoing it.

I completely understand the horror of calling yourself an alcoholic, one poster says.  And I do, too. I mean, I remember feeling that horror, and side stepping the issue, and spending far too long thinking of reasons why I couldn’t possibly be.

Some of that is, of course, that while you’re drinking, the addict voice is actively lying to you, and it’s easy to deny and minimise and obfuscate.  Giving up drinking is a very good way to see if you need to give up drinking, because you can’t see your life clearly through a liquid veil.

But quite apart from that, I no longer think that most of the reluctance to so label oneself is about stigma, really.  It’s about finality.  Because we all know that if you’re a proper alcoholic, you have to give up drinking alcohol completely and forever.  Whereas if you just have, you know, a bit of a problem, then you can probably just give up for a bit, see how you feel, and the future is a convenient series of ellipses.

When I was drinking, I was horrified at the possibility that I might be an alcoholic.  Because that admission represented a line in the sand.

Now I’m not drinking, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m an alcoholic.  And that’s fine, actually.  I’m also an expat, a writer, a mother and a pretty decent cook.  They’re just things that I am, and one of them means that I don’t ever pick up a glass of wine again.  Could be worse.

Imagine that this post is backed by the Jaws soundtrack

My mother-in-law is coming to stay for a few days in order to admire the new house.  She’s a regular, although not particularly heavy drinker.  Exactly like LH, in fact; he can stop at one, but not at none, so for both of them the 5 pm G&T and/or the glass of wine with dinner is a social necessity.  Wine decorates every social occasion despite her late husband having, to my eyes, quite an obvious drinking problem.  There is no fucking way that my abstention will fly under the radar.  

That’s fine.  What is not fine is that she’s the sort of woman who, under the guise of kindly concern, attempts to ferret out every single possible thing that might be wrong with one’s life, or highlight any downside to a triumph.  It’s hard to even describe how this manifests, but for example;  you’ll announce that you have bought a new, bigger house!  Hurrah!  Oh, that’s lovely, she says. Are you not concerned about the cost of heating?  I suppose you’ll have to postpone that planned overseas holiday for a few more years now.  When her son announced that he’d been awarded his PhD last year, she said Oh, well done for finally finishing, especially since it took so long with the children and everything.   An acquaintance hasn’t just had her first baby, she’s had an IVF baby, who will be referred to that way for years to come.  Conversations devolve very, very quickly into us defending ourselves against imaginary problems, or explaining why a good thing is a good thing.  Unconditional approval is not a thing that happens in LH’s family.

And she is obsessed with weight and diet, although she will claim not to be.  She doesn’t diet herself, having maintained her weight throughout her life through a combination of genetic luck, a job that requires physical movement, and just having some self-discipline, really.  So weight loss or gain is noticed, diets are noticed.  Less than 24 hours after I’d given birth to my second daughter, who weighed in at almost 10 pounds, she commented on the fact that I still had a bit of a tum. 

All of this means that she will almost certainly have issues with me not drinking, and any explanation I give will be an excuse for a barb.  My usual ‘thought I’d stop drinking and see if I could lose some of this fat’ line will be a weapon in her hands.

It doesn’t matter, of course.  I realise it doesn’t matter what I say or what she thinks of me.  And to be very honest, it’s a lot easier now that her husband is not around, because he was the obnoxious alcoholic type; drank, got loud, went into long monologues, often got insulting, spent the next day being defensive and cranky.  Mostly I used to cope with that by drinking, because alcohol is very useful in creating a bubble of numbness around one.  His whole family reacted by just tuning him out most of the time, and it was so horribly, awfully uncomfortable.  But nobody ever talked about it.  Ever.

So compared to that, being ‘the sober one’ looks pretty good.  But there’s still that thing.  She’ll go back home and tell everyone that poor AA must have had more of a problem than we realised… or, I guess, poor AA’s weight is so out of control now that

Oh, and we’re throwing a house-warming this weekend.  No problem at all being sober and hosting a party, and I think it’ll be a lot easier to go unnoticed in that context anyway.  

I’ll report back.