The requisite Christmas post

It’s funny, I keep seeing posts around here, and in the mainstream media, with the same theme; Christmas is hard to cope with if you’re sober, here are some coping strategies, and remember it’s for your health!

Christmas sober, my friends, is really fucking awesome.

Christmas evening, my husband said to me ‘Gosh, I’m tired. It’s the big lunch and drinking during the day, I guess’. I just looked at him, smugly, because I’m obnoxious like that.

But honestly. Who the hell decided that drinking at Christmas was even a good idea? You have to wrap presents, with little fiddly bits of sticky tape and ribbon! You have to assemble bicycles using arcane instructions badly translated from the Chinese! You have to remember to sneak into a small child’s bedroom at midnight and put presents in stockings in complete silence, and also to artfully scatter mince pie crumbs on your floor, and THEN you have to get up at, like, dawn, and usually your alarm clock takes the form of a small child jumping on your stomach! Why would anyone think that being drunk and then hungover was a good idea?

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There is so much work to do at Christmas, you guys. We just had a quiet one, with my Mum and my little family of four, and even then LH and I spent hours tag teaming in the kitchen. There was wrapping paper everywhere and small overexcited children to placate and dishes to time precisely with one another, and how would I have dealt with any of that drunk?

Oh, God, and not to mention the queues at the liquor stores and worrying about whether to buy enough to get through the holiday shutdown period. Remember those queues and that worry?

There were Skype calls with various relatives, most of which required high level diplomatic skills (“Little Girl, tell Grandma how much you liked your presents from her!” “I DIDN’T LIKE ANYFINK!” “Ha ha ha! Kids, eh? She’s afraid that someone will take things away if she admits loving them, which she does. Really!”) and gratitude to be demonstrated for well meaning gifts of my own. There was any number of minor emergencies..

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In the evening, there was leftover Christmas pudding ice cream (soak dried fruit and peel in orange juice, mix into softened vanilla ice cream, pour marinated cherries over the top and sprinkle some chocolate shavings over the lot) and gossipy debriefing and cuddling on the couch and there is no liquid in the world that would have made that better.

There was, basically, your average Christmas. Which is work, and care, and details, and family, and love.

Even LH, who drinks quite happily and without any guilt, agreed that he’d have had a better time sober.

Put aside the serious worries about relapse and impropriety and well-I’m-missing-out-but-it’s-better-in-the-long-run and look at it logically.

Christmas is better sober. Christmas is better by every measure, for everyone, sober

Merry Christmas, guys. Next year will be a good one.

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Slaying demons

I told my Mum I didn’t drink yesterday. There’ve been a number of times in the past that I could have told her, and bottled it. It’s hardest with the ones we love the most, I think, because what they might say has so much more impact on us. My Mum is lovely, and we get along very well, but a gentle criticism from her pains me far more than the foulest insult lobbed at me in the street ever would. As it happens, she rarely drinks and so there’s only been one occasion in the past ten months where I would have been drinking around her anyway, back in April.

In the end, it was fine. She mentioned bringing champagne to Christmas lunch, I told her that was a great idea because I don’t drink anymore and so LH has no opportunity to drink bubbly, which goes flat too quickly for a single person to drink.

(A pause here while we all agree that this observation belongs firmly to the normal drinker, because I don’t know about you but I have certainly opened, and finished, a bottle of champagne before it went flat before)

She asked why, I said because I was drinking too much, she said good for you. That was it. Done.

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I am also teaching myself to sew. You may go ahead and laugh at the idea of this being something to blog about, let alone something I can count as ‘slaying a demon’. Really? You are thinking. Sewing? What’s the big deal?

I don’t know. But I’ve had my machine for fourteen years and never once sewn something on it. My mother, an excellent seamstress, comes around and tries to teach me from time to time, but it never goes anywhere: the temptation to ask her to do ‘the hard bits’ is too tempting. Poor Big Girl has had unhemmed curtains hanging at her window for months now, and they’re only hanging at all because my Mum did the rest of it. It’s not disinterest: I have bought fabric, and patterns, and made plans and designs over and over again in that time. Crotchet leaves me cold, scrapbooking is stupefying, but sewing has always been something I’ve wanted to do. And yet I haven’t. It’s been too scary.

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So this time, I decided I was just going to do it, and see the whole process through, and not worry about the finished result ahead of time.

I took Little Girl to a shop and told her to choose fabric for a dress. I asked the lady at the counter to sell me an easy pattern and whatever else I needed. I explained that I knew nothing about sewing at all. “Oh!” she chirped, “it’s easy, just follow the instructions!”.

The thing about sewing instructions, though, is that they assume you already know some things about sewing. It’s rather like handing someone a recipe book and expecting dinner. It might only be a simple dinner you’re expecting, but if the would-be cook doesn’t know the word ‘saute’, or how to tell if water is boiling, or what a ‘slow oven’ is, then you’re destined for takeout food.

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So there I was, poring over some tissue paper and wondering what the hell ‘match notches’ meant, and do I fold the fabric before pinning the tissue, and why do they call it a selvedge? What’s wrong with the word ‘edge’? At one point my six year old wandered in and asked what I was doing.
“Well”, I started, “I’m cutting out strips of fabric to be shoulder straps. Here are two, and I’m going to pin this piece of paper to this fabric and make two more.”
She considered this.
“Why don’t you move the paper into this corner, and then you only have to cut two sides and not four?” she asked.
“…”
“Like this”
“…Yes. Yes that would work”

However humiliating it was, being schooled by a six year old wasn’t going to stop me, and I ploughed on. I ploughed on when I realised I didn’t have tailor’s chalk, or the right thread, or the faintest idea how to transfer markings anyway. I ploughed on although the description ‘with nap’ was starting to sound more attractive than ‘without nap’, I ploughed on despite having to stop and ask what a seam allowance was and how to find views.

It does sound trivial, but I have written before about my hatred of being mediocre at things – the curse of the prematurely gifted child – and my tendency to give up. It’s another unexpected thing that sobriety has given me: whether because my self esteem can now withstand the possibility of failure, or just because I’m less likely to pour myself a glass of something while I plan my next step and end up sozzled on the couch, I don’t know.

But it’s another thing that I have always wanted to do, and another thing which I suddenly see no reason not to do. I’m going to make this dress, I thought, and when I’ve made it, I’ll make another one, and that one will be better.

Here is where I would like to end with a photograph of the completed dress in all its glory. But it’s not finished, which I realise is narratively unsatisfying.

It will be, though. This is sober me, and sober me does things, and sees them through. It’s a wonderful cycle: self-confidence, achievement, pride, self-confidence. And it’s going to be a cute dress.

Excuse me sir, do you have a moment to discuss the Good News?

I feel like a frustrated missionary sometimes.

I look in the mirror, and I see clear skin and deep blue eyes and cheekbones, and I smile in pleasure. I may be the only woman in the Western world who takes unalloyed pleasure in her natural appearance, but it is true nonetheless.

I wake up in the morning happy, and I go to bed drowsy and content.

I forgive myself when I shout at my children, because I trust myself that I’m doing a decent job overall, and I give myself due praise when I do better. I love them with sweet fierceness, and I wallow in the pleasure of that.

Even when I feel angry, or stressed, or sad, there is a joy in the authenticity of the emotion, and in letting myself feel it.

Once, a long time ago, I knew a man who underwent a religious transformation. From a vaguely Christian Christmas-and-Easter background, he became an evangelist. I was then, as I am now, the most atheist of people, but I couldn’t help but be fascinated by his faith. It shone from him. It suffused everything he did. Watching him, I could understand how people become proselytisers; he truly believed that the deep joy and peace that he was experiencing could only come from a total surrender to his God, and that the rest of us were missing out on a miracle of happiness by not following his lead.

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I feel like that. I watch friends of mine struggle with sticking to their allotted alcohol-free days, and hating themselves when they fail. I wince when mothers of young children recommend a glass of wine to one another as a coping strategy, not because I think that they are problem drinkers, but because parenting is so much easier and so much more fun when you don’t think in terms of numbing-agent-as-reward, and I hate to think that perhaps some of them are missing out on the soaring pleasure of sober parenting.

And then there is the group of people who quite obviously do have a problem, and who betray it time and time again without realising that they do so.

It’s not that I think I could help them, per se. I’m just a woman who doesn’t drink. It’s that, no matter how many thousands of words I spill, I can’t do more than talk about how things are for me, and that doesn’t feel like enough. It’s worse than that, because the more I talk the more boring I get. Nobody wants to read post after post about how amazing life without alcohol can be, any more then they want to spend an hour on their doorstep listening to earnest young men spread their own personal gospel.

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I have become dull, and repetitive, and ineffectual, even as I feel more and more compelled to try and explain how much better life is, lived sober. I craft posts in my head over and over, trying to say the thing that will make people listen, and transform a life. It’s frustrating.

When I remember my old friend, I don’t remember anything he ever said being remotely likely to persuade me into religion. But I do, almost twenty years later, remember the light in his eyes, and the serenity in his movements.

Maybe I need to stop talking and just keep living. Or does one keep knocking at doors, hoping that someone will have a moment to discuss the good news?