“I’m ruining your birthday and I can’t have a drink to fix it”

So, my weekend.  First of all, my in-laws were all very reasonable about the teetotal thing; my mother-in-law even asked LH what I did drink and brought along a bottle of soft drink especially for me.  No complaints there.

And yet, on Saturday night, while my mother-in-law exhorted everyone to get up and dance, I was sobbing in the corridor because I couldn’t have a drink.

The problem was over-commitment.  On Friday, I was a bridesmaid in the wedding of two very dear friends.  The ceremony was beautiful, the bride radiant and the groom suitably ecstatic at his luck.  But weddings are tiring at the best of times if you’re in the bridal party.  There are last-minutes dashes to replace lost flower girl shoes, late nights in honour of the bride and the inevitable standing in heels for hours on end. 


In this case, matters were made worse by the fact that I had both my young children at the wedding, and was partially in charge of ensuring that the groom’s three children from a previous relationship didn’t ruin the festivities.  What that meant was that I was on high alert from the beginning, carefully managing other people’s behaviour so as not to ruin the special day for the newlyweds. 

And then the weekend with the in-laws meant further managing of my children’s behaviour.  My kids are good kids.  They’re excellently behaved and well mannered.  But it was a five hour drive, and then there was an adult party in a rented house with no toys, they were tired from the night before, the cake was left till well past their usual bedtime, and although there were presents for them there (as we hadn’t seen these relatives at Christmas), it was decided to postpone the unwrapping until the following day.  My kids are three and six years old.

Also, they were sharing a bedroom for the first time.

So the party progressed, and I was spending a lot of energy ensuring that my children didn’t melt down, and finally the cake came out and I could put them to bed, but bed was exciting and they popped up like little jacks-in-a-box as fast as I put them down, and I hadn’t eaten anything, and by the time I finally rejoined the party it was past ten pm.


As soon as I walked into the party room, my mother-in-law called for me to dance.  My husband, glowing with a couple of red wines inside him, asked with a smile what music I’d like.  Someone else made a joke about are those children in bed finally.

To my horror, my lip started to wobble and I turned nd fled.  LH followed me into the corridor, all concern.  What’s wrong?, he asked. 

‘I’m ruining your party because you want me to dance and be happy and I’m tired and I can’t have a drink to fix it’, I blurted.  He looked at me in silence, because that is the first time I have come close to saying I wished I could drink but felt I couldn’t.

But the thing is, I didn’t want to drink.  What I wanted was some space.  What I wanted was to be left alone for a moment, to relax, to have a moment where I wasn’t feeling as if someone else’s enjoyment and happiness was on me to provide.

That, though, felt impossible to achieve.  It’s all very well to say, take care of your own needs first, and practice self-care, and put on your own oxygen mask.  But this was a milestone birthday, to which people had travelled for hours.  And the previous day was a wedding.  Two people in love who deserved a special day, and who needed the reassurance that their bridal party would run interference for them.

One of the (many!) things I love about sobriety is that it forces me to evaluate my own needs for self-care.  For space, and solitude, and peace.    The narrative of recovery affirms that it is okay for me to look after me. 

More and more, it seems to me that alcohol facilitates an overlooking of our own needs that goes past the simple fact that it’s bad for you.  It masks the true needs that we have underneath.  It makes us happy and euphoric when we would be better off honouring sad feelings.  It makes us want sex with people we otherwise would refuse – or with loved ones at times we would ordinarily say no – and sometimes I think we use it deliberately to make that decision because we feel that we should say yes. 


“Got energy back using Chardonnay” says Bridget Jones in her Diary, preparing for a dinner party she doesn’t want to host at the end of a long working day.  We do these things because we don’t feel like we can just say no.

And of course, alcohol makes us feel worse about ourselves.  So we think of ourselves as lazy or shallow or unmotivated or boring or stupid.  So we drink to mask those things, and we drink rather than examining them.  The more we hate ourselve, the more we feel that we can’t put ourselves first.  We’re too crap for that; why should we, lazy boring we, be able to turn down a party invitation or pass up a date with a stranger?  So we keep saying yes when we need to say no, and we drink to ease the conflict between that yes and that no.

I told LH that I was going to hide in the bedroom for ten minutes and read, and then I was going to come out, and I might dance but I might not, and that I loved him just as much either way.  And it was okay, in the end.  Not great, but okay.

And I didn’t have a drink to fix it.


18 thoughts on ““I’m ruining your birthday and I can’t have a drink to fix it”

  1. Hey, Allie. I so recognise that feeling that alcohol became the accelerator pedal we jammed down on our own lives, over-riding all possible road conditions and hazards. driving our lives according to the road conditions, rather than despite them, takes skill and judgement that takes time and effort to develop – plus a willingness to pull into the side of the road for a life-saving ten minute break from the journey when required….

    glad to hear you made it through, and that you voiced what you were feeling to LH. this way is a lot better on your car, in the long run! hope you have smothered yourself in post-party-apocalypse self-care? because I concur, sometimes it’s just not possible in the moment. but it is always, always possible afterwards. and sometimes for me knowing I have a treat planned for after, brings the benefit of that treat forward into the tricky moment itself. you’re going great guns, gal! xx

  2. Agreed Allie and those of us who are recovering co-dependents find the saying no and resultant feelings of guilt/shame compound the emotional distress. You did great and I agree with Prim I have a self-care treat lined up before the event starts so that I can be mindful of it when the going gets really tough and pounce on it the minute I am able too!! 😉

  3. I love how you know some of the answers here – “Self-care”…
    And you did make it through – and a drink would have been the worse thing to do.
    My niece kindly got married a few weeks after I came out of rehab. I was pointed out to the waitress by my sister I think – and as toasts were prepared she appeared over my shoulder with lemonade not champagne. However I was hyper-hyper-sensitive.
    Luckily again my sister and wife asked me to ferry people about as a lot were needing transport back to hotels to change or call it a night for older relatives. Being the limo service gave me a reason not to drink for others and meant I kept popping out for a moments rest from it all. Luckily for me others thought of me that day, left to my own devices I’d have gone into meltdown.
    But I’ve learnt – always have a route out no matter what. Remember HALT – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired – any of those is dangerous, in combination potentially deadly.
    Your time out fix was a great idea. BTW – you can dance sober – I’m just as bad as when I’m drunk as I’m a rubbish dancer but at least now I don’t get drunk and strut about like Mick Jagger thinking I look cool when I actually look a total twit!

  4. Allie, what a beautiful thing you did for your friends and family this weekend. I thought of you a few times over the weekend and wondered how it was going. Wedding?? I didn’t know there was a wedding AND a family birthday in a rented house. Reading your post made me think about lots of things, but mainly that I would have drunk wine solidly from the start to end of the weekend you just had – no doubt about it. My drinking is definitely a way to cope with extended social situations (i.e. ones that go for more than a few hours, or having house guests overnight, or having to stay at my in-laws’ small house for a weekend). The thing is, I know and have known for years that I’m an introvert and need to retreat often as much as I need air and water, but as you say, it’s just not possible to get out of everything without hurting people you love. I’ve tried to tell my husband that staying at his parents house for more than 24 hours is really really hard for me, not because they are horrible (they are lovely for the most part), but just because there’s nowhere to go to be alone, but he feels hurt by that. So I continue to go there and come home with a hangover (well not anymore – 2015 will be different). Anyway, well done again for being so insightful and strong in your decision to be AF.

  5. That was a classic textbook scenario for “a reason to get smashed” if ever there was one. Whew! And…you didn’t. Have you any idea how profoundly wonderful that is? (Of course you do). Yes, a major, honkin’ treat is what you deserve.

    Allie, after dipping lurkily into many, many sober blogs (easily a hundred), with the idea that I’d choose only ONE to follow (apart from Belle’s), I have chosen yours. Some turned me off because of too many grammar or spelling errors (sorry, I AM a snob about that stuff)…some were written by people who are too young or too old (for me to identify with, anyway) or too angry, too left-wing-wanky, or just…male, through no fault of their own:):). I really needed to find a female blogger whose voice resonated with me, vis-a-vis alcohol, family, sobriety.

    I am one month sober tomorrow, and this post is one that I will read over and over, as challenges are thrown at me. “If she can be a major player in a wedding involving little kids, AND spend a weekend imprisoned with drunk in-laws, then surely I can survive [insert huge temptation occasion here] without a bottle of wine!”

    To paraphrase a fictional fellow Southern gal, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be BLOTTO again!” Thanks, Allie, and huge, huge congratulations.

  6. Holy shit! What a whirlwind of activity and with 2 small kids. A nightmare!

    A great call on your part to step out for ten minutes (I may have chosen longer) to gather thoughts, emotions, and self.

    I hope you got some kind of break the next day from people and activity. You sure deserve it!
    And what a relief to have something like that over (and much better to be over it sober than hungover!)

  7. Wow. That was overwhelming just to read. I feel for you and great job dealing eith it all so gracefully. Obviously wine eoukd not have helped and it would have been a selfish choice rather than self care.

    Small children require a huge smount of time and energy. Perhaps next time a hired sitter would be worth her weight in gold.

    I can think of many times i was pulled in all those directions and fell apart. Being sober lets you handle things as best we can.

    You deserve a huge hug from your husband and a good sleep!


  8. Holy Festivities, Batman! That was quite the weekend! And you did it!! That’s the most incredible awesome wonderful thing. Kudos to you! Now some serious “me” time is definitely in order. Wishing you peaceful days of bubble baths, foot massages, and long hugs …

  9. I was wondering how this event went. So glad you made it through, and I personally appreciated your musing on alcohol being used to cover up the need to take care of one’s self, and ultimately creating a vicious cycle. An excellent line of reasoning to reflect on as we embrace the alcohol free journey.

    Take care and thank you!

  10. Thank you Allie, I gave up drinking for very different reasons 15 years ago and I can absolutely relate to your post. Standing back to rest and reflect are absolutely essential for the sober who can’t use alcohol as a pick me up or a pain killer…we FEEL more. Sadly, sobriety doesn’t lend itself to most adult social situations so you adopt coping strategies to feel less of an outsider and gradually learn that laughing, dancing and singing isn’t about the drink, it’s about the company. You’re doing great xx

  11. I googled “i’m sober how to fix things with kids” because I am not feeling patient and up popped this post. This week I have 5 family birthdays, valentine’s day (required kid festivities) my husband out of town and my own job. I was nearly losing it! Your post reflects exactly how I feel and the way you ended up taking care of yourself was beautiful. And I just breathed a huge sigh of relief. A weight has lifted. Thank you!

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