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.