“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

The ugliest infant you ever did see

The first three months of a newborn baby’s life are known as the ‘fourth trimester’.  The idea is that the baby is not yet really ready to be born; he or she is delivered early because of the disproportionate size of the human head, which would mean that delivery was impossible if the baby stayed in for any longer.

The practical result of this is that newborn babies are incredibly needy.  Their vision is myopic, their limbs are weak and shaky, and they require intensive, round the clock care.

It is completely overwhelming, as a parent.  You think you’re prepared for the work involved, but you never are, because it’s so much more work than it seems like it conceivably could be.  Newborn babies don’t have a bedtime; you spend all evening in the same grind as the day.  They don’t have a sense of self; if you leave them alone for a moment, they cry.

And something happens to you, mired in the mud of hormones and fatigue; you lose your perspective.  It seems like it is going to go on forever.  You know, logically, that you won’t spend the rest of your life burping and cleaning and feeding and wiping and rocking, but it seems like it.    And you start to think that maybe you should be doing something else with your days, because surely this can’t be it, and should you be achieving more?  It’s only afterwards that you realise that you were doing just what you needed to: surrendering yourself to this tiny baby and its incessant need.  It wasn’t for long, in retrospect.

Of course, this is a metaphor for sobriety, that ugly, squawking, greedy infant.  In those early weeks, it swallows up your life, and you have to find a new way to do everything.  Your social life is abruptly curtailed, because it was based around alcohol and evenings out.  Your relationships are strained.  You are so, so tired.  The fatigue weights you down and no matter how much sleep you get – in the first days you get very little, as your body adjusts to falling asleep without your soporific of choice – you wake up exhausted.  And you protest against it, because if this is your new life, you want the old one back, and quickly.


But it’s not.  It’s just a transition period.  Give in to it.  Yield.  It will pass.

Why was I thinking about this now?  Because I was lying in bed the other day, having trouble getting to sleep, and feeling all sorts of cross about the fact that I can’t drink.  I thought this bit had passed, I grumbled to myself.  I have done the hard bit, and here at nine months things should be easier.  Damn it all, it isn’t fair, I thought to myself.

And then I remembered that I have felt like this before.  With my babies.  Other mothers reading will recognise this: the dreaded nine month sleep regression.

For the uninitiated, the nine month sleep regression – which occurs anywhere between 8 and 11 months old, broadly speaking – is what happens when your darling infant decides that she is going to learn to crawl, attempt to stand up, and usually sprout a few teeth into the bargain.   Quite understandably, these enterprises take a lot of energy (a lot of babies lose weight at this age) and also require a lot of practice.  Which means that sleeping goes out of the window, and any incremental gains you have made towards becoming a semi-functional human being once more are comprehensively lost.


It’s not as bad as the infant phase, in a lot of ways.  But it feels worse, because it feels like you’re right back where you started, and you just can’t go through that again, not yet.

My sobriety is nine months old.  It is learning to crawl.  It is pulling up on objects.  It is starting to want things beyond its grasp, things that aren’t as simple as its mere continued existence.  It is ambitious, and determined.

Both of my children were awful sleepers in that first year.  And both of them are growing up to be incredible people.  When I complained about the colic and the sleeplessness, the strong wills and stubbornness, people said ‘just you wait.  Those characteristics are going to make for great, strong young women one day’.  When I was walking the corridors at night holding a wailing, furious baby, that seemed like scant consolation.

My youngest daughter is about to turn three.  She speaks in full, complex, clear sentences, and interacts with her peers, and has ambitions and dreams about what she wants to be when she grows up.  She picks out her own clothes in the morning and pours her own breakfast at the table.  She is kind and loving, even as she fiercely guards her independence and possessions from well-meaning intervention.  My eldest breaks my heart with her beauty and grace, and her teachers stop me in the corridors to tell me what a pleasure she is to teach.

Some days, the best parent is the one who gets out of the way, stops trying to control things, and has faith that their children will grow and thrive under the sunshine of loving kindness.  Sometimes, the best thing to do is to surrender to the hard bits and have faith that they will pass.

running happy

I got my sobriety through its newborn phase, and now I have to live through a regression, and as long as I don’t get in its way, it will grow and thrive just like my daughters.  Even if it does throw the odd toddler tantrum along the way.