Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Crossing Over

I was at a party with a bunch of other Moms the other night, and I ran into me.

The party wasn't in my home town, and I only knew one or two people.   I was introduced to an attractive woman, someone I had never met before, and we got to chatting.  It was early in the evening and guests were still arriving, cheeks flushed from the cold.   The line for alcohol was ten deep.   I was grateful for the distraction of meeting someone new; the first half an hour or so of a party is always the most difficult for me, drinking-wise.   

We compared notes in the usual way.   She was about six or seven years younger than me, and had a couple of preschool aged children.   We chatted about getting used to being home full time, both of us having quit high powered jobs when our first child was born.  

After ten minutes or so, she asked if she could get me something from the bar.  

"I'm all set," I said, holding up my club soda and cranberry.  "Thanks, though."

We parted ways, only to bump into each other again about an hour and a half later.   "Hey again," she said, and winked. 

I tried not to stare at the half-full glass of white wine in her hand.   The small talk was wearing on me, and I was thinking about going home to a cozy couch, a warm fire and a steaming cup of tea.

"Soooooooo," she drawled.  "Howzit going?" 

Ah.  I thought.  She's drunk.   All the power to her, but I'm ready to get outta here.

The room was hot and noisy, and we were pressed into a corner.   I was trapped.  

"Iss hard sometimes, you know?"  she said, out of the blue.

I nodded, but I had no idea what she was talking about.

"You seem like a really nice person," she slurred, and threw her arm around my shoulder.   "I feel like I can tell you anything."   Her eyes rolled up into her head, ever so slightly, when she blinked.

"Thanks," I smiled, unsure exactly how to respond.   I looked frantically around the room, hoping to lock eyes with my friend and use that as an excuse to move on.

"It's juss... juss so much WORK."   She sighed, and took a long sip of wine.  

"Ummm, what is so much work?"  I asked, awkwardly.

"Ohhhh... you know,"  she puffed out her cheeks and exhaled.   "Everything.   Kids." She swayed side to side, almost imperceptibly.

She has crossed over, I thought, into that place where drunk people grope for meaningful connection.   I don't know how to do this anymore

We stood together in silence for a moment or two, her arm still slung over my shoulder.

"Well," she said, and her wine sloshed around in her glass as she gestured to the room.   "Thass why we need to get out, right?"   She winked again.   "And thass what THIS is for!"   She held her glass up to me in a mock toast.

I smiled again, but remained silent.   She noticed my empty glass.   "OH!  You needa drink!"  

"No, I'm all set," I said.  "I'm getting ready to go."

"But you CAN'T go.  You juss GOT here!"   She grabbed my hand, and started pulling me towards the bar.  

I let her lead me to the bar - I had no choice - and when we got there I said, "Really - I'm all set.  I've got to go."

"Oh, not yet," she said, refilling her still half-full glass.  "Whaddya having?"

This doesn't happen very often to me anymore.   I'm open about my recovery, and usually hang out with recovery people or friends who know I don't drink.    I wasn't sure what to say, so I just told the truth.

"I don't drink," I said.   "But thanks anyway."

She blinked once, twice.  Then she said, quietly, "Oh," and looked into her wineglass, as if the answers to the Universe were held in its depths.  "Sorry."

"Don't be sorry,"  I said.  "It's all good.  I'm just tired and ready to go home."

She just kept staring into her wineglass, so I quietly moved away, found my friend, and made my exit.

I went home and curled up on my couch with a book, but I couldn't concentrate.   I kept thinking about her, that woman, because I knew her.   For so many years, that was me.

I never used to be the drunkest person in the room.   I was careful when I was socializing; I tried hard to control it in front of other people.   I don't recall any overtly embarrassing moments; I didn't create a scene, fall down, or humiliate myself.

What was so familiar to me was that quiet desperation behind her eyes, that ache for a connection with someone - anyone.    Conversations fueled by alcohol felt so deep, so meaningful.   I know I must have crossed lines, over-shared, or made less drunk people feel awkward with my forwardness. 

When I was drinking I felt such a sense of belonging.   Until the next morning, when I would wake up with a slow thump behind my eyelids and missing pieces of the evening before.

I don't know if she has a drinking problem or not.  It doesn't matter, really.   When you're sober and you go to a party with lots of drinking, you can't help but observe how the atmosphere of a room changes as people get more drunk.   Cheeks flush, laughter gets raucous, inappropriate comments or gestures are made and nobody seem to notice.

It seems odd to me that I used to want so desperately to be in the middle of all that.   From my vantage point, now, it all seems so, well, flimsy

When I first got sober, I thought I was saying goodbye to fun forever.   I never thought the day would come where I would be at a party full of people who were drinking and instead of wanting to be whooping it up that I would want more than anything to be home reading a book, talking to a good friend, or cuddling with my kids.

The irony?  The irony is that I laugh more now - visceral, gut-clenching laughter - than I ever have in my life.   I no longer need to be clutching a wineglass to cross over into that place of feeling connected with other people. 

I can get there all on my own.


  1. What a gift to be so firmly planted on the other side. You've worked so hard to get there and I love your sensitivity toward your old self, but your acknowledgment of what you've achieved.

  2. Oh, this hits so close to home. I was so that girl too.

  3. Thank you for sharing this experience!

  4. I totally understand and am right there with you!

  5. I wonder if her quiet "Oh" was perhaps a realisation that you have something she doesn't. And maybe just by being there, and letting her know you don't drink is enough to show her that there is an alternative way of being.

    As you said, not saying she's got an *alcohol* problem, but that ache for connection shows she is finding things hard - and you've demonstrated to her a different route of working with it. You never know what larger ripples may be set in motion by your honesty.

  6. "That girl" Yes, I see me in so many of my old drinking friends. But I think "she" is icky. And like you, would rather be home, with a good book, than in the awkardness of a party where most people are out of hand. Thanks for this great post!

  7. I'm coming up to my first Christmas of sobriety. I too was that girl. But the girl I am now is sooooo much happier. Everything looks better, everything tastes better, so many great things to look forward to and this is coming from a girl who thought that there would be no fun without drinking. I too laugh much more now than I ever did drinking. I have been to a number of events and I agree that the "drink order time" is the one hump. After that it is smooth sailing. I have my husbands company party coming up and am looking forward to an evening out and dancing with my husband and then going home feeling fine and not worrying about getting up with the kids because I won't feel horrible.
    That was a great post Ellie.

  8. I love this post, especially that last one--the real sorrow of addiction is thinking that you need it, that you aren't enough on your own.

  9. I hate that feeling... when drunks hang out with you and you get that itchy feeling in your chest. Almost like you can CATCH alcoholism (when of course you already have it).

    It's happened to me too many times to count.

    I'm sorry. I've learned in my (nearly!) 15 years of sobriety how to pull myself away. It's tough. Sorry it made you squirm.

  10. I am going on 14 months of sobriety, and I too see me everywhere. I don't share that fact with too many people, so many think I am drinking right along with them. I go so far as to turn on my bright and perky side so I don't stand out in a crowd of drinking people.

    It is great to be sober, but I do occasionally have pangs of loss for that feeling of loosening after the first glass of wine when I feel ready to share and bond with other women. Problem is, that first glass was always the first of many.

    Thanks for posting this, it is good reinforcement in this month of way too many social gatherings!!

  11. Ouchie. Right in the solar plexus with this one, El!

  12. What do you do if your husband still drinks outside the home?