sober in a season of swilling

by rebecca on December 31, 2012

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I didn’t host any parties this year. I didn’t serve my husband’s fabulous eggnog. I didn’t host a dinner after we lit the lights.

This has been a tough Holiday Season for me. I’m missing people who should still be here to lift a glass and tell me what the New Year might bring. Usually I can find some hope in the punch bowl; this year I am struggling. So I asked for help.

As my guest today, Heather King knows, alcoholism doesn’t discriminate. It reaches from the homeless shelter right on up the corporate ladder into presidents’ offices. I’ve known, loved and watched people die in both places and this year I can’t seem to make peace with my ghosts.

Heather’s words comfort me, just as her invitations each Tuesday have been helping me all year to quietly, often privately, invite my ghosts to the surface to whisper in my ear. Enjoy Heather’s perspective on parties and drinking sober:


Invite me anyway. My problem is not your problem. Let me decide if I can handle standing with all the other party-goers, their glasses of wine or their eggnog or their gin and tonic in hand. My problem is not their problem. I can be offered a cider or even a water and it will fit in my hand and keep it busy.  Please don’t assume I wouldn’t want to come, or that I cannot handle showing up.

While I’m there, I always notice who does and who doesn’t drink but that’s not about those people, that’s about my brain’s focus on my drug of choice. I see how much there is in a glass, what gets left behind, I mostly notice that. I’ve never known how to not finish a glass and I would even have finished yours if you did not. How do you just leave it? I don’t get it.

There isn’t much about going to parties, for celebration, for grown up socializing, that’s easy for me. I used to buffer my propensity to get overstimulated with wine. I used to calm my nerves with whatever the host was pouring. I used to get ready, applying makeup while sipping, ready.

I feel bare now, sometimes, when I show up. I’m empty-handed and trying hard to stay in the moment. I’m working at engaging with people in a more meaningful way, not focused on keeping my buzz, but on the stories of the people who are just as socially uncomfortable as I am, at first. I work at bringing them comfort, and this occupies me. When people ask if they can grab me a drink when they go back for more, that’s okay. Most people don’t know. I just say no thank you. When pushed – No, really… I can grab you something! A glass of wine? – I say that I can’t. This is when I wish to shrink away sometimes, but I’m not ashamed. I just don’t want to make the other person uncomfortable. The stigma sometimes stings and hovers over me, right before I feel the need to explain further. I can’t. I’m in recovery, but thank you.

Apologies are next and I shake my head and wave my hand and make a bad joke.

I want people to smile and move on, but it’s hard for them to do that because so many times I’ve brought up something like fear or shame in them, accidentally. I don’t fully understand it, but that’s what vulnerable moments do, I suppose. A lot of people drink too much and they think I see right through them because most of the time I do. But I’m not judging them or questioning them. I’m just there.

I don’t want praise and I certainly don’t want the look of confusion I sometimes get. You? Really? No…

as if this disease has limitations.

Many of my friends and family know, of course. Some of them know me well enough to offer me help, knowing it can’t be entirely comfortable to be in a bar or a restaurant or house party in the season of swilling. They go out of their way to get me something free of alcohol to occupy my hands. There’s something so comforting about at least one busy hand. And some of them know to grab my arm and look me in the eye, to say “are you okay or should we get out of here?” They know that doesn’t mean I’m about to explode or that I’m about to sneak off to the bathroom with a bottle of wine under my shirt. They know I’m simply anxious in the face of so much imbibing, how it makes my insides hurt because I can’t drink normally and because I see it working its powerful way into conversations and relationships, making drama appear where it wouldn’t have and sparking too many bad jokes and forced laughs.

Drinking isn’t bad, until it is.

I can do this. I can show up. I can decide if I’m strong enough that day. And then I can leave when I know I’ve had enough of not drinking and enough of watching people not know when they’ve had enough. I can walk away and I can get in my car without any fear at all and I can drive home sober and have some tea and read. I can get up the next day with clear eyes and no headache. I can be free and I can think back on the night and the gifts it held because I was sober enough to see them. I can smile to myself because I made it, again. Another 24 hours free of intoxication, of lubricated emotions, of intensified frustrations and heartaches, of drink-induced silliness I wouldn’t even remember very well at all. I’m uncomfortable in the midst of all of that, but it’s my choice to be there. Sometimes, I want to be there, and sometimes I just don’t.

What hurts most is not being invited at all.


What parties have you failed to host because you were anxious about the internal dialogue you’d kick off? Have you canceled events in order to keep peace? Who have you failed to invite because you worried they wouldn’t be able to handle it?

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather December 31, 2012 at 2:51 pm

thank you so much for having me. Your space is a humbling and honorable place. Thank you.



rebecca December 31, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Heather, you will never know how much it means to me to have your support these last months, and especially, through this Holiday Season. Thank you!


Yvette Francino December 31, 2012 at 3:56 pm

You host a beautiful “virtual” party with every posting and invite the world. The warmth that you bring to our hearts is much more real and lasting than any temporary buzz that alcohol may bring and never ends in heartbreak or regrets. Thank you for sharing this personal vulnerability. We all have them and sharing our struggles with others helps us all realize that we aren’t alone. Happy New Year, my friend. May 2013 be filled with peace and happiness.


rebecca January 1, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Thank you, Yvette, for framing it that way. I never even thought of it that way. And now I can know I did indeed bring a party to the season.


Lady Jennie December 31, 2012 at 4:27 pm

I loved reading this. I’m mostly at peace being in recovery. I can be elsewhere at parties with alcohol around, I just don’t allow it in my home.

This is very awkward because in France the standard thing to bring is a bottle of wine when you go to someone’s house. It’s humiliating to have to turn it away and say that we don’t allow it in our house.

I also had a gulping-sobs-snot-sniveling session in front of my church here in Paris (with my husband standing firmly behind me) where I asked them to not use wine for the communion to the murmurs of “Are you really that weak?” (All that got sorted out, by the way).

So – more humiliation for me. But then, that’s really nothing new. 😉


rebecca January 1, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I can feel the multitude of layers to this story. I know in my own life it has taken my greatest courage to stand up for what I believe in church. I’m so grateful you had the support of your husband, Jennie, and that you held firm. God would never see you asking for what you need as weakness, but rather as strength.


Megan Everett December 31, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Very powerfully written, Rebecca. Your words will probably help more people than you can imagine.

I love the message of clearing away what no longer serves and welcoming peace and serenity that you’ve been sharing with us all this past year.

Have a very happy New Year’s Eve and a prosperous New Year, full of laughter, love, and dreams come true!


rebecca January 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Thank you, Megan, for all the help you’ve offered me.


Barbara Banfield January 1, 2013 at 3:04 am

Thank you Heather and Rebecca. Your post came across my facebook page and it’s so nice to hear other women’s perspectives. I love hearing from other’s who choose sobriety. We live in such an alcohol dependent society so I enjoy hearing sober voices…

I am going on 25 years of sober living and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. In my early 20’s I worked for one of the largest ad agencies in the world – alcohol and drugs flowed freely – it was part of the culture. I remember going to a party one time where I didn’t drink because I was taking an antibiotic. I can still remember the outfit I was wearing that night. I loved that I was sober. I was awkward and self-conscious but I felt so good that I danced sober. I didn’t listen to my desire to move past my shame and social awkwardness sober back then. I waited til I was 30. I’ve hung-out with sober people, I’ve hung-out with people who drink. It’s freeing to know I can choose who I want to spend time with. The people I resonate with most are those who are like-minded. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are in recovery however, I’m not drawn to people who want alcohol at all their get-togethers, honestly, I find them boring.

I was sober 7 years when I got married. My now ex and I decided we wanted an alcohol-free wedding. My cousins laughed about it and I just stepped back and let them be. They brought their own alcohol and were drinking out in the parking lot. For me, it felt really good to do what I wanted and not worry about how my guests would be with my decision. My cousins don’t get me and my choices but that’s ok I still love them and I think they love me. At the beginning of recovery I wanted the approval and admiration of others. I don’t need that anymore. I never tell anyone I “can’t” drink. I say I don’t want to drink. It’s always my choice. Knowing I make that choice is very empowering to me.

The most challenging thing about being sober is dating. Yup, sad but true. A big part of me choosing to get sober was that I never wanted to sleep with another drunk man. So, I am not interested in men who are socially dependent on alcohol. I’m fine with being with a man who drinks “occasionally or rarely” (as described in their profile). I sometimes find that men are uncomfortable with me because their issues get triggered just being with me. There was one guy I got involved with who liked that I didn’t drink but the novelty wore off and he missed those “romantic” dinners with wine. I thought about drinking again (that was 10 years ago) but didn’t because that’s not what I wanted, it was what he wanted and I couldn’t betray myself for a relationship that wasn’t in my best interest.

Sobriety takes courage and strength but mostly SELF-LOVE! Alcohol is a flammable liquid. I can’t possibly put something so toxic in my body when I truly love and respect it. Because of that, I can trust myself in any situation. For me, the journey has been about moving from self-hatred to self-love. It has not always been easy, life has often felt like a living hell, but being able to experience pure joy in every cell of my being as it pulses through my veins is a gift of sobriety and personal and spiritual growth.

Best to you all. Here’s to a Happy New Year filled with lots of love, peace, & joy…
😉 Barbara

p.s. I look forward to hearing more from you ladies.


rebecca January 1, 2013 at 3:51 pm

” I never tell anyone I “can’t” drink. I say I don’t want to drink.” Barbara, this is such a powerful distinction. It speaks to the self-love to which you refer. I’m so glad you came to tell your story.


Pamela January 1, 2013 at 3:32 pm

This is great! I am going to stop drinking for a while – before a small problem becomes a big one. Thank you for courage for the journey.


rebecca January 1, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Pamela, I whole-heartedly support your rest from alcohol. We do this in our home. Because there are alcohol problems in the family we simply take breaks from time to time just to remind ourselves what rhythms might change, how a mood might be dealt with differently if the option to reach for a drink is “off the table.”

The reason I like these little breaks is that it helps me to notice my own life, like an observer. “Oh, that’s an interesting reason I want a drink.” And it helps me to see that I can go to parties and be with friends and not drink. I’m a BOTH girl and I want to remain with my options open.

Please let me know how I can support you as you take a break.


Susan Foster January 1, 2013 at 8:05 pm

A beautiful, moving post. Thank you for making me more aware during this holiday season.


rebecca January 3, 2013 at 11:49 pm

So glad to have you here, Susan.


Becky January 6, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Well said.
My former step father is an alcoholic who insisted that no one around him imbibe. He would insist there be no alcohol served anywhere he was – whether it was his home or not. He tried very hard to make my wedding reception a dry affair, going behind our back to cancel the bar order we had placed with the caterer because, as he said, he didn’t want to be around anyone drinking.

I have since learned that not every alcoholic expects everyone around them to cater to them in that way. I have more than a few friends who don’t imbibe and I’m always happy to join them in a cup of coffee or tea. And when we have parties, I never hesitate to not invite someone because there will be drinking. I always have a number of non-alcoholic drink choices on hand, not just for them, but because we make all our parties family friendly.


denise January 7, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I always love coming here to read, always walking away with a nice sliver of peace for the rest of my day. How wonderful to find Heather’s words here–another of my favorites. Happy New Year to you both! xo


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