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?