It is 2016. I am on a sober experiment, maybe 14 days in and it is the 4th of July. We are out of town spontaneously visiting friends. One of them works in hospitality and got us a beautiful hotel room in a nearly sold out city. When we check in there’s chilled champagne for us, a sweet note, and milk & cookies for the kids. It was such a sweet surprise! We felt VIPs. I have never had this kind of service upon arrival. I am really touched, but I don’t touch the champagne. I’m doing a sober experiment afterall.
We have lunch at a famous Wisconsin staple. I get the biggest, baddest, extra spicy, Virgin Bloody Mary with all the fixin’s on a skewer poking out. Celery, pickle, bacon, shrimp. I took a picture for Facebook. Sober. Easy peasy. I am not missing out on anything. I see everyone with their beers around me, but I am ok.
We have a few sets of friends that live in the same town and we want to introduce them to each other. We met at the perfect place, a walk up brewery with an outdoor playground. It's like a huge park with playground equipment and then you can walk around with a beer in a frosty mug. Sounds like heaven, but that’s Wisconsin for you. I just have water. I don’t mention anything about it as everyone else casually sips beer. Beer adds to the vibe. Our friends are sitting at the picnic tables in Patagonia t-shirts and birkenstocks. These outdoorsy Wisconsin folk and their craft IPAs’. I feel like a prude from Chicago with my flouncy blouse and high heel sandals, who can’t hang. How lame. I ruined my chances at casual afternoon drinking by having a problem with alcohol. The attempt at a solution is this sober experiment (again) to try to put myself back in check. I want to reset my system so I don’t have a problem with alcohol anymore.
*Spoiler alert, it doesn’t work but it does bring me closer to eventually quitting drinking. That won’t happen this weekend, but alas.
It is only in retrospect that I recognize that I have major nerves, introducing friends from different worlds to each other. I want them to like each other as much as I like them. I want their kids to get along. I want them to be best friends forever. I want them to see the best in each other. The minute I introduce them I see them all in a new light. I see how the others might see them. I wonder if this is a bad idea. We are in an ideal setting though. Everyone has these big frothy beers and I think it’s kinda cool that they serve them outside. The kids have a chance to run off and figure each other out for themselves. I stick with my plastic water bottle totally envious and wishing I could drink but holding strong.
Later that night we went to dinner with one couple. The kids are home with a babysitter. Everyone orders drinks. I have club soda with lime. It's a nice tapas place. The food is delicious. I am proud of myself for my club soda order. Everyone knows I am a big drinker and no one is saying a thing about my water orders. It is weird, but I am not going to be the one to bring it up. I wouldn’t even know what to say. It's foolish to think they don’t notice, but maybe they don’t care. Maybe alcohol isn’t as big of a deal for them as it is for me. I would interrogate anyone not drinking. I think everyone is a normal drinker and there's something wrong with me.
We met up later that night with some more friends. In the past, I have been absolutely wasted in front of them. I am proud that although most of the crew is buzzed up I am totally sober. One guy keeps looking at me, assuming I am drunk, per usual. I let him think whatever he wants. I feel proud inside knowing that I am not. It gives me a new kind of power. We call it a night and head back to the hotel. I go to bed proud of myself. The champagne is now swimming in a tub of water that used to be ice. It’s almost a symbol of my success. I smile as my head hits the pillow totally sober.
I wake up feeling like I’ve made it. The first night of a gathering is usually the big night where I would over do it. I survived Friday alcohol free and Saturday is family day. I am proud and it’s a beautiful sunny day. We get our 4th of July outfits on before heading to the local parade. I am ready for the festivities as a happy sober mom! We are spending time with just one group of friends so it feels like a relief to not be the mediator anymore or the glue for the pack of people. Less pressure on me. I have a sixth sense about emotions. Personal relationships matter so much to me. It’s a lot for my nervous system to take. The people pleaser in me was on high alert all day yesterday. I am ready to relax a bit. Today will be grand. I feel looser already.
I expect the parade to be a friendly hometown parade, which it is. I do not expect to be offered alcohol from a rolling cooler upon arrival. I do not expect to feel so much energy in the air around me, the minute I arrive. My highly sensitive nervous system is watching interactions and getting so many signals and feeling totally uncomfortable. I am taken by surprise. I am not prepared for this. I am seeing the contentious beginnings of our friends' marriage ending. I am offered a screwdriver. Vodka and orange juice. I can see this is one way to us all to cope with words left unspoken. My favorite way, to be completely honest and my love language too. Offering me a drink. My heart is hurting for this couple and I want to drink it away alongside them. I don’t know how to deal. This has taken me by surprise. I feel like I have to throw up. My stomach is a ball of nerves. I have so many questions but no way to get them answered.
My friend asks, Can I get you a screwdriver?
It feels rude to turn it down.
They went through all this trouble with the cups and the cooler.
What’s the other option, I ask?
Really? Who freaking drinks straight up orange juice at a parade.
I thought to myself, What’s one screwdriver?
Serve me up, Bartender.
I need to make a great day for us all.
After the parade we head to a neighborhood party. It is so cute. Professors' houses built on a hilly tree lined street. I feel like I am in a Hallmark 4th of July Holiday movie set. The houses are so cute. The red, white, and blue decor is adorable. We go from house to house. Sweet people offering drinks. Beautiful, lived in homes full of collections, antiques, personality, and shelves stacked to the brim with interesting books. Tents and music. Food spreads that are straight out of magazines. I love it so much. An older sophisticated crowd. Stylish outfits. Smart conversation. A warm, welcoming vibe. I want to snuggle right in here. I want to belong here.
I am also sensing the beginnings of what will eventually become an angry divorce between our beloved friends. I am swept up and distracted from this pain by the festive atmosphere. I am relieved from my own rigid rules about drinking. I am too hard on myself and letting myself off the hook feels better. I take everything so seriously. I need to loosen up. I see my husband giving me the eye, suggesting I slow down a bit. I don’t need him telling me what to do. I am trying to slow down, but it’s hard. There are drinks everywhere. Drinking seems so idyllic and part of the whole happy scene around me. This feels like what I am supposed to do, not to mention I am managing the intense discomfort inside of me.
I don’t remember what happens for the rest of the day except for when it's time for fireworks, I have a clear memory. A friend takes one look at me and my husband and says out loud to him, as if I am not even there, “oh shit she’s drunk”. I give my most sober deer in the headlights look at her. I don’t even know how to respond. I am drunk, but I am here and I can hear you. I try to sober up by whatever one does to try to sober up. Stop drinking. Deep breaths. Focus. Start the cycle of berating myself. Hang my head in shame. Figuratively, punch myself in the face.
I end up laying on a blanket, in the park, as the fireworks begin holding hands with the 7 year old boy whose parents are about to separate. My heart goes out to him. He’s the sweetest, most important person to me at this moment. I dare not speak as I know I will slur. I can’t even look at him with my glassy drunk eyes. I would not want a drunken lady holding hands with my kids, yet here I am with this boy that I love. I hold his hand and I silently pray, beg, for his well being. I pray for all my love to shoot out my hands into his. For my heart to be heard without speaking. For him to know he is loved. It is not his fault. I wish I wasn’t drunk. I want to take it all back. I wish I could really be there for him right now. Somehow it feels like instead maybe he is taking care of me, by holding my hand. This is not the way it should be. I want to undo all those afternoon drinks. How stupid of me.
I hate myself.
I stay silent. I don’t even feel like I have a right to oooh and awww at the fireworks. I am drunk. I have no rights. I deserve no respect. I am there in the middle of the crowd surrounded by friends but I feel so alone. I can’t talk. I can’t connect. I assume everyone hates me. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be me. The best thing I can do is stay so far away from my family. I don’t want to ruin their time. I assume they all hate me. How disappointing. Here I’ve done it again.
I have to go to the bathroom and I can’t. I know I will never find my way back in the dark. I know I can’t stumble around people. I am worthless.
We made it back to the hotel that night and tucked into bed. I woke up Sunday with a headache like a truck ran over me. I lose my patience with my kids immediately. I am so angry at my husband, for no particular reason. I guess because I was drunk, he was not and we both know that. It infuriates me. I somehow blame him. I leave that champagne bottle now 2 days old still swimming in a pool of water. We drive home in silence. I am hot, shaky, and nauseous all the way.
I obsess about wishing I would have taken that champagne bottle home with me for the 2 hour ride home.
How can I believe myself when I keep breaking my own promises and my own heart?
It would be two more years before my first sober 4th of July.
If I could offer myself anything it would be to add more support sooner. To stop beating myself up and start loving myself into change.
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