That was my first thought as my Two Month sobriety chip binged through, all sunny and chirpy, last week. Cognitive dissonance, thy name is “celebrating two hard-earned months of sobriety whilst still feeling the after-effects of drinking two large glasses of red wine and two beers.”
I’ve been putting off this blog post for obvious reasons, weighing up whether to claim swan-like and steady progress and just throw a goddamn rug over last Monday. They won’t know, my inner voice murmured. Just tell ’em about the wedding. Bang on a bit about dubious alco-pushing World Cup advertising. Stick the two-month chip up and buff it with brasso whilst smugly compiling a list of “how I made it through my first two wonderful months of mindful sobriety.”
But I can’t. This blog was always going to be my honest space, my no bullshit, warts-and-all space, and so that’s the way I’m going to stay. Guys, This Sober Girl screwed up. So – side-eye to camera – you might be wondering how I ended up in this situation.
*insert sound effect of record scratching, visual of tape rewinding*
It’s Wednesday 30th May. My lovely partner B. and I are preparing to fly off to a long weekend of wedding celebrations for one of my oldest friends in a famously beautiful corner of France. Are we full of joy and delighted anticipation? HELL NO. I’m angry, grumpy, moody, scared, and about as psychologically up for it as Gareth Southgate in front of the penalty spot. Why so vile, Andie? Why so moody that, three days beforehand, I actually sat down and compiled a 20-point list entitled WHY I AM VERY GRUMPY to try to get it out of my system? And, more to the point, why were my dreads accurate on almost every single count? Well, my friend, pull up a chair.
- I hate weddings. Hate them. They are boring, and you can’t take a book because apparently it’s “rude” and “passive aggressive” and “inappropriate for a grown adult who should be making small-talk with random people about where you got your handbag/fascinator/dark accompanying cloud of gloom.” They last too long: literally in what other situation would you get dressed up in ghastly drag-clothes at 9am, stand around from 11am for an hour plus, shuffle into a church that you know damn well neither bride nor groom have any belief in or connection with whatsoever, watch a collection of the bride’s mates do terrible, sub-primary-school attempts at reading out loud from sentimental guff-pieces about love, stand around for many more hours, endure a hipster with a man-bun and a camera barking “left a bit…now everyone throw your arms in the air…now just the ladies…now a WACKY ONE!” at you for another hour, sit on a table through depressingly small portions of food and the best man’s best “I got it off the internet” speech with sub-Inbetweeners innuendo and the groom’s name filled in at the relevant moments, AND IT’S STILL ONLY 7PM? I mean, even when you genuinely love the groom, as I did in this one, and are full-to-bursting with happiness for the couple, as I tearily was, weddings are a hideous marathon of endurance that this particular ambivert has only ever dealt with by becoming very, very drunk on free booze.
- IT WAS 35 DEGREES CELSIUS THE ENTIRE TIME. There was no shade. Okay, there were five table-umbrellas under which seventy people tried to skulk and huddle like whipped dogs. I am a chubby Irish girl. My skin-tone is “blue with a hint of three-days-dead.” I tend to summer in strong air-conditioning. My natural milieu is NOT “sweating liquid Nars foundation and hyperventilating in Spanx and a Ganni frock.”
- My sweet B. and I had agreed to share a vast, tumbledown gîte in the countryside with 12 other people. 12 other people who I have known since we were teenagers, with all the attendant degrees of shared history and dysfunction that that set-up entails, all of whom were drinking on “holiday rules”, throughout the day, from breakfast onwards, either steadily or heavily. B. does not know these people well, nor does he like several of them. He was not only under pressure to make nice, he also found out, three days before the full Thursday-to-Sunday epic of compulsory wedding activities, that as one of the only people who actually hired a car, he would be expected to be an all-purpose taxi service to the pre-wedding brunch! The pre-wedding dinner! The supermarché! The actual wedding! The post-wedding bbq! The supermarché again! The airport! Quelle super-fun!
- France. Wine. Beer. Champagne. WINE. The bride and groom had conducted a pre-wedding wine-tasting holiday some months prior to the event itself, and had curated what looked like an amazing list of free-flowing pink Champagne, crisp whites, luscious local reds, kegs and kegs of locally brewed beer. It was served with complete generosity, never came close to running out, and was ferried around the sweating groups of frocks-n-suits seemingly without pause. For the non-drinkers? ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..tap water. Oh, and one, bath-water-hot bottle of sprite. Both of which ran out within about three seconds as the children, pregnant women and me had a small glass each.
- I hit the “oh, why aren’t you drinking?” conversation over, and over, and over. Accompanied by so many significant glances at my mid-section that by the second day I was tempted to scrawl “Nope, not preggers, this is all just crisps, I’m afraid” across my abdomen in eyeliner pen.
Throughout it all – through the airport drinking, the on-flight drinking, the around-the-pool-at-the-gîte drinking, the pre-wedding supper drinking, the wedding drinking, the post-wedding bbq drinking, the last evening in France drinking, the bloody airport drinking AGAIN – I didn’t drink. Five days, four nights, of watching other people drinking. I was bored, uncomfortable, overwhelmed by people and lack of personal space, constantly anxious about driving on the wrong side of the road and hot all the damn time, and I didn’t touch a drop. Instead, I was thrilled to find non-alcoholic beer in the French supermarché and had a few of those; I swam in our amazing outdoor pool multiple times every day, I honestly let myself enjoy the views of rolling French countryside and the divine breads and cheeses we bought, and took the opportunity to amble around the local small town meeting cats and pottering around market-stalls.
I felt like I’d done so well. I’d survived, and it had been really, really hard, and I was way, way out of my comfort zone, and I’d done it. I’d successfully navigated one of the hardest sober minefields – the first sober wedding – and got to the other side. Woo-hoo!
I was also running on fumes. I was way, way out of my comfort zone. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. I had run out of ability to cope. My temper was fraying due to oversaturation of people, no downtime, sunburn and heat. When they announced a flight delay on the Monday afternoon, when we were due to return, I cried. When they announced, once we were on the plane, that we had missed our take-off slot and might have to wait over an hour for another one, I cried some more.
When we hit some pretty bad turbulence half an hour after we had taken off, I cried a bit more, and then simply reached over, picked up B.’s glass of aeroplane wine, and drank it down in one.
Then I had a beer on the train home, and another beer and another glass of wine once we got home. And it felt good at the time, and shockingly awful and hungover the next day, and I felt a range of very strong emotions like anger, guilt, resentment and disappointment which lingered throughout the week.
And now, I’m in a strange, thinky, quiet place.
I haven’t touched a drop since. I don’t want to. B. looked at me a bit sideways on Friday night and asked how I was feeling about the weekend, and whether I might be considering having a drink after…y’know…what happened on Monday. And I wasn’t, not even remotely. I haven’t changed my aspirations for this year, I don’t feel as though I want to quit, and, thank god, my “crack like a broken nut” moment on Monday hasn’t sent me into a spiral of “well f*** it, might as well dig in and get blasted every night then, since I’ve messed it all up.”
What the heck could I have done to create a different outcome? I had been dreading that stupid wedding for months. On the Sunday before we flew out, I had had a small-scale panic at the gym and a bit of a cry on a bench-press bench: I was “public place panic-and-tears” level of not wanting to go. I know what Belle would have said. Don’t go. You are in your baby sobriety and you are literally walking into wolfie’s den. Don’t go. “Sobriety is like a little car, and if you’ve got the little car already on its way downhill,however slowly, don’t do anything to stall.”
I could have not gone. But it would have been a major, long-term-friendship-altering decision, not just with the groom but with a large group of people who have been my good friends for years, and whose friendship is important to me. Despite my sober-spidey-sense screaming at me on full alert that this was a terrible, terrible idea, I still didn’t feel that I was able to cancel.
I could have insisted on not doing the house-share, which would have made the event more expensive but which would have given me and B. space, quiet time, and an opt-out from some of the wedding hoopla. In retrospect, that’s what I wish I’d done differently: got a hotel or an air B&B, kept a bit of safe space and distance, and not allowed myself to become so completely overwhelmed by being immersed in a constant group of people, with whom I have associations of heavy drinking and which forced me to rely on white-knuckling and willpower for too long.
I could have sat with the feeling of desperate craving when that little plane started to kangaroo-jump its way through the sky. I could have reminded myself that I’d experienced turbulence before, that the feelings that were attacking me were just that, feelings, which surge and pass away. I could also have asked B. to not drink during that flight and the rest of that evening, because I was aware that I was at the end of my tether and that I was beginning to crumble: I could have requested the help I needed to keep alcohol away from me during an emotionally fraught moment.
Fail again, fail better, as the quotation at the top of this blog reminds me. Here I am, on day 64 or day 6, trying to learn from a failure. Because that is, quite literally, all I can do now, and because, failures or no failures, I have 301 days of this year of sobriety left, and I am more determined that ever to reach out and grab every single one of them.