I’m not very good at doing things I’m bad at.
No, wait, it makes sense in my head! My entire life, I have always been plagued by a weird kind of defeatist perfectionism. My long-suffering mother will testify to this: she stoically worked through hundreds of identical conversations with Little Andie that went something like this:
Me, FULL of enthusiasm: Mum, I want to play the violin/go to dancing lessons/learn Spanish/try roller-skating/paint/join the Drum Majorette Squad (oh my god, I actually, truly, spent five weeks as a Majorette when I was 7!)
Mum: That sounds super, darling, let’s see what we can find!
Me: Yay, this is going to be MY THING, I just KNOW it!
Also me, after trying the Thing once: THIS IS STUPID AND I CAN’T DO IT, I WILL NEVER DARKEN THEIR DOORS AGAIN
Mum: Sweetie, no one can do anything well on their first try. You have to LEARN to do the thing. Keep trying and you’ll get better. Do you want to practise your scales/vocabulary/baton twirls/skating stops?
Me: NO! I CAN’T DO IT. What’s the point?
Mum: Because it’s ok to not be good at something you’ve never done before! Why don’t you just…
Me: NO WAY. I’m useless and stupid and I’m going to read this book because I am much better at reading than anyone else I have ever met and it’s easy and it doesn’t make me feel stupid.
*end scene…until the next time, when the scene shall play out once more, and identically, ad infinitum, tweaked only by the details of my new enthusiasm*
(sidenote: I remembered a Homer Simpson quote – “if at first you don’t succeed, give up” – and googled it to find an image. And I found three of these images above. This has profoundly freaked me out, because this is basically what I did. I found four things I was good at: reading, academic study, singing and drinking, and I did ONLY those things. For 20 years.)
In fact, I’ve sensed a common thread in a lot of sober blogs and sober memoirs I’ve read, which is that LOTS of people who abuse alcohol have had issues with perfectionism, and have found alcohol a brilliant crutch and excuse to avoid ever being placed out of their comfort zones. Friends suggest an activity you’re not comfortable with? Nah, it’s a waste of good drinking time. Someone asks you to do something unfamiliar on a weekend? No way José: you’ll be hungover. Feel like you might be bad at something? Drink till the nagging voices of insecurity shut up. Because you’ve drowned them. Either stay fixed in your comfort zone or drink until you no longer feel nervous and exposed: ideally, both, simultaneously. (Not for nothing, but I may never be able to let go of my romanticised vision of my perfect evening being a big book and a glass or three or seven of wine/whisky.) I once left a Zumba class in tears, as a grown-assed adult woman, because it was my first ever attempt at Zumba and I found it hard, so I cried and left after 15 minutes, vowing never to return. (This is EXACTLY the same reaction I had to being put into an “intermediate” recorder ensemble that was above my pay-grade when I was eight, by the way: take fright, cry, and run away…but the eight year old is a kid who needs a hug, and the thirty year old is an adult who has not developed a coping strategy and who needs to learn to deal.)
Well, I HAD developed a coping strategy…I bought booze on the way home and drank it.
My coping strategy…kinda sucked.
So when the nice people at work started asking me if I wanted to join their Friday night five-a-side football group…about a year ago…I mean, I’m not saying I was resistant, but you could see the wall of excuses I made from space. Friday night? Are you mad? That’s gold-plated, ring-fenced drinking time. It’s socially sanctioned, three cheers for the weekend, wine-o-clock time, is what 5pm Friday is. Also I can’t play football. What? I might learn to play if I come along? Don’t be ridiculous, sir; I’m telling you I don’t know how to do it! You can’t DO something you can’t DO: that’s just common sense. What do you mean, no one’s very good and it’s just for fun? Are you high? Presumably they can, to some extent, play football, because they have in fact been playing football. I, on the other hand, cannot play football, and thus the idea of me playing football is utterly absurd. QED. In your face. LOGIC, bitches.
(In retrospect, the fact that they kept asking me if I’d like to come along is nothing short of a sweetness miracle. Bless you, Chris, Tash and Andy, bless you.)
So last week, having had an aforementioned slip/wobble/twist in my sobriety, I was being reflective and doing my sober work, pondering how my sober choices are coming along and wondering how to better reinforce my not-drinking. I was in an open-minded, thinky mood. And they asked again.
And I said, “oh, okay then.”
And you know what? It was absolutely bloody brilliant.
I was okay at some things and awful at others. I was neither the worst nor the best person there, and it didn’t matter anyway, because no one was keeping track of anyone’s skill level or failings: they were, as promised, just there to have fun. I laughed my ass off, got unutterably sweaty and breathless, got hit in the tit with a ball, ran around like a kid for 45 minutes and had a wonderful, wonderful time.
There’s no way on earth that I’d have gone along while I was still drinking. For one thing, I’d have been hungover: Thursday evenings were always red-light danger zones for me, as the long week caught up and the urge to “relax” with a bottle of red overwhelmed me. Even if I’d originally said yes, I would have ended up flaking on the Friday because I’d have been wading through the seedy, hungover malaise that I used to think of as “yup, that’s what Friday feels like.” And, most likely, I’d have either gone straight to the pub with a couple of work-drinking-buddies or home via the supermarket, to share booze with my partner.
(There was a contingent of the Football group who went to a local pub afterwards. I passed, because I’m steering clear of pubs for a little while as part of my post-slip “ok, Andie, we are actually taking this seriously and NOT cavalierly putting ourself in the direct line of temptation” strategy.)
So this weekend, I’m feeling extremely happy that I managed to do something new, have a go, kick perfectionism into the long grass (much like I did with the ball, on several occasions!) and just let myself be silly, for fun, with friends. Booze can freeze us into adolescent patterns, because for those of us who discovered as teenagers that drinking can temporarily gag and muffle the nasty, self-loathing voices stalking us, we can get stuck back there: we can turn to a decades-old self-protection strategy that has long since stopped working, and avoid doing some of the getting-over-yourself work that should be a part of emotionally growing up.
If you want me next Friday afternoon, I’ll be the one in the blue bib, with very messy hair, sweating and laughing on the pitch. And the only thing I’ll be drinking is water.