Updated: Mar 8, 2021
‘Come on, it’s my birthday!’ says my friend.
‘Er, no, I’m fine. I don’t drink anymore’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, one won’t hurt’
I stare down at the empty glass in my hand feeling overwhelmed.
I want to shout,
‘One will hurt. One means I will lie in bed all day and ignore my children. One means I will have anxiety and feel like dying. One means I have let myself, and my family down. One means so much. One means everything. One does fucking hurt you idiot!!’ Instead, I say,
‘No thanks, I’m fine with a juice’
‘Oh for fucks sake, when did you become such a party pooper?’ She demands, glaring at me.
A silence surrounds us as I struggle to answer.
According to her stream of thought I became a party pooper the day I gave up drinking, But according to mine, well, I became one the moment entered a blackout and had sick dripping from my chin.
I look her in the eye and think about the accusation.
Party girl to party pooper eh? It is surprising. As I think I feel her distaste hanging in the air.
The space between us in that cringy moment seems to get wider. So wide in fact, that I consider having a beer. You see, I want to be a good mate, I don’t want her to feel sad on her birthday and perhaps, you never know, this time will be different?
‘Come on Vic, just don’t have too many, you’ll be fine.’
I understand her need because I was her. I was the party girl that looked non-drinkers up and down with utter disgust. I was the Birthday girl with expectations. I get it. I totally get her annoyance. My friend wants me to be on the same ride, she wants me to connect with her, dance with her and stumble home laughing over the slimy guy that bought us shots that looked like Barry Gibb. She wants us to be how we used to be. Loud and extrovert, drunk and silly.
And I can’t do it.
‘Sorry Kaz, drinking makes me feel unwell and I just can’t do it anymore.’
She realizes then that there is no way I’m going to give in. It causes the space between us to divide, like a brick wall has appeared. Her on one side with the fun crew, me on the other side twiddling my thumbs. The difference between us in that moment is unidentifiable, there is a salad bowl of mixed emotions being tossed around, displeasure from her, discomfort and grief from me, the undefined pause sits heavy and we don’t know what to say.
The silence confirms we’re not the same anymore. I’ve changed and it’s hard for her to understand. I can feel that she takes my choice not to drink personally, an attack on her, an insult almost.
Her face is disgruntled, disappointed. By refusing to drink I’m ruining her night. It makes me feel horrible and, by the looks of it, it makes her feel a bit angry.
‘Well, you’re going to miss out’ she says,
‘It’s such a shame.’
Then she turns on her heel and walks off in the opposite direction towards the dancefloor and I watch until her head disappears into the throng. When she’s out of site my shoulders relax and the tension in my jaw loosens.
Our moment of awkward is complete.
I sit back down on the table after deciding it might be a good idea to look after everyone’s handbags. I check my watch every 5 minutes deliberating what time it would be ok to leave. I decide to stay until she won’t notice I’ve gone. I do feel a bit sad, but I have to do what’s right for me.
An hour later, before I sneak off, I manage to make it onto the dance floor and get everyone laughing by scooting around on the dirty floor like a dog that has an itchy bottom. It’s an outrageous move which tricks everyone into thinking I’m still the same old me… it also gets me off the hook for leaving early. My cunning plan is that they will remember that instead of thinking I’m a boring wanker. Then I’m out the door and thumbing a taxi in the rain.
My friend’s night will go on and mine has ended. She will have stories and I will have toast. She will have a headache and I will be going about my day. Doing normal. Being functional.
That moment that passed between us, the second she knew I wasn’t going to ‘join in’ had been weird, awkward, but being temporarily awkward is a side effect of being sober.
And guess what? It’s ok!
Those moments pass as quickly as time itself, like a plane that has come into view one minute and headed behind the clouds the next, those difficult intervals are over as hastily as they started.
Before I gave up drinking, those were the instants I dreaded. I didn’t want to cause disappointment or lose friends. I was embarrassed about who I had become. I didn’t want people to think I was a party pooper and that I wasn’t me anymore. I thought that telling people and letting them down was going to be the biggest challenge I faced, so hard that I might give in…
So hard that I might start drinking again.
But now, I realize that the thought, the anticipation of the awkwardness, was much, much scarier than the reality of it.
When I tell people I don’t drink anymore, they don’t punch me in the face or call me a waste of space. They don’t tell me I’m a fuckface or gather a group of bystanders to point and laugh at me. I mean, I don’t even get a poke in the eye. All there is, is a conversation, an awkward one admittedly, but that’s all it is. An exchange of words. My honest explanation and I’ve found that people don’t argue with honesty, it’s like a secret weapon.
All Kaz did was walk away from me because she was unable to understand me, I’m not offended by it. It’s a lot to take in when standing on the edge of a grubby dancefloor with loud Techno pumping from the speakers nearby.
And honestly, because I was such a massive binge drinker in my day, my sobriety is a lot to take on even if we were standing in a bluebell covered meadow with fluffy rabbits at our feet. It’s confronting for people and a bit odd.
But, whatever the reaction – it doesn’t last, I can dust it off my lapel and move on.
I’m not scared of awkward moments anymore because that’s all they are;
Spaces in time that dissolve into nothing.
I can shake off the disappointment because in my heart I know what I’m doing is right. Being with my kids far outweighs the hangover. Being without anxiety is worth a few weird looks and underhand comments. My own reasons are clear to me, they might not be clear to Kaz, but there’s not much I can do about that.
I walk into awkward moments like these quite often. I’m not scared of them anymore. The benefits of not drinking force me to be confident and proud of my choice. If a person assk me why I don’t drink I simply answer,
‘None of your bloody business.’ Before skipping off into the sunset with only the shape of my raised middle finger casting a shadow on the pavement behind me.
Because this is my story, and I don’t have to explain it to anyone.
The next afternoon I get a call from my hungover mate with all the gossip from the night before. There had been snogs and vomit, tears and lost house keys, I didn’t feel jealous or left out. I was just thankful to be home sat on the couch with a hot cuppa. I’ve done so many of those nights. I know how they unfold and for me, it was never pretty. (unless you think hanging out with a toothless drug dealer called ‘Cocaine Pete’ pretty?) Kaz wasn’t upset with me over the phone, she was envious, wishing she hadn’t drunk so much, wishing she had left when I did. She even said,
‘How do you do it Vicky?’
‘I just wondered if there was something else Kaz.’ I tell her.
‘As it turned out… there was’
So, for those questioning your relationship with alcohol all I can say is this,
The positive repercussions from being temporarily awkward are unfathomable. You exchange a few seconds of uncomfortable for a life of endless possibility.
Having to explain your reasons why can be prickly at first, but the more you do it the easier it becomes and soon everyone knows you don’t drink, and they leave you alone.
You’ll get to a point when you can handle the disappointment and fill that cavernous space between you and your friends with the confidence that comes with being this bright, span dangly version of you. The one that doesn’t give in to peer pressure, the one that makes smart, healthy decisions.
And once the moments pass all you have left over is you,
in all your sober glory.
There really is something else.
It’s just s matter of finding it.
(and avoiding Cocaine Pete!)