When drinking drowns out self-reflection.
I’m standing on a fake rock on the edge of the synthetic grass that covers the crazy golf course. My three children are causing chaos, hitting balls into fountains, kicking ones that belong to the people up ahead into bushes and spinning metal clubs around their heads like baton twirlers at a street parade. I spend our ‘fun trip out’ shouting things like,
‘Give the nice lady her hat back’
‘Please don’t lick the golf balls, sweetie, we're in a pandemic!’
Some people smile at us, in sympathy, and understanding, the ‘don’t worry we’ve been there’ sort of smile. They’re the ones that have had kids, that have been through this. They’re the ones that answer my daughter kindly when she asks,
‘Why are you so fat?’ and ‘Do you know I hate windows?’
I stand behind her with an awkward, apologetic grin,
‘Sorry she’s a but mad this one’ I say as I grab her hand and drag her away just before she asks a man standing nearby with one arm ‘Has your arm fallen off? Will it grow back?’
There are other people playing too, groups of people on works do’s. It’s November, so office Christmas parties swarm in groups from one hole to the next, cans of rum and coke in their hand, name tags dangling from their necks and shiny black shoes slipping on the fake grass.
I watch them flirting with colleagues, raising their arms to cheers friends, revealing dark patches on their blue cotton work shirts.
I used to be like them. Out after work on a Friday. Excited as to what the night might bring.
For a moment, (just as I’m trying to strap the baby back into the pram before he bites the nose off a giant plastic elf) I feel jealous of these people. They have a night of adventure ahead of them. A mysterious escapade that with each drink and each change of venue, will get messier, sweatier and sloppier.
The group is excited and happy, pleased to be out, laughing and taking the piss out of one another’s golfing skills. It looks fun. Jovial. I can’t help but want to join them for a moment, get away from the kids and just have a crazy night out.
But, due to a lifetime of experiences I know how these nights go. Most will be in a black-out by 10pm, some will stumble home at midnight, some will dance until sunrise and a one will wake up naked in bed with the techie guy.
I’m simply observing the start. The bit where good intentions are still achievable. The bit where they’re still kidding themselves,
‘I’m only staying for couple because I’m going for that big run in the morning.’
(Free bar? – Yeah, right! The only running you’ll be doing is to the bog and back)
Before I travelled the world, I had many office jobs, packing, filing and writing marketing leaflets. Boring jobs that left me constantly gagging to get wasted.
I used to be just like these people at the start of a night, giggling at jokes and lightly flirting with my manager as I sipped cheap sparkling wine. My nights began innocently, with the objective of not getting too pissed in case I told that bitch from accounts to fuck off or vomited on someone I fancied. But, inevitably after two glasses my inhibitions left me and suddenly it’s 4am and I’m in one of the salesman’s flats snorting a line of coke off a glass coffee table.
Even though my behaviour was predictable. I never stopped to question it. There was never a place, a waiting room, where I could sit and ponder whether what I was going to do was ok. I just went with the flow and the flow always took me down river towards a little town called shame and humiliation.
After every single works night out, I’d have to skulk into the office the following Monday in a veil of self-loathing. I’d have to sneak past the person I thought I might have offended, say sorry to my best work buddy for disappearing in a taxi and then be confronted with that man I’d gone home with. I remember always hoping he’d see me and say,
‘Hey Vic, thanks for a fantastic night, would you like to go out for dinner sometime next week?’
But that never happened.
Instead it was more along the lines of,
‘You were a bit out of it, do you remember coming back to mine? My flatmate is really annoyed with you and says you owe him 20 quid for breaking his bedroom door.’
‘Oh, sorry.’ I used to mutter as I blushed.
Always apologising for doing things I didn’t remember, then having to hide in the stationary cupboard hoping no-one would bother me or tell me tales about my early state of dishevelment.
But, of course, by the end of the week I’d be making a joke out of my behaviour and be planning our next night out.
I never learnt.
I was always too hammered or too hung over to sit with myself. So, the waiting room, my quiet place for self-evaluation, sat dormant for many, many years....
I snap out of my thoughts as I’m called over by my husband to retrieve his iPhone from the 16th hole while he takes the baby to the bathroom. The office workers have finished their game and are heading off to the pub area next to the golf course to continue their night.
We finish up and head to the kiosk to grab a Slushie for the kids, then head home.
Once they’re all asleep I go outside and sit on a chair in the garden and look up at the stars.
Why did I feel jealous of the laughing group of office workers?
I sit there thinking about how I acted back when I was younger. About always being the drunkest, the one with the story the next day, about how I gave up on myself respect to please others and how I acted so out of control. I sit in my sober waiting room in my back garden remembering the shame and sadness that those types of nights bought me, that alcohol caused.
I realise that my feeling of jealousy at the crazy golf was not about wanting to be there, drinking with this group of people, it was more that I wanted their freedom, just for a moment. I just wanted a piece of the independence. I wanted to flirt over a cocktail and not have to worry about anything, But the truth is, even when I was free and without the responsibility of children, I never had a nice night out without regrets. My nights were never this ‘beginning’ moment. They never stayed at this perfect, first drink stage. They ended with me feeling empty and depressed.
It was just their freedom that was appealing – not the alcohol.
As I sit and reminisce, I realise I can’t think of anything worse than being back there, feeling like I had to be drunk to relax or be liked and I couldn't bear the thought of ending up somewhere doing things I would most certainly regret.
I reach into my pocket and retrieve the little scorecard from our golf game. I unfold it and see all five of our names scribbled in a row in pencil. It reminds me of how privilidged I am to have these names written next to mine.
Even though our visit to the golf course may have been a bit stressful and annoying, it hasn’t ended with me feeling sad or regretful. Its ended with me knowing what I’m doing is right, that not being part of the crowd is something to be proud of and being near my children as they sleep means the world to me.
I realise that being me... is actually a relief.
Having this waiting room gives me a space in time for consideration. It’s a place that I ignored when I was drunk, it was so full back then, like a hoarder’s house with no room for its inhabitant. But being alcohol free means I’ve cleaned out the mess and there is room for contemplation.
So now, instead of creating clutter and stacking up problems.
I’m home, in my garden, looking up at the stars.
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