I mentioned in my last post that I just returned from a family vacation. It is an annual trip, taken with my husband’s entire family, and has been going on for longer than I’ve appropriated their last name. This year there were almost 50 of us clogging up the beaches of Southern New Jersey, and the kids in particular have the vacation of a lifetime each and every August.
My husband’s side of the family is actually not challenging at all in terms of sobriety: absolutely none of them overindulge, and many of them choose not to drink at all. Truth be told, until the moment I am about to describe, alcohol consumption and my personal recovery were as much on the back burner as they ever have been while on vacation.
So here’s the set-up: a sun-drenched late afternoon on the beach, lifeguards are getting ready to pack it up for the day. All but a few of us have headed home to rinse the sand toys, and out feet, before the evening shift to sweatshirts and figuring out the best take-out to order for dinner. My husband and myself were giving our kids one last boogie board session of the day while we languished in our beach chairs, and my husband’s parents decided to stick it out with us. So there we were, sitting and chatting, and my father-in-law says, “Can you hold this for me?” while simultaneously thrusting his bottle towards me and rising from his beach chair. Reflexively, I take the bottle, and about a millisecond later I realized that the foil-covered bottle was, in fact, a beer.
It probably took twice as long to read that paragraph as the actual act of what I just described played out. On the other hand, the time I spent holding the beer was a great deal longer. Obviously I did not have a stopwatch going, but I’m telling you no one has ever taken so long to rearrange a beach chair as my father-in-law did on that afternoon. I know this for two reasons: first, once I realized it was beer, I, in what I now realize was melodramatic and probably comical, chose to hold the beer at arm’s length, and I’m telling you, my arm was getting tired before I was able to hand it back. Second, my husband agreed that it was quite a long time (more on his perspective in a bit).
Here’s how this event played out in my mind:
Holy shit, this is a beer, does he even realize who he just asked to hold his beer?
Wow, maybe that’s how far I’ve come in recovery, that I am to be trusted with a beer!
For God’s sake, don’t be an idiot, he’s not even thinking about the fact that it’s a beer, or that he asked you to hold it, get a grip on your ego.
….feeling palpable tension from the chair next to me, which happens to be occupied by my husband…
Alright, Dad, please get yourself situated, so your son does not flip his lid!
What seems to be the hold-up in getting the chair situated, anyway?
Jeez Louise, my arm is getting tired, can I just casually put it down in the space between his chair and mine? No, don’t draw any more attention to this.
…glancing over at the beer…
How insane is it that I am holding something that I can never let cross my lips again?
Alright, that thought process is going nowhere good, think of something else. Hope the angry person in the chair next to me is settling down, but something tells me he’s not.
For God’s sake, sit down and take this beer!
There were probably many more random thoughts going on in the monkey mind, but I think I hit the highlights (lowlights?).
To be clear, this non-event that I’m describing took place entirely between my ears. If passers-by on the beach witnessed this scene, they would have seen a man hand a bottle to a woman to hold while he slowly rearranged his chair. The man then sat down, reclaimed his beverage, and the group continued to talk for another decent length of time before packing up and heading home. The incident was never discussed. Well, never discussed between me and my father-in-law, anyway.
Later that evening, I did get a chance to debrief with my husband, and I’m glad I did. Turns out he needed to process the incident a bit more to put it in a proper perspective. By the end of our discussion, though, he was feeling much better about it, and he was able to give me a perspective I would never have considered on my own: that it shows the progress of my relationships in recovery. Two and half years ago, I’m not sure anyone would have opted to even sit with me on the beach, much less feel comfortable doing so with a beer in their hands. Meanwhile on this trip, I can say that I was able to sit down, one-on-one, with every adult member of the family in the house I lived for the week, and I was able to have honest, real conversations, conversations where people discussed their issues with me, and seemed interested in my perspective. Two and half years ago? Not so much.
Finally, and perhaps most important, was the change in the relationship with my husband. First, that I have the sense about me to be attuned to his feelings at all, then to have the confidence and compassion to seek him out and talk to him about it. That he has the confidence in me to confess his feelings, and that I can hear them without judgment, without defensiveness and with the willingness to talk things out. That he can see progress in me that in a thousand years I would not see in myself, and his generosity in sharing it.
To answer the question: yes, I’ll hold it, but only if you hurry up with what you’re doing!
Moving away from the gifts of health (read Part I and Part II to catch up), but continuing with the birthday celebration, on the actual day of my husband’s birthday I held a small, informal, mid-week get together to honor the date of his birth. He did not want a party, but all of our friends and family wanted to wish him well, so I thought this would be a nice compromise. I made some of his favorite foods, went into the city and picked up some trendy take-out, and had our friends and their kids run around the house for a few hours.
I put this informal gathering together pretty last-minute, and so of course several people on the list could not make it for one reason or another. As I reviewed the group that had rsvp’d affirmatively, I breathed a sigh of relief, because all of them know that I am in recovery, and that my husband and I choose not to drink. There were a few on the invite list that did not know, because I see them infrequently, but they were either unable to make it, or did not respond to the invite.
As the party got underway, one of my friends mentioned that she had spoken to another friend who planned on stopping by, but had never told me she was coming. At this point I am knee-deep in hostessing mode, and so it briefly crossed my mind that this was a friend who did not know I am sober, but it flew in and out of my head pretty quickly. It being a work night for adults, and a school night for children, I was not anticipating a late night, and if the friends are coming “later,” how big of an issue could it be?
As it turns out, it could be a pretty big issue. The friends did show up, and as fate would have it I was the one nearest the food and drinks as they arrived. With 20/20 hindsight, I would have kissed them hello, and then flown off in another direction and let someone else serve them! Anyway, on with the story, we make a few seconds of polite chit-chat, and I say, “what can I get you to drink?” Before I can gesture to my immediate right and show them the clearly alcohol-free selections, my girl friend says, “I’d love some wine!”
Important disclaimer: this is absolutely no one’s fault but my own. I have been friends with this woman for decades, and I have served wine at every single party I’ve ever hosted. I could kick myself, even this minute, for not anticipating this situation.
Back to the story: I can’t say for certain what my facial expression was, but I’m pretty sure it fell somewhere between embarrassment and horror. I say to her (and her husband, who is also waiting to make his drink selection): “I’m so sorry, we are not serving alcohol at this party. Can I get you something else?”
Now, at this point, the conversation, I kid you not, starts to take on the tone and tenor of a badly written sitcom plot. She starts stammering, “Oh… Oh… Oh…”
And I try to rush this along, so I’m now listing out every beverage that I can think of that we have available to us (and yes, I’m listing things like orange juice and milk, I’m not kidding when I say SITCOM).
She continues to say “oh” about every 4-5 seconds, until her husband says, “It’s not that big of a decision, just pick something!”
So she picks, and selects something I did not list, and do not have. Now twice I have to deny a beverage request. My face, undoubtedly, is the color of a tomato at this point.
She selects again (she, by the way, is clearly flummoxed), and again picks something I did not offer and do not have on hand. I finally decide enough is enough, ask her husband to help himself to a beverage, and I say to my friend, “let’s take a walk out to the garage and see what I’ve got in the fridge out there.”
So we go out to the privacy of the garage, and I briefly but quietly explain that I am in recovery and that my husband and I no longer drink. I apologize (probably a little too much, but Monday morning quarterbacking isn’t getting me anywhere) for not taking the time to sit down with her before this, and I apologize for making her uncomfortable.
She continued to be flabbergasted, but before we left the garage she was at least able to verbalize a little better what she was feeling, which was astonishment, as she had no idea that alcohol was a problem for me. I thanked her for the compliment, but assured her that indeed it was, but that the good news is that I have a few years of sobriety under my belt, and life is really, really good. I assured her that I would be willing to sit down one-on-one and speak in more detail about this subject, if she so chose, and then I led her back into the party.
If nothing else, this is a cautionary tale for the newly sober: if you’re going to host a party without alcohol, make sure people know before they arrive! I still cringe as I think of the evening, but, really, what am I going to do? At some point I am going to reach out and offer to sit down with her, and give her the option of talking about it. Other than that, I guess I’ll just chalk it up as another painful life lesson.
I would very much love to hear if anyone out there has similar story, and how they handled it!
As I reflect on the story I just told, it was a miracle that I did not offer her the olive oil and balsamic vinegar in my pantry as drink selections!