I was at a family wedding this weekend and it was the first big social occasion I’ve participated in since getting sober, the first real test of how I’d handle being sober and avoid feeling anxious and depressed when I know there’d be lots of drinking, lots of people and some social expectations. If Alaska was a test of my inner strength and growth, this was a test of my outward ability to handle everything. If I were grading how I handled everything I’d give myself a “B.”
[I should say right here that the wedding was beautiful and everything went wonderfully as far as that’s concerned and I couldn’t be happier for the couple or more proud of my cousin Chris, the groom, and how glad I am that his wife Elaine is part of our extended family. In no way is it my wish to distract from how awesome the weekend was and what it means in the big picture, only to recount my experience in the context of my ongoing journey with sobriety, anxiety and depression.]
At dinner Friday night, the day before the wedding and the day a lot of the family got into town, I ordered a bottle of Pellegrino while those around me had wine or beer. I’ve written before that there’s a sense that when those around me are enjoying drinks, perusing the wine list, feeling the heft of a mug of cold beer, etc., I’m not only missing out on the alcohol itself but the experience of drinking. A Pellegrino just isn’t the same, served in the same glass as the sodas and the water. But for the most part all of that was OK, because the conversation and catching up with folks I haven’t seen in months (if not longer) was fantastic. One thing I can say about my family is that there’s never a lull in conversation and rarely a time when we aren’t laughing together. So far, so good.
When we got back to the I had stayed in the bar for a few hours, drinking my club sodas, getting up to sing a little karaoke (Garth, Billy Joel and Will Smith) with my brothers, laughing when my mom and her siblings screeched their way through “It’s My Party.” But as family members filtered out heading to bed and the bar started to fill with strangers I felt a pang of anxiety.
My father was pacing, waiting for one of my younger brothers to arrive at the hotel and check in, seemingly every five minutes, and that was making me anxious. My mom was prodding my older brother and dad into what was ultimately a harmless prank, and that was stressing me out. I want to be careful about how I describe this, because I don’t think there was any true malice on their part or intent to cause real trouble with the prank, but I’m convinced they wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for the lowered inhibitions thanks to an evening of drinking and I’m equally convinced (and slightly disturbed) that I wouldn’t have had this discomfort with the prank had I been intoxicated. So once my younger brother and his girlfriend arrived, I said both my hello and my goodnight.
It was early morning, maybe two or three when I heard my brother come into the hotel room we were sharing for the wedding weekend. I may have mumbled something of a greeting or a grunt but I only remember rolling over when the light came on. I went back to bed. In the morning I found out that after I had gone to bed my brothers stayed and closed down the lobby bar. Then they went down to the hotel pool for a swim. It sounded like they had a lot of fun. Did I miss out? Did I make the right decision? Should I have stayed up?
Here’s what I know: I was feeling very anxious. I may have had a panic attack had I stayed. I may have given in to the urge to sneak a drink or two at the bar. How hard would it have been to order a gin and tonic at that point and pass it off that it was just another club soda? Would anyone have caught me? Would it lower my inhibitions and allow me to relax and have fun? Without a doubt. But the next morning I would 1) potentially have a hangover and not feel great the day of the wedding and 2) have to face the consequences of falling off the wagon and shattering a lot of hard work, for what? A few hours of drunk fun. There was no effort to exclude me. I made the decision myself.
I know I made the right choice, but that doesn’t mean it was the easy choice or an ideal choice. It hurt knowing that my brothers were having a good time and I wasn’t there, but there will be times when that happens and I need to accept it when it happens and work on developing my skills so those times become fewer and farther between.
[Rather than make this post any longer than it needs to be or to write a second post that covers basically the same ground, I’ll simply say that the second night of the weekend unfolded in a similar fashion- I was doing OK until I wasn’t, and I went back to the hotel and to bed when I hit the wall, while the party proceeded in my absence. Again, the right choice for me, but not one I’m entirely happy with.]