Monday, May 9, 2011

Crossing Over

***Submitted by Ellie, and originally posted at One Crafty Mother

I was at a party with a bunch of other Moms the other night, and I ran into me.

The party wasn't in my home town, and I only knew one or two people. I was introduced to an attractive woman, someone I had never met before, and we got to chatting. It was early in the evening and guests were still arriving, cheeks flushed from the cold. The line for alcohol was ten deep. I was grateful for the distraction of meeting someone new; the first half an hour or so of a party is always the most difficult for me, drinking-wise.

We compared notes in the usual way. She was about six or seven years younger than me, and had a couple of preschool aged children. We chatted about getting used to being home full time, both of us having quit high powered jobs when our first child was born.

After ten minutes or so, she asked if she could get me something from the bar.

"I'm all set," I said, holding up my club soda and cranberry. "Thanks, though."

We parted ways, only to bump into each other again about an hour and a half later. "Hey again," she said, and winked.

I tried not to stare at the half-full glass of white wine in her hand. The small talk was wearing on me, and I was thinking about going home to a cozy couch, a warm fire and a steaming cup of tea.

"Soooooooo," she drawled. "Howzit going?"

Ah, I thought. She's drunk. All the power to her, but I'm ready to get outta here.

The room was hot and noisy, and we were pressed into a corner. I was trapped.

"Iss hard sometimes, you know?" she said, out of the blue.

I nodded, but I had no idea what she was talking about.

"You seem like a really nice person," she slurred, and threw her arm around my shoulder. "I feel like I can tell you anything." Her eyes rolled up into her head, ever so slightly, when she blinked.

"Thanks," I smiled, unsure exactly how to respond. I looked frantically around the room, hoping to lock eyes with my friend and use that as an excuse to move on.

"It's juss... juss so much WORK." She sighed, and took a long sip of wine.

"Ummm, what is so much work?" I asked, awkwardly.

"Ohhhh... you know," she puffed out her cheeks and exhaled. "Everything. Kids." She swayed side to side, almost imperceptibly.

She has crossed over, I thought, into that place where drunk people grope for meaningful connection. I don't know how to do this anymore.

We stood together in silence for a moment or two, her arm still slung over my shoulder.

"Well," she said, and her wine sloshed around in her glass as she gestured to the room. "Thass why we need to get out, right?" She winked again. "And thass what THIS is for!" She held her glass up to me in a mock toast.

I smiled again, but remained silent. She noticed my empty glass. "OH! You needa drink!"

"No, I'm all set," I said. "I'm getting ready to go."

"But you CAN'T go. You juss GOT here!" She grabbed my hand, and started pulling me towards the bar.

I let her lead me to the bar - I had no choice - and when we got there I said, "Really - I'm all set. I've got to go."

"Oh, not yet," she said, refilling her still half-full glass. "Whaddya having?"

This doesn't happen very often to me anymore. I'm open about my recovery, and usually hang out with recovery people or friends who know I don't drink. I wasn't sure what to say, so I just told the truth.

"I don't drink," I said. "But thanks anyway."

She blinked once, twice. Then she said, quietly, "Oh," and looked into her wineglass, as if the answers to the Universe were held in its depths. "Sorry."

"Don't be sorry," I said. "It's all good. I'm just tired and ready to go home."

She just kept staring into her wineglass, so I quietly moved away, found my friend, and made my exit.

I went home and curled up on my couch with a book, but I couldn't concentrate. I kept thinking about her, that woman, because I knew her. For so many years, that was me.

I never used to be the drunkest person in the room. I was careful when I was socializing; I tried hard to control it in front of other people. I don't recall any overtly embarrassing moments; I didn't create a scene, fall down, or humiliate myself.

What was so familiar to me was that quiet desperation behind her eyes, that ache for a connection with someone - anyone. Conversations fueled by alcohol felt so deep, so meaningful. I know I must have crossed lines, over-shared, or made less drunk people feel awkward with my forwardness.

When I was drinking I felt such a sense of belonging. Until the next morning, when I would wake up with a slow thump behind my eyelids and missing pieces of the evening before.

I don't know if she has a drinking problem or not. It doesn't matter, really. When you're sober and you go to a party with lots of drinking, you can't help but observe how the atmosphere of a room changes as people get more drunk. Cheeks flush, laughter gets raucous, inappropriate comments or gestures are made and nobody seem to notice.

It seems odd to me that I used to want so desperately to be in the middle of all that. From my vantage point, now, it all seems so, well, flimsy.

When I first got sober, I thought I was saying goodbye to fun forever. I never thought the day would come where I would be at a party full of people who were drinking and instead of wanting to be whooping it up that I would want more than anything to be home reading a book, talking to a good friend, or cuddling with my kids.

The irony? The irony is that I laugh more now - visceral, gut-clenching laughter - than I ever have in my life. I no longer need to be clutching a wineglass to cross over into that place of feeling connected with other people.

I can get there all on my own.


  1. I felt this one deep down in my gut. I remember this woman well. I was her, too.

  2. I remember when you posted this and I think of it from time to time. I think of this:

    "She has crossed over, I thought, into that place where drunk people grope for meaningful connection."

    That was always me. Always the source of my embarrassing behaviour.

    And I laugh so much more now, too. So much more, so much harder. It means the world to me.

    Great cross post Ellie!

  3. Reading this I realized that all through my early 20's the main way my "friends" and I found meaningful connection was through drinking. The people we'd hang out with at a party on a Friday night were our best friends while we were drinking, and yet we never really talked to each other in class on Monday. Then we'd "bond" again that weekend.

    Now my friends and I are really true actual friends, without the need to be drinking to feel close.

  4. This is so true. The "connection" is so convincing at the the time but clearly an illusion in sobriety. I went to my first dinner party this weekend where I was offered a beer and simply said, "I don't drink." "Not at all?" was the response. The host then said very graciously that she thought not drinking sounded like a good idea all around. Then it was dropped. I find I have a better time with the added benefit of no shame hangover or alcohol hangover. Thanks for a great post. I feel for that woman. Will send her prayers,

  5. Ellie, I posted a comment earlier but the internet monster ate it. Great post. What a moment for you. Such mixed feelings of aversion, relief, and sadness for her. The 'connection' is a lie. I realized how I connect sober is real. and no harder when I practiced mindfully socializing.

  6. just found the blog through another site i follow. great piece everyone should read. great courage as well.


  7. Fatnastic post Ellie, I can relate to it entirely. Nowadays when I'm faced with a woman who reminds me of myself drunk it hurts a bit, and then quickly I'm grateful for the new true happiness I've found. That I don't have to chase it through the wineglass.

  8. Thanks Ellie. That was a great post. That woman is me. And my friends. And I don't want to be her anymore.

  9. Wonderful post. I'm actually struggling right now as I head into a Friday nite and I really latched onto what you said about people being overly familiar when alcohol is involved...but this line especially resonated with me "Conversations fueled by alcohol felt so deep, so meaningful." Thank you so much.