A lot of people recovering from addiction and alcoholism don’t do well in crowds or at parties. Maybe it’s something about our sensitive nervous systems, or our propensity for wanting everyone in the room to like us (the proposition becomes more unmanageable when there are several hundred people in the room).
I usually don’t like going to parties. It’s taken me a long time to admit that, because it seems to me that most people like parties. I’d rather have supper at home with no more than five or six friends. When the crowd gets to like 10, I start having trouble. When it gets above 20, I sort of stick to the walls and have a book in my bag.
How many of us started drinking at parties because we didn’t know how to be social? (Or using drugs. Drinking at parties is socially acceptable—but you can’t stand in front of other guests and rummage around in your purse for the Vicodin… or, as a friend of mine jokes, for the Chore Boy to fire up your crack pipe.)
So when I was invited to go to an arts gala a few months back, I kind of had a hard time deciding. I wanted to support the cause, but could I get through a night with lots of other guests (many of whom would be much more well-off than I am)? How would I do it without having “a little something” to relax?
Here’s how I stayed sober and spiritually fit and took care of myself at the party.
Getting ready: deciding what to wear. In the old days I might have gone out and bought a whole new outfit… or stayed home because I had nothing to wear. This time I kept it simple… My friend P (with whom I’d gone to London in the summer and seen Niki de Saint Phalle’s “shooting pictures”) had invited me to this thing and, at my request, texted me some clues on dress: “Artsy-fartsy festive mixed with a touch of chic but not fancy.” I asked for help, and got it. When in doubt, wear black, I always say. So I got out a long black knit T-shirt dress I’d snagged at a thrift shop years back. Metal chain belt at hips, black shawl. Black fishnets and suede kitten-heel Manolos (eBay) for a little “chic but not fancy” confidence. Plus the silver earrings my husband brought back from UK last Christmas. Short sleeves let me show off my new triceps. Because the outfit was so pretty, comfortable and cheap, I could focus on other stuff. Including:
Being social: for a change, assume everyone is nice! In the old days, if you weren’t my best friend, you probably hated me—was my basic assumption, anyhow. The other night, I decided as I walked in to assume that every single person there was a nice person. … You know how much easier conversations go when you just assume everybody’s nice? Of course, not everybody IS nice. But taking that attitude makes all the small-talk easier. It’s easier to be courteous. My Al-Anon sponsor is fond of saying, “Everyone deserves courtesy.” Love is one of my higher powers.
Not drinking: focusing on the moment. As soon as I walked in the door, surprise! a free open bar, and hundreds of people walking around with wine. I knew exactly six people in the room, only two of whom know I’m sober. I thought to myself, I could probably have a drink and nobody would notice. But why? … Just then I ran into P, who advised me to visit the hands-on craft activities. So I stood at the wool counter and wet-felted some wool. Then I discovered the lower level, where all the shops were open—I mean the wood shop and the metal shop. I LOVED shop in school. Banged out a copper bracelet for my kid, with beaten edges and stamped with the word, “SURRENDER.” (He’s actually been wearing it!) … Meditation and prayer (Step 11) have helped me with this. Focusing on being alive each moment helped me enjoy the party. I didn’t have to worry what was going to happen, because I was awake in each moment as it happened.
Taking breaks doesn’t just mean hiding in the corner. When it got too much I sat in a quiet, dark spot for a while. I used to feel bad about myself when parties got too much for me and I had to take breaks. Other girls could go on all night and gain steam with all the noise and talk. … But why take that attitude? I’ve decided that if I need a break, I’ll take one. It means taking care of myself.
Knowing my limits: saying goodbye. I left a little early. It was starting to clear out but there was still a good crowd in there, listening to the auctions. … We never went to parties when I was a kid. I tell you, our house was like a monastery—how many parties do they have in monasteries? … It’s not second-nature for me to know how to handle myself. I tend to run away. I wasn’t with my husband, who grew up with lots of folks always invited to the house, and going to gatherings for his father’s business. I usually depend on my husband in social gatherings. … I said goodbye to my friends who’d invited me and thanked them. Then stood outside to wait for my husband to come by with the car.
Having gratitude. Watching the party carry on from outside the windows, I felt grateful:
for being sober
for having good friends to invite me to such a lovely party
for having learned enough social skills to be appropriate and have fun
for being able to make a bracelet for my son
for being able to be myself today, without shame