It’s 00:26 and I’m en route home from a work event. I’m exhausted, I want to break-down in the same way that a five year old does when they can’t tie their shoelaces; it’s got nothing to do with shoelaces, it’s to do with frustration and it all being just “too much”. A stranger, opposite me, just asked about the next stop, which helpfully jolted me out of choking back tears. Crying is always okay, I’d just rather wait until home than do it on a train that’s packed with drunks.
Tonight was an alcoholic minefield. One which I just wasn’t prepared for. It’s so normal for me nowadays to attend events and “dos” where I decline alcohol and enjoy myself and the whole scenario goes unnoticed. Tonight however, it didn’t go unnoticed. People put their foot in it, I made rookie errors and I nearly got shamed by my boss.
I preach honesty, to the nth degree, however there is one circumstance where I don’t avoid masking the truth. I have been in my job for three months and I love it, they know about my bipolar but they do not know about my alcoholism. It is not to do with shame or denial or anything in that vague vicinity, I just don’t want to jeopardise my career due to wider misconceptions. In a few months when they know me more I will let the cat flee from the bag, but for now it’s on the DL and if anyone asks me why I don’t drink, I say it’s because I’m bipolar, which is not a lie, but is most definitely obscuring 90% of the truth.
I’m going to give you a run-down of what happened tonight and you can judge for yourself exactly how catastrophic it was;
6pm – My colleague (Colleague 1 or C1 for short) and I were fixing our make-up. It was the end of a long event that we had been working at and we had to go, straight on, to an evening award ceremony, with little time to prepare. We were chatting away as usual and she kept referencing times where she/others had got absolutely smashed at the awards and had done XYZ and then said “Oh yes, you don’t drink do you? I’m sure we can convince you to have just one” to which I swiftly replied, on auto-pilot, with, “Oh no, sorry, [light laugh] I won’t be having anything.” I have assertive firmness to a T nowadays but even so, it did, mentally, catch me off guard.
7:30pm – Having made sure everything that I could do, logistically, had been done, I headed upstairs to the delegate area, of the awards ceremony, where clients and colleagues were burning through an abundance of champagne whilst trying not to fall over their floor-length gowns. Everyone had a champagne flute in their hand and I was instantly set upon by server after server extending offerings of potent trays of alcohol. It was everywhere. I could hear the fizz from the flutes, the pop of corks, the chink of glass against glass. I slid to one side and surreptitiously requested one of the waiters find me something non-alcoholic and he arrived at my side, moments later, with an orange juice. It was a relief to have something in hand but even, so I was acutely aware of my surroundings and of how alcohol was permanently overflowing whereas soft drinks weren’t just hard to come by, you had to send out a forager, on your behalf.
7:35pm – “Not drinking?” For all those who are not alcoholics, please avoid this opener, it’s such an inappropriate ice breaker. We know you mean well, but conversations around drinking-abstinence can lead down a multitude of very private avenues. I didn’t miss a beat and replied in the negative which sparking a conversation about drinking with an, already tipsy, colleague (C2). I was surrounded by the focus of my addiction and now I was discussing it! I tried to get away by starting a conversation with a man to my left, only to have C1, who was in the crowd, spill champagne all over his jacket, I swung away as the smell stung my nostrils, only to be re-trapped by my original, oblivious torturer. Someone announced he was going out for a cigarette and I pounced; he was out of menthols and I didn’t even want to smoke (having recently quit) but I needed to get the hell out of there.
8:00pm – Called in to dinner, I sat down and instantly clocked the red wine, white wine and champagne glass to my right. With no water at the table I was scuppered, again. After profusely turning down tinted bottle after bottle a waiter finally came over and filled up a wine glass with water. With a table covered in at least 30 alcohol filled glasses, with people to-ing and fro-ing, I could see that me picking up someone else’s glass was just an accident waiting to happen. I hailed a waiter and requested a normal glass to drink out of and they politely, but slowly, obliged. Watching everyone around me drink, into giddy happiness, lit the envy in my stomach; Not for the drinking but just for the fact that they didn’t have to stay alert like I did, I couldn’t just relax, I had to cover all bases, it felt like a huge weight was just battering my already exhausted mentality.
8:30pm – I bit in to the beetroot laying across my salmon nigiri starter and could taste the wine vinegar it had been marinating in. It stung my tongue as I scolded myself for not checking the menu. I was exhausted and I was slipping. I pushed a lot of my food around my plate and could feel the tension in my shoulders.
10pm – Awards had been announced and mains had arrived. I was famished and I could smell the beef, cooked to rare perfection. I’d been awake since 4am and I couldn’t wait to devour my food and get home to bed. Without thinking I teased off a chunk, dipped it in gravy and bit down eagerly. The unmistakeable twang of reduced wine filled my mouth as the boozy jus became stronger and stronger in taste. FOR FUCK’S SAKE. “Panic and stress will make this worse, what’s done is done, be calm”. My interior mantra kept my exterior in check as I placed my knife and fork either side of my plate and quietly motioned the waiter over to my table, desperately trying not to call attention to myself, unfortunately most of the table had caught the movement in their peripheral. I asked him to find out if there was alcohol in the gravy, already sure of the answer. He motioned to another server for help, drawing yet more attention to the situation. The waiters disappeared off to the kitchen and returned, swiftly removed the offending meal and replacing it with a polished plate, with non-alcoholic gravy. In the meantime nearly everyone in the vicinity was curiously looking over at me; I forced myself to keep a natural smile on my face and roll my eyes in a blazé fashion. A particularly perceptive colleague mouthed “alcohol?” and nodded knowingly, the girl to my right, whom I had never met asked if everything was okay and why I couldn’t eat alcohol, “is it an allergy?” she asked. I told her it was just not worth the risk due to having bipolar. The drunk colleague to my left started sounding off about how people ask her why she never drinks, the reason being? “I just never do it”… The irony was inescapable. The long and short of it was, my drinking was the centre of attention and I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I just wanted the ground to swallow me up.
10:05pm – I started eating the non-alcoholic replacement but I felt uneasy because I was sure I could taste an unwelcome tang. I assured myself it was fine, the waiter had said, specifically, it was non-alcoholic and I was afraid of making a fuss, so I finished the plate. I regret that. I should never have eaten it. Touch wood, nothing bad came of it, but even having the feeling that something’s off is enough to leave a plate of food, regardless of how much fuss is made. Two things can happen when an alcoholic digests alcoholic food; 1.) the taste can set of a chain reaction and kick start a memory and then a craving – something you never want, let alone at a function which is drowning in alcohol. And 2.) if the alcohol content is high enough you are essentially drinking alcohol, which can kick start a neurological process in which you have unwittingly taken your first drink and you lose control over the ability to drink more. In the future I will be choosing mild hunger over alcoholic insanity.
11:30pm – Dinner was over, the night was drawing to a close, I was talking to my boss and the previously mentioned, particularly perceptive colleague. Whilst I had been running around, working, I’d missed the after-dinner chocolates being handed out and I really wanted one but I was trying to be on my best behaviour and so was ignoring the urge to walk up to a table and pinch one. The three of us were chatting away when a server apparated beside us, offering up three post dinner sweets, white chocolate, my favourite. Each of us took one and popped the morsals, whole in to my mouths. I took a bite just as my colleague quickly said “Maddie, there’s alcohol in these” My whole body froze. My, oblivious boss burst out laughing and said, “He’s teasing, ignore him!” With what I am aware was a complete look of horror on my face, I could taste that he was serious, he shook his head, unsure of what to do to help. “I’m not joking, they’re champagne chocolates”. The flavour was strengthening, I felt sick. I had no idea what to do. With my boss in front of me, clients swarming around me I couldn’t spit it out, could I! Or could I? I sure as hell wasn’t going to finish eating it but the bathroom was on the other side of the floor and I’d have to fight through countless lawyers to get there. My boss was laughing at me, saying “calm down!”, “One chocolate won’t get you pissed.”, “Oh for goodness sake, don’t be so stupid”. As I wheeled around in panic, trying desperately to stay calm, I could hear my colleague saying to her “You don’t understand, she sent her food back earlier because of it, she can’t eat it.” My boss was leaning in, pushing her face closer to mine and continued her incredulous commentary. Fuck it. I grabbed a napkin and spat the chocolate out. Nothing is worth my sobriety. I could hear my sponsor’s voice in my head “I don’t care where you are or who you are with if you need to spit it out, just do it”. I grabbed a glass of water and washing it round my mouth, the flavour hanging on to my taste buds for dear life. My boss fell silent, I think the fact that I’d resorted to doing such a thing in the middle of a ballroom, in The Savoy, London filled with clients and colleagues meant I wasn’t dicking about.
Fifteen minutes later and I was in a cab to the station, to get on this train. I wanted and still want to cry out of frustration, anger, indignation, you name it. Tonight was just horrendous, but I didn’t have a drink and for each day that I don’t, my life is a success. For some people reading this, a drink is a way to enjoy yourself or relax and unwind, to me, it is like playing Russian roulette without the empty chamber; no person, job, client or black tie dinner is worth pulling that trigger.
If I had spoken to a fellow alcoholic beforehand, meditated on it, read the menu carefully, requested a non-alcoholic dinner in advance and asked what was in the chocolates, tonight would have been a very different and wonderful experience. The world is about being equipped to take life on life’s terms so that you don’t miss all the wonderful things. This evening, I let myself forget that not every situation will be within my comfort zone but that’s not to say I shouldn’t have ventured out. All I’m saying, is that if you want to stand underneath a rainbow you better buy an umbrella.