I never want to go to work conferences, or work dinners, or anything out of work hours really. Sober, drunk, it doesn’t matter, I just don’t want to go. However, previously drinking made them more bearable. On the night that is, definitely not the next day. Possibly my loathing is a product of the jobs I have had in the last few years, or perhaps I have become jaded by constant connectivity to everything that I’d rather scrape my nose off with a potato peeler than attend one. Or maybe it’s that I find large groups of people draining, and prefer to engage in more intimate settings. More than likely though, I am just a massive whinger who would simply rather hang out with my friends, family or alone in my spare time.
I do remember enjoying work events when I worked in an antiquarian bookshop years ago, and we would host evenings for new acquisitions or attend book fairs filled with interesting literary folk and artists. That all seems like a beautiful dream. Now welcome to my nightmare: new workplace conference and dinner without alcohol. This time I came prepared though and made sure to pack my emergency Valium. As I have said before, I’ve never actually had to implement the Valium evacuation plan but preparation is key.
The conference component of the day was quite fun, which was a pleasant surprise. I’m probably the perfect target for conferences really, I obviously need to be motivated. After the conference a few people went off to have a drink in the pub, and I found a cafe to do some writing. In the boozer days I would have always been one of the people in the pub. I would have said to myself I would have two drinks and go back to the hotel to chill before dinner, then stay the whole time, leaving myself 10 minutes to run back to the hotel to throw a dress on.
For a fleeting moment when the conference finished I did get a creeping sensation of that feeling I use to get when the ‘boring’ part of the day was over, and I knew I would be able to melt into a glass of wine or a pint of beer. It kind of feels like relief and a reward at the same time, like the whole point of the day was to get to this part. The sensation lasted less than a minute but it felt exactly the same as it use to. I had a moment of doubt in myself and my sobriety because it seemed so real, so true, so familiar. It felt like my own memory was stalking me and wouldn’t let the boozer in me go so easily. However, it passed as quickly as it came, and then I was just me again. The me that went to a cafe to write and drink coffee, not the old me that would need a drink because I wanted to expel my anxiety, and saw drinking as the key to my salvation.
In my boozer days I would’ve arrived at the conference with a good buzz on, and promptly searched for the drinks waiter. My friend the drinks waiter. We would become well acquainted over the course of the evening. By the time the meal arrived I would have drunk and smoked so much already that hunger would have slipped to the back of my priority list, and more alcohol was my only concern: wine, smoke, wine, wine, smoke, and around and around we go until no one is home. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a dessert at one of these events. By the time dessert is served I’m way too far gone to care about my second love of sugary treats.
During dinner I would have talked rubbish with whoever was sitting next to me, and decided they were my new best friend. After the not eating of my meals was over and done with it was time to dance, and I would have been one of the last groovers on the floor. Possibly doing something outlandish like the splits. Side note, I do still love to dance. Sobriety has not diminished my love of dancing but I now keep the outlandish moves for the right places.
When the evening was meant to come to a close at midnight I would have been the first one to say ‘where are we going now?’. I would have been at the stage when I definitely should have gone home to bed but I would have kept going, and from there on the night would become a little hazy. Possibly I would say something rude or inappropriate to someone, or do something ridiculous like the time I ran up on stage at a club and grabbed the musician’s microphone, and yelled into it ‘yo yo yo motherf**kers!’. The musician was confused, I was drunk, the bouncer kicked me out. Fair play.
I might remember how I got home but I just as easily might not, and the next morning I would wake up with that sky falling down feeling, like my little universe had imploded in on itself, with a grenade of self loathing thrown into the mix, just to make sure I was completely annihilated. It was about this time I would say ‘I’m never drinking again!’, and everyone would say ‘yeah yeah, sure’. Until the one day I said it and it stuck. The anxiety wouldn’t even end on the day of the hangover, it would linger for several days to a week. Until I knew I was in the clear about my behaviour on the evening. Until I’d spoken to every possible person I might have interacted with. It was exhausting.
However, this night went down quite differently. I arrived at the pre-drinks NOT boozed, and attempted to socialise, but I must admit I did feel slightly overwhelmed, especially being the new person. No need for the emergency Valium just yet though. I knew I’d be okay once we sat down at our tables. Then I could be less exposed. Dissolve into the landscape. And it was okay. The people sitting at my table were fine, the meal was perfectly adequate, the MC was really funny, and it all went relatively quickly. At the end of the awards, the start of the ‘fun’ part of the evening, I put on my jacket, said goodbye to my work friend, who decided she also wanted to leave, and we walked back together. Nothing bad happened, no souls were eroded in the making of the evening, and a sense of relief that it was over flowed through me as we walked away.
I know you probably thought the moral of this story was that you can still have fun at a work dinner even off the booze but it’s not. The moral is, you can do what you need to do then fuck off when you want. You don’t need to pretend you are going to enjoy everything just because you worry that people will think you are boring because you are sober. When you stop drinking you realise that some things do suck, and just need to be done, and there’s probably a reason you felt you needed to drink to get through them. Time becomes more valuable because you’ve wasted so much of it being wasted and full of regret that you want to use it wisely. However, the evening wasn’t a total fail; I had no need for an emergency Valium.
I’m Odette, I’m a problem drinker, and I hate work functions.
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