repost from The Fix, By Dana Bowman 08/31/16
My husband and I are at a birthday party. This is a rare event, as I would much rather be at home on the couch watching Nurse Jackie, but we both love the guest of honor, and I am being an adult.
The husband is standing next to me, but is a million miles away through intense conversation with a friend about their alma mater’s football team. He has a look of pure bliss on his face as they both gloat over the last win. Their heads are bent together as if they were preparing questions for the press conference, and endless analysis of play-action passes fly over my head.
I’m okay. I’m imagining how I would like to redo our bathroom. As of yet, I have not really engaged in polite conversation with anyone, so I am mentally picking out the perfect grey paint and trying to figure out how I can smush a his and hers sink into a space the size of a bath towel. So far, the party is going great.
At some point, my mind wanders away from paint chips and tile and starts to notice the chattering folks around me. And then, I start to play How Many People Here Are Drinking. It’s what I do. I am an alcoholic, after all.
My husband is one of those weird creatures we call a “normie.” He is abstaining tonight because I am with him. I find this such a huge sacrifice that I wonder if he might divorce me over this party. As if, at the end of the night, he might come to me and say,
“Dear. I just can’t do it. I can’t go to anymore reunions or birthdays without drinking at them. You are a pain in the ass. I am leaving you. For beer.”
The sad thing is that I know folks who have experienced a version of this conversation. Alcohol is just that important to some of us. So, later at the party, I engage in this conversation (real, not imagined) with Brian:
“Dear. Go ahead. You can drink. Really, I totally understand. I mean, it is just so hard to be here and not drink, you know? I can’t imagine how you can stand it. Now, I’m just going to go stand over here by this plant. Let me know when it’s time to go.”
Brian does that thing where he looks at me like I am crazy. And he says,
“Dear. I am enjoying hanging with my friends. Plus, I am really full and don’t need the carbs. So, the beer? I could take it or leave it. You know?”
No. I don’t. I really, really don’t know.
Normies don’t have the slightest clue how much we alcoholics are watching them. Perhaps, if they did know, it would drive them to drink. Consequently, I shut up and let Brian continue with his heated discussion of offensive tacklers. He is in his zone of friends, sports talk, and cheese dip. And that’s when I realize, he is having a really good time while, at the same time, not drinking.
I too end up having a good time. I find a friend, and a couch, and we sit and talk about why we love Nurse Jackie. Also, she brings me a huge tumbler of something kind of brown and fizzy and strangely delicious.“It’s a virgin-ita” she tells me, proudly. I ask her what is in it and she shrugs. “I’m not sure. I just kept throwing all sorts of fruit juice in there. And maybe some root beer.” She too is a normie. She has a glass of wine in her hand that she doesn’t sip at all while we’re talking. In fact, when we get up to grab some snacks, she wrinkles her nose at the glass. “Ugh. Warm wine. I’m just gonna go toss this.”
And she does. She just tosses it. And we fill our plates with nachos and those little meatball things dripping in sweet barbecue sauce, and lo and behold, she then selects a Diet Coke. I just blink at her as if she started speaking in Swedish suddenly, unable to decipher her motives for the Coke. Is it a cover? When will she drink wine again? And she seems so happy, still? It’s befuddling.
These normies are kind of nuts. They come up with nonalcoholic drinks with disconcerting names, and they throw away wine. But, I also find them fascinating. And possibly worthy of imitation.
Here are four things I think we could learn from normies:
1. Ninety-nine percent of what we say does not have to have a double meaning. Life is complicated enough.
I check in with my husband a lot in these party situations. “Are you having fun?” I ask. I am pretty sure he can’t be having fun. And then, when he answers, “Yep! This is great,” I tense up. My eyes narrow. What does he mean, saying this is “great”? Is that sarcasm? How much does he resent me right now? Will I learn about this later at the divorce attorney?
Strangely enough, when Brian says he is having a great time, he is, in fact, having a great time. He is eating his own body weight in Velveeta. He is surrounded by friends he hasn’t seen in at least a week. He is having, dare I say, “fun.” I waste about half the night trying to decipher the meanings of all these words, when instead, I too could be inhaling cheesecake and learning that bunko is kind of awesome.
2. Most people are generally good.
Every time I go to a party I think, “I don’t like talking to people that much.” And then, in some sort of weird mathematical schism of life, this gets equated with: “I don’t like people.” I do realize this makes me sound like I am the awful one, and perhaps I am. Because what happens instead is that I go to the party and I find out people are awesome. I sit down and talk to people and they are really hilarious. And nice. And, they have interesting things to say.
It’s like every time I am in a social situation I have a total “Humans of New York” moment. My god. These people are cool. They have lives, and they make me laugh. And sometimes, too, there are even pets or small, sleeping babies, and I am just overwhelmed with gratitude.
3. Some people are awful.
Let’s just say, hypothetically, that you run into Larry at this party. Larry is a close-talker, and his breath smells of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and he likes to talk to you about gun control. This person is not fitting in my “Humans of New York” moment. Larry has probably never been to New York, and if he has, he complained a lot about the price of things and that the museums were overrated. Anyhow, Larry is just kind of awful. This is when you have three options:
a. Talk to Larry like a damn adult for five minutes and then head off in search of cocktail weenies.
b. Just not talk to him. Say, “Oh I forgot something!” and then wander off in search of it. He won’t really notice or remember because there are all sorts of other people to talk to, and there are cocktail weenies.
c. Skip obsessing about the fact that you did either a or b.
4. The next day is just the next day.
Every year, Brian goes away on something called his Man Trip. He spends a lot of money and watches his alma mater play football, and hopefully they win. They have lost the past three years now, but I am not keeping track. Anyhow, most of the money spent is for the hotel and food—but also for Crown Royal. And yes, he drinks all this Crown Royal with his buddies. I always make a point to call him the morning after the game, at about 7 a.m., and I speak into the phone like this: “HI HONEY! GOOD MORNING! HOW ARE YOU FEELING?” I kind of picture him hanging over the side of a toilet bowl, in agony, and that’s when I start in on a vivid description of my breakfast of runny eggs. He is scratchy-voiced and tired, but not dying. And he is not consumed with guilt and remorse. The most I can get out of him is, “Wow. I’m feeling it this morning.”
The next day is just the next day.
He just keeps right on living life, even if what he did the night before involved painting his chest purple* and trying to make it on the Jumbotron. The next day is just the next day, and it will involve packing up and coming on home and kissing us all hello. I sometimes have days where I do stuff that might make me cringe a bit, like I get too screechy with the kids, or wear my shirt inside out to Target. It doesn’t have to stay with me. The next day is just the next day, after all.
I am sure I have more to learn from my analysis of normies, but I am content with this list. All the items described basically fit under the idea that Not Everything is Such A Big Deal, a mind-bending realization that has taken me years in recovery to accept. If only my husband knew he was such an interesting specimen to study. I have a lot to learn from him.
Just don’t tell him I said so.
*All participants in the Man Trip have vehemently denied ever painting their chests purple. Perhaps, if they did, their stupid team would actually win.