Lying in my sleeping bag, damp, cold and shivering, a mosquito buzzing around my ears. I feel it on my back, maybe even in the sleeping bag with me, biting, annoying, my skin crawling with itchiness real and imagined. I feel completely alone and I shiver with a cold that runs deeper than my chilled toes. There is nobody to warm me up but myself so I curl into a ball deep in my sleeping bag and hope sleep finds me but I lay there wanting so much to feel the warmth of another human being wrapped around me.
It was a weekend of baseball, booze, camping, hanging out with new friends, learning new games (slip and slide flip cup) and just generally having a good time. I am the quiet one, the non-drinker, the non-smoker, the one in the shadows holding the light so others can see. I am not loud, or obnoxious. I am the responsible one that catches the drunk when they stumble.
But oh how I wish I could be the one partying it up, the one willing to play, willing to be looked after, willing to stand in the light and be seen. My choice to opt out comes from a place of fear, fear of being seen for who I am and of being defined by my pain, my anger and my mistakes. Instead I take the safe route and I choose not to drink. I use my medications as my excuse but it goes so much deeper than that.
I don’t drink because I’m an angry drunk, a raging drunk, a pitiful crying drunk. Alcohol follows the path of least resistance and it finds its way between the cracks to my dark place, where I keep my anger, my rage, my pain all bottled up. The alcohol lets everything loose, it breaks me wide open. I lose the ability to keep the tears in check and they fall uncontrolled. It can and has ruined the fun for everyone, so I choose not to bring that to a party, which means I choose not to drink.
So I play the part of the responsible one. I let others enjoy themselves and then I’m there to catch them before they stumble into the fire or otherwise hurt themselves or cause any damage, to help them get back to the campsite safely or to the bathroom and back without hurting themselves. I stay hidden in the shadows. I take all the pictures of everyone having a good time but you won’t find me in any of the photos. I will be a phantom memory to most within a week or so when baseball season ends. I will be the “oh who was that girl?” and the “y’know so and so’s wife (friend, whatever), does anyone remember her name?” questions.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy myself because I did. It was nice to have a weekend away from the kids and to just hang out and have absolutely nothing to do and nowhere important to be. To laugh and to feel like a member of the group, even if it was only for a few days. It’s just so hard to feel like a real, integrated member when I’m working so hard to keep my dark secrets hidden and play nice, and to feel like if they knew the real me, my story, I would not be as welcome, and yet I don’t really give them a chance either because giving them a chance means taking the risk of exposing myself.
For most of the weekend I shifted aside my needs so my husband could thoroughly enjoy himself, play ball and be one of the guys and I encouraged him to let go and have fun. On the last night after he’d had too much to drink I held him wrapped in his sleeping bag until he stopped shivering and fell into a deep sleep, sleeping off the last of the effects of the alcohol, but in the darkness of the night I felt encompassed by a sense of utter loneliness despite being surrounded by a campsite full of friends. It was hard not to give into the overwhelming twinges of resentment and self-recrimination, angry because I’m not more outgoing, wishing I could just drink and be part of the life of the party instead of being the responsible one all the time, and being so afraid of letting my demons out to play and ruining the night for others, that at the end of it all I end up all alone cold and shivering in my sleeping bag.
I didn’t drink much at all, yet I woke up feeling hung over and exhausted, almost worse than some of the drinkers. It was an emotional hangover brought on by repressing everything I felt, the overwhelming loneliness, being frustrated by how much my anger and pain poisons my life, and all the artifices I use to keep people on the outside so they can’t see, really see the person I am, pain and all.
I won’t ever be the life of the party and as much as I envy those who find it so easy to let go, I’ve accepted that that’s not who I am but I’ve realized I also have a limit where I need some attention too, like wanting to be held until I am warm again. Some day maybe just maybe I will find the strength to step into the light and be seen, and be the one to stumble trusting that someone will be there to catch me when I do.