I do not like networking events. All those strangers; all those hands to shake and names to remember; the endless polite conversation. Last week I had to go to a drinks and dinner evening, as part of my new job. It’d been on the calendar for months and I was dreading it. Not only was I having to go on my own, but I knew I’d need to make a good impression. Hiding in a corner – or staying at home – was not an option.
I’ve noticed these kind of events offer people drinks the minute they arrive. (At least in the UK they do). The message seems to be: here’s a glass of liquid courage for you, this will help you to be the social butterfly you wish you really were. Sure enough, I’d barely taken my coat off when a waiter approached me offering a choice of two drinks: white wine or red wine. Hmmm. When I asked for a soft drink he pointed towards the bar. Get it yourself.
As I was getting ready for the event I thought about how handy it’d be if I could still drink, because let’s face it: alcohol is great at squashing down unwanted emotions, like nervousness. I’m reading a good book at the moment (Goodbye Mr Wonderful, by Chris McCully) which describes alcoholism as ‘a disease of the emotions’. I think that’s a great description. It’s those pesky emotions – and our desire not to feel them – that drives us to drink. When we stop drinking, we have no choice but to learn how to handle those emotions head on. ‘Dealing with stuff’ is not always easy and I think it’s natural to look for ways of avoiding unpleasant emotions every now and then.
Even though I know alcohol is a lie and a con and a big fat waste of space, I find that every now and then my brain clicks into ‘old’ mode. If there’s a problem, it scans its database of possible solutions, and – imagine cogs whirring here – ta da: booze is presented as the answer. I mention this because I think it’s important to know the difference between a craving and a thought habit. I’ve been sober a year and sometimes old thought patterns creep in. But that’s all they are – thoughts. There’s no need to act on them.
Anyway, back to the evening in question. I made a beeline for the bar and ordered a tonic water. To my dismay, it was handed to me in a tumbler, with a straw. Honestly, a straw! What am I, a child? This annoyed me immensely – I wanted my drink in a grown up glass like everyone else. So I (politely) asked the bar tender if she could pour the tonic water into a wine glass. She gave me an odd look but did what I asked. For a few moments it all felt a bit awkward, but that conversation paid off later on. Once we’d sat down to eat, I seemed to become invisible to the waiters, who floated round offering people wine, wine and more wine. Fortunately, the bar tender remembered I wasn’t drinking and came over several times to see if she could get me anything else.
Having spent so much time worrying about the evening, I was relieved it went ok. I survived by acting my ass off and pretending to be the confident person I wish I really was. Although, maybe I am more confident than I think? Who knows. The only person who commented on my sobriety was the man who interviewed me for the job. He came over, pointed to my drink and said “You’re being very abstemious. Are you trying to make a good impression?!” Our conversation was interrupted at that point so I never had to reply. But his comment made me realise how nice it felt nice to be in control of myself – so I could indeed make a good impression. It was reassuring to know that everything I said came from the real me and not the drunk, sloppy version.