The Family Freak
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The Family Freak


This post was originally published on August 16, 2013.

It’s family barbecue season in my neck of the woods. How I loved barbecue season back in the day. For me, barbecues had little to do with food but more to do with the awesome excuse they provided to drink from early afternoon until the early hours of the next morning. And what’s more, everyone expected me to do that. You could always count on Nicky to get the party going and continue it long after anyone else was interested.

The last two weekends, I have attended family barbecues. Now, I love my family. It includes some of the funniest people I have ever met—especially my sister. And yet me and crowds of people—whether they are family or not—is not something that mixes well. I much prefer to be surrounded by my books and writing materials. Alcohol used to help me cope at any social gathering but now, since I am alcohol-free, socializing with people outside of the fellowship poses problems for me. I still get that awkward knot in my stomach around large crowds and I don’t quite know where to put myself—though this awkwardness has started to decline a little over time.

Other people’s reaction to my not drinking doesn’t help much. I used to gain attention for my drunken antics. Then I got attention because I was not drinking and I would notice those secret pitiful looks being thrown at me from a distance at family gatherings. Now I get attention because it’s becoming apparent to the non family members who attend our barbecues that I am indeed alcohol-free. Being alcohol-free and  Irish is enough of a reason to stand out in the first place. Indeed, I remember my father once telling me  to never trust a person who didn’t drink. Yes ,that was his logic and I took it on as my own for most of my life. If you were a regular pub attendee in Ireland and it was known that you had decided to “give up the drink,” it would be widely discussed by the locals and the conclusion drawn would typically be  that you had lost your mind completely.

So seemingly, I am now that weirdo. As I sat in the sunshine with my sister, brother and numerous cousins, a friend of one of my cousins asked me if I wasn’t drinking because I was driving. My cousin turned to her and said, “Nicky has been sober now for over three years.” Well, the reaction of the friend was worthy of a part in a dramatics society performance. Her head turned slowly towards me as if she was about to view something totally horrific. She then stared at me for far too long before exclaiming, “Nicky, I had no idea!” She looked at me as if she had just heard I had terminal cancer or something. Then the whole table was looking at me—all with  alcoholic drinks in their hands. I quickly realized they were waiting for my reply to her. I am known as the “Don” of the family as I am the oldest cousin, but also because I have a pretty poisonous backlash when insulted. This time, there was complete silence. I replied, “It’s no big deal really” and excused myself to go get more food. I didn’t even have to look at anyone to know that they were completely baffled by my subdued and diplomatic behavior.

I proceeded to obtain a large slice of pavlova with extra whipped cream to soften the feeling of humiliation. I wanted to run and hide but I thought, “No, fuck this, I have nothing to be ashamed of and I won’t let someone else’s ignorance ruin my day.” So I toddled back to my family with my cake in hand and my head held high. When I got back, my 16-year-old cousin, who looks like something off the pages of Vogue, had commanded the table’s attention in true Nicky style and everyone had forgotten the earlier awkwardness. In fact, the friend of my cousin’s was looking decidedly unwell and about 10 minutes later had to go lie down because—well, she was so drunk. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit happy about it and thought to myself, “Ha, that’s what you get for being a condescending bitch.”

My claim to fame was once that I was the wild child of the family who ate dysfunction for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Today I am the writer eccentric with too many cats who goes to strange, cult-like meetings and has found God. It seems in my endeavor to become “normal,” I have found that I am still “abnormal.” The difference today is that my freakiness comes out in an artistic quirkiness instead of showing my ass off to anyone who would look and vomiting up the contents of my stomach at the end of the night. Yes, my friends, I am destined to become “the crazy cat lady.” And that is just fine with me.

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About Author

Nicola O’Hanlon is part of the blogging community for the recovery website You can see her blogs on She was born and still lives in Wexford, Ireland.