He’s standing a little too close to me, as evidenced by his breath, which is taking my mascara off. He’s not being creepy; he just can’t seem to stand without swaying. And he keeps trying to put the pink drink into my hand.
I do not want the pink drink.
But what I do want to do is silently judge and simmer and wish I was at home, in my footie pajamas, watching Cupcake Wars.
For those of us in recovery, holiday work parties can be tough. I tend to cling to the opinion that people only attend these things because of the open bar. This negative mindset sits comfortably with me, because I used to be one of those people. The main event for the night is getting just drunk enough to blow off some passive-aggressive steam at the boss, and perhaps karaoke “Hotel California” with the cute guy from marketing.
I realize I sound very grumpy. It is the season for peace on earth and goodwill towards man, after all, even if he is really being pushy with his pink beverages. I am tense. This scene is a cocktail of threats to my sobriety: social inhibitions, loud and exhausting environments, uncomfortable shoes, and, of course, lots of booze.
And here I am, with my fifth club soda sloshing around inside me, trying to talk to people. I find myself eyeing the partition wall longingly as if standing against it, circa every one of my seventh grade dances, would be my happy place. Instead I am attempting conversation with people who are clearly operating on a slightly more fuzzy level of existence.
Here is a sample interaction:
Nice lady in cute dress: Hi! You! I work with your husband! Oh my god! He’s so nice! It’s Ryan, right? He is so nice!
Me: Me? Or the husband? He’s Brian. I’m not…
Nice lady in cute dress: Oh! Yes! That, too.
Me: Uh, I like your dress. It’s really cute.
Woman: OH MY GOD THANK YOU YOU ARE SO SWEET YOU ARE THE CUTEST THING I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!
Me: Oh. Well, thank you.
I smile to try and fill the awkward silence because I don’t know where to go with this?
Fortunately, she is unaware of any awkwardness, and gives me a hug that lasts a long time and then clatters away on very high heels.
Tippy shoes and pink drinks do not mix well, but the night is young
I peer about and locate the husband by the roulette table. I notice that he is drinking a Pepsi, in solidarity with me. This gives him many points in my book, which is good, because he started out he evening at negative points since he kept telling me this party might be fun.
It is not really all that fun. I need to figure out my strategy here, fast, or the rest of my evening is going to end up as bad as my husband’s luck at the roulette wheel.
The deal is this: holiday work parties can offer some good times. They really can. The couple that we sat next to at dinner was really funny and nice. They totally understood my confession that I morph into Seinfeld’s Elaine on the dance floor, so they were kindred spirits. Also, later that night I happened upon some salmon puffs at the buffet, and we kind of had a thing. I was serious about those salmon puffs. At one point, my husband tried to talk to me while I was eating them, and I was humming softly and told him I needed some time alone, with the puffs. He shook his head, handed me a napkin and wandered back to roulette. He understands me.
Also, there was the moment that I got to go home and get out of my heels and into my pajamas. That, by far, was the best part of the entire evening.
I know some of my friends in recovery really don’t look at it this way. My friend Kara has six years sober, and she cheerfully tells me, “Work parties? I enjoy them. They always have those little sausage things. So, yeah. What’s the problem?”
It must be me. I am the problem. Karaoke would probably just result in tears, from both the audience and me. Also, there’s talking. Talking is hard. I feel like small talk makes the universe lose ozone every time it occurs. I’m just trying to do my part by avoiding it.
Here is what I do know about the holiday work party: while I am there, I am not going to be eaten by zombies. Getting eaten by zombies is pretty much the most horrible thing that could happen to a person. I know this because I watch The Walking Dead. Each week, buried under two blankets and my dog, I watch and learn that becoming a zombie dinner is a very effective measurement of unpleasantness. And I can breathe easy because my attendance of this party will not result in my guts being ripped out by a gnawing half-faced dead guy. So I practice my gratitude for that and breathe, guts intact.
The other thing I know about holiday parties is they will happen whether I attend or not, and if I miss one, I just have to wait a year and it will be back. If I am really feeling rather angry or sad or lonely, I just don’t have to go. In my life of daily recovery, I actually don’t have to do anything, except not drink today. It’s very freeing. This is my goal for each and every day of my life, and achieving it is not nearly as scary as zombies.
Back at the party: after my special time with my salmon puffs, I decide to utilize a few more survival tactics. I text a friend. I head outside for a quick moment of quiet and some stars. I wander back in and sidle up to the husband and get a hug. He unknowingly smashes a bunch of salmon puffs I had stowed in my purse, but I forgive him. We slow dance to Journey and I feel kind of lucky. I am no longer the seventh grader with big bangs, stuck to a wall. It is possible I am enjoying myself.
An hour later, firmly wedged between two of my husband’s co-workers who are discussing football and immigration, the thrill is gone. I wonder when a discussion of religion will be broached, so we can hit the trifecta of very bad. I am salmon puffed and tired, and I long for my Netflix cue. It is then that Pink Drink guy approaches and starts leaning at me. I glance about for the husband. I am about to give him our Secret Signal that will subtly inform him it is time to go. He is used to the Secret Signal by now, and he knows it means business.
I spot him and engage my signal.
“Hey, Brian,” I say. “I WOULD LIKE TO GO.”
Yes. That’s my secret signal. It doesn’t have a lot of pizzaz, but the last time I tried to go for something more clandestine, my husband got all confused. We had a code phrase that involved a sports metaphor, but when I used it he got all excited that I was actually wanting to talk baseball, and completely forgot the initial plan. Being married to an alcoholic in recovery has no room for code anything, so we just keep it simple.
Husband nods and heads for the coats. I smile and start to sidle away from Pink Drink guy. He waves farewell. Unfortunately, he decided to wave with the hand that held the Pink Drink so all that precious alcohol ends up on the floor. Such a tragedy. At the same time, the tinny screech that is “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” starts blaring overhead, and I think someone starts twerking along with it on the dance floor.
And that’s when I see it, a lurching, leaning form over by the salmon puffs. It’s my zombie. Luckily, I am in my coat, and we are out the door before the carnage begins.