A few weekends ago, we (me and my family) wandered down to the local park which was playing host to a folk festival as part of the wider ‘Tramlines’ event. I was aware of a calmness that I definitely did not possess when I drank, and I began to consider what has changed that makes me quite a different person altogether in the way that I approach life.
In the drinking days I remember there being a knot of fear in my stomach in the run up to going out socially, an adrenaline-fuelled rush of anxiety brought on by the excitement of not knowing how the night/day would pan out. It was reckless, like being stood on a precipice on the verge of jumping into blackness, unaware of what lay in the void before me. There I would be, watching Neighbours and eating my tea, in control of my mind and my actions, but all the while having the knowledge that in a few hours I would be out of control, impulsive, a different person engaging in situations that I couldn’t possibly imagine in my sober mind.
And walking down to the park a few Sundays ago, that familiar route walked every day with my partner, my daughters and my dog, along the well-worn cobbled paths that I have manoeuvred the pram over so often, I became conscious of the fact that there was no precipice waiting for me. There lay the difference – I knew how the afternoon would go, roughly. The knot of fear had dissipated along with the bottles of wine; without alcohol in the equation, the recklessness doesn’t exist.
Compare and contrast;
In summer 2004, I went to the Red Hot Chili Peppers gig in Hyde Park with my then boyfriend. The gates opened mid-afternoon and following visits to a number of pubs en route to the park, we eventually arrived, me somewhat the worse for wear. Following an opening act by the late James Brown, during which we continued to drink pint after pint of lager in the hot June sun, the Chili’s finally came on. As they appeared on the distant stage, I hoisted myself on to my boyfriend’s shoulders and proceeded to dance, as only girls at festivals dance, arms flailing in the air, beer in one hand and cigarette in the other. After a few seconds of this, I lurched forward and fell to the hard, stony ground, my face meeting the floor with a resounding smack.
Embarrassed, I stumbled to my feet and attempted to dance, ignoring the concerned voices around me which eventually subsided as it became apparent that I was not about to acknowledge what had just happened, despite the blood that was dripping down the side of my face. Around this stage in the afternoon, my memory fades completely (I think this is rather due to the fact that I had drunk god knows how much lager, rather than any indication of concussion, but who knows?) All I do remember is that I had an argument with my boyfriend and wandered off to find other people to continue my one-woman wrecking ball mission with.
Hours later, I awoke sitting under a tree in the dark night air, on a small hill somewhere in Hyde Park. In front of me were three or four policemen, together with a crowd of people who had gathered around to see what was going down with this strange, drunken woman who was lying semi-comatose beneath an old oak tree. After shaking free of the police and (I have no idea how I achieved this) convincing them that I was fine, I miraculously spotted my boyfriend amongst the throngs of people leaving the gig and vacillated towards him, feeling in my pockets as I did so and discovering that I had lost both my mobile phone and purse. Needless to say, the experience drove a stake in to the heart of that relationship and two months later we split up for good. He now lives in Australia.
The alternative scenario plays out by way of a much more pleasing afternoon. The sun was out, it had stopped raining for the first time in weeks, the baby slept in her pram. We meandered between stalls and folk bands and singers, drank a couple of coffees in the warm, July air, listened to music and chatted about nothing much. Afterwards I remembered everything, my bloke didn’t run off to Australia. My baby wasn’t traumatised by having a drunken lush for a mother.
OK, so this version lacks a little of the drama; the police didn’t materialise, blood didn’t flow. But given the choice, I am happy to live with a little less drama.