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Old and older

February 9, 2013

It was my birthday last week. I’m 45.

I love my birthday, provided adequate fuss is made; this year, my boyfriend came down and cooked all day (he made boeuf bourguignon, and brought me cups of tea while I read happily on the sofa) so that we could have a small dinner, the first time I’d had people over in any official capacity in my new house. Consoling-windows friend came with her husband; my younger son’s elegant Russian piano teacher (with whom I have pursued an illicit student-teacher friendship) and her violinist husband and their trilingual three-year-old daughter came; my French professor friend and her hot young roofer boyfriend came, bearing cake. A very diverse crowd; everyone laughed and laughed, everyone got along. It snowed. The stew was perfect. We all drank wine, even me, even though I don’t drink any more and one measly glass gave me a headache. The party ended on the early side–no one swung from chandeliers or ended up in the gutter–and while it was nice to go to bed without the spins, I was a mite nostalgic for my wild youth.

I don’t get nostalgic for it often, because my wild youth became rather desperate before I abandoned it completely. I used to love parties, used to aim always to be the life of the party, used to drink everyone under the table and then climb up and dance on top. I am certain this trajectory is hardly unique–from party girl to problem drinker to straight edge–but it still strikes me as odd sometimes. Drinking is what grown ups do. It’s astonishing how often people suggest getting together for a drink. It’s bizarre, when you don’t drink, to realize there’s no alternative. “Let’s hang out on Saturday night and not drink,” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Come on over and let’s get blotto and laugh till our faces ache and dance.”

I don’t do drugs any more. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink, either, except small amounts on rare occasions. I became a bad drunk, and it was relatively easy to quit, because drinking made me feel absolutely awful. One’s body chemistry must change over time; I quit smoking cigarettes all of a sudden when one day I woke up (after smoking for decades) and found the idea of a cigarette disgusting. I quit smoking pot without any trouble, because suddenly getting high made me grumpy and paranoid, instead of giggly and goofy. Who wants to be grumpy and paranoid? It’s hardly worth it.

But I miss everything about drinking and getting high and smoking and running wild, every once in a while. On my birthday, I missed it. Nothing works any more–none of the old drugs work their old magic–so I don’t miss them, per se. I just miss the way they used to make me feel.

 

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2013 12:48 pm

    Happy (belated) Birthday! (I actually have a little something for you that didn’t get finished in time, so you might get it for my birthday next month.)

    This post reminded me a little of talking with my husband about how he never really had a father. The man died when my husband was only three. I told him how sad that made me to think of, but my perspective is one of a person who always had and loved her dad, and the thought of not having him was painful. My husband told me that it wasn’t the same for him at all, since he never had a dad there was nothing to miss. I have never had a drink or done drugs or smoked. And yet, I’ve had many many fun nights where I danced and laughed and smiled until my face hurt. It’s probably different from the kind of fun you’ve had, but I wouldn’t know.

    Thanks for painting such a warm and pleasant scene for us of your new home. I think it sounds like a wonderful birthday evening.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 9, 2013 1:21 pm

      I am collecting people who don’t drink–either because they quit, or because they never have–to remind myself that my fetishization of alcohol as the Great (the Only) Social Lubricant is both dopey and out of date. When I was quitting drinking, it helped a great deal to remember that for every person I knew who drank like a fish, there was another I liked just as much who didn’t.

  2. February 9, 2013 1:32 pm

    Sort of feel like an ass for wishing you a boozy birthday on FB…..

    The feeling of acting with total abandon because there is an excuse, be it drinking or drugs. I miss it, too.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 9, 2013 1:47 pm

      You’re not an ass. I wish myself a boozy birthday as well. I take it in the spirit in which you meant it…worry not.

  3. Betty M permalink
    February 9, 2013 3:00 pm

    Happy Birthday! Drink is a funny thing – I used to be able to drink pints at lunchtime and make sense At my university tutorials. At least I thought I did. I certainly can’t do that now even if I wanted to. I have also given up thinking of alcohol as an essential social lubricant but maybe thats because our social life is much duller than it was 25 yrears ago. I spent last night at a parents event at school (lucky me). Me and 2 of my friends remained sober as we had to do things involving maths and whiteboards whilst 300 others got steaming drunk. We had an excellent time with our sparkling mineral water whilst watching various people becoming embarrassingly incapable – maybe a whole lot of our laughing and smiling till our faces ached was the result of the drunken behaviour of others but still we had fun.

  4. February 9, 2013 4:12 pm

    Happy Birthday!! Glad you had a lot of fun, even if it was different from a celebration from your younger days!

  5. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    February 9, 2013 4:46 pm

    Thanks, both of you. I actually stopped drinking a while ago–let’s see, a year and a half ago. I don’t usually miss it, but on my birthday I did.

  6. February 10, 2013 8:45 pm

    I don’t exactly miss drinking because I still do it, but I miss bars. The vast majority of my wine is drunk at home in front of Downton Abbey, sitting next to my husband. Who doesn’t drink. I’m not even sure of the last time I had a drink in a bar. I miss the companionship, the long, elliptical conversations spread over tables, the magic of refills. Today’s boozy moments are mere shadows of what they used to be. Ah, well. Happy birthday, IB. I wish for you a year of good reading, good writing, and good children.

  7. February 10, 2013 11:08 pm

    I have the same nostalgic thoughts now and again. Drink used to be my drug and now it mostly makes me feel terrible, especially the new end-of-the-world dread it brings (hello middle age). I miss the carefree lack of worry about the consequences of my actions, but I don’t miss having to deal with those consequences. Happy birthday!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 11, 2013 8:19 am

      God, yes, the dread. What is the deal with the dread?

  8. February 11, 2013 3:21 pm

    Happy belated birthday…and the thing I am thinking, especially as I read over these comments, is how similar that feeling is to so many feelings I have. I don’t really miss challenging myself with death-defying feats, for example, but boy do I miss the 22-year-old who used to do that stuff to try to impress her boyfriend. I don’t really miss regular Sunday brunches, but I miss the kind of life I had where that was a thing I could do on the reg. I certainly don’t miss getting up at 4:30 am on a weekend morning to do breeding bird surveys, but I miss that life and I miss what we’d see, how it felt like we knew the world in a way that most people don’t.

  9. February 12, 2013 12:58 pm

    Oh my goodness, can I ever relate to everything you wrote. I’m 45, too. I quit smoking in 2001 because I knew I wanted to start a family. I also quit drinking because I knew that would be the only way I would be able to kick the smoking habit. After having two children two years apart and breastfeeding them, I gingerly stuck my toe back in the drinking pool but my body had other plans. One glass of champagne or one beer would have my heart racing and leave me unable to sleep all night. After wrestling with this new reality for awhile (really? I can’t even have ONE drink?), I finally accepted it as the “new me.” (I actually determined that my body’s reaction to alcohol is identical to that of a person with Celiac disease; however, I was tested for Celiac and don’t have it).

    Like you, I was a party girl. I partied all the way through college and most of my 20s. I smoked, I drank, I danced, I laughed, I had F.U.N. Sometimes I miss that.

    For the most part, though, I am good. I am happy to have stability and control in my life. I run, and I love, love, love waking up early on the weekends knowing that I am starting my day off without any hungover-imposed restrictions. The irony is that while I was living the party lifestyle, I always dreamed of the life I have now. Still, I think it’s only normal to periodically wonder, “Is this as good as it gets?”

    I will confess that (even though I run marathons) whenever we go out of town on vacation, my husband and I “let loose” by sneaking cigarettes while we’re away. I guess there’s a bit of rebel (or stupidity) left in me yet!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 12, 2013 11:36 pm

      I wonder–is it some kind of allergic reaction? Did I forever pickle myself, and am I now functionally allergic? I, too, love waking up not hung over more than I can say. I appreciate it every single morning.

  10. February 13, 2013 2:59 pm

    Big fat belated birthday wishes! Your party sounded wonderful – particularly the Russian piano teacher and her family. I love quirky folk (even if they are not particularly quirky, other than their origins). It sounded like a proper old-fashioned party, where people are invited based on what they can contribute to the evening. I imagine piano playing and juggling. Please don’t disappoint… Some of my Irish friends and I despair at the lack of social options if / when you don’t / don’t want to drink. So we go for walks instead. And then the cold and the rain drives us into a pub.
    Anyway. I hope your 46th year is a magical, exciting, not-too-adventurous one, filled with British TV dramas, proper tea, and good cake. Oh, and oddles of love. xx

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 14, 2013 10:11 am

      I love that…we go for walks instead and then the cold and the rain drives us into a pub. SEE HOW HARD IT IS TO QUIT DRINKING??? Though a nice cup of tea does kind of cheer one up. The whole ritual–I have a teapot now, and I buy fascinating looking things from bins in the health food store to try, it’s like being a medieval apothecary.

  11. February 13, 2013 5:25 pm

    Now this is familiar (again)! Party girl to social drinker to “problem” drinker to sober….that was me too. My ex-husband and ex-friends thought I stopped drinking to get attention, but really it just wasn’t fun any more, nor the best plan for myself as my live imploded as my marriage fell apart. It wasn’t a problem for them that I drank, but it was when I didn’t. But there just seemed to come a point where the me I was while I drank wasn’t the me I wanted to be, and the day after was unbearably miserable, emotionally and physically. I stopped as my marriage ended, and my new boyfriend has never been a drinker. But I get so nostalgic for that wonderful feeling of “two-drinks-in”. I see them on tv with their lovely glasses of red wine and think oooh that would be so nice. But when I try it it’s not. I could drink (my boyfriend reminds me I’m not an alcoholic, I can have a drink or 8 if I want), but it’s just no fun any more. Divorced me is largely drink free…I guess that’s ok (I certainly like me better!). But it is amazing how much getting drunk, even a little, is part of our culture, even in middle age, and how not being part of that can make you feel like an outsider. I like that my boys have one parent always sober though, that they have that as an example of a valid choice. Somehow that seems right too.

    Happy Belated birthday…45′s alright. Possibly better than 25, I think, all things considered.

  12. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    February 14, 2013 10:13 am

    I know! The two-drinks-in feeling is gone forever, and nothing makes me sadder, and god, the fetishization of alcohol in magazines and on TV and in the food section of the paper, it makes one drool. But the good thing about having drinking turn on you (as it did on me) is that the going up, to misquote Kris Kristofferson, is definitely not worth the coming down.

  13. March 3, 2013 6:49 am

    I stopped drinking so long ago that I have to really work hard to remember exactly how long ago it was….about nine years I think. There are drinks that I still miss, a late afternoon beer when on holiday in a European city, a glass of something sparkly at Christmas but more drinks that I don’t miss. Occasionally people ask me why I don’t drink and I always find it hard to admit that drinking (generally too much) made me feel like shit. I am always tempted to say, “Jesus doesn’t like it.” in order to shut them up.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      March 4, 2013 1:47 pm

      I have yet to figure out what to say when people ask me why I don’t drink, why I’m not drinking, et cetera. Let me know if you come up with a snappy one-liner, though the Jesus one is pretty good.

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