My first memories were created within the walls of the sweetest little preschool, St. Stephen’s. I can’t recall entire days; just bits and pieces of the time I spent there. Some moments are very vivid in my memory bank.
The education building was simple: one long hallway with lots of nursery doors of which the top halves were swung wide open, welcoming little children into the cheerful classrooms. The smell of original Lysol filled the preschool, indicating the sky blue nap mats were clean. Rubbing my fingers along the vinyl mat during rest time is still a comforting thought today.
After nap time, I loved to play “Family.” Often, I would pretend to be the mom and invite my friends in for a beer. As my teacher, Ms. Kathleen, laughed, she told my mom about my role and how I navigated. It was an accurate depiction of how our real family operated: hospitable and welcoming. And a strong foreshadowing into my future. These are core memories. They defined characteristics of my personality today.
I Was Always a Party Girl
My favorite birthday party was when I turned nine. We borrowed my grandparents’ van and drove around town picking up my friends early on a Saturday morning. We woke up all my girlfriends and brought them to our house for a “Come As You Are” breakfast.
My dad cooked a wonderful meal of biscuits and gravy and, of course, my favorite—pancakes and sausage. My mom decorated the house with bright balloons and colorful streamers. My pajamas were a white shorts set with green palm trees, accented in peach. It was my party outfit and perfect for the spring occasion.
I can’t recall any of the gifts I received that year, but at 40 years old, my heart is still fulfilled thinking about that party. All the meager details came into play just as planned, and I was surrounded by the people I enjoyed most. It was a time of innocence and simplicity.
My love for party planning continued into adulthood. When we registered for our wedding gifts, I was most excited about the plain white serving pieces that we could mix and match for any hosting occasion. Soon after our wedding, we bought a little house in Dallas with a big yard and entertained every chance we could.
We hosted baby showers and wedding celebrations. We had crawfish boils and football watching parties. We even invited friends over to celebrate our dog’s first birthday. We used every excuse to enjoy our people. We invested in outdoor tables and chairs that could seat 35. We loved to be around family and friends and delighted in the fun of gatherings.
A Party for Every Occasion
As the years passed, we started a family and moved to the suburbs. We were thrilled to have a bigger space to fill with festivities. We couldn’t wait to swing open our doors and enjoy time with family and friends. The themes shifted to kids’ birthday parties, but the goal was still the same: fun, family, friends and fulfillment.
Harry and Meghan’s Royal Wedding provided a magical backdrop for a media room watch party. Alarm clocks were set for the middle of the night, and my china, made in England, was in place for the big ceremony. Scones and finger sandwiches were paired perfectly with mimosas as we caught our first glimpse of the Givenchy-designed dress. We even wore fascinators and pearls. We were fancy for the pomp and circumstance.
These parties are weaved throughout my life. They are perfectly placed in every home, every stage and every season. Even small dinner parties would turn into 12 adults squished around my dining room table. The aromatic smell of Pioneer Woman burgundy mushrooms cooking all day was not out of the ordinary. I loved choosing the perfect wine to pair with my well-thought menu. It helped me feel, well, me. The laughter and memories made during these moments were part of my identity.
The one element always front and center for these functions was alcohol. Often times, a signature drink was carefully crafted and beautifully displayed with all the perfect garnishes and elixirs. For the more casual affairs, a keg of beer and beverage tubs of wine were readily available.
I loved knowing everyone was happy and felt comfortable spending their time with us. When I became an adult, I associated fun and entertainment with drinks. It was never missing from the checklist. I thought friends wouldn’t enjoy a party without it. I didn’t think I could enjoy life without it.
The truth was, I missed a lot of life consumed by the mystical idea of fun and not actually living it. My specialty was being a party girl. It’s all I knew, and it was how I worked. What I didn’t know is that the cocktails weren’t synonymous with the fun.
Alcohol allowed me to escape from some of the hard realities of life. After the death of my father, I went off to college, and drinking blurred out the breathtaking tragedy. It helped me to relax and take a minute to not dwell on the horrific loss. As I transitioned into a stay-at-home mom, it helped me cling to the familiar me, the safety of who I knew best. I desperately didn’t want to become a frumpy mom and adamantly stood on the principle that having kids wasn’t going to reroute my hard-earned path to sophistication and freedom.
I Hit Rock Bottom
We drank on the hard days, the happy days, the bad days and the sad days. We drank to celebrate, and we drank to cope. We drank to relieve stress, and we drank to numb the pain. It was our rite of passage to being in charge of our own lives and what we chose to do with them.
This way of life and my party girl mindset came to a screeching halt during 2020. For starters, my life came crashing down. My role as wife, mother, friend and daughter hit rock bottom, and I looked the disease of alcoholism in the eye. I began my road to recovery at the beginning of the pandemic. The timing could not have worked more favorably.
Putting down booze and clinging to stay-at-home orders collided beautifully. There were no parties to plan and no cocktails to drink. There was no busyness to occupy my time. It was time to grow up and take responsibility for my life. The days weren’t designed to be for my complete comfort and fun anymore. It wasn’t about my anxiety and escaping the hard.
The comfort of home and family helped me walk slowly into my new life. The pressures of the busy, hectic outside life was lulled. Not just for me, but for everyone. We all sat still and evaluated the quality of our lives. It gave me a chance to decide what was really important and fulfilling in my life, what was serving me and what was in the way of growing into the person I wanted to be.
Personally, it wasn’t just alcohol I ditched; I also uncovered and healed many old wounds. I pulled apart trauma and injury and connected the dots on identity. What made me whole? What made me vulnerable? What made me feel good, and what left me shattered? It was ultimately the year of time and healing. A true gift to self.
Now That I’m Sober, Where Do I Belong?
This summer, as life has begun to return to normal, new feelings have emerged. Socializing and parties are back, and I’m not sure where I belong now that I’m sober. Many relationships were fractured during my active drinking state. I left a path of destruction and hurt.
Now, I no longer fit into some circles. But also, my party girl, always-up-for-a-cocktail mentality has shifted. Am I the poor, pitiful woman that made bad decisions, or am I the emerging, healthy, bright light that used those mistakes and injuries to rebuild something new?
The pace of our lives has been reevaluated. Our calendar used to be filled to the brim. We moved from one activity to the next. We hosted, attended, celebrated and joined soirees all the time. The movement never stopped. I scheduled my life based on the next thing. I measured my worth based on what Facebook photos I was in and how much fun I appeared to be having to the outside world. Saying that out loud sounds ridiculous, but it was the honest-to-God truth.
As the Fourth of July weekend approached, I became anxious and despondent. I wasn’t sure how to assimilate in a booze-infused holiday. How do we make a plan where we aren’t going from one party to the next, in a constant state of movement? We didn’t have any solidified plans, and I began to feel empty. I felt responsible for how our family was accepted and perceived in this new sober season. The invitations to lake houses or pool parties never came. We weren’t teaming up with other families for fun activities around town. I was asked about our weekend plans and felt embarrassed responding with nothing.
Then something magical happened. We focused inward and on our kids. We made plans that suited our little tribe. For the holiday, we attended a celebration and fireworks with a reservation for four and didn’t worry about what everyone else was doing. We ran into friends and caught up on life, but we remained intact with our family unit. We put our kids and our happiness first.
We laid out our blanket and sat in awe of the beauty of our country’s Independence Day. We marveled at the colors and shapes lighting up the night sky. We dreamed, talked and laughed with our children, and we listened with intent as they shared their thoughts and ideas. We enjoyed their company that we had so often bypassed before.
And then the reality hit me. We are no longer chasing an elusive, non-existent, bigger form of ourselves. We aren’t trying to move from event to event and drink to drink, constantly looking ahead. We are settling into the here and now. We are learning that our fulfillment and happiness hinges on our own serenity and peace. They all work together and will not work successfully independently.
We’ve finally gotten off of the hamster wheel with the mindset of running after the bigger and better. We have off-loaded the self-seeking accolades of a wonderful party thrown in our home with all attention focused on the details.
Now, we’re fully present with clear minds and happy hearts and intentionally focused on what matters most. What initially felt like a punishment and deep sadness has turned into the greatest gift: watching my children grow and having a front row seat for all the beauty it entails. The deep connection that is found when all the pretense and nonsense is pushed aside is so incredibly freeing. And finally realizing alcohol doesn’t have to be present to live the good life. Let freedom ring!
“It takes courage to grow up and be who you really are.” —E.E. Cummings
Want to hear more of Lindsey’s journey? She shared openly and honestly on the following podcast episode of This Grit and Grace Life: Behind Her Struggle With Alcohol With Lindsey Encinias – 161