The Great Pretender

Drinking alcohol is fun. The advertisements all say so. You can build a boat with mates which will eventually sink, but have fun while building it. You can jump in the spa with your girlfriend and almost drown her with the bubbles, and have fun while you’re doing it. You can paint a porch, have a barbie on the beach, swim in heavenly waters with goddesses, you can even dance to Flashdance in your leotard. All good fun things to do. All done with alcohol.

Where do you go to see the not-so-fun side of drinking alcohol? The domestic abuse. The broken families. The coward punch. The emergency rooms. You watch the News to see all of this. Watch the News on any weekend and I can guarantee you will see at least one of these not-so-fun-drinking-alcohol stories.

So why do we portray drinking as fun? Is it a plot run by advertising companies to make us think we can be smarter, funnier, more interesting when we drink?

We drink to commiserate, to celebrate, to console, to open up, to let down our guard, to feel no pain. Why? Why can’t we achieve these things without the Great Pretender?

One of the hardest things about giving up alcohol is breaking through these barriers and relearning how to celebrate or commiserate without social lubrication. I say ‘relearning’ because there was time when we didn’t drink, and we could do all these things and so much more while sober.

Can we get back to that state of mind? Of course we can. And we can do it without the Great Pretender.

The life of a military spouse

I was a military spouse for more than 20 years. The love of my life served in the Army for 33 years before retiring. It’s not easy being a military spouse. You move away from loved ones and then continue to move every few years. Your partner is away often and for long periods of time. You have to make new friends every few years. You have to find new schools for kids, new hairdresser, new doctor, new dentist, new job. But we do it. And we try to do it well. We stay strong, get on with things, with the minimum of fuss.

Your partner gets deployed; some are deployed on a regular basis. Depending on what is going on in the world, if you get my drift. Brad has been deployed twice. First time was after 18 months of being married and he was away for a whole year. He was deployed to Cambodia; it was 1992 and the country had just been through 20 years of hell with the Khmer Rouge Regime, followed by Vietnamese occupation. The country was war-torn and ravaged. Brad was deployed with the UN and they were sent there to assist with the country’s first free and fair elections.

It was a tough year for both of us. We had not long been married and were living in Townsville. He came home from work one day and said that he been deployed. Where to, I asked. Cambodia, he said. How long, I asked. 12 months, he said. Then he was gone. No email or internet or mobile phones back then. Snail mail only. He was in a remote part of the country, so no phone calls either.

How was I going to get through 12 months on my own? I had no idea. It was fucking tough; I won’t sugar-coat it. But we did our best. We tried to make the most of a shitty situation.

Six weeks into the deployment and I still hadn’t heard from him. The mail was taking a while to get sorted out. One day an Army Jeep pulled up out the front of our house. Two soldiers in ceremonial uniform got out of the Jeep with a letter in their hands. I knew what it was. I’d seen the movies. He was injured or dead. I was sure of it. I had convinced myself of it and by the time they reached my front door I was a mess. I finally opened the front door and they handed me the letter. It was an invitation from the Army Padre to attend a morning tea. Are you fucking kidding me? The Padre had no idea the impact this had on us spouses. It was horrible.

The second deployment was in 1999 to East Timor. Brad wasn’t scheduled to go, but because of a last minute change of plans within the Regiment he was sent. How much notice did we have for that deployment? 2 days. And then he was gone. Thankfully this one was only 3 months, but just as stressful. He was the first Unit to arrive in Dili, and was met with a hostile reception. Enough said about that.

Being a military spouse teaches you so much about yourself. You learn to be independent and you find a strength within yourself you didn’t know existed. Your military family becomes your own family. You find support from fellow spouses and that support becomes your lifeline. You know you can pick up a phone or drop into someone’s house and pour your heart out. No one else really understands, apart from these people. Your ‘civvie’ friends certainly don’t understand. ‘I know how you feel’, they would say. Or ‘hasn’t the time gone quick’. Or ‘oh but the money’s good’. Well intentioned, but completely the wrong things to say.

So my 20 plus years of being a military spouse was hard, but I loved every minute of it. It had many ups and downs, and has made me the person I am today.

A little black dress

It all began in December 1989.

I was in Wollongong visiting friends for New Year’s Eve. Brad was in Wollongong for Christmas, on leave from the Army. Wollongong is his home town. I had friends there who I had been visiting for a few years, and had often heard about this Army bloke named Brad, but had not met him.

I drove from Melbourne to Wollongong on my own, and by the time I arrived I was exhausted. Too tired to go out, but my girlfriend Tina convinced me that we should go out. So off to Dapto Leagues Club we headed. A group of friends had gathered there, and I was introduced to a tall, dark and handsome bloke named Brad. We hit it off straight away. We spent the whole night talking, and he asked me where I was going for New Year’s Eve. Tina and I were heading up to Darling Harbour in Sydney for the night. I’ll meet you there, he said.

The next day Tina and I boarded a bus to head for Sydney. I looked beautiful! I was wearing a gorgeous black halter-neck dress, black stockings, black patent leather court shoes, and black handbag (did I mention that I am a Greek chick from Melbourne?). We arrived in Sydney and decided that drinks were required, so off to the nearest bottle shop we headed. We didn’t have much money, so thought it made much better sense to buy a box of chateau collapsible; nothing but the best for these party gals.

We walked around Darling Harbour administering shots of wine to each other. No glasses required. We were getting a nice buzz on when a bloke came up to me with a tub of Tiger Balm ointment and proceeded to wipe the burning ointment all over my face and arms. He then casually walked off. My arms looked like I had been struck with a stick. Nothing a few more mouthfuls of wine won’t fix though. Tina and I continued on our merry way. Further into the afternoon the Tiger Balm welts were still there, and then I got hit with the contents of a cyloom stick. One of those glow in the dark sticks had been emptied all over me. Now I was burning and glowing at the same time.

I had to pee. I told Tina that I was going to wait in the conga line for the ladies toilet, shuffling closer and closer to the porcelain. A very tall woman with a deep voice was in the conga line behind me, and informed me that I had a hole in my stockings. She/he then stuck her finger in the hole and ripped the entire stocking leg off my body. I walked back to Tina; glowing, burning and one black stocking leg missing. In my drunkenness, I didn’t think to remove the other black stocking leg. One black leg. One pale Melbourne white leg.

The night dragged on. My patent leather court shoes were hurting my feet. The shoes came off and were being carried with the handbag and the bladder of the cask. The box had long ago got wet and finally came adrift. No shoes girl then stepped in glass and blood was pouring from my feet. I needed First Aid. I told Tina I would go looking for help, and asked her to stay put. And ‘glow in the dark-Tiger Balm burning-one stocking leg-bloody feet-girl’ got lost. It was 10 minutes to midnight. I was lost in a crowd of 70,000 people.

I did the only thing a girl would do. I cried. I looked up only to see Brad standing there. My knight in shining armour was there! He took in the whole situation without commenting on my appearance and found Tina within minutes! I was reunited with my friend and I was seeing the New Year in with Brad.

The countdown began. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….and he kissed me! And just as we were kissing I felt something happening to the back of my dress. A bloke had grabbed the bottom of my gorgeous halter-neck black dress and had ripped my dress straight up the back seam. My dress was hanging off me like a hospital gown. The back was completely open, exposing my control-top single-legged black pantyhose. Brad and Tina, being the good people they are, found a big black garbage bag and tied it around my waist. I was glad it was black, because the rest of my outfit was black.

Glow in the dark, Tiger Balm burns, one stocking leg, bleeding feet, bladder of chateau collapsible, dress ripped open, garbage bag tied around my waist.

And he still married me….