Becoming Bride: The Engagement Party

When he said he loved me, I knew it was true. Image: Melissa Petro.

When he said he loved me, I knew it was true. Image: Melissa Petro.

Perfect moments happen not because you planned them that way or because they’re “supposed” to be perfect, but just because.

So Arran and I had our engagement party this past weekend, which turned out to be a perfect rehearsal for the main event.

It went off beautifully, with nary a hitch. It was a lot of fun.

It was also a lot of work.

I guess I knew to expect that. Not so long ago, I wrote about planning our engagement party, and all the weird feelings that got kicked up during that process. I know myself well enough to know that whenever I am supposed to have fun, relax and enjoy myself, I will probably — at least for some of the time — feel exactly the opposite. Anyone with “old wounds” can find that stuff triggered when it’s least opportune.

When I first got sober, I started to accept that the “happy” occasions in life — holidays, birthdays, and other special events — might not only feel happy. When I’m “supposed” to feel good, I get nervous, anxious, and embarrassed. When I’m the center of attention, I feel vulnerable and on display. Sometimes, on holidays especially, I feel sad and lonely, no matter how many people are surrounding me.

I know this relates to growing up, when holidays and other special events underscored what was missing.

I wonder if old wounds aren’t the explanation for a lot of “bridezilla” behavior.

There’s a saying in recovery: “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.” “Hysterical” — pardon the unfortunate gendered implications of the word — is freaking out because the napkins don’t match the plates. Picking a fight with my partner over some small thing he said. Catastrophizing what is, in the big scheme of things, no big deal.

When it comes to surviving a special event, I learned some strategies in recovery that helped me this past weekend.

They’re tools I expect I’ll have to apply on my wedding day and probably for the rest of my life.

1. Keep it easy.

The number-one way to ensure I stress less and enjoy myself more is by making a BIG DEAL less of a big deal.

I used to get really freaked out about my birthday, which just happens to be New Year’s Eve — no pressure to have the best night ever, right?! Every year I’d end up wasted.

After I got sober, I tossed out the idea of my birthday being the Best Night Ever and turned the celebration of my birth into a low-key ladies brunch. Problem solved.



When it came to my engagement party, I took a similar strategy: marking the occasion, but not overdoing it.

A month before, Arran and I made a to-do list and divvied up the details. That was about it.

I didn’t add anything to my plate, like I sometimes feel tempted to do. Instead, the whole week prior, I showed up for work just as if it were a normal week.

I tried to set the bar low and leave a lot of time for self-care.

2. Get out of your head.

Another great way to relieve pressure is to take the focus off yourself.

That’s why, a day before the engagement party, I spent the afternoon decorating cupcakes with the girls at Girls Educational & Mentoring Service (GEMS), an organization for girls and women who’ve experienced commercial sexual exploitation.

For the past three years, I’ve taught a weekly writing group.

Sometimes it takes some coaxing to get the girls to participate.

I showed up and spread the cupcakes out on the table, setting out decorating bags full of colored icing and different colored sprinkles.

One girl I didn’t know very well came over, curious. I invited her to start frosting.

“I don’t know how to do that,” she protested.

“You don’t have to know how! Just experiment. Have fun,” I reassured her. “You can’t mess up.”

She accepted the decorator’s bag and started icing.

Two hours later, she and a dozen other girls were laughing and having fun.

Not every cupcake was perfect, but some of them were prettier than I could have imagined.

Cupcakes! Image: supplied.

3. Enjoy surprises.

Of course, not over-thinking things sometimes means forgetting to do something important.

The morning of the party, I still hadn’t settled on what I was going to wear. Sure, I had something in my closet that I loved, but that I’d already worn that dress a couple of times before.

My last post, I mentioned how nearly my whole wardrobe comes from from Goodwill. I’m really not joking.

Earlier that week, I had spied a dress in the thrift store’s window. From a distance, it looked pretty special.

Maybe that would work, I’d thought.

But Goodwill has a thing where the stuff in the window doesn’t go on sale until the end of the month. The day the dress went on sale just happened to be the morning of my party.

Keeping my expectations low, I got up early and walked down the street, where a small crowd had already gathered. I looked over the people to see if there was anyone else that looked like they were after the size zero white satin gown. Not by the look of it. Still, I got a little worried. I was number 16.

Forty-five minutes later, they called my number, and I got to try on my maybe-dress. The tag said it was Kate Spade and retailed for $500. Goodwill’s price was $50.

I slipped it over my head: The zipper was a little tricky, but otherwise, it fit.

It was perfect.

Perfect moments happen not because you planned them that way or because they’re “supposed” to be perfect, but just because.

And imperfect is just fine, too.

The dress, a Kate Spade bargain. Image: supplied.

4. Practice radical acceptance.

Turns out, the zipper was busted and wouldn’t go up.

We didn’t find this out until hours later, when my maid of honor and I were upstairs getting ready for the party.

No matter how hard she tugged, it wouldn’t go up. No matter — she safety-pinned me into the dress for the night. No big deal!

In fact, no one would have even noticed, if I hadn’t made it a topic of conversation. Armed with a funny story, I was ready for the night.

5. Let go.

You’d think I like attention, being a writer and all.

But when it happens IRL, it feels really uncomfortable. I’m petrified that I’m going to say or do the wrong thing. I’ll make a fool out of myself or someone will end up mad at me.

Coming down the stairs, I was struck by fear.

No one would be there. No one will be there because nobody likes me, I thought. No one likes me because I am unlikeable.

There it is, always at the core of all of my fears: a fear that I am unlovable.

I will someday write a whole post about my mom. I don’t know if she knew it was the day of my engagement party or what. I thought about her a couple of times that day and felt sad.

At one point during the party, someone handed me a card and I said, “This’ll make up for the card my mom hasn’t gotten around to mailing.”

I had meant it as a joke, but no one laughed.

For lots of complicated reasons, most of us have lots of complicated feelings all the time. Sometimes, mine come out in weird ways or at the wrong times. Underneath it all— all my perfectionism, my social anxiety — I fear I am inadequate.

But I am totally adequate just as I am. And so was my engagement party.

Arran and Melissa. Image: supplied.

6. Be grateful.

I could complain about what went wrong — how I didn’t like the salad dressing or how there should have been music playing in the garden. I could worry about some unexpected cost, even though money’s not the issue that it used to be. I could count who RSVD’d and didn’t show up, and be mad at them.

Or I could choose to focus on all I have to feel grateful for.

The best part of the night, by far, was watching Arran deliver a speech just before dessert. It had stressed him out beforehand, but everyone laughed when he’d hoped they would.

When he said he loved me, I knew it was true.

In that moment, I remembered what we were all there to do.

It was a lot of work... But it was fun.  

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