How Self Care Kept Me from a Wedding Meltdown

By Erica Troiani 06/06/16

I recognized that even when something went wrong, even if my dad got blasted, it’d still be okay if I decided it was okay. His actions weren’t mine and I didn’t have to protect or hide him.

How Self Care Kept Me from a Wedding Meltdown
Staying sane in wedding stress.

It first occurred to me while I was watching—of all things—a Woody Allen movie. My boyfriend and I had rented Crimes and Misdemeanors, which ends on a freeze frame of a rabbi dancing with his daughter at her wedding. I turned to my boyfriend like I’d just seen a ghost. “If we ever get married, I do not want to dance with my father at the reception.” My dad’s still an active alcoholic. And if there’s one thing that can make me instantaneously pre-verbal, it’s being around him when he’s drunk, which, he surely would be at a wedding.

I hadn’t really considered the father-daughter wedding dance ritual before, because I hadn’t thought especially hard about ever getting married. At that point, my boyfriend and I hadn’t talked seriously about it. My parents hadn’t exactly provided a shining example of partnership. They’d fought—loudly—throughout my childhood, often into the middle of the night on weeknights. I’d be awake at times of night that most children never saw, and I’d get up and go to school in the morning like nothing had happened. Eventually, I learned to tune it out like the radio my dad was forever leaving on, and I developed an ability to sleep through even the worst of thunderstorms, be they actual or metaphoric. But because of this, I’d mostly assumed—contrary to the stereotype of women who dream of fairy tale weddings—that marriage wasn’t for me.

But a couple years later, my boyfriend and I decided indeed to get married. We’d both resisted it for a long time until I realized that I was in a partnership far better than my parents had, and by insisting on not getting married, I was holding onto a false story of who I could be rather than letting my life take the much healthier shape that it actually was.

Our wedding planning strategy could only be described as “the lazy cheap person’s way.” We ordered invitations online because a friend had a coupon. Our guests stood for the ceremony, eliminating rented chairs and the need for me to walk down an aisle (which also made me uncomfortable). We planned a basic reception and said no to most decorations. A family friend who owns a wedding venue lent us all the glassware and gave us half our decorations. We didn’t have a wedding party. There was no tossing the bouquet or garter. I bought my dress in a department store. A friend did my makeup. We hired our talented friends to photograph and coordinate the wedding. My fiancé’s friends DJed as a gift. 

And yes, we nixed the parents’ dance. I didn’t expressly tell my father this, though. It just simply wasn’t on the agenda. We weren’t doing so many other regular wedding rituals that I figured it’d go unnoticed. We also didn’t have any speeches. I feared my dad might try to make a speech after a few too many margaritas. And though I have a deep personal love for awkward TMI wedding toasts, I did not want one at my own wedding.

Despite ditching a lot of wedding rituals, planning was still plenty stressful. It didn’t help that the summer before our wedding, my own trepidations about marriage and some other life changes made my anxiety disorder surface in full effect. For months, I could barely sleep and eating became a real challenge.

As the wedding approached, I assessed what was about to come at me. Nearly every person I’d ever cared about was about to come into town. My anxiety was slowly improving, but I was struggling to get my nervous system to rev down and found myself reacting to small interactions and taking them personally. I was stressed between work and finishing prep for our little shindig, and I felt overwhelmed answering a million questions. (“Which wedding colors did you choose?” “What time should we cut the cake?” “Do we rent tablecloths or buy them?” “Which flameless votive candle looks better?”) The problem being that my automatic reaction is to prioritize other people’s desires over my own. And much as we’re taught to disdain bridezillas, a bride who can’t express what she needs and stuffs all her feelings is a terror all its own.  

I hadn’t kept up my self care, either. The usual rituals I’d had in place before my anxiety grabbed hold of me had suddenly evaporated or stopped helping. I also hadn’t spent any time alone, which for me is usually a straight ticket to acting uncontrollably grumpy. As it stood, I was headed for a meltdown, but the week of the wedding I also had one giant ACOA trigger barrelling straight for me: my family.

When I got honest with myself, I realized I needed a self care plan. I needed to think ahead about what I needed emotionally and gather the courage to ask for it.

The first thing I did was ask my cousin, who I’m very close with (I’m an only child), to stay at my house in the days leading up to the wedding. She’s the only member of my family that I’ve talked to about my dad’s drinking, and she’s also a yoga teacher. So she both gets what might set me off, and can be a pretty soothing presence. She came into town early, dealt with my parents for me, and also reminded me to eat—something so basic, but that I hadn’t realized I’d need. The morning of the actual wedding, she led me in a short yoga relaxation to help me center myself and feel calmer.

In nixing the wedding party, I hadn’t considered that it left my fiancé and I without people to help with a lot of basic things. So when my friends offered their time, I took them up on it and brought them in to set up. We also talked to our couple’s therapist about how my fiancé could check in with me while I was with my family to make sure I was feeling alright. But the most helpful thing I did was take a moment to let go of any expectation I had for the night. I couldn’t control what my parents did or didn’t do, but what I did have a choice over was my reaction to it. So I recognized that even when something went wrong, even if my dad got blasted, it’d still be okay if I decided it was okay. His actions weren’t mine and I didn’t have to protect or hide him.

When my family initially arrived, I took them to one of my favorite restaurants. On the way, I was parallel parking on a main thoroughfare between an SUV and a motorcycle with both my parents and two of my cousins in the car. Trying to parallel park with a carload of ACOAs is a lesson in humility. Everyone suddenly became “helpful,” giving me directions (many of which contradicted), and talking over each other. I felt my frustration and irritation growing, and just as I reached the verge of snapping “I know how to park!” at them, I accepted that I couldn’t focus enough to do so. I gave up the space. Half a block later, I found one right in front of the restaurant. 

I tried this acceptance the day of the wedding and it helped me stay even with anything that happened. After my husband and I had our first dance, I sat down to eat when my dad approached. “May I have this dance?” he asked. This was a faster song than the usual father-daughter dances, and that sounded much more palatable. He also wasn’t over-enunciating his words, which told me he wasn’t drunk yet, so I agreed. And it was totally fine. He’s actually a killer dancer and he spun me around for a few minutes while people took pictures. He might have set me off, but I’d already decided to let everything go. And before I knew it, the song was over. I walked back to my table and my husband squeezed my hand. “Are you alright?” he asked. I smiled and reassured him: yeah, I was. 

Like a lot of alcoholics, my dad went on to be the life of the party, cutting it up on the dance floor and charming my friends. Much like my adolescence, people who were just meeting him for the first time raved about how cool he was. But I was so grateful to see all the family and old friends—who had traveled long distances to be there—that I hardly had time to be bothered by him. In the days after the wedding, there would be instances where he insisted on staying out for one more beer or would criticize the restaurant I chose. I didn’t respond or get bothered, and my cousin thankfully helped distract him by asking him lots of questions about unrelated things.

It was taken care of, and much of that was just my mindset that I would accept reality as it was.

Erica Troiani is a pseudonym for a writer in Austin, Texas.

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