I’ll just come straight out and say it:
I went out of town on a work trip earlier this week, and I knew part of the agenda would be happy hour at the hotel. I felt desperate to drink with my coworkers, and because of that, I knew it would be a terrible idea to attend.
So I didn’t.
I went to my room instead, answered some work emails and took a cat nap while everyone else was downstairs drinking. I was proud of myself for spotting the trigger and avoiding it.
A little too proud, I now realize in hindsight.
I reappeared from my room just in time to catch the shuttle with the rest of my team to dinner. My company had rented out a large room in the back of a swanky restaurant, and there was a full staff of servers waiting to fill our glasses with wine and spirits, and to fill our plates with appetizers while we waited for our dinner.
When I first got there, my boss asked me if I’d like to share a bottle of red wine, and I politely declined. I was on a roll, and I was doing really well.
Or so I thought.
Finding my seat, a server immediately appeared and asked if I’d like some wine or anything else to drink. “Water’s fine” I told her, and she disappeared. Moments later, she came back, gave me my water, and handed my coworker to the left an enormous glass- the size of a water glass- filled with clear liquid. I actually thought it was water at first, and was relieved to see there was at least one other person near me that was opting not to drink.
It was then that my coworker leaned over to me and whispered, “Holy shit. Can you believe the size of this Grey Goose?”
That huge glass of clear liquid was full of vodka, not water.
It’s tough to describe the emotions I felt, all at once, in that moment.
Fear, dread, excitement, and finally…
The server turned to me and asked, “Are you sure I can’t get you anything to drink?”
I immediately replied, “Actually, I’ll have what she’s having.”
The server left to get my drink, and I sat there, equally petrified with fear and excitement. I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t make any moves to try and stop myself from doing it. I made a halfhearted attempted to tell myself that when my drink arrived, I’d push it to the side instead of consuming it, that it is not too late, that relapse is not inevitable…
… but of course, when the drink came, that’s not what I did.
I drank that night, and I had more than one. I was not sober by the end of the evening, though I was nowhere near as drunk as I’d been millions of times before. I did not do anything stupid (other than drink, duh). I had fun, I socialized, I made people laugh, I relaxed, and I laughed too.
I eventually made it to my room and went to bed. I woke up with a headache.
I also awoke expecting to hate myself for my terrible judgment the previous night, but the truth is, I didn’t. I wasn’t thrilled, and I had no intention of allowing my one-night slip to continue, but I was not devastated or angry like I expected I’d be.
I tried to explain it to my husband later, and the best I could come up with was, “I’m just done punishing myself. I’ve punished myself enough over the years to last a lifetime, and all it’s accomplished is making me hate myself. I’m not willing to keep doing that.”
I did a bad thing, but that doesn’t make me a bad person. It means I’m not as solid in my sobriety as I thought I was, and it means I need to be even more diligent than I thought was necessary. I figured I’d done enough, skipping happy hour that night- and while that was a good decision, I let that one good decision make me cocky. That cockiness caused me to let my guard down, and before long, I was sitting at a table in front of the biggest glass of Grey Goose I’d ever seen in my life.
And I drank it. Then I drank another, and another after that.
The biggest trigger for me happens to be when I’m far from home, with people I’m not intimately familiar with. That’s when my anxiety reaches epic proportions, and I become desperate to do anything to make that feeling of discomfort and awkwardness disappear.
I haven’t had another drink since that night.
I’m back on the wagon, grateful for yet another chance to get it right.
I am truly thankful that the work I’ve done up to that night, while it didn’t keep me sober, helped me mitigate the loss that comes with relapse. The old me would have been so hard on myself for breaking down and drinking that I would have given up altogether. After drinking the one night, I wouldn’t have stopped, and I would have drank the next night, the next, and the night after that as well. I would have seen myself a complete failure, and I wouldn’t have put the bottle down until my health deteriorated again, and I was afraid for my life.
I don’t feel that way anymore. I screwed up, but I’m ok, and I’m back in the saddle. So the months of hard work prior to that one night of idiocy were not a waste. That work is what helped me keep this to one night of bad decisions, and not anything worse than that.