Sober in the City

Back in February, when my sobriety was new and felt like something I was only trying on (though, full disclosure: it still does), I had an acute sense of dread about an upcoming trip to New York. It was to be a quick 24 hour work trip, and while I wasn't nervous about drinking in the city itself, I knew the flight back was going to be a trigger. 

I've always loved the post-business-trip drink on planes. It helped pass the time, especially on a 6+ hour flight, and made me happier in my head despite my body being crammed into Coach. I loved the feeling of celebrating a job well done, or at least a job hard worked, and would often start "celebrating" in the airport bar, or splurge on the airline club (they offer free wine!) if time allowed. I also loved drinking on Fridays, which this particular flight fell on, and even in my clear-headed, happy-to-be-sober state, I couldn't imagine NOT drinking on this flight.

I started justifying excuses: if I'm flying backwards through time, could the drinks just not count? The flight was to fall on my Day 30, and I reasoned that that was a perfectly round and respectable number at which I could end this experiment, or at least take a break and start over on Saturday. After all, did I REALLY expect I'd be giving this up forever? Wasn't 30 days at least a solid first try? No one would blame me for drinking again, no one would even have to know I had. At this point, very few people even knew I had stopped. 

The trip ended up being cancelled due to weather, and though I don't think I would have given in to temptation, I'm glad I didn't have to find out. 

This past week, I went to New York for work. It was my first trip there sober, my first time flying since I quit, and it was in many ways awesome, but it was most definitely weird. While I used to live in New York, and obviously used to drink there a ton, my most relevant memories are work trips there, and I've taken a lot of them over the last 12 years. Every trip, regardless of reason, had the same pattern: work my ass off during the day, drink myself to sleep at night. No matter that my friends there had dwindled, moved to the suburbs, making plans fewer and farther in between. I'd go out with work colleagues, and build relationships over glasses of wine, or happily take myself to a bar where I could sit in comfortable silence among the noise and energy of the city, which always drained me. Sometimes I even bought alcohol to drink in my hotel room. Twist caps and half-bottles of wine were ideal, but twice I bought a bottle opener when the minibar didn't have one and went red if there was no fridge to chill the leftover white. When out by myself, I'd pay for dinner on one credit card, which I could expense to work, and drinks on another, so no one would see my shameful secret. I went to great lengths, and great expense, to drink on these trips, but it seemed almost as necessary as the work itself - necessary to bond, to blow off steam, to keep from being bored or lonely in my tiny hotel room. 

This trip was so different.

I woke up early every single day I was there, without a hangover or exhaustion, despite losing three hours in time. I went to the hotel gym at 7 AM the first morning, and got in a walk around the city well before 9:00 on the other two. Despite a busy work schedule and fewer hours of sleep, I had boundless energy, and was able to focus, completely, on my tasks at hand. The days were great. 

The nights were weird. I went to dinner with my work colleague every night, and we absolutely bonded, but I wondered what kind of memories we weren't making with me not drinking. I suppose we forged different bonds with our early morning walks and actual clear, coherent conversation, but it still felt like an opportunity missed, especially since I have so few friends in my office. 

It was also weird not imbibing to blow off steam. Typically, I'd be counting down the hours or minutes until the end of our event, so I could drink and relieve the pressure of the day. Our Wednesday night event was over for 20 minutes before I'd even realized that, in another life, I would have started drinking by now. In fact, I'd probably be on my second glass! It was freeing, really, but I felt the loss when we went out to eat and I ordered another water. For as much as I've come to enjoy sober nights in my living room, high-energy evenings in New York stir up a wanting in me that I haven't really felt since that first month, when I was just breaking the habit. I wasn't actually tempted to drink on this trip, mind you, but it felt incredibly strange NOT to be. 

The flight back was similar, in that I didn't exactly want to be drinking (I felt great! I wouldn't be exhausted this weekend!) but I was very aware that I wouldn't be doing so. I watched two movies and read some news articles and I retained all the information. I went to the bathroom three times because I'd drank half a gallon of water that morning, and that felt much more like a grown-up, responsible thing to do than going only once because I'd dehydrated myself with $15 airline bottles of Chardonnay. The flight was fine; great, actually. This is my new normal. It just still takes some getting used to. 

149 days today.