Sober Abroad – From Mexico With Love
Sober Abroad – From Mexico With Love
by firstname.lastname@example.org | Apr 29, 2016 | RECOVERY GIRL – THE BLOG
Travelling with anyone is hard enough. But when you are sober, and the other person is not, how does that work?
It all started when I began getting invitations to my 20-year high school reunion. Wasn’t it bad enough to be single on Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve? Everyone would be at this event with their spouses or significant others. I couldn’t go alone. Then an old high school flame found me on Facebook. We messaged back and forth for a few hours and I gave him my new number. He called and said he’d be in Los Angeles for business the following weekend. Could he see me? When I picked him up at his hotel he looked good. I had always thought he resembled Ralph Maccio, if Ralph Maccio were an overly confident East-Indian preppie from Silicon Valley.
That night, we talked over pasta at a little Italian cafe in West Hollywood. He told me how he had graduated from Stanford and then created his own start-up, made a million dollars and lost it all. When he shared about his divorce I sensed a lingering sadness. I told him about my life— poetry and acting and travel—how I had also ended a relationship after nine years. And I told him I was sober.
“You seem comfortable in your own skin.” His eyes told me he really meant this.
It was one of the best compliments I had ever heard. And I knew it was due to the work I had done beginning with a 12 step program. But secretly, I congratulated myself for my wardrobe choice — a black strapless sundress that accentuated my shoulders. And paid no mind to the number of drinks he had with dinner. The next day he flew home to San Francisco. When we spoke again he said he’d not had any business in LA at all. “I came to see you,” he admitted.
We kept talking and then one afternoon he asked if I wanted to go with him to Mexico. It would be a large group; he, his brother, his brother’s wife, and some friends. The resort was on a remote Island near Puerto Vallarta. I said yes. And then I got online and searched. Sure enough, even on an island with a population of only 1500, there was a meeting. Two weeks later I met him at LAX and we flew to Mexico.
After an arduous 45-minute boat ride from Puerto Vallarta to the island of Yelapa, and a long climb up hundreds of well-worn stone steps, we arrived at the resort. We were given a key and ushered to our room. I wasn’t sure why there was a key; the room had only three walls. When you stepped out of the shower and stood before the bathroom sink you were face-to-face with a jungle instead of a mirror. But the room was situated so that no one could walk by and see you, or for that matter, climb in. And still, there was a perfect view of the village below and the sea.
That first evening, the whole group met for dinner on a central terrace. He told everyone how I had been his date for prom. Again, I did my best not to count the number of drinks he had. The following night was his sister in law’s birthday. There was a party. We ate cake. We danced. His sister-in-law joked that this was just like prom all over again. And then somebody mentioned (to him) that the party was going to continue in a slightly more elevated fashion. Which is to say, drugs were introduced. One of the girls cracked a joke when he said he wasn’t interested in any drugs. A joke which implied this was not the response she expected. What had I gotten myself into?
He never did any of the drugs that night, so far as I knew. Instead, we went back to our room as the party continued outside. But I didn’t sleep well. I was on an island in the middle of the South Pacific with a man who, apparently, was known to his own family as a party animal, at a remote resort with said family, who were, in my eyes, also quite festive. The next morning I got online and found directions to the meeting. He didn’t have to come with me, I explained, but I needed to go. There were no cars on the island, and we didn’t have a boat; it was going to be a long walk. But he insisted he would escort me to what passed for “town.”
We came upon a cluster of small adobe cottages where the meeting was supposed to be. Not a light was on, no sign, no smokers lingering out front. It could hardly be mistaken for another cluster of buildings because there weren’t any other clusters of buildings. I looked through the bars on the windows. Inside I could see framed pictures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Then, on the far wall, two long scrolls: the steps and the traditions. In Spanish. But there was no mistaking those scrolls. We waited and waited and nobody else came. I began to suspect that while this was the right place, it was not the right time.
We left Yelapa the next day. I had not officially attended a meeting but I had made my intentions clear to myself, to my higher power and to those around me. I had put my recovery first and it had grounded me. I stayed sober both literally and emotionally. After the trip I went back to LA and he to SF. A few weeks later the weekend of the high school reunion arrived. In Yelapa he had asked if he could be my date. He had been a year ahead of me in school, so this was my reunion, not his. I had been hoping he would ask, but when the moment came, I could not say yes. I realized I wanted to be seen for who I was. If I was with him, that was all anyone would notice. And it would be all I could think about too. That, and whether or not he might get wasted and cause a scene. So when he brought it up again on the phone, I said no. I would see him, but I wanted to go to the reunion solo.
On the night of the big event I was having such a good time I didn’t think to check my phone until maybe halfway through the evening. When I did, there were several texts from him: Are you having fun? Who is there? Can I come in now? In spite of the fact that I had expressly not invited him, he had shown up. I felt things would just get more awkward if I didn’t concede at this point, after all I was staying at his house. So I walked out to the parking lot to find him. But as we went back inside hand-in-hand I sensed a shift. I felt my heart backing away from him like a tide receding. That night I went back to his house in the car he had loaned me for the weekend. When I arrived he was in the basement bathroom. And when he came out he wouldn’t kiss me. Maybe, I thought, it was for the best.
The next day was Monday and he got up to go to work. He told me how he had driven home from the reunion and stopped at a fast food drive through window. When they handed him his food, he began to eat. In his car. In the drive-through window. Whereupon the staff indicated he should drive forward. It occurred to me that perhaps the fast food and the liquor had not agreed with him. I remembered right then how I was the one who blacked out at prom. He had literally held my hair back as I vomited. Had we traded places? Was that why he wouldn’t kiss me?
“What are you doing today?”
“I’m going to a meeting.”
“Maybe I should go with you to one of those meetings…” He laughed and shrugged and looked at his feet, as if acknowledging the possibility that he too might have a problem made him as uncomfortable in his skin as I was comfortable in mine.
As I sat in a church basement that afternoon listening to others share about their recovery I wondered— should I offer to take him to another meeting once he got home from work? But I was due at the airport at eight, there wouldn’t be time. And I’d been in Al Anon long enough to know we don’t do for others what they can do for themselves. I had already carried the message, all the way to Mexico, and back home again. It was perfectly clear that if a person wanted to be clean and sober, all they had to be was willing. If Yelapa wasn’t an example of that I don’t know what could be. So I got on the plane and I went home.
The following weekend was Thanksgiving. I sent him a text and waited. And waited. And waited. Three months passed. Finally I got a voicemail and an apology. By then I had deleted his number. Sure, I’d been disappointed. But I also felt I had learned what I needed to know. I could travel with anyone, anywhere, and stay clean. It does not matter if my travel companion is sober or not. My program is for me, not for anyone else, even if I think they need it.