By Sher G.
This summer I flew to Denver to attend my 30th high school reunion.
I’d attended my 20th and had a great time. I’d also had a few apologies to make, along with a handful of embarrassing memories that have lingered. There was Dan, who shared about joining the army, meeting his wife and moving to Hawaii to which I responded, “So you decided to stay in Denver this whole time,” and Brad, whom I regaled with stories of his own antics, until he stiffly told me I was thinking of someone else entirely.
The embarrassing memories may seem irrelevant or even funny to others, but we folks struggling with alcoholism know the shame those memories bring.
I was nervous as the reunion approached, and wondered how I might best prepare to stay safe and sober. I looked for a friend to rent a hotel room with, and found one who didn’t mind a no-drinking policy in the hotel room. Rachel was totally laid back about it, and assured me she could take or leave alcohol.
Of course I was still nervous about how I would do at the reunion events where I knew there would be lots of alcohol.
Half a dozen of us were going to meet at Hillary’s parents’ house, then together head to dinner and dancing at the golf club.
Ironically, Hillary’s house is the place where I first got drunk. I was 15 or 16 and her parents were out of town for the weekend. Four of us were ready to enjoy an unsupervised evening, and when Hillary revealed the unlocked liquor cabinet, we knew how we would spend it. Our drinking games were done with hard liquor, Jack Daniels for me. I have no idea how much I drank. I remember at one point my friends, giggling, made the very wise decision that I’d had enough and hid the liquor from me. I remember the tunnel vision, crawling across their kitchen floor towards the cabinet in search of more. Hillary told me we’d drunk all of it. That didn’t seem right, but they all agreed with her.
My next memory was waking up in an unfamiliar bed, in an unfamiliar room, the sunlight pouring in the window. At first I felt great – cleansed, light. I wasn’t wearing any clothing. That was disturbing. I noticed tiny scratches all over my arms. Where was I?
My three friends came into the room and cheerfully recounted the details of the rest of the night. I had apparently continued my search for the Jack Daniels, careening out of the house and into their very sharp shrubbery. That would explain the scratches. It seems I’d been conscious for some time, for which I had no memories: I’d blacked out the first time I got drunk. Then I’d passed out and started getting sick; they cleaned me off in the shower and took turns watching me. The more they shared, the sicker I felt. That initial sense of cleanse was because I had purged the entire contents of my gut.
And that was only the start of my drinking career.
I told Rachel I thought I should forewarn our friends that I didn’t drink, in case the point of the small gathering was to have a toast, maybe a few rounds of shots. Rachel convinced me that no one would make a fuss over me not drinking, and she was right. I responded to an offer of a drink with, “water for me,” and that was the end of it. I brought up that night to Hillary; she threw her arms around me and apologized for almost killing me. I told her she’d saved my life: if I’d continued to drink that night I could have died of alcohol poisoning; and once I started getting sick, my life was most certainly in their hands.
The reunion event was a lot of fun. We relied on name tags with our high school photos to recognize one another. With exception of the handful of people I was in contact with, every other person was a stranger with a shared history. I tentatively approached different people to see what kinds of conversations we might have. Then I sat down next to Nadine.
I recognized her instantly because of her resemblance to her older brother. I had worked with her older brother; in fact I had partied with her older brother many times. Nadine was intimidating in high school: beautiful, angry, and outspoken. I’d spoken with her briefly at our last reunion where she had been even more intimidating: beautiful, angry, outspoken, and very drunk. She worked in corrections, and I imagined that she might actually intimidate inmates. During that conversation a decade earlier she’d talked emphatically, drunkenly, her face far too close to mine.
After explaining to her my connection with her brother, Nadine gave me a hard, assessing look. She looked radiant. Her eyes were clear and sharp. She shared easily that she had been sober for the past nine years, and that life has never been better.
Prior to sobriety her road had been a hard one. Alcohol had swallowed up her life and taken everything from her; destroyed her career, ruined family relationships, left her broken. And it was only then, when there was nothing left, that she clung to the hope offered in rehab and started the long climb towards a sober life.
She had a job working with women in the criminal justice system, mothers whose children had been taken from them, trying to help them get themselves straight so they could reunite their families. Her passion for her work was palpable.
Nadine’s story was one of my most cherished memories from that weekend. The rest of the reunion went splendidly as well. There was alcohol aplenty, but I didn’t feel a moment of its allure. I believe it was because of the enriching experience of connecting with a group of inspiring and welcoming adults. Whatever unmet needs have compelled me to reach for that glass of wine – comfort, warmth – these needs were met with genuine, heartfelt connections with other humans.
Sher G. moved around the U.S. growing up, then raised her son in Silicon Valley in California. When he came of age she moved to the Pacific Northwest to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a park ranger. After a series of horrific and traumatizing on-the-job events she turned to alcohol to cope. Now no longer a park ranger, she is focusing on recovery. Writing, time in nature, and her pets are sources of joy and comfort. Sher writes two blogs: The Ranger Chronicles details the impacts of her trauma and retells the events that led to it; and in her blog Life Simply Is she shares her experiences of being a humanist living in a travel trailer on the California coast.
Writing for AA Agnostica enables Sher to freely express the impacts of her alcoholism and share her path to recovery. She has written two other articles posted on the website: My Last Traditional AA Meeting and Are you willing to do anything to stay sober?