I first got clean and sober in the summer of 2008. Prior to 2008 I used all day, every day, for twenty years. I like to say it doesn’t matter what I used because an addict is an addict and we’re all the same. Twelve years later, I still believe this to be true. But I also heard someone share at a meeting years later saying her drug of choice was “s’more”. It didn’t matter what she was using or drinking, she just wanted some more of it. I like that description. When I share at 12 step meetings I tell people to insert their drug of choice (including alcohol) wherever I use the words “used” or any other word to indicate my use. That way no one is alienated.
After I made the decision to get clean and sober I went to twelve step meetings.
When I was nine months sober I traveled to China. I went with a group of about a dozen people that I knew from the master’s program I was attending. We studied medicine there. One friend of mine and I stayed at the same hostel and hung out together too much. It was not a good situation and I tried desperately to get away from her. She was a using addict with no respect for my sobriety. She used in front of me, even offering me alcohol, knowing full well I was in recovery. That’s the thing about addicts, they want you to use with them so they don’t have to look at their own addiction. I acted exactly the same when I was using. In retrospect I’m really glad I spent five weeks in China but I also think it was a mistake to go when I was so new to recovery.
There were two extremely difficult times in particular where I almost used but I didn’t. And if I had, that would have been okay too, it would have been part of my story and it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have quit again.
What’s important for me, looking back, is knowing the people I surround myself with. The people I was with in China did not have my best interests at heart. The two people I ended up spending the most time with were hard core addicts. Neither of them gave two sh$ts about my sobriety. They were not supportive, understanding or helpful. Quite the opposite. So what I learned is that I can’t count on someone else to have my back unless they’re also clean and sober or respectful. If they’re not, I have to do this myself. Before I left for China I contacted NA (Narcotics Anonymous) world services and was given the liaison for English speakers in China. It could have been AA (Alcoholics Anonymous but at that time I was mainly going to NA meetings).
I contacted the liaison before I even set foot on that plane. He was my lifeline and he went out of his way to help me. After a close encounter on Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), I called him shaking and scared. He invited me to Shanghai. He met me at the train station and took me to a friend’s house, an American from the program who agreed to let me stay in his extra bedroom. The guys threw an impromptu meeting for me, inviting others over and I couldn’t be more grateful. They showed me around Shanghai and took me to daily meetings the entire time I was there. It was exactly what I needed. Freshly armed with my new support group I went back to Hangzhou with abandon. Three weeks later I decided to escape the two alcoholic “friends” and booked a ticket to Yangshuo, Guilin. They followed me there. In a restaurant one night they were double fisting beer in front of me and I fled, crying, to my hostel room. My solo room. This is important for sanity, age and sobriety. I was already too old, in my forties, to share a room with six bunk beds for $5 a night and sprung for the hefty $15 a night to have my own domicile. It was huge, it was glorious and most importantly, it was away from the alcoholics. My sanctuary. My refuge.
Because of that trip, I learned to travel smarter. For many years after that I traveled solo, I still do mostly. And whenever I land somewhere new, I look up the twelve step meetings and I go to them. Mostly I go to AA because there are more meetings options for AA.
I’ve been to meetings all around the world, both NA and AA. From Berlin to Venice, Italy. From Mexico to Canada. From Los Angeles to Miami to NYC to Maine to Alaska to Hawaii. Even in the Grand Caymans. And whenever I arrive, I know I’m home. The faces are different but the stories are the same. Familiar, heartbreaking, heartwarming and real. There’s instant camaraderie. I’ve been at several meetings where the people couldn’t be more different than me and it didn’t matter, I was accepted. This is what it’s truly like, to travel sober. I need that support group. Desperately. Because sobriety is one of the few things that I, a fiercely independent fifty something woman, cannot do alone.
On my next adventure, in my van, driving around the United States there may not be the opportunity to go to meetings in person. Not in the time of Covid. And if that’s the case, I’ll go to zoom meetings. It may not be the same but it’s definitely better than the alternative.
If you’re a sober traveler looking for support, please reach out, we need each other 🙂
I talk a little more about what it’s like traveling sober in this guest blog post…
Thank you for being on this adventure with me!