I attended a work conference in dc this week and a team development retreat right after. The team development took place at a fancy 5 star resort, the same one we stayed in last year for the same event. However, last year couldn’t be more opposite than night and day to this year. Last year, i was the newest member on the team and the youngest. And because i felt completely unqualified for my position, I so dearly wanted to fit in. I wanted to be validated and accepted as an important member of the team. Do you remember the amusement park ride that drops unexpectedly and feels like you’re being sucked to the pit of the earth? That’s how i would explain my relationship with alcohol at the time of this trip. Combine that with my desire to fit in and be accepted, and I went down hard and fast. I had no proprioception with which to gain my surroundings. I blacked out all three nights of my work trip. Upon seeing me this year, the global head of our team exclaimed, in front of a group of colleagues I’d never met before, “wow! They let you back here?! You had the line of the trip last year!” It was said in jest but a wildfire of embarrassment ripped through my body. The line he’s referring to is one I’ve tried to remember a million times but can’t. And because I can’t remember, I only know what happened by piecing stories together. I was too ashamed the morning after to ask anyone anything so I listened intently as people rehashed the debauchery in good humor. As it was told, we were around the fire pit and I was going inside to use the restroom. My coworker asked me to grab a bottle of wine on my way back out. I apparently agreed but because my brain was in pure survival mode due to the level of my alcohol consumption, i had no short term memory function. So, I came back empty handed. When asked where the wine was, I smartly retorted in front of 15+ people including clients, “I’m not your wine bitch.” This is what the global leader of our team deemed “the line of the trip.”
I don’t know who i talked to at the fire. I don’t know when I left the fire. I don’t know how I got back to my room. I don’t know how long i was blacked out. What I do know is that I took a bath that night. And I only know that because, when i woke the next morning, the wrappers of the bath bombs i brought to treat myself in the luxurious soaking tub in my room were strewn across the bathroom floor. What was scarier than the thought of me taking a bath while blacked out was that I had bruises on my arms, hip, and right thigh. The kinds of bruises that are turquoise in color and so sensitive as to take my breath away with the slightest graze of my clothing. I woke that morning with a wicked hangover. (Duh.) I laid in the shower for 30 minutes. Literally. Laid. I laid and cried and imagined the water washing away the shame and guilt I had for my inability to control my drinking, washing away who I was so I could emerge as a person who could control her drinking. This was my routine every morning after I drank too much. Which was every time I drank.
With puffy eyes, wet hair, and general disorientation, I made it to the meeting room for the last part of our team development event. While most stayed out later than i did (from what I heard of course), no one seemed to be carrying the weight of shame on their shoulders like i was. But then again, I didn’t think anyone was secretly suffering as much as I was.
While drinking a beer with another coworker at the airport bar and with my tail between my legs, I asked him what happened at the fire. My level of shame must’ve been palpable because i could see he was feeling as uncomfortable answering this question as i was asking it. He told me I fell out of my chair but that “you didn’t make too big of a fool of yourself. We were all having fun.”
Sobriety has given me a lot of things in only 3 months. And one of those things is renewed perception. Of course, my perception will always be influenced by my past. And because of that, this year’s team development function was an opportunity to see exactly how i and my perception have changed. Given that I was at the same resort with the same people at the same time of year, it was the same context but very different content. Before i stopped drinking, I was trying to look out a window through blackout curtains. I believed that, without alcohol, my inner witty, fun self would never be invited to the party. I believed that to be accepted in a predominantly white male industry I was required to have a whiskey in hand. I believed that to make my way to the top required drinking martinis while getting smoked out in a cigar bar at a table of 15 men talking business. Now, 92 days sober, I’m still trying to look out that same window with a tightly drawn curtain curtain but it’s no longer a blackout curtain. Though it’s not a sheer curtain and, for that matter, it’s not an unobstructed open window either, it is letting in more light. There are shapes of something beyond making shadows through the curtain. What is it that’s causing the shadows? What would happen if I peeled the curtain back? Do the shadows disappear? Or do they play their shadow games on something else, revealing yet another opportunity for a layer to be removed? Is there a place beyond that has no shadows?