I am pleased to say that my apprehension with the work trip last week turned out to be somewhat unnecessary for a number of reasons. First, my husband ended up home for the week and opted to make the trip down to Charleston with me. While he couldn’t accompany me to my work events, it made it nice knowing that he was there waiting for me afterwards. His presence significantly altered the dynamic of some of the more stressful situations. I also need to thank a certain blogger who texted me to check in on Wednesday night – you know who you are!
The first night’s dinner was in an intimate courtyard at Leon’s Oyster Shop, complete with brick pavers and string lights. There was gorgeous whole fish being prepared on the wood fired grill in one corner and a massive open bar in the other. The one other sober person amid over 55 people there that night joined me at the bar for a club soda, and with that drink in my hand it wasn’t long before I realized that in this environment no one even noticed. I knew in relatively quick fashion that this evening would be a breeze. A few minutes later, our friendly but socially awkward I.T. manager sidled up next to me to mention that he had read my blog post about choosing sobriety. Now, as stalker-ish as this might initially seem, he called me nearly a year ago after I wrote a series of Linked-In articles where I referenced my other (more public) blog to tell me that he was following along. I am fully aware that there are one or two coworkers that read that blog, but I had forgotten that he was one of them. He nervously explained to me that he thought I was brave to put so much of myself out there for anyone to see and that he was prepared to go without a drink at these events if it would be of any help. Without making eye contact, he next quietly told me that he was also sorry about what I had to endure growing up. It feels a little odd to have someone tell me they are sorry, but I thanked him and promptly reassured him that I am in the best place I’ve ever been in my life. Now, I.T. guy is sadly someone that most people in our company avoid, and I’m sure that I’ve been one of those people at times, but the way he reached out to me that night made me see something else in him. I had the distinct sense that there is much more going on with I.T. guy and somehow the telling of my story was a way of connecting with him. It reminded me that we never really know what people are going through and we only ever see what’s on the surface with most of our interactions. It is easy to overlook that there is a depth and a life full of experiences, both good and bad, in every one of us. This would not be the only time this reminder would strike me on this short trip.
After dinner, I decided to stick to my original plan and call it an early night while others coordinated to hit the bar scene. As I prepared to head back to the hotel, I was surprised by the 10 or so people who immediately followed my lead. The bulk of the partying was expected to take place the following final night, usually with me included. As I got ready for dinner that next Thursday evening, I found my trepidation had mellowed. I knew wholeheartedly that I wouldn’t drink and given how the prior night went, I didn’t think the social aspect would be so bad, either. Instead, I found myself looking forward to dinner, but with the thought that I would still have to find a way to exit in advance of the big bar hopping. It seemed that fate had plans for an even earlier exit for me, however, when I stepped into a small pothole about a block from the restaurant. My fall was not a graceful one and judging by the reaction of the four people with me, I knew it was bad. I tried to brush it off and ignore the pain, proclaiming that I could just clean up a bit when we reached the restaurant and I would be fine. One of my coworkers even told me I’d feel better after getting a drink in me, to which I had to laugh. Then we all saw the goose egg on my knee and the blood pouring down my leg. After obtaining a pile of napkins and an Uber, I would spend the rest of that evening with my husband, a first aid kit and room service. I hear there are better ways to avoid drinking, though.
Earlier that day, we had several hours of free time to spend how we chose. Some folks played golf and drank, others went deep sea fishing and drank, and many spent the afternoon bouncing between bars and shopping, which is what I would have done in the past. Instead, I couldn’t wait to walk through the historic neighborhoods of the city and the best part was being able to take my husband along. It was during this beautiful walk on the perfectly sunny afternoon where we would receive word that a friend of ours had passed away. As my husband read the message to me on the sidewalk, I felt breathless. While the friend was not a regular part of our immediate circle of friends, he was someone we had known for close to 10 years and he was very much a part of the broader circle. It was just a few weeks ago that we spent time with him and now he was gone. You could say that we were both stunned by the news and while we had no idea what happened, I couldn’t keep from saying that this felt too close to home. We continued our walk, discussing how little we really know about some people and what may be going on in their lives or even with their health, both physical and mental. Something about the whole situation seemed off, not that it could ever feel right when something like this happens, but neither of us could shake the bad feeling.
It would be early Saturday morning when we would learn that our friend committed suicide. He was just 48 years old and had a wife and 7-year old son. There was obviously something so painful within him, something going on that no one knew about that made him feel that this was his only choice. We may not have been incredibly close with him, but his loss and the tragedy of it is painful. I feel heartbreak for his family and I feel heartbreak that many of us never really saw his struggles.
I have no perfect words for this loss, as I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I lost my father to a situation that speaks to taking his own life, and my step brother committed suicide after multiple tours in Afghanistan followed by a battle with heroin addiction. During my exposure to the recovery community, I continue to hear stories from others that have contemplated taking their lives at some point or still struggle with this even today. While I don’t know personally what it feels like to be faced with that affliction, I do believe that no matter what our story is, if we are comfortable sharing it then it should be told. Our stories connect us, and that connection can be incredibly powerful, maybe even life altering. If we aren’t sharing our stories with one another, then at the very least we should always remember that the stories are there within each of us. We are so much more than what we appear on the surface.
I celebrated two months of sobriety on Friday, 2/20, but it was Saturday that I felt some of the strongest cravings I’ve had in weeks. I struggled, I was irritable and I had an incredible urge to isolate and drink all day long, but I didn’t. It’s the feelings that are still difficult to face without alcohol and this will be my work for the foreseeable future, but it will also be the work that I continue to talk about because I know that I’m not alone in this.