I spent two weeks in Italy when I was 7 months sober. I saw the Vatican, the Trevi fountain, the River Arno sitting green and still in Florence. I was nervous about traveling. I thought about geographics, about how as long as I put recovery first, I could be anywhere in the world and be fine. I also thought about how every time I tried to get sober before AA, I’d relapse when I was away from home, usually halfway into a trip, because it felt safer, felt less like real life, felt temporary.
In Milan, a man with many, many years in recovery spoke. I wrote down two things he said:
- Every day is not a struggle, but many days are a struggle.
- There have been many levels of actions and many of levels of understanding.
I struggled in Italy. I was on a guided tour with 40 people. We saw every major city and historical site, but rarely had more than an hour or two wherever we were. It felt ungrateful, but the truth was I was tired and annoyed. I didn’t realize what I had signed on for. I wasn’t calling my sponsor. I wasn’t writing. I wanted to drink so badly. People like to drink on vacation. They like to talk about the limoncello in Positano, the wine in the Chianti region, the sambuca. I was listening. I was spinning.
You can find an English-speaking meeting in almost every part of the world. In Puerto Rico, they were in different parts of the island each day. In Cancún, there was one a day in the same spot, downtown. They are for tourists and usually run by ex-pats. They are always there.
I am learning what putting recovery first can do. I am learning it over and over. I am changing, slowly. In these nine months, I have traveled a lot. I have put recovery first and I have not. I have gone to a meeting every day of a trip and I have gone to just one. I have resented meetings and I have embraced them. I’ve thought: I will be fine on this trip because I am more self-aware than the people cautioning me against it. I have thought: thank god there are meetings here. I’ve escaped relapse thanks to pride, thinking that I couldn’t bear to come back as a newcomer and prove everyone right. I’ve thought about how no one was cautioning me for the sake of being right. There have been many levels of actions and many of levels of understanding.