I went to Cancún, Mexico 3 months out of rehab. I had booked the trip with my boyfriend and two friends, impulsively, and there were no refunds. It was low season for tourists, or rather, it was not spring break, so I figured it would be easy. I told myself to enjoy it: a vacation without alcohol. We were offered tequila pretty much everywhere we went.
I often think about Cancún. The tropical heat of it. The beach. Walking out to watch the thunderstorm at night. My friend trying to capture the lightning with a disposable camera. Taking the bus out of the hotel zone and getting off downtown. The semi-abandoned and abandoned buildings. The meeting room, on the second floor, with a view of the city’s sprawl into the jungle.
The meeting was in a mall called Plaza Nader that was either out of business or rarely used or closed by the time I got there. I went every day, even though I regretted missing the sunset with my boyfriend at the hotel. It’s something that would come up for me again and again – the feeling of missing out by being in recovery. The tradeoff was real at the time.
There were white marble tiles with pink veins, cut out like bricks. There were about 10 ex-pats, living in Cancún, and a few tourists like me, so the meeting was in English. The first time I tried to find it, the building was locked. I walked around back and a man was standing there, smiling at me.
“What are you looking for?” he asked.
“The meeting?” I said.
“Weed?” he asked. “Cocaine?”
“No,” I said, and laughed, and continued looking until I found a side entrance. Wondering then, and the next day, and for a long while in different ways, if I should have gotten some weed for my friends. Wondering what that would mean.
The stories were intense. A man talking his friend down from suicide, asking him to hand over the whiskey and shotgun. The machete. Another who ended someone’s life in a blackout, while driving, having no idea until the police came to tell him. People coming and going from treatment. Me, with my resort wristband and sunglasses, listening until the last day, when I spoke.
I was uncomfortable, still wanting distance from everyone I met in any meeting, still coming mostly for the stories. I resented people reading the steps who could barely read. I still got annoyed when people rambled, off topic. I judged a guy for talking about relapses as if they were a given, beginning his share with “Every time I go out…” I still winced when people cheered for cake.
When I spoke, it was of blackouts. At 3 months sober, they were my best reminder, my best reason not to drink. The man with the hit and run spoke to me after, commiserated. In one of the last months of my drinking, I woke up having no idea where I parked the night before. It was something I had sworn I would never do again and something I had done so often since swearing so, that I couldn’t pretend it would stick if I swore it again.
Despite the intensity, I remember most the community, the connection. I remember the bus out of the hotel zone, the view. I remember Johnny, staying sober, trying to find the money for his light bill. I remember slipping an envelope with his name on it, with a hundred pesos, under the door before the meeting. The mall at Plaza Nader that was never quite open and never quite closed. The marble tiles. That anchor for me there, miraculously, amid the offers for tequila and weed and cocaine.