Oh no. No no no no no no. This can’t be happening. I sit up from the bench I was sleeping on, trying to take in my surroundings and not vomit. Oh, my aching head. Many of my hangovers have been terrible before but never THIS terrible.
I am in an unfamiliar subway station. The smell of fuel and greasy food and dirty floors and public urination suddenly becomes too much, and I run into the station bathroom which is thankfully nearby, and up comes all my stupidity. Mixed together with the martinis and scotch and champagne and whatever else I’ve let strangers buy for me.
Once my stomach has finished its dirty business, I walk back into the station and try to figure out where I am. Nothing is recognizable. I commute daily on DC’s metro so I know it well, but this station is not at all familiar to me. There are signs for different levels of the station - subway, Amtrak, Commuter Rail; so I begin wandering to get my bearings. As I roam it becomes evident where I am just from looking at the people walking by me: by their sweatshirts and hats. Celtics. Bruins. Red Sox. Patriots.
BOSTON?! How in God’s name did I get here from DC? I can’t remember. I can't. remember.
I look at the schedule and see a train departing for DC in 1 hour, thank God. I will go home and sleep some more and then I will figure this out. I reach for my purse so that I can buy a ticket and realize that, naturally, it is gone. Of course it is. Along with my phone, wallet, and money. Shit.
My recollection of last night is a blank. In fact, I am having the dawning realization that I don’t even know what day it is. I look at a newspaper on a nearby stand and see the date: “Tuesday, February 21, 2017”. OMG. I have lost most of the weekend. This has never happened before. The last thing I remember is going out for drinks on Sunday afternoon to celebrate the long weekend. Long weekend, wow, yeah I guess it was.
My family have “suggested” a few times (more than a few?) that maybe I should “get help.” Get help, give me a break. I am working my butt off to improve myself. I work at my job 50 hours a week, and on top of that I volunteer at the animal shelter, contribute to the company charity drives, march in the annual Pride Parade, the Walk for the Homeless, the March for Hunger, the Women’s March, I mean… there’s only so much I can do and still keep my sanity, right? Having a few drinks just helps me relax. I don’t know why everyone makes such a big deal. I’ve never lost my job or gotten a DUI or anything REALLY bad.
OK, well this might be considered pretty bad. I should be at work right now but I’m in frickin’ Boston. But I’m sure I can explain the absence to my boss somehow… right?
No. I am starting to freak out.
I sit down on a bench and try to practice some of the deep breathing I’ve learned in my yoga and meditation classes. I try to send lovingkindness into the world daily. It’s kind of hard with my family sometimes, especially when they’re bugging me about going to AA. I try to forgive them for that. They’re just worried. But anyway.
Right now, I need to use some of that meditation to calm myself down so that I can figure out my plan. How can I get back home? And how can I explain to my boss why I am out of work today? And oh crap, we have that big meeting…
Just breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
I started yoga and meditation at the suggestion of this woman at work who really has her act together. I mean, her Facebook page and Instagram are filled with pictures of happy family and happy friends and happy dog and happy homemade cookies with her happy kids and happy everything. So I figured if the yoga and meditation helped her with all this happy sappy crap, then I should try it too. I’m forever trying to feel better about things, but it seems like it’s just out of reach, you know? And it’s hard when I work all the time and then I’ve got people riding me about everything in my life.
But ok, now my monkey mind is taking over, and I am also getting bitchy because I am stressed. Who wouldn’t be? I have no money, no phone, no recollection of the weekend, no food, and no idea what to do.
Just breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
It really boggles my mind. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Drexel 10 years ago. Got a job at a big company in DC and have moved up the ladder. I work hard. I am always trying to improve my performance, go the extra mile, take those trainings, do whatever it takes. My whole life, I was the goodie-two-shoes who tried to please teachers and bosses, doing the extracurricular work and stuff. Trying to feel like I was constantly furthering myself, at the head of the class, always one step ahead. Because otherwise, I'm stagnating.
But who in their right mind goes to Boston in February? I do have some murky memories of trash-talking in a bar about the 76ers & Celtics… did I lose some bet? Oh God, this is pathetic.
I am startled out of my meditation/monkey mind by an unkempt man sitting down next to me on my bench. “You look like you could use some help, miss. Rough night?”, he says.
I glare at him, infuriated. How dare he assume anything about me or my life?! I don’t need help from this old man. I decide to give him a piece of my mind.
“You are disgusting. Don’t talk to me! Get away from me and go get a job while you’re at it.”
He smiles, unsurprised, but doesn’t reply to my rudeness. Instead, he stands up and places an envelope on the bench next to me.
“No problem, miss. But if you need a hot cup of coffee, this might help you out.,” he says, and walks away.
The NERVE! I am a professional woman with a college degree, a serious job, contributing to society with my volunteerism and my lovingkindness and my self-improvement goals. Who the hell is he, and what does he have going for him? I can’t even imagine.
I try to go back to my meditation but it’s no use. I am thirsty. I am hungry. I have a headache.
I am lost.
I am 500 miles from home.
I don’t know how I got here.
Hoping maybe there’s a $10 bill in the envelope and I can go get myself something from Starbucks, I pick up the envelope. Inside, there is a silver coin. Around the edge it says, “To thine own self be true”, and in the middle it is stamped “24 Hours”. On the other side is the AA Serenity Prayer.
You have GOT to be kidding me, I think. This dude must’ve been conspiring with my mom. I look in the envelope again and there is also a slip of paper with an address, and “12 noon” written at the top.
Sigh. No way – I’m not going to a stupid AA meeting. I am nothing like those people. Nothing.
I lay down on the bench, hoping my headache will subside if I can just sleep a little bit more. But I’m so thirsty and hungry that I can’t drift off. God, I could use some coffee. It’s 11:30 in the morning and I’ve just been on a 2-day bender, I have never needed coffee so badly in my life.
Coffee. Well, I know how that idea got planted in my head and I’m NOT falling for it.
But... maybe I could just go sit in the corner of that meeting and drink coffee and not say anything to anyone. After all, I don’t have any money. It's free coffee. If they force me to introduce myself, I will give a fake name and NOTHING else, and then leave as soon as I steal some of their donuts and coffee.
OK yeah, that is my plan.
I make my way out of the station into the frigid February air, momentarily awed by the sight of the Zakim bridge and the Boston Garden looming over me. I really should come back here someday… on purpose, next time.
I find the address and manage to sneak in just as the meeting is about to start, happy for the warmth of the church basement and the much-anticipated donuts and coffee. Sitting in the corner with my loot, I half listen to the opening of the meeting and the reading.
Then the introductions and sharing start. The first person to speak is a truck driver who was homeless for 8 years due to his alcoholism. Just like I figured, I have nothing in common with these people. I will finish these donuts and leave.
The second speaker is a woman who is the vice president of a local bank. Huh. Wasn’t expecting that. Third – a personal trainer. Then a lawyer, a retired first grade teacher, a rabbi. A nurse, a stay-home mom, a college student. And they have these common threads that they speak about, regardless of vocation or where they come from.
Common threads that seem uncomfortably familiar. Overachieving. Loneliness. Perfectionism.
Some people speak, some pass… and now they’re coming around the circle toward me. Damn. I have finished my donuts and coffee but somehow, I haven’t left my seat.
I have done so many things to better myself. So many things. But they didn’t give me the peace I was looking for. And now here I am, alone in Boston in February, as pitiful as it gets.
But for the first time in my life, I wonder if maybe I’m not as alone as I thought. Maybe I am right where I need to be.
I close my eyes and breathe in and out, in and out, until I realize they have gotten to me, and I speak the words that will begin the rest of my life:
“My name is Kristen. I am an alcoholic.”