Posts Tagged 'sobriety'

April 25: Sobreity and Getting Stolen From

Didn't take many picture in Vientiane. So here's one of people on the exercise equipment along the riverside.

Vientiane, April 25th: it was one of those perfect days. Until I found the money missing.

April 25th is my sobriety birthday, the day I get to think to myself—“This is the number of years my life has been getting better.” This year was eleven. Eleven years of slowly, sometimes painfully, learning to live in the world and in my own body without killing myself. It’s a pretty good thing to celebrate, not in a balloons-and-cake kind of way, but in a way that’s stiller, sweeter.

The theme of the day, I’d decided, was self-cafe. Which didn’t seem like it would be hard to achieve in Vientiane. We’d arrived the previous morning, slept off our 24-hour-bus-ride aches and spent the afternoon strolling around the town, eating at the local night market, reveling in all the differences from Cambodia (“Sidewalks!”).

The air was lighter, softer in Vientiane. We were farther north, and it was cooler, an oppressive edge eased. The streets were free of rubbish, and the traffic was mellow, orderly even—girls in sarongs riding side-saddle, holding frilly sun umbrellas. With its shady streets and fountain square, its cafes and riverside promenade, the city felt—I hate to say it—European.

Everyone had talked about how insanely mellow Laos is, how when you cross the border you exhale this breath you hadn’t know you’d been holding. And it was like that for me. So I decided to mellow out with it. April 25, there’d be no hard-core traveler shit, just doing things that felt good for me.

So I spent a couple hours writing in the morning, then went for fruit shakes and Western salads. We took a tuk-tuk out to a fitness center recommended by the guidebook; I ran sprints on the treadmill, swam in the pool, read in the sun, drank fancy coffee, got an hour-long massage. We went back into town and my friends treated me to Indian food. Cool air blew off the river, and I felt healthy, serene, filled with a simple kind of gratitude you don’t need words for.

“This has been a fucking great day,” I told my friends as we walked back to the guesthouse. “Really, guys—thanks for sharing it with me.”

I needed to stop off at our room to grab some more cash. I’d changed a bunch of US dollars the day before, and I never like to walk around with too much money on me—a lesson learned, I suppose, growing up in Oakland. I know you’re not supposed to leave anything of value in hotel rooms, but it always seemed a toss up to me. And in six years of traveling, I’d never had a problem.

Housekeeping had come, we noticed: fresh towels and soap packets. I reached into my bag, a pocket that I’d left, admittedly, half-zipped. I pulled out the book I’d tucked my cash into—as it happened, my favorite recovery daily reader (yeah, that’s right). I flipped to the page I’d stuck my money in—as it happened, that day, April 25.

And it wasn’t there.

“God. Damn. It.” I closed my eyes, dropped my arms to my side. “My money is gone.”

I commenced what I knew was a fruitless effort, digging through all my shit. Alicia and Suki joined in. “Did you put it here maybe?” opening another pocket, lifting up another pile of dirty laundry.

It was gone. $150, about 5 days worth of travel. And I knew there was nothing I could do. Every hotel room I’d ever stayed in, this one included, has had signs telling you they weren’t responsible for missing property. I had travel insurance, but how do you prove you had cash stolen?

And it was partially my fault. I hadn’t been careless, per se, but I hadn’t been as vigilant as I should have. I’d broken one of the cardinal rules of traveling, right along with leaving your bags unattended or keeping money in your back pocket.

I went down to reception, even though I knew, just like searching through the room, that talking to the manager would be fruitless.

I told him about the missing money. “I know there’s nothing you can do, but I just thought you should know.” He went through the motions of calling staff (“They said no one cleaned your room today.”), searching through the video recorder of the hallway (“I didn’t see anyone enter the room.”).

He told me they’d never had a problem before; a couple minutes later, he suggested I’d lost the money. “Maybe because you are three,” he offered. “Once we had three people staying, and they also lost something. They called the police; it was a big problem for us.”

I sighed a long, pained sigh. “I thought you said you’d never had a problem before.”

He shook his head, dismissing my observation. “I trust my staff.”

“Well, that’s good. But someone stole money from me, so I don’t.”

I sat down in the gaudily carved bench in the foyer, defeated. My brain ran through a list of should-have’s, why-didn’t-I’s. I pictured all the end-of-trip indulgences I wouldn’t be able to allow myself. I felt nauseous. I got, I’ll admit it, teary.

I went back upstairs, flopped down on the crisply folded sheets. I smirked at the irony of getting money stolen from a recovery text, on my sobriety birthday, a day that had been so healthful and serene.

What do you have control of in this situation? I asked myself. I couldn’t get the money back, couldn’t file a claim with my travel insurance, couldn’t prove that it was stolen in the first place. All I could come up with was my attitude.

I sighed again. Not a pained sigh, but a long exhale, the kind they say you do in Laos. So someone took my money. Was I going to let them take my serenity too?

It’s been a few days. And while I still feel the sting, while I have to be extra careful about what I spend money on, the main thing I remember from April 25, 2011 isn’t getting ripped off. It’s of taking care of myself, giving myself what I needed—a day of fitness and relaxing and good food—and sharing it with friends.

[For what it’s worth, the hotel I stayed at was the Riverside Hotel. And they’re breakfast was pretty awful to boot.]

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This is Not About Travel

Ten years ago today was the worst day of my life.

This is not about travel.

Have you ever been broke down, beat up, tore back—I mean wiped out, swinging from a greasy rope, “with no knot in it”? Have you ever had to admit total defeat?

This is not about travel.

Have you been 17 and scared? Have you been running, running from an unnameable blackness inside you? Have you ever found the thing that would save you, keep you, sing to you sweetly in the jagged alleys of adolescence, a song of calloused fingertips and swollen livers that lullabyed you into a half-consciousness that made everything more manageable? Have you ever fallen in love with a sickness?

No, no, this is not about travel.

Have you woken up, bloody-elbowed and wobbly-toothed? Have you walked through the house with kitchen knives in both hands, watched the walls bleed and the shadows twitch, recoiled from your own hungry pupils in the mirror?

And has life ever stepped like a steel toe on your chest? Have you ever laid choking and gasping on the bottom bunk, the weight pressing down, pressing, pressure (that’s how diamonds are made).

Have you ever realized that the thing you thought would save you was gonna kill you faster than what you were running from?

This is not about travel in the traditional sense—not the route between physical places. This is about a different kind of journey, a spiritual journey, but one where there’s no arriving, no achieving. Where, no matter how far down the path you get, you’re always the same distance from the ditch.

My last drink was like this: Sunday afternoon, the parking lot of a West Berkeley warehouse, “backpack beer”—the warm remains of yesterday’s 12-pack. It was a place we’d go to drink during shows at Gilman; it wasn’t my part of town, and I didn’t know where else to go. We’d taken the bus an hour, to buy a half ounce from the kids above the pet shop, walked a couple blocks west to chill out before the trek home.

But the spot looked different during the day, naked and stark, not shielded under a blanket of dark that obscured everything, made you less able to look at it, see it. We crouched beside a stairwell, I drank two beers, got the cuff of my jeans wet when I squatted and pissed.

We took the bus back to Oakland, through a spring afternoon I didn’t deserve. It was too soft, too aching, too bird-singingly pure. Spring break had come and went, and the fragmented remnants of the week-long blackout were still jangling in me, sharp as glass. School would be out soon, graduation was coming, and I’d wear a white cap, march single-file into a future that was only getting heavier, deeper, more liquor-soaked and desperate.

I’d go home and eat dinner. I’d sneak a glass or two of wine, to take off the edge that was already sneaking back. I’d bag up the half-ounce and smoke a little of what was left. Listen to some music, maybe write a little. I would not meet fate, would not break down sobbing in a wretched little ball as it all caved in, crashed down, crushed the very bones of me. I would not get sober that night.

Ten years ago today was the first day of my life.

No Port in Porto

DSCN3759I ended up at port tasting in Porto today. If you know anyone who´s been to Porto (yes, the homeland of port), this probably topped their itinerary, sent them scampering up the city´s steep hillside for a free tour and tasting of the  carefully aged, exquisitely sweet wine that is as Portuguese as codfish. If you know me, you´re bound to be uttering a “wtf?”

The thing is, I don´t drink. Not even wine; not even to taste. It´s been over 9 years since I´ve had a drink, so I don´t think of this as a very big deal anymore and don´t think to announce it on my Couchsurfing profile. So when my host picked me up from the bus station, drove me around town on a personalized sight-seeing tour (this is the life), and thought, you know, it´d be fun to stop off for a port tasting—far be it from me to not tag along.

It was mildly interesting, to wander amid the massive barrels and cool stones, listening to the heavily accented spiel (I serve ports at work, which I´ll be returning to in exactly one week, so it was good to have a little refresher course). I observed everyone else´s excitement, especially for the free tasting portion, and I have to say, it was a little awkward when I was the only one not politely pushing to the counter and grabbing a glass.

I´ve been thinking a lot about drinking and traveling, since I read Matador article discussing the pros and cons of alcohol consumption on the road. The article asked whether we needed alcohol to connect on the road. The 21-and-counting comments ran the gamut, and revealed a lot about the people the wrote them. On his personal blog, Matador editor Carlo Alcos offered his ruminations on the subject. “Okay,” I thought, “I can totally write a post on this.” I saved the links and let the subject swim around in the back of my head. And, I´m surprised to say, I actually have very little to say.

So, of course, I´ll say something about that. I found the responses to the article fascinating, little boxed glimpses into the psyches of the thumbnail photos that accompanied them. The fervor and conviction with which so many people wrote intrigued me, especially when they went so far as to make blanket statements or preachy proclaimations. I observed it all with a strange sort of detachment, as though I were looking in on something that had nothing to do with me, like watching a documentary on the culture of people in a terribly far-away land. And, in a way, I was.

I´ve never drank while traveling. I got sober at 17 and never looked back. At home and on the road, people who don´t know this will offer me drinks—I casually decline, and that´s the end of it. Sometimes they notice my repeated refusal and ask why, and I tell them the truth: I´m far more charming company sober.

Drinking for me was never about the kind of camaraderie and conviviality the Matador article talks about—it was about self-destruction and oblivion.  I didn´t win many friends by cussing people out, pissing in doorways or sobbing in corners. Nor would I expect to while traveling. And while I don´t hit the pubs or search out the coke bars when I´m in another city, I do go out. To parties, yes, sometimes to clubs and bars. Sometimes to port tastings. And I dance and laugh and conversate (I´ve stopped fighting, it´s a word now) and do all the stuff everyone else does. I just remember it the next day.

Or, at least that´s the position I´ve always maintained. But in my Portugal travels, I´ve had this lurking feeling that I´m missing out on something. Wine is a huge part of life in Portugal, a cultural characteristic that culminates in the precipitous cleave of Porto and the surrounding green valleys of the Douro. And in the same way that you get a better, ahem, taste of a culture via their traditional foods, I think I´d be getting a better feel for the soul of Portugal if I were swishing a tawny port around my teeth and pontificating on notes of walnut and honey.

But even this feeling, this knowledge, I observe with a distance. It´s all so far away, drinking and the culture behind it, and I find myself regarding it with complete indifference. That is to say, regarding other people´s drinking with complete indifference. I guess what I realized with the Matador article and the responses it provoked was that I really don´t want to be the arbiter of anyone else´s drinking. I´m probably the least qualified person in the world to do that anyway. I just want to keep living my little sober, happy life—even if I end up wandering into a port cellar or two.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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