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Can You Stay Sober in Las Vegas?
To many undertaking recovery it might seem an odd, even stupid choice after five months completely clean and sober, to throw myself into an oasis of debauchery and temptation, but Las Vegas was where I needed to be.
Vegas is where my partner has to be for work, it has a thriving art scene, and I knew I couldn’t hide forever. I left Britain six months earlier — after a terrible, failed year at college, abusing anything I could get my hands on — and fled to China to get my head together and learn some new skills. The protective bubble I’d built around myself in Asia with a self-imposed nonexistent social life and nosy host family quickly burst when I arrived.
“People from all over the world come to spend their money, indulge their hedonism and intoxicate themselves at a fake junkie fairground for the weekend.”
Whatever your vice, Vegas has it in buckets and is all too happy to taunt you with it. The Strip feels like someone whipping a cold, damp flannel roughly around your face. Scantily clad women, advertisements for cheap shots, gambling, and on the way home through seedy back streets, voices from the shadows offering any illicit substance you can imagine. People from all over the world come to spend their money, indulge their hedonism and intoxicate themselves at a fake junkie fairground for the weekend — a two day parody of what my life was for five years.
But like anything shiny, scratch the surface in Vegas and you’ll find the grimy, dull sadness beneath the gold. Adjust your eyes and you’ll see the meth addicts weeping and yelling on street corners, the guy with his last buck in hand, staring at the slot machine, torn between his fix and the money to get home.
After getting over the jetlag and culture shock I adopted a rough routine to keep my mind alert and my recovery on course. I’ve always been a night owl — it’s when I do my best work, but I try to get up early. I meditate if I can and go for a walk while the streets are still quiet and the sun isn’t so hot. And then I try to get my work done and keep my correspondence up with friends and family far away.
“I smell the alcohol vapors wafting off the bar counter, spills from sloppy late-night pours, and I feel the pang of temptation.”
Unfortunately work depends heavily on networking and meeting new people, which is hard to accomplish outside of a bar in this town. Luckily my partner is also someone serious about recovery and he can accompany me to bars and vice versa so we keep each other on our toes. I go to meetings. I smell the alcohol vapors wafting off the bar counter, spills from sloppy late-night pours, and I feel the pang of temptation. Then I look at the people laughing at the proverbial ‘drunk chick’ falling out of her top and her chair at the bar, and temptation turns to resolve.
Any other urges to use are quashed every morning at 5am when I am woken from my vivid dope-anxiety dreams by the can-man, rooting through the dumpster looking for his bounty to recycle and get his next fix. In the half-light I see his shabby clothes and the shopping cart full of everything he owns and I remind myself of how similar we are and how little it takes to be right where he is. I lie back down and pray for strength.