Each year my husband and I represent our business at the industry’s provincial convention – a four-day affair that includes a golf tournament, networking, trade show, educational seminars, breakfast meetings, pre-dinner cocktail parties, and gala evening dinners (a themed costume night, an awards dinner, and the President’s dinner).

We have been in attendance for over a decade and are well known within the crowd of 500 or so delegates.  Both of us are there to ensure our company remains prominent, so it is essential that we are personable and outgoing, that we make important connections and always, always represent ourselves well.

Sometimes this involves hosting great parties, sometimes it means being an excellent guest who is charming and makes others glad they came, too.  There’s a lot of buying drinks for others, accepting drinks from others, and schmoozing over the drink already in your hand.

Every event includes two free drink tickets, and some include sponsored bars or trays of champagne circulating the room.  Wine is poured at dinner – your choice red or white – and the wait staff is attentive and quick with the refill. In case there wasn’t enough booze already, we also bring a cooler of beer and wine for our room so we can invite guests over for happy hour or a nightcap.

“Holy shit,” I thought as I packed.  “Here we go.  I can do this.  I can do this.”  As I bundled my medieval costume, I envisioned myself chatting and smiling with a glass of water in hand.  I carefully folded the slim-fitting sheath I’d chosen for the awards dinner and saw myself looking elegant over a cranberry soda.  I set in the dressy purple number for the gala and imagined discreetly shaking my head as the server offered wine with dinner.

“I can do this.  I can do this.”

We packed our cooler to include regular and non-alcoholic beer (and no wine this time).  I’ve found that when entertaining, fake beer is a good alternative for me.  Beer was never my drink of choice so I don’t feel like I am tempting myself, and one is enough.  I’ve brought it along to a few parties, and no one has ever noticed the difference.  (If they were to ask, I’d tell them.  But no one has.) I also tucked in an orange Pellegrino and grapefruit Perrier – I save these as treats for special occasions.  (Fake beer is okay for some casual situations, but you can’t exactly hold a beer bottle when you’re wearing an evening gown.)

“I’m ready.  I can do this.”

After a 7-hour drive, the opening event was great – the costume party was a riot of music, food, and dancing.  (Oh, and booze for everyone else.)  The first night of a convention is full of big hellos and warm hugs – catching up with the folks you only see but once a year at this event.  Since we are all in the same business, there is a lot to talk about (“How are things in your area? Is business good? Are your kids working for you?”).  The atmosphere is a bit chaotic. This year, my husband was getting a lot of attention for a particularly ridiculous costume.

I found that the easiest thing was to drink water because I could walk over to the bar, fill it myself from a pitcher, drop in a lemon slice or two and no one seemed to be offering me drinks because I kept a full glass with me. (It occurred to me partway through the night that all that water would have it’s own benefits – I’d be looking and feeling dewy fresh in the morning!)

By midnight, we were still laughing, dancing, talking and working the room.  We’d been at the party for seven hours!  I realized that had I been drinking at a pace of one drink an hour, I’d have had 7 glasses of wine already.  SEVEN!!! I considered how good I felt after drinking buckets of water, how much fun I was having without any booze, and how it didn’t bother me to see others around me in various states of intoxication.  I was glad to see them all; glad I came.

The next morning I awoke feeling and looking great, just as I’d hoped.  I left my husband to sleep in while I went off to the breakfast speaker.  Afterward, my husband played in the golf tournament while I explored the trade show, made some excellent connections, worked in the spectacular lobby on my laptop, and made an effort to see and be seen.  I had lots of energy and was in my element. The day passed quickly and soon my husband and I were dressing for dinner.

This event was harder.  It began with a champagne reception, so every few minutes a tray appeared in front of me and I had to say ‘no’ to something that appealed to me greatly.  Not only did the champagne look delicious, the delicate fluted glass would have complimented my dress and demeanor.

I slipped off and read the Twitter feed for @UnPickledBlog where I follow inspiring recovery people from around the globe.  This bolstered me throughout the entire weekend.  I looked at the sobriety tracker app on my phone – Day 180.  I checked that number again and again to try and feel the power of it, but I was numb.

“I’m good.  I can do this.”

Dinner was a long, heavy meal of prime rib.  The food was excellent but seriously, red wine would have helped digest it.  Water not only detracted from the flavour, but also seemed to impede my ability to eat.  Several times throughout the meal our waiter appeared with wine.  “How about now, miss? Would you like some now?”

“Yes, I would fucking like some now.  Leave me the fucking bottle already.”

Don’t worry, that was just the “committee” (see Itty Bitty Shitty Committee under topics).  I heard the committee and acknowledged I was struggling but I persevered.

“I’m fine, thank you.  Everything is wonderful.”

It wasn’t wonderful.  It was hard.  I was hitting a wall. I was a little frightened by the speed with which I’d gone from strong to weak.  I was so thankful to crawl into bed at the end of the night.  The effort to stay afloat had exhausted me. I was dreading the next day – another day of this!

Little did I know, the next day would be one of the most memorable and significant of my journey thus far….