The convention was wearing me down. I had my game face on.  I looked the part, I felt strong, or at least determined.

I was irritated, though, by denying myself what I wanted: a cold glass of white wine.  Wait, no – that’s not true.  I didn’t want “a” glass of wine – I wanted all the wine I could have.

I’ve haven’t wanted “just” a glass of wine for a long long time, and that is exactly why I know I need to have none.  There is no such thing as “just one” for me.  Before I quit drinking, I’d had enough control to drink at a pace that kept me from embarrassing myself.  I never blacked out.  Never flashed anyone or slobbered emotionally or crashed my car.  (Although I definitely, definitely bought some expensive clothes online in the late evening after a few drinks.) I had things under control, but I drank too much, too often.  I needed to stop.  I need to stay sober.

I was on Day 180 of sobriety according to the app on my phone – it should have been a milestone.  I expected by now I would have been stronger and that maybe even would want everyone would know what an amazing SOBER woman I am.

Instead I was at an annual business convention, and I’d hit a wall.  I managed through some events by filling my own water glass, and I had ordered the occasional fake beer in the bar.

For the most part, I was doing well and enjoying myself at the convention.  I knew there would be challenges and I was right.  The good moments were far outweighing the difficult ones, but starting around happy hour each day the challenges began to escalate.

If someone walked up to you every 20 minutes and poked you in the ribs, you’d start to get annoyed after a few pokes.  Then you’d get more and more irritated and eventually you’d start watching for the bastard and thinking about breaking his finger next time he tried to jab you in the ribs. My addiction was getting on my nerves.  Every so often my conversation would be interrupted by the offer of alcohol like another freaking poke in the ribs.

My husband was being incredibly sweet and supportive – he is so proud of me but knows I am not ready to tell everyone about my journey.  Not just yet.  If I could figure out what the hell my secret sauce is, he would do whatever I needed.  I just have no clear direction to give him yet.  I don’t know what I want – only what I can’t have.

“What can I bring you?” he’d whisper quietly. He could see I was struggling.  I had no answer, and it was making me cranky. “Water’s fine,” I grimaced.

For over a decade I’ve attended this convention and the white wine was ever-present in my hand.  Having quit now, I was afraid someone would walk up and just hand me a glass, and I had to ask myself if I’d be strong enough to handle that.  Could I quietly set it aside?  What if I held it a moment and absently mindedly sipped it.  Oh my God, I’d go back to Day 0.  I couldn’t go back.  I couldn’t go back and start over.

I knew I couldn’t touch a drink – literally couldn’t TOUCH a glass of wine.  If someone attempted to hand me a glass of wine I would absolutely HAVE to say “no”.

It never came to that, although when I was asked what I’d have I noticed a few raised eyebrows when I answered “cranberry and soda” or “diet coke”.  “Are you sure?” I was asked.  Was it that obvious I wanted something else, or were they all just so used to seeing me drink wine?

(The absolute worst, in my opinion, is ordering a non-alcoholic drink in the bar.  I loathe the term “virgin” – I feel like a prude just saying it.  It musters a look from the servers, too. They just know you are not going to rack up a good bill or over-tip if you are sipping virgin drinks.  I feel like a Victorian spinster, sucking the fun out of the room.  But I wanted a damn non-alcoholic Caesar (it’s a Canadian thing – Clamato juice with spices, vodka, a salted rim and a vegetable garnish) so I ordered one.  It arrived without the yummy-looking pickled asparagus that I saw going to other tables in their “real” Caesars.  The house special version even had a big juicy shrimp n the rim.  My sad little virgin had no pickle, no shrimp, no vodka (of course), and rim.  Really, if anyone needs a little extra something something on the edge of their glass it is those of us surviving without the booze.  Ah, well.  The economics of running a bar are not lost on me.  Without the booze, the price does not cover the extras.)

Part of the problem is that I simply don’t know what I want.  Part of it is the fact that there is no common name for the things I do order – “I’d like a club soda with grapefruit and a splash of cranberry.  Two parts grapefruit and one part cranberry. No not that much cranberry – sigh.  Oh okay, no don’t worry – that’s fine.”

I mused about possible solutions:  laminating a small card to slip to the bartenders with the name and recipe of my preferred concoction (once I figure out what that is!).  “BISTRO – two parts soda, one part real grapefruit juice”. Then, when someone says “what’ll you have?” I could simply say, “Order me a Bistro, please” and that would be that.

I considered alternatives to the hateful term “virgin” for alcohol-free cocktails and determined that “flaccid” would be my choice – just as embarrassing but at least humorous, too.

At any rate, I got through the constant poke and jabs of the second day of the convention but I was wearing out.  I knew I wouldn’t falter and drink, but I awoke the next morning with a touch of something I rarely ever feel: dread.  Another long day lay ahead and I mustered my energy for it.

Fate had a surprise in store for me that morning, one that was worth the wait and effort…..