Surviving Las Vegas

Last weekend we went to a wedding in Las Vegas and I’ll admit I wondered how it would feel to be sober in THE party town.

Sparks were flying before we even left the airport, as one rowdy passenger was pulled aside at the gate and told he wouldn’t be served alcohol on the plane. Seated nearby once on board, we listened to him pleade and argue with the crew throughout the three-hour flight. Delightful! When we landed, he muttered “See you next Tuesday” to the flight attendant, which my husband informed me is code for the nasty C-word.

I had a small epiphany as we walked the strip after arriving: Vegas might be easier for me sober than it was before. I’d been there twice for conventions many years ago, before drinking became entirely problematic for me. I was there for business conventions and wasn’t interested in the other distractions. If I had visited the city during the time of my active addiction, I would have been very bothered by the public displays of drunkenness because I so cherished my hidden secret. I drank on my own terms, as a reward after working hard all day. Vegas offers no chance to maintain that front! There is no work to be rewarded, no pretence of anything but indulgence. I rejected that image, resented that idea. I drank in a private, regimented way that Vegas would have totally disrupted. I don’t think I could have enjoyed myself there in those days.

It was good to see our family at the wedding, the bride was stunning and the Elvis minister was charming. We had a lot of laughs, ate some very good food, spent a few hours shopping, and were soon on our way home again without ever even sitting at a slot machine.

Earlier in my sobriety, I was very dependent on a certain routine of morning coffee and bedtime tea that would have been difficult to replicate in Las Vegas because there wasn’t even a coffee maker in our hotel room (clearly the hospitality industry is hell bent on keeping visitors out where they can spend money!). I think the noise, crowds, stimulation, and general ick-factor would have spiked my anxiety and I would have been a mess. I doubt I would have drank but I might have taken Gravol to knock myself out, which in some ways is a relapse (pills to escape, even just Gravol!).

One of the great lessons of recovery for me has been withstanding discomfort. I did feel overwhelmed at times, and instead of letting the feelings rule me I breathed and waited. I did see people who were rowdy and loud, and I released the urge to judge. I saw people who made me sad – homeless people, young women who seemed exploited, and foreign workers handing out smut cards – and my heart went out to them.

The most lasting impression – aside from the gorgeous bride, our reason for being there – was a couple we sat behind on the flight home. There was tension between them, clearly. The wife was quite obviously hung over, a shroud of shame and pain clung to her shoulders.  Her eyes looked dead in that way many of us in recovery know all too well – a mix of defeat and defiance. Her husband was silent before, during, and after the flight.  He sheparded her through the crowds but walked a step ahead. He acknowledged when she spoke to him but his eyes were quiet steel. Jesus,what happened with these two? Whatever it was, the fallout was evident. My heart ached for them both, and I couldn’t help feel that their story was a long way from over.

Just as I wished a life of happiness or the bride and groom, I went home hoping happiness might find the cast of real-life characters whose faces wouldn’t leave my mind: the young man who was drunk at the airport, the homeless man who ran for his life throug the hotel lobby with a stolen sandwich in his hand, the young woman in a  leather miniskirt and platform shoes with glazed eyes leaning heavily on an older man, that angry couple on the flight home.

I’d had just as much fun on Freemont Street with my Lime Perrier as everyone else with their booze, but my heart was glad to go home and get back to normal.


  1. Wow. Your story and recount of your Vegas trip is powerful! Your strength and reflection on your own experiences is inspiring!


  2. Oh Vegas. I never spent a fay there sober. Now that I am desperately trying to quit drinking, I loath that city. And myself in there. It was exhausted. And draining, both physically and emotionally. Reading your post brought back not so happy memories. That couple could have been us.


  3. There is something about Vegas that I have never actually been interested in being there. Maybe it’s because I feel like it’s exactly what you described. Sort of a place where people go to die. Not literally of course, but blow all of their money on sex, drugs and gambling taking the risk of ruining everything in their lives in the midst of what they think is fun at the time.
    But in reality, it’s just a big disaster.

    I’ve been there before. That couple in front of you on the plane. It’s a scary place to be no matter what the reason is or what happened between them. Glad to be on day 7 right now knowing I can put that in the past. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So beautifully written. This was my experience in Vegas exactly…unfortunately I was the one sitting in disgrace, defiance and despair on the flight home. This post reminded me of that weekend. Wow.


  5. Hey Jean I am still sober after three and a half years. When I read this about you attending the wedding I felt a sense of my own uneasiness with weddings. I used to love weddings, the dancing the laughter, the late nights. Now I watch with envy as the dancing heats up and the energy changes after the speeches and everyone is full of bravado from their drinks! I am usually keen to make an early exit without dancing. My two and a half year old granddaughter asked me to dance with her a couple of nights ago. I was babysitting her. I was in my study, beavering away at the bookwork and she had the radio on playing music from a 60 plus age group station! She pulled me up and dragged me into an open space and we started dancing. At first I was reluctant and keen to get back to the paperwork but then I sort of go into the rhythm with her. She ran down stairs and got my husband to come up and join us. We laughed and boogied with her. I felt such happiness and realised that I had been missing out on the positive dancing experience and I am now determined that I am going to have more fun at weddings. Does that all make sense?


  6. Thanks for you post. Things do look different when unfogged by alcohol. For me the cessation had to be total as this is also a family problem, also with my spouse’s relatives. I am seeing things I would never recognized before.
    While on a high, Las Vegas is all glitter. While sober, one can see the degradation behind the props. This is a huge money-making enterprise for some clever people. That is all.


  7. I’ve “over done” vegas as a drunken mess and I’ve returned with craig last year sober.
    I have to say, sober was so much better!
    We had a car, drove around, went to whole foods every day and enjoyed awesome concerts. I even got my tattoo In vegas.
    We are going back in August.

    The drinker episode was not as fun. It was tiring, hard and full of regrets. Moments of fun paid for with hours of pain.

    Watching the drunks Ike I was sober showed me just ho desperate people can be to make life more fun. More exciting. It just doesn’t work that way…



  8. Hi Jean!
    It’s a strange place I think!
    I went there for a wedding too, but I wasn’t sober at the time.
    We were there and back home in 24 hours!
    I see so many homeless people now in our city and so many all over the US.
    It is sad, and we are making it even harder for people to get into homes by raising prices.
    I must remember to stay grateful for all that I have.


  9. HI, Jean! Last time I was in Las Vegas I was pregnant, so probably even less fun than “regular” sober. Lots of shenanigans happening there (and in Reno where I used to go frequently). Not sure if it’s still legal but back in the early 90’s you could walk around in the streets with open containers of alcohol. Anyway, sounds like a mellow (and very interesting!) trip for you, and a fun wedding too!


  10. OMG the city of decadence not some where You want to stay too long. The sadness there can be overwhelming . Luckily last time I was there I was sober . My son gave me hard time for smoking and I needed to tell him to look around at what was really taking place around him! My smoking was a minor defect .


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