I stopped drinking in 2020 during the height of the COVID 19 pandemic. My first year alcohol-free year was full of challenges, but thanks to endless lockdowns and working at home, dealing with boozy business trips was not one of them. My first alcohol-free business trip was definitely a test, and I’m relieved to say that I passed with flying colors!
Remember business travel? I was up at 5:15 am and on the road at 7:20 am. I walked into my hotel room just a little before 5 pm, having spent all day in the car. I was tired, but not as tired as I thought I would be. That turned out to be a good thing, because I was about to face a series of tests, starting with…
Alcohol-Free Business Trip Test #1: Proximity to sneaky drinks
The hotel was right next door to a liquor store. A busy one. When I first noticed it I said a silent prayer that my room would face away from it, but alas, The Universe has a twisted sense of humor. Not only was my room facing the liquor store, but it was also directly across from it, and, being 3 floors above it, offered a primo view of the parking lot.
Had this been early in 2020, I would have felt the thrill of knowing I could very easily sneak out of the hotel to buy booze and bring it back to my room. Honestly, 2020 me probably would have brought booze along in her overnight bag anyway, but the knowledge that she could quickly get more when she ran out later would have been cause for celebration.
This being 2021, almost a full year into my alcohol-free journey, I decided to head Snidely ( the devil on my sholder) off at the pass and placate my brain with sugar before he could even peek out of his corner. I needed to go out before dinner to get gas in preparation for day two of the trip anyway, so I figured I’d just grab some chocolate and a bag of chips at the gas station, then come back to the hotel and get some work done before meeting my coworkers to go to the restaurant. This brings us to….
Alcohol-Free Business Trip Test #2: Frustration, frustration, frustration! Otherwise known as the “A” in HALT
I got in my car and headed to the gas station across the street from the hotel (read: also across the street from the liquor store). All the pumps were occupied so I headed in to grab my Snidely-silencing junk food and a Coke. When I came out, the pumps were still occupied. I sat in my parking spot feeling frustrated with how long it seems to take some people to put gas in their cars. I ate a candy bar and tried to be patient. Finally, a pump opened up, and I pulled up to it, looking forward to finishing this errand and getting some work done.
“Not so fast,” said The Universe, as I walked up to the pump and realized that the screen was broken. None of the buttons would work. Great. The pump handles on the other side were covered with those little yellow “Out of service” bags, but not the side I was on. Queue more frustration. Why couldn’t they just cover the handles on this side of the pump, too? Then maybe people wouldn’t get all excited about an available pump only to realize it didn’t work. So, I got back in my car and waited for the person in front of me to pull out. After what felt like forever (but was really only five minutes), he drove away and I pulled up to the next pump, ready to get this stupid errand over with already. I had work to do.
“Silly you,” said The Universe, as I completed the card authorization process and inserted the pump into my fuel tank only to discover THE FREAKING HANDLE ON THE GAS PUMP WAS STUCK. I couldn’t squeeze it at all. It wouldn’t budge. I stared at it in disbelief, yelled, “You’ve got to be fucking KIDDING ME!” loudly enough for the guy coming out of the store to look at me, and got back in my car. Now I was mad. Even more mad when I learned that the nearest gas station was ten minutes away.
2020 me would have said, “Screw this, I’ll get gas in the morning,” and gone back to the hotel to drink. But now in 2021, I angrily ate the rest of my junk food while I drove to the next gas station. I got my gas, got back to the hotel, and was so busy being pissed off that what should have been a ten-minute errand took nearly 40 minutes that I dropped my Coke in the parking lot while I was getting out of the car and the damn thing sprayed everywhere.
Tired, frustrated, cranky, and now sticky, I sighed and made my way up to my room hoping to clean up and at least get a few minutes of downtime before I faced….
Alcohol-Free Business Trip Test #3: Being the only non-drinker in the group
I hadn’t even been back in my hotel room for 15 minutes when I got a text from one of my coworkers that they were in the hotel bar having a drink before dinner. It was ten minutes before the appointed meeting time, but I took this as my queue to head downstairs. Me from 2020 would have gone straight to the bar for a strong IPA, the best beer to quickly cover the smell of the alcohol she definitely would have already had in her room by then. This being 2021, I avoided the bar entirely and went straight to the table. They were nearly finished with their cocktails and were a little tipsy, so I’m guessing they’d been there for a while.
The first thing they asked me was if I minded driving to dinner. Me from 2020 would have declined, but offered to pay for the Uber there and back. Me from 2021 felt massive relief. Finally, The Universe had thrown me a bone, and provided me with the perfect reason not to drink. Which I definitely needed, because I was only minutes away from….
Alcohol-Free Business Trip Test #4: Sitting at the bar
The restaurant was busy. 45-minutes-to-an-hour-wait-to-be-seated busy. “Can we sit at the bar while we wait?” asks my coworker. “Let me check if there’s room,” says the hostess. Spoiler Alert: there was room. So, to the bar we went. Being Cinco de Mayo and all, the entire room smelled like Tequila. I took my seat and perused the glittering bottles and hard-working frozen margarita machine, spinning happily away. “I’ll bet we can just eat here!” says my coworker. “I imagine so,” I say, having already resigned myself to my fate.
Me from 2020 would have been thrilled. Sitting at the bar just meant quicker access to booze. Me from 2021 wasn’t overly happy with the seating arrangement. Oddly enough, the strong odor of alcohol was actually putting me off. I ordered a Shirley Temple and chatted with the bartender and my coworkers, but that smell was actually pretty distracting. I spent a lot of time in bars, and even though I noticed the smell of alcohol, it never bothered me. Last night, it bothered me. Not in a triggering, “this makes me want to drink” sort of way, but rather in an uncomfortable, “this makes me vaguely nauseous” sort of way. I did my best to ignore it while we ate and talked. I actually had a pretty good time. I felt full, tired, and calm when I walked out of the restaurant, and was happy to be sober as I headed back to the hotel to face….
Alcohol-Free Business Trip Test #5: Proximity to sneaky drinks, Part 2
Except it wasn’t a test, because I was so tired and focused on the fact that I absolutely had to get some work done before bed that I completely forgot the liquor store was next door. Seriously. I worked in my room for two hours, then remembered the liquor store when I got up to turn off the light and the red neon glow from the sign reminded me it was there. I felt a moment of sadness for me from 2020, who probably would have been headed out to buy another six-pack or a bottle of tequila and some margarita mix around that time. Then I took a deep breath and remembered that it’s 2021, and that this year, I’m free. Alcohol Free, that is.
Won’t you join me?
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