One of my favourite songs is by Louis Armstrong: Do You Know What It Means, To Miss New Orleans?

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
When that’s where you left your heart
And there’s one thing more, I miss the one I care for
More than I miss New Orleans

Every other time I’ve been here (which is at least a dozen times, now) I would start to miss this city before I even left. The feelings of stripping away my inhibitions, of absolute freedom to be whoever I wanted to be, of the inspiration that would fill me to overflowing, just like the drinks all the way down Bourbon Street.

I always felt like I had found myself again. Like I had been missing myself, as if a part of me always stayed behind when I climbed (nauseous, hungover and with black gaping holes where memories should be) onto the plane to head home. But I was always what I thought was satisfied, my inner gremlin well fed and wet. It was an all day, every day, post-midnight debacle where he’d burst out of his soft and fuzzy facade he tried to hold together all the time back home.

He always had room to stretch his claws in New Orleans.

You see, travelling in general was always an opportunity to allow myself to “let loose” and lose my inhibitions. To give in to the daily, non-stop desire to drink, drink, drink as much as I could possibly drink. Travelling was an easy way to excuse my behaviour – because, well, I was on vacation. It’s no wonder I was so terrified of coming here this time – I wasn’t able to pack my excuses.

I left all the lies I would enable myself with while here back on a closet shelf in Canada.

But no worry – there’s no lack of encouragement to drink, drink, drink, as much as I could possibly drink, quite literally every 3 feet (sometimes even less than that). From chalkboard street signs to 3 for 1 “Big Ass Beer” and Happy Hour Specials that are available 23 hours a day – you’re in luck if you’re looking for a destination that is eager to serve up ridiculously affordable entitlement alongside your Sazerac or French 75. And it doesn’t stop there – I can’t forget to mention the walking billboards. I lost count of teenagers and adults alike wearing shirts that read “Hooray For Rosé” and “Irish I Were Drinking” (it’s St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow).

In New Orleans, there are more references to alcohol and overconsumption than there are not.

From being offered mimosa’s, beer and Bloody Mary’s with breakfast to beginning to notice how the wine list is always placed on top of the food menu by the waiter, it’s becoming more and more obvious how priorities stack up around here.

And luckily, I’m aware.

My favourite street sign yesterday (of the likely 200 I noticed, and probable 20,000 I passed) read:

Education is Important
Daiquiris is

Of course I took a pic for y’all

Well that about sums it all up right there.

Thanks, #GazeboCafeNola.

And how very thankful I am for the education I did pack on this trip. The readings and magical voodoo of Annie Grace’s This Naked Mind and the Alcohol Experiment, Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, and Catherine Gray’s The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober (currently reading daily while here) among others.

Packing those in my arsenal before arriving here is proving far more “importanter” than the corkscrew (and backup corkscrew, just in case) that I would once upon a time never leave home without. Corkscrews, and my bottomless bag of excuses I’d pull from to enable my rapid decent into the seedy, intoxicating underbelly of New Orleans.

Yesterday was incredible, and exhausting. I’m not sure why I was so tired – I was brimming with coffee, fresh air, sunshine and sobriety. We strolled, we tanned, we ate (and ate, and ate) and I made awful footwear choices.

Nice change from the awful choices I used to make while here. At least these blisters will heal.

I think the exhaustion was from being overwhelmed (in a really good way) of taking it all in. And I mean, really, for once, taking it all in. Awareness is priceless, but boy can it be draining. I’m still in the infancy of being alcohol free – my legs are still wobbly and my mind hasn’t quite made it across the tight-rope yet.

Falling would be easy.

And it’s such a far way down.

Everything I see, everything I feel, everything I think is being run through my internal Google Translator: “Okay, what does this really mean? What’s the actual internal dialogue I’m having below the surface?”

I’m stopping to be aware of every urge, every habit, every patten, trying to understand and reroute my thinking and understand the why behind a wave of “a drink would be great right now” or when fleeting moments of unexplainable irritability wash over me. Telling myself that I’m simply not going to have a drink isn’t quite enough just yet. I have to explain to myself – again and again – why I’m not having a drink right now. It’s a constant, ongoing battle of deflecting triggers. I picture myself like Neo in The Matrix, twisting and turning, writhing my brain and my body to avoid a nonstop attack of bullets, loaded with liquor and all aimed right at me.

And that takes energy. I’m not going to lie: it’s exhausting, especially in a place that is so very saturated with triggers. Thinking takes energy. Making decisions takes energy. Understanding doesn’t always come free with purchase. It’s an add-on.

And it takes as much energy as running a country mile.

Which brings me back to my awful footwear choices yesterday.

I won’t go into depth on how packing (and wearing) new shoes when you’re headed to a city where you walk everywhere all day every day is a dumb idea. But as I was hobbling through the French Quarter (I’m certain I looked drunk from how I was walking – the irony wasn’t lost on me) I thought about how my years of out-of-control drinking was just like wearing really bad, uncomfortable shoes.

I know. Me and my damned analogies, right?

Anyways – drinking for me was exactly like waking up every day and putting on the same pair of painful shoes. They didn’t fit, and I’d try to squeeze myself in them like Cinderella’s evil step-sisters, dying to win the Prince when all I’d ever win – over and over again – was embarrassment, anger and disappointment. But, even though I knew the shoe would never fit, I’d try it on every day, and it would only bring pain.

Alcohol was that damned glass slipper.

Promises of paradise, of riches, and of happily ever after – everything I always wanted, but would never get so long as I kept trying to walk in shoes that were never intended for me. It wasn’t until I stopped trying on that damned glass slipper could I finally walk barefoot to my own freedom, where I could make and create my own paradise.

So today is another day – our third one in New Orleans, and my 41st day spent sober. I have some wicked tan lines from my sunglasses, but for once I wasn’t hiding behind them to disguise my hangover and bloodshot eyes. I have some blisters and my feet are barking, but it’s not from trying to fit into shoes that could never give me what they promised. I may be a little tired, but it’s not from depleting my body and spirit of the last bits of life left me in on a bender, or from fighting with my gremlins since I landed in New Orleans.

My awareness shield is strong today. Time to caffeinate and find some new shoes.

Just no glass slippers.

Written by SJ VanDee

Recovery Blogger. Sober AF. Photographer. Storyteller. Writer.

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