When you've got the geographical cure for addiction like I did, chances are you've made memories all over the globe. I've lived in several different cities and as most of you know, Cancun, Mexico, is one of them. Fer and I have been here for the last week searching for our wedding venue. I've got a ton of memories wrapped up in this little tourist destination and not all of them are good. But seasons change and so do feelings. I've resented a lot of places where bad memories occurred: my college campus, Ocean City, Maryland, Baltimore, Punta Cana, the list goes on. The bad memories are always connected to one thing: drinking. Some of these places I ended up hating for awhile, but my anger was always misplaced. I think it was part of my defense mechanism - get angry at the place or the substance, but not at my actions or addiction.
I lived in Cancun during my first full year of sobriety. It was hard. It was the place where my addiction took off full force and brought me to people who drank and used like I did, to harder drugs, and an environment where it was all accepted. I could have just left Cancun and went back home to the U.S., but I was determined not to give up on this city, even after I quit drinking. Stubbornly, I remained in a city that was the scene of my downfall. The year that I spent living in Cancun sober was much different than the previous years. I was in love with the city of Cancun, but it had always been because of the amazing parties, free alcohol, and clubs that stayed open until 7am. Wandering into a restaurant only to have tequila poured down your throat, getting free entrance to the nightclubs because you're pretty, and establishing status through which VIP section you were able to get; Cancun was complete chaos and that was what I thrived in at the time. My self-worth was determined by my outfits, which man I was dating, and how many bags of cocaine I could get for free. Choosing to become sober rocked my world in more ways than one and I was forced to view Cancun in a new light.
In recovery we often hear that you need to change people, places, and things in order to stay sober. But I just couldn't let go of Cancun. Just like with people and things, love for places can change. That last year of living in Cancun I traveled more than I ever had the previous 4. I went to Mexico City, Tulum, Coba, and Isla Holbox, just to name a few. I began to understand that I didn't have to hate a place to get over bad feelings about it. My love for Cancun changed. I was finally able to get out of the haze of drugs, alcohol, and drama, and see that there is so much more to life, and to Mexico, than feeding my addiction. By harboring hate towards Cancun I was missing out on all of its beauty and uniqueness. It wasn't fair that I would think of Cancun as only a drinking destination and where some of the darkest times of my life occurred. It's been so much more than that.
Cancun is the place where my life literally changed forever, in more ways than one. I have to honor that. If I never made the crazy decision to leave my life behind in Philadelphia in 2009, I don't have any idea where I would be today. I might still be miserable, drinking, completely lost, and wishing my life was over. My addiction might not have become unmanageable and I might never have found recovery. I would have never met my wonderful fiancé. I would never have known the incredible culture of Mexico and all that it offers.
I'm often asked if it's hard for me to return to Cancun to visit. The truth is, it's not. For some people, this city will only ever be about spring break and blacking out, but that's not what it means to me. To me, it's the city where I learned how to speak Spanish. It's the city where I met an incredible group of women who became my lifelong friends, women who will be my bridesmaids, women who laugh with me about how we met in such a random way, in such a gigantic universe. The city where I somehow found the love of my life, the city where we will say our vows together, and the city where I climbed out of the black hole of addiction I was falling so deeply into.
Cancun isn't difficult for me to return to because every time I do, I heal. Each person, place, or thing in your life is what you make it. I choose to see Cancun as the magical Mexican city that brought me love, culture, sobriety, and a renewed sense of self. A city that brought me a love for Mexican food, a connection with the ocean, and a gratefulness of every small detail life offers me.
How lucky am I to have gotten sober in one of the most beautiful places on this planet? And now, to be able to appreciate it all without one drop of alcohol or drugs in my body? Now that is something special.
I think Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote fits here best: "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
I choose love.
Today my love for Cancun is different, it has evolved. My heart and spirit feel better being able to love, rather than hate. My advice for you is when loves changes, change with it.