Last weekend a wonderful friend of mine got married to her one and only. I was invited to be a part of her wedding party as a bridesmaid, and Fer and I were invited to join the wedding guests on the cruise that followed the wedding. We love any excuse to travel so of course we said yes to the cruise. The wedding was held aboard the Carnival Conquest at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and the ship took off shortly after the reception ended.
Fer and I have never been on a cruise so we were both excited at trying this new way of travel. Not only was it my first cruise, but obviously, it was my first sober cruise. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I had a feeling it would be similar to all-inclusive resorts in Cancun and that there would be a good amount of people imbibing. And I wasn't wrong.
I didn't know much about cruises before boarding this one, but apparently they have a ton of stuff to do. The ship had a casino, live music, a comedy club, a theater with shows, and tons of bars and restaurants. A few of you had mentioned there would be 12 step meetings available on the ship. I saw them on the schedule and they had one every day at 5 p.m. in the library. I didn't get to make it to one because I was busy exploring our port locations, working out in the gym, or resting from a hard day of lying in the sun.
One thing I didn't consider about being on a ship for 8 days was the movement of the ship. I mean, of course I thought about it, but I am not a person who has ever experienced motion sickness. I brought dramamine just in case. I heard from some people that I wouldn't even be able to feel the ship moving, but boy were they wrong! On the way down to the Caribbean during the first two days at sea, the ship moved a lot. It was most apparent at the Monet restaurant where we had dinner every night. It was located at the back of the ship where apparently movement is more noticeable when the seas are rough. Walking from place to place throughout the ship was tough and holding onto the walls became normal. I ended up taking the dramamine.
Once we reached our first destination, Grand Turk, I was relieved to open the curtains in the morning and see we were parked next to dry land. Exploring the new destinations throughout the trip was amazing. Traveling literally gives me life. I've always loved traveling, but it's 1000x better now that I'm sober. I get to see more things, explore more places, and remember it all. It was easy to see though, that other people were on this cruise solely to drink. At our first stop in Grand Turk we laid on the beach after touring the island and we had two groups sitting around us from the cruise. One was playing loud music, taking tequila shots, and mumbling in Spanglish about how drunk they were, and the other group, who Fer referred to as "ladynagers" (teenagers + old ladies) wore Hollister shorts, drank beers out of koozies, and screeched at the top of their lungs like you do when you first turn 21.
Back on the ship I quickly realized that the main deck area that had the pools was filled with incredibly loud music and drinking games for most of the day. I had flashbacks of being on Spring Break. We were able to find some sun loungers set away from the chaos and I was content reading my book for those times we were at the pool. Overall, the drinking wasn't all consuming and it didn't bother me much more than when I go to Cancun and see people drinking occasionally there.
After circling the islands in the Southern Caribbean, we headed back up towards Fort Lauderdale. I was dreading this as I knew there would mostly like be rocky waters ahead. And sure enough on Thursday evening the captain of the ship came on the intercom to make an announcement about the ship being in rough waters and that it would be moving a lot... for the next 24 hours. When the announcement was made I was laying in our cabin bed frozen with fear. The ship was swaying from side to side. I didn't even want to get up to go to our nightly dinner at 8:15. What was I going to do? Stay there and think of all the bad things that could happen? I got up, got dressed, took dramamine to deal with my flip flopping stomach, and forced myself to go to dinner. I made it through dinner and returned to the room and shortly after, Fer left to go play poker in the casino. I was watching TV when the ship started swaying EVEN MORE. I was dying inside, my anxiety was through the roof. It was like airplane turbulence, but worse and lasting for a longer period of time. I couldn't get my mind out of this scary place and a thought popped into my head: I wish I could have a drink.
I almost cried because I never have those thoughts. I very occasionally get the thought, "Oh wouldn't it be nice to have a drink right now?" in certain situations, but then the thought quickly exits my mind like a faint memory. This time it hit me like a ton of bricks. "I need alcohol to deal with anxiety," was the realization. It was the only solution I could think of in that moment. It occurred to me that I never considered myself a person who experienced anxiety until I got sober. But then I remembered I went through a period of time after high school and in college where I was terrified of flying and even got a special prescription from my family doctor (I don't remember what it was) to take to calm me down before getting on a plane. My recollection is that the pills did nothing to help my anxiety and I just had to deal with it. Eventually flying became so frequent that I got used to and ditched the pills. I also went through a period of time when I would get really scared of driving over bridges. It was during the time I lived in Pennsylvania and would travel to the shore areas frequently, either Ocean City, Maryland, or Sea Isle City, New Jersey, and have to cross bridges on the drive to get there.
I've hardly told anyone about these points of anxiety in my life because I felt silly having these feelings. I felt weak and like I should just "man up" and deal with it. I wasn't expecting to have feelings of anxiety on the cruise. I wasn't expecting my head to go directly to the old solution of having a drink. But that's the solution that's a norm in our society too, especially for anxiety. Need to calm down? Get a cocktail. Feeling nervous? Grab a beer. The couples we were seated with at dinner all week joked, "when the ship is moving around a lot, it feels like you're drunk!" Everyone laughed and thought it was hilarious. I felt alone in that moment. No, the last thing I wanted to feel like was drunk. My hauntingly familiar drunk dreams are enough of a reminder for me.
That night that I was alone and confined to the bed thinking about how if I could only have a drink and this anxiety would leave me, I messaged Fer while he was in the casino. "I'm feeling really anxious. I feel really scared and I wish I could drink alcohol right now to help me calm down." He answered back in his matter-of-fact tone, "No no no. You don't drink alcohol. Just try and sleep." So I took his voice of reason and slammed my eyes shut and tried to sleep. I drifted off into dreamland and in the morning when I woke up, the ship was back to a quiet lull.
I asked Fer the next day, "But why doesn't it scare you? When the ship is swaying back and forth and it's hard to walk." He answered calmly, "Because sometimes the ship moves. Sometimes it gets rough and that's it. And then it's over." His words are always much more profound than he understands.
Just like any uncomfortable situation - cravings, sadness, anger, and yes, anxiety. There is a beginning, middle, and end. He helped me see that.
This anxiety episode was different for me. I wasn't romanticizing the drink, thinking it would be fun or enjoyable. I was thinking it would genuinely help me get through this uncomfortable situation. I learned from this that alcohol wasn't just an accompaniment to parties and social situations for me, it was self-medication for anxiety.
Almost 3 years of sobriety and I'm STILL learning about myself every day. I made it through the cruise sober and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even with feeling anxious at some points. I feel grateful I am getting the knowledge I need even at the strangest of moments, to move through this world as a confident sober woman.