There are many places that stick out clearly in my mind. Maybe it’s because I’ve had so many blackouts and I’ve been unsure of so many things that have happened to me, the part of my brain that still works during some of those times takes a snapshot of what I’m seeing. Although sometimes it doesn’t help, because I now have a lot of images in my brain that don’t make sense. I don’t know where they’re from or who they belong to. There have been many days when I wish these pieces would fit together like a puzzle that makes all of the experiences in my life make sense.
Thinking, writing, and talking about my last time drinking has been something that I’ve done quite a bit. But there’s nothing quite like being back in the exact place where it happened. A few weeks ago I traveled back to the place where I consumed alcohol for the very last time, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I went for one of my best friend’s weddings. When I stepped off the airplane and was hit with the hot, humid air of the caribbean, it all came back to me. I saw the giant palapas that make up the airport and I was overcome with emotion. It was inside those walls that I made the decision to quit drinking and change my life. It was inside those walls when I was in one of the most painful situations of my life. It was inside those walls when I sobbed on the phone to my mother, alone, wondering where I had gone wrong in my life, and not knowing if it was worth it to continue on living. I remembered part of the airport was air conditioned and part of it was open air.
“This is where it happened,” I said as we exited the plane. Crazy, I thought. This place felt special. I described the inside of the airport to Fer before we walked in. I knew there was a Wendy’s somewhere inside because I remember eating a Dave’s single and fries with honey mustard, during my hangover and tear-filled airport wait, back in 2013. I was happy because we didn’t have Wendy’s when I lived in Cancun. Fer and I went through immigration and customs and came into the open air area, where we got our luggage and went through one final security check. It felt just like the picture snapshot in my head. Hot, with big fans on the ceiling, and luggage scanners for your suitcases with Dominican employees making sure our suitcases were good to go. Last time I was there, I was alone. This time I was with my husband. We searched for our transfer service and quickly found them. Our transfer agent spoke Spanish with Fer and remarked about his accent, “de donde eres tu?” He asked, confused. They asked me the same in 2013 when I spoke Spanish with my American accent to the airport employees and my taxi driver.
To make the transfer service cheaper I reserved a group transfer instead of a private one. When we reached the white van our driver loaded our suitcases into the trunk and we joined two other women who were already in the car waiting. About 5 minutes later, a pair of two more women joined us. The 6 of us were all going to different hotels. As we left the airport, we struck up a conversation, all talking about where we were from and why we were there, and which hotel we were staying at. The two women from Chicago mentioned they were staying at the Princess Suites. As soon as they said it, bells went off in my brain. “Oh, I think that’s the place,” I nudged Fer. He shot me a weird look. The van pulled up to our first stop, after a long winding entrance. I knew when I saw the sign, and when we reached the front lobby, I peered inside. Brown tile with white trim and lattice. Yup. That was the place. Our transfer’s first stop was the hotel I stayed at in 2013. It was the place I had my very last drink. It was the place I had my very last blackout. It was the place I puked from drinking for the very last time.
“Do you want to get out and go in?” Fer asked me. “No..no,” I hesitated. Part of me wanted photo proof. Part of me was scared to go in. We said goodbye to our new friends and our driver pulled out of the Princess Suites and headed for the next hotel. “Well, that was weird. What are the odds of that being one of the stops on our randomly booked group airport transfer?” I asked Fer. “Yea it is weird,” he confirmed.
The universe works in mysterious ways.
We arrived at our hotel, RIU Republica, and enjoyed our 5-day stay in Punta Cana. It was another all-inclusive hotel, set along the same beautiful sandy beaches, but this time was much different than 2013. I wasn’t reckless, I wasn’t out of control, I wasn’t embarrassing my friends, I wasn’t puking all over my hotel room, and I wasn’t trying to fill a void with drugs and alcohol. This time I knew I wasn’t missing out on anything. A lot of people asked me how I would feel going on this trip. Sure, I’ve traveled sober a ton, but this was the first time I went back to the place where I tasted alcohol and got fucked up for the last time.
Being in the Punta Cana airport transported me back to the pain I felt that day, while being on the property of the Princess Suites brought up a lot of old shame and sadness. Part of me still wishes it could have been different for me. That maybe if I didn’t have that crazy trip, I could have learned how to moderate my alcohol intake. This is always a fleeting thought though, because if that were the case then I would just be like the status quo - on the desperate hunt to live a fulfilling life while simultaneously poisoning myself. I much prefer living awake and being on a journey of sobering self-discovery.
Now I have new Dominican Republic memories, ones where I remember everything and have nothing to regret. And that’s the way it should always be. It wasn’t hard for me to be sober there, because this is just who I am now, and if I hadn’t gone the first time I wouldn’t be able to say that.
Hasta la próxima Punta Cana!