December 18, 1999





Greetings from Southwest Flight 186, service from Austin to Las Vegas with a quick stop in Lubbock. We're cruising at thirty-five thousand feet today with a slight headwind and we expect to arrive on time.

So I'm heading home now. And if I didn't mention it before, I'm using the laptop I've been talking about wanting for years now and finally went out and bought myself. It's thanks to this little piece of Toshiba electronic heaven that I'm able to while away the in-flight hours with journal entries and Solitaire, and you were able to keep track of my activities in Austin via the Very Special Limited Engagement Austin Cam where, if you were alert and online, you had the very special thrill of seeing me napping in my boxers. Woohoo.

Anyway, I'm homeward bound from the meet 'n greet and meetings and the Christmas -- uh, "Holiday" party. Overall it's been a really good trip. I finally have faces to put to the names of the people I've been working with for a year, and perhaps more importantly, I finally have a Big Picture view of where I fit into the company, what contributions I can make, and just what it is that is all about. As I said the other night, this is unlike anything I've ever done before. I am in a position to "make a difference" and after this trip I am inspired to do just that.

The Christmas -- uh, "holiday" party was ... interesting. It was just like any other company party, with the top executives mingling with the little people and trying to look interested in their stories, stiff geeks in suits blowing simple dance steps in front of the top-40 band (that would be me), some people drinking a little too much and getting maybe a little too happy, interoffice couples stealing away for possible illicit liaisons in upstairs conference rooms or perhaps even on boss's desks... It was Classic Office Party, in other words. But with, for me, a personal twist.

I've been to many of these things in the 12 years I've been sober and I've developed a pretty good grip on what to expect and how to handle myself. This party, however, challenged that grip. I don't know why. Maybe it was being so far from hearth and home and not having a single acquaintance in the room, maybe it was the moon, maybe it was just Friday. I don't know. But, man, I'm here to tell you that I was more tempted to drink than perhaps any other time since I quit.

It was an open bar situation, as these parties often are, and I was drinking Coke, as I often do. What I usually do is hit the bar every half hour or so, smile and tell the bartender "Coke, please. Yes, just Coke" and twiddle my thumbs while they pour it. Same thing, different "holiday" party. But this time... Well this time there was a bottle of Jack Daniels sitting there calling to me while I waited.

I have no idea why it was calling to me. It's not like every party's open bar doesn't have bottles out in the open, and it's not like me and Jack ever had a really close relationship. Maybe my hearing is just particularly acute in Austin, I don't know, but for whatever reason Jack caught my attention in a big, bad way. Man, I can't tell you how much I suddenly wanted to just tip a couple fingers' worth into every one of those "just Cokes" I ordered. But I didn't. I was strong. I just said no thank you and resisted the siren song of Mr. Daniels.

But my temptations didn't end there.

Every 45 minutes or so I'd get bored with wandering the perimeter and watching people dance and ignoring Jack, and I'd go downstairs and outside for a breath of fresh air. Each time I did I found myself hanging out with the smokers, and each time I found myself really, really wanting a cigarette. I mean, really. It wasn't until my fourth or fifth trip down that I realized what was happening: I was acting out of habit. This is the first big party I've been to since I quit smoking three and a half months ago, and I'm still conditioned to go outside to spark one up every 45 minutes or so. It was weird. Old habits die hard.

But again, I was strong and resisted the siren song of Mr. Marlboro. I quit going downstairs and I quit ordering Cokes. I pictured myself slamming Jack and smoking cigarettes and how that would tear down everything I've worked so hard to build up over the years and how unseemly it would be for the Addiction & Recovery Community Manager to be getting blotto on his first trip to the home office... I was strong. Or maybe it looked that way from the outside.

Instead, I played Designated Driver. I talked one of the young, drunk Systems Engineers into giving me his keys so I could drive him home, then I came back to the party to drive my also-drinking fellow out-of-town community managers back to our hotel. I was a veritable Picture of Responsibility, and if no one knew I was jonesing for a drink and a smoke, well, what they didn't know didn't hurt them.

To be honest, the experience shook me a bit. The smoking issue, eh, not so much because that would have just meant quitting again, which would be a pain in the ass but not the end of the world, but that seductive bottle of Jack scared me. I've become somewhat complacent in my sobriety, taking it for granted and assuming it's rock solid. I got reminded -- big time -- that it's not.

Complacency is a dangerous place for an alcoholic to be. It's the first step toward stepping right off the wagon and back into the shit you thought you'd left behind. That's the nature of the beast; it'll sneak up on you and bite you on the ass the second you get careless. This party, that bottle, woke me up to that.

Score another point for the trip to Austin.