I went to Mardi Gras in 2004 before Katrina. I stayed for a week, and experienced absolutely everything there is to experience! I drank my way through it, carried the slushy drinks, had hurricanes at Pat O’Briens, went to a strip club, and accumulated a million beads. I honestly can only recall a total of two meals. I do remember the bar in the hotel, the bars we went to, the walking we did, the parades, the tons of people, and the amazing energy of the town, the people and atmosphere. I was buzzed the entire trip, and this was a trip where I drank “normally”, experienced no extreme blackouts, and no hangovers. I say normally in relation to my own history, anyone else looking at this, would probably think drinking throughout the day for five days wasn’t so “normal.” But for me, I remember it all. I loved New Orleans. I love the daytime, the nightlife, the architecture, the vibe, the history, and the people. I found it a fun place, very alive, full of people wanting to have a good time.
I realize Mardi Gras isn’t for everyone; it is full of people drinking, people flashing, and an energy of sex, hook-ups, and just living in the moment. I was with my boyfriend at the time, and never felt pressure of guys hitting on me, and while some did, it wasn’t overwhelming. I know I was young, and in a very different place in my life, where sexuality and being comfortable with my body was really strong when drinking. I was not the person I am today, and perhaps going to Mardi Gras now, I would have a VERY different perspective. But I will not apologize for any of my actions during this trip. I had a great time. I loved every moment of it. I was however NOT comfortable going out on the actual day of the main parades, there were TOO many people, gangs, and guys I didn’t feel comfortable with, so I told my boyfriend then I wanted to stay in the room and we had a great time watching from afar. I feel pretty good about how I knew my limits and stated them.
On this current two week road-trip across the country, we stopped in New Orleans for one day and one night. I had a few concerns going back to a place that had such a drinking history for me, and where I would be sober. We stayed in the French Quarter, and had from 5pm on to go out on the town. We first went to Pat O’Brien’s because it is a popular place, and I wanted my current boyfriend to experience the hurricane. Going there brought back memories of having hurricanes by the fountain, but I didn’t feel a desire or need to drink. I was surprised at the lack of a food menu. I guess the first time I went I didn’t eat. That wouldn’t be too shocking considering when I drank a lot, I did not eat. This trip has been full of eating, and I got to eat shrimp and grits for the first time. It took five bites to really fall in love with the dish. While I am not a shellfish fan, I am a fan of grits!!! Omg I nearly died form the delish cheese dish!!! I was pleasantly surprised at how we got to talk to a mother and daughter sitting next to us and talked about them living in Nashville, and being able to enjoy the conversation and know I will REMEMBER the entire conversation. While I can remember the drinks, the lights, the beads, I can barely recall many conversations!
We then walked around the city and hopped around to see music, ranging from blues to jazz, to rock. We sat for a long time in a few places, and it was absolutely amazing. To be able to listen to music, focus on the present and enjoy it all. The first time here, while drinking, all I cared about was the social element, the drinking, the partying. This time was about the food, the music, the environment, and the memories. I had a moment of realization/awareness when telling my guy how amazing it is, that I can sit here, not triggered, and totally present in this moment, knowing I will remember all of this, and having taken pics and videos, will have something to look back at as a wonderful memory. I knew I understood the HUGE importance of this trip. How many people get to go on two cross country road trips in two years? I have so many wonderful memories, and while I may not remember all the details, that isn’t because I was drinking, had tunnel vision, and need to recreate the memories based on limited awareness.
I thought the city would be dulled. Ever since getting sober, I worry that life will be duller, less alive, and boring. I worry that I will NEVER experience the fun, high I felt while drinking. However this trip to New Orleans has shown me how grateful I am for sober awareness. I am able to SEE things, to HEAR things, and be able to walk down the same street fifteen times and see something different each time. I am able to people watch, and laugh at how I remember being that girl. I can look back, not with sadness, like I have in the past, but with nostalgia. I can appreciate my past journey. I do NOT judge or hate the girl I was. I LOVE that girl who went to NOLA and had a great time, and was comfortable with her body, and her sexuality, and did only what she felt comfortable with. While I have struggled with wishing I could drink like a normal person, I didn’t have one moment where I wanted to drink this time! I was so grateful for being able to really be with my guy, really be aware, present, and while listening to some jazz was brought to a few tears at the awareness that I had finally come to a moment where I accept the sober me as well. While this may be a struggle in the future, I can take this one night at NOLA and put it in my pocket, to pull out whenever I need a smile.