The first time I visited New York City was in December 2005 as part of a class trip. This was prior to TSA laws tightening up, and on the morning of our flight I loaded up two water bottles with vodka for our trip. I remember making a makeshift Bloody Mary on the plane with tomato juice as I played peek-a-boo with a small child who was sitting in the seat in front of me. It was all downhill from there.
For about half of the trip I drank, which meant for half of that trip I was in and out of blackouts. It was ugly - I pissed myself one night, but managed to clean myself up before calling too much attention to myself. Or at least that's what I thought at the time. About half way through the trip our group changed hotels and I took advantage of the transition by drinking the day away. After landing in the new hotel, we took a group tour of Madison Square Garden before a New York Rangers game. I don't remember any of it.
An Irish pub was stationed across the street from our hotel, and after the game I decided I hadn't had enough. That's where my memory begins to flicker on and off: I met a pair of English tourists and we bonded over jukebox picks before we wandered in the direction of Times Square, leaving a mess behind us as we went. But when we split up it became clear I didn't really know where I was. This was before I had a cell phone and I didn't have a good grasp of direction, considering that when the group checked in to our new hotel I was already drunk. A flash of me trying to figure out which floor my room was on, trying and failing at getting my key card to work on several doors. Another flash of dozing off in a bathroom stall in the bar next door, only to be shouted at by one of the kitchen staff. Then a period of unknown before I somehow landed back in my hotel room.
Late in the afternoon both of the chaperones, each professors of mine at school, knocked on my door, sat down with me, and in gentle terms cut me off from drinking. They didn't know what to do with me and as they were liable for my safety; it was either that or I went home. That night I rejoined my classmates at a crowded restaurant table where I tried not to appear nauseated as I hunched over what would otherwise be a delicious bowl of French Onion soup. We went to The Late Show with David Letterman after. Pierce Brosnan was a guest and we sat in the balcony. Once I detoxed and my sickness passed, the rest of the trip went pretty well.
I returned a little over a year later, in January of 2017. I met to hang out and meet some people in person who I'd only known as online contacts. It was a short trip and was great, but on the last day I began drinking on the way to the airport. When I arrived (just how I arrived, I'll never know) I sat down for a couple shots at a tequila bar. That was all I remember until the next morning, with the exception of a confused late night call to my dad, trying to piece together where I was and how I'd gotten there. Then nothingness.
I woke up by the ticketing counter and my laptop was gone (I'd apparently left it at security) and had missed my flight home. Maybe I had been prevented from boarding, maybe I simply lost time and missed my plane. I still have no idea what happened. I just remember the shame, knowing that my dad and little sister had driven to the airport to greet my arrival, only to have had to deal with the fear and frustration that came as a consequence of my actions.
The third time I was in NY I had been sober for almost a year. I had been invited out by a friend who was in a rough spot, herself, but I wasn't much for company as I shared her depressed state. I felt lost the majority of the time I was there, and I remember considering on a few occasions just giving up and drinking. I didn't. I figured it would have pushed me over the edge. A little over a year later I did drink again though, and in the year that followed that decision I ended up slowly falling over that cliff.
This past weekend I returned to the city, helping my sister as she moved to Brooklyn. There was so much to be grateful and thankful for with the return to the city. Beyond being appreciative of the opportunity to make the trip and safely completing the move itself, many times it was simple moments of just being around people and seeing the moments for what they were that filled me with emotions. Without the protective armor of alcohol or the hazy mask of depression, I was just feeling raw this time around. Exposed. And grateful for that.
The best part about the city might be how its scale can recalibrate the scope of a person's outlook. Soaking in the breathtaking magnitude of the Oculus, spending time at the 9/11 Memorial, people watching in Central Park, returning to the beautiful Museum of Natural History, and viewing the immaculate creations on display at The Cloisters... it all just made me feel so... small. And of all the feelings I've experienced in New York City, that's the one that left me feeling the most whole.