Vegas Makes Me Sick, Literally

By Amy Dresner 02/04/16

I quietly turned three years sober in Las Vegas, surrounded by my triggers and my normie boyfriend.

Vegas Makes Me Sick

Vegas makes me sick. I mean literally. I get sick every time I come here. Last time was in November of 2011. I was abusing Oxycontin prescribed for a shoulder injury. Every four hours became every three hours, and then every two. You know the drill. And since I’d already exceeded the good doctor’s dosing regime and officially “relapsed” in my head, I smartly decided to add some booze to the mix. Bad, bad move. I spent the next three days vomiting violently in the hotel room. I never saw the light of day.

So needless to say, I was excited to have another Vegas experience—a relapse redo, if you will—and turn three years sober in Sin City. I’d had a pretty bad cold the two weeks prior to my flight, but it had mostly cleared up. However, once I hit the desert with its sundry of allergens and smoke-filled casinos with their glacial air conditioning, I was instantly sicker than ever. The whole trip I was propped up on cold and allergy medicine, snot running down my face, wadded up Kleenex falling out of my pockets. Hot, right?

My boyfriend was trying to slim down for a role playing a skeletal dancer so he was on a strict diet of meat and…meat. “I feel hollow all the time inside, “ he said. “Welcome to early sobriety, bitch!” I winked. I knew the feeling. All too well. That yearning, that gnawing, that sense of never being sated. Ugh. I was about a month off nicotine and I was having it all over again.

His young friends had never been to Vegas and woohoo, were they excited! I suggested we take them to Freemont Street, where the old Vegas strip used to be. Last time I’d been there it was a bit like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video—zombies staggering and limping around, looking for booze and luck. This time it still had some of that old school apocalyptic charm, but it had since become much hipper, with a slew of cool new bars and packs of 20-somethings milling around.

I noticed the…umm…”bunny nose” on one of our young friends and whispered to my man, “He’s on coke.” Minutes later, the other guy buoyantly offered, “We have drugs!”  

“No shit,“ I said, laughing. 

We took them to the Gold Nugget or some other shithole, and they’re having the time of their lives—smoking, free drinks, loving the “character” of old school Vegas. I, on the other hand, was distracted by the smell—years of spilt booze, stale cigarette smoke and sadness. All I noticed were the gnarly old alcoholics staring blankly at slot machines, emaciated, chain-smoking, as if they’d been there for decades. The guys didn’t notice. Funny what gets our attention. They had the high and optimism of the newly indoctrinated—coked up, on a winning streak, chatting up girls on Tinder and Raya, periodically shouting, “Oh my God, this is the most fun I’ve ever had!”

I was happy they were happy. But I just wanted to take a hot bath and go to sleep. Sick? Old? Sober? Probably all three. But I was a good sport. I never complained. I felt like I needed to be “on”—be the clown, the center of attention. But I didn’t have the energy. I realized that I could just be. Be the quiet girlfriend. And incredibly, nobody was disappointed. They were probably relieved.

At one point in our crawl, we were at a karaoke bar. Karaoke could possibly be my least favorite thing in the entire world. It's definitely up there with pearl earrings, country music, and velvet anything. I kept looking at my phone. 11:55…11:58. In two minutes, I’d have three years sober. Three fucking years! I was so excited. So proud. So grumpy. Kidding. Yes, so grateful.  

Just as it became Jan. 2, my sober birthday, one of the young guys pulled out a big sandwich bag of blow, stuck his finger in it and then stuffed it up his nose. He crowned his subtle move with a jerky paranoid look around. Fucking amateurs.

I just laughed. I hadn’t seen blow since I used to shoot it. Jesus. Maybe 8 or 9 years ago?

“Where’s your paraphernalia?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Like a bullet or a straw. Unless you have a nice long Chinese wizard fingernail or a tiny spoon pendant.”

“We rarely do blow.”

“Good choice. Anyway, your makeshift gear is killing me. Give me a pen.” And with that, I fashioned them a proper snorting utensil.

“You’ve done a lot of drugs, huh?” they asked.

“Yeah, I used to inject coke.”

“You can make coke into a liquid?”

“You can make anything into a liquid if you add water, dude.”

Suddenly I was sidetracked from my narcotics instructional by a huge cloud of vape smoke. That, more than cocaine or cigarettes or alcohol, was the most triggering thing I saw that night. It was the thing I’d just put down and seemed the least ominous. For a moment, I felt deeply deprived. I acknowledged the feeling and it passed.

The next night we were at the hotel bar with some of my boyfriend’s dear pals whom he’d known forever. I’d never met them, but the two women could see I was deathly ill.

“You should have a Hot Toddy,” one of them offered innocently.

“Yeah, I don’t drink anymore because I don’t like getting arrested,” I said.

Neither woman laughed. Not two minutes later, I was introduced to their husbands, Lieutenant Whatever and Sergeant Whatever, of the Las Vegas Police Department. Fucking perfect.  

My Facebook post about my sober birthday got more likes than any status I’ve ever posted. There were tons of encouraging and congratulatory comments. I was so moved. Every time somebody posted a comment, I’d cry. So much for being a badass junkie.

And then an email from my boss, a post-Jewish atheist writer: 

There’s a saying from Judaismland—“ani uvecharta le chaim”—“I choose life.” I’m so glad you have, and continue do it, and so completely fucking impressed at all you did to get there and keep getting there. You are just a beautiful person and a great talent with much to bring to the world. Happy three years of sobriety and here’s to all the wonderful things in front of you. 


Then the waterworks really started. I called my mom and thanked her for never giving up on me. I emailed my dad about my sober birthday and he wrote back, “I’ll drink to that.” Dick. 

And then I looked at my guy, a normie who’s never done any hard drugs and I said, “Thank you for accepting me and allowing me the space to be somebody new. And because you’ve done that, I’ve been able to be somebody new with you.”

He just smiled and said, “Babe, stop crying. You’re gonna cry off all your eyelash extensions.”

So now when I cry it’s usually because I’m happy. And if that’s all sobriety ever gives me, it’s more than enough.  

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