My morning routine as a wedding planner went like this:
Step One: Wake up, have 30 second panic attack.
Step Two: Look out window to make sure my car is there; locate phone and keys.
Step Three: Chug the now-flat champagne I left out to steady my hands for the drive to work.
After a blackout and four hours of sleep, I was ready to tackle that day’s wedding.
The service industry is a special kind of environment for problematic drinkers like I was. Leaving a job for “medical issues” was common, which was usually code for addiction treatment. It was an open secret of the industry, like drinking on the clock or cooling off in the deep freeze. It’s probably due to the combination of low pay, long shifts, uselessly high stress, and easy access to booze. Those issues were only amplified on wedding days.
I planned over 200 weddings in nearly three years as an event coordinator for a resort. It’s a dream job for many, but one I fell into. I majored in women’s studies and philosophy and it felt like I was failing at feminism by working in the wedding industry. I thought I’d go into journalism but I turned down a full-time reporting job because I was afraid of the job insecurity and, frankly, of not being good enough. While my organizational skills were well suited to event planning, I couldn’t reconcile it with what I thought I “should” be doing with my life. The better I did at my job, the more guilty I felt for not doing something more meaningful (whatever that meant), and the more I tried to sabotage my success. My thoughts were a constant barrage of negativity and self doubt. I wanted to flip a switch to turn my brain off, and drinking became the way to do it.
The alcohol flowed endlessly at weddings and I was a willing participant. While the guests were drinking mimosas for breakfast, I was staving off my hangxiety with a careful supply of caffeine in order to get through set up, the ceremony, and cocktail hour. Once dinner was served, the bulk of my work for the day was complete and there’d inevitably be leftover flutes of champagne (I always poured a few too many, just in case). These got me through the final hours of a standard 14-hour shift.
While the guests were drinking mimosas for breakfast, I was staving off my hangxiety with a careful supply of caffeine in order to get through set up, the ceremony, and cocktail hour.
After every wedding, I’d go to a bar where other service industry folks inevitably ended up, all of us buzzed from the tail ends of our shifts. At the time, I considered this a job perk; free booze to make up for my low pay and 80 hour weeks. I drank until last call, even if I had a wedding the next day, because there usually was. Blackouts were a near nightly occurrence. Most wedding planners say no two days are alike, but I felt like I was living in Groundhog Day.
It’s hard to separate my work from my substance use from that time. Like many who struggle with particularly dark periods of their substance use disorder, it can feel like an endless game of chicken and egg. Did my job exacerbate my drinking, or did I seek out a job that would encourage it? But the questions are ultimately pointless; it could have been anything that led me to abuse alcohol, or nothing at all.
I had many rock bottoms that led to a couple attempts at sobriety, the longest stretch being two months. But I had no real plan to stay sober, and the liquor was always readily available. In the end, it wasn’t even my most dangerous rock bottom that made me stop. It was a night like many others, at my normal bar, with only intermittent blackouts. I was even home before midnight. But this was one of the first times that the drinking didn’t stop the thoughts. I had flipped the off switch in my brain so many times, it seemed that it finally broke.
It helped that it was the end of the busy wedding season. I was able to get six months of sobriety under my belt before the next busy season hit. The two years I spent drowning my fears only put things on pause. I hadn’t actually made progress in that time. I knew it was time to move on, if only to get a change of scenery and protect my sobriety. I just didn’t know how.
It was scary, but I knew I would have to live through discomfort in order to change.
I made it through over 40 weddings sober and finally started to feel comfortable, even skilled, at my job. I had been applying to other jobs periodically with vague ideas of leaving at some point, and I was eventually offered a job at my alma mater. It wasn’t a dream career, but it was a step towards an industry I thought would be a better fit for my sobriety. It would mean leaving at the end of August, stepping away from many weddings I had spent a year planning and handing the reins (and some angry couples) to someone new. It was scary, but I knew I would have to live through discomfort in order to change.
A month into my new job, I helped plan a minor event for my department. We ordered six boxes of wine, with three leftovers that staff could take home. They sat on the break room counter for over a week, at least a dozen people walked past them a day. When I threw away the final unclaimed box two weeks later, I knew I made the right decision. Those boxes wouldn’t have lasted until the end of my shift at my last job, let alone three weeks.
I’m still not exactly where I want to be, but now I trust that I’ll figure it out. And my morning routine is a lot less stressful.
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