Here’s the short version of this post for those of you with attention span issues: I spent four days in August with 6,000 alcoholics – 6,000 people just like me regardless of gender, age, history, hometown. I spent four days with these people and had the f***ing time of my life.
Here’s the long version for those of you who feel so inclined to continue reading.
I spent this time in San Antonio, Texas at ICYPAA (pronounced icky-pah, standing for International Conference of Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous). The decision to go to Texas was fairly last minute and impulsive, considering I did not know anyone else who would be at the conference.
I’ve been sitting on this post for a few weeks because A) School started and therefore my life became chaotic and insane – just the way I like it and B) I have so much to say about ICYPAA, more than I could ever fit into a reasonably sized blog post. My mind has been so full of memories, inspiration, ideas, and I just haven’t been able to put the experience to paper. I probably still can’t, but I’m damn well gonna try. I’m also going to avoid using names for anonymity (god, I hate saying that word) sake, so try to follow.
On Wednesday the 20, I flew into Dallas, and from there to San Antonio. Someone I knew solely from Facebook was going to pick me up at the airport, but at the last minute had to go to a meeting and sent a good friend instead. The friend was around my age and when I went to greet him with a handshake, I received a hug instead. This was basically an indicator of the type of person I would be encountering all weekend. I’m all about hugs, so I was okay with that fact. He was accompanied by a 92-year-old – to which my thought process was ‘Wait, I thought this was a young people’s conference.’ I quickly found out there were people of all ages in attendance, but it was primarily young people (people under 30).
So. San Antonio. 6,000 alcoholics. Enormous Grand Hyatt hotel. I still can’t formulate all my thoughts.
The first two days were fairly calm as I flew in early (the conference actually started Friday) so I spent time helping with set up and lounging by the pool. I met quite a few people in this time frame, and had the same sort of conversation over and over, which consisted of three things – name, where I’m from (cue the “Oooooh, Minnesooootah, eh?”) and how long I’ve been sober. It was so refreshing to just have a conversation (or 2,335 conversations) about sobriety without feeling like the other person was trying to say the right thing. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate people’s sensitivity to the topic. It was just nice to not feel as if that was what the person on the other end was doing.
Once the conference officially kicked off, things got weird fast. And by weird I mean awesome. Phenomenal. Inspiring. Insane.
Keep in mind, I have been to a toga party with 2,000 drunk rugby players – this was even more insane. And these people were sober. If someone had told me that 6,000 alcoholics could be more ridiculous than 2,000 drunk rugby players, I would have laughed. But that was indeed the case.
Exhibit A – during dinner, one of the guys I had gone out to eat with decided to pick up and hold one of the ducks (we were eating by the Riverwalk, so there were lots of ducks). Said duck simply sat there in his lap while he Snapchatted and Instagrammed away. These types of events continued to happen throughout the weekend and were just made that much more entertaining by the fact that the people involved were SOBER. So freakin’ sober. The thought of them in their active use was actually somewhat terrifying.
Throughout the weekend, random people would holler “ICY-ICY-ICY!” to which everyone else within hearing distance would respond “PAH-PAH-PAH!” This even occurred outside the hotel, in the streets of San Antonio. Yeah. I thought it was weird like the first three times. Then I got over it and joined in – it was too hard to resist the energy. It was contagious, everywhere, all the time. Maybe a large reason behind the energy was the amount of caffeine consumed – the hotel literally ran out of energy drinks.
The really incredible part was that while these people knew how to dance, scream, and bring the house down, they also knew when to rein it in and focus. The speakers were some of the most genuine and real speakers I have ever had the privilege to listen to – it wasn’t as if I was sitting in an audience of 6,000. It was so quiet, everyone so intent on the speaker’s story, that I could have just as easily been in a room of 20 people.
During my time at ICYPAA, I laughed. I cried. I even laugh/cried. The few days I spent in San Antonio with strangers were some of the most rewarding of my life. To connect with these people, people I didn’t even know existed days prior, was such an eye-opening experience. I was more vulnerable and open with them than I ever have been with the majority of people in my life. There is so much comfort in knowing that someone has gone through the same thing you have – maybe less severe, maybe more severe, but still – the same emotions, the same struggles and the same confusion.
Substance abuse does not discriminate. I knew that to an extent before ICYPAA, but after observing the way a 20-year-old alcoholic and 92-year-old alcoholic interacted, the way the highest bottom and lowest bottom still discovered some common ground, the way different genders religions, nationalities came together, I know it even more.
I also know now that I would not change one single aspect of the path I have walked (sometimes crawled) in the past year and a half. I truly feel fortunate to call myself an alcoholic because it means I am able to view the world through experiences such as this.