SHOTS IN VEGAS
BY: TAMI HARPER WINN
In loving memory of my friends, their loved ones, and all those affected by the tragedy of Oct. 1st, 2017 in my hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada.
On our last evening together, poolside at the “M” Resort, gathered in a circle with tears in our eyes, we held onto each other and sang our high school song in unison, “Never Say Goodbye” by Bon Jovi. A video caught a glimpse of that very tender moment, forever capturing a night none of us will soon forget. That night my classmates shared shots in Vegas – none of us aware of what would happen in less than 24 hours.
I sat just over a week ago as I write this, packing for a trip I was taking to return home. I was going for some very specific reasons that I will discuss at a later time, but also for the 30-year class reunion that was planned that weekend for my high school in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was nervous about seeing some of the people I had went to high school with, who had been there with me at the start of my partying days, and I knew that this weekend was intended to be one full of liquid festivities.
I made a plan, which is what I do today when I am faced with people, places, or situations that could possibly tempt me. I made a plan to meet up with sober friends and make meetings while I was in Vegas. I do what has worked for me for over 7 years now. I was packed, set, and ready to take care of business and make a whole lot of new memories.
Little did I know that just a few short hours after I landed back in Boise, Idaho after my reunion weekend, that my hometown would forever be changed and so would my dear friends I had spent so many years with throughout my childhood. Life as we had all known it would never be the same again.
That Thursday I flew in, drove down the Las Vegas Strip, past the Mandalay Bay straight to my appointment. I took care of the business I had came for and then headed back to my brother’s house. I spent hours fidgeting with my hair, playing with my makeup, trying on clothes and preparing myself psychologically for the weekend ahead.
I made calls to some of my dearest friends and solidified our meeting times. A little dash of perfume behind the ears and I was out of there. The weekend would progress quite steadily. I would find myself embraced in long hugs with old friends, searching my memory for names to faces I barely recognized anymore, and staring into the flashes of camera’s throughout the entire event.
I would catch up on what everyone had been up to since high school, make new friends that I didn’t get to in high school back when I was painfully shy, and try to forget the feelings I had back then and just be who I was today. We all have those moments in life when we are placed back in certain situations that evoke feelings we haven’t experienced since that time. For some, high school brought painful memories as well - an uncomfortable feeling of not fitting in or belonging. I was part of that group, and as I would later observe through the events, so were so many others who I never dreamed felt that way.
Long gone are those glory days. This weekend it was about real life and who we had all become. Of course there was an evening at a local hot spot where liquor poured like gasoline over smoldering embers of long ago hurts and over heated crushes of high school days. It was nerve racking as I tried to piece myself into the puzzle completely sober, still feeling like I did not fit in. Ironic that in high school I drank and partied to try to fit in, and not much had changed for a lot of my friends, except everything had for me. I was no longer willing to compromise myself to fit in and that was hard to put my mind around at points in the evening.
I was still the nervous, shy girl (now woman) that I was back then. I still had the enormous crush on Pete Esson that I had for what was now 30 years old. He did look amazing still. I was still trying hard to find out where I fit in and recall some of the memories that were blacked-out from all my hard days of partying. I felt so uncomfortable that first night at the bar that I nearly didn’t show up for the actual reunion planned for the next night. I was experiencing the same feelings that had brought me to the bottle all those years ago.
Thankfully, my very dear friend Annette was there with me to walk the halls of our old high school, sit in the bleachers at our high school homecoming game, and reminisce about times gone by. She escorted me to the Memorial Wall Ceremony where I got to sit in silence as they read my best friend, Tricia’s name and all of the other Cowboys that had passed away – gone too soon. She held my hand as we entered each event, a comfort she gave selflessly to me as I walked through this.
That Saturday morning, I would plan to meet with someone I truly needed to see as well. The person I was meeting that afternoon was in fact the one I tried my first drug with, and my first drink with. I would commit my first crime with her at the tender age of 13 and the last time I saw her 10 years ago, we were partying together then too.
As fate would have it, my higher power is larger than life and today both her and I are sober – with years under both of our belts. Crazy! I know. She met me at an AA meeting and we sat and talked for hours about our childhood, filling in each others gaps and catching up on all the great things that getting sober had brought us. She was a sight for sore eyes – a much needed bandage for my tattered soul.
As I sat in that meeting, the young lady speaking shared how her sponsor had asked her to keep a Miracle Journal at the beginning of her recovery. In order to focus on the positives, she had to record her daily miracles. At first, it was just that she had gotten up and stayed sober that day. Then it would grow into many beautiful miracles each day. As she spoke, I looked over at my childhood best friend and patted her knee. This was our miracle – the two who had started their partying together were now sitting together over 35 years later, sober in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Wow! I was full of gratitude and my eyes leaked the truth.
On the last night of my time in Vegas, I spent it whisking around, stealing moments and pictures with friends I knew that in fact I may never see again after that night. I spent time talking with treasured new friends and sharing precious healing memories with old ones. I danced and ate, laughed and cried. I sat staring out over the Vegas Strip across the crystal blue pool of the hotel we were at, trying to burn this memory into my mind forever. I was home. I was with my old friends. I was sober at home with my old friends – what a miracle. The bar was open and the drinks were endless. The more everyone drank, the more the tears fell and laughter rang out. It was beautiful. But still, somehow I felt out of place. I forced myself to try not to.
We ended the evening at the “M” Lounge talking about our lives today. We laughed like the world was ours. The waitress dropped off a round of shots for the group of stragglers that didn’t want the party to end. I was part of that crowd. I had wanted to leave earlier, and knew I probably should have, but I didn’t. I went against my gut. The next thing you know there was a shot in my hand and everyone was having shots in Vegas once again.
I recoiled from it like a moth from a flame. My friends were obviously quite tied up with booze by then and completely unaware of my sobriety, or what I had been through, or the life I now lived. As I was strongly encouraged to participate I continued to say “no” more than once. Sadly, I had to raise my voice and tell them that I wasn’t ready to throw over 7 years of sobriety out the window for shots in Vegas with old friends – causing the group to fall silent for a moment as they put together what I was saying. It didn’t last long and the party resumed unaffected. My ego was a little bruised and embarrassed, but I made it look as if it was natural to be so flushed with red.
I could’ve done it. Trust me, my mind played with the idea. The old saying, “No one will know” and “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” played its tracks over and over in my head. My sobriety isn’t about what I can get away with today. Its not about pulling my world out from under me once more just to fit in. I wouldn’t be lying to anyone but myself. I wouldn’t be hurting anyone but me. The only wool I would be pulling over anyone’s eyes is my own. As embarrassed as I was for having to say it with such force, I still did it – whether I fit in or not.
I spent the last of the night making living amends to my best friend Tricia by making sure friends had rides home and staying with them into the early morning hours until their rides showed up. I left my reunion completely sober – exhausted, but sober.
Looking back over that night, I know now that I was placing myself in a very dangerous position when I chose to not leave before the shots in Vegas were poured. I knew then that I was placing myself in a position to be hurt yet once again. Even though I knew this, my old alcoholic mind still did its magic. I still went back to old behaviors anyways. By God’s grace I was spared from my own foolishness. I was not in a safe place. I was without another sober person. I was ignoring my gut. I was secretly partaking in the atmosphere in hopes of stealing joy vicariously through my friends. I was walking a very dangerous line. My higher power walked me through it unscathed. I fell asleep with sincere gratitude in my heart that night that I had been spared.
Left to my own devices I will surely fail. Sometimes, the book says, there will come a day that the only thing between us and a drink will be God. This is a truth I know today with all certainty.
I packed up that morning and drove out past the last hotels on the Strip. I drove past the Mandalay Bay without any clue that in less than 12 hours it would be considered “Satan’s Lair” and all hell would break loose from the windows above me.
I flew out of Vegas the afternoon of Oct 1st, 2017 feeling nostalgic – sad that I was saying goodbye to people I didn’t want to leave and some I knew I would never see again. I couldn’t have been more accurate with my gut feelings that day. Later that evening I would be told only moments after it started, by a friend enduring the carnage, that what I was listening to was actual live shots in Vegas being fired from the Mandalay Bay at my friends and their loved ones.
People would die that night senselessly. Many more would be injured and the amount of people who would forever be changed because of those shots, were insurmountable. I was one of them. This was my hometown. These were my friends and their loved ones. This was my community. I was hundreds of miles away, completely powerless. So, what did I do? I went to a meeting so I could make sense of the madness in my head and find a few miracles that day, like the lady at that meeting in Vegas a few days prior had shared about. I was sober. That was a miracle for sure.
As I try to wrap my mind around the tragedy that unfolded this week after a truly magical weekend, I am hurting for so many reasons. My reality is that I survived the shots in Vegas in more ways than one and that makes it a miracle in my book. I pray today for those who did not survive those shots from the mass shooting in Vegas. I also pray for those who suffer from the disease of alcoholism and may not survive their last shots. For the victims of the shooting and for those still trapped in their suffering I pray for strength and courage to overcome and to find healing. For the families left in the aftermath of the shots in Vegas, I pray for you as well. I know the devastation is inconceivable and the wreckage will take years to clean up – if it ever can be.
I know I will never be able to make sense of any of this. That’s why today I continue to put my trust in something greater than me. It has saved my butt time and time again. So, here’s to my classmates whose memories and faces I will cherish forever. Here’s to those who were affected by the cruel madness of another. I raise my glass in remembrance of all of you. I raise my glass of apple juice and hug my children, knowing the idea of taking shots in Vegas has taken on a whole new meaning for me today.
~ Tami Harper Winn ~
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