the champagne bottle
TRIGGER WARNING: the following story features elements of substance abuse, depression, and self-harm.
It was January 2014 and I had returned to Little Corn Island fresh out of Yoga Teacher Training from San Juan del Sur area of Nicaragua after being away for 7 months. I was really hoping that my training and return to the island would bring a fresh start and new boundaries as a problem drinker and newly certified Yoga Teacher. Well, I arrived that afternoon off the panga boat and proceeded to get wasted off of rum drinks, Tonas (Nica Beer), and shots. I met all new people that night and was utterly annoying to all of them. Imagine someone that will NOT stop talking about all of their spiritual experiences on their teacher training combined with attention seeking levels of speaking volume... now imagine them black-out drunk. There I was, returning to old behaviors and nursing a problem that would erupt over the next few years.
A few weeks later I received news that my great aunt passed away. She had woken up in the middle of the night, insisted on having a glass of champagne, went back to bed and died peacefully in her sleep. I remember thinking, "that's the way to go out." I don't remember the first sip I ever had of champagne but I've always considered it fabulous, glamorous, and sophisticated, like my great aunt. I never drank champagne the way that woman did, and never would. I've never even had "just one" glass of champagne in my life, let alone one drink of anything. Funny enough my friend Joy had nicknamed me "just one more" Jacq a month earlier after I held her hostage out at a bar in San Juan del Sur. I had no control, and was constantly looking for the next drink.
Later that year I had a hangover so severe that I swore off drinking and didn't have a sip of alcohol for about 70 days. I even visited home and passed on the champagne that was served when my sister got engaged. I recognized in that time I had a problem and that I probably shouldn't drink at all but an obscure dream convinced me that I was ready to drink again and that vigilance was the answer. The first night I drank I had 4 beers, the next 5 or 6, and by the end of that week I was back to drinking as much as I could for as long as I could. There is a lot of time over the next few years that I don't remember AT ALL and I find it important to remind myself how bad it got, even if the details are vague.
At this time I was also working at Tranquilo Cafe and really pushed for us to serve mimosas since we could finally order champagne at a reasonable price from the mainland. This was a skillful move for me that would guarantee that there would always be an open bottle of champagne around. Still under the illusion that I was glamorous, I would waltz in after a sunset yoga class and have my post teaching glass of bubbly (followed by the bottle, 7 beers, and a pack of cigarettes). There was nothing glamorous about the cycle I was in.
By 2016, I was opening a yoga studio with my friend Dave and didn't drink for a month leading up to our grand opening. I was constantly quitting and picking up again due to health issues, and this time I was hoping I could learn to be a normal drinker as "drunk yoga teacher" was probably getting old for all of us. The day we opened the studio I got us a bottle of champagne and swore to just have one glass. Several hours later I was chugging Tonas on my porch in the dark and chain smoking again. The next morning I taught my second class at the studio brutally hungover and remembered what it felt like to disappoint myself again.
In my eyes, no one noticed. We were all drinking a lot as there was always a reason to drink living on an island in the Caribbean. One night I got done teaching and sat next to my friend Carrie who doesn't drink and doesn't judge us that do/did. I told her I wasn't going to drink and was just grabbing dinner. As the clock of Happy Hour ticked away, I folded and ordered a glass of wine or champagne (can't remember). I drank about 4 glasses of something, then to beer, then to beer on my porch in the dark chain smoking. The next morning Carrie said "You said you weren't going to drink last night and then you drank a lot." That's all she said and that's all she had to say because I knew it: "someone knows." Someone with clarity watched my routine in real time.
That was the cycle and it was on repeat. Every morning was post apocalyptic, I would scrub cigarette stains off my fingers, think sitting down on the floor of the shower could save me, and would shuffle down to the studio to teach yoga and pretend I had my shit together. Then the sun would set and the drinking picked back up. I began to live a double life in a way, only allowing the most reverent part of me to show up for yoga (or whatever was left of the most reverent part).
I really began to despise myself and the vicious cycle I was in. One day I opened up a book called The Radiance Sutras, by Dr. Lorin Roche, and the first thing that I read was "this body is made of earth and gold." I re-read it a million times, used it as mantra, and prayed to be kinder to myself. I didn't want to quit drinking entirely but deep down I think I knew I had to. I didn't want to continue to pollute, betray, and abuse my body but I didn't know how to stop or what to even do.
By October 2017, I was fantasizing about dying in my sleep. I was ill, and becoming reclusive. Night after night I would sit on the porch in the dark and as I finished my last beer I would call Doug, my boyfriend at the time, and beg him to bring me more beers. This happened almost every night, sometimes I would walk from the porch to Tranquilo (25 feet folks!) disheveled and drunk, hoping no one would see me as I grabbed some beers from the cooler, a pack of cigs from the closet, and signaled to Doug to put it on my tab.
On Halloween I made a commitment that I was going to quit drinking and smoking until my 30th birthday on December 23rd. Doug was going to order me a fancy bottle of champagne from the main land and we would celebrate with that on the big day after another "dry me out" run. I had a farewell drink (after drinking all night) and a farewell smoke and put myself to bed that Halloween. I had dressed up as Wednesday Addams and spent the last hour of the night repeating "I'm so drunk" to my friend Dingus.
The first couple of days sober were brutal as the cold sweats in the Caribbean, shakey hands paired with a clammy appearance, and cravings began to creep in. In the back of my mind all I could think about was my birthday bottle of champagne. Doug hadn't gotten me just any bottle of champagne, he had gotten me something fancy and ordered it well it advance to ensure it would be in my hands by December 23. In order for the bottle to get to the island, Doug had to order it on a Monday to get it by the weekend. Our shopper on the mainland picks it up on Tuesday, packs and ships it Wednesday, it goes on a boat to Big Corn by Thursday, arrives to Big Corn Friday to unload some shipments there, and then does a drop off on Little Corn Saturday. This bottle had quite the journey to get to our little home in the Caribbean.
Day and night I thought about that damn bottle of champagne. Would I drink it all over dinner? Split it with Doug? Have just one glass? This is obsession, and I was obsessed. I was getting closer to the big day and in the beginning of December I enrolled in an online program with Elena Brower + Laura McKowen called Elevate: Recovery. It was on ZOOM and served as a community gathering for those interested in recovery or needed support in their recovery (from anything). I do believe that the timing of this program was paramount for me and was a God moment that I would look back and smile at. Most people that drink normally don't find themselves in Recovery Groups and it was clear as I got closer to myself and found more clarity that my "problem" was bigger than I had ever considered. Still I was set on that birthday bottle.
The day before my 30th birthday I signed on to our recovery group with the itching sensation of popping the champagne bottle that was waiting for me in the fridge in the other room. I deserved that damn bottle ... every single drop. I just needed someone to tell me that it was ok to drink, and that I could still take care of myself AND be able to drink too. I wanted the benefits of recovery: clarity, respect, integrity, stability, acceptance, wisdom, and freedom without actually quitting drinking. Maybe Elena could offer some insight I thought so I typed into the chat about having my birthday bottle. Elena basically paused the programming to address this, and asked me if I would be a better person if I drank that bottle, which was an obvious no. When she asked if I didn't drink that champagne would I be a better person, I believe I answered reluctantly "maybe"? She went on that I didn't deserve a glass of champagne for 53 days sober, I deserved to be happy and wake up clean every day. SHIT.
Externally, I smiled and received the bad news. Internally, my walls were crashing down and I realized I couldn't get what I wanted and that the party was over. I believe I surrendered that day, surrendered to the admission that I was an alcoholic. That my friend on the island that slid me a 30 day coin earlier that month had planted a seed of recovery. That Carrie with her observation earlier that year revealed that nothing I was doing was a secret. That my body was in fact made of earth and gold, and deserved to be treated as such and not that of a dumpster.
I thought about dumping the champagne ceremoniously and saving the cork. I thought about smashing that bottle like a wild woman. I even thought about drinking the whole thing as a final hurrah. Ultimately, I did nothing, and it sat in the fridge. I thought about it often and told Doug to not let anyone have it, that I might drink it one day. I was still obsessed even though I wasn't drinking. Months went by and I moved back to the US, and actually said goodbye to the bottle in our fridge on the island.
Doug and I ended our relationship, but we remained close. He was going back and forth from the US to Nicaragua and our friend Darson stayed at the house while Doug was away. As I started to share about my recovery, I'd tell the story of the bottle that was still in my fridge on the island and that I learned I NEVER needed to drink over anything anymore.
It's been just over four years since that bottle was picked up on the mainland and headed to a tiny island in the Caribbean. I've moved several times, started new adventures, completed trainings, stayed sober during a global pandemic, invested in myself, made amends, told my story, and continue to recover. I choose myself every single morning, that's what I deserve.
Last year I asked Doug a final time about the bottle of champagne. He said, "I don't know, I think Darson drank it..."
Please see my recovery page for resources I have found useful.
Creator + Director at Earth + Gold Wellness, Yoga Instructor, Meditation Coach, and SOBER WOMAN