Downtown is a breathing beast, be it Fort Lauderdale, Miami or Key West. She’s deadly, but people will go even if they don’t like the options. The allure of alcohol-induced interaction always wins.
Simply walking through Fort Lauderdale’s Himmarshee bar district is a train-wreck of the various stages one can expect of alcohol poisoning. Some people are still flailing around, others are being carried back to the car before they hurt themselves. Most of my downtown friends can hold their liquor (and have many years of practice,) but not all are so fortunate. I’ve had to shove drunken, pilled up men waving bags of cocaine, into a hearse in Little Haiti– long story– and stop serious brawls from escalating to arrests. Other times I’d just kick back and watch as they utterly screw themselves.
There was a time when I found myself crawling on the floor of a random guy’s apartment as my friend had sex with him on a bed, much to my distress. I was about eighteen, and made a note to myself: NEVER DO THIS AGAIN. From that moment, I never had so much to drink in one sitting, or even one week. It was simple to me. Is it a problem? Yes. Should I do this? No. Of course, shortly after that incident I had the aid of my extremely sober then-boyfriend, so it was simple enough. I spent my 21st birthday sans any alcohol or otherwise. It didn’t hurt me, and I didn’t feel like I lost something vital.
After that floor crawl, I began sticking to the company of coffee heads and tobacconists. Quite a few of the people there led sober lives and avoided bars. It spawned my love for coffee houses, and kept with my life plan of avoiding all drugs. I’ve still never tried, or attempted to try, any drug more potent than a cute little weed that grows in the dirt. I’d like to keep it that way.
So this led me to my affinity for recovering addicts. Between self-imposed avoidance and hanging out where they prefer, I’ve met quite a few, and the differences between nights with them and nights downtown are rather grim at times. Recently, I was introduced to a local kava bar in Fort Lauderdale that has a strong base of NA folks. I’ve met some fascinating people there, just like I would at a coffee joint. Unlike downtown– where most of the interactions require a drunkspeak interpretation– there’s no alcohol to create a false sense of community and bravado. It’s just there. Walk into a bar you’ve never entered before downtown, and see how warmly you’re greeted. Walk into this kava bar, and everyone is happy to introduce themselves.
It’s an amusing kind of environment to the point of a recent example, while I was sitting outside smoking with other kava people. A slightly older, obviously party-friendly woman yelled down the hall at us asking if it was a bar. Without a word, we all looked at each other and grinned. One guy tried to explain there was no alcohol, but another told her to head in and see. She ended up leaving with a smile and a desire to come back for the open mic night with friends. It’s seemingly easier to convince someone to back out of drinking for the night than it is to convince them to leave there to drink.
Personally, I can’t even drink kava. My kidneys won’t have it, but I find myself more than content to just sit with a tea or water. The people make it worth that for me.
So now, when I stomp around downtown (be it to see a friend’s show, or just because) I have even more appreciation for the stark contrast in attitudes. I may not know the full extent of the pain of addiction, but hearing a friend easily say “Yeah, I was a junkie. I screwed up, and I was an idiot,” gives me a little more faith in people’s ability to be brutally honest and strong for their own sake. I’ve never been able to look down on someone for their dependencies, as I’ve almost fallen victim to it myself before I found a doctor that didn’t want to cure everything with Vicodin.
While the amusement of the bars still holds for me, and I will never pass up a chance to watch stupid people do stupid things, I’m also very glad that I have places to run to when it’s too much. My “junkie” friends are some of the most talented and wonderful people I know, and I wouldn’t trade that for a thing. Some people tell me not to trust a former user. For me, this makes it far less likely to trust the person saying so than anything else.