Vegas is not my favorite place. I didn’t like Vegas when I was drinking and I find it overwhelming now as a sober guy. It’s really more about being an introvert than it is about the drinking, drugs, and debauchery that are on public display. I am sensitive to being overly stimulated and Vegas is a constant buzz of activity, blinking lights, and noise. And yet, I’ve found ways to go to Vegas and enjoy myself.
It took me a long time to get here though. In my first few years of sobriety, the trips to Vegas felt like a burden. I felt like I was being tested — put in an untenable situation. How could a guy in recovery be expected to go to Vegas?
I get to go to Vegas roughly twice a year for my job. Usually for one technical conference and for my company’s sales kick off. Both are grueling events that start at 8 AM with sessions until 5 or 6 and corporate “fun” events in the evening. Corporate “fun” is code for drinking. For the first several trips, I would grind through the days, make an appearance at the corporate event, and then retreat into my room. It was a strategy, but probably not the best strategy.
Last summer, I tweeted my dread about going to Vegas and a fellow technologist who is in recovery responded with a tweet that reframed my perspective. He said, “Vegas has great food. It’s a Fat Boy’s dream. Let me know where you’re going and I’ll give you some restaurant recommendations.” Now, I’m actively working to not be a fat boy, with some success, but I love food and so this resonated. I got some recommendations and made some plans.
Previously, going to Vegas and partaking in the drinks at the corporate events meant that I didn’t spend any of my money at these events. I ate what they offered, which is generally garbage, because I really didn’t care since I was getting loaded. But now that I’m sober, I really do care about the quality of the food on offer. And the company has policies about not expensing food at these events. Since they are paying for all the catering — I get it, even if I don’t like it — I’m not allowed to expense any meals that I get on my own.
Vegas is expensive. The same cup of coffee that I get for $3.13 at my local Starbucks is over $7 in Vegas. Lunches, a sandwich and fries, are over $25 in the hotels. I don’t like it, but I have reconciled that I am making a choice that helps me to stay sane and sober in Vegas. So I spend my own money and don’t worry about it.
I’ve also learned that I don’t need to be at every corporate event. This past trip, I didn’t attend a single corporate party. And guess what? No one noticed and no one cared. It helps that I’m open about my recovery. My management knows that I don’t drink and so the expectation that I’ll hang out at a drinking event isn’t there.
Since I got sober, I’ve been going to a lot more concerts, and guess what you can find on pretty much any given night in Vegas. That’s right, a concert. And not just a local musician busking on the sidewalk. I now make it a point to look for an act that I’d be interested in seeing when I go to Vegas. Last summer, I saw Jackson Browne one night in Vegas and this past week I caught Aerosmith. I’ve gone by myself, and I’ve invited members of my team to join me.
Again, it’s money out of my own pocket on a business trip, but it’s worth it to keep me sane. I’ve also realized that I used to spend more on booze in a week than the price of a ticket to a show. A ticket to see a band is money well spent when I put it in that light.
And so, my perspective on Vegas is changing. Whereas I used to say, “I have to go to Vegas twice a year for my job.” Now I can honestly say, “I get to go to Vegas for my job.”
Do you travel for business? If so, how do you keep yourself busy when the corporate parties get rolling? Drop me a line in the comments with any additional ideas.