I didn’t follow the protocol that night. Since coming out as an alcoholic in 2009 when I collapsed on a Brisbane stage in front of 400 paying ticketholders after drinking a stupid amount of vodka, I had put in place measures to protect myself from temptation at gigs: my team would remove the mini-bar from my hotel room and organise a driver to pick me up from the event straight after I walked offstage.
That night in 2012, I emceed a corporate gig for a disability charity at Parliament House in Canberra. It had gone phenomenally well, and the organiser was thanking me profusely as I walked offstage. He was a gay man about my age who was dying of cancer; this was to be his last event. I was invested in making sure it was a great night for him, so when he told me a respected judge wanted to meet me, I agreed to go. I told my driver to leave and said that I’d catch a taxi back to the hotel. That was my first mistake. And I made it willingly, knowing that I was immediately opening myself up to temptation.
On my way to the bathroom to fix my makeup before shaking the esteemed judge’s hand, I passed an unaccompanied catering trolley full of champagne flutes, filled to the brim with bubbles of temptation. Temptation I couldn’t resist. I downed three glasses on my way into the toilet, and three on the way out. That was my second mistake, and third and fourth and fifth and …
Part of me was flattered that a judge wanted to meet me, Fiona O’Loughlin from Warooka in South Australia. Imagine that. Another part of me, the inner alcoholic, was always looking for a reason to relapse – and free unattended champagne proved to be an impossible test. I told myself I was doing it for the organiser who was dying of cancer. By staying at the event and meeting the judge, I was basically fulfilling the bloke’s last dying wish. Who was I to deny him that?
After six champagne flutes, I was hilariously witty and charming with the judge. The organizer couldn’t have been happier with me. I’d gone above and beyond to make his final event a roaring success. It was another reason to stay and enjoy the night, another excuse to drink on the sly, another excuse to lie to myself.
When the event wrapped up, a group of women were going to kick on in the wild city of Canberra and invited me to join them. “Oh no, I can’t. I don’t drink,” I said, already flying.
The group insisted. “Oh, Jeanene’s our sober driver for the night, she’ll drink orange juice with you.”
My last memory is of sitting in the outdoor area of a city establishment, slipping the waiter $20 and $50 notes to put vodka in my orange juice. From there, it’s only vague flashes. Waving goodbye to the women when they call it a night at a decent hour. Flash. Sitting in the gutter outside a club with a young couple smoking cigarettes and talking shit, sharing my slurred life wisdom. Flash. Going to an ATM and withdrawing cash, too much cash. Flash. I don’t remember how I got back to my hotel or unlocking the door to my soulless room with grey carpet and charred black timber finishes.
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