How do you stay sober when drinking inspires friendships, connections, and even promotions?

Photo: Catherine Lamothe-Sauvé/EyeEm/Getty Images

“Cheers!” I said, clinking glasses of wine with members of the Communist Party in Vietnam’s National Assembly, the equivalent of the U.S.’s White House. I brought the glass to my mouth and tipped it, as if to drink, stopping just shy of the wine reaching my lips. If anyone noticed the lack of gulping (my acting skills are trash) or the never-empty glass, they made no mention of it. There were more important things to discuss anyway.

I have been clean and sober for seven years. In November, I’ll be 30 years old, followed by my eighth sober birthday in…

Photo credit: Rachel Claire

When I was young, there was a petting zoo we would go to for school field trips. I’d feed the goats dried pellets that smelled like rotten corn and grass and their tongues would flatten themselves against my hand. Centimeter for centimeter, my hand and their tongue matched in size. Like Cinderella’s shoe. Except the goats weren’t my prince charming.

On one such trip, I watched a white boy feed the goat a chip from his snack pack instead of a pellet. A sign above us read: DON’T FEED THE GOATS ANYTHING BUT THEIR FOOD. He hadn’t even checked to…

Photo by Mauricio Mascaro

It was 2005 and my casual dieting had turned into a full-blown eating disorder. Cutting calories turned into fasting, which would eventually morph into bulimia when my restraint disintegrated into all-out binges. I remember my ninth grade year, scouring the internet on my very heavy and very large IBM ThinkPad laptop. By that time, dial-up had turned into wireless and I was flying free on the world wide web with no one to monitor my usage and content (my parents, like many, knew no better). I turned to my new best friend to find solutions to staying thin, create thinspo…

My balcony at Cookies Salad Resort

The last time I remember waking up to the sounds of the ocean I was 16 years old, a teenager with my family at our annual trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. However, my most distinct memories harken back to when I was a kid, excited for the always-moving waves, the too-salty water and the sand that found its way into every nook and cranny of my body. I remember waking up to see my dad on the balcony, absorbing the quiet of the early morning. My excitement brimmed over, always, like a water boiling over the rim of a…

Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944

A therapist once told me that the anger I feel when watching certain interactions is a result of witnessing my most-despised inner traits acted out in front of me. In this metaphorical mirror, I can no longer hide the obvious and the rage serves to mask the truths that accompany moments like these. It’s why strangers, parents, friends, and loved ones can instigate such feelings of intensity within us if we inherit certain characteristics from them.

I was at the Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, waiting patiently to check in for my VietJet flight. Out of the corner of my…

Meat and fish at the village market we biked through in Siem Reap, Cambodia

“I don’t like getting dirty.”

“I really don’t like being rained on.”

“I’m not going to eat here. It smells funny and looks dirty.”

All phrases said from an American woman in her 40s who, wearing a full face of makeup and matching jewelry set, decided to go on the “Bike through the Jungles of Angkor Wat” tour on a rainy day in Siem Reap.

On my quick excursion to Cambodia, I met Brittany and Mike on a tour I had opted for to gain an off-the-beaten-path experience. Originally from Indianapolis, they had been living and working in Singapore for…

Cue “Part of Your World”

Sometimes I think I lived my past life as a mermaid. Day two of Sapa confirmed this.

“I’ll do the 15 km route!” I said, smiling to my guide Little Mu through my sleep-deprived state. I didn’t know how far 15km really was in miles, but I have never been one to opt for the easy route, something my mind and body would both regret immensely.

My guide Little Mu and another woman from village (left to right)

The 15 km (~9 mi) trek led me through the rice terraces and villages of Sapa. The weather was perfect — sunny and on the cooler side (mid-70s) but my body still managed to become drenched with sweat. The path was slippery at times, still soft with mud from the previous…

I arrived in Sapa at 5:30am, sleep-deprived and exhausted just thinking about the long day ahead.The overnight train had departed at 10pm from Hanoi and I had just spent the night with three complete strangers in a four-bunk room.

The waiting room for the train. Lots of tourists headed to Sapa…

There was the Italian couple, Andrea and Valentina, and Lauren from Los Angeles. We made a bit of small talk, which was mostly me trying to think of relevant things to say that turned out to be not so relevant. …

BBQ pork, fried rice and some kimchi (or something akin to it)

There’s no doubt I’ve been eating my way through Hanoi. Even so, I feel like there are so many foods I’m missing out on! Here are the most memorable ones thus far.

Bun cha might be one of the most popular dishes in Hanoi, a well-deserved fame because of its deliciousness. Consisting of pork meatballs served in a sweet-tangy broth, this dish is eaten with vermicelli noodles and greens. I’ve have a variety of bun cha here, from street to fancy to home-cooked and it all tastes delicious no matter where it comes from. I think this meal on left…

Jen Shin

Experiencing, reflecting and writing through the lens of an Asian American in recovery.

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