It was a failed attempt at a "dirty weekend" in Kuala Lumpur with an old flame that brought Robyn Flemming back to Albury this time.
Well, that and a pandemic.
The 69-year-old freelance editor had been living in Europe (from a base in Hungary) when a boyfriend from her twenties tracked her down and they began chatting on email.
Robyn, who describes herself as a global nomad, was heading to New York and the pair decided to meet up in Malaysia; she'd allowed herself two months to see how things panned out.
Then COVID-19 struck and they couldn't hook up as planned.
"I'd broken my lease in Budapest and so I flew to Australia (he'd invited me to his place at Fremantle) just as the borders clanged shut," Robyn recalls.
"After a 14-day quarantine in Perth I moved in ... I moved out three days later."
With that she decided she might as well return to her home-town, arriving in Albury at the start of September, 2020.
This time it was a transformed Robyn - "I feel like the universe has brought me here" - stepping back on familiar ground but no longer staggering over old ground.
This time she arrived as the hero of her own adventure.
SKINFUL: 'An amount of alcohol that is enough to make a person drunk.' (urbandictionary.com)
The last time she'd fled to Albury, Robyn was 44.
She arrived from Hong Kong where a long habit of social drinking had become a dependency affecting her physical, mental and emotional health.
The life she'd set up there, the stress of establishing a new business and forging new friendships, had seen her drinking "cross the line".
"It went from being part of a very busy social life to self-medication," Robyn reflects.
"Drinking became paramount."
She suffered anxiety and panic attacks, one episode put her in hospital and on to anti-anxiety medication Xanax.
Still she drank.
"I didn't know how to stop," she admits.
Fearing she was on the verge of a breakdown, Robyn returned to Albury to try and make a fresh start.
"I arrived with a drinking problem and (15 years later) I left with a drinking problem," she states, so very matter-of-factly.
She tried not to drink - once she stopped for 11 months - and started going to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).
"But I kept going back to alcohol."
Paradoxically, Robyn re-discovered running.
"Not only was it a pleasure because of the endorphins of exercise, I found I had some talent for it," she says.
"I tried to use physical exercise as a way to control my drinking.
"I'd really want that bottle of wine, but I had to run in the morning ... always trading off.
"On the days I wasn't running, I'd be well into my second bottle at night.
"My friends got very confused; they didn't know if I was an athlete or a drunk."
She recalls the secret shame of rising to shower early on days she had a running date; desperate to wash the stale smell from her skin.
"It was all behaviour to disguise what was going on in my life," Robyn says.
"I was always living and juggling in my head, trying to manage my addiction."
She set herself tougher and tougher physical challenges.
She ran marathons and took on long-distance treks overseas, tackling the Kokoda Track and Mount Everest base camp in Nepal.
"I managed to control my drinking to the point it didn't look like I had a problem."
GREY AREA DRINKERS: People who consume more than a moderate amount of alcohol but don't meet the criteria for dependence.
Robyn readily admits "I was all over the shop".
"I was trying not to let what I was ashamed of on the inside, show on the outside," she says.
One cold, dark night in Albury, Robyn decided to take her dogs for a walk after a three-month trip to New York where she ran - and won - races.
"I'd had one bottle of wine," she recalls.
"As I was walking with the dogs, a car pulled up and some young punk yelled out, 'You are so f***ing ugly!'
"I was so shocked, not only by the way he spoke to me but because I feared my secret was on show - I could no longer disguise that I had an ugly secret on the inside."
Robyn scurried home, cancelled the next day's run and opened another bottle.
"I passed out and woke to hear the voices of my running friends but it was so shameful to me that I had this secret life," she says.
"I thought 'I have to leave, I can't stay here' ..."
She sold her house, found homes for the dogs and left Albury in 2010.
Robyn fully intended to get sober in New York.
She used running as a way to find community and to manage her drinking.
She ran and she ran; and she ran from the reality of her addiction.
"I was very vulnerable living as a nomad in the world with a drinking problem," Robyn reflects.
"I put myself in precarious positions ... I think to force myself to do something about it."
On another trip to Asia, Robyn befriended the woman who cleaned her motel room at Kuching, Sarawak.
They'd go out to karaoke at night and Robyn would rise early to clear the evidence of her drinking.
"I went around the streets getting rid of wine bottles in a dumpster," she reveals.
"I kept thinking this is me, but it isn't me.
"I was trading off my dignity. I knew I was a good person and that I had developed an addiction that was impacting my life in so many ways."
Robyn hung her sobriety on tomorrow.
"I'd say I'll give up on a Monday, or the first day of the month, or 1/11/11 - what a great set of numbers for a fresh start," she says.
My friends got very confused; they didn't know if I was an athlete or a drunk.- Robyn Flemming
It wasn't until August that same year, when Hurricane Irene hit New York, that Robyn took her first step to a different future.
"I surrendered," she says.
"I was trading off more and more of myself."
Armed with three bottles of white wine from Chile, where she next intended to visit, Robyn held a private farewell - a last drinks, if you like - to alcohol.
The next day, on her way to the nearest AA meeting, she came to her own crossroads.
"The paths are not to be found, but made." (John Schaar)
Now 10 years sober and with an "unflinching" memoir under her belt (that took her six years to write), Robyn hopes her book will resonate with others, particularly women.
"I am no one," she says.
"I'm not a celebrity, or an artist; I'm just a person with experiences people might relate to."
She believes the book has broad appeal because it's not about alcoholism, it's about addiction.
That can manifest itself in many things, from shopping to sex and gambling; indeed Robyn happily confesses to her travel addiction.
With alcohol, she says if aspects are causing you shame, you are on the spectrum of disordered drinking and you should seek help and support.
"Pain numbed is not pain dissolved; it just changes shape," she says.
"There's never been a better time to learn to manage alcohol with control, dignity and self-respect."
Four years after she stopped drinking, Robyn was walking in Central Park when she came across a man and his two dogs frolicking in the morning sunshine.
"I stood with him, watching the dogs, and said, 'They're gorgeous'," she recalls.
"He replied, 'You are gorgeous too'.
"When he said that to me I understood that finally I'd come back together and my inside was showing on the outside."
- Alcoholics Anonymous: 1300 222 222 or go to aa.org.au
- Hello Sunday Morning: 1300 403 196 or go to hellosundaymorning.org
- Thrivalist (for women): 1300 241 579 or go to thrivalistsobriety.com
- DrinkWise: go to drinkwise.org.au
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