406 episodes of the Recovery Elevator Podcast were released before there was an intro with the main message being addressed to Big Alcohol. Why do you think that is? That’s a lot of Mondays to not tell Big Alcohol what we think, (or where to stick it 😈). Why wasn’t this addressed before episode 407: A Message to Big Alcohol…?
Well, like Paul said…we have limited time together and it feels like a better use of our time discussing how to build a new life that no longer requires alcohol, instead of fighting Big Alcohol, or fighting the past.
In fact, although you may not feel like it right now…if you keep moving forward, if you don’t quit quitting, and you keep doing the next right thing, one day at a time…you may just find yourself thanking Big Alcohol for giving you the life you have today. Crazy to imagine, right? I know it was for me. But it absolutely is true today. I am thankful for where my struggle with Big Alcohol has led me.
So here we are…let’s call out a couple of things regarding Big Alcohol, and maybe, there is a way we can work together.
First off, let’s get real for a second Big Alcohol. We both know your business model doesn’t survive off normal drinkers. Your lights are on, your doors are open, salaries are paid because of problematic drinkers…aka: alcoholics.
This is called the 80/20 rule in business and for Big Alcohol, it’s probably a 90/10 rule. This means that 90% of revenues are coming from 10% customers.
Let’s take a normal drinker. This is someone who buys a six pack of Coors Light, drinks 2-3 beers, and the remaining 3-4 cans sit in the refrigerator in the garage for the next couple weeks or months.
That is one type of customer.
Then take the alcoholic. This is someone who buys a 12, 18, 24, or 30 pack of Coors Light… daily. Where do you think your revenue is coming from? This question is rhetorical because they already know this.
Big Alcohol, we bring this up because there needs to be accountability on your part…and here’s some reasons why:
◾️Yes, it’s the individual who is drinking excessively, but the data and science support that alcohol is the most dangerous and addictive drug on the planet.
It kills more people each year than every other drug combined. An estimated 40-75% of occupied hospital beds have underpinnings to alcohol. In 2010, a Doctor named Dr. David Nutt, hired by the British government, was tasked to put a harm score on the world’s 20 most addictive drugs. Alcohol came in at #1. In 1958 the American Medical Association classified alcoholism as a disease.
◾️No amount of alcohol consumed is beneficial to the consumer.
This a myth that you, Big Alcohol, tries to perpetuate. In the Mid 2010’s the government funded agency the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) performed a study to see if alcohol consumption was good for you.
The answer was…YES. Say whattttt?? 🤯 However, it then became known the study was funded by Big Alcohol. No surprise the answer was yes! 🙄
In reality, no quantity of ethanol is good for you. The Huberman Lab Podcast has a fantastic episode about the effects of alcohol on your mind and body. The Stanford University Neuroscientists confirmed that no amount of alcohol is good for you.
◾️And let’s talk trash, garbage or waste.
A couple months ago Paul had new brakes installed on his vehicle and he rode his bike home from the mechanic after dropping off his truck. He took a scenic county road home for about 7 miles. While hugging the side of the road he was astonished by the amount of empty alcohol containers that littered the shoulder.
Keep in mind, this was in the part of the grass that had been maintained. Paul said he guessed there was triple or quadruple the amount of empty bottles and cans in the taller grass. (Now to be fair, he did see empty gatorade bottles, and trash that was not related to alcohol, but he said if he had to guess it was a 10/1 ratio.). Paul estimated there was an empty alcohol container every 100 feet (and that’s a safe estimate). With some easy math that put 52 bottles, or cans, every mile totaling over 350 pieces of trash on his 7 mile bike ride. That figure would be way higher if one were to walk through the taller grass.
This past October Paul did a retreat in Peru. One of their tasks was to pick up trash around a sacred temple about 20 miles outside of Cusco, which once was the capital of the Inca Empire. They filled about 4 trash bags, and again about a 10/1 ratio of alcohol containers to other trash.
Big Alcohol’s footprint is all over the globe; societal wreckage, physical disease, and in the form of excessive trash.
As human beings there is a goal that many of us share. That is to make this world a better place. 💚🌎
Big Alcohol, let me ask you this question, are you making the world a better place?
What impact are you having on society? On the fabric of family systems? Are you adding or subtracting to this world? Are you a net benefit? Or a net drain? What do you stand for Big Alcohol? Are you okay with your customers discarding your product waste into nature? Into my backyard? Into your backyard? Big Alcohol, your name, your brand, your message is on these containers that end up in our streams, rivers, and oceans. By all concerns you are still tied to the product, but you are not shouldering the burden after the monetary transaction has taken place.
This. Needs. To. Change.
As we all work on cleaning up our internal wreckage and chaos it’s time that you, Big Alcohol, start doing the same.
We here at Recovery Elevator are calling you out, Big Alcohol, to lean up your mess. A disproportionate amount of trash in nature is yours. It’s the RIGHT thing to do – to pick it up. We have a yearly service project at Recovery Elevator, and we’d love your help. Maybe take 1/2 a percentage of your marketing budget and help us out.
Big Alcohol, if you want to work with us, we’re open to it. Our email address is email@example.com.
Let’s talk about the order of healing when you quit drinking. We’ll also put a time frame on it…more or less place holders for what you can expect. As with everything in recovery…your time frame may not exactly match up with what is outlined here…but should be close! 🤏🏼
When we ditch the booze the healing happens in the reverse order as the destruction.
When we slide down the chasm of addiction we are afflicted spiritually first, as that is the first connection that becomes severed. Next up is our mental health, and then the physical body fails. The body can’t keep up with the amount of poison entering it and organs begin to fail, think liver and pancreas.
So the destruction happens spiritually, mentally and then physically.
The healing happens in reverse.
We heal physically, mentally and then spiritually. It’s a triage of sorts. Keep in mind there is always overlap. You won’t say, okay, I’m physically strong, now let’s work on the mind. In addition, the three will always be a work in progress.
Good news here, you don’t need to initiate the steps of this healing process. As long as you do the following, the intelligence of the body will take over.
Here is what you need to do.
1️⃣. Ditch the booze
2️⃣. Fuel the body with healthy fuel. Food that is alive..aka: greens, veggies, fruits, and try to cut down on meat. At least for a bit.
3️⃣. Cut back on sugar and caffeine intake. Here at RE we love our ice cream…so green light on the ice cream in the first 15-30 days, but try to cut back to 1-3x per week. Caffeine, 1 cup per day. This is mostly to help with relaxation and sleep.
4️⃣. Moderate movement. Walk, hike, jog, stretch, yoga, weights…for 20 min, 3x per week.
5️⃣. Here’s the fun part – Recovery! This could be AA, we have Café RE, Smart Recovery, Treatment, IOP, etc.
On day 1 we begin healing physically. The cells in the back of the mouth, the throat, the stomach, liver and pancreas are the first to say, thank you!!
Let’s talk about weight. If you lose weight, great! But there’s a good chance you’re going to gain weight. Beer, wine, spirits are basically empty calories, or the same as a moldy gummy worm. You may see your body expanding in your first 30 days, which is beautiful. There is more of you to love. A book Paul recommends to help fuel your body properly is The All Day Energy Diet by Yuri Elkaim.
The physical restoration component is anywhere from 3-12 months depending on how far you rode the shit storm of addiction.
Then begins the real fun stuff…the mental work, which is anywhere from 6 mo -1.5 years. In active addiction there is chaos internally. There is no coherence with the body and the mind. After we find our footing physically, the brain seemingly is going to go haywire. You won’t naturally find yourself in the present moment, but this is the time to really focus on every task at hand. Washing the dishes is our recovery work.
A big part of the mental healing is letting the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal axis settle down. These three organs control the stress response. Cravings and moments where you’re triggered begin to smooth out once this stress mechanism comes back down to earth.
The mind and body will thank you for getting off the rollercoaster of emotions and rock bottoms. Those are stressful and wreak havoc on our inner peace. At the tail end of the mental healing is when something neat happens.
In fact, it’s extraordinary.
This is when we have the capacity to recognize we are not the thoughts, but the one who experiences them. Or as Eckhart Tolle says, life is the dancer, and we are the dance. This is the bridge to the spirituality component of our healing.
As the Swiss, 20th century analytical psychologist Carl Jung says – we enter a spiritual dimension when we begin experiencing synchronicities in life. Or we almost see the bread crumbs confirming we are on the right path. Jung was a firm believer that there are no such things as coincidences and everything is connected. Or interdependent. Both in the physical and the dream world. According to Jung, this metaphysical state of living occurs when we are in balance.
When we are in a healthy dance with time and congruent with the natural flow of life, this is when those seemingly synchronistic events take place. They are quite powerful to be honest. They make you feel connected to something for sure. Paul says, to be fair, he did experience these synchronistic events before quitting drinking, but it was like once every couple of years and nowadays, it’s weekly and sometimes daily.
One reason why healing spiritually comes last is because it helps to make this connection in times of repose, sitting, meditating or focusing on the breath.
Paul says, “I don’t know about you, but there was 0% chance I was sitting in lotus position to connect with a higher power in my first 2-6 months. Probably not even the first two years. Meditating for me at first, was absolutely brutal. But as I progressed, I began to enjoy it, and with some meditations, I would feel euphoria in parts of my body and once I think the best word to describe what happened was astral travel.” – (He knows it sounds strange. 😜)
So…that’s the most common pathway when it comes to healing from a drinking problem.
There is a concept to describe the initial phases of this which is PAWS. Short for Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. This is your body, mind, heart, organs, and soul, recalibrating – finding a new homeostasis. Please don’t hit the eject button if you have a rough day or 20. After chaos, calm is always on the horizon. This is a universal law. PAWS lasts anywhere from 3 months to a year or two…. Yea it can be uncomfortable, but it’s preferable to the perilous road of addiction.
***Taken from Recovery Elevator Podcast, episode 404, host Paul Churchill***
Are you thinking about giving up alcohol? What is stopping you?
Maybe you know that you have a problem with alcohol, that it is no longer serving you, it’s causing wreckage throughout your life…but the thought of quitting makes you nervous and scared?
Maybe you are sober curious. Alcohol hasn’t really caused any problems in your life but you still would like to see what living a life free from it would be like.
And maybe you’re hesitant because of some of the myths, misconceptions and rumors floating around out there about what living a life without alcohol is like. Societal stigmas exist everywhere. And although there have been great strides and growth in the AF (alcohol free) movement in recent years it is often the fear of feeling stigmatized, labeled or judged that stops people from seeking out a life free from alcohol.
Don’t fall victim to the many myths about sobriety. Let’s look at some of them.
1. YOU HAVE TO LABEL YOURSELF AN ALCOHOLIC
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
First of all, what is an alcoholic? It is an outdated term that the medical and scientific communities don’t even use anymore. Instead it’s called alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD can be diagnosed as mild, moderate or severe…and the bar for mild AUD is pretty low. Which makes it not surprising to me that a large chunk of my friends and family exhibit it.
Second of all, you don’t have to label yourself as anything…labels are for file folders.
Personally I am neutral when it comes to calling myself an alcoholic. It doesn’t bother me. I can take it or leave it. But the word carries so much stigma and people have such a specific image in their head when they hear it…that it turns people away from getting help.
Before I get hate mail from the ‘alcoholics’ out there let me continue. I know that for some people identifying as an alcoholic is an important part of your sobriety…and there is nothing wrong with that! GO TEAM ALCOHOLICS! 📣
2. YOU “HAVE” TO GO TO AA
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
You also don’t HAVE to go to AA…but it’s perfectly fine if you do! When I first decided to get sober…many moons ago…AA is the first place I went. I think that is how it was for a lot of people, because there was a time that AA was all that was out there.
AA is not part of my program currently, but it was as recent as a couple years ago. I even held a service position for an entire year!
What matters most is finding what works for and is the best fit for you. As long as it is keeping you sober, that is all that matters.
3. IF YOU ARE SOBER, OR CHOOSING TO LIVE A LIFE WITHOUT ALCOHOL, YOU MUST HAVE A DRINKING PROBLEM.
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
You don’t have to have a severe drinking problem to want sobriety. You don’t have to have a drinking problem at all.
You can just want to feel better. Maybe you’ve decided that alcohol isn’t bringing anything positive into your life so you are just going to remove it from your life. It doesn’t have to be awful to want better.
Anyone, anywhere, with any kind of drinking habit can make the decision to stop drinking…there is no prerequisite for how bad your drinking has to get first.
4. YOU HAVE TO HIT ROCK-BOTTOM TO GET SOBER
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
You don’t have to hit rock bottom to want sobriety. You don’t have to be suffering from the repercussions from drinking to want sobriety. You don’t have to have lost everything…the job, the money, the house, the friends, the family… to want sobriety.
And can you really even say what your rock bottom would be? Everyone’s rock bottom doesn’t look the same.
5. SOBER LIFE IS BORING
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
This preconceived notion could not be further from the truth. Alcohol numbs our senses and feelings. And guess what… when you numb the bad, you also numb the good.
Remove the alcohol and discover how much more time you have, how much more money you have. Discover and rediscover hobbies and interests you once had. You will discover your FOMO turn into JOMO.
If you find that sober life is boring I hate to say it…your life is boring. Make some changes. Sobriety provides a greater amount of opportunities for freedom and fun than a bottle of booze could ever offer.
It’s not a no to alcohol…but yes to a better life. Sobriety…there is probably no healthier, kinder, loving thing you could do for yourself. ❤️
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟
“I’m in recovery.”
Two statements that very often get interchanged. If you think they mean the same thing, think again. There is a distinct difference. Being sober is very different from being in recovery. You can be one or the other…or you can be both.
What Is Sobriety?
When you have eliminated alcohol from your life you are deemed “sober,” and although sobriety is part of recovery, sobriety alone is often a temporary and fragile state. Think of the terms “white knuckling it” and “dry drunk”.
White knuckling your sobriety means you are trying to manage your addiction without help. You are using your will power or trying to fix yourself with your mind.
A “dry drunk” is someone who is sober but is struggling with the emotional and psychological issues that led them to have a problem with alcohol in the first place.
Just because you no longer live under the influence of alcohol it doesn’t mean that other unhealthy aspects of your life have changed. For example, you may still have poor or damaged relationships, behavioral health issues, mental health issues, or emotional issues that need to be addressed.
Sobriety is considered to be the natural state of a human being at birth. A person in a state of sobriety is considered sober.
What Is Recovery?
There is no “standard” definition of “recovery” in the addiction community, and part of the reason why is because everyone’s recovery journey is unique. 🙌🏼
According to SAMHSA, recovery is “a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.”
A person in recovery is continually making an effort to work through the issues that caused the alcohol abuse to occur in the first place.
In recovery is a powerful period because beyond everything else, it signifies that you know you have a problem and you are trying to fix it. Recovery allows you to make positive changes and deeply examine your feelings, beliefs and behaviors. Recovery does not mean you fix your issues right away. It means you recognize something is wrong, which is the first step and a critical part of getting help.
People in recovery have the greatest chance of maintaining long-term sobriety. Better yet, they have the opportunity to live a happy and productive life that is free from addiction.
I love this list that Odette shared on the podcast, episode 316…titled the same as this blog…”Sober” VS “In Recovery”.
When you are in Recovery, you:
- Feel a kinship to those who are also in Recovery. (SO true!)
- Make decisions based on how it could impact your Recovery. (“My recovery must come first so that everything I love in life does not have to come last.”)
- Adjust friendships and relationships based on how they could affect Recovery. (BOUNDARIES!!)
- Never let down your guard. (I don’t got this!)
So, can you be sober and not be in recovery? Absolutely! And although you can achieve a state of sobriety with simply abstaining from alcohol, with time, you will come to find that the life you want comes not just from being sober but from entering into the recovery mindset. 🧠
And you know what the cool thing is? You don’t have to be an alcoholic to live in this mindset. 🤯 The mindset that allows you to grow and develop your self awareness, the mindset that allows you to see beyond the surface and question many things in life like relationships and boundaries. That mindset is for everyone.
Once I got past the early days of sobriety I started thinking of my sobriety journey as my recovery journey. I realized that it was about SO much more than just ditching the booze. That the recovery process is one of ongoing healing and that there is no part of my life that my recovery doesn’t touch.
I also learned that it is rarely accomplished alone. I wanted to be around others ‘in recovery’. Not just because they were sober and could relate to that part of my life. But because they want to grow, want to learn, want to be better.
Transitioning from sobriety to recovery takes both commitment and action.
If you are a grey area drinker or someone who doesn’t even know if they belong here because you are not alcoholic enough…I hope you know that recovery is for EVERYBODY.
E V E R Y B O D Y.
You have your seat at this table, no matter what.
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟🏼
Do you keep count of your days of sobriety? Do you keep track of how many days you have away from alcohol? 📆 Should you? People fall into one of two different camps when it comes to that question.
One camp says yes…keeping track and counting your days of sobriety helps you. In the early months it can be a powerful motivator. That running count can give you the confidence you need to get through the hard days. It can be a way of measuring your progress, to help you visualize the distance you are putting between yourself and your drinking past.
The other camp says no…day counting can backfire, be counterproductive, and hurt you. It adds a layer of unneeded pressure. And really the only day that matters is TODAY…so why would you keep track? Quality of days over quantity of days is what’s important.
And what is more important…emotional sobriety or continuous sobriety? If you are white knuckling it through every day…counting those days you are staying away from the booze but miserable…is that enough?
Like anything else in the recovery world I don’t think that there is a right or wrong answer.
Just like there is no right or wrong way to get sober. Counting days is neither right or wrong. It’s entirely up to the individual. It’s entirely up to YOU. And you may feel one way about it and then change your mind along the way. And that is OK.
“The importance of sober time is a contentious issue, considered by some to be “just a number” and others, the barcode stamped on your very soul. Fact: your sober date is yours, and this means you can report it however you wish, if at all.” ~ Anna James
Day counting is a big deal in some 12 step programs, such as AA. There are chips for 24 hours, 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year…you get the picture. There are terms thrown around like “new comer” and “old timer”…all depending on how much sobriety time you have. There are celebrations and cake! (I like cake! 🎂) Certain service positions will become available to you after reaching a specific amount of sober time. Chips, cake, service position opportunities…that all sounds fab! Right?!
But…let’s say you have 10 years of continuous sobriety…and for whatever reason you go out and do some field research (aka…drink alcohol)…well my friend, then you are back on day 1. Doesn’t matter if it was one drink or a night of drinks. You just ‘lost all your time’.
Ouch. Back on day 1. But what happened to those 3,650 days you just had? Are they just gone? As my friend Kate would say…gone, like a fart in the wind? 🐕💨
The ‘pro-keeping count camp’ believes that, because you will have to reset your counter and will be back on day 1, that counting sobriety days will stop you from doing that field research. That you will think twice about picking up that drink. Doesn’t always work that way though.
Personally I feel like counting days can be a slippery slope. (Don’t come at me 🤣…that’s just my opinion…and I am just one little person in this great big world full of people in recovery!) I mean c’mon…we are all human…and alcohol is a sneaky piece of shit. What if…in spite of the fact that you have 3,650 continuous days of sobriety…you pick up again? You’ve been stacking those days and now find yourself back on day 1. Time to reset your tracker my friend. But wait! Since you are starting over again why not drink through the weekend…and then restart your tracker. Or, continue through the upcoming holiday and then restart it. Before you realize it, weeks have gone by and you have continued to drink. 😔
I’m not entirely against counting your days of sobriety. In fact quite the opposite. It was a tool I used and a HUGE part of my early sobriety. HUGE! Those first 100 days I was checking my tracker daily. I always knew what day I was on even without checking my tracker app. Counting those days in my early sobriety was a big motivation for me. Made me feel successful. So if you are just starting out, counting the days can be an indispensable tool. And there are a lot of apps out there that will help you keep track.
After I hit 100 days things started to change. Counting the days became less motivating for me. I started finding my motivation in other things…like how I was experiencing less anxiety, I had more energy, my mood was better, I was becoming more active. After I hit those triple digits I found I didn’t (and don’t) need the daily reminder of how far I’ve come.
I also stopped keeping track of the days because it just started to feel so overwhelming. With my desire to never drink alcohol again I was proud of the number of days I had gone without drinking…but then overwhelmed by the number of days I still had before me. 🤯 I know…I know…one day at a time. But counting days was causing me to continuously think about the enormity of my decision to ditch the booze for good. That is not healthy or helpful.
Counting your sobriety days…or your days away from alcohol…is a very personal choice. And the way you do it, if you decide to do it, is also entirely your choice. If you’re counting because you feel it is expected of you…then don’t. 👎🏼 If you are motivated by waking up in the morning and seeing the number on your tracker go up…then do. 👍🏼
Even though I don’t count my days anymore I am forever grateful for this simple strategy that helped me during my early days of sobriety. The most important thing I hope you will remember is that no matter what your day count is…it is YOU that counts!
Until next month, be well,
Kerri Mac 🤟🏼
By Claire O’Brien
A few months before I quit drinking for good, the husband and I stole a few days to lounge on the sand at the Delaware Shore. It was September, and the air was still warm but the crowds had thinned, leaving us the wide beaches to ourselves.
We had three entire days to soak up the sun and watch the dolphins dart among the waves. So, I was pretty annoyed to wake up one morning so hungover that I had to grit my teeth to force myself to face the day.
A few precious days that we’d paid a lot of money for, which I was now just trying to survive. At brunch, I’d order coffee (obviously), and avocado toast (healthy!) and make chit-chat with my husband about how to spend the day. He might not notice, but I’d be distracted, hardly present at all, because mentally I’d be berating myself for swilling that extra glass of red wine, again.
Maybe I wasn’t the biggest drinker you’d have ever met. But, I definitely had a habit, and it was getting old. Frankly, so was I. How many days traveling over the last 20 years had I wasted from overindulging? I couldn’t even guess.
But, what’s traveling without drinking anyways? Swilling pints of lager in cozy London pubs. Pounding shots of rakija in Croatia. Sipping wine with every meal in France. Spilling sticky cups of rum and cola on the dance floor in Belize. And a personal favorite, guzzling margaritas from a can in Mexico. Traveling means experiencing life to the fullest! That means alcohol. And lots of it
Less than a year later, I was back in Rehoboth Beach for my 2-year wedding anniversary. This time, I was six months into my post-alcohol experiment. I booked a B&B, famous for its waffles in the morning and free wine in the evenings
Immediately, my mind flooded with anxious thoughts
“How can I travel without drinking?”
“How can I celebrate my anniversary without alcohol?
and most urgently, “But…free wine!”
Then I remembered that I once celebrated a trip to the grocery store with wine. So…maybe my excuses are still pretty flimsy
It rained all three days in Rehoboth Beach on that trip. I didn’t drink. It was totally fine. In fact, it was much more than fine. I spent too much money on used books and antiques. We took the ferry over to New Jersey and explored the Victorian town of Cape May. We ate fresh seafood. I challenged the waiters to bring me “the funnest” non-alcoholic drink they could invent
Instead of being a liability, I woke up early to research activities. I assumed the podcast DJ duties on the drive. I made ridiculous observations intended to make the husband laugh. When I returned home content and invigorated, rather than depressed and full of regrets, I conceded that perhaps I really was onto something.
Traveling without drinking is not only possible…but dare I say, preferable? Before you shriek “Heresy!” hear me out
Since that Delaware trip, I’ve spent several weeks in Scandinavia. My birthday fell during a 7-day work trip to Las Vegas. I spent a luxurious weekend in a Pennsylvanian resort and survived many visits home to California. I just returned from a week in the Netherlands. All accomplished without even one cheeky drink.
I’ve met other people that don’t drink while they’re busy exploring the globe. Some just don’t like it, some want to save money, and others were in recovery. At an afterparty in Rotterdam recently, my new friends hardly touched a drop of booze, just because! I’ve realized that traveling without drinking isn’t really about abstaining from this magical liquid worshiped the world over, but about feeling empowered to make decisions that work for you.
As a regular drinker, even if you don’t have an obvious problem, the ritual begins to make your world smaller. It’s imperceptible at first. Weekends might involve having a few drinks with friends. Soon, the two become completely intertwined. Next, your brain wonders,
“How can I even hang out with the girls without drinking?”
“Is it possible to attend this wedding without toasting with champagne?”
“How will I visit Scotland without sampling a few drams?”
“How can I survive Tuesday?”
In some ways, my lengthy travel resume, with its regular doses of the unfamiliar, prepared me for this new life sans alcohol. What’s more uncomfortable than quitting a 20-year habit, especially one that is both so soothing and socially encouraged? If the point of travel is to escape the ordinary, experience our differences, and push against the boundaries of what’s comfortable, then quitting drinking has, in fact, also made me a better traveler.
I’m more adventurous than ever.
I’ve always considered myself a risk taker. But that quality didn’t extend to my drinking ritual, which was really more of a drinking rut. Now, every restaurant, city, and country is an opportunity to sample the new. Frothy glass of hot pink dawet at a Surinamese restaurant in Amsterdam? Sure! Traveling in Sweden was a delightful surprise. I found an extensive non-alcoholic wine and beer list on every menu, none of which I would have glanced at before.
My adventurousness even extends beyond my drink choices. One random evening I came up with the idea that I should fly to every international destination served by a direct flight from Washington, DC. And write about it. Then, more astonishingly, I actually started doing it.
I’m more flexible.
Previously, every evening ended with drinks, with few exceptions. Now, experiences of all kinds are crammed into my days. In Las Vegas, I spent the evenings visiting the museums and aquariums. I splurged on fancy tasting menus and rented a vehicle to explore the desert. On a whim, I rode in a drift supercar around the Las Vegas Speedway. It was harder to be spontaneous when I was preoccupied with where I could buy wine on Sundays and wondering if I had remembered to pack my corkscrew.
I’m more responsible.
I was the type of drinker that managed to get shit done. But I was still just managing. Once, because I was so disorganized, my debit card was declined while attempting to buy a single stick of deodorant. I was 35 years old. Now, my kitchen is clean. All the dogs and humans in my house are current on their medical appointments. And there are probably fewer than three empty coffee cups floating around my car. I have a savings account dedicated solely to travel, which I diligently contribute to monthly. All trips get paid for in cold, hard, cash.
I have piles of money.
Ok, I’m not exactly stacking bricks of cash, but booze is expensive, especially when you are consuming it with the frequency I once found refreshing. Since my travel fund isn’t being depleted quite so rapidly due to lengthy pub sessions, I’m able to spend more on quality experiences. Like upgrading to Economy Plus!
I have more fun.
Ironically, I’m more outgoing and social since giving up the hooch. The dark cloud that followed me around gradually evaporated, making a cheerful and upbeat mood my default personality. Who knew? Now I’m the person planning adventures, not bailing on invitations at the last minute. I’ve instigated weekends away for welding classes, white water rafting, tree climbing courses, and exploring Jamaica while encouraging friends and family to join me.
I’ve become more resilient.
It didn’t happen overnight, but I developed healthy* coping techniques for stress, boredom, and all of the feels that I don’t like. Things still go wrong when I travel. In Richmond, the husband got food poisoning courtesy of a dodgy roadside gyro. In Sweden, it was an AirBnB fiasco. In Las Vegas, I mysteriously scratched my cornea and required medical attention. Now it’s easier to figure out what I need to do next without requiring an entire bottle of wine to cope.
Note: *Debatable if coconut ice cream with Magic Shell chocolate topping qualifies as healthy.
I’m more authentic now.
Confronting my worst habits and the role my ego played in prolonging the behavior was a humbling experience. The process of building new habits in their place, however, has grown my confidence. Also, without the daily dose of self-loathing, waking up every day as myself isn’t so bad. I don’t have to present as anyone else or hide parts of my life of which I’m ashamed. So, I’m able to more sincerely connect with people both at home and while traveling. Since I’m less distracted by my own internal dramas, I’m more interested in getting to know you.
I’m also less judgemental.
Like most well-traveled people, I considered myself to be very open-minded. Conversely, like most drinkers, I distrusted people who didn’t drink! I viewed cultures and customs that didn’t embrace alcohol with extreme skepticism. Now, that’s no longer an issue, which has opened up parts of the world and experiences I wouldn’t have seriously considered before. (Seven-day silent meditation retreat, no problem! Well…)
My life is bigger.
Probably not a coincidence, but around the same time I gave up alcohol, I completely restarted my professional career from one in the sciences to a more creative field. Five years ago, my options seemed few, and now I’m limited only by the hours in the day. Because there’s less holding me back, there’s much more space to move forward. Opportunities seem to be present everywhere. Travelling has become less of a selfish pursuit of simply accumulating more countries. Now it’s more of a shared experience, of learning, of inspiring myself and connecting with others.
Sure, there’s the occasional pang for the experiences I’ll miss. I’m human.
My brain sends up random flares like, “I might want to go to Tokyo next year. Clearly, this will be impossible to do and not drink sake.”
It’s a little bit like having a fleeting thought about an old lover. For a brief moment, the fantasy, the “What if?”, is seductive.
“Don’t I deserve some fun? Let’s be exciting and a little dangerous!”
It’s also the perfect way to create a total dumpster fire out of this otherwise satisfying life I’m building.
My love of travel stems from life’s possibilities. Endless combinations of routes to plan, experiences I haven’t had, people I haven’t met, and future memories I’ve yet to make. It’s not such a sacrifice for me to skip a few cocktails when the payoff could be so much bigger, and bolder. When I finally put down that drink, I found that I held a nonstop ticket to the rest of my life, and I want to see where it goes.
Additional blog posts by Claire O’Brien can be found at her webiste the Virgin Colada.